David: I would like to begin by asking you about your spiritual background. What were your spiritual understandings before you came into contact with Sai Baba?
Al: I was brought up in a Jewish home in pre-war Germany. As a little boy I was a very pious kid even though my family was not particularly religious. It was really an opportunity for me to get away from my family. At the time I felt overpowered by all the women in my family. They all loved me and fluttered around me so much that as a little kid I just couldn't take it. So the only way that I could become free of all of that was to become so religiously inclined that their needs wouldn't prevail over mine. I think that I began studying the Torah when I was only three.
David: But was there any one factor or incident in those early days that awakened your spiritual consciousness, that started you on your spiritual quest in this life?
Al: Well it seems to me that my interest in spiritual matters was always
there. I have some intimations of having been a Ramakrishna sannyasin
in my last life. I believe that I spent that life in France. I have some
remembrances of it. I also feel that I have spent many lifetimes in India,
living in caves in the Himalayas. In this life I did not pursue a spiritual
path until well into my adult years. After going to university I kind of got
lost in the world for a while. I joined a select group of engineers and
physicists who were responsible for the technical management of the U.S.
ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes. However I soon got an inner
message that working on these weapons of mass destruction was not right for me
and so, on a spiritual impulse, I quit the programme very suddenly in the late
1960's and went to live at the Esalen Institute, a
centre for growth and transformation in Big Sur on the Pacific Coast, south of
San Francisco. The contrast from my previous lifestyle could not have been more
dramatic. I radically changed professions, to become in succession a
massage therapist, a Rolfer, an acupuncturist, a
homeopath, a gestalt therapist and, finally, a teacher of alternative medicine.
Now Esalen is just across the mountains from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre, it is about fifteen miles as
the crow flies, and I used to hike across the mountains to meet a wonderful
teacher, Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.
He was really a great saint and it was through him that I became interested in
Zen. I have also had a long time interest in Taoist teachings, having spent
some time in China as a young man. So it seems to me that I have always been
interested in spiritual matters, but Spirit didn't really become the major
focal point in my life until my aeroplane experience, in which Swami saved my
life and thereafter led me to him in India.
David: The greatest obstacle that I had to overcome in establishing a relationship with Sai Baba was the concept of God incarnating on the Earth. To me God was always separate from His creation and never incarnated in form on the Earth. When did you accept this reality?
Al: Well, you see, even as a kid we would sing a song in Yiddish about the time when the Messiah would come on Earth and we would all be happy. I have always believed that the Messiah was just around the corner and that the Messiah was God on Earth. So I have always been waiting for him and rather than being surprised that such a thing could actually happen, I was surprised that it hadn't happened yet. So I didn't have that prejudice against God being in form.
David: In the talk that you gave yesterday, you related the story about meeting the SS colonel in the railway carriage, as you tried to escape from persecution in Nazi Germany. This impressive figure, dressed in the black uniform, must have absolutely taken your breath away, and yet he talked to you about the Bible and made that amazing statement, "There is no Moses to save you this time".
Al: I was just a kid of nine and, of course, I was terrified. I was frightened out of my wits when he came into that train compartment. I lived in Cologne and I was travelling across Germany to Poland and had stopped off in Berlin. In Berlin I had some well-to-do relations and they had decided to put me into this first class compartment, but unknown to me, Jews were not permitted to be there. I had the compartment to myself until the train stopped some twenty-five miles outside of Berlin and that was when this SS colonel appeared. So I sat there, petrified, expecting to be arrested, but he was charming He loosened his jacket and took off all of his imposing paraphernalia - the cap with the skull emblem on it, the black leather belt, the gun, the dagger, the leather gloves, the monocle and the big black leather boots. He made himself comfortable and told me to sit comfortably and not to be afraid of him. So, in a sense, he became an ordinary guy for me. He talked to me about God and the Jews, quoting extensively from the Old Testament. He warned me that the Holocaust was coming and advised me to escape westwards not eastwards which, of course, is what I eventually did.
