THE RAMALA CENTRE

The following talk was given by David Jevons to an audience of Sai Baba devotees, who had gathered for the annual Spring Retreat that was held at the Lord Wandsworth College, Long Sutton, Hants, in the UK, over the weekend of April 9th/11th 1999.  It has been edited, but only for the purpose of reproducing it in this Newsletter.

THE QUEST FOR LIBERATION

As many of you know, Ann and I now live in British Columbia, in Canada but, even so, here we are again at a Sai function in England.  It seems like we are always travelling.  I looked at my diary recently and noted that in the past year we have spent over ninety days away from our new home and so it comes as no surprise to me that I am here speaking to you today.  I would like to begin by saying that it's a great joy for Ann and I to be back in the bosom of the UK Sai family.  We travel all over the world, meet many Sai families and attend many Sai functions, and it is from this perspective that I can tell you that you are privileged to be present at such a special event.  The devotion here is so great and Sai Baba's presence is so strong that it's just like being with him in India.  Now every time that I leave Swami after a visit to Prasanthi Nilayam I say to myself  "Can it get any better than this?  Can the experience get any deeper?" and each time that I return I find that it does.  Similarly, every time that I return to this Spring Retreat I find that it gets both better and deeper.  This, of course, is in no small way due to Joan and Richard Brake and the organising committee and they deserve our thanks for both the planning and the organisation of this event.
 

Why are you here?  At the beginning of the retreat Joan Brake quite rightly said that you are not here because of her, but because of Sai Baba.  You are not here because Joan invited you, but because Sai Baba invited you, every one of you.  He invited you here because of all your good deeds, not just in this life, but also in many past lives.  You are his guests and it is both an honour and a privilege for you to be here, in his presence, but recognise that you have earned it through meritorious actions in the past.  What is important at this time is that we are aware as to why Swami has called us here and this is the theme of my talk to you today - The Quest for Liberation.  Now Ann and I have just come back from Puttaparthi.  We spent three weeks with Swami and our family was blessed with three interviews.  Sai Baba told us many things, but before I talk about that I would like to focus on one particular subject, which has been a cause of concern amongst some devotees recently, namely, the falling away of certain well known devotees, who have either turned against Swami or who have been thrown out of the ashram in disgrace.  When Ann and I were in Puttaparthi several people came up to us and asked for our opinion as to what was going on, as to why such events were taking place.  I was inspired to read the last chapter of The Ramayana, which is entitled 'Ending the Play'.  This story of the life and times of Lord Rama is published by the ashram press in two volumes and it's one of the world's great spiritual books, containing as many spiritual teachings as are to be found in the Bible.   

In the last chapter of Volume Two, indeed, in the very last words of that chapter, I found this amazing statement, which I would like to read to you now.  Please bear in mind that Lord Rama is simply Swami in an earlier incarnation.  So for Rama you can substitute Sai Baba.
'Meanwhile, the news that Rama was contemplating returning to his own place - this means that he was planning to leave his body and return to the higher planes of life - came to be known by the people of Ayodhya; they came in immense numbers to his presence and prayed that their requests be listened to.  Their request was that they too be taken by him to his divine Home - this means that they too should be allowed to leave their physical bodies and be granted liberation.  The Lord said that it was a right request and he agreed to do so.  He was glad at their affection and the devotion and dedication towards their Lord.  Lakshmana (Rama's half brother) led them all.  Lord Rama then goes on to allocate duties and responsibilities to the great souls who have helped him to triumph in his battle against the evil forces of Ravana.  Finally he turned to Vibhishana and Jambavan, two of his loyal generals, and he says to them.  "Vibhishana!  You have to rule over Lanka:  you will attain my Presence in the end."  He blessed him thus.  Then he turned to Jambavan and told him "Jambavan!  Be on the Earth till the end of the Dwapara age.  Then, incarnated as Krishna, a fight with you will happen to me.  You will then recognise me as now."  He blessed him in that manner.'  Then Lord Rama and his followers walked into the Sarayu River and they merged with him and attained liberation.  

