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Man of Miracles
By Howard Murphet
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1971 Howard Murphet
All rights reserved.
If therefore ye are intent upon wisdom, a lamp will not be wanting ......
After spending some time in Europe, my wife and I decided to stop for a while in India on our way home to Australia. We had two purposes in view. One was to go more deeply into Theosophy by attending the six-months' "School of the Wisdom" at the International Headquarters of (he Theosophical Society in Adyar, Madras. Let it be said, incidentally, and in case of misunderstanding, that this School does not pretend to offer a brief course on how to be wise; its object is simply a study of the ageless wisdom, the perennial philosophy found mainly in the ancient writings of the East.
Our second purpose was to travel through the country to discover if there was any deeper spiritual dimension in the life of modern India. Was there, we wondered, anything left of the mysterious India described in the pages of Paul Brunton, Yogananda, Kipling, Madame Blavatsky, Colonel H.S. Olcott and other writers? Were there still hidden fountains of esoteric knowledge or had the ancient springs dried up? Would it be possible to find somewhere, in ashram or jungle hermitage, a great Yogi of supernormal powers who knew the secrets of life and death? We thought that about a year should suffice for this programme.
The Theosophy School was enjoyable and enlightening. As a sortie into the wisdom teachings ranging from the ancient Vedas to The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888, it prepared our minds for our coming exploration "on the ground". We understood better what we were looking for and felt better equipped to appreciate it should we find it.
Our search took us to several of the well-known ashrams throughout the length of India, and to a few little-known ones. We sat and talked with hermits and ascetics in their caves in the Himalayas. We met a goodly variety of sadhus, sadhaks, and teachers of different types of yoga.
From the hermitages of the Himalayas and ashrams along the sacred Ganges we came back to New Delhi. There, at a leading social club, we met a top business executive who said, over his beer: "So you're looking for the spiritual life of India. There is none. That's all past. We are looking for what you have in the West – material progress."
In another place a professor of history also tried to dampen our enthusiasm. "Believe me," he said, "there is no spirituality left in this country. In the India of old there was, of course, but it died a thousand years ago."
However, we knew that the men who spoke this way, the men of the modern India with its thirst for Western technology, were wrong about their own country. We had seen enough and sensed enough to feel quite sure that the yogic treasures of old were still to be found in her deep recesses.
We had sensed it; we had caught some drifts of its perfume on the breezes; we had met with brotherly love in the ashrams; we had found men who were happy to teach, for the sake of teaching, the eternal truths of Hindu religio-philosophy. There was no dearth of inspiring words and noble theories. But we had not yet met a man of real power; one who had himself lived the yogic life long enough and truly enough to have broken through the limitations that bind Man in his present unhappy state. But with all the promising material there was surely hope that one such might exist. Yet we also knew that spiritual treasures are not handed out on a platter. There are always tapas, labours, austerities to be performed.
Train and bus journeys on the plains of India in burning June were, we thought, austerities enough for anyone. From the oven that was Delhi we went to the fiery furnace of Dayalbagh on the outskirts of Agra. We wanted to see what had happened to the Radha Soami religious colony there which Paul Brunton had admired so much thirty years before.
We found that its educational institutions had progressed and its factories and farms seemed to be thriving, but that it had a weary air. There was none of the dynamism that Brunton had found there. It was like an old tired man who had had rosy, optimistic dreams in his youth which had never come true. Perhaps this was because the energetic, inspiring leader of the Brunton days, His Holiness Sahabji Maharaj, was dead. Just before dying he had passed on the leadership to a retired engineer among his followers, one Hazur Mehtaji Maharaj. Now he was God incarnate on earth to the Dayalbaghites.
He proved to be a very elusive God. We tried to meet him but were not encouraged. On one occasion we went out early in the morning with a large party that does a few hours work in the fields before starting duty in office, school, or factory. The guru was with the group and we had great hopes of finally making the contact (in fact that was our reason for going), but he all the time managed to put a few acres between himself and us.
At last, however, on the day before we left, the secretary of the colony managed to pin him down in his office long enough for us to have an interview. On the way to the interview we were shown the house in which the leader lived. It was just one in a row, indistinguishable from its modest neighbours.
In the office we found a shy little man who seemed quite ashamed of the fact that there was an air-conditioning unit in his simple room. This was not common in the colony, and he made it clear to us that his followers had forced the exceptional luxury upon him because of the indifferent state of his health. He was friendly in a self-effacing way, but he said nothing of importance that I can recall. And we felt nothing, except that, if God is utter humility, then this man might be God incarnate; but he was certainly a reluctant incarnation, and kept any other signs of his divinity well hidden – from us, at least.