David: You said that you felt that the SS colonel was Sai Baba, that he manifested as that colonel to warn you, in fact, to save your life. Are you really sure of that?
Al: It is very clear to me now that the colonel was Swami. He simply didn't fit the SS character at all. There was no way that man would have taken the chance in Nazi Germany at that time of saying the things that he said to me, even if he felt that way.
David: The SS colonel came out with this amazing statement "There is no Moses to save you this time. You will have to be your own Messiah." What do you think that Swami meant when he said that? How do you view that message in the light of what eventually happened to the Jews? What would be the purpose of the Jews being subject to the Holocaust? Was it to prove to them that there is no Messiah?
Al: I wish I even had the beginning of some answers for that. I have no idea, David. But two world wars in two successive generations, which destroyed or uprooted hundreds of millions of people, and then the development of atomic and hydrogen weapons that promised to snuff out all of civilisation, and God knows what other insane weapons of death are in the offing to destroy Mankind, only proves what madness has come upon us in this Kali Yuga, and how absolutely vital it was in this time of darkness for the Avatar to come and rescue Mankind from itself. The genocide of the Jews is just an outward symptom of the genocidal feelings of hatred and mayhem inside all of us. Swami has come to correct that. As for the Messiah, I once had the chance to ask Swami whether he was the Messiah for which we had long been waiting. He answered "Not one Messiah. You are all Messiahs. You have the power to save yourself and to save others also." In other words, he will drive the chariot, he will direct us from within, but it is our job to save ourselves and we have been given the full power of God to transform the internal enemies of greed, hatred and jealousy, etc. which are polluting our hearts into the divine love that is Swami. For me, personally, Swami gave me the chance to clear up most of my haunting memories of Nazi Germany. It relates to the first time I had to leave India very unexpectedly. Let me tell you the story.
In 1981, after I had made some fifteen or so trips to Sai Baba, he directed me to come and live at Prashanti Nilayam. So I went back to America and gave up everything. I sold or gave away all of my possessions and I was back at the ashram within a couple of months. At his direction I was to give up my U.S. citizenship and become an Indian citizen. My life in America was to be finished! So I started the process of Indian naturalisation and I arranged that I would become an Indian citizen on my 60th birthday, because that is a particularly auspicious day. I planned to go to Bangalore that day to be sworn in and also, a few days later, to deliver a paper at a conference of the heads of all the Indian universities on the Awareness Programme, six courses unique to Swami's University, which covered the whole range of human knowledge - the humanities, the sciences, the arts, and the spiritual and religious history of the world - which all undergraduate students were required to take. I had had a hand in formulating the programme. Now at that time Swami was in Whitefield.
So that morning I was sitting in my room, working on my presentation, when a
policeman knocked on the door and informed me that I was under arrest! Well,
you call imagine the shock and disbelief that I felt. It seems that they had
decided that I was a CIA agent and would pose a threat to the country if I
became a citizen. The policeman had orders to take me to Anantapur.
