THE RAMALA CENTRE
Johnima: We first heard about Sri Sathya Sai Baba in 1968. At that time nobody in America knew anything about Sai Baba, but Indra Devi had met him whilst she was in India doing a yoga course. She came back bubbling over with enthusiasm about him and gave Richard Bock, a mutual friend of ours, a small photograph of Swami. Richard brought the photograph to his home on the very same day that we happened to be visiting. We just walked in and there on his night stand was this little black and white photograph. We looked at the picture and all of creation stood still. We instantly recognised in our hearts who he was. We said to ourselves “Where have you been for so long? We have been looking. We have been searching. Why did it take you so long to come to us?”. So we asked Richard who was the man in the photograph. He said that he didn’t know, but that it was some guru that Indra had met in India and that she was giving a talk about her visit that very night at the East West Cultural Centre. We quickly made arrangements to attend and heard Indra talk about Swami and show some colour slides of him. As we saw him on the screen we sat transfixed in an ocean of joy and bliss. We felt laughter welling up within us until we laughed out loud for joy.
It was soon after that that we founded the group Lightstorm. In the beginning the group consisted of four people, but since 1976 there’s just been the two of us, and Swami of course. We opened up the first Sai Baba centre in Hollywood at that time, on Sunset Boulevard. We used to meet together, just like we are doing now, and sing to God. A Jewish cantor would come and sing a beautiful prayer, a Buddhist would come and chant a Buddhist mantra, a Catholic would come and sing a beautiful hymn. We were all just one small family, loving each other and the God within us. It was so wonderful but, of course, in time, as the group got bigger things began to change. The whole structure of our meetings became more organised, which must be the case in large groups, otherwise there is no semblance of order, but we lost the intimacy of the original family unit. If any of us had a problem, then we all shared it, we all helped each other in whatever way we could. Anyway in 1971 we volunteered to go to Vietnam, in fact to go to the front line, to entertain the troops. We used to sing songs of love there to raise the vibrations. We sang Rock and Roll bhajans and Country Music all over Vietnam. We were the last group to do this and we had to do a double tour because the group that was supposed to replace us got bombed out! We got bombed at, shot at and had to be rescued on several occasions but, you know, not a hair on our heads was harmed. Can you imagine a thousand GIs in the pits of hell singing ‘OM’! Of course they thought they were singing ‘Home’, but what’s the difference! We could see the aura patterns around these men changing from dark browns, greys and blacks to a beautiful hue of blues and yellows. It was just wonderful. Everyone was crying and yet not understanding why. You could see the whole jungle coming alive. Anyway it was in the middle of one of these tours that we went to see Swami in India.
Kalassu: We landed
in Madras and as there was only one flight a week we had time to
acclimatise. We took off all our Western
clothes and the men put on white lungis and the girls
learned how to put on saris. We wanted
to blend in and not stick out like stupid American tourists with their baseball
hats and shorts. Eventually we flew to Bangalore and
caught a taxi out to Whitefield where, we were informed, Swami was in
residence. You have to remember that in
those days there was nothing there except trees and sand, a few farms and, of
course, Swami’s little grey house. We
arrived at the ashram late in the day to find that everybody was leaving, since
evening darshan was over. Nevertheless we walked on in to discover that
there were less than a dozen people left.
Johnima sat down with his guitar and very softly began to sing a divine
love song to God. He was just singing a
devotional song to the Omnipresent God.
Meanwhile I was walking around, thinking that I was in Heaven, until a
lady came up to me and said “Tell your friend to be quiet. Swami doesn’t approve of that kind of
music!” So one of our group
walked over to Johnima and asked him to stop.
He stopped playing the guitar but continued to sing under his breath
until he had finished his song. Then he walked over to rejoin the group which
was again being accosted by the lady. “Where’s your taxi?” We told her that we had let it go. She replied “Are you stupid? You should know better than that. There are no taxis out here. Where are you going to stay?” We told her that we had brought sleeping
bags. She responded “Sleeping bags! Where are you going to sleep?” We pointed to a tree in the ashram. “Oh no”, she said, “Swami doesn’t allow
that.” We replied that we would go and sleep in a nearby field. “Oh no”, she
said, “Too many beggars and thieves and Swami does not approve of that! You should have known better than to send
your taxi away and to come here after darshan. You stupid westerners are all the same!” I
should point out here that she was a westerner too! So we asked her what she was doing, waiting
here. She replied “We sit here by the
gate and watch Swami walk past the window to turn out
the light.” So we said “Then we will
wait too, and maybe he’ll come out again tonight!” “Oh no”, she responded, “We have been here
quite a while and he never comes out, except to get in his car to drive
away.” We said “There is no such word as
never” and she just looked at us, rolled her eyes and said “Stupid westerners!” What a welcome!
