THE RAMALA CENTRE

OUR VISIT TO SRI SATHYA SAI BABA
MARCH 2001

 Unlike most of my recent trips to India, when I have been the person who was keen to go and was urging everyone else to come with me, this time it was David and my friend Bryn who were doing the encouraging.  After my last trip to see Sai Baba, in February 2000, when he had produced, in public, out of his mouth the first lingam for many years, on Shivaratri day, and announced that all who had witnessed this manifestation would have liberation in this  life, I had felt a sense of completion.   Sai Baba had been weaning me off his physical form ever since I had attended the celebration of his 70th birthday in 1995 and I was truly very happy with the omnipresent God and I felt no need to visit him in India at all.  However, because in the past I had dragged David along with me on my visits to India, when he did not really want to go, now it was my turn to accompany him.  He strongly felt the need to go back to India to see Sai Baba and to feel his energy again and to centre himself once more, after being disturbed by all the scandals and the diatribes that he had read on the Internet.  He had become confused and he felt that he needed to check things out again for himself, all of which I could understand.  I was also aware that I needed to recharge my spiritual batteries and to undergo a media fast and to spend some quiet time soul searching.  All of this, I know, happens for me, when I go to India and sit in the sacred space of  Sai Baba’s ashram.       

 I awoke one morning just before we were due to depart feeling very worried about the enormous time change of 13 1/2 hours that I was about to experience, and with which I had previously only coped with great difficulty.  I was also concerned about not getting on our planned flights, because we always travel standby, and I was worried about my general mental and physical well being.  I was having problems with my health as I was suffering from a severe kick by a horse on one of my legs and I had experienced colds and coughs all winter.  In fact I was feeling quite fragile.  As I was thinking about all of this a voice came to me and said very clearly “Don’t worry.  I will take care of you”.  That morning I picked the angel card of ‘Trust’ and the transformation card of ‘Just Be’.   Someone was telling me something!  I held those thoughts and words in my mind for the whole trip.

            After a perfect trip from Vancouver to London we stopped off in England on our way to India to visit the Ramala Centre in Glastonbury, to publish our March Newsletter and to pick up our Indian clothes or, at least, what was left of them, since someone in the Centre had inadvertently put most of my saris in the tumble drier and had shrivelled them to death!  This was yet another lesson for me in detachment but it also gave me a chance to buy some new saris.  My daughter Diana and her boyfriend Tom, who is up at Oxford University with her, and his mother Bridget were also coming with us.   Diana had not been back to India to see Sai Baba since she was 14 years old and now she was 20.  Moreover she had never been to Puttaparthi and I was keen for her to see what a huge town it had become.  On March 15th we all gathered at Heathrow Airport and after a perfect flight on British Airways to Bombay and a night-stop in a cheap hotel close to the airport, we flew on to Bangalore the next day and then took taxis to the ashram just in time to see Sai Baba attending afternoon bhajans and to get our first darshan.  His promise to take care of me was coming true in every respect.     

 As we had new people in our group we all went to the ashram orientation talk the very next morning to learn about the latest ashram rules and regulations.  I then went out into the town and bought a couple of cool replacement saris.  The weather was really hot.  It ranged from the upper 30s to the mid 40s degrees centigrade and by midday we were really wilting.  At night it was impossible to sleep.  Even lying on a wet towel, with the ceiling fan full on, you were still sweating and had to get up for a shower every few hours! I took refuge in the thought that Sai Baba was melting away our karma.  Normally, by March, he has moved to the much cooler ashram in Whitefield, just outside Bangalore, but because he had spent so much time there this winter due to the opening of his new hospital, he was now spending time in Puttaparthi to keep all the merchants there happy.  When Sai Baba leaves  they all lose a lot of their income from devotees and visitors.  So, as usual, he does more than one thing at once.   He keeps the locals happy and give his devotees a chance to fast track their karma reduction!