I insisted that I had to go and see Swami first. Well, amazingly, I got to see
him. It's a wonderful story and I cannot tell it all now, but I got to see
Swami and he told me, despite my fervent objections, that, yes, I was CIA, and
it would be best if I left the country! Then he explained that CIA really meant
Constant Integrated Awareness, and that I should call the headman in Anantapur. I called this officer and to my astonishment he
directly answered the phone, which is most remarkable in India. When I told him
that Bhagavan had advised me to leave India, he gave
me eight hours in which to leave the country. Now this is the day, my 60th
birthday, on which I am supposed to become an Indian citizen and give up my
U.S. citizenship and, in a moment, my life was totally turned around! I didn't
have any money, I didn't have a ticket, I didn't have an exit visa yet,
somehow, Swami miraculously arranged for all of that and I ended up by flying
to Germany, of all places. That was as far as I could go at that time with the
funds that I had available. I stayed with some German Sai friends that I had
met at the ashram. Now the husband was in the Wehrmacht,
the German army, during the war and his wife was a leader of the girls' side of
the Hitler Youth movement. We spent an intense month together discussing the
war and clearing out all our old karma. It was totally finished for us and we
became very close friends. We put the whole war experience to rest. In my
talk yesterday I referred to the pure light that shines in the eyes of the
children in Swami's schools and I have a clear sense that many of these kids
are the reincarnated souls of the beings that died in the gas ovens of Auchwitz, and that they are now with Baba and so have
forgiven all that was done to them in the past! I am really clear in my
own mind that even if Adolf Hitler were sitting here in front of me now I would
forgive him and see only the wholeness and the completeness and the perfection
of his being, and not dwell on the horror of what he, in his madness,
perpetrated on the world.
David: How long did it take you to recognise Sai Baba's divinity. My path was a very slow one, requiring many visits, with much doubting and testing. How was it for you?
Al: I loved Swami the first time that I saw him. I just loved him. As I said yesterday, the very first time that I saw Swami was in the Poornachandra Auditorium on the day of Mahashivaratri. Just before he came out, I had this very powerful deja-vu experience of being back in Nazi Germany. There were the massed flags and the swastika symbols, which of course was the symbol of Nazi Germany, the slogans and banners on the walls, similar to what the Nazis used to do, and when Swami started speaking he was saying the same things that Hitler said! Then I woke up and realised that here was the ultimate of goodness that had come into consciousness, the ultimate in the totality of the history of the world as it is known in the West. There had not been a full avatar on the Earth since Lord Krishna, over five thousand years ago. I recognised that I had experienced both the ultimate of divine goodness and the ultimate of evil in my life. They both used some of the same outer forms, they both used some of the same expressions, they both used some of the same symbols and slogans, and they both used similar mannerisms. In the talk that Swami gave that day he said that it does us no good to go around digging ten metre holes in a field in our search for water. We can dig holes all over a field and still find nothing. He said that we must dig one hole, but dig it deeply, in order to find pure clear water. If we want to know the reality of this Sai Avatar, we must come close to him and dig deeply. The intensity of that experience was so powerful that it has remained with me ever since.
David: You've been so close to Swami, do you think it is because of your actions in past lives or in this life?
Al: I really do not know. All I can say is that there is nothing that I am aware of in this life that would relate to that extraordinary privilege.
David: We both know of people, such as yourself, who were very close to Swami and then have suddenly fallen from grace and been banished from the ashram. I have this feeling that it is safer not to get too close to Swami. It's almost like getting too close to the fire and getting burned. What are your feelings about this?
Al: When the devastating moment of incineration comes it is almost always totally unexpected, like the incident on my 60th birthday that I just spoke about. In some ways, it's a lot like death. We think that death is something that happens to everybody but us! Here is another story with an unexpected result. One morning I got a message to report to the head office of the ashram. Remember that at the time I was a lecturer in the Sathya Sai Institute and, in fact. I was the only Westerner there. Swami also had told me to do study circles for the residents in the ashram and for the staff and students at the University. I also gave talks to the Westerners who visited the ashram. So there were many opportunities for me to slip up and to make a mistake, but in this particular incident even the mistake was missing. I had done nothing wrong. Anyway, I went down to the office, it was just before morning darshan, and waited for the manager of the office to arrive. He was coming straight