As learnt at the Lotus Feet of Bhagavan

N. Kasturi (1897-1987)



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


Happy to Answer 

Nagaswaram flute

" Kriti 'Yenna Tavam' "
'The serpent can be tamed and its poisonous fangs removed, when music from the
Nagaswaram pipe is played and when it is fascinated by that sweet melody.
The poison that vishaya (object of sensory perception) exerts on the human mind
can also be eliminated and countermanded,
when man is fascinated by the sweet melodies of namasmarana or sankîrtan,
that is to say, by the repetitive chanting of the meaningful Names of the Lord.
The poison in both can thus be transmuted into pure nectar'
Sathya Sai Baba


Swami is happy when aspirants approach Him with questions, Pariprasna. When the bhakta, stuttering hesitantly, says, "Swami, can we question you freely on spiritual matters?" He replies, "Yes, certainly. Why do you doubt it? What am I here for if it is not to explain things you don't know? Do not hesitate or be afraid. Ask me. I always appreciate and reward sincere enquiry." Often, as in the book, the Sandeha Nivarini, Swami asks the bhakta, "Which is the internal world? Give me your idea of it". The man protests, "Swami, it would be good if you speak, not I." Whereupon Swami explains, "Making the questioner give out the answers himself is the sanathana (ancient) method of teaching. If those who question arrive at the answer by themselves they would really have understood the subject well. This was the only method used by the rishis of the past to enable their students to understand Vedanta. So come on, let us see!" Here is an illuminating session of question and answer:

Swami: Have you ever been to the cinema?
Bhakta: Ever been! Why, Swami, the cinema is an essential part of the world today. Of course I have been to see many films.
Swami: Tell me then what you saw.
Bhakta: Oh, many wonderful pictures, so many voices and noises and incidents of joy and sorrow.
Swami: You say, 'I have seen.' Well, the screen is one thing and the picture another. Did you see both?
Bhakta: Yes.
Swami: Did you see both at the same time?
Bhakta: No! How could that be possible Swami! When the picture is on, the screen isn't visible and when the screen is seen, no pictures are visible.
Swami: Right! The screen, the picture - do they always exist?
Bhakta: The picture comes and goes but the screen continues to exist.
Swami: Yes, the screen is nithya (eternal) and the picture a-nithya. Now tell me, does the picture fall on the screen or the screen fall on the picture? Which is the basis?
Bhakta: The picture falls on the screen. The screen is the basis.
Swami: So, the external world, the objective world, which is the picture comes and goes but the internal world, the âtmâ, which is existence-awareness-bliss (asthi-bhâthi-priyam) is the basis. This 'name-form-world' is real only when you witness it or experience it with your senses, mind and intellect.
Bhakta: Existence-awareness-bliss? What is that? Swami, give me an example, if there is any.
Swami: My dear boy! Why do you say 'if there is any'? When all is Brahman, which one thing is not an example? Take the film. The picture exists, persists, on the screen. That is the asthi. Who sees it and understands it? You. You are aware of it. That is bhâthi. And the names and forms you see are capable of giving ânanda, that is they are priyam.
Bhakta: It is clear now, Swami.
Swami: One point has to be noted here. The pictures fall on the screen by means of a beam of light projected through a slit in the wall of the machine-room. But if the light pours out from the whole room without the slit, the figures cannot be seen as such, for the screen would be bathed in light. So, too, when the world is seen through the small slit of one's mind, the multi-colored manifoldness of creation is cognisable. But when the floodlight of atmic awareness is shed, no individual, no distinction and no disparity is recognised. All is then cognised as the One Indivisible Brahmam. Have you understood?
Bhakta: Yes, Swami, I have understood it clearly.


 Ask Me

Swami as the Teacher of Truth encourages us to mould our doubts into questions. Whenever He picks a group of people for an interview and discourse from among those who have come into His Presence, He puts them at ease soon with a fond look and then prods them to ask questions. "What do you want? What is your problem? Ask me something," He says though He is undoubtedly well aware of their needs, problems and predicaments. Twelve years ago, a man from California answered, "I want freedom, Swami!" He stayed here for more than two years before returning home. The New York Times described him as seated on the pavement living on a handful of peanuts. He wrote a letter to me after observing the Shivarathri vow and I found that in place of his name, the signature was, 'Freed. OM.' Swami has said that His discourses are like bazaars or fairs where people can each secure the things they desire, while the interviews He grants are like specialised shops where the customer gets precisely the very thing he is anxious to get for himself. Swami has highlighted two gems of wisdom for us from His Gîtâ; they stress the importance of jñâna, knowledge:
'Jñânadeva thu Kaivalyam' - 'Liberation is only through the illumination of awareness' and
'Sraddha-avaan labhathe jñânam' - 'That illumination is gained by steady faith'.
And it is Jñâna, the third and last section of the Vedas that is presented as the culmination of the first two on karma and upasana. Karma, action, leads to upasana, dedication. Then, the heart cleansed and chastened by both these is ready for jñâna. This section on jñâna is known as the Vedânta (knowledge-end), the end of the Vedas. Vedânta is propounded in the Upanishad texts, mostly as answers to questions from seekers and sadhaks.

Upanishad means 'sitting near'. The pupil seated at the feet of the Guru or Master listens reverentially to the answers given in reply to his questions. One Upanishad is appropriately named the 'Prasna Upanishad' (the question centred lesson) wherein Pippalada, the Guru, directs six pupils in search of Brahmam. "Dwell with me a year more with austerity, chastity and sraddha. Then ask what questions you will. If I know, I shall tell you all". Another of the Upanishads has the interesting title, 'Kena' (By Whom?). It starts with a series of three questions: "By whom is the mind impelled? By whom is breathing ordained? By whom is the tongue impelled to speak, the eye to see, the ear to hear?"

Most of the other Upanishads disclose the fundamental principles and processes of spiritual inquiry through dialogues between the Gurus and their disciples. We notice a wide disparity among these disciples both in levels of scholarship and in social status-kings and millionaires, aristocrats as well as the sons of commoners, teenage as well as adult aspirants, women and gods like Indra. The instructors too were varied - cartmen and kings, sages, recluses, warriors and women, saints like Yajñavalkya and gods such as Prajâpati and Yama.