Now what is amazing about all of this?  It is the fact that a close devotee of Lord Rama, Jambavan, who by all rights should have merged with Rama along with all the other devotees, is given a role by Rama to stay on the Earth for a further 5,000 years and then to fight against Rama, who he loves and recognises as God incarnate, when Rama reincarnates as Krishna, because he then will not recognise him as God incarnate!  Truly life on the Earth is a drama, a game, and God is both the author and the director of this drama to the extent that a loyal devotee of the Lord in one cycle is given the role of opposing that same Lord in the next cycle.  So where are our standards of good and bad when we judge the roles of other people?  We are all allocated roles in the great drama of life, roles that are designed to illustrate the glory of the Lord and to test our faith in Him.  So it is not for us to worry about or to judge the roles of others, about the karma we believe that they are creating through their actions.  All that we should worry about is our reaction to them, is our karma.  The little dramas that are now manifesting in Puttaparthi are tests for us, to test our faith in Swami and in his stated mission.  We should not be concerned about the fact that they are happening.  I feel that we are going to hear many more rumours, and face many more tests, before the end of this Kali Yuga.  What is really being tested is our faith in the avatar of the Age.  If we keep our faith alive, if we stick with him, then nothing can harm us, nothing can hurt us.  Swami came to me in a very powerful dream about three weeks ago and at the very end of the dream he came close to me, until his face was almost touching mine and, looking straight into my eyes, he said, "Remember my face.  One day it will save you." That message is as much for you as it is for me.

In one of our interviews Sai Baba said that the Earth was sick, that the hole in the ozone layer was getting bigger and that the Earth had a temperature.  He compared the body of the Earth to the human body and said that when our body's temperature rises even a degree, then, the body gets sick, it has a fever.  That is the body's way of cleansing itself and it is the same for the Earth.  The Earth has to cleanse herself.  He also said that Humanity is unbalancing the Earth by taking too many minerals and too much oil out of the surface of the Earth for short-term gain.  He said that the Earth was hollow and that the outside shell was very delicate and was becoming imbalanced.  He then formed his hand into a ball, to represent the Earth, and turned it sideways, representing a shift of the axis.  Now what this means I do not know, but I feel that we are in for a pretty rough time in the not too distant future.  Most importantly of all he again made reference to his plane taking off.  He always jokes with me about his plane because I was an airline pilot.  He once put his arm around my shoulders at the conclusion of an interview and said, "You're my pilot but, remember, I'm your pilot."  I feel that the crisis in the Balkans is just a preview of what is to come.  We all have to start preparing for the great changes that are going to happen and our only protection in all of this is Sai Baba's grace.  Remember his words "Why fear when I am here."  We are all protected in so many ways of which we are hardly aware.  We are privileged to be here on the Earth at this time, to witness the ending of a great drama.  What is going to happen, nobody but Sai Baba knows, but we are all destined to play significant roles in that drama.  In order to do this we have to rise above the drama, to remember that we are the observers of the drama and not allow ourselves to be affected by it.  I like to use the analogy of a doctor.  If a doctor is called to the scene of a horrendous road crash, with injured and dead people all around him, he has to stay calm and detached if he is to truly help the people in the crash.  He has to remain detached in order to serve.  If he becomes part of the suffering he cannot properly serve those in need.

 As I said earlier, you are all here in this room because Sai Baba has called you.  You did not choose to be here, you were summoned.  You were summoned because Sai Baba's plane, the plane of liberation, is about to take off and you are being offered the opportunity to be on it.  If you truly want liberation, then this is the greatest opportunity that you will ever have to attain it.  Sai Baba is the pilot of that plane and we should follow his instructions carefully.  Listen to his words.
"I have come to give you the key of the treasure of bliss, to tell you how to tap that spring, for you have forgotten the way to blessedness.  If you waste this chance of saving yourselves, it is just your fate.  You have come to get from me tinsel and trash, the petty little cures and promotions, worldly joys and comforts.  Very few of you desire to get from me the thing that I have come to give to you, namely, Liberation itself!  And even among those few who do, those who stick to the path of spiritual practice and succeed will be a handful."

