As learnt at the Lotus Feet of Bhagavan

N. Kasturi (1897-1987)



tad viddhi pranipâtena:
... understand that by exercising respect ... [B.G. 4:34].


Prashanthi: The Lord Willed 

The women of Puttaparthi held in their rugged palms the tender treasure that Easwaramma had borne. They whispered to each other of the strange thrill that came over them from the aura of the child; and the child gave them a smile of acknowledgement.

IT, the incomprehensible Cosmic Consciousness, had chosen the time, the place, the manner and milieu of Its arrival and stay on earth. The child had chosen its mother and thereby conferred the status of father, on Easwaramma's husband, Pedda Venkapa Raju. And when, years later, He announced that no one could come to Puttaparthi and have His Darshan unless He so Willed and Called, His words were but the words of the Upanishads that proclaim the good fortune of those who fondle the Divine Child. "tham eva, esha vrnuthe thena labhyah" - "He is gained only by those whom He Himself has chosen". The villagers were the Chosen Ones.

IT, the Cosmic Being, had assumed the role of Avatâr and arrived at Puttaparthi as IT had arrived once before thousands of years ago in a village of cowherds on the banks of the Yamuna. This time IT had chosen the bank of a poorer river and a poor village so that mankind could be saved from both the agony of poverty and the affliction of affluence. Significantly, the household into which the Lord arrived, that of the Ratnakaram Rajus, was the repository of the basic spiritual wisdom of Bharat, which the members of the family fostered through music, poetry and dance, though Nature had isolated the village of Puttaparthi and the maddening stream of progress had by-passed it.

"Whenever there is decline in Righteousness, I come again." Thus declared Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Times may change, the gap between one appearance and another may be wide or narrow, but the assurance has always shone as a fixed star. The Cosmic Consciousness has concretised Itself whenever the perfidy of men has provoked the faithful to pray to Providence. As the Sai Baba of Shirdi, IT had assured the world that IT would continue the same mission with another instalment of sojourn on earth after an interval of eight years, between that life and the new one. That plighted word has been as always, acted upon and IT has now assumed the Name and Form of Sathya Sai Baba. Many years after, some curious interrogator asked, "Swami! When exactly did you gain these Divine powers?" "Gain?" He replied, "I have had them from My very birth. Why! From long before even that...."

This Divine Promise of Descent for Dharmasthapana (the establishment, the protection of Dharma) had been made long before the days of even Krishna, at the beginning of Time itself when man first fumbled on earth. For, it is not mere assurance of descent when the need arises but an assertion of man's inalienable claim on the Divine. And the villagers of Puttaparthi must have unerringly sensed that this child, whose eyes sparkled with delight when they neared the cradle, had come into their midst to fulfil this Promise made millennia ago. It was the powerful, though unconscious, force of history that prompted the village elders to greet It as Sathya, for they named It Sathya Narayana (God come to establish Truth, in the place of flimsy falsehood) although they were most certainly unaware of the scriptural texts that contain the acclaim of Brahma and the concourse of Gods when that Birth happened in a gloomy Mathura prison.


The Name He Gave Himself

Brahmâ welcomed the Baby Krishna into the world, [source S.B. 10.2:26] thus:

satya-vratam satya-param tri-satyam
satyasya yonim nihitam ca satye
satyasya satyam rita-satya-netram
satyâtmakam tvâm s'aranam prapannâh

'The truth of the vow, the truth of the Supreme, the truth in the threefold [of e.g. past, present and future] You are; You are the source of all truth pervading all truths, who of the truth of the elements and of all [the relative] that is held true is the original truth; of each sacred truth being the origin is everything true pertaining to You, whom we offer our full surrender.'

Brahmâ was not content with lesser praise. Sathya was the most appropriate name He could formulate for God, in human form and He was so overwhelmed by the momentous significance of the event that He repeated "Satyam" with every breath! In later years Sathya Narayana Himself revealed His Reality as:

"I am neither man nor superman, angel nor goblin,
Neither Brahmin nor Kshatriya, Vais'ya nor S'ûdra,
I am not a Brahmacari, Grihi or Vanastha,
I am Sathya Bodhaka! Sathyam-Sivam-Sundaram!"

Swami's words thus underlined that which Brahmâ and history had glimpsed; He would come again and again to play the role of the Teacher of Truth.

Sathyam? Sath? What is the Truth; the Truth that Sai is? When Love spun the web of Thought around Itself, It became Truth. Love with no trace of fear or falsehood can alone delve into the Sathya, Truth, of men and things. Such love will induce love in the person loved and persuade him to reveal himself without deceit or distortion. Love and Truth are but the sides of the same coin. And it is embodied Love Itself that has now come to teach us Sathya.


The Guru

Sathya from His earliest years was always conscious of the Truth that He was the Teacher and He played the part without delay even while a lisping toddler. The child evinced deep disgust at non-vegetarian food and cried out in pain when life was smothered to feed the living. He watched in open anguish as bullocks were beaten or fowls carried heads down. Soon it was apparent that here was someone who stood clearly apart from all others, for His speech was soft and sweet and an unmistakable aura of love and compassion shone all around Him. He denounced elders for their distaste of literacy, as well as their ruinous taste for drinking and gambling, their fascination for imitating city dwellers, for tawdry pomp and factional fights. He did so with an astonishingly authentic display of authority. He reprimanded and ridiculed, in order to reform and regulate. Consequently, it was not long before the wiser villagers understood that the Guru in Him was worthy of attention and even adulation.

There are eight hundred thousand villages in India that have voyaged through five thousand years of chequered history. At last one of them, the little village of Puttaparthi, was chosen by the Lord to receive the impact of the Avatâr, to wake from the petty round of purposeless make-believe. This spiritual remedy designed by Swami was therefore suited to rural needs. The villagers were impulsive and emotional. They would listen for hours to stories from the epics depicting the incredible Man-Lion Avatâr, Narasimha, the incomparable bhakta Hanuman, the invincible warrior Bhima; they would sit enthralled from dusk to dawn as musicals and morality plays re-enacted beloved themes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharatha and the Bhagavata Purana. Therefore, it was the path of Namasmarana, the recollection of the Lord's Names, that Sathya opened up as the right way to save mankind from disaster. He struck out on this task from His earliest years, when He was carrying on the pretence of being the 'son' of Venkapa Raju and Easwaramma.



Which one of the countless Names of God did the little Guru select, to be sung by His companions under His guidance and leadership? It was the name of Panduranga Vittal, the particular form of Vishnu that is installed at Pandharpur on the banks of the Chandrabhaga river and revered by millions speaking Marathi, Telugu and Kannada. Streams of pilgrims trek thither on foot from long distances, in dedicated groups singing bhajans all the way and observing vows of vigil and fasting.

 Panduranga Vittal at Pandharpur temple  

" Panduranga Vittala Jay Pandarinatha Vittala "


Vittal is a favourite god of the poor and the lowly, the exploited and the enslaved, the diseased and the desperate. He responds to prayer, however unorthodox and whoever the person may be -potter, weaver or wandering beggar. He removes worldly obstacles and many a domestic problem that prevents devotees from undertaking the pilgrimage to Him. And when the yearning has been particularly ardent and overwhelming, Vittal has very often granted devotees His Presence, His Darshan, wherever they were. Vittal therefore evoked Divine Delight as soon as the Name danced on the tongue, opening the flood gates of peoples' memory to a thousand tales of the boons He has conferred on those who worship Him. In fact, Sai Saba of Shirdi was identified by many as Vittal Himself for he had often drawn pilgrims on their way to Pandharpur into His own Presence, assuring them that they had fulfilled their vow when they reached Shirdi.

The bhajan songs on Vittal that the children of Puttaparthi were taught by the 'Guru' spoke of the grace and glory of Vittal and also of the journey - the hardships that await the pilgrims on the way, the delight of the first faint glimpse of the Pandharpur shrine and the ecstasy that fills the heart as one comes face to face at last with that Embodiment of Love. Sathya and His chums and chelas not merely sang but illustrated and illumined each incident with a wealth of dance and mime. The entire village thrilled as if Pandharpur-bound themselves as they watched Sathya, the Vittal, playing the role of Leader for many pilgrim-groups that had lost their way or stood threatened by dacoits or floods or quakes. Sathya, though they did not know it at the time, was thus on the verge of announcing that Panduranga Vittal was His own name!