Dialogue on Wheels

Following this tradition, the Bhagavad Gîtâ too is couched in the form of a dialogue, for it is the essence of the wisdom of the Upanishads and is in fact known as 'the milk from the herd of Upanishad cows'. It is a Samaveda (dialogue) between the Lord and Arjuna who prayed for guidance and knowledge. Arjuna earned this treasure through pariprasna, questioning. "O Partha, has this been heard by you with concentrated attention?" Krishna enquires as the dialogue is about to conclude. "Lord, my delusion is destroyed," Arjuna replies. "I have regained what my memory had lost. I am freed from agitation. I shall act according to Thy word," he concludes, for with the knowledge that has been revealed, and retained, Arjuna had shed pretence and evasion. Belief in his separate existence was destroyed, for, he was convinced it was but a delusion of his unillumined mind.

Devotion, as it wells up within us, exhilarates, for we are then 'in the light', but inquiry, and its fruit, knowledge, exterminate us, for we merge in that light. This is the reason why Yajñavalkya, at the end of a prolonged bout of question and answer with Gargi, a dogged disputant, a formidable dialectician and a widely revered guru, advised her, "Gargi! Do not question too much, lest your head fall off! In truth, you are questioning too much about Brahmâ of which further questions cannot be asked. Gargi! Do not over-question." Thereupon, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Gargi held her tongue.

Swami too concludes the dialogue with the bhakta, forming the Sandeha Nivarini, with this same answer to the final question. "Without spending time on such un-understandable problems, engage yourselves in the things you urgently need, traversing the path which will lead you to the goal." Once you take off into space, soar beyond paths into the pathless, questions cease and answers are lived, not learnt. The mind cannot reach that realm of reality. All attempts to encase that experience in words are futile.

The jñâna marga is really easier than the bhakti marga," Swami has said, "for a revelation, an awareness of the truth can occur in a flash to those who are able to sit quiet for a few minutes and analyse themselves!"


   The Four Hurdles

Swami has given the world a book on Jñâna called Jnana Vahini. The very first paragraph calls upon the aspirant to be engaged in 'un-interrupted inquiry'. The enthusiasm to inquire has to be fostered and furthered, He says, in spite of the obstacles that hinder it. The body protests, the mind malingers, the intellect loses interest and relapses into drowsiness (laya). One is unable to concentrate on the goal. Attention gets distracted. The bird in the hand tempts us to give up the pursuit of the bird on the wing. Sâdhana proceeds only in spurts. Waywardness brings doubt and defeat in its train (vikshepa); sub-conscious motives and urges emerge, to reduce the grip of determination. Fears and furies carried over from previous lives distort and divert the enthusiasm. They hasten its decline and disappearance (kshaya).

There is one more hurdle: "the better acts as the enemy of the best". The sâdhana might reveal that the sâdhaka is the supreme and this feeling might confer great joy. He would be happy that he has attained the goal, acquired the treasure, achieved victory. But, Swami says, "The rasa or sweetness of this subject-object samâdhi (I - He sameness) is a temptation one has to avoid, for it is only the second best. The joy is just enough to act as a handicap (rasa-aswadana - enjoyment of bliss). Direct perception of one's reality as Brahman, the awareness of oneself as the cosmic Self, happens in a flash when inquiry becomes sincere and steadfast.


Examine, Experience

Swami welcomes inquiry even into His almighty mystery. "Come, see, examine, experience and, then, believe." He does not accept blind faith. In order to plant the sapling of faith in the hearts of man, and feed them with love and understanding, Swami has brought out in book form, the "Prasnottara Vahini" (Stream of Question and Answer) wherein He answers more than two hundred queries, on physical, mental, social, familial, moral and spiritual problems. Swami elicits from the persons sitting around Him during what are commonly known as 'Interviews' (though an aged monk named Gayathri Swami refused to refer to it as anything other than a Centreview), their hidden pains and hurtful dilemmas. Exposed to the sunlight of His sublime sympathy and love, they are all rendered harmless. The Upanishad assures us that the impact of wisdom and love results in "loosening the knots in the heart and shattering the doubts in the mind". Dr. Hislop has recorded in "Conversations with Bhagavân S'rî Sathya Sai Baba" a few occasions, in the interview room and other locations of such diagnosis and cure. Mr. V.S. Page was encouraged by Swami to seek clarification on the validity of certain spiritual experiences, when members of the Maharastra Branch of Bhagavan-Sponsored Academy of Vedic scholars gathered around Him. The questions and answers have been published in the book "Dialogues with the Divine".


   No Curiosity

On the first page of the book, Swami expresses satisfaction at the opportunity. He says, "You are not asking these questions out of curiosity but with a view to seek some help on the Godward path". During the session, different phases in the life of a devotee come in for discussion. Swami spoke of three:
(1) When the devotee is convinced, 'I am entirely Yours';
(2) When he is firm in the faith, "You are entirely mine";
(3) When he is no longer I and has merged in 'You', the source and sum of all ' I's '.
"Likewise", Swami added, "a jñâni also has three phases in his spiritual life:
(1) Soham: I am He
(2) Aham Sah: He is I, and
(3) Aham eva aham: I am I.
The final stages of both the bhakta and the jñâni are not different from each other. They represent the mergence in one unitive cosmic consciousness.

I know that Dr. S. Bhagvantham, the eminent physicist of India, and for some time, scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Government of India, sat at His feet with notebook in hand, recording the answers he received for metaphysical questions that troubled him.


An Agnostic Probes

Don Quixote charged into a wind-mill mistaking it to be a dragon he was commissioned to kill. When certain 'rationalists', who had outlived the Age of Reason and leading a precarious existence amidst scientists who have transcended logic and reason and accepted relativity, indeterminancy and uncertainity, raised a hue and cry against God and His compassion towards man, Sri. R.K. Karanjia, Editor of Blitz, an iconoclastic leftist weekly which was avidly read by hundreds of thousands, listened to the hullabaloo and decided to undertake a journey of discovery; he reached Puttaparthi. He was on a pariprasna mission. He questioned Swami on His motives, miracles, mission and methodology. He found Him 'an open book'. After a long session during which he applied all his journalistic tools in vain to pinpoint a chink or two, he had to announce with pride, in thick capitals on the front page of Blitz (11-9-76) that "God is an Indian!" The episode was a repetition of the first interview that Swami granted to Sri. K.M. Munshi, founder of the Bharathiya Vidhya Bhavan. Karanjia echoed, Munshi: "I came. I saw. I was conquered."