Anyway we sat down, the gents on one side, the ladies on the other, all looking up at the window, and by this time it was sunset. Suddenly it became absolutely still, with just a beautiful breeze blowing. There was absolute silence. Suddenly out of a side door walked Swami in his orange robe. He walked right over to us, going to the ladies side first, and he said “Ah! You’ve come. Very happy.” Then he looked down at me and he asked “Where are you from?” I said “California, Swami” and he replied laughingly “Oh, I have many devotees in California, but they don’t not know it yet!” He then asked me “How long can you stay with Swami?” I replied “We only have a week.” Swami responded “Oh, so little time, but don’t worry. You come tomorrow and you will be my guests. We will eat and sing.” Then he walked over to the men’s side and said “Oh, you are hungry.” So he sent one of his attendants away, who came back with a whole bunch of bananas and Swami fed us all with bananas! Then he walked over to this lady who had accosted us so severely. She was looking very penitent and he said “YOU take care” and he pointed at us. Now it just so happened that that very day her room mate, who had a little bungalow next to her, right by the ashram, had left and so it was empty, waiting for us. She started crying and Swami let her take padanamaskar. After Swami had gone she came over to us and said “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that you were Swami’s guests. Would you please sing again!!” So for a whole week Swami fed us with his own hands and we were constantly with him, singing together many, many times. We gave concerts for all the people, blowing everybody’s minds, because until then nobody had ever heard English bhajans, especially not Rock and Roll bhajans!
Sai Baba sent us into his garden with a couple of his students and he said to
us “You go and learn Indian bhajans and you will
teach them English bhajans.” So we went and learned some Indian bhajans, which we used to sing in a fast Rock and Roll
style. Swami loved them and he was
always urging us to sing “Faster!!” because he knew that our singing shocked
the Indians. One evening he gave a
discourse in which he said that all songs, sung with love and devotion from the
heart, are accepted by God. God does not
only accept Indian bhajans, although some people like
to think so! Swami says that everyone
should sing in their own language, because the song has to come from the
heart. What is important when singing a bhajan is not the words, is not the melody, but is the love
that flows from the heart, is the letting go of the ego self. So Westerners should not attempt to sing
complicated Indian bhajans, but should concentrate on
singing the simpler ones. Swami says
“The simpler, the better” and if you watch Swami, whenever the simpler, the older
style bhajans are being sung he enjoys them
thoroughly, but he will often get up and walk away when very complicated new bhajans are being sung.
Johnima: The other speakers today have been talking about omnipresence and so we have to ask ourselves “What does this word mean? What is it that is present everywhere? Who is, what is and where is God?” If you don’t ask these questions and dig deeply in yourselves you will not find the answer. Books will not provide the answer. Swami has said that books are simply road signs. They only indicate a direction and if you read too many books, you will only get confused. You won’t know which way to turn. Swami has said that it’s best to enquire inside ourselves, because the omnipresent part of ourselves will always be there to give us an answer. If our quest is not real, if we are just doing it for show or some other ego-centred reason, then we may get an answer but who knows from where it comes. It may be from the ego or it may be from a perception that we have built up over the many incarnations that we have had, a karmic residue of some kind. The key to our quest is love. If we question deeply and lovingly then we will make the connection. Swami says that it’s rather like the electrical current that we use each day. This current powers all the appliances in the kitchen, the toaster, the cooker, the fridge etc., and each appliance thinks that it’s better than the other, that it’s more important than the other, perhaps because it gets used more often, but are they aware that without that electrical current none of them would work? Swami says that this current is the glue of creation and what is this current but love. He once asked us “Do you know how to be omnipresent instantly? If you have one feeling or thought of love you are instantly and automatically connected to all of creation, on all levels.” We should keep that in mind at all times, not just when we are awake but in our dreams as well, and gradually it will begin to dawn upon us that everything is simply a reflection of love, of the God-self that we truly are. The speakers this morning were both talking about how to find that God-self, about how to get to the true inner reality of who and what we are. Swami once said to us “It’s so easy to be God, because you are that already. You just have to remember to live like God, to think like God, to speak like God, to act like God.”