Sathya moved through the lanes and bye-lanes of Puttaparthi and as the streets echoed the bhajans, vice and vendetta lost their fangs, wayside temples were filled with floral fragrance and peace returned to the hearts of men. It was just as the Bhagavatha describes it: The beneficial vibrations, generated by the names of Krishna - Mâdhava! - Govinda! - Gopala! - sung by the women of Gokulam to the jingle of bangles as they churned milk in the pre-dawn hours, dispelled evil from all the quarters. "Nirasyathe yena, disaamamangalam!"


The Atmosphere

Sathya planned to cleanse the atmosphere in addition to the Atma-sphere of Puttaparthi, as a lesson for the region around it. Even cholera bacteria had to flee from the disinfecting breeze of sacred song; Sai Baba at Shirdi, had powdered grain into flour in a grinding mill and got it scattered in a circle along the village boundaries. He had, in fact, blocked the entry of that dreaded killer, symbolically pulverising it in that heavy stone mill and casting its remains on the outskirts of the hamlet. Here at Puttaparthi, the mere Name created waves which swept the viral enemy out of existence.

The custom until then had been to try to appease the hungry Goddess of Cholera set on gobbling human flesh, with offerings of goats and fowls in plenty. But Sathya scotched that superstition. The villagers were forced to recognise the curative energy released by the Name of God. Their eyes opened to the miraculousness of the Name, which brings to mind the Form; very soon other villagers from far and near and even townsmen from Hindupur fifty miles away approached the elders of Puttaparthi, pleading that Sathya be persuaded to bhajan along their streets and sing away the deadly doom of cholera hanging over their homes. These projects and assignments took Sathya and His chums into many villages which had until then only heard of His charm and precocious talents. But now they learnt a lesson from Him - the lesson of the efficacy of congregational chanting of the glory of God.

Sathya carried His message of Bhajan to the schools He agreed to attend. While the teacher was busy with his allotted task, Sathya was busy with the Task for which He had come. He would be writing bhajans and Namavalis (long strings of Names) that came pouring out copiously from His fingers on one facet or other of Divinity - S'iva or Nârâyana, Râma or Krishna, Durgâ or Dattatreya. He would patiently transcribe copies of these for distribution among His schoolmates. The Names He chose were aglow with rare luminosity, for they were charged with genuine authenticity. They had emerged from the Sathya Mint and bore the stamp of total Truth.

Then, when the bell rang for the day's classes to end, Sathya gathered the boys before a picture of God He had brought along from home and they would croon the Names He taught them, offer the flowers He supplied and, at the end, munch the candy He created by quick rotation of His incredible palm!! This was His daily routine while at the Middle School at Bukkapatnam, after a stint of primary education at Puttaparthi. Bukkapatnam, four miles away, was a fast growing Hobli centre. Soon He moved on to the High School at Uravakonda, where His elder brother Seshama Raju was a teacher of the Telugu language. Uravakonda, sixty miles from Puttaparthi, was the headquarters town of the Taluk of the same name.


The Student-Teacher

Sathya's fame had preceded Him and He was joyously welcomed into the school as a Wonder Boy. He was chosen to sing the prayers at the 'School Gathering' each day before the classes commenced and soon the dormant devotion of the sons and daughters of the town was aroused. It swelled and grew as they heard Him each day and He was encouraged to sing more than just one prayer, for the prayers composed by Him were soaked in the honey of Paradise. Many students and even the teachers and townsmen asked for copies of His compositions. The path of Namasmarana was becoming more and more rewarding. The Avataric Mission was on the march.


The Announcement to The World

It was only for a year and a four months however that Sathya attended High School. Soon, He walked out of the circle of friends and family, of kith and kin. "My devotees are waiting", He proclaimed, "I have to attend to My unfinished task." Leaving school and home behind, He retired to a lonely spot on the skirt of the town. There it was that He inaugurated the era of world-wide multi-lingual, multi-racial bhajan with a song [which is: Manasa Bhaja Rey Guru Charanam] acclaiming the Guru from Puttaparthi as the savior of man. He was the Sai Baba of Shirdi, He said, and advised people to cleanse their homes and minds and worship Him every Thursday. Thursday is termed Guruvaar, the day of the Guru, according to the Hindu calender and the Sanskrit language.

That announcement was made in October 1940. In the years that followed, it has echoed around the whole globe and resounded in millions of homes. Fragrant little domestic shrines have blossomed in lands as far apart as Iceland and New Zealand, Argentina and Japan. On Thursdays (and often on other days of the week too), groups gather to sing bhajans before the altar where portraits of Sai and other manifestations of divinity are installed. There are bhajan songs now in Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Swedish to mention a few and Sai Baba gives indisputable indications of His Presence whenever His Glory is sung.

When Mother Easwaramma, stunned at her son's renouncing the family, pleaded that He should not flee into loneliness in search of silence, He agreed; for, as He said, His task was very much related to the conduct and concepts of men and He had determined therefore that the place He chose for His birth should also be the centre of the revolution that was to be. A Sai Bhajan Mandali was built for Him at Puttaparthi by devotees. And when Sathya (or rather Sai Baba or Bala Sai (the Boy Sai) as he was now known and revered) agreed to accompany devotees to other places that longed for His Presence, Kuppam or Karur, Salem or Bangalore, Hyderabad or Madras, a handful of bhajan singers would always follow and sing with Him the Namavalis He composed to propagate the bakhti path to God.


   The Same Baba

Sathya, who had revealed Himself as Sai Saba was thus continuing the task from where it had stopped at Shirdi eight years before His advent at Puttaparthi. It was Bhajan (or what we know as Nama Sâdhana or Nama Yoga) that had been the path highly recommended for aspirants when He was at Shirdi. At the Dwarakamayi mosque where Shirdi Baba lived during the day and at the garden of Lendi where He retired for the night, and as He moved along the streets and parks of the place, devotees singing bhajans would fill the atmosphere with delight.

The Nameless is invoked through a thousand Names, each Name being an attempt to verbalise a fraction of the ecstasy the devotee experiences as he seeks to know It. The Name is, in fact, the Magnificence, the Majesty, the Power, the Love of the Nameless Mystery enclosed in a lovely capsule that melts on the tongue in flavoured sweetness. The Upanishads contain innumerable Names through which the ancient sages of India have sought to delineate the indescribable. A thousand such Names and adjectives have been gathered together by the famous Upanishadic scholar Paramasivananda Saraswati in his book 'Upanishadannama-sahasra'. Each Name is a window shedding a beam of light on the Cosmic Mystery. He who seeks to paint the personalised Impersonal on the canvas of his heart has to use an immense variety of colours and lines, daubs and designs, patterns and strokes. Each picture painted as a Name is as authentic and as valid as the rest.


All Names are His

"I have no one Name to which alone I respond", Swami has declared. "I answer when addressed by any Name. All names are Mine. Or rather, you are the ones who name me." Nama Yoga is the surest means for God realisation, especially in this Iron Age of Kali, but Namasmarana is being discarded by man as barren exercise, "Can breathing be a barren exercise?" Swami asks and answers that 'Soham' or 'Sairam' or any such name has to be constantly vibrating in one's system with every breath. "This is the Yuga-dharma paddhati - the mode of right living needed in this age," Swami announced, "The restoration of faith in the Name is one of the purposes I have imposed on Myself in this Incarnation". It is His vow to guide man back into this path, "gently and graciously" (Naya Maargamuna).

We are sternly warned however against neglecting, distorting or misusing the Name of God, on which we have chosen to concentrate. There are, it seems many pitfalls to be avoided. While engaged in this sâdhana we should not revile or ridicule sadhakas who follow other paths or create factions among those who adhere to other Names. We should not dishonour those who inspired us to adopt this sâdhana nor the scriptural texts which illumine it. The fostering of the Name through remembrance and repetition must be done in a pure atmosphere and we should be very careful not to devalue it by reckless use, even as we must resist the temptation to devalue all Names other than the one we rely on. We must be ever vigilant against evil thoughts, words and deeds which cannot co-exist with this holy sâdhana. We should never claim exclusive ownership of the Name, which we have appropriated for our uplift. And, above all, we should desist from parading our achievements and acquisitions.