The secretary, Babu Ram Jadoun, made up in open-hearted hospitality and helpfulness any lack on the part of the modest leader. He spent the evenings sitting with us on easy chairs in front of the small guest house talking about the Radha Soami faith and its Sabdha Yoga, in which one concentrates in meditation on listening for the inner anahat sounds. He also liked to recall the old days and tell us anecdotes about the two English writers, Yeats-Brown and Paul Brunton, who had once stayed together at this same guesthouse in the early 1930s.
I knew that there were now about twenty of these Radha Soami colonies in India, each with its own guru. We had visited a number of them, including the big one at Beas, near Amritsar, where some 600,000 people believe that their benign leader, Charan Singh Maharaj, is the true incarnation. We had found that each group we visited had exactly the same idea about its leader.
On the evening before we left Dayalbagh I decided to ask the secretary, an intelligent man, what he thought about this division of belief that had developed in the cult during the century of its existence since 1861.
"Do all the leaders have the divine current?" I asked; "Do you think they are all incarnations of the boundless Brahman?" My wife and I were the only ones sitting with him under the trees before the guesthouse.
He shifted his seat in the warm air that wrapped us around like a blanket, and after a minute's silence, replied: "No, there can be only one incarnation at the same time."
"And that is your leader?"
"So all the rest are wrong?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Well, you no doubt have your good reason for feeling so sure," I remarked; "but how can we – how can any outsider – know who is right? How can we decide in which of the many leaders, if any, divinity is enshrined?"
The wrinkled kindly little man seemed to ruminate for a time before he said: "Thirty years ago I was a lecturer in the Engineering College here. One evening I was sitting with a few people where we are sitting now, listening to our leader, Sahabji Maharaj. Paul Brunton, who was with us, asked him the same question that you have just asked me. I remember very well the answer His Holiness gave ..."
"What was it?" Iris asked.
"It was: 'Pray every day to God that he will lead you to the man in whom he is at present incarnated.' I suggest the same to you now. Such a prayer will undoubtedly be answered." He paused, then added with a gentle smile: "And when it is, when you find him, please write and let me know."
I wondered if he meant, "write and say you are on your way back here." Then I remembered that Brunton did not go back and become initiated into the Radha Soami Faith at Dayalbagh, but found his great guru in Ramana Maharshi, of Tiruvannamalai.
It was all very strange. I was not sure that I believed in modern incarnations. Maybe in ancient times, as the scriptures taught, there had been such – men like Rama, Krishna, Christ and others. I knew that many in India regarded some comparatively modern spiritual teachers, such as Paramahamsa Ramakrishna as incarnations or avatars, but I had never hoped or expected to meet one in the 1960s. The idea had not occurred to me. I was prepared to settle for a great yogi who had climbed to the rare heights of Godrealization. But what was the difference, if any? It was all beyond my understanding or hopes.
Still my wife and I decided that, if among the teeming millions of India there was an incarnation today, we would love to find him. So the prayer could do no harm. It might, at least, help to lead us to the great master we sought.
I don't think we repeated his Holiness Sahabji Maharaj's prayer in actual words very regularly, or for very long, but the strong yearning was deep in our hearts, the yearning to find the highest manifestation of God in man – and that in itself is a prayer.
Satya Sai Baba
Truth is always strange; stranger than fiction.
I first heard the name Satya Sai Baba from a wandering yogi. He had not himself met this holy man, he said, nor been to his ashram at a village called Puttaparti. This, he had heard, was a difficult place to reach, being in the wilds of the interior: one had to do the last part of the journey by bullock cart or on foot over rough tracks. Still, the Swami was no doubt worth the effort, the yogi thought, if I had time and was interested in phenomena. He was known to have siddhis, to be a great miracle-worker.
"What kind of miracles?" I asked.
"Well, it's said that he can, for instance, produce objects from nowhere. Of course, there are other men to be found who have some of the siddhis: they can do a few supernormal feats, but from reports Sai Baba's powers are much greater. And he performs miracles frequently. Anyone can see them."
Such talk certainly aroused my interest and curiosity. I had heard (who has not?) that India was the crucible of wonder-workers. I had read of the great adepts, occultists, saints, of the past who knew Nature's inner laws. But I half doubted their actual reality. And even if they did once exist, could they still be around?
This, I thought, might be my great chance to find out if the fantastic tales that have come out of India belong to the realm of fact or fiction. I decided that I must see Satya Sai Baba as soon as convenient. Later, when I heard that his followers regarded him as a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, my desire to meet him became even stronger.
But the bullock-cart safari into the interior of south India would have to wait a little while. It sounded more than arduous, and we had recently discovered on our northern journey that ordinary travel in India saps one's vitality. On our return, we were glad to recuperate for a time in the tranquil tree-filled Theosophical Estate.
