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"WHO IS SAI BABA? He is love, love, love." I can still hear Baba's lilting voice singing this little refrain as he entered the interview room at his ashram one day. Repeating it softly, he moved with a light skipping step to welcome the assembled devotees whom he had invited to a group interview. Thus, in his inimitable way, he answered the question which is always uppermost in everyone's mind. His own seemingly simple statement is actually the truth. However, he himself is by no means simple.
I first heard about Baba in April of 1972, a few days before my husband, Sidney, and I left on a trip to northern India, my second visit to that country. A few days before our departure we visited a local bookshop to purchase reading material for the long plane flight ahead of us. As I reached up to a high shelf to pull down a book, another book fell down at the same time, barely missing my head. I picked it up and was immediately impressed by the picture of a most striking looking man on the cover beneath the title Baba, by Arnold Schulman. I remember my surprise that here was a holy man I had never seen or heard of before. I wondered how I could have missed him since I had read all I could find about Eastern teachers and their methods. Besides, this one was so unusual looking that I was certain that once seen, I could not easily have forgotten him. His was not a typically Indian face, though I scarcely noticed the rest of his features as my attention was riveted on his eyes, which seemed to penetrate clear through to my very core.
I have learned through my work to watch for what I have come to call "signs" to help to guide me in my daily life, so I took this particular incident as a sign to look more closely at this book which had fallen not into my lap, but almost on top of my head. As I leafed through it, hoping to discover what the message for me might be, I paused to study more carefully several other pictures of Baba. They showed him with a wide variety of different expressions and attitudes, but always clad in the same simple long straight orange or reddish robe. His dark hair looked like a halo around his head, and those extraordinary eyes seemed to dominate everything. As I studied each picture I began to feel very strongly drawn to him and wanted to know more about him. So I added this book to the others I had already selected to read on our approaching journey. However, the attraction was so compelling that I started to read it as soon as I reached home. Once started I found it impossible to put down and finished it before we left home. I was fascinated by the concept of Sai Baba, but even more by the strange way he seemed to speak to me from the pages of the book. I soon found that I was developing an extremely strong desire to meet him in person, and as soon as possible! I looked at the schedule we had outlined and realized to my dismay that it would not be at all practical to try to arrange to visit him while we were in northern India. We would be far from either his house in Whitefield, on the outskirts of Bangalore, or his ashram at Puttaparthi, in Andhra Pradesh, both in southern India. Our itinerary had been planned in advance with all the flights and hotel reservations confirmed. We were to leave in a few days, which left no time to try to make any changes. However hard I tried to rearrange it in my mind, I could find no space for even a flying visit to him, which caused me great frustration.
Since then I have heard Baba say on many occasions that no one ever visits him unless and until he so wishes, as the timing is very significant in a person's life. Several years later we were to observe how true that statement could be, when several friends who planned to accompany us to see Baba were all prevented from leaving at the last minute for various reasons. One by one, they were obliged to cancel their plans due to unexpected situations arising in their lives stopping them from leaving home at the appointed time. For example, one young woman planned to board a plane to India from Paris. She went to the airport on three successive days, only to discover that, for various reasons, the plane would not be leaving. She finally got the point and canceled her flight. Some time later, as each one looked back, it was very clear that it would not have been appropriate for any of them to be away from home at that time.
But none of this did I know at the time of my first exposure to Baba through the book I had just read, and I was increasingly beset with feelings of frustration at the prospect of going to India, yet not being able to meet him. It was on this wistful note that I started that trip.
Our first stop was Rangoon, Burma, where we had gone for the first time eleven years earlier, in January 1961, before the present military government came to power. At that time I had fallen in love with both the country and the people. We had been given letters of introduction to several families living in Rangoon, and had made some wonderful friends with whom we had kept in touch from time to time by letters.
Under the new regime the country had been closed to visitors for several years. As soon as we heard that the regulations had been relaxed to allow tourists to stay for just seven days, including arrival and departure days, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to return. We were anxious to see our friends again, and also to see for ourselves the changes barely hinted at in the news columns and referred to only obliquely in our friends letters. We also wanted to return to the meditation center in Rangoon where we had studied a type of Buddhist meditation, or mind training, called satipatthana. This method had been initiated by the Buddha and reintroduced into Burma by Buddhist priests, or Mahasi Sayadaws as they are called. On our earlier visit we had been privileged to take a short course of meditation under the direct supervision of the acting Mahasi Sayadaw, which had proved to be such a rewarding experience that we hoped to be allowed to repeat it, if only for a few days.