Namasâdhana has to emerge spontaneously from one's yearning, uncontaminated by such faults. It has to proceed without interruption or obstruction; the yearning has to blossom into agony and then fructify as bliss. A gathering at Bangalore that had sung bhajans continuously for twenty four hours were told by Swami: "Namasmarana will do. The Name Sitaram sufficed in the Tretâyuga. The Name Radheshyama sufficed in the Dvâparayuga. In this Kali Yuga, I tell you, all Names have full capability."


   Nama Sâdhana

Nama Sâdhana adopted by devotees as a means to merge in God has to be accompanied by a progressive purification of character. Swami insists on Chittha-suddhi, a pure mind (purity of conscience), as the very first step in spiritual development. The recitation of the Name must not degenerate into mechanical routine. "When you sing bhajans on the Name of God, you should contemplate the meaning and mystery of that Name", Swami says. "You should equip yourselves with credentials which can ensure success in this sâdhana. For example, take this string of Namas which are very popular:

Hare Râma, Hare Râma, Râma Râma, Hare Hare,
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.

It has sixteen words. Each of the sixteen indicates a separate credential or virtue which the sadhaka has to cultivate in order to evoke Grace," He said and, lo! even as He spoke, the sixteen rolled out one after the other in scintillating Sanskrit verse! The bhakta has to transform himself into a:

- thapo-yuktha (capable of meeting suffering calmly and bravely);
- a samsara-muktha (free from attachment to the transient and the changing);
- a paadaa-saktha (eager to be at the Feet of the Lord);
- a vihitha (obeying rules of discipline);
- a daana-sahitha (having a charitable disposition);
- a yaso-mahitha (possessing an unsullied reputation);
- a kalma-sharahitha (without blemish);
- a poorna (contented);
- a gunagana (equipped with virtues);
- an utheera (successful in tests);
- a vidya-vikeerna (ripe in scholarship);
- a jñâna-vistheerna (a master of extensive wisdom);
- a swaatha (satisfied with the Self);
- a sadguna kraantha (adorned with rare virtues);
- a vinaya-visraantha (resting content in happy humility); and a
- paada-swaantha (fully dedicated to the Lotus Feet of the Lord).

If the sadhaka tries to earn these traits while repeating the sixteen words, then Baba promised, " Vaade nenoudu (He is I) - Nene Vaadoudu (and I am he)!"

Namasâdhana leads to illumination. Its sacred vibrations scours away the dross that defiles the mind. As Swami says, Râma (God) and Kâma (desire) can never exist together. "I do not need grace for I have your name which can confer on me all that I wish for," declares the saint Purandara Dasa. He dares challenge God to deprive him of grace; he proudly asserts that he can win it back by Namasâdhana!


 Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare  

"Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Râma Hare Râma, Râma Râma Hare Hare."


  Nine Steps


The Bhâgavata Purâna speaks of the nine types (nava-vidha) of bhakti but Swami has clarified that they are really nine steps in the devotee's pilgrimage to God-realisation. It speaks first of sravanam, listening with avidity to the stories that reveal the glory of the Lord. I can from my own experience assert that sravanam was the first step in my march to Prasanthi Nilayam [bhagavata-dharma].

A sense of wonder is aroused by sravanam. It is at first but a faint stir, a feeble echo of the call that softly gurgles from the depths within. A voice, a vision, a picture, a book, a dream, a song - any of these may awaken us to the dormant hunger for god.

But soon the echo grows, reverberating loud and long, and the need to know more and more parches our throat. We begin to search for persons and places from whom and from where this insidious thirst could be quenched. We find delight to be in these places, to be among these people, eagerly sharing the elation that fills the air. This stage is kîrtanam and it is Swami Himself who leads you to this "chorus group", for He watches over everyone on the pilgrim path. As a result of the happy hours and days spent in kîrtanam, one is privileged to live a life where the Lord ever dwells within the memory, granting us freedom from low desires and faith in his never-failing compassion. This is the stage of remembrance, smaranam.

Addressing a gathering at Prasanthi Nilayam on Sankranthi day-1964, Baba spoke of that bhajan of momentous significance with which he launched the Sai spiritual revolution in 1940:

"The very first lesson I gave you, He said, when I declared my identity at Urvakonda was, 'Manasa bhajare gurucharanam; dusthara bhava sagara tharanam.' I said, First you must be well aware of the fact that you are floundering in bhavasagara, this agitated flux of birth and death, of gain and grief, of war and peace. Then, resolve on tharanam, the crossing of the sea, to safety on the shore. You must accept a guide in this effort; the guide could be the guru or it could be God himself, when you choose the Name and Form which most appeal to you. Lastly, I said, Engage yourself in bhajan, in worship offered to the Feet of the Divine Guide with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength. Have this smaranam without intermission as you go through your daily chores."

"Manasa Bhajare Guru Charanam"

"Manasa Bhajare Guru Charanam,
Dusthara Bhava Sagara Tharanam."


 The Feet


The next stage in this pathway to God, confirmed by the experience of many is to hurry to the temple or shrine where the Lord has been invoked by millions for centuries. (It is of course our good fortune today that directs us to where His actual physical presence is available and the direct impact of His grace is possible). There, we worship him by pâdasevanam, service to the Feet.

Swami has elaborated on this Hindu rite of worship. "When a person walks along a road, his shadow slides unharmed over slush and bramble, hollow and hump, because, as you can see, it has attached itself to the feet! Man is God's shadow. He can overcome the hurdles of living and the handicaps in sâdhana if he holds on to the Feet of God." Devotees deem it a gift of grace, when Swami allows them to touch His feet. In days gone by, He used to agree to their request to worship His Feet, the gurucharanam, with formal puja, every time they arrived at His residence. This pâda puja was done by chanting the Ashtottara-satha-nama-ratnamala, the 108 names which summarise His divine attributes and lîlâs [listen to a sung version here], while offering flowers at His Feet with each name that was recited. On the occasion of my 60th birthday, my wife and I were given the chance of performing this pâda puja while we chanted the Ashtottara-sahasra-nama of Shirdi Sai Baba, the 1008 names of Himself while at Shirdi. Another memorable occasion was on a Vijayadashami, years ago. It was the culmination day of the Dasara festival when the Mother (Sai) is worshipped as Durgâ-Lakshmî-Sarasvatî. A few of us including Raja Reddy and Lakshmi Narayana Sastri were granted the unique chance of worshipping those Feet with the recitation of the Lalitha Sahasranama, the 1008 names of Mother who is glorified therein as Lalitha, the embodiment of truth (sathya), grace, goodness (s'iva), beauty (sundara). But names, however many, can only touch the fringe of this infinity called God, whom the Svetasvara Upanishad describes as "Man and woman, boy and girl, a cheat, indeed, the aged tottering along holding a stick and moving with a myriad faces turned in all directions..... as a blue butterfly, as a green parrot with red eyes, as the thunder-cloud, as all the seasons and the seas!" Swami has also said that undue importance should not be ascribed to the numbers 108 and 1008. Numbers are recommended only to discover whether, amidst the mechanical rotation of names, one name may taste nectarine sweet and induce the reciter to stay longer and probe deeper into its mystery and wonder.

As the devotee performs pâda-sevanam with all earnestness, the urge to offer continuous adoration, grows more and more insistent and he seeks to establish a regular routine of ritual which can keep him active most of the time, quaffing the love of the Lord. This stage is arcanam; Sincere involvement in these spiritual exercises creates so much love for the Lord that His beauty is seen in every flower, His majesty in every sunrise, His mercy in every cloud and His features in every face. Loving fellow-men, in whom the Lord is latent, gives one even more joy then loving an idol or image in which He has to be imagined and invoked.

This discovery awards the pilgrim access to the next stage, vandanam, worship with humility and thankfulness, worship through purity of thought, word and deed. The devotee gets transformed into a servant who totally surrenders his will to that of the master, which role now establishes him in the stage of dâsyam. Dâsyam, when it is unreserved, wins grace so plentiful that the relationship is divinised into sneham (or sakhyam), friendship. Nothing is sought, nothing is kept back. Whatever the master has, the servant has. Friendship brings them so close that they are not 'two' any more. In fact, the ninth stage, the victory of âtmâ-nivedanam, the acceptance of the individual self by the omniself, is won! (bhâgavata-dharma) [See Prahlâda's song in S.B. 7.5:23-24]

Swami's infinite mercy has summarised these nine stages in words that describe the same path in a masterful and different manner.
- Man is born, He says, with the question 'koham?" (who am I?) on his lips.
- He discovers an answer, 'dehoham' (I am the body) only too soon;
- After a series of knocks through the years against the pranks of fate, he revises it later into -'dosoham' (I am a servant, an instrument).
- Still later, he realises that his will is but an echo of the divine will that directs the cosmos and its constituents. He is aware of the truth of 'soham' (That, I am).
- Finally,when the ideas of 'so' (That) and 'aham' (I) which together constitute soham melt into one indivisible awareness, OM alone remains as the conclusive answer at the end.