The last request that Karanjia presented before Swami was for confirming his conclusion: "Your Avatâr has as its aim the restoration of divine consciousness in mankind". Swami's reply is profoundly inspiring and illuminating.

"Yes. I say to those who come to me: You - as body, mind and soul - are illusion, mâyâ. What you really are, now and forever, is existence, knowledge, bliss. You are the God of this universe. It is you who are creating the whole universe and drawing it in. You have the capacity to break this body-mind bondage and expand your Self to encompass the earth, the sun and the planets. The Cosmos, entire, is within you. But, to gain this infinite, universal individuality you have to discard the miserable little ego-bound individuality and create new dimensions which cannot be bound on earth (and, yet, must be experienced on earth). God is within you. Seek Him, feel Him, embrace Him. He is there, deep inside you, the Self. What matters is not the mind, the body or the brain. It is not the desire, the desiring or the object of the desire. Above them all are YOU, the SELF, the ATMA, GOD. All else are the outer manifestations of the indwelling God. It is you who appear as the smiling flower, the twinkling star. You have everything within you; find it. Discover it. Know it. Realise it. You will then see that the world has nothing to offer which you can desire. What can you desire when you are everything?"

Sankaracharya, the great interpreter of ancient scriptures, exhorts us through a disciple's poem included in the "Bhaja Govindam" series, "Seek to know who you are, where you come from, who is your mother, who your father, and when you have known the answers, be free from bondage to the dream which enticed you". When this pariprasna is sincere, Swami will teach you to declare:

"I am not this name I bear and announce as mine when asked, for I can discard it, change it or disown it any time I please. I am not this body I feed and clothe for it behaves in its own way. It has its thicks and thins, its hots and colds. When I treat it as 'my body', how then can it be 'me'? I am not my mind for it plays its tricks regardless of my interests. It is present or absent as and when it wills and it ruins or raises me according to its own fanciful whims. I am not my intellect for it is a tool that can rust or grow blunt. It has to be fashioned and formed slowly and has to be constantly coddled and corrected. Everything I call mine is not I. I have therefore to conclude that I am behind and beyond all these which are inert instruments which I can manipulate and master."


   Daily Migration

Next, when attention is turned inwards, man encounters another puzzle. His curiosity is sharpened when he finds that every day he traverses unharmed three different regions of experience: 'I am awake' - 'I dream' - 'I sleep'. When awake, he doesn't dream or sleep. When dreaming, he is not awake or asleep. He is migrating from one stage to another. In the waking stage, he contacts the physical universe through his physical body and its components -the five organs of perception, the five organs of activity, the five vital airs and the four capacities of discrimination and determination, (budhi), recollection (chittha) and egoism (ahamkara) which are included in the omnibus term 'mind' (manas).

In the dream stage, on the other hand, he has no contact with the world; the senses are silent. Man is then in the sub-conscious plane. Swami says that every action of ours produces a corresponding reaction, which is collected and recollected by the mind. The mind too, like a gramophone record with shallow grooves scratched upon it, bears the impression of all that we have suffered, the bouquets and the brickbats. They lie dormant but (as a needle from the soundbox runs through the grooves of the record, the songs and the sobs, the ups and the downs of varied intensity emerge alive and aloud), the mind is activated while we sleep. It begins to weave its fantastic imagery unhindered by the limitations of time and space and logic. The submerged effects of karma float up from the unconscious into the sub-conscious and present themselves as symbols and phantasms. In other words, impressions of the various desires we have entertained, concretise before us donning tolerable costumes and passable conduct. Caught between wakefulness and sleep, man has to journey through this fog, whether in the role of victim or witness.

The dream flits in a few seconds all over the world and even beyond. We are juvenile one moment, senile the next. Swami describes this make-belief thus: 'At the moment, you are in this Auditorium among all these people. Tonight when you dream, you may see this very scene again, see yourself sitting in the midst of the crowd listening to my words. But during the dream, it is not that you are in the Auditorium among thousands but that the Auditorium and the thousands are in you! The dream however is as real to you at that time as this event happening now when you are awake. This 'daydream' therefore is not more real than the 'dream at night'.'

Let us go back into the 'thought', 'the will' that prompted the Non-Being to appear as Being and the Being to Become the Many so that It may be loved and understood through that Love. The Being assumed the Cosmic Mind or Mâyâ in order to diversify Itself and appear as the Many. This primal Mind persists in everyone of the Many and plays its tricks of Mâyâ. We can escape it only by merging in pure Being, uncontaminated by wish, desire, thought or will. During the waking stage, Mâyâ or Mind has many accomplices (the senses, the intellect, etc.) to help it to delude us. While dreaming, however, the Mind is the sole actor. It uses the materials stored in its vaults and continues its game of cheating us into believing that the Appearance is the Reality. As we know, the day-dream and the dream at night seem equally real, at the time we experience them. During dreams we laugh and weep, sweat and shriek. We can see, therefore, that it is the mind that possesses the power to project convincing images and impregnate them with the stamp of reality. And indeed it can certainly do so for is not each mind a replica of the cosmic mind?

But when man migrates into the third stage, that of dreamless sleep, the mind is ostracised, as a diverting deleterious disturber. The I is then alone with the I. It has no body to cater to, no senses to run on its errands, no mind to lead or mislead it. Even the awareness of not being aware of the outer and inner worlds emerges only when sleep ends. The ego - the body-mind-intellect complex - disappears at the onset of sleep. Then, sceptre and crown do tumble down with plough and pen; everyone is alone with the Universal One, when the merciful leveller, sleep, leadens the lids.