 We all soon settled into the hectic pace of ashram routine.  Up early in the morning for temple, then morning darshan and bhajans, followed by attending talks in the EHV building and then afternoon darshan and bhajans, always trying to find the time to eat, shop, do seva and have a nap!   People think there is nothing to do all day without TV, but believe me its busy, busy, busy from dawn ‘til dusk.  I had asked Mrs. Shauri if Diana could sit with me in the VIP section by the first arch, right where Swami enters for darshan, and she had said “Yes” as long as David was sitting on the Verandah.  This brought to a head an ongoing  saga which had been going on for several visits.  Swami had given David permission to sit on the Verandah several years ago and he had done so.   But when he returned for his next visit the seva dal on the Verandah would not let him sit there.  So he waits until he gets an interview with Swami and asks Swami for permission, who again says “Yes”, and so he is back on the Verandah again, but only until the next visit when he gets thrown off  again!   In the meantime I have quietly stayed put in my position, since I know that David should be there.  However Mrs. Shauri’s question brought the problem into focus again.  I could not lie and say that he was sitting on the Verandah even if I knew that he had Swami’s permission to be there.  Mrs Shauri was very kind and very diplomatic but firm.  She told me that David had to go to the office to see Swami’s secretary and that he should ‘exert himself’.  I passed this message on to David, who hates any kind of conflict and who was quite happy sitting in the regular darshan area so as to keep Tom company who was visiting the ashram for the first time and uncertain about what to do or what not do.

 In the meantime I continued sitting by the first arch and on the very next day Diana, putting on her sari for the first time, joined me for morning darshan.  Her hair, which over the last few years has been black, green, blond and several other colours in between was back to its own gorgeous ash blond colour.  She is now tall and slim and with her long neck in profile she looked like an Egyptian Goddess.  As a mother I was justly proud of her.   First we went into the Temple to hear the 21 Aums being chanted and the morning prayer being sung to wake up God and to ask Him to bless us.   Outside again in the balmy air at 5.00am, the only time when it was pleasantly cool, we could still feel the ground warm beneath our feet from the heat of yesterday’s sun.  We watched the priests walk by chanting the Vedas, followed by the processions of men and women devotees singing bhajans as they walked around the ashram, waking everyone up to the songs of God.  The palm trees were swaying against an inky black sky still full of stars and a setting moon.  At the Ganesha gate people were breaking coconuts before the statue of Lord Ganesha, hoping for an auspicious outcome to their requests.   For me there was a real sense of a time warp, of my past lives when this would have been a normal day’s activity, ritualistic maybe, but with such a sense of harmony and peacefulness.  We drew row 2 in the cosmic lottery but ended up with the best seats in the house, sitting on a ledge in the front, so that we could actually dangle our feet instead of sitting cross legged.  What a comfort!  We were just a few feet from the gate right where Swami walks in from his private quarters to give darshan.

 I felt a definite tremor of anticipation.  As Swami walked by I almost said under my breath  Swami, my daughter, your God-daughter is here.”  I said nothing out loud but without even looking at me he made a hand gesture towards me that said “Wait, wait.”  I am very familiar with this gesture from our meetings in the past and so I relaxed and let go and let God.  Swami glided on in his graceful way, taking letters, talking to some people, making vibuthi for others.  I noticed that he had reached the men’s section and suddenly I saw David and Johnima from Lightstorm, who had been sitting together, stand up.  We had been called for an interview and this was only our second day.  We all got up and walked to the Verandah, our group of 6 together with Johnima and Kalassu.  What a divine leela this was, that these two dear friends of ours should just happen to be the ones that were put together with us by Swami for an interview.  They had only recently returned home to Idaho after a long stay in India and yet had had a dream to go back again.   Swami approached the Verandah and he was smiling from ear to ear.   He said to Johnima “Hello music” and then he turned to me and said “Very, very, very, happy”.   So was I!   He was so full of love and joy and seemed genuinely very pleased to see us back again.   He was obviously aware of all the tests that we had gone through in the past couple of years and was pleased to see that we had kept the faith and made it back to him in spite of everything.           

 One of the college students was also called from the Verandah to become the ninth member of our little group as we all entered the interview room.  As usual Swami began by manifesting vibuthi for all the ladies.  Then he turned to the student who had a pendant on a gold chain hanging around his neck.  Swami had to undo the clasp on the chain as it was too short to go over the boy’s head.  Swami then blew on the pendant and changed it and then right before our eyes he stretched the chain so that it would easily go over the boy’s head.  Then he hung it around the boy’s neck.  Swami then enquired about our sons and again asked me why I was here when God was everywhere.  I answered that to visit the form is such sweet nectar and that the privilege to be in his presence and to be so close to him creates very auspicious karma for us.  Our whole group was then called into the inner interview room and I sat there blissfully holding his feet.   I tried to talk to him about inviting Anil Kumar, his interpreter, to Canada this summer for our open day in Langley but he said that he would talk about that later.