Kalassu: I have a friend who is a computer
whiz-kid. He owns his own company and he
works very hard. He once complained to
me “How can I be God all the time. I
can’t possibly meditate very hour of the day.
I’ve got to work.” So I asked him
“What do you think meditation is?” He
said “Well, it’s when I sit at home after a hard day at work, quieten my mind
and try to enter a higher state of being.”
I replied that the moment you say the word ‘try’ you are instantly
doomed! You either meditate or you
don’t. Swami once told us that
meditation consists of one thing. The
moment you think of God, that is meditation, but at any other time you are not
meditating, you are simply concentrating.
Now concentration in a meditative state, in other words sitting quietly
and working on controlling the monkey mind, is a wonderful exercise but it’s
not meditation. Everyone has to learn to
control their minds, but no ritual will get you to God. True meditation is thinking of God all the
time. So how do you balance the need to
earn a living and to live in the physical world with thinking of God? It’s so simple. We have to practise at bringing God into our
everyday lives. I said to my computer
friend “Rather than working on computers and then hurrying home to meditate,
change the way that you work. Think that
when your hands are in the computer that God is working on the computer, that
you are all powerful and are creating a better computer, and invoke a blessing
on the computer that whoever touches it after you will realise the God within
them. Say or do anything that you feel
will spread your light, your love and your energy to anyone who will use that
computer. The reward for your work is
not your pay cheque but is how that blessed computer affects people’s
lives. Now if you are driving home after
work and you suddenly realise that you forgot to bless your work that day then
that’s good, because you’ve just taken the first step. It’s the same with food. You don’t just offer up a prayer to God to
bless the food, you pray that your enjoyment of the food be shared with all of
creation and that no hungry belly will go unfilled that day. You should become all inclusive and all
loving in every aspect of your lives.
The more you remember to do this, the more you will loose
that identity with the ego-self. The
more you will become inclusive rather than exclusive.
Johnima: Swami once said to us “The big problem with Humanity is that it suffers from wrong identification. That’s all. People identify themselves with their bodies.” Remember that you are not your bodies, you are not your minds, your thoughts and your feelings, you are not your memories, you are not your likes and your dislikes. You are not any identification that you have ever made. You are the awareness of that false identification or, as David said this morning “I was aware that I was aware.” It’s that simple. This awareness is always with you, has been forever and will be forever. It’s the ego that’s complicated. As Swami says, “It’s the ego that makes everything complicated, even spirituality!” What is the worst ego that you have ever encountered. Isn’t it a spiritual ego, because they are so righteous! So Swami is showing us a short cut - Love all, Serve all, because God is Love. It is our birthright to be God and we can do it. What is service but love expressed through action. When we do something and we think that we are the doer, even though it may be helpful, it’s not true service. True service is spontaneous love from the heart expressing itself in a physical form.
If we remember that everything is God, that everything is a reflection of God, then our view of life will change dramatically. We will not take life so seriously and see everything as a matter of black or white, of life or death. Swami once told us that we need to stop projecting the mind outwardly and to start projecting it inwardly, and that if we will but point it towards the direction of its origin it will disappear automatically. He gave us an analogy. Our walk through life is rather like a man walking down a street. He has a shadow, but if he always looks at the shadow, if he always looks at his sorrow and his pain, if he always looks at the world’s sorrow and the world’s pain, if he always looks at the dark side of creation, then that will be his perception of life. But if he was to just turn around towards the sun, then the dark shadow automatically disappears. Now that sun, that sun of wisdom, is inside all of us. It knows everything. Literally, there’s nothing new under the sun. Nobody has to tell us anything, because we already know it. Unfortunately we are suffering from amnesia, we have forgotten about that inner source of wisdom and we are focusing on the play of life and the role that our ego is playing. So remember that we are not our thoughts, our feelings and our emotions. We are the awareness of them. We are not who we think we are. We are not separate and individual, we are one with all of creation. Recognising this fact, what is the point of fighting with anybody, what is the point of possessing anything, of desiring what someone else has? There is no need to run over people to get first line at darshan, because you are running over God to get to God! Moreover, where is God? Swami has said that he will do whatever it takes to get us over our attachment to his form and that he will destroy whatever it is that stands in the way, even if it is his own form. He will do this to help you to find your inner self. Now isn’t that the greatest love that can be ever experienced by anyone.