Let us not be in any doubt that Sai Baba is in a gathering process.  Let us return to the analogy of the plane.  On his 65th birthday Sai Baba said that his plane was taxiing out for departure.  On his 70th birthday he said that the plane was lined up on the runway, revving up its engines.  Now he tells us that on his 75th birthday, which is next year, the plane will take off.  So we have just over eighteen months in which to collect our boarding cards!  Of course Sai Baba is not talking about a physical plane, a 747 or something like that, he is talking about a collection process, a sifting of consciousness.  So if you are not spiritually ready by that date, then, you won't get on the plane.  The import of this is that we have to prepare ourselves now for that all-important date.  We all have an appointment with Swami and, as such, we have eighteen months in which to transform ourselves, to follow the spiritual path that Sai Baba has laid out for us, if we truly want to attain liberation in this lifetime.  Now if the idea of losing your personal identity and merging with the Source is frightening to you, then, that's fine.  You can catch a later flight.  But why miss this great opportunity unless, like Jambavan, the Lord has a role for you to play in the future.

In our interviews Sai Baba gently and lovingly reiterated to us that we have to keep God in our thoughts every minute of the day.  We have to live, breath, think and even dream God.  God has to be with us every minute of our waking lives, to be sitting on our shoulder motivating us, directing us in all of our actions.  When we wake up in the morning God is sleeping in bed along side us.  When we drive to work God is sitting in the seat beside us.  In our workplace God is working alongside us.  When we deal with a customer, recognise that we are dealing with God.  When we break for lunch God has lunch with us too and so it goes on.  There is never a time when God is apart from us.  If we keep God in our minds at all times, then, we are on the royal road to liberation.  If we follow God's Laws, walk in His footsteps, then, we are on the path to liberation.  In one sense God can be compared to the water in which a fish, which symbolises you and I, swims.  The water is all around the fish at all times and a little bit of the water is even inside the fish.  If the water were not there, then, the fish would die.  That is the reality of God.  Of course the one thing we have to remember in all of this is that we don't have to achieve liberation, because we are already liberated.  Sai Baba says that Man's original sin was to believe that he was not liberated.  We are already liberated!  All that we have to do is discover that fact by dispelling the clouds of maya and ego that surround us, by recognising that we are not the body, that we were never born and so we can never die.  We are eternal beings.  We are no different from God.  When we know that as a fact, then, we will be liberated.

Now in this Age there are two paths that we can walk to achieve union with God.  There is the path of Devotion and the path of Wisdom or Self-knowledge and, at this time, Sai Baba says that the path of Wisdom is a very difficult path to tread unless you become a sannyasin and go and sit in a cave in the Himalayas, but the path of Devotion is a relatively easy path to walk and is open to us all.  Sai Baba gives us the analogy of the monkey and the cat to illustrate the difference between the paths of Wisdom and Devotion.  He says that the path of Wisdom is when we unite with God through our own striving and the path of Devotion is when God unites with us because of the efforts that we have made.   The path of Wisdom can be compared to the baby monkey, which has to cling to the mother monkey in order to go with her.  It is the baby monkey's own efforts that decide whether or not it goes with its mother.  The path of Devotion can be compared to the kitten.  It has to do nothing because the mother cat always picks up the kitten in her mouth and takes it to wherever it needs to be and places it there.  The kitten's life or destiny is entirely in the hands or, more literally, in the mouth, of the mother cat.  So Sai Baba is the mother cat and we are his kittens.  If we will but trust him he will place us exactly where we have to be, to do just what we have to do, in order to gain the prize of liberation.

I would like now to share with you three stories of what happened to me during my last visit to Prashanti Nilayam, a few weeks ago, which all illustrate the above point.  The first story is about the fact that when Ann and I were planning our visit to Sai Baba we decided very firmly, even though several people had asked if they could come with us, that we would not be taking a group.  We know, from listening to the experiences of other group leaders, what a lot of hard work is involved in taking a group to the ashram.  Well, as the saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.  Eventually we took a group of fifteen people and Ann was even given that number in a vision some time before we departed!  Now Ann and I had carefully selected the days of our visit to the ashram so as to arrive just after the students' sports day was over, when we knew that Swami would be very busy and we wouldn't get much attention, and to leave just before the festival of Shivaratri because of the vast crowds that come to celebrate that festival.  What we hadn't taken into account, of course, was the Hindu calendar and when we got there we were horrified to find that Shivaratri was very early this year and would coincide with the last day of our stay at the ashram.  We had miscalculated.  Luckily for us, Swami hadn't.  Sai Baba, the mother cat, had picked us up and had put us down just where we needed to be.  He had ensured that we were present for what was, perhaps, to be one of the most significant events in our lives so far.