'Nidra, samadhi sthithi,' declares the sage. 'Sleep is the ultimate stage of equanimity'. Except for the tiny defect that at that time there is no awareness of the ecstasy that has descended when the mind was eliminated, sleep is verily a daily preview of the Summum Bonum (S.B. Canto 10). It merges the Self (divested of the non-Self) in the very source.


Divine Discontent

Every living being except man is content to rest with a mere knowledge of its environs (its habitat) and the means of satisfying its sensual needs. Man alone, is afflicted with a deep discontent, a chasm within (that clamours for closure), exposing, searing interrogation marks that hurt the heart - Who am I? When did I come? Why am I here? Whither do I go? He tries to deny the discontent, to defy it, to forget it in feverish fun and frolic, to smother it desperately in drugs and devilry, but it has to be faced, in life after life, until at last he gains the knowledge which liberates.

What is that knowledge? Man spends a whole life-time trying to gather knowledge about the external world, to question everything around him. But Swami points out that man's eagerness to know must first begin with none other than himself. "Without a complete understanding of your own self, how can you use that instrument (yourself) through which you try to measure and guage, to examine and judge all others?"

The real truth, as all religions say, is that, having understood oneself, all else in the universe can be known. Man contains within himself all that is found outside. This fact is rarely understood; so, man neglects the study of his own 'self'. He spends all his time struggling to know the 'non-self'. Swami proclaims that He is God come as man; He reveals, in same breath and with equal emphasis, that we are also God. God said, "I am One, let me become Many." "What does 'Many' mean?" Swami asks. A hundred, for example, is 'many' of course, but a hundred is really a hundred ones, one repeated a hundred times. So, each of the Many is a complete One in itself. "You are the Many and each of you is the One that willed to repeat Itself", Swami says.

But this knowledge, though heard by the ear, cannot be realised or understood with conviction by those immersed in mundane matters. As Swami says, it is only in the intellect, made clear and penetrating through Gâyatrî Sâdhana, and the mind purified by Ashthânga Yoga that this truth can be revealed. The Gâyatrî is a prayer, to that intelligence which illumines the universe, to render our faculty of reason luminous. The Ashthânga Marga is the eight-limbed path of selfpurification and spiritual advance laid down by the ancient sage Patañjali in his Yoga Sûtras. Today, Swami Himself has commented on these eight, filling each with profound potency. The book Prasanthi Vahini contains His recast of the traditional meanings of these steps.


    Steps in Yoga


The first step is known as Yama, long interpreted as non-violence, celibacy, honesty, the non-acceptance of gifts. "But I would say", Swami writes "that Yama means giving up your attachment to the body and the senses".

The next step is termed Niyama. It is explained by pundits as austerity, rectitude and study. Swami however says that its implications are far wider and deeper, for it involves continuous sustained discipline and unwavering remembrance and concentration on the Supreme Self.

Âsana or posture is the third anga (limb). Swami does not elaborate on the various physical contortions and gymnastics recommended by the teachers of Yoga but merely says that the udasin, the relaxed effortless posture, free from strain or tension, is the one that is best.

On the fourth stage, that of Prânâyâma, the regulation of breath, however, He has much to say. "The control of the vital airs and their movement and momentum has to be practised intelligently, under constant supervision. But it is most important to keep in mind that the exercise will yield positive results only for those who are aware of the world as a transient amalgam of truth and falsehood. Only a person conscious of this mystery can command the Prâna (the breath, the vital energy) to obey his will." One has therefore to inhale and exhale to the accompaniment of the mantra 'Soham'. 'Sa' means 'That' (the One Truth, the Supreme Self) and 'Aham' means 'I' - I Am That. The inhaled breath is Sa, the Truth. Each breath we take in must fill us with Truth. The exhaled breath means the expelling of the unreal, the appearance, the flux. The exercise of Prânâyâma has therefore been raised by Swami to a metaphysical super-biological level.

The fifth stage, Pratyâhâra, requires the withdrawal of the organs of perception from the trinkets and gadgets of the objective world in order to focus awareness on the One that is the source and sustenance of all that It has become. Swami teaches us that this stage can be gone through successfully, only when we are convinced that the external world is mâyâborn and mâyâ-sustained, that it has only mental and not 'funda-mental', validity. Without this conviction, the mind cannot be led away from the sights and sounds, tastes and smells that cloud its activities.

The next stage that Patañjali prescribes is Dhâranâ (concentration or steadfastness), the fixing of the consciousness (citta) on a single elevating thought. Swami clarifies the modus operandi of this effort thus: "Treat the citta as a child, as a toddler. Caress it and win its love and trust. Lead it with tender sympathy, remove its fears and falterings with soft reprimands and focus its attention always on the beauty of truth." Once the aspirant has superseded his sense organs by understanding the falsity of what they portray as 'real' (pratyâhâra), his mind will be steady, concentrating on the One, beyond all this variety of appearance (dhâranâ) and he then slips easily and effortlessly into the seventh stage of Dhyâna, meditation. Swami defines this stage as "the uninterrupted dwelling of one's consciousness in the Cosmic Consciousness". That is to say, concentration achieves such constancy that he himself grows unaware of the fact that he is engaged in meditation. He does not have to force his mind to remain fixed on one elevating thought, for, steadfastness now becomes as natural, as incessant and as vibrant for him as breathing itself.

Dhyâna, in course of time fructifies into the final stage, that of Samâdhi. "Samâdhi," Swami declares, means 'sama' (same, equal) 'dhi' (awareness, intelligence) - it is the denial of duality, the vision of sameness everywhere, becoming the One without a second. The 'I' has been liberated from the cocoon which it had spun around itself; it flies out into the freedom where it belongs, the expanse of the boundless sky that knows no distinction or division.