 Swami then gave Tom and Diana a little lecture on friendship and the responsibility of relationships and warned them about the pain and suffering and problems that arise out of young people becoming too intimate without the commitment of marriage.  Basically Swami says that only God is your permanent friend, all the rest are but passing clouds, and that if you meet a girl that you like then you should marry her, not live with her as many do today out of wedlock.  He has also given the same lecture to both my sons.  He is very dharmic about these things, and whereas here in the West it is considered very old fashioned not to live with someone before you get married, he will have none of it.  I agree with Swami, as do the Ramala teachers, who say that God’s blessing should always be invoked on a marriage.   Living together is not the same as being married and creates all sorts of problems.  Morality today is non existent, as is true happiness in a relationship, and it’s time for things to change.  He asked what subject Diana was studying at university and I told him Philosophy and Theology and that at the moment she was concentrating on the Hindu religion.  He seemed pleased and said that she was a good girl.  He then discussed music and  concerts with Johnima and Kalassu of Lightstorm who have played and sung with and before Swami on numerous occasions.

 As it was a Thursday and the darshan area was packed with his school children Swami said that he was very busy and that the interview could not be very long.  However he plied us with packets of his vibhuti whilst pointing out to the student how ardent were the devotees from overseas and how much he is appreciated in other countries and the sacrifices devotees make to come and see him.  He said we were good devotees, to which we all agreed!   I told him that Diana and I were sitting by the first arch but that because David was not sitting on the verandah we would have to move.  He said “No, you stay there, and I will fix it.”  He also asked me how his robes were.  In the past he has given us several robes and I told him that one was in the centre in Glastonbury and the other was in the centre in Canada and that they were both very happy and doing well.  He disappeared for a moment and then reappeared with two more robes.  He gave one to Diana and the other to Tom’s mother Bridget.  I felt that this was his way of approving of  their relationship and of giving them his blessing.  Bridget is not a Sai Baba devotee, but she is a very spiritual person and a true seeker.  The proof of this is that here she was on the second day of her first visit to Sai Baba being given an interview and a robe.  How’s that for good karma!  Some of us waited years and years for an interview let alone being permitted to touch his feet and get a robe!  The interview was soon over and we left feeling showered in his unconditional love.  What a trip this was turning out to be!         

 After Mrs Shauri’s advice I insisted that David go to the secretary’s office again and that he ‘exert himself’.   I really did not mind leaving the first arch.  I had had some wonderful times there and met some extraordinary people and heard stories first hand from people who had been close to Swami for years.  I had seen Swami produce the lingam on Shivaratri from my perfect vantage point.  But, as Swami says, we have to learn to take the rough with the smooth.   It is rather like my airline flights.   One minute I am in first class with  a bed to lie on and the next I am lucky to get on the flight at all and I am sitting in the very last row of seats by the toilets!   So I was quite resigned to my fate either way.  Sure enough David came back from his visit saying that the secretary had said that he had not yet asked Swami and that he should come back another day.  This was the standard reply when nothing was being done!  How was I going to face Mrs Shauri.  I could not lie to her.  I went to morning darshan hoping that she would not notice me.  For some reason she was not there.  I was told that she had gone to Bangalore for two days.  Phew, I had a reprieve! 

 The very next evening, when we got back from dinner, we found a note pinned to the door of our flat asking David to go and see Swami’s secretary but, as it was late, he decided to leave it until after darshan the next morning.  The following day he went off to darshan as usual with Tom.  As he sat in the darshan area waiting for Swami to come in he noticed the ashram security men walking along the darshan lines looking for someone.  David pointed this out to Tom and said that the last time he saw this happening they seized someone and escorted him out of the ashram.  Who was the poor man they were looking for this time?  The security men obviously didn’t find the man they were looking for and went back to the Verandah where they spoke to the secretary who then sent them back again.  By now the whole men’s section was watching this intriguing little drama.  This time the security men walked by asking for “Jevons UK”.   David suddenly said “Oh my goodness, they are looking for me!  Whatever have I done”.  He stood up and was marched off to the Verandah between two security guards, where he was told by a slightly anxious secretary to hurry up and to sit down on the Verandah  before Swami came out.  So once more David was reinstated on the Verandah, in front of all the people attending darshan, so that everyone could see that he was meant to be there.  What a leela!  The very next day Mrs Shauri came back and I was able to look her in the eye and say “Yes, David is sitting on the Verandah”.  She gave me a huge smile and said how pleased she was.  No one was more pleased than me. 

