THE RAMALA CENTRE

The following talk was given by David Jevons to an audience of Sai Baba devotees who had gathered at the Mill Hill Sai Baba Centre in North London on April 8th 2001 for their usual Sunday morning meeting.  It has been edited, but only for the purpose of reproducing it in this Newsletter.

THE TEST OF THE GURU

  We have just come back from a very hot visit to see Sai Baba.  The visit was a hot one for two reasons, firstly because the temperature was 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, everyone was melting in the heat, and secondly because it was an exciting and an exhilarating visit, one that more than fulfilled our wildest dreams.  Every time that we leave Sai Baba’s ashram in India we say to ourselves that that was the best trip ever, that it cannot get any better than this, and yet each time when we return it does get better.  This last visit really was an amazing visit, but before I tell you about it I would like to give you a personal message from Sai Baba.   In one of the two interviews that we had with Swami I told him that I would be speaking to you on my return and I asked him if he had a message for you.  He thought for a few seconds and then he said “Yes, tell them all to do seva.” Now many people feel that doing seva, being of service, simply involves helping the poor and the needy in society, but this is not so.  The very essence of seva lies in serving all whom you meet, regardless of race, colour or creed, both the rich and the poor, both the sick and the healthy.  We should not be selective about our seva.  Everything and everyone is divine.  All is one.  So we should serve everyone.  Sai Baba says that doing seva is a sure way of eliminating pride and ego.  The ultimate seva is simply to be God serving God, with no attachments to the way that we are serving or to the results of our service.  The fast track to liberation is serve, serve, serve.  We should be prepared to serve every waking minute of our day.  That is the sure way to earn God’s grace.

 Ann and I live just outside of Vancouver, in Western Canada.  We, along with many Sai devotees living there, have been experiencing a very difficult time during this past year.  There have been many accusations of sexual impropriety made against Sai Baba both on the Internet and in the newspapers.  Indeed, just before we left for India, there was a whole page in the Vancouver Sun devoted to attacking Sai Baba.  I know that it’s difficult for some devotees to handle this sort of thing, especially when their children return from school having been taunted for following a guru who is alleged to have molested children.  People have been asking us “What should we do, how should we respond?”  I asked Sai Baba about this very question and sought his advice on what we should say.  His reply was “Say whatever you like.”  He was not at all concerned by all the accusations being made against his character.  Now I feel that his reply is significant because what he is actually saying is that all of us have to make an individual choice about where we stand on this matter.  There is no group, no collective response to these accusations.  All of us are being tested individually.  We have to decide for ourselves, as individuals, whether we are going to base our relationship with Sai Baba on our own experiences or whether we are going to rely on the hearsay stories that are now being circulated.

 I last went out to India to visit Sai Baba in January 1999.   I was actually there for the festival of Shivaratri and I was privileged to see Sai Baba produce a lingam out of his mouth, the first time that he has done this in public for over twenty years.  When we planned our trip, we took great care to ensure that we wouldn’t be at the ashram for Shivaratri, so as to avoid the vast crowds that attend this festival.  What we did not know, however, was that Shivaratri was happening early that year and so we found ourselves there bang in the middle of it.  If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans!  God wanted us to be there for this auspicious event and His plans worked perfectly.  How happy and privileged we were to be there, and to think that we tried to avoid it!  Well, you would think that we had learned our lesson by now.  We planned this trip very carefully so as avoid the time when Sai Baba was going to be in Delhi and to ensure that we would be able to go to Kodaikanal with him as we had done in the past, because it is so intimate there.  We carefully chose our dates and you can, of course, guess what happened.  Sai Baba stayed in Puttaparthi the whole time.  He completely changed his usual routine and, of course, it was just perfect for us. We stayed in our own apartment in the ashram.  We did not have to chase around the country following him.  We had a truly deep ashram experience together with the closest contact that we have ever had with him.  So if you will just trust the Source, It will always put you in the right place, at the right time, to give you the experience that is exactly right for you.