The person who has achieved Samâdhi can never again return into the cocoon! He is easily recognised; for, his thought is truth, his action is dharma, his nature is santhi and his aura is love. Nevertheless, he is no superior being, standing afar and apart on a pedestal of his own. The Gîtâ allots him a task that he cannot disown, for it happens spontaneously, with no conscious effort at all; he no longer has any egoism left in him, (no feeling 'I', nor sense of doer-ship). This task, says the Gîtâ, is that of promoting the welfare of all beings, 'sarva bhûta hithe rathâh.' [See BG ch. 6, 29-31]

Swami prods each one of us to set our feet on the Ashthânga Marga and begin the journey to the Kingdom of God within us. Speaking to a gathering at Prasanthi Nilayam during Dasara, 1970, He said, "You are Sathya Swarupas, the embodiments of Truth. That is why I do not address you as Dear Disciples or Dear Devotees for it would be crediting you with a status you do not possess. I call you 'Atma Swarupa', the description that fits you, whether you are aware of it or not. It is a statement of fact that no experiment can prove wrong or incomplete or exaggerated. You are not the vellayya, mallayya or pullayya you proclaim yourselves. You are the Immortal, the Eternal, the Ever-pure Atma!"

Karunyanandaji told Swami that he had once sought the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi before starting his service to orphan children. "My blessings cannot help you," Gandhi had replied "Win the blessing of the truth enthroned in your heart, instead. That alone can endow you with strength; that alone can save you in times of need."


Within Five Sheaths

What exactly is our truth? "It is the easiest thing to discover!" says Swami. "Just put a few questions to yourself and it is done. 'Koham'? (Who am I?), man cries as soon as he is conscious of himself, but he takes birth repeatedly because he fails time and again to discover the answer to this one question that haunts him. "Man has five sheaths (kos'as) that cover his reality," Swami warns. "And he has to unsheath all five in order to free himself and shine revealed in the native glory of that truth." [See also Prasnottara Vahini VII & S'rîmad Bhâgavatam about kos'as]

The first sheath and the most obvious one is the Annamaya Kos'a, this physical body sustained by the food we eat; this cage in which we dwell and which we carry about with us from birth to death. Ramana Maharishi, in his later years, used to complain, "How long am I, singly, to carry around this I body which has to be placed on the shoulders of four others?" (that is, when it is carried as a corpse to the cremation grounds). The aspirant is encouraged to contemplate on all the component parts of the body - the brain, the heart, the blood, the bone, the genes - all thriving on the calories and the chemical we take in, and on the various functions of the body connected with this food - the assimilation of nourishment, the circulation of blood, the elimination of waste. When he thus divides the body and examines its individual part and functions, he realises that it is just a complex machine carrying out certain assignments automatically. It cannot be mistaken for the spirit of life, for the yearning and intuition burning within, for the sense of 'I', of which he is ever-conscious.

This realisation leads him to the awareness of another sheath, subtler than the physical. This is the Prânamaya Kos'a, formed of prâna, the vital air that fills the Annamaya. This is the basic substance within the Annamaya and is the reason why this inert machine, the body, is said to be 'alive'. Prâna performs five functions that the individual declares are 'his actions'. These are in-breathing, out-breathing, diffused breathing, up-breathing and total breathing (termed prâna, apâna, vyâna, udâna and samâna). When the individual places his faith on his physical body as his real self, he recognises that other things which may 'belong' to him but which are not a part of his body (sons, riches etc.) are not his own 'self'. They are the 'non-self'. When he considers the Prânamaya kos'a as himself, then the Annamaya sheath is discarded as a nonself. But it is also foolish to imagine the Prânamaya to be the self, just as the gross body was mistaken to be the all.

Swami has disclosed an amazing coordination between the kos'as which have to be negated and the cakras through which the kundalini energy has to ascend in order to reveal the reality. Speaking on Raja Yoga during the Summer Course on Indian Culture and Spirituality, 1977, He said, "The mûlâdhâra, the cakra at the lower end of the spinal passage where the serpent energy lies dormant and coiled is the seat of the prithivi principle, the terrestrial (or earth) facet of creation. It is therefore related to the Annamaya Kos'a. The next cakra, the svâdhishthâna, is the guardian of the Prânamaya Kos'a, the vital sheath. It is the seat of the agni (fire) element, the source of the warmth in the body which is engaged in maintaining intact the process of living.

Swami is the great synthesiser. He reveals the thread on which various mystic interpretations of yogic exercises are strung. Man, according to Upanishadic psychology, has three urges: the urge to act (kriyâ s'akti), the urge to possess (icchâ s'akti) and the urge to know (jñâna s'akti). The Annamaya and Prânamaya sheaths are activated by Kriyâ s'akti. The manipâraka cakra at the navel which the kundalini reaches next is also included in the Prânamaya envelope, since it is the seat of the jalatattva, (jala = water) the aquatic principle that regulates and reinforces the circulation of blood and other internal products.

The sheath that underlies and pervades the Annamaya and Prânamaya is the Manomaya Kos'a, the mental or emotional sheath. This fact becomes evident as the individual progresses in his efforts at understanding his own astounding make-up. Just as a piece of cloth is made up of several threads that criss and cross, so too, mind (manas) is made up of fancies, impulses, doubts and decisions that are its warp and woof. But if each thread, that is, each desire, is pulled out one by one, says Swami, there comes a stage when the whole piece of cloth, that is the mind, disappears! This thing we call the 'mind' is just a bundle of many desires, He reminds us.

The Manomaya Kos'a is the seat of the icchâ s'akti, the urge to have. The mind is in charge of us as the sole master when we begin dreaming; it is then given licence to play its pranks. It builds castles for our pleasure and caverns and cauldrons for our fright. And even when we awake, it is the mind that gathers the information provided by the eyes and ears and parades them before us for acceptance and appreciation, rejection or recollection. We are thus at the mercy of its vagaries as long as we believe the various impulses that agitate the mind as valid.

The Annamaya Kos'a is predominantly tâmasic (inertia, darkness) while the Prânamaya is more râjasic (vibrancy, passion). The Manomaya sheath however has a slice of sattva (luminosity, white, pure) in its composition and so this sheath can, if nursed properly, lead man to delve into deeper springs of bliss. Otherwise, the mind is, as the Vajasaneyi Samhita warns, a mire of "desire, representation, doubt, faith, firmness, lack of firmness, shame, reflection, fear." It is the eleventh sense, the internal motor and motivator. Its seat is the anâhata cakra, centred in the heart region as demarcated by Yoga.