As the festival of Shivaratri approached the ashram became very crowded and the normal routine changed rapidly and, often, at very short notice.  Advertised events didn't happen at the published time and confusion abounded.  The morning before the night of Shivaratri I went down to join the lines of people queuing for darshan only to find that the seva dals had abandoned the cosmic lottery - the normal system by which devotees are admitted to the darshan area by the drawing of tokens - without telling anybody, and that entrance was now to be on a first come, first in basis.  Many people were outraged by this high-handed decision, but there was nothing that they could do about it.  Those people who turned up at the normal time found themselves right at the back of the darshan area with only a distant view of Swami.  As I walked out of morning darshan I thought to myself, "Right, I'll have to play this game their way, especially since my position in afternoon darshan will decide my position for Shivaratri night, when I know Swami will give a discourse."  So I immediately joined the queues that were forming in preparation for the afternoon darshan lines, even though it was early morning.  I felt that I had been very smart.  I was in the first line and I knew that I was going to get a good position in afternoon darshan.  So the queuing process began.  I might add here that in totality I sat on my bottom for nineteen and a half hours that day!  Eventually, at around one o'clock, the seva dals allowed the pre-darshan lines down into the darshan lines area in preparation for entering afternoon darshan.  Then, for the first time that I have ever known, the men, who are usually so well behaved, broke ranks and surged down en-mass to the darshan lines.  I was nowhere near the first line.  All my queuing had been in vain!  I was cross.  I said inwardly "Swami, I've been dharmic, I've demonstrated my willingness to get close to you and now look what you've done.  You've made a complete shambles of everything!"  As you can see, I was not amused by the turn of events.

About twenty minutes went by and then the seva dal in charge of the darshan lines suddenly announced, in the face of growing discontent, that there would be a cosmic lottery after all.  I was very happy with this decision, especially since there were now close on thirty lines of men trying to get in.  As you can see, the ashram was packed.  So I sat there waiting patiently for the lottery to take place.  I though to myself "Well this is Shivaratri, Shiva's day, so I had better chant a Shiva bhajan or mantra to try and get some good karma here, because I certainly need it."  So I started singing quietly to myself as a mantra 'Shivaya Namah Shiva, Shivaya Namah Shiva, Shivaya Namah Om Namah Shivaya'.  I kept this up for almost half-hour, until the cosmic lottery took place when, to my utter amazement, I was in line one and was the fifth person into the darshan area.  As I walked in I offered a silent prayer of thanks to Swami and I sat down in the best seat in the house, right in the very front row, close to Swami's chair.  I was very happy and I struck up a conversation with a delightful gentleman from Columbia in South America to help pass the time.  After a few hours had passed, as I was feeling a little bit tired and sore from all the sitting, I announced to my newfound friend that I was going back to my apartment for a shower and a short nap.  He looked at me in amazement and said "Sir, you cannot leave.  You've got the best seat in the house, you could sell this seat for 5,000 rupees or more to anyone inside this ashram and, moreover, if you go, any one of the ten thousand Indians behind you will instantly occupy it if you are gone for too long."  A little shamefacedly I said "Oh, is tonight that important?"  He replied "Don't you know what's happening tonight?  It's Shivaratri, the night when you can achieve so much, when you can still your mind and establish control over it for the rest of your life.  Moreover Swami always gives very special blessings on this day."  So I remained in my seat as he told me about the Shivaratri festivals of old when Swami used to produce lingams.