from seeing Swami, since they have breakfast together. He walked up to me and said, "Pack up your things and leave. You have to be out of here by noon!" I said, "Out of here, what do you mean?" He replied, "You are being told to go. You've got to go." Now this is after I've been there three years. I asked, "What is this all about?" but he replied, "I've been instructed not to tell you." So I returned to my flat and said inwardly "Swami, what have I done? I don't understand it. I have to leave and my whole life is here. This is where all my things are." At that time I had an extensive library of over five hundred books. I began packing and choosing a few favourite books to take with me I picked up a book of Shankara's poems, opened it and read 'Mother, how could you be so cruel to your only son, you're my Mother and how can you not love your son? Somehow I knew that it was no accident that I was looking at this poem. Just then a message came for me to go and see Dr. Gokak, who at that time was the vice chancellor of the University, and who was also my boss. He told me that Swami was very unhappy with me and I had to leave. I said, "What is this all about, Dr. Gokak?" He replied that he had been told not to tell me, but that Swami was unhappy with something that I had said at a public meeting. I returned to my flat and continued with my packing when Professor Kasturi called for me. Now Kasturi and I were like father and son. I spent much time with him. He said, "Drucker, you've done it." I said, "What is it that I am supposed to have done?" He replied "Swami says that you were cracking dirty jokes in your talk to the foreigners" I said "That's just not possible, Kasturiji, that's totally incorrect." Kasturi said that Swami had received a letter from a German lady who had reported this fact to him. He also said that he (Kasturi) had received a letter from the same German lady asking for an introduction to me. I have no idea who this lady is. So I went off for my last darshan and as I'm sitting there in darshan Swami comes up to me and says "You are a Surpanakha." Now Surpanakha is the name of a demon in the Ramayana. She is the sister of Ravana and when she discovers Rama and Lakshmana she desires them so much that, in a jealous rage, she tries to kill Sita. Lakshmana intervenes and with his sword disfigures her, first cutting off her nose and then her ear. She runs back to her brother Ravana in order to raise an army of demons and so avenge herself. Ravana is amazed that she stayed around long enough to have both a nose and an ear cut off, and he asks her why she did not run away. She replies that they were both so beautiful she couldn't take her eyes off them! So when Swami called me "Surpanakha" and jokingly said that he was going to cut off my nose, I responded by saying "0 Swami, you are so beautiful, I'll have to stay around until you cut off my ear too!" Apparently, that was the right answer. Swami told me to take padanamaskara. I kissed his feet and that was the end of the incident. It was over, and I stayed at the ashram. But it was a warning to me that at any moment I could be thrown out, with or without good reason and, as you know, later on it did indeed happen to me. I have always recognised that God can take anything that He likes away from me. I have heard Swami talk of the three zeros, of reducing a true devotee to nothing, of taking away their wealth, their health and their name to prepare them for liberation. I am ready for that.
David: Obviously the fact that Swami did eventually throw you out of the ashram must be for your highest good, but what, do you think, was his reason for doing that? Do you think that he is preparing you for liberation?
Al: I had always believed that the meaning of the three zeros was that God can take any material thing away from me, but that He could not take God away from me. I worshipped Swami as God and here I was getting thrown out of the ashram. So I felt that even God had now been taken away from me. I felt totally devastated, without roots of any kind. I believed that there was no existence left, but then I discovered something. There is no way that God can be taken away from me. The form of God was no longer in my eyes, that was all. Now that discovery was not immediate. It took me about a year to get over the feelings that something horrible had happened to me. Nevertheless, during this period of time, I experienced many remarkable acts of grace, including being in the interview room with Swami every day for some weeks. It was a direct experience. It was not a dream. It was a state of awakened consciousness. I was sitting there and Swami would be sitting here and we were talking. It was no less real than the exchange that we are having now. I realise now that Swami will never take himself away from me.
David: Ann and I have always created a separation between the forms that we call Sai and Super Sai. We love to go and visit Sai, that is to say the physical form of Sai Baba, but we also recognise that Super Sai, that is to say the omnipresent form of God, is with us every moment of our lives and, indeed, is here right now. It is Super Sai that is for us the God in which we trust and in which we believe and with whom we have no conflict. It seems to me that conflicts such as you have experienced only arise when you get close to the form and have to relate to the form!