The seeker however must continue the search for his true self, must probe deeper than the mind, which is a jumble of ever-changing thoughts. What an enormous number of differing, conflicting impulses and emotions have passed through his mind since the day he was born! How could these be his real self, the permanent unchanging 'I' that has throbbed within him despite all the waves of thought that have come or gone, rolled on and retreated, got treasured or rejected through all these years? And the Taittîriya-samhitâ(Upanishad) says, "Other than the Manomaya, verily other than this one form of mind, there is another self within formed of vijñâna (discerning knowledge). By that, this one is filled." Vijñâna [Vijñânamaya Kos'a] is the ability to examine and decide, the determinative, the discriminative faculty.

The mind collects many bits of information and converts it into a thought that forms an impulse for a desire, a phase of covetousness. It is the discriminative faculty however that sifts and weighs, judges and resolves. This faculty is an expression of the jñâna s'akti, the urge to know. This urge which is innate in man may progress to intellectual questionings of a higher order, but ultimately it culminates in the desire to seek, to reach and to rest in the knowledge of one's origin and purpose.

In a message He wrote, Swami summarised the whole purpose of this existence in one brief sentence: "There was no one to understand Me until I created the world". He became the Many so that He could have the joy of being understood or at least, savour the knowledge that a universal thirst to understand Him pervaded His creation. This need to always search and know, the jñâna s'akti is therefore the deepest driving force in man, that tempts him on to higher and rarer atmospheres, until he loses himself in the atmosphere. It is the primal desire that is reflected in the beneficient trait of vijñâna (discerning knowledge), the power of discrimination that leads him in the direction of the last lap of the journey of evolution. [See also S.B. 3.9]

The mind is helped and liberated when it seeks and allows itself to be moulded by this inner sheath; but when it welcomes the impact of the two outer sheaths, it has only helped itself to be bound even tighter to the trivial and the temporary. The man who allows Vijñâna (that is, buddhi, the intellect, intelligence) to be the charioteer who holds the reins of manas (the mind), reaches the end of the journey, says the Upanishad. The Vijñâna Kos'a has its seat in the vis'uddhi cakra located in the region of the throat. The Vijñâna principle is an expression of the âkâs'a (ether, space, one of the five elements of nature) and hence is all pervasive, boundless and ever-expanding.

When the inquiry into oneself is pursued further, one discovers that the urge, behind the urge to know, is an insistent clamour for joy, for joy that lasts. We learn from experience that "pleasure is an interval between two pains" as Swami often reminds us. We bend low before the blast for the sake of the interval of calm before we are caught again in another turmoil. We strive to minimise the pain and maximise the pleasure. The motivator for this perpetual effort is the last of the five sheaths, the Ânandamaya Kos'a, (or blissfull sheath) located in the region of the brow called the ajñâ cakra in Kundalini Yoga. It is the centre which supervises thoughts and actions. Man is able to glimpse this truth when he contacts this fringe of the cosmic consciousness during meditation. He is then transformed into translucence. The Prasanthi ('abode of extreme peace') he is approaching heralds itself as Prakanthi (radiance, spiritual effulgence), the splendor that illumines all the sheaths.

The word 'maya' (the 'a' is short, not long) means 'composed of', 'saturated with', 'characterised by'. 'Ânandamaya' should not be mistaken for Brahman which is Ânanda Itself. The Ânandamaya Kos'a, which we discover as we continue with the inquiry, envelopes something more precious. This sheath too has to be surpassed and subdued before the search can end. Swami assures us that "This Kos'a is only a step away from the final realisation, the consummation of all sâdhana and all search, which is the completion of the unfolding of the kundalini energy in the thousand spoked wheel (sahasrâra cakra), the thousand petalled Lotus (sahasrâdala padma) on the crown of the head."

' Jay Sai Ram '


   The Treasure Chest

The Kos'as mentioned above can be correlated by means of another criterion, by the analytical minded, the jijñâsu (seeker of wisdom) or the jñânî. The human body has three cases - the gross, the subtle and the causal (resp. sthula, sukshma and kârana). The Annamaya and Prânamaya sheaths comprise the gross body; Manomaya is the subtle body, the Vijñânamaya and the Ânandamaya, which are lit by the âtmâ form the causal body. Swami has posited a fourth body, the subtlest of all, which He has named the mahâ-kârana. This is the primal cause that activates the other three. It is on par with the fourth state of consciousness (turîya) which heralds the dawn of illumination, after the happy oblivion of sleep. It is also equated with the silence that follows the OM, the most uplifting part of our recapture of that primal vibration. The path of jñâna, of investigation, is thus seen to reveal valuable visions of synthesis and truth, by whichever line of inquiry it is undertaken.

"Therefore," commands Swami, "Delve into yourselves. Investigate. Discover who you are. No one keeps gold in a gold box," He explains, "Steel safes are preferred. So too, the most precious âtmâ, as eternal, as luminous as the original paramâtmâ itself, is kept secure deep within a casket that has five outer lids." We must plunge and probe, for, great treasures are never left lying around within reach of undeserving hands. "So, turn your minds within," He urged in a letter written to the students of the S'rî Sathya Sai College at Brindavan, "Find the everlasting basis there, the supreme source of love, happiness and peace. Everyone of you is embodied divinity. Your true being is sat-cit-ânanda (eternity, consciousness, bliss). You have forgotten this truth. Remember it now and take the holy and powerful name of the reality, until your mind disappears and you stand revealed as truth. Then, enjoy, as Sai has been enjoying, the eternal bliss which can never be exhausted."

In another message Swami makes the truth clear. "Within you is the real happiness. Within you is the mighty ocean of nectar-divine. Seek it within you. Feel it. Feel it. It is there, the Self. It is not the body, the mind, the brain, the intellect. It is not the urge of desires; it is not the object of desire. Above all these, You are. All else are manifestations. You yourself appear as the smiling flower, the twinkling star. "

Why do we long to expand our understanding, to enlarge our horizon, to extend the circle of our acquaintances? Because we are manifestations of the Omniwill that willed the same. Why are we curious to uncover secrets, to unravel mysteries, to peer into the unknown and even to know about how the known was known? This insatiable urge to know is but the primal desire to soar up into our source whose nature is limitless existence, absolute knowledge and infinite happiness, a desire to reach home and rest. In fact, we are 'at home' always and unaffected by restlessness!