One day several months after our return a young pale-faced woman wearing the ochrerobe of a monk came on a visit to the Theosophical Headquarters. She was introduced to us by a mutual friend as Nirmalananda, and we took her to our sitting-toom for morning coffee. She told us that she was an American from Hollywood, an odd place of origin for an ascetic, we thought. "Nirmalananda", she said, was the Hindu name given her by Swami Sivananda when he initiated her into the monastic life. After he had died she left his ashram at Rishikesh and became a follower of Satya Sai Baba. At Puttaparti she had witnessed many wonderful miracles. Now Sai Baba was on a visit to Madras and she was one of a small party of disciples he had brought with him.
This seemed to be our golden opportunity. Iris was not feeling well enough to come, but Nirmalananda conducted me to the place where Sai Baba was staying. It was a pleasant house, standing behind lawns and flower-gardens. Later I learned that it was the home of Mr. G. Venkateshwara Rao, the mica magnate who was also a devotee of Sai Baba. The lawns and pathways in front of the house were covered with people sitting quietly cross-legged on the ground – white-clad men to one side and women in saris like brightcoloured flowers to the other. There were hundreds of them, obviously waiting for a sight of the great man.
Nirmalananda led me through the crowd to the front verandah and there introduced me to a pleasant, red-haired American named Bob Raymer.
"I think Sai Baba has finished interviews for the morning, but I'll go and find out," he said.
He took me into a small sitting-room and left me there. Nirmalananda had already gone off somewhere. In the room were only two Indian men, both standing and apparently waiting for someone. I also stood waiting.
After a few minutes the door from the interior of the house opened and there entered a man the like of whom I have never seen before – nor since. He was slight and short. He wore a red silk robe that fell in a straight line from shoulders to feet. His hair stood up from his head in a big circular mop, jet black, crinkly to the roots like wool, and seemingly vibrant with life. His skin was light brown but seemed darker because of the thick beard which, though closely shaven, still showed black through the skin. His eyes were dark, soft and luminous, and his face beamed with some inner joy.
I had never seen a photograph of Sai Baba. Could this be he? I had expected someone tall and stately with a long black beard, and dressed in white robes. I had a preconceived image of what a great yogi or master should be like – perhaps derived from early theosophical descriptions of the Masters.
He came swiftly and gracefully across the carpet towards me, showing white, even teeth in a friendly smile.
"Are you the man from Australia?" he asked.
"Yes." I replied.
Then he went to the Indians and began talking to them in Telugu. Presently I saw him wave his hand in the air, palm downwards in small circles, just as in childhood we used to wave our hands when pretending to perform some abracadabra magic.
When he turned the palm up it was full of fluffy ash, and he divided this among the two men. One of them could not contain his feelings; he began to sob. Sai Baba patted him on the shoulders and back, and spoke to him soothingly like a mother. I did not understand at the time that these were what are called bhakti tears – tears of overwhelming joy, gratitude and love. Later I heard that Baba had cured this man's son of some terrible disease, but as I did not check the story, I cannot vouch for it.
After a while the small figure turned to me again. Standing close in front of me, he began circling his hand again. This time I noticed he pulled his loose-fitting sleeve almost up to the elbow. Much later I learned the reason for this. In my mind was the suspicion that he might be doing conjuring tricks like a stage magician, perhaps bringing the ash out of his sleeve. Baba has no difficulty in reading minds and knew my suspicions. So he pulled his sleeve high to allay them.
When the mound of powdery ash appeared suddenly in his palm, he tipped it into mine. For a moment I stood there wondering what to do with it. Then a voice to my left said, "Eat it, it's good for your health." This was Bob Raymer who had just returned to the room.
I had never expected to eat ash and enjoy it, but this brand was fragrant and quite pleasant to the taste. Baba stood there watching me. Half-way through the strange snack I said to him:
"May I take some of this to my wife? She is not very well."
"Bring her here tomorrow at five o'clock," he replied, and then he was gone.
The next afternoon found Iris and myself at the same house. In the entrance we met Gabriela Steyer of Switzerland, one of the small western contingent in Baba's travelling party. She, very friendly and sympathetic, led us to an upstairs room where about a score of women, most of them Indian and all in saris, sat cross-legged on the carpet.
We sat down near them and Gabriela began to tell us about some of the miracles she had seen at Puttaparti. Taking out my note-book I asked her for the full address of the ashram and directions on how to get there. But at that moment Bob Raymer's wife, Markell, came up and said that Baba was on his way, and that I should go and sit on the other side of the room, the men's proper territory. The males now filled their area of the floor but I found myself a place by the wall. I noticed that Bob Raymer and I were the only two white faces in the group of men.
Excerpted from SAI BABA by Howard Murphet. Copyright © 1971 Howard Murphet. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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