  Bhajan Groups  

Even as a boy, Swami was busy with his task of urging man to walk the path of nama-sâdhana. He trained devotees to sing bhajans, at the newly constructed, "Bhajan Mandali". This prayer-hall-cum-residence for Swami was ensconced in the midst of three old temples, one for Sathyabhâmâ, one for Hanumân and one for Gopalakrishna, at the eastern end of Puttaparthi village. Swami composed strings of meaningful names of a variety of Hindu gods and goddesses, for he sought to efface fanatic loyalty to anyone.

The first favor, that any devotee seeks from one whom he approaches as a guru, is a special name surcharged with divine potence, which he can treasure and which confer riches as well as release. Swami once said, "There are many who ask me to give them a Name that they can repeat, but I tell them, take any name you like, any name which is reminiscent of the glory of God. All names are equally sweet. It is only a crooked intellect that discovers differences between one name and another." So, the Bhajans he composed and taught were on the names of God revered by followers of many creeds. Moreover, a few of these bhajans clearly declared that God had no name or form to exclude others or demarcate Him. He could be best known as pure sathyam (truth), jñânam (knowledge), anantham (eternity). When such elevating Bhajans are sung by the congregation, the whole atmosphere tingled in that rarified consciousness.

Swami also taught that the qualities of tolerance, humility and love are essential, if God is to install Himself in the hearts of devotees. He also marked out the human values that are crucial for individual and social progress, as he guided devotees at the village mandir. There was one bhajan that He particularly emphasised, exhorting people to undertake the day-by-day journey of life with Sathya (truth), Dharma (righteousness, morality), Shanthi (peace, serenity, equanimity) and Prema (love) as their constant companions and counsellors. [Listen here how Swami sings the bhajan]. These four values have since been elaborated upon and elevated into the pillars of the educational system He has launched, to save mankind from the brink of death through dehydration.

This bhajan movement initiated on the Urvakonda Rock and fostered at Puttaparthi, spread quickly. The families that had contact with Shirdi Sai Baba received intimations in various ways that Swami was that very Baba come again in a more liberal and easily accessible form. Swami did not protest when devotees adored and worshipped his Feet, the gurucharanam. He exuded wisdom and love and so, every interpretation of scripture that he gave was revelation to the learned. What He spoke was truth; how He acted was right; in His presence, serenity reigned supreme and he tapped in everyone hidden sources of love. As a result, when aspirants were advised by Him to choose any one name and form of God that appealed most to them for their japa, smarana or sâdhana, they choose the name Sai, Sai Baba or Sai Ram as their support and sustenance.

Sathya Sai bhajan mandalis increased in number and membership. The groups were cemented by the bond of fraternity, and the sense of dependence on the grace of Sai. They had, all of them, a compassionate guide and guardian, who designed their lives as their Charioteer, a Krishna for every hesitant Arjuna. Besides, those in whom the emotion of dedication and surrender (pranipâtha) predominated, had the great good fortune of Swami granting them His constant presence. "If you need Me, you deserve Me," He says. Call on him by any name; he responds. Anyone name is as effective as any other. The name is the shield, the rock, the prop, the raft. It is the key when the day dawns, the bolt when sleep sets in.


' Jay Sai Ram '


 The Back-drop

When the avatâr had entered the hearts of thousands through the innumerable names by which they called on Him in prayer, the desire among them to meet each other grew. After a few annual All India Conferences, the longing for a World Conference of devotees gained strength. It met at last at Bombay in 1968.

The message that Swami willed to proclaim at this gathering was, once again, the call of Namasmarana, the recollection of the Name, reliance on the Name. The backdrop on the dais of the huge hall had two large paintings, one of Thyagaraja, the saint-musician of South India, and the other of Caitanya of Bengal. They are both supreme in the ranks of Namasadhakas. 'Râma' was the open sesame to liberation for Thyagaraja; the name 'Krishna' was equally potent for Caitanya.

Swami holds them both as examples of immense ardour, of unflinching faith and undiluted ecstasy. He revealed details of their lives which He alone knows. Thyagaraja, he said, made a vow in his 20th year (1779 A.D.) to recite the Râma mantra continuously. He concluded his vow at the end of twenty one years and fifteen days, when he had repeated it 960 million times. The Râma Rahasya Upanishad, said Swami, gives the assurance that a person who achieves this formidable target would earn the boon of darshan, sparshan and sambhashan (vision, touch and talk); he would see Râma as a physical presence, touch His lotus feet, receive His loving embrace and hear His sweet, comforting words of illumination. It happened accordingly. Râma and his brother with Sîtâ, his consort, and Hanumân, his dâsa, became for Thyagaraja the company that sustained him for the rest of his life.

The other saint was Caitanya, Krishna Caitanya (Krishna Consciousness). His mind knew no other than his beloved Krishna. The nectar of the name coursed through his veins! Caitanya led groups of devotees, all equally Krishna-intoxicated, singing and dancing in holy harmony from one shrine to another, through the length and breadth of this land. He pleaded with man to be as humble as a blade of grass, and as serene as a mountain peak. He turned the faces of millions towards Vrindâvana, the playground of Krishna. Indeed, wherever Caitanya was, it was Vrindâvana, complete with Krishna and the cowherds.

Caitanya Mahâprabhu

... trinâpekshâ ati hîna ...
... lower than a blade of grass ...


The backdrop on the dais announced that Swami had decided upon the Name as the cure for the ills of mankind. The scriptures too declared that this sâdhana is the only hope for mankind in this Kali age (yuga) when demonic characteristics hold sway over human behavior.

Swami summarised the message elaborated in the seven hundred verses of the Gîtâ in its two phrases: [BG 8.7] "mâm anusmara yudhya ca". "Remembering me, engage in battle". Swami repeated the same message and inspired the delegates to sanctify their days with unbroken remembrance, smarana, of the name.

"God responds to every name and appears before the devotee in the form he desires to see. Those unaware of the unlimited glory of God may insist on one name associated with one form," He said. "Do not bind God, who has to release you. Do not, in your blind enthusiasm, proclaim, "We want Sai. We are not concerned with the rest". Convince yourself that all names and all forms are of Sai. There is no 'other'; there are no 'rest'. "This Sai form is the form indicated by everyone of the various names that man has used to adore the divine".

It follows that the incarnation embodies the cosmic divine, the primal non-being which willed to Be and Become.



The Divine Essence has donned the vesture of man, so that we can offer love and adoration. Nama-sankîrtan is the word generally used for this sâdhana by Lord Caitanya. It means loud and tuneful group singing. Swami has said that four types of sâdhana can be recognised, and encouraged, Bhava Sankîrtan. Bhava means a particular attitude or approach of emotional medium assumed, in one's relation to the Lord, in consonance with one's natural aptitude. Swami speaks of six such Bhavas:
* Dâsya, (service) as lived by Hanumân, ever eager to receive or anticipate the commands of the Lord (Râma) and to please Him by implicit obedience;
* Santa, (neutral, serenity) as exemplified by Bhîshma who maintained unruffled unconcern and steadfast loyalty in the face of whatever trouble came upon him. He continued to extol Krishna even as he saw Krishna advancing, discus upraised, to kill him! [see
S.B. 1.9:37];
* Sâkhya, (friendship) as Arjuna had with Lord Krishna, companion and confidant with whom the Lord joked and played because Arjuna's deep dedication could stand the test of frolic and familiarity;
* Anurâga, as illustrated by the simple, unsophisticated worship of the Lord offered by the cowherd women of Vrindâvana. Their lives were totally dedicated to Krishna even after He had left for Mathurâ and faroff Dvârakâ. Their thoughts that centered the Lord sustained them through the anguish of years of separation; [see for example also
S.B. 10.39]
* Vâtsalya, as evinced by Yas'odâ, the foster-mother of Krishna, who derived the highest joy from her role as mother, nursing and nourishing the son whose every word and gesture was for her a soothing gift; and lastly the
* Mâdhurya Bhava, as lived by Râdhâ, the Gopî of Vrindâvana, overpowered with the role of Beloved. Mâdhura means sweet. She saw and heard, she tasted and sought only that sweetness everywhere and at all times, for the Lord is all sweetness, 'raso vai sah', as the ancient sages describe Him in the Vedas. She knew no distinction between creatures and their Creator; It was all God, all Krishna, for her. She felt, she experienced, she knew, that Krishna was ever for her, her own, she herself.