This primal search for deathless rest is the gnaw that never lets us stop or drop by the wayside, the insistent whisper "Never, never say die!" from somewhere within. It is the spirit that tells the fish how to feed on smaller fry to survive. It is the spirit that patiently stripes the coat of every tiger and spots the skin of every leopard, the camouflage that helps them blend into their environment and saves them from killer claws and teeth. It is this spirit that adds beauty, utility, sweetness to the tree when it spreads wide the green of its leaves and the gold of its flowers and paints the earth with the serenity of its shade. This universal search for immortality, for truth, peace and love lights our way, as we tramp back home. The instinct of survival gives us the chance to march on; the instinct of beauty brings hope and comfort on the road; and when this spirit grows into a deep thirst for pure joy, the far turret of that goal of eternal bliss is sighted; though entangled in counterfeit pleasure in this pursuit of joy, some inevitable day, our struggle will draw the Compassionate Guide towards us, He who will reveal where and how we are to look for that Joy which we have searched so long.

Once, when the organiser of a conference asked Swami for a message, Swami, seizing a piece of paper, wrote, "You, as body, mind and soul (spirit) are a dream. What you really are is sat-cit-ânanda (existence - knowledge - bliss). You are the God of this universe. You create the whole universe and then you draw it in again. But to gain, to reach that expanse of the infinite universal individuality, this cage, the miserable little personal individuality (the ego) must go."


Beware of the Mind

Swami teaches that the universe is just the mere 'projection' of the universal mind and that another name for it is mâyâ, illusion. It has not the solidity we give it by the use of the (in a sense, wrong) term of 'creation'. The potter did not sit down on the day of creation with some lumps of clay and mould us into all sorts and sizes. The universe is the thought of the universal mind. We, emanating from that very mind, have the power to do the same, for it is our mind in turn, projecting prejudices, predilections, preferences and patterns, that 'creates' our own tiny worlds. Our world ends when we quieten our sense-organs and withdraw into the torpor of sleep. The mind however refuses to rest so soon. It continues to be busy and if deprived of the five organs of perception, to keep 'creating' the world; it is by no means defeated. It has the impressions made by these organs (the memory) with which to play. It does so with enthusiasm, pulling them all out from the subconscious where they are carefully stored. It begins to 'create' a dream world that is as real for that while, as the 'real' world will be, a while later, when awake. But when one gains steadfastness in sâdhana (spiritual discipline) the mind collapses at last in exhaustion, its burden of likes and dislikes melts into nothingness. The ultimate result of these venturesome experiments has been the wearing out of the mind's mischief and the dawn of sanity.

V.S. Page writes in "Dialogues with the Divine" that he asked Swami about the dissolution of the mind. He doubted the statement made by Swami that mind is basically inert and questioned, "How can it become active, then?" Swami replied, "Look! When water is exposed to the sun, it gets heated and you see in it the reflection of the sun. The mind reflects the soul (âtmâ), the pure consciousness and, therefore, appears to be sentient. The water glitters; the mind acts. Water is heated; mind is restless. Water contacts the sun; mind contacts the âtmâ." Page asked, "Just as we see the sun in the sky, quite separate from the water, can we experience the soul distinctly, aloof from the mind?" Swami said "No! When you experience the âtmâ, there is no mind. When the hot rays of the sun evaporate the water, the activity ends and the reflection disappears. Only the sun remains. Meditation on the soul makes the mind vanish. This is "mana-nash", the extinction of the mind, of desire, of mâyâ, the achievement of liberation itself".

A doctor from Nigeria asked Swami, "What shall I do to prevent re-birth?" He writes that he received the reply, "Do away with desires and ego. See God in all. Love all. If you do this, one day you will become one with Me". The advice, in short, was to extinguish the mind. Swami has told us to bypass the mind systematically, refusing to cater to its demands, and refraining from acting in accordance with its wayward wishes. "Watch its pranks and somersaults, its moods and motions, with majestic unconcern". The mind will no longer function as your master; it can be handled as a tool which can be cast away, after use.

This was the advice Swami gave to the septuagenarian (a person who is from 70 to 79 years old) monk, Abhedananda, at the âs'ram of Ramana Maharshi when he longed for deliverance from the vile vagaries of his mind. Arjuna pleaded his inability to subdue the formidable fickleness of the mind. Krishna's prescription was an attitude of non-involvement, confirming oneself in this posture by means of relentless practice. Sanity is recovered when the mind is subdued, the veil is torn, the lid is lifted, the fog is wafted and one is aware of the identity of being 'one-self', where there is no second. As Swami reminds us often, the second one is only the first one repeated again. It is identical to the truth that is proved every day of our lives when we see that every seed or each baby that grows to maturity in no way loses the complete tree-ness or human-ness the parent possessed. This very important truth is proclaimed in the Upanishads thus: "That is Full. This is Full. From the Full emerges the Full. When the Full is taken from the Full, the Full remains Full"


 In-to Prasanthi

We come from perfection, we are perfection and into that perfection we return. We are not parts, limbs, fractions, fragments or froth. We are not regenerate apes or degenerate angels. We are neither dust nor clay. "I am God," says Swami, "And you too are God. But, you do not know who you are, while I know all about both You and Me." He states this truth with spontaneous simplicity, with no fanfare or conceit, for He is the Avatâr, the Compassionate, the AllKnowing, the Infinite which has become Finite without ceasing to be Infinite. "You lie, when you say 'I have not seen God. You cannot see a thing without seeing God." "Sai is in everyone; Everyone is Sai" Swami told Arnold Schulman, as He has told thousands,


      " Rama Neel Amegha Shyama "      
text bhajan


"I am in you. You are in Me. We cannot be separated. Don't forget that I am always with you. Even when you do not believe in Me, even when I seem to be on the opposite side of the earth..."

He repeated these words again with emphasis when Samuel Sandweiss pleaded to be allowed to live beside Him at Prasanthi Nilayam. "I am always with you, always, always, always! The distance between us lies only in your imagination."