This second stay was a complete contrast to our previous one in every way. As soon as we arrived in Rangoon we were deeply shocked to see many signs of the way this lovely country had been allowed to deteriorate in every area. We were particularly aware of the change in the people, whom we had remembered as being some of the most delightful, friendly, hospitable and happy people we had met anywhere in the world. Now, as we looked around on the streets, we observed an air of gloom and hopelessness. We had alerted our friends ahead of our arrival that we would be visiting again, so we got in touch with each family as soon as we had settled into our hotel. They were all overjoyed to see us again, as we represented a breath of fresh air from the outside world from which they had been cut off for so many years. But we were also keenly aware of their barely concealed fear of being seen with foreigners, and learned that they now lived under constant surveillance by the military police. Once, they had been successful citizens of a thriving country, and had alternated regular periods of retreat in a meditation center with their work. They were now, literally, prisoners in their own country, afraid to speak to anyone for fear of being reported to the police for the slightest transgression of the rigid rules. On our last day they threw caution to the winds and we all gathered together for a farewell dinner. We enjoyed a gay evening reminiscent of those we had shared with them the first time. The next morning when we had to leave, they all insisted on seeing us off at the airport. Our last glimpse of them, as they clustered in a tight little knot waving to us and smiling with tears in their eyes, made us feel guilty. We were leaving them locked into a life without hope of relief while we were free to travel anywhere we wished in the world, secure in the knowledge that we would be returning to a country where we were not only free, but able to live a full life with comparatively few restrictions. As our plane took off, and they appeared like small dots on the ground, we wondered if or when we would see them again.
In this heavy mood we flew to Calcutta for a very brief overnight stop before continuing to Darjeeling. As I looked down from the plane to catch a last sight of the country I had previously enjoyed so much, I suddenly recalled my own frustration before leaving home when I had realized that I should not be able to see Baba during this particular trip. I compared it with the heavy daily frustrations which darkened the lives of the Burmese people who had little hope of any relief in the near future and I felt thoroughly ashamed of my own impatience. I learned much later that such insights are typical with many people after first hearing about Baba. In some strange way, defying explanation, he reaches out to teach those who make even a slight contact with him, wherever they may be.
As if to prove this point a strange thing happened while we were in the hotel in Calcutta that one night. Before dinner we decided to stretch our legs, which were stiff from the flight, by wandering around the hotel lobby and shipping area. We found an antique shop still open, so we went in to look around. I was really startled to see a large photograph of Sai Baba on the desk of the proprietor, who stood up to greet us as we entered. The thought went through my mind that I would not have recognized Baba if I had not so recently read the book about him. The owner had noticed my interest and asked with surprise if I knew who Baba was. I in turn asked if he was a follower of Baba. He replied that not only was he himself a devotee but so were several members of his family. He wanted to know how I had heard about Baba. I told him about Arnold Schulman's book, and he in turn suggested that I read another book, Sai Baba, Man of Miracles by Howard Murphet, an Australian, as it had been responsible for introducing him to Baba. He gave us the address of a bookshop situated not far from the hotel. He thought it would still be open and might possibly have a copy in stock.
Before taking our leave of him I asked if he carried any pieces of antique Moghul jewelery in his shop. He replied that he did not have any at the time but that one of his brothers, who operated a similar shop in New Delhi, had a fine collection. On hearing that we would be going to that city, he gave us his brother's business card. When we looked at it, we were astonished to see that his brother was a man whom we had met when we were in India in 1967 and whom we planned to see again this time. We had kept in contact with him by letter and had also seen him in the States from time to time since our first meeting. We were genuinely surprised to learn that he and his family were also devotees of Baba. In fact, we found that news very hard to believe as he had always been very sceptical of spiritual beliefs and gave the impression that he was agnostic and left religious pursuits to his wife. I clearly remember thinking that if Baba could make an impression on this man he must be extremely powerful and convincing.
We thanked the owner of the shop for his help, and hurried to the bookshop hoping it would still be open and have in stock a copy of the book he had recommended. We were to discover, more and more as we became further involved with Baba, that in some strange way things would work out so that we would find something we needed at exactly the right time. As a perfect illustration, we found that the shop was still open and an obliging salesman was able to find a copy of the book, tucked in behind some others on a shelf. It was very dusty, but fortunately intact. I could now look forward to reading more about Baba, even though I could not see him on this trip.