 As I have just mentioned, this past year has been a difficult one for me personally.  My faith in Sai Baba has been severely tested by the accusations of sexual impropriety that have been made against him in several countries. There has been a great falling away amongst his devotees as a result of this. On the one hand I have my own relationship with him over many years, which has truly changed my life for the better in so many ways, but on the other hand the stories about him, if they were true, were completely at odds with my understanding of who and what he is, namely, the Avatar of the Age.   People were asking me where I stood on this matter and I simply could not offer them a reply.  On one point, though, I was very clear.  All we have so far are allegations, nothing has been proven in a court of law, and surely a person is presumed to be innocent until found guilty?  Many of his accusers have become fixated with the sexual allegations and are completely ignoring all the good things that Sai Baba has done in the world, his hospitals, his schools, his social programmes.  In an attempt to redress the balance Ann and I gave an interview to our local newspaper, but the journalist concerned did not want to know about Sai Baba’s good works.  He put words in our mouths that we had not said and produced a very biased article.  It was just total yellow journalism.  It was quite disgraceful.  So I would advise you all to be very careful in your dealings with the press and to ensure that you have editorial control over what is printed.

 Ann and I had planned to go out to India to join in the celebrations at the ashram of Sai Baba’s 75th birthday in November 2000, but I felt no call or need to go.  Then I was invited to speak in Vancouver, at the birthday celebrations to be held there, and I felt that this was the omnipresent God telling me not to go.   So we decide to postpone our visit until the following year.   I was still in a state of mental turmoil.  I was grieving for the loss of a perfect relationship.  I resolved to give up all relationships with spiritual teachers, dead or alive, and to concentrate on the God within me!  I began to wonder if this was the reason for this whole drama.  Perhaps it was a test designed to throw all Sai Baba’s devotees back on themselves.  Nevertheless I still felt that I wanted to go out to see Sai Baba to face him with my problems and to get some kind of resolution.  I instinctively knew that being in his aura, in the womb of the ashram, would give me an answer.  So we began to make our plans and decided to go in April, when there were no big festivals and when, in all probability, he would be in the intimate setting of Kodaikanal. 

 Even as I walked into the ashram I sensed that Prashanti Nilayam had not changed one little bit.   Prashanti Nilayam is rather like the centre of a bicycle wheel, relatively peaceful and moving very slowly when compared to the periphery of the wheel which, rather like the outside world, is spinning round at a high speed. Both Sai Baba and the ashram are completely untouched by all the activities in the world.  The stories and the rumours have no place here.  Swami has not changed one little bit.  His energy is still pure love, love, love.  He, being Truth, is fixed and unchangeable, is unaffected by the Maya of the physical world around him.  His work continues hour after hour, day after day, as it always does.  He serves all who come to him regardless of race, colour or creed.  As I settled into the familiar ashram routine I began to realise that the closer you are to him, both physically and mentally, the further away are all the happenings of the outer world.  I realised that my relationship with Sai Baba was but a reflection of my relationship with God.  Here in the ashram, physically and mentally close to Swami, I wondered how I could ever have doubted him.  If we keep Swami in our hearts, as indeed we should keep God in our hearts, every waking second of the day, so our faith will remain focused.  It is only when we separate ourselves from Swami, and indeed from God, that doubts and uncertainties assail us, that trials and tribulations come to test us.

 Now because I was an airline pilot for much of my working life, Sai Baba uses the analogy of a plane when describing his mission to me.  On his 65th birthday he said that his plane was taxiing out to the runway for departure.  On his 70th birthday he said that his plane was lined up on the runway, all ready for take off.  In our last interview he said that on his 75th birthday his plane will be taking off.  Now this plane is not a physical plane.  I believe that it is a plane of liberation and that what is taking place now, in this gigantic leela that Swami is playing, is in actual fact a selection process, because to get on the plane you have to have a boarding card.  We, with Swami’s help, are all trying to get our boarding cards, we are all trying to get on that plane.  We had an interview with Sai Baba three years ago when he suddenly volunteered the information to us “A big scandal is coming, and when you come to the ashram there will be three rooms available for anyone who wants one.”  Now at the time we didn’t know what he was talking about, but he was obviously prophesying that there would be a great falling away of his devotees, a clearing out of those who did not have total faith, that did not believe in him and his mission.  So I believe that the present scenario is a test designed and implemented by Swami for no other reason than to test the faith of his devotees.  If I, with the experience of my long relationship with him, was being tested, then how much more so was the ordinary devotee who had had very little physical contact with him.  If I was saying “How can the Avatar of the Age behave like this?  How can he be so undharmic?” then I was obviously failing the test.   I was forgetting exactly what is the role of the Avatar and how he will doing anything, including sacrificing his name and his reputation, for his devotees if it will help them along the path to liberation.  I realised that I was getting trapped in Maya.