Once, a gentleman named Mehta from the âs'ram of âcârya Vinoba Bhave stood thunderstruck as Swami spoke to him of long forgotten incidents, some half formulated plans and projects he had played with, in his mind in the past. "What is the sâdhana that gives you the power to read my past and discover these details?" he asked in amazement. "Sâdhana?" Swami smiled back, "Why, I am in you always. You cannot exercise your mind without me! I know things about you which you do not know yet!"

Swami instils faith and courage in His devotees to know that they certainly can attain prasanthi, the peace supreme that is the source of bliss. Prasanthi is the end of the path of pariprasna along which the jijñâsu journeys. He penetrates the three states (of consciousness) and the five sheaths with his concentrated relentless questioning:
- Koham? (who am I?)
- Dehoham? (Am I the body?)
- Dâsoham? (Am I a servant, a tool, a puppet?)
- Soham? (Am I He?) - until there comes that moment when, in a flash, he is rewarded with the answer beyond which no more questions lie:
Thath Thwam Asi - That Thou Art!
that there is neither I nor He but, as Swami announces "I am you; you are I. Know that I and He do not become We. I and He are never separate. Only ONE ever was, is and will be."

The wave, Swami has said, rolls and rears, dances with the wind, dashes forward and retreats back, basks in the sun, leaps towards the sky, overleaps its kin, frisks in the rain, all the while believing that it is itself. It does not know itself as that very sea on which it sports dressed in a wavy form and distinguished from the source by a four-lettered name. Until this awareness is gained, it will be tossed up and down and torn into spray. But when the truth is known, the agitation ends in calm and Prasanthi reigns supreme.



The S'rîmad Bhâgavatam about kos'as:
2.1:25 / This outer shell of the universe known as a body with seven coverings [fire, water, earth, sky, ego, noumenon and phenomenon, see also kos'as], is the conception of the object of the Universal Form of the purusha as the Supreme Lord.
3.29:40-45 / Of whom out of fear the wind blows and out of fear this sun is shining, of whom out of fear rains are sent by the Godhead and of whom out of fear the heavenly bodies are shining, because of whom the trees and the creepers do fear and the herbs each in their own time bear flowers as also fruit appears, the fearful rivers flow and the oceans do not overflow, because of whom the fire burns and the earth with its mountains doesn't sink out of fear for Him, of whom the sky gives air to the ones who breathe, under the control of whom the universe expands its body of the complete reality [mahâ-tattva] with its seven layers [the seven kos'as or also dvipas with their states of consciousness at the level of the physical, physiological, psychological, intellectual, the enjoying, the consciousness and the true self.], out of fear for whom the gods in charge of the modes of nature of this world concerning the matters of the creation carry out their functions according to the yugas [see 3-11], of whom all this animated and inanimate is under control; that infinite final operator of beginningless Time is the unchangeable creator creating people out of people and ending the rule of death by means of death.
10.87:17 / They who bellow as if they are breathing [see B.G. 18.61] are really alive if they are Your faithful followers, for You, above cause and effect, are the underlying reality of Whose mercy the universal egg of the totality, the separateness and the other elements of the person was produced [see 3.26: 51-53]; with You, according to the particular forms they furthermore lead to, appearing among these as the Ultimate One in relation to the [mere] physical coverings and so on [the kos'as and B.G. 18: 54].

prâna: Life force, vital energy, breath.
apâna: One of the five vital energies which moves in the lower trunk controlling elimination of urine, semen and faeces.
vyâna: One of the vital energies pervading the entire body distributing the energy from the breath and food through the arteries, veins and nerves.
One of the five principal vâyus (vital energies), situated in the throat region which controls the vocal cords and intake of air and food.
samâna: One of the vâyus, vital energy which aids digestion.
cakra: Energy centres situated inside the spinal column.
kundalini: Divine cosmic energy.
mûlâdhâra cakra: Energy centre situated at the root of the spine.
svâdhishthâna cakra: Energy centre situated above the organ of generation.
manipâraka cakra:
Energy centre at the navel area.
vis'uddhi cakra: Energy centre situated behind the throat region.
ajñâ cakra: Energy centre situated between the centre of the two eyebrows.
sahasrâra cakra: cakra or energy centre situated at the crown of the head, symbolized by thousand-petalled lotus.
kriyâ: Action, execution, practice, accomplishment
s'akti: Power, capacity, faculty.
icchâ: To cause to desire, will.
jñâna: Knowing, knowledge, cognizance, wisdom.
anâhata cakra: Energy centre situated in the seat of the heart.
- The Shukla Yajurveda Samhita also known as the Vajasaneyi Samhita, is said to have been collected and edited by the famous sage Yajnavalkya.
- The Purusha Sukta is an important part of the Rig-veda ( It also appears in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (3.12,13), the Vajasaneyi Samhita (31.1-6), the Sama-veda Samhita (6.4), and the Atharva-veda Samhita (19.6). An explanation of parts of it can also be found in the Shatapatha Brahman, the Taittiriya Brahmana, and the Shvetashvatara Upanishad.
-The Purusha Suktam is seen earliest in the Rg Veda, as the 90th Suktam of its 10th mandalam, with 16 mantrams. Later, it is seen in the Vajasaneyi Samhita of the Shukla Yajur Vedam, the Taittriya Aranyaka of the Krishna Yajur Vedam, the Sama Veda, and the Atharvana Veda, with some modifications and redactions.
See also Yayurveda.
Taittirîya-samhitâ: (
S.B. 12.6:64-65) The son of Devaratâ then regurgitated the collected Yajur mantras and left from there. The sages greedily looking at these Yajur mantras, turning into partridges picked them up; thus became these branches of the Yayur-veda known as the most beautiful Taittirîya-samhitâ ['the partridge collection'].
Annamaya Kos'a: Anatomical body of man.
Prânamaya Kos'a: The vital body, organic sheath of the body.
Manomaya Kos'a: The mental or the emotional sheath.
Vijñânamaya Kos'a: The intellectual or discriminative body.
Ânandamaya Kos'a: The blissful sheath.
Turîya: the superconscious state of the soul its selfrealization (see
S.B. 12.11:22).

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' Jay Sai Ram '


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