Eventually Sai Baba came in and gave his evening discourse in which he expounded on the benefits of Shivaratri, asked us to stay up throughout the night and to sing bhajans and so purify our minds.  He also alluded to the possibility of a lingam coming.  Well, the moment he said that, the whole energy in the darshan area changed.  Instead of leaving, as was the usual practice, everyone remained in their seats and the energy level just rose and rose.  The only unfortunate thing, as far as I was concerned, was that I was sitting right behind one of the big pillars that supported the roof and so I could not actually see Sai Baba when he gave his discourse and I was quite upset by this.  So I prayed to Swami to get his seat moved back so that I could see him in the morning and, amazingly, after a short time, two seva dals came and did just that, and I offered up a prayer of thanks.  Unfortunately, early the next morning, they returned to move the chair back to its original position so that when Sai Baba came in I could not see him sitting in his chair.   After only a very short time he produced this beautiful golden lingam out of his mouth.  He also said that those who saw the lingam emerge from his mouth would gain liberation in this life and that those who saw him holding the lingam up after it had emerged would also gain special blessings.  This was the first time that Sai Baba has produced a lingam in public for twenty two years and Ann and I were privileged to be there to witness it.  I could not help remembering that we had planned our visit to avoid Shivaratri and yet here we were, thanks to Swami's planning, getting immeasurable benefits from being here!   I offered up a silent prayer of gratitude.

Now Ann, who was sitting by the first arch, in the VIP section, had a wonderful view of the whole proceedings and Swami, of course, has told her that she is going to get liberation at the end of this life.  So it was right and proper that she should see the lingam as it emerged.  I, on the other hand, sitting behind this pillar, certainly did not see it emerge, even though I saw it seconds later, which meant that I am not getting liberation in this life, at least not so far!   Swami said that there were great blessings and benefits to be gained from seeing the lingam as he held it up, but not liberation.  Now this is interesting because when I went to have a reading from the Book of Brighu last year, this book contains a record of the lives of certain souls who are listed in it, I was told that I was to have one more life with Swami when he incarnates as Prema Sai.  I am destined to be born in Southern India in my next life and I will spend most of my life in Swami's ashram and will attain liberation at the end of that life.   Now do you see the reality of what took place, even to the extent of placing me behind a pillar, so that I was unable to see the emergence of the lingam, because it wasn't in my destiny to do so.  The mother cat had placed its kitten exactly where she wanted it to be.  It didn't matter that I didn't see the lingam emerge, because it wasn't my time to see it.  This is what happens when you follow the path of devotion.  If you walk hand in hand with Swami he will place you just where you need to be.
  

My final story is even more amazing, amazing to me anyway.  In Swami's ashram at Puttaparthi it is sometimes possible to get into the small temple for morning bhajans.  The significance of this is that Swami comes and sits on his throne in the temple and so you get half an hour's close darshan.  Depending on how many ashram staff and students occupy the space in the temple first, which is their right, perhaps about fifty people can get in after them for this wonderful experience.  Now in order to get into the temple six short lines form in the darshan area after morning darshan is over.  To join these lines, unless you are actually sitting where the lines form, is like joining a rugger scrum.  Some people literally just dive in to the melee to try to get a place.  Well for days I had been trying to get into a line but had got nowhere.  I had decided to give up and to stop wasting my time and my energy.  On one particular day, however, something inside me told me to go and try again.  So I tried, but by the time that I reached the lines I was too late.  The six permitted lines had already formed and were full.  The situation was hopeless, but then an illegal seventh line began to form.  I sat down in this illegal seventh line knowing that I was going to be asked to leave by the seva dals but, amazingly, on that day they allowed this illegal line to stay.