Those who do japa (mantra-meditation) however must remember that though they may achieve a fantastic numerical target in repeating the Name, mere vocalisation is but a shallow feat even when accompanied by a mental picturing of the Form. "Of what avail is it," asked Swami at the World Conference, "if you simply worship My Name or Form without attempting to cultivate My Samathva, the Love that I shower on all beings, who need it, My Shanthi, the serenity I maintain amidst all the turmoil that causes you so must suffering, My Sahana, the fortitude with which I witness this Passing Show, My Ânanda, the Bliss whose very embodiment I am and My Prema, Love, which is the most significant of My boons?"

So much for bhava-sankîrtan. The second mode of extolling God through name is Guna-sankîrtan. Guna means attributes or qualities or virtues. Devotees take delight in contemplating the excellence of God, His mercy, His compassion, His majesty, His might, His wisdom, His power, His uniqueness, His mystery-qualities with which the Infinite (that is beyond word and thought, beyond all attributes, all descriptions. (The unspeakable Silence) has clothed Itself, in order to become accessible to the circumscribed understanding of man. The Lord, in whatever way His devotees know Him - the only begotten Son of God, the Saviour from Sin, the Custodian of Heaven or as Almighty Providence - is capable of transforming every act of His into a miracle, every word of His into a command, every thought of His into an astounding achievement. He is Truth, Goodness, Beauty. He is Sat-cit-ânanda (eternity, conscious, bliss) .... There are many spiritual aspirants who prefer such abstract names on His supreme glory to concentrate upon, names that awaken and raise their consciousness to the heights of transcendental awareness. They decorate God in these magnificent adjectives and immerse themselves in the inspiring radiance of the beauty they discover.

Another route along which divine grace is drawn down the smarana path is lîlâ-sankîrtan. Lîlâ means sport, pastime, prank, play. Seekers of grace remind themselves during the recital of the name, of the strange exploits, the stunning victories, the mysterious miracles, the incredible incidents that reveal the divine nature of their personal God. Thyagaraja was thrilled when he recalled to memory the transformation of Ahalya, the breaking of the bow of S'iva, the killing of Vali and the destruction of Râkshasa hordes [See Ramakatha Rasavahini P1 & P2]. Others long to dwell on the revival of Lazarus or the healing of the lepers. Meera (or Mirabai) can never persuade her mind to wander away from the picture of little Krishna, seven years old, holding up the Govardhana Peak on the palm of His soft slender left hand [read this story at S.B. 10.25]. Krishna is always Giridhari, 'He who bore the hill', for Meera. That name summarised the compassion, courage, capacity and wisdom of the Lord for her, it was all the sustenance she ever needed or sought. "My devotees strengthen each other by relating their experiences of My Grace among themselves," S'rî Krishna says, "They create great joy and they derive great joy reminding themselves of My Lîlâs."

"Bâla - child"

 The Name

The fourth type of Sankîrtan is centred around the name itself, the syllable, the sound, the articulation, apart from the implications of the meaning. The vibrations of the sacred sound which arise from the name have a mystic energy that draws the omnipresent divine to the devotee whose heartstrings vocalise it. It matters not what particular emotion (bhava) is cultivated by the devotee who chants it or whether a guna or lîlâ is described by that name or not. The mere name has the power, alone and unaided, to redress, cure and save, for, the name and the named are mysteriously identical. To possess the name and master it is as good as possessing the Named One to secure release from bondage. The Guru, when he initiates the seeker into the repetition of the name, assures him that it is indeed the key to liberation.

Swami, at the World Conference, explained the worth and wisdom enshrined in the name, 'Râma'. Râma means, 'that which delights'. Since the only source of unfailing delight is the Âtmâ, Râma means the âtmâ too. This son of Das'aratha was named Râma since He was the Parama-âtmâ in human form.

In fact, Swami said that the very syllables Ra and Ma have a deep mystic meaning. 'Ra' is the crucial syllable in the word Nârâyana (the mantra of Vishnu) and 'Ma', the crucial syllable in Na-ma(h) S'ivaya (the mantra of S'iva). The name Râma thus unites the two great streams (of Vishnu and S'iva) into which millions through the ages have channelled their worship of the divine.

The significance of the syllables was also explained by Swami through the great Vedic axiom 'Tat Tvam Asi', 'That Thou Art' (meaning "Thou", the individual is but "That", which refers to the concept of God who is beyond all words).

'Ra', said Swami, signifies That (That, the transcendent); 'Ma' is the symbol of Tvam (This, the particular, the individual); and the syllable 'aaa' is reminiscent of 'asi' which means 'is'. 'That', the divine, and 'This', the individual, are thus linked together by the word 'is' (the individual is nothing but the divine), which in fact is the Truth all men must discover. Thus does the word Râma reveal the totality of knowledge to man again and again as it is chanted.

In these various ways, the Name Râma, through a subtle alchemy, destroys and discards the worthless alloys of shallow thoughts and purifies the mental metal of man. Swami also revealed that the sound Râma has numerical significance. Ra is counted as two and Ma as five, adding up to the auspicious number, seven. He recounted a scriptural story to underline the unique potential embedded in that Name immortalised in the Ramâyana.

Long, long age, the sage Prachetas composed a magnum opus on God and His glory that totalled 100 crores of verses. The three worlds, heaven, earth and hades (naraka or hell) competed to own the entire text but when the struggle assumed apocalyptic proportions, God at last intervened to apportion a third of the Poem to each of the three. But one verse remained without an owner. Fearing a recurrence of the fight, that too was allowed to be shared. The verse had thirty two syllables which meant that each world could appropriate only ten. Now there was another problem of distributing two syllables among three contenders, and God solved it by graciously permitting all three to have them forever. The two syllables were 'Ra' and 'Ma'.

This story clarifies the mystic power of the Name RAMA. Rama could well be the instrument for the uplift of all mankind for there is no trace of separativeness in the symbol or sound. It is indeed like the one divine energy which as one uniform bloodstream, circulates through and galvanises all lands and peoples. This divine energy is the source of every twitch and tingle, every sob and sigh, every pang and thrill of every person be he black or white, bound or free, from land or sea, air or space. Any name, however, that brings to mind this divine principle has to be welcomed as a means to expand our capacity to love, share and care.

Swami asserts that no one can deny or deflate the divine. "Even those who proclaim that they could never find any trace of God in outer or inner space, or those who are sure that God is dead and has been buried, or those who declare that, even if alive, He is no longer useful to man and is in fact more a nuisance and a handicap - all these have to admit that there is some inscrutable, inexplicable entity that is beyond the reach of logic or laboratory, some unknown which affects the course of events and the nature of things." Nama-smarana is the sâdhana which gives IT a Name, acknowledges IT's existence, IT's mystery and adores IT's might.

At the Valedictory session of the World Conference, Swami said, "Participate in group bhajans on as many days of the week as you can. Thursday and Sunday evening are the best but this is no unbreakable rule. And above all, do not create cults centred around one name or the particular bhajans used in Prasanthi Nilayam. Do not become fanatics, blind to the glory denoted by other names and forms. Join groups that adore all manifestations of the divine and demonstrate that every name and form of the divine is Mine."


The Name Awakens

The Bhajan Movement gained impetus with an additional direction given to it by Bhagavân, at the Valedictory Sessions of the World Conference. "Certain lines of spiritual activity have emerged from your discussions on these three days" He said. One of them is Nagara-sankîrtan, choral singing along the streets. Such sankîrtan is nothing new in India. Centuries ago the saints Jayadeva, Gauranga [Krishna Caitanya], Tukaram, Kabir, and many others used this method for their own selfimprovement as well as to create mass spiritual awakening. Gather in the pre-dawn hours at half-past four or five, and walk slowly along the streets of your town or village singing aloud the Names of God. Carry the Name to every door, in the silence of the small hours, before the day's noises invade the ear and confuse the mind. Awaken the sleeping. Let them leave their beds and join you in this joy. Cleanse the atmosphere which has been polluted by anger, hatred, greed and arrogance. Let the day dawn in love and brotherhood, peace and purity, for all. The sâdhana of Nagara-sankîrtan will promote health and happiness. Egoism will be shattered in both participants and onlookers. With you will be people drawn from all levels of society....". "I insist," said Swami, "on loud singing of the Names, because you are then charging the atmosphere with adoration of the Divine. When clouds pour rain on the land, they fertilise the soil and feed the crop. When you shower the Names of the Lord, all around, you will be sanctifying the hearts that thrill on hearing you. Let your mind, reason and senses dwell on Divine deeds alone, as you awaken for the day."