 During our first interview Swami had asked me what I wanted, but I had answered in a very unclear sort of way and was now regretting it.  Please give me another chance God, I now said inwardly, because I really do know what I want but I just was too jet-lagged to think straight and to express myself clearly.  The days passed by and although only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun, at least the huge Mandir had a high covered ceiling that kept the direct sun off us all.  The ceiling had been newly decorated in gold leaf and what with all the hanging chandeliers it really is a very kingly setting.  Swami had started coming out for darshan around 2.30 to 3.00pm every afternoon.  He used to give a very quick darshan and then sit on a chair outside the temple where he conversed with the students and teachers for well over an hour.  Amazingly, most people left after darshan, but if you could stand the heat, it was a rare treat to be able to watch him talking and laughing with all the teachers and students.  David and I stayed every afternoon until bhajans were over at 6.00pm.  We certainly earned our  brownie points for endurance and yet any time spent with Swami is more precious than gold.  On one occasion Swami went out in his car to visit the hospital, the dairy and Gita his elephant.  On the way out the car was all shiny and clean, but  when it came back a little while later you could hardly see it under the mounds of flowers.  In the short time that he was away, hundreds of people must have been waiting for hours in order to throw flowers at him.  That’s love.

 One day we went to visit Lightstorm in a very western and beautifully appointed apartment in the village.  As I said earlier Tom, Diana’s boyfriend, is very smart, in fact he is so smart that he does not believe in God.  He and Johnima had a wonderful discussion about the reality of God and then Lightstorm sang all my favourite songs.  When we got back to the ashram Mr. Hedgemani was outside our room and he asked David to give a talk in the EHV room above the Northern canteen on Ugadi day which is the Telegu New Year - an honour indeed.  On the day itself Swami gave a wonderful discourse which was preceded by talks by a student and a VIP.  The only problem was that by the time the celebrations were finished and everyone had been given prasad, there was hardly any time for people, who had been up since 4.00am and had had no breakfast, to rush over to hear David speak. However in the final event quite a few devotees did show up and David gave a talk mainly about his personal experiences with Swami which seemed to go down well.   

 By now Diana and I were settling into a routine.  It was very special for me to spend this time with her.  Now she is at University and has her own very full life we do not see that much of her.  So I was delighted to have her with me on this trip.   Meanwhile back on the Verandah David was having the time of his life, Swami would come out and walk up and down and talk to the people sitting there.  Swami asked David about his sons and he told him that his wife was a very good girl.  I may be 63 next birthday but I am still a girl at heart.  David said “Yes, I know Swami”.  Swami countered “How do you know?” to which he replied “Because I live with her”.  Amazingly Swami accepted this response!  Normally he has the last word!  They had several conversations over the days that followed and David said it was amazing to see just how busy Swami is.  People from all the various hospitals, schools and universities etc., that Swami has created are continually coming and going to bring their problems to him.  Swami is like the CEO of a large conglomerate.  How he manages to handle it all and still have the time for all his devotees is a miracle in itself.  One of his latest projects is a huge new museum building, built behind the Hillview Stadium, which houses the life story of Swami and his teachings.  It is really hi-tech with static displays, cinema rooms and videos everywhere and, best of all, a great air conditioning system.  We stayed for as long as we could!

 David’s talk was obviously judged to be successful as we were both invited to speak again to the ashram devotees on Rama day.  We visited an apartment in the village that our friends from Glastonbury, Clare and Roland Pargeter, have bought.  It was very well appointed and very comfortable.  Just like living in a western flat.  More and more people are moving out of the ashram and are setting up homes in the town.  Building is going on everywhere with all the associated noise.  I personally prefer the peace and the quiet and the energy inside the ashram even if the accommodation is very spartan.  However you are only allowed to stay in the ashram for a few weeks, so if you want to live there on a more permanent basis you have no choice but to move out into the town.

 Our second interview, the day before we left, was not a group one.  Swami just called David and myself.  We were keen to speak to him about Anil Kumar coming for our Open Day at Langley in July.  There were several family groups called and as soon as we were inside Swami manifested a huge gold pendant for a lady who was apparently the Minister of Defence for Sri Lanka.  He then manifested a ring for an Indian friend of ours, a ring with a very large diamond in an exquisite setting.  The person in question has been a devotee for more than 20 years and was obviously delighted to receive it.  For many years Swami had not even spoken to him, let alone given him an interview.  Such are the tests of the Avatar.  For the son of the lady from Sri Lanka he manifested a gold watch with diamonds all around it.  He also manifested a very pretty dress watch for a lady from another family group.  His treasure chest was overflowing that day and it is such fun to watch people’s faces when they receive these tokens of his love.  And that is all they are, just tokens.  Nothing to get too excited about.  The real gift that he has come to give us  is liberation.