When the cosmic lottery for these seven lines took place I found that I was in line one and was amongst the first people to go inside the temple.  Now, unbeknownst to me, Ann, on the lady's side, following a similar inspiration, had joined the lady's lines and she too had chosen line one and was amongst the first ladies to enter the temple.  We both sat down in the temple alongside each other in a mirror position, she on the ladies' side and I on the men's side!  Now when you think that there must have been over 10,000 people in the ashram that morning, all wanting to do the same thing, given all the many variables and the cosmic lotteries, what are the real odds of such a thing happening?  Only the hand of God could have arranged it.  So Ann and I sat there beaming inwardly and smiling at each other.  Just before bhajans began Swami entered the temple and walked up to where we were sitting and Ann, who is never exactly shy in talking to Swami said "Swami, my husband is here."  Swami looked at her and in a very amused voice said, "Yes, yes, I know" and then he turned and talked to me.  It was a wonderful moment, more precious than any interview, because it proves to me, and I hope to you, that the omnipresent Sai is so powerful, so all knowing, that you are always placed exactly where you are meant to be.  It was the mother cat at work again.  Just let go and let God.  You have nothing to worry about if you place your hands in Swami's and let him lead you.  The odds of such a meeting happening in real life are probably greater than those of winning a public lottery.  

We are all bound for liberation, and for some of us it can be achieved in this lifetime.  It can be achieved.  Swami says that such an opportunity will not happen again.  The avatar is personally here to lead us along the path of liberation and to invite us to fly in his plane.  Now if you enjoy life on the Earth, if you want to live hundreds of more lifetimes on the Earth, then, know that you can choose to do that.  There is no pressure on you at all to choose liberation, but if you truly feel that you want to merge with the Source of all Life, to know all things, to be at one with everything in creation, then, surely, this is the time to seize the moment and to make every sacrifice possible to gain this great prize.  We are being offered the prize for which great spiritual beings have quested over many lives.  The Lord of the Heavens is here on the Earth offering it to us.  All that we have to do is to follow the path that he is now walking, is to place our lives in his hands, is to follow the spiritual disciplines that he has laid out for us.  We must observe and exemplify the nine-point code of conduct.  We must love all and serve all.  We must follow the disciplines that he has asked us to follow, namely, to stop eating meat, to stop drinking alcohol, to stop gambling and to stop smoking.  We must learn to love everyone, to see the God in everyone, to treat everyone as an equal regardless of race, colour or creed.  We must see the God in everyone if we are to bring forth the God in ourselves.  Finally, let us remember Swami has said that in this time of Kali Yuga the path of devotion is the easiest and the fastest path to God.

There are three kinds of liberation.  Firstly, there is the liberation that happens without you even seeking it!  As you walk down the street, suddenly, out of nowhere it happens.  You are one with everything, you know everything, you are full of peace and bliss, you feel love for everyone and everything.  Unfortunately, such a feeling usually only lasts for a few minutes and then it goes, but you have had a taste of the reality of the Godhead.  Secondly, there is the liberation that comes from the practice of following certain spiritual disciplines.  This is the path of many sanyasis in India.  They are taught certain techniques by a guru, they meditate, they study sacred texts, they sit alone in caves, they become ascetics and lead a life that is devoted to the search for liberation.  They devote their lives to it and often can achieve liberation for varying periods of time, but often never on a permanent basis.   Thirdly, there is the liberation, the gift, which Swami is offering to us, which is eternal liberation, which is the liberation we experience when we merge with the oneness of God never to return to the Earth again.  When we merge with the Source, we become the Source; we have all the knowledge and wisdom of the Source.  So at this time we don't have to follow a lot of spiritual disciplines, we don't have to read a lot of spiritual books, we don't have to follow a lot of austerities and become ascetics.  We simply have to place our hand in Swami's and walk hand in hand with him.  He will take us to our goal.

Finally I would like to read to you something that Sai Baba said in his discourse on the morning of Shivaratri.  I feel that it's important that we all look at this aspect of our relationship with Sai Baba, because some people, I know from experience, form a very co-dependent relationship with him.  So let us just listen to his words of warning.

"Do not get deluded just because I talk, laugh, walk and eat like you.  Don't get deluded by this body feeling.  All my actions are selfless, selfless, selfless.  There is no trace of selfishness in me at all.  Have firm faith in this truth.  If you have total faith, wherever you are, all your desires will be fulfilled without your asking.  Only those who don't have total faith will suffer, so develop self-confidence, that is the first spiritual discipline that you must follow.  You must undertake this now.  Liberation can be gained in this lifetime.  Millions know me, millions will come to me, but only a handful will obtain liberation."  May you all be in the handful that will gain liberation in this lifetime.