This new assignment of publicly parading the streets was received with considerable trepidation by many. They had long assigned themselves to the rank of an 'elite' of their own definition. How could they now tramp the roads without restraint, how could they let emotion show on their faces, dedication cry through their voices and how to let their shoulders be jostled by the sundries of humanity? Yet, it was Swami's word and it had to be obeyed. So they hurried through their rounds and scurried home furtively before they could be discovered by early risers. They limited the Nagara-sankîrtan program to just two or three days a month. But Swami's kindness would not let them ignore the medicine that He had prescribed. They were reminded by Him, softly, sweetly but repeatedly of their duty to themselves. It is an inescapable truth that the barriers of self-conscious restraint as well as those between man and man must be shattered before the individual can scramble over the barrier between God and himself. It is this truth that Swami was prescribing in simple doses and easy stages, when He urged men to take up the practice of Nagara-sankîrtan that would compel devotees to reveal their devotion and unity unashamedly in the streets. Those who steeled themselves to it, however, found the response, not slow in showing itself. To the happy surprise of these embarrassed ones, they found the neighbors anticipating the sankîrtan with lights switched on and doors wide open. They found their own days growing more sweet and smooth. Swami was generous with encouragement.


 The promised Response

His Task was to make man leap over the cramping contours of his individuality and know the delight, the warmth and the freedom of devotion pouring spontaneously from the heart to lose itself in Him, "Where My devotees sing of Me, there you will find Me seated," He had declared long long ago to Nârada, the sage musician of heavenly worlds. He keeps that ancient promise, showing unmistakable signs of His Presence wherever the bhajans are held. Vibhuti, Amrit, Haldi, Kumkum, shower from pictures of Swami or of other divine personages (who are only other forms of Him), flower garlands around the frames loosen and swing to and fro or drop right down on the lap. His footprints may be found on the floor. Any one or more of signs such as these are indisputable evidence of His response to the prayer for grace. Later, when the devotees arrive at His Residence, He gives them the proof in no uncertain terms, with His knowledge of all that happened in their homes, as He compliments or reprimands, appreciates or admonishes, the bhajans, the standard of music, the composition of the group of devotees, the atmosphere of the place and the simplicity of the sessions.

Japa and Dhyana

Meditation is the next step in the aspirant's spiritual effort after he has begun the practice of japa and bhajan. Swami advocates a course of meditation. He characterises it as japa-sahitha dhyana. For the bhaktha who is by nature ruled and regulated more by the heart than the head japa-sahitha dhyana is a continuation and extension of the sâdhana of namasmarana. The name evokes visions of the form and so, when the name is on the tongue, the form to which it is wedded is clear to the eye. "Continually repeat the name, but take care that you do not turn into a tape-recorder! Let the name be not merely on your lips but veritably dancing on your tongue sweetening the taste-buds with the love, power and majesty, the delight, dominion and dispensation of God. Let the name and the form be the twin rails on which your mind moves." says Swami. When the name slips from the tongue, hold on to the form which is equally sweet and satisfying. When the form fades from the inner eye, keep your attention fast on the name. Practise this dhyana until the name merges in the form and the form loses its limits, and fades into the limitless expanse of consciousness, into which the mind sinks. Or the form may merge in the name and, as the mind grows still, the name too may lose its validity, its many-syllabled distinctiveness dissolves in the great hum of OM, the All-Pervasive Sound from which all things began.

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made Flesh".... says the Bible. It was the Word that first stirred being into becoming. From the vast, still, sea of consciousness, its vibrations assumed shape (flesh) as the objects of creation. The forms of the divine that appear before us are also the concretisation of this Primeval Word. Thus, the one who keeps the name and the form with him constantly is led back by them to melt into this vast sea of Blissful Consciousness from where he first arose. The mere constancy of thought and tongue dwelling on the divine also leads him to that very subtle knowledge (that lies far beyond the limits of mind and intellect) where Time is lost and Name and Form merge in this Ocean of Stillness. Until the Word emanated and Creation happened, there never existed the divisions of Time (the present, past or future) or any such notions as Is or Was or Will Be. There was only undefinable Bliss.

A sadhaka may have heard or read of this Impersonal Concept of God, beyond thought, time and form, but at the start of his journey, he cannot grapple with this awesome Nothingness. As long as he identifies his own self with the body and cannot think of his existence as transcending its limits, his mind cannot understand any concept that goes beyond it either. 'dukham dehavadbhir' says the Bhagavad Gîtâ [BG 12:5] - "meditation on the impersonal is very difficult for those who believe that they are the body." This means that they can look upon the world only as a multiplicity of sharply defined objects, all existing within the narrow limits of the physical moulds that the human eye can see. To such a man, God has meaning only if He has a definite Form. God may be imbued with immeasurable charm, with a thousand heads and eyes and feet, but He is still a definite Person with a definite Form that is separate from all the rest, though He may wield undisputed power over all creatures. Such a Person has [naturally] to have distinct qualities too and He is granted those, according to the devotee's own needs. The devotee seeks refuge from the world and so he goes towards God as a father-figure for protecting him or as a mother to shower on him unquestioning love; he may stand at a reverent distance waiting for punishment or grace or pity or run rapturously forward to the Liberator, to be freed and fondled and fed. Such a devotee cannot face the responsibility of the truth of 'Soham' 'I AM That'. He cannot face the concept that his own helplessness and God's Might and the world that pounces upon him with tooth and claw - are all one indivisible whole. Then there will be none to blame nor anyone to rush for help. It is indeed a frightening situation. So, he surrenders himself instead to the simplicity of 'dâsoham', the attitude of master and servant, and finds a pair of divine feet to which he clings. Japa-sahitha dhyana, the Name and the Form, is the way for such as he, where one can call on God with confidence.


 The Name negates the Cage

Let us pause a little to ruminate over the power of nama-japa and the experience of a fellow pilgrim. Joy Thomas of Cherry Valley, California, found herself immobilised, since she had to choose one of two repugnant choices to extricate herself from a dilemma. She prayed to Baba whom she had wholeheartedly accepted as preceptor and guide. The message received as reply was, "Just repeat the Name!" She asked for a more satisfying, a more down-to-earth prescription. But Baba refused to modify or nullify the advice once given. "So I began to recite the Name I love," Joy writes. "Sathya Sai .... Sathya Sai .....". All day I kept it going. When the mind tried to bring the dilemma to memory, I would say the Name out loud for a while. When bedtime arrived, I fell asleep easily and the beloved Name echoed peacefully in my dreams.

"As I repeated the Name throughout the next day, the memory of the problem surfaced a few times, but, instead of seeming to be a fearsome future decision to be made, it seemed more like a dream that had occured in the past. In a very short time, even the 'memory of the dream' disappeared! No decision was made; no action was taken; no miraculous solution appeared. The problem had simply dissolved. If I could remember what it was, I would gladly tell it here! "Where did the problem go?" I asked Baba. I received a gentle response: "When you removed the problem from the mind, you eliminated it from the only place where it ever claimed to exist."