 Swami then turned to me and said “What do you want?”  Here was my second chance.  Thank you Lord.   I had blown it in the first interview but this time I was ready.   I said “I want nothing but God, for nothing he can give me is better than himself.”  Swami smiled at this and nodded his approval.   I have always believed that ask and you shall receive, but ask not and you shall receive even more!  He then asked me “Are you happy?”  Again I was ready and said “Swami, I am happy anywhere, but when I am with you I am in bliss and ecstasy”.  And I was.  I had obviously given a good answer because Swami translated it into Telegu for the benefit of the other people there.  Swami then warned one man not to waste his money.  He told him that he might live for a long time and might have need of it.  Wise words for us all I felt.  He then talked to all the family groups individually, including us.  We asked him about Diana’s career and he asked us ‘’What does she like’’?   He then suggested that she would be good in a writing or teaching capacity.  Plenty of scope there.  We then discussed the possibility of having Anil Kumar to speak this summer at our Sai Baba open day which we hold in Langley, B.C.  Swami said “Yes” and suggested that July 22nd was the best day but the 29th was also very good.  I then asked Swami that if Anil could not come, would he please send us another very good speaker.  After the interview we spoke to Anil who said that he was more than willing to come, but that Swami has to give him permission.  On our return to Canada we processed our request through the Sai Organisation, following the correct protocol, but we are still waiting for the answer!  Maybe this is not  the year.

 I had shown Swami some photos of the Sai Open Day event last year, some of the inside of the huge indoor riding arena, full of people, and some of the various speakers.  At the end I showed him some photographs of our horses giving rides to the kids during the lunch break.  He took a photo of Liberation, our four year old stallion, and carried it back to the outside interview room where he showed it to everyone saying “Moksha”.   Now the word for Liberation in Sanskrit is Moksha and several people said “Yes, Swami, but what is his name?”  Swami kept repeating “Moksha” and eventually they realised that that was the name of the horse and they were highly amused.  He told everyone there that David was a good speaker and then he turned to me and said “And she is too”.   Praise indeed.  As we were leaving Swami showered us with packets of vibhuti.  He dropped so much  on my lap and so hard that a bag burst open and I was covered in vibuthi dust.  It rose up in the air and landed on my head - a vibuthi abhishekam!             

 The rest of our group went off to Bangalore a couple of days before we finally departed to see a few sights and to cool down.  We stayed behind because we preferred to be with Swami and because we had to give our talk on Rama day.  Swami had given everyone permission to leave as it was getting unbearably hot.  As a matter of fact he left the day after us for Bangalore.  Both our talks went well and we felt honoured that Swami trusted us to speak in his ashram.  In his talk on Rama day Swami made the interesting comment that Rama needed Ravana to oppose him so that the drama could take place and dharma could be seen to triumph.  Without evil you would find it hard to recognise good.     

 After a wonderful night in a hotel in Bangalore with air conditioning it was back to England and then home to Canada.  Bridget had a tale to tell on her return.  Before she left she had said to Swami in her mind, “I know you give people watches and rings etc., well I would rather that you find the watch that I have lost, the one that was given to me at my wedding.  Not only is it expensive but it has great sentimental value.”  She had  searched her house and her office for months trying to find it, but to no avail.  She forgot all about it while on her trip to India.  When she arrived home one of her staff told her that they had found her watch in front of her desk.  When Bridget asked on what day it was found they told her and, guess what, it was the day that we had had our group interview!  I love great endings to a story.  David and I gave a talk in London to a large Sai Baba Centre in Mill Hill and another one to the Vancouver Sai Baba Centre, on our return to Canada, about our trip to India.  It is such a joy to share our experiences with other devotees, the energy is always very special.             

 As always, it has been an extraordinary trip.  They just seem to get better and better.  I personally trust  the omnipresent God totally and know that whatever happens, even if I don’t understand it completely at the time, is ultimately for the highest good of all concerned.  For all those who have conflicts and problems with anything, just remember that only what needs healing in yourself can have a negative effect on you.  We hope to return to India next January.  I am looking forward to it already.  Let’s hope that David gets back on to the Verandah!  Om Sai Ram.