 So when I got to the ashram I said in my mind “Swami, I’ve come here to resolve my problems and I expect that you, in your inimitable way, will do this for me”.  I did not have long to wait, for on my second day there I read on the thought for the day notice board the following quotation by Sai Baba.  

‘Avatars too are not exempt from wicked forces.  The good are always the target of malice and envy, slander and abuse from the wicked.  Be assured that your goodness can be made tough enough to stand these ordeals.  Avatars too are not exempt from the attention of these wicked forces.’

I said a mental “Thank you, Swami“ and smiled inwardly to myself.  I held these words in my heart until, lo and behold, three days later there was another quotation by Sai Baba waiting for me on the notice board.

‘The enemy takes delight in abusing you, and it is said in the Puranas that, as a consequence, he goes on diminishing and wiping off from your karmic account the demerits that you have to live out in misery.  The faster and the fouler his abuse, the sooner and better are your future prospects brightened.  The enemy absorbs your sins and their effects.  Moreover, he is a good instrument to serve you to keep alert to your own conscience.  Be thankful to him who talks ill of you, for surely he is doing you a very great service.’

Again I said a mental “Thank you, Swami”.  The message was beginning to get through.  My faith was beginning to flower again.

 Prashanti Nilayam, which translates as The Abode of the Highest Peace, is a place of transformation.  It is rather like stepping into a melting pot which boils and brings all your impurities to the surface for you to face and to transmute.  So all is not perfection within the ashram.  Everyone, without exception, is having to face and to handle their ‘stuff’, everything which has arisen from times when they have become separated from God.  If you look with an aware eye you can see Sai Baba’s presence in every situation, in every point of conflict.   In this sense the ashram is a microcosm of the outside world although, of course, you have Sai Baba’s physical presence as a bonus to help you to handle whatever arises.  Never underestimate Sai Baba’s transforming power.  It touches every aspect of your life in the ashram.  If you walk around with awareness you will see Sai Baba’s hands in everything.  I remember being told that Isaac Tigrett, the man who donated the money for The Super Speciality Hospital, said to Sai Baba “Swami, can I run your ashram for you?  I’ll get rid of all the problems.”  Sai Baba responded “No thank you, my ashram runs very nicely, just the way I want it”.  This means that the conflicts and clashes with both devotees and the ashram staff are all part of the healing and the transformative process.
 
 Whilst staying in the ashram I was reading this wonderful book, I don’t know if any of you have heard of it, called ‘Other than You refuge there is none’ by Smt. Vijaya Kumari.  This is a wonderful account of a lady’s relationship with Sai Baba over a period of more than fifty years and describes some wonderful incidents with Swami when he was in his twenties and thirties. The book shines with devotion and gives some wonderful insights into Swami’s nature and actions.  Apparently Swami told devotees on his birthday to read this book.  Anyway, what amazed me, was that almost on the very last page I read that Swami once joked “If there is no criticism of me, I will have to buy some with money”.  Now that’s an amazing statement to make. This means that criticism of the Avatar is an essential part of the avatars role, and helps us to understand why Sai Baba says “Without darkness there cannot be light, without wickedness we cannot appreciate dharma” and “Without Ravana, Rama would not be great”.  Everything that happens is all part of God’s plan to bring us back to Him, to help us to realise that we are no different from God.