Kalassu: One time, as we were leaving Swami, he looked at us and he pointed at our bodies and he said “These are now my bodies and this” and he pointed at himself “is your body now, and together we are going to play the game of life. Now we can play at anything we want, provided we obey one rule - no attachment to anything.” Simple, isn’t it, but just try putting it into practice! Swami once gave me a big test over this attachment. A few years ago we had just come back from India when we discovered that our daughter, Shanti, had a stomach flu, only it wasn’t flu, it was meningococcal meningitis. Now we live in a small mountain community in Idaho where there’s only a little hospital so, basically, they were getting ready to fly her down to the main hospital at Boise which is a two hour drive for us. They would not let us accompany her in the ambulance helicopter, as there was not enough room. So Johnima went to the doctor, after he had checked her spinal fluid and we had finished rubbing vibuthi on her and saying the Gayatri mantra over her, and asked him what were her chances. He said that by the time we got to the hospital, she most likely wouldn’t be alive. Her spinal fluid was very cloudy, which meant that she was pretty close to death! Not very many people survive this disease and if they do there are nearly always horrible side effects.
Johnima: Kalassu didn’t have time to tell me anything about her dream. So we walked into the ICU unit and there was Shanti with a sensor on her finger to monitor her heart rate among other things. She woke up and she looked at us and she said “ET!” She had no idea where she was, so we told her that she was in Boise hospital and brought her up to date on what had transpired. Since I was very curious, I said to her “Do you remember anything?” She said “Aha!”. She was still floating in and out of her body. I said “What happened?” She said “Swami” and I said “Oh, you were with Swami” and she said “Aha.” I then asked her “Did Swami talk to you?” and she replied “Aha! He asked me whether I wanted to go or to stay.” I said “Oh! So you were finished?” and she said “Aha.” Now the nurse and the doctor were there in the room as I asked her “Then what did you come back for?!!” You should have seen their faces. They were both thinking “What a horrible man, what a demon in disguise we have here. He wishes his daughter was dead!” But then we said “We’re very happy that you are back with us.” We made ready to leave but Shanti said “Please stay.” So we stayed with her and within just a short time she made a 100% recovery with no side effects whatsoever. However I saw very clearly that if we had walked down the path of grief and attachment she wouldn’t have come back. Shanti would not have come back. I know this as a fact.
So, basically, we have a choice every moment
of our lives. Everything that we think,
speak or do flows through us as ‘the doing’, and as long as we identify with
the ‘me’ that is ‘doing’ something, then it’s being done by a small and narrow
concept of who we think we are. We have to
be careful of every thought, word and deed that flows through us. We have to watch our every action. We can do this because we’re God, we’re all
powerful, do you remember? We have to monitor our egos, to catch the lie
in everything and, after a while, it becomes a new habit. Soon it becomes automatic. You feel in your solar plexus when the ego
wants to take over, like when you want to get angry, afraid, jealous
or whatever the symptoms may be. The
moment that you feel this, stop whatever you are doing and check it out. What is this feeling? Where does it come from? Why has it arisen? Nearly always it will be due to some form of
attachment, which then creates the fear or the desire! Why didn’t I get what I wanted? Why wasn’t I included? Why wasn’t I treated in the way that I
expected? Most of us have been taught to
expect. The moment we do this we are
doomed to be disappointed. When Swami
asks “What do you want?”, what do you think he’s
really asking? Is he talking to your
omnipresent atma self, to himself, or to your ego
self? The atma
self is perfect and doesn’t need anything!
So he’s asking your ego self what it wants. Why does he do this? Because he wants you to
have it, to get on with it, to purge yourself of it. Even if we play games and don’t tell him, he
knows what we want anyway and he still gives it to us!