From then on, I began to notice that wherever we went pictures of him appeared in the most unexpected places as if he were greeting us along the way. It occurred to me that he was accompanying us in spirit by way of his pictures and the book about him.
For many years I had been seeking a method to help me to advance further along the spiritual path. My search had taken me to many places and exposed me to numerous teachers and methods. In all of them I had found something of interest but never enough to involve me completely, or convince me that I had found my right way. So I continued my search whenever an opportunity presented itself.
Before leaving on this present trip, besides planning to return to Burma to revisit the meditation center, we had also arranged to meet Gopi Krishna who lives in Srinigar, Kashmir. I had been in correspondence with him after reading his interesting book, Kundalini. In it he recounted his personal experiences, of inadvertently arousing his kundalini after many years of meditation. He described in vivid detail the extraordinary affect this occurrence had on every aspect of his life. When he finally learned the nature of it, he eventually managed to steer his way through it to a state of unusual clarity. He expounded upon his theory, born of his own experiences, that it culminates in a condition of expanded awareness. He felt certain that it was equally possible for many other spiritual aspirants to attain this state if they were provided with the necessary instructions on how to control the process, and thus avoid the tumult into which he himself had been thrown. He also felt very strongly that the discoveries he had made along the way were of interest to science and religion alike. He envisioned helping to unite these two disciplines in a joint attempt to discover a method to help mankind to offset the negative forces which are becoming increasingly active in the world. He had attracted the attention of several prominent scientists, and hoped to enlist their aid in initiating a research project. By using the available ancient writings on the subject, along with his own personal experiences and observations, he hoped to develop a safe course of instruction for those men and women who elected to participate in the proposed experiment, and who were judged by a select committee to be suitable candidates.
When we arrived in Srinigar we telephoned him. He invited us to spend an afternoon with him at his house and told us about his hopes and plans for the experiments he had outlined. They were very interesting, but almost as soon as we met, I became aware of a strong feeling mounting within me that although this was one more method which had much to recommend it for others, it was not for me. So, after joining him for tea, we thanked him and went on our way.
Our next stop was New Delhi. We telephoned our friend, the antique dealer, and told him about our unexpected meeting with his brother in Calcutta. He was surprised and delighted, and suggested we meet as soon as possible. After we had exchanged greetings and given him news of his brother, we told him of our conversation about Sai Baba. He then told us how he and his family had gone to see Baba and were now his devotees. He regaled us with stories about Baba and his miraculous powers, his overpowering love, and his simple yet profound teachings, all of which whetted my appetite even more for personal contact with him. I suffered a fresh pang of regret that it would not be possible at that time. Our friend was most sympathetic and gave me a picture he had taken of Baba during a recent visit to his many devotees in New Delhi. I was delighted to receive my first picture of him, which was more personal than those in the books.
During our lunch together I mentioned that I was suffering from an upset stomach probably caused by some food I had eaten, at a dinner on a houseboat the previous night. Our friend gave me a tiny envelope with Baba's picture printed on it. He added that it contained vibhuti, or holy ash, which could be used as a medicine. He instructed me to dip my finger into the lightly scented greyish powder and put a little of it in the center of my forehead, and a pinch of it on my tongue. He added that I could use it as a healing agent whenever the need arose. This was my first introduction to Baba's vibhuti. I accepted it gratefully, and used it as directed without any hesitation. I later realized that this was most unusual, as I am very cautious about taking anything which might possibly cause an allergic reaction.
He next suggested that on our return home we should get in touch with an American whom he had met while at Baba's ashram, who could tell us about his experiences. He gave us his name and address in San Francisco. As we parted he used a strange new phrase, "Sai Ram", which we were to hear many times, used both as greeting and farewell. It means simply, that Sai is God, since Ram is for Rama, an accepted divine avatar for the Hindus. It is usually accompanied by a gesture in which both hands are placed with palms together, as in prayer, and held in front of one. It conveys a greeting from the in-dwelling God in one person to the in-dwelling God in the other. This gesture, called namaskar, is more usual in India.
Excerpted from SAI BABA by Phyllis Krystal. Copyright © 1994 Phyllis Krystal. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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About the Author
I met Sai Baba and can affirm that the miracles Ms. Krystal reports are real, but so is the cult. Readers of this book may also want to read "Hypnotic Leadership" by Dr. Micha Popper.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 19, 2010
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