Joy writes that the repetition of the Name has been effective in dealing with other financial and relationship problems she has had. It breaks the anxiety cycle during illness too by erasing the thought of the symptoms from the mind. "When they no longer exist in the mind, they no longer persist in the body." In fact, the sâdhana of Nama Japa has prompted me to indulge in what He calls a day-dream (a step towards what is truly a Vedantic victory, the knowledge that there is only One there is no rest). "I imagine myself saying, "You know, I used to be caged in some sort of form which took me from place to place. I needed it almost all the time. As a matter of fact, there was virtually nothing I could do without it. It seemed paramount to my existence then; but now, I can't remember what it was!" The saints of all religions succeed in their search by constantly practising the presence of God in them and around them. For twenty one long years, Thyagaraja reached out single-minded towards that one goal. He prayed. He petitioned, he protested, he confessed, he adored, he thanked and all the while kept the Name dancing ceaselessly on his tongue. I remember the occasion when I, after a pilgrimage to Rishikesh, Hardwar, Varanasi, Triveni, Gaya and Dakshineswar, wrote to Swami that it was through His Grace that I was able to visit those shrines and see Him alone everywhere. He replied that it was the Name that never strayed from my tongue that had concretised His Form before me in each shrine. "When you call out from the heart for God to grant you His vision, the Formless assumes that Form you crave to see," He said to me. "Fervour is always rewarded by the compassionate Lord."



Gaining this vision of the multiplicity of the world as One Indivisible Whole, which is the consummation towards which the japa and dhyana lead, depends on the standard of inner purity attained by the devotee. There are six evil enemies that poison a man's thought, word and deed and have to be destroyed. They are lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride and hatred. When these 'enemies' are examined however from the viewpoint of striving for the vision of unity, they will be understood as only various emotional ways of accepting this busy world. They are expressions of the value we attach to these many objects and persons, which are of no value, or rather, do not even exist at the highest level of truth. Their 'evil' is therefore fundamentally the evil of divisiveness, of dividing the world into many different objects. They prevent the acquisition of the true knowledge that the things around us are but shadowy illusions imposed on the One.

The Vision of Unity cannot arise in a mind heaving in agitated waves as it reacts to the hundreds of people and things it contacts every moment. It can only be revealed to a mind grown calm and translucent with the constant practice of rejecting variety, striving instead to detect a serene unity that hides behind this passing show. When this world is recognised as worthless, these many emotions that arise in relation to the many different things, die away. Then, knowing no conflicting emotions, thought, word and deed too cannot differ. They all become one and one-pointed. This undistracted one-pointed concentration is, in other words, termed 'purity' and finally such a sadhaka reaches the goal of realisation that One Alone Is.


 This view and That

There are two pathways to this one-pointed concentration: one is to withdraw the senses that bring in information about the many-colored world and strive to keep the mind aloof from impressions; and there is the path that uses all the senses freely, yet practises the actual Presence or Will of God in all things and events. The bhakta cultivates love and love cannot reject or ignore; it can only glorify. He sees the Lord's smile in every flower and star; he hears His voice in every chirp or twitter, hoot or roar. S'sî Ramakrishna Paramahamsa saw the Mother wherever he cast his eyes. The devotee does not see anyone else. For him, there is only He, with the vast sky as His shamiana and the breeze, His breath. Not even the humblest blade of grass will quiver but for Him (*). And not in the outward objects only of the world, but in the subtlest life principle too, the devotee now understands nothing but the command of the Lord: it is His Will that is the force of cohesion in the atoms of a crystal, it is the instinct by which an insect survives; it is the loyalty and dedication of a dog to its master.

"By single-minded devotion (bhakti) I can be known; the universe can be seen as a fraction of My Glory. I can be visualised as such and you can enter into Me and be merged (pravesha)," says the Lord to Arjuna. Identification with Him is the highest reward of love. Prasanthi, supreme peace, follows the pravesha (entry) of the bhakta into the source of all beings, the Lord .... 'My Father and I are One.' "O Râma!" says Hanumân, "When I feel that I am this body, you are my Lord. When I feel I am the self, equipped with this instrument called body, I am a jîvî (individual), you are then the Original of which I am the image, the shadow. But when I am aware that I am the Âtmâ, You and I are One!"



The bhakta to whom the Lord is all, says that God made man in His image. The sceptic, to whom He is a doubt and a question, says man made God in his image. But Swami who is both God and man reveals that the genuine truth was expressed by the sage who declared in the Upanishads, "The eternal absolute impersonal being became aware of an urge, a mâyâ, affecting the serenity. That urge was the primal desire, 'ekoham bahusyâm' - 'I am alone, I shall be many'.

Why was this loneliness cognised? What was expected from this 'many-fication' (or, as Sankarâcârya says, the 'many-fiction') that came into being? Swami confesses that He multiplied and personalised, in order to 'love' and be 'loved'. "I seperated Myself from Myself in order to love Myself!" But, before the beginning, there was none else and no other. The desire for expansion and 'full-filment', the Mâyâ, was however overwhelming and He had to project us, fractions, from His own substance.

Mâyâ is the playfulness inherent in God. It veils the One and presents it as the Many. It causes in-apprehension and intrinsic to Him. Since He always Is, Mâyâ too Is, forever. It parades reality before us, dressed in diverse forms and labelled with different names. These finite phenomena have only relative reality. They are 'real' for, the divine essence has projected Itself, separating Itself from Itself in order to love Itself and understand Itself. Yet, they are 'unreal' because they exist only in the unstable and ever-changing flux of time, space and causation. "I beheld these others beneath Thee," writes St. Augustine, "and saw that they neither altogether are, nor altogether are not. An existence they have, because they are from Thee; and yet, no existence, because they are not what Thou art".

'Sarvam Brahmamayam' - All is Brahma, assert the Vedas, 'Na iha nana asthi kinchana' - Here, there is no trace of any other. But we observe only multiplicity wherever we turn. Appearance has distorted reality by fragmenting it and fixing names on each little bit; our senses are inadequate instruments to explore this diversity and penetrate to the reality behind it all. Our mind is subject to perpetual agitation as the result of the series of desires, that assault it and our intellect too can deal only with limited areas of understanding. In spite of these handicaps man has also been imbued with an eternal thirst, a longing to reach his source, to become aware of the reality, his own and that of nature.

Scientists who have peered into the sub-atomic world of mystery have had an amazing confrontation with its contrariness. The paradox of the 'unreal Real' is the building block of the whole universe, they find. They witness particles behaving like waves, waves hardening into particles, matter turning into voids and voids emanating into matter. "This Mysterious Universe!" they have been led to exclaim. "Indeterminism can alone comprehend it. Time is a fiction, space is a figment and the cause-effect continuum, a fable!" Swami explains the puzzle in these words: "Though foam, bubble, ripple, wave and swell which are modifications of the sea are non-different from the sea, yet action and reaction, separation and collision are perceived among them and between them. But the truth is that they are never different or distinct from the sea from which they have emanated, on which they exist, into which they merge. The sea is the Reality. All else is appearance." Appearance or mâyâ needs time and space for spreading out its ravishing wares. It clothes itself in the scintillating warp and woof of cause and effect in order to lure the unwary even as, at the same time, it inspires the wary.


 The Transformed Thought

God did not make man in His image nor man make God in his image. God wished to play 'hide and seek' and since He is not only the One but the One with no second (Advaita - without duality, which relating to the Lord means that His body and Himself are non-different; see S.B. 7.15:63-65), He became the Many, charged with the urge to seek. God wished for a play and so He became the play-wright, the director, the stage-hands, the actors and the audience. As the Gîtâ announces, "He is the grain and the fire, the cook and the meal, the consumer and the digester, the strength and the activity." [see for example B.G. 15:14, 9:16 & B.G. 10]. This wish, created the I-sense, limited the cosmic consciousness into a 'God' whom the fragments seek to rejoin. The multiplicity of fractions into which the I sparked off, in which 'God' is revealed as Sat, Cit and Ânanda (eternity, consciousness, bliss), is the mâyâ that confronts man. The absolute is the pre-cosmic God; God is the Absolute, from the cosmic point of view.

What an overwhelming lure is woven by mâyâ! Mâyâ has hidden the absolute under a lid of gold, the Vedas say. It has transformed the absolute into a marvellous relativity. "This is seen as a marvel; this is spoken of as a marvel; this is listened to as a marvel ..." proclaims the Gîtâ. So, we are tempted, to approach, admire and applaud. Einstein in a delicious jingle reflects the reaction of all who are involved with mâyâ: "A thought that sometimes makes me hazy:
Am I - or are the others, crazy
?" [see for further reading:
Methodical Preliminary Exercises & Synopsis by The Order of Time]

Or, we have to echo the comment of Sir Arthur Eddington on the mystery of the electron, "Something unknown is doing, we don't know what!" Mâyâ is a Sanskrit word which means 'that which does not exist' but which appears to. Bertrand Russell writes, "Matter is a convenient formula for describing what happens where it isn't." Mâyâ has become also a decent scientific axiom, with Eddington acknowledging that "The stuff of the world is mind-stuff" and Sir James Jeans admitting, as the title of his book, that it is indeed 'The Mysterious Universe'.