 It is because of my problems with the ashram staff that Ann sometimes calls me “On again, off again David”.  This is because although Swami has given me permission to sit on the Verandah, just outside his room in the Mandir, the ashram staff keep on throwing me off.  This has happened twice now.   The problem is that the ashram staff don’t remember my face when I return after a year away.  However it really does not worry me where I sit.  In actual fact there’s a part of me that quite enjoys sitting in the darshan lines, because you see everything that’s going on in darshan, you meet interesting people and you get a real feel for what’s happening in the ashram.  Anyway I was happy to sit in the darshan lines this visit because I had my daughter’s boyfriend with me who had never been to Prashanti Nilayam before and who did not know all the procedures to follow.   So I was keeping him company. On the third morning of our visit we had our first interview with Sai Baba and Ann told him that I had been thrown off the Verandah again.  Swami said “I’ll take care of it, I’ll take care of it”.  For the next two days I went to see Swami’s secretary, who takes care of such matters, to ask if I could sit on the Verandah, but he said “Not yet, not yet”.  Now I’m very used to this “Not yet” because it means that nothing has been done!  On the third day, when I was sitting in darshan, I suddenly noticed the security staff come in and start to walk around, obviously looking for someone.  I said to Diana’s boyfriend “Look, the security staff are looking for someone.  The last time I saw this it was to throw some poor man out of the ashram!”.  However the security men couldn’t find the person for whom they were looking and so they went away. A few minutes later they were back again, walking along the lines saying something.  As one man got near me, I heard what he was saying.  “Jevons UK.  Jevons UK.”  I thought to myself “Oh my god, that’s me!  What have I done wrong now?  Why am I being thrown out?”  This whole incident was taking place just before Swami entered for darshan and was being watched by thousands of people.  I was escorted up to meet Swami’s secretary, who was standing in front of the Verandah.  He said “Go and sit on the Veranda immediately, before Swami comes.”  He was looking very worried.  Perhaps it was because Swami had told him to reinstate me but he had procrastinated about it!  I thankfully sat down on the Verandah and a few minutes later Swami was standing in front of me, smiling an acknowledgement.  He had reinstated me in front of twenty thousand witnesses.  What a leela!  It will be interesting to see what happens when I return next year.   

 One of the advantages of sitting on the Verandah is that you get to see just who is going in and out of the interview room.  You really see Sai Baba at work.  I would like you to understand that Sai Baba giving darshan and granting interviews to devotees is only a very small part of his day.  There is a constant stream of people going into that interview room; teachers, doctors, builders, ashram staff, financiers and people of influence not just from India but from all over the world.  His day does not end with darshan, it just begins.  He is rather like the chief executive officer of a vast company.  After all he is overseeing two large hospitals, several schools and universities, social programs and civil projects, not to mention the world wide Sai Organisation.  Sai Baba has his finger on the pulse of everything and people are constantly coming to him, asking questions and seeking advice.

 I now want to pass on to you a lovely story which was told to me by a doctor sitting on the Verandah.  Apparently there was a very poor young Indian woman who was in the Super Speciality Hospital for her first baby, because there were problems with the unborn foetus.  The doctors didn’t know whether to abort the foetus and save the mother’s life, or to let the foetus stay in the mother’s womb and risk her life.  They prayed for help. Soon afterwards the foetus’ pulse stopped.  So they were forced to operate and to take the dead foetus out, thus ensuring the mother’s safety.  The young mother was a simple peasant woman, very distressed by her loss and by being in a hospital miles from her home and her family.  Then the doctors heard that Sai Baba was coming down to visit the hospital.  They said “Oh, Sai Baba is coming to see us.”  So they all lined up, waiting for Sai Baba to come. When Sai Baba arrived he walked right past the line of doctors and walked straight to the room where the young mother was recuperating.  He spent thirty minutes with her, comforting her.   Such is the nature of divine love!

 One day I spoke to a Sai devotee in the Western canteen.  He was an Indian from Glasgow, who spoke with a broad Glaswegian accent which somewhat threw me!  He was here with his wife to whom he had been married for about seven years but who wasn’t a devotee at all.  In fact quite the reverse.  They had two young children, and she was carrying their third. He had not been out to see Sai Baba for ten years because his wife did not want to come.  Finally she had agreed to come to the ashram for her first visit, but she was not convinced as to who Swami is.  She soon wanted to return home but her husband urged her to stay, at the same time offering up a prayer for help. Now his wife was seven months pregnant with their third child and as she sat in darshan she suddenly noticed that every time Sai Baba walked by the baby began moving and kicking in her womb.  At first she thought it was a coincidence but then she realised that in every single darshan the baby was kicking when Sai Baba walked by.   The rest of the day it was quite still.  She began to think that perhaps the unborn foetus was recognising something that she wasn’t!   She opened her closed mind and began to receive Swami’s unconditional love and as a result she decided to stay!