Al: Well, David, we have to be willing to get close to Swami and even to risk being thrown out, but even if that happens we will discover that nothing really has happened. How can anything ever come between Swami and his devotees? He is pure love and he yearns for all of us to come very close to him. One reason Swami gives us vibhuti is to remind us that ash is the only thing that survives in a fire. We have to be willing to do what it takes to be consumed in his fire and to realise the truth of who we really are, which cannot be affected by anything.
David: What has been your experience of being nine years in the wilderness, of being removed from Sai Baba for so long a time, after being so close to him?
Al: During the eight years I was at the Ashram I did indeed feel very close to Swami. In the first years Swami would speak to me every day. So I was treated like I was a very special person. But what has come to me in these years of being in the wilderness is sanity. I thought that I was special, but it is now very dear to me that I am not special, none of us is special, and I don't want to shock your readers when I say this, but even Swami is not special. There is nothing special about anything in this world. Underneath we are all exactly the same, one unchanging divine essence; on the surface there is just the changing names and forms of maya, the veil of illusion.
David: When you say Swami, you mean the form of Swami?
Al: Yes, absolute truth does not have a form. It cannot be seen with the eyes, nevertheless, some forms can be used to point the way to the realisation of our true reality. Such is the form of Swami, but we must go beyond that stage to the direct experience of the formless divinity as the truth of our being.
David: Professor Kasturi was always having a hard time with Swami, even though he was very close to Swami. Swami sometimes did some harsh things to him, didn't he, to crush his ego? Is this the price that you pay for being that close to him?
Al: No, I don't think that it's like that; I don't think that it's a price you have to pay for being so close to him. I think that it's the price you have to pay for having chosen to be on the fast track to liberation. You have to pay that price if your ego is to go. The sense of individuality has to go and all that Swami is doing is to help you to realise that all forms of individuality are a mistake. So I think that this sort of thing happens to all people who have made the commitment to liberation, no matter what. There is only one interest in my life and that is the path to liberation, so anything which blocks that path has to be removed, and quickly, because I am not prepared to wait for another five lifetimes. Ann, in her talk yesterday, said that the Book of Brighu astrologer had told you that you were going to incarnate again with Prema Sai and live in his ashram for most of your next life and would die at ninety-five. This, apparently, was confirmed to you at Shivaratri when you did not see the lingam emerge. You have now accepted this as a fact.
David: Yes. That is true.
Al: I think that's a terrible mistake. Excuse me, David, but I have to tell you that that is very foolish. Don't accept anything like that. Your mind has the power of God and you can change destiny by changing your consciousness. You can, I know that! You have the power to do this unless you have talked yourself into wanting to be around for another one hundred and fifty years or so.
David: I have no desire to be here again, even for a life with Prema Sai.
Al: Then don't accept it. Don't accept it and Swami will not support that mistake. It really is a mistake. He would not support it unless that is your wish. So make that decision now and even if the three zeros and all that stuff follows, so what? This world isn't worth anything anyway, so why invest in it?
David: May I ask you a personal question now? Was your decision to marry Yaani, the decision which directly led to you being thrown out of the ashram, made from the heart or from Swami?
Al: It was not from the heart, it was clearly from Swami, although now it has become a thing of the heart. You know, it's an interesting fact that that was the way of most marriages until this century. Parents or preceptors usually arranged marriages, because it was in the best interest of the individuals concerned in their journey to God. The love, which was often very deep, usually came afterwards. I would say that I'm a very reluctant husband. I went through sixty years of life without ever having contemplated marriage and just at the time when I am supposed to give up everything I get married!
David: What game do you think Swami is playing with you with regard to your marriage?
Al: Well this marriage has been my principal sadhana for the past ten years and in retrospect I can say that nothing else that I can think of has been as valuable as this marriage in terms of personal growth and development. From a worldly and a cultural sense we are totally opposite! There is a constant opportunity for friction between us. We have Swami in common, as our common love. Other than that we have few other common interests. What a grand opportunity this presents for self-interest, for ego, to expose itself and to be seen and set aside! It is something of a challenge. Swami has presented us with a final challenge to enable us to finish this silly game.