The seeker on the path of Jñâna tries to explore and experience the 'thought', spread out as mâyâ. But what does the emotional seeker, the bhakta, do? He does not ignore or dismiss or condemn. For him, the cosmic conundrum, which mâyâ has persuaded the absolute to project, is captivatingly kaleidoscopic. It delights the eye, it tingles the ear, it tempts the tongue, it thrills the nose and throbs the skin. Some sages declare that the brain and the senses were evolved only in order to involve the living being totally in the play of mâyâ. The devotee, unlike the inquirer, the jñâni, dares not ask the why and the how of the world around him. He is amazed; he is amused; he accepts; he adores - and thus, he advances. [see also e.g. S.B. 11:3 & S.B. 11:11]

This cosmos is 'mama mâyâ' ('My Mâyâ') announces Krishna. Why then should one accuse It or avoid It? The devotee knows that the Lord has warned Arjuna (and through Arjuna all of mankind) that His Mâyâ is 'duratyayâ' (hard to surmount) and that it may distract and destroy wisdom (apahrita jñâna) (see B.G. 7.14). Enough for him is the knowledge that Krishna has, in the same context, named mâyâ as 'daivî' (transcendental, divine) too! Could anyone dedicated to God approach anything daivî with doubt, disgust or dread? The Upanishads acclaim God as Mayin, the One, accoutred with Mâyâ.

The Brahma Sûtras, which, along with the Upanishads and the Gîtâ comprise the three basic texts of Indian philosophy, reveal that creation, the cosmos, termed 'loka' (literally, the cognisable) is lîlâ kaivalyam (only play). Sankara, the most erudite of the many commentators on these three texts, explains the 'playfulness' of the One as Its very nature, inseparable from It. 'svabhâvâd eva sambhavathi' - 'mâyâ happens because of Its innate character'. Play is an action both effortless and purposeless. It is also an amalgam of genuineness and make-believe. The player is aware that it is play but the onlooker is deluded into belief in the appearance. Swami, as a ten-year old, acted in the Telugu drama 'Kanaka-Tara' in which He took the role of the brother who was executed. He acted the part so convincingly that His mother misled by mâyâ rushed on-stage, to prevent the deadly deed: The word 'delude' is derived from the Latin 'Ludere' (to play).

"I Myself have killed those against whom you are reluctant to draw the bow", Krishna tells Arjuna as He laughs at his despondency. "They have already been slain by Me. Be you the incidental cause only." This was said while Krishna revealed His Cosmic Form engaged in assuming and subsuming the worlds and their denizens [B.G. 11:34]. At the World Conference at Bombay, Swami revealed to the delegates: "I am deluding you into the conclusion that I am just human with this Name and Form and with My speech, song and action. But, when you insist on knowing My Reality, I may grant you any moment the Revelation of My Truth." During the same discourse He affirmed that "This (meaning Himself) is not a phenomenon of brama" (delusion). This is the phenomenon of Brahma." Rabindranath Tagore has said, "When It plays, It plays at being God and becoming everything else." The golden lid invites and inflames curiosity even while obstructing or distracting it.


Mâyâ is no Mirage

The mysterious veil is adorned with enchanting stellar embroidery, decorative orbit designs and empyrean embellishments. The lîlâ confronts our intelligence and challenges our imagination. It presents a perpetual perplexity which tests, toughens and tantalises man, blessed Man! "The Universe is the University for you", says Swami. The universe is a mask, a spell, an arabesque of such stunning rhythm that we are drawn into cautious involvement in its incidents. Werner Heisenberg, one of the giants of Quantum Physics has disclosed that uncertainty or indeterminacy is the very nature of the cosmos, micro as well as macro. And indeed, this principle of uncertainty only makes it all the more lovable. "Love My Uncertainty", Swami exhorts us. "The whole universe is engaged in a continual Cosmic Dance of Energy", concludes another scientist, Fritjof Capra. Swami says, "I am Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer. I alone know the agony of teaching you the steps." The devotee who has surrendered to the dancer, whose steps create space, whose winks create Time and whose whirl creates Worlds finds fulfilment in the total acceptance of His Lîlâ as the Reality within his reach. He loves Him as present everywhere and in everything. Vâsudevas-sarvamidam - All this is Vâsudeva, God.

Krishna adopts the name Vâsudeva because Arjuna liked that name the most. As the children who gather around the hawker of sugar dolls pick for themselves dolls of their favourite shapes - elephants, camels, bears, cats - so too the devotee chooses the shape and the name, the color and the size of the drinking cup with which he wishes to quaff the divine essence. He fancies his own choice as the most heartwarming and pities or avoids or tortures those who sip the same nectar from a vessel that looks different; There's many a cup from which the devotee can sip; its color may be white or dark, brown or blue; its shape may be a Linga or a Nataraja, a child named Krishna sitting squat on the floor, a Sai Baba sitting cross-legged on a rock or a charming Sai in a bright orange robe.


 Ideal as Idol

Having thus chosen his God, the bhakta is delighted to be His servant, a witness to His Glory, a Spectator of His Lîlâ. He strives to love God and be loved by God and to understand that it is His will that is enforced in the actions of all things. In order to give His devotee greater joy, God actually animates and dominates the idol or image that is the object of devotion and awards the bhakta the vision of God in sky and slime, ant and antelope, molehill and mountain. Or, God might assume a human form and, as He favored Arjuna, play the roles of kinsman, comrade and counsellor, guide, guardian and goal.


"Jaya Jaya Jaya Sai Baba Naam"


Hoodwinking as Man

Krishna the Avatâr who taught the Gîtâ to Arjuna tells him, "The foolish misunderstand Me, because of My adopting the human form, ignorant as they are of My being the supreme sovereign of all beings" (B.G. 9:11). But the bhakta who is emotionally motivated would really prefer to misunderstand Him, for, being encased in this human body, he cannot easily transcend his human feelings and worship God as the Formless Absolute. The 'ignorance' with which Krishna charges him enables the devotee to pray and plead, to protest and praise, to picture Krishna as mother, father, friend, monarch or judge. Krishna, in fact, joyously extols the bhaktas who long to adore Him in human terms and through human relationships and affinities. "Their thoughts are fixed in Me," He says, "Their lives are wholly dedicated to Me. They entertain and enlighten each other only about Me. They rejoice in Me and they make others rejoice" (B.G. 9:13-15). Swami has revealed that He is deluding us into the belief that He is human. "My Truth, let me tell you, is: I am the One and only source of every name and form that mankind has, in its long history, ascribed to God."

Krishna has assured the bhaktas the same reward. Their dedication, their sâdhana of mutual enlightenment, the sharing of love and light, He says, are credentials which deserve grace. "These people are constantly attached to Me. They worship Me with whole-hearted love and I bless them and grant them buddhi-yoga, the intuitive vision of Me as the soul and substance of all that pass and perish" (B.G. 9:22). Out of the compassion for those who are immersed in devotion to Me, I destroy the darkness, that fogs their vision, with the 'effulgence of the wisdom I confer."

Sage Vyâsadeva derived delight and shared it with devotees while engaged in recounting and recording the lîlâ and majesty of the God he adored in the form of Vishnu. But he could not speed on the concrete runway for long. From bhakti he must perforce take off to jñâna for jñâna alone can negate bondage totally. In His attempt to encapsule divine glory in a thousand nouns he reached the 729th, but at that stage he took off into the region of the incomprehensible, where God is impersonal and can be experienced only as an interrogation or an exclamation and all attempts and aspirations achieve the ultimate full stop. He could describe God only as "Who", "What" and "Which", and finally as "That". When "This" is cognised as "That", surrender culminates in submergence. Pranipatha attains fulfilment in Prasanthi (abode of supreme peace).




- Namavalis: see for example the S'rî Sathya Sai Ashtottarashata Nama Ratnamala & Sathya Sai Navaratna Mala
- Dwarakamayi: Shirdi Sai can be seen the most right on the photo.
- Bhajan: sacred songs in bhakti-yoga, devoted singing, usually to the service of one or more holy names (see
Sai classical bhajans and mantras & also Krishna bhajan).
Painting of Caitanya by Puskar Dasa.


' Jay Sai Ram '


About Narayana Kasturi