 In the afternoons Swami used to give a very quick darshan and then he would sit at the front of the Verandah in a swivel chair facing the students and teachers and engage in a lively dialogue with them, twirling first one way and then the other.  A great deal of the interchange was with Anil Kumar, his interpreter.  Sometimes he spoke in English, sometimes in Telegu, which was very frustrating.  To be so close and yet not to understand!  I felt that Swami was giving a great boon to all the devotees who were sitting there, boiling in the hundred and ten degrees temperature.  He was rewarding them for their devotion.  I believe that I had more darshan in this last trip than I have had in any of my previous fifteen trips.  For two to three hours every day Swami was sitting there, just giving of his energy, but an amazing thing happened.  Many devotees got up and walked out after his formal ten minute darshan was over, believing that darshan was finished.  I just could not believe it.   The Avatar of the Age was sitting there and they were walking away from him. They were being given a gift longed for by beings on the higher realms of life and, out of ignorance, they were not taking advantage of this unique opportunity.  I suddenly became very conscious of the sorting of the wheat from the chaff and of the analogy of Swami’s plane taking off.

 I would now like to share very briefly with you a few points from the many conversations that I overheard on the Verandah between Swami and the teachers and students from his schools during their talks in the afternoon. Swami said that our breathing controls the length of our lives.  Man takes five to seven breaths a minute and lives for seventy years.
  A snake takes two breaths a minute and lives for one hundred and fifty years.  A dog takes thirty seven breaths a minute and lives for ten years.  The moral is clear.  Do what all the yogis do.  Slow down the rate at which you breath to ensure a longer life.  Someone asked him why Avatars always seem to incarnate in India. Swami replied to this by using the analogy of a train.  He said that India is the engine and all the other countries are the carriages on the train and where would you expect to find the engine driver but on the engine.  He talked a great deal about magnetic forces and their unseen influence on many aspects of human life.  In particular he referred to the magnetic forces in the Earth and how beneficial it was to our energy levels to walk with bare feet on the ground.  Swami also stressed the need for all of us to talk less.  If we all talked less we would save energy and need less sleep.  He said that an adept who talks very little only needs two hours sleep.

 To the students who were leaving his school to go out in the world he warned them always to keep good company.  He stressed that we really don’t need all our many friends.  God is our only real friend and we should pay attention to this relationship.  All other relationships are temporary, limited by birth and death, but our relationship with God is eternal.  He reiterated his old saying ‘ Show me the company you keep, and I will tell you what sort of person you are’.  He said that East and West have to work together.  The East represents spirituality and the West technology and we need to build a bridge between them.  In one dramatic scene he manifested Draupadi’s hair clip, a magnificent jewel from five thousand years ago, which he passed around to the students for them to examine.  They clustered around the jewel, talking excitedly as they examined it, totally ignoring Swami who wryly remarked “Here you have a perfect example of Maya.  They are more interested in the creation than the person who created it!”  I will end with a wonderful story told to me by a gentleman who was sitting on the Verandah.  The event happened many years ago, at a time when Sai Baba used to walk down to the Chithravathi river from the ashram with his devotees.  They used to pass a house where a widow lived.  Her husband had been a soldier but he had died many years ago whilst serving in the army.  She used to exchange a few words with Swami when he walked by.  One day Swami asked her what she wanted.  She replied that she wanted a photograph of her dead husband in his military uniform. The problem was that no photograph had ever been taken!  Swami asked her to follow him down to the river.  Once there he put his hand in the sand of the river bed and pulled out a photograph of her husband in his military uniform, a photograph that had never been taken and had never existed.  Truly Swami can make the impossible possible.