David: Life is a game, as Swami says, and we must play it, but now that you are allowed back in Prashanti Nilayam can you tell us about your more recent experiences?
Al: Well, my first impression after nine years absence is that nothing has really changed. Everyone says that the ashram has totally changed and, of course, from a physical standpoint that is true, but I didn't pay too much attention to that. I was just aware that Swami had not changed one iota in some twenty-five years. He is the same beautiful being, he expresses the same immeasurable kindness and concern; he emits that same unfathomable unlimited love. There is that same awesomeness and magic when he comes out to give darshan. He inspires us with the same hopeful message of redemption. He coaxes us in the same way, to rise above desire and temptation, to realise our incredible divine inheritance. Swami is totally unchanged. He is still saying what he said when he gave his first discourse, namely, my life is my message. He is teaching us to follow his example of raising our thoughts to heaven above and of using our bodies to serve mankind below. Now recognise that we also haven't really changed. We go through these histories, these life-stories, and we think that so much has happened but, in fact, we are still as we have always been, even before we came into this birth and even after the death of these bodies. We are always whole and perfect and one with Sai Baba. We are love itself, and that is why Swami has always addressed us as Premaswarupa, as embodiments of pure divine love. This is now becoming my direct experience. I can relate one experience that came up for me during the Paduka festival last year at the ashram. They brought out this golden chariot for Swami to ride in and out of nowhere all this judgement came into my mind. Good heavens, I thought, Swami, what are you doing? What have you got to do with this garish obscene thing, this huge golden chariot? Would Jesus or Saint Francis ride in something like that? I was very troubled by it, but at the same time, I was also very much the witness of my trouble. Where did all of these feelings come from? Why should I care what ever this chariot looks like? But still I cared. So I had to quiet myself down. I just had to close my eyes and shut it all out, become very silent and very quiet and, then, when I opened my eyes, Swami was sitting in the chariot and this incredible feeling of love gushed out of me. I started crying. I was just overcome. It was as if I had put on these glasses of love and everything was just pure love. Wherever I looked, at the people, at the chariot, all I saw was pure love. It was a wonderful experience.
David: The chariot was a donation of love, wasn't it, but Swami did point out that he had no need of it and he did give it away, didn't he?
Al: I don't know and to tell you frankly, I'm not particularly interested in the chariot. I mentioned this incident to show how Swami takes something about which we have made some negative judgement and turns it into an experience of love. Swami tells the story of Jesus walking with his disciples on a road, when they come upon the stinking decomposed carcass of a dead dog. The disciples try to lead Jesus away from the gruesome sight, but Jesus bends down very close to the remains and says, "Look at the beautiful teeth of this dog. How much it must have been loved by its master." So Jesus saw the one beautiful thing in that otherwise unpleasant sight. That is Swami's message to us. Give up your judgements. Put on your love glasses and see the face of divinity, in other words, see Swami's unbounded love in whatever you see.
David: My last question, really, is in the light of all your experience with Swami and the suffering that you had to endure, what do you think is the purpose of life?
Al: Well, it depends what you mean by life. You see, I believe that life is eternal. Life has no meaning outside of truth, outside of oneness, outside of unity, and so the purpose of these earthly lives is to awaken and to realise true life. Life on this Earth is not life. This is death. To live in these bodies and to grow old and to get sick and to suffer and to die, that is an investment in death, that has nothing at all to do with life. Life is when you are free, life is when you are the light and give that light to everyone. Life is when you become an overflowing cup of pure love, a cup that has to be constantly shared. That's life. If there ever was a purpose for this human life, it is to drop all these insane ideas about life on Earth and to return to true life. That is Swami's mission as I see it.