This morning David talked about Liberation. It’s a beautiful subject but, as David said, most of us have no clue at all what Liberation really means. Most of us think that Liberation means a rest from earthly incarnation. Well, I’ve got news for you! You all know the old proverb which says that you are not a realised being if you chop wood and carry water and bitch like hell, but that you are a realised being if you chop wood and carry water and laugh like hell! Notice that either way you still have to chop wood and carry water! The physical body still has to carry out its earthly duties. Swami says that as long as there is a karmic residue, meaning actions that we have performed in the past, then, no matter whether we are a realised being or not, we have to experience the fruits of that residue because we created it. Recognise that every situation that we experience, we created it ourselves in order to learn certain lessons and if we don’t learn the lessons, then they will be repeated. It’s really that simple. We make all the choices. There is no outside force, no swami in an orange robe, no omnipresent God with a white beard imposing karma upon us. It is we who are playing the game of life and it is we who make the choices.
Kalassu: We were able to have very close contact with
Swami in those early days. At one time
we were in his garden, where he was playing with Gita,
the elephant, and as the college students were there he brought out his new
Polaroid camera. At that time a Polaroid
camera was a brand new thing in India.
We took some pictures of Gita, Swami and the
students and we watched as the film developed right in front of our eyes. Then Swami handed them around for everybody
to see. Then he walked right between us
and he said “You know, the mind is like the camera, the eyes are like the lens
and a soft warm heart is like the film emulsion. The camera takes a picture of Swami, and now
Swami is printed on your hearts for ever. That is the best picture to have.” Then he turned and walked away whilst we
thought about this observation. We
realised that he was pointing us towards the inner Swami, which is where he
pointed us right from the very beginning.
The very first time that he talked to us he said that “All is an
illusion outside.” He warned us not to
pay too much attention to the outside Swami, but to focus on the inner Swami,
our conscience. “I will always be there”
he said “as your inner Swami, as the omnipresent part of you. You are Swami, now act like it.” He taught us this right from the very
beginning, even though he didn’t share this openly with the masses. Nevertheless he alluded to it in many of his
talks. He was always so direct with
us. He would say “Forget the form, right
now. Don’t make it special. We are the same, exactly the same.” However I couldn’t accept this. I wanted to make him into something special,
because I wanted him to take care of me.
I wanted to worship him as God, but when you worship God separation
occurs. You are no longer one with
God. Worshipping God is a wonderful
stepping stone, but some day you have to go beyond it. You have to progress to the next step up and
Swami says that you are that next step!
He says that he is only a reflection of what we are. The love that we see in Swami is simply our
own love being reflected back perfectly to us.
Swami taught us, right from the very beginning, that all that exists outside
of us, all that we perceive on any level, be it the physical, the astral or the
causal level is all an illusion, a
dream. God is dreaming all of this and
so we, as God, are dreaming this too.
Johnima: When we played concerts for Swami at Summer School, at the end of the concert, which usually went on for about forty-five minutes or so, he used to lean over to us and say “Any new song?” We eventually realised that he meant for us to make one up on the spot because he was tired of the other ones. On one particular day we were on stage in front of thousands of people and Swami looked over at us and smiled and said “Any new song?” We just became very quiet and looked up at Swami. We looked into his eyes and drifted off into the inner self, the omnipresent part of ourselves, and the inspiration came. I placed my hands on the guitar and the chords started to come as the song flowed out and when we got stuck for words Swami put them in for us. He sang with us.
Now I would like to close with a story. This is not a first hand
story because we were not there, but we were told it by someone who was. There was a famous sage in the Himalayas who
came down to see Swami. Swami had
appeared to him in meditation and had told him to come. The sage brought some of his students with
him. Now some of these students were
also devotees of Swami and they wanted to make sure that their guru got to talk
to Swami. However the sage was quite
content to sit anonymously at the back of the darshan
area. Nevertheless, despite his
protestations, his devotees insisted that he sit right at the front and because
they had some clout with the ashram officials they managed to get him placed in
the first line, right by the door where Swami came out to give darshan. Swami duly
appeared and gave just one small glance at the sage out of the corner of his
eye as he walked by. He did not make any
attempt to talk to him or to acknowledge him.
After darshan was over the sage was in bliss,
but his students were very upset. How
dare Swami not acknowledge or talk to their guru. The sage smiled at them and said “Do you
believe that Sai Baba is the Avatar?”
They replied “Yes”, to which the sage responded “No, you do not, because
if you knew that he was the Avatar, then you would also know that just one
single glance from the corner of his eye is all that you will ever need in all