 As I said earlier, it was very hot during our stay in Prashanti Nilayam. Sitting in darshan every day was an act of tapas, of penance, and I sweated pounds and pounds away.  As I settled into the familiar ashram routine so the outside world gradually began to slip away.  I was not aware of and did not care for what was happening in that world.  I soon began to realise that the life that I led out there was really not important.  If I never returned to it again, it would not matter.  What was important was my relationship with God.   That was all that concerned me.   From this perspective I could see that life is just a game, a game that I have played many times, in many different bodies.  What was important was not the game, but what the game taught me about myself.  I could see now why Sai Baba warns us not to get attached to the world, which is both temporary and illusory.  All our human suffering comes from our attachments to the world.  Sai Baba says, “Get rid of your attachments and you will have liberation”.   Many people protest to Sai Baba that it is so difficult to do this, almost impossible, to which he replies “It is far harder, it takes more energy to hold on than to let go.”  He picks up a handkerchief and then drops it saying “It is as easy as that.  You just have to let go, that is all.” Liberation can be achieved simply by letting go of everything that is not permanent and nothing in the physical world is permanent, even the planet itself.   One of the primary tasks of the Avatar is to remind Humanity of its goal and is to encourage those who are ready for it to achieve it.  To this end Sai Baba will subject his devotees to any test that will help them along the path to liberation.

 The danger always exists, of course, that we become attached to the Avatar, to the bringer of the message rather than to the message.  That is why Sai Baba is always cautioning us not to get attached to his form which, he says, will one day die.   He says “This body is not special. Do not get deluded because I talk, laugh, walk and eat like you. Do not get deluded by this body feeling. This body is rust and dust.  This body will die”.  So Sai Baba too is just an actor on the stage of life and, as such, we should not look to him but to the omnipresent God, the eternal Divine Force that is present in everything and everyone, that is always with us.  Ann and I call this Divine Force ‘Super Sai‘ and over the years this force has grown more pre-eminent in our lives, to the extent that we are now never without it.  We are aware that It controls every aspect of our lives.  We pray to It, we talk to It, we invoke It.  We are aware that at all times It is guiding us, protecting us and placing us in the right position at the right time to fulfil our divine task in this life.  

 Before we departed on this his trip Ann was worrying about the air travel and the time change and the little group that we were taking, but the voice of Super Sai came to her and clearly said “Don’t worry.  I will take care of everything” and It did.   I awoke in my bedroom down in Glastonbury only two days ago in the middle of the night, because I had to go to the bathroom. To my utter amazement there standing at the bottom of my bed, looking at me, was the ethereal form of Sai Baba.  I could not believe it, there was Sai Baba looking at me.  So even in your sleep, Sai Baba is still protecting you.  In the Kali Yuga Age that is the great promise of the Avatar.  “I come to protect my devotees” and that is why Sai Baba says “Why fear when I am here.”  If we walk with God we have nothing to fear in this world but fear itself.  If we walk with God and trust the path that God has chosen for us, then liberation will be ours.  Remember, though, that Sai Baba has said “Millions will come to me, millions will know me but only a handful will achieve liberation.”  So the path is a narrow one.  Liberation is not for everyone in this cycle.  

 How many of us are prepared to sacrifice our name, our fame, our wealth, even our health, to achieve this goal?  The greatest gift that Sai Baba can bestow upon us is not his form, is not the rings and watches that he manifests for us, is not the interviews that he gives us, is not even his darshan, though it is longed for by the gods of the highest heavens, it is the gift of liberation.  Sai Baba has said that such an opportunity will not come our way again.  Liberation can be ours, no matter where we live.  We don’t have to go to India to achieve liberation.  It can be ours, right now, in the twinkling of an eye as we release our attachments to our false identities.  So let us not be distracted by this test of the guru.  It will only become a test if we choose to make it so.  Many will be affected by it, many will fall away, but if you have established a bond of love with Sai Baba, if your heart rather than your head tells you that he is indeed the long awaited Avatar of the Age, then trust your inner feelings.  I will close with the words of the Avatar.  Let them ring in your ears during this testing time.

“So many great things are going to take place.  Everything seen, heard or felt will turn sacred.  All this is going to happen soon.  Do not miss this sacred opportunity and waste it.  Once lost you will never again get it.  Once obtained you will never lose it.”