LETTERS FROM INDIA - #4
Subject: THE WINDING ROAD, #4
Date: December 13, 2012
From: Souljourns (Ted Henry)
~ THE MAIN EVENT
As is happening the world over, Christmas is unfolding in Sai Baba's ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam. Scores of people are spending long hours daily preparing for how the ashram will celebrate Christ's birth.
This place sits on the cusp of becoming festooned with angels, wise men and images of Mother Mary holding her holy infant in swaddling clothes. Westerners are planning for private Christmas Eve dinners with friends in their postage stamp size living quarters. There will be plum pudding, Christmas cookies and vegetarian facsimiles of roast goose and turkey.
A secondary purpose for my being here is to seek out individuals who have compelling spiritual stories to share. I then do video interviews with these people and post their stories to Souljourns (youtube.com/souljourns and vimeo.com/souljourns) Jody has come up with high quality leads for me to pursue and my job is to track down these people and then to invite them to sit for an interview. Invariably people end up telling stories of how becoming familiar with Sai Baba has transformed their lives.
One hour ago after the evening darshan outside the Mandir, in front of Ganesh gate, Richard Lubner came up to me and introduced himself. The 42 year old man was born in South Africa and now lives in Australia. Months ago his life was wholly transformed after coming to holy man Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I cannot tell you how good it makes Jody and me feel when he said he arrived at the feet of Sai Baba via the stories of Souljourns. Knowing we have helped one person on the spiritual path to conscious bliss humbles us and makes us most grateful for the opportunity to serve. Richard told me his life was a series of roller coaster rides until he found Baba. Even after the end of Sai Baba's physical form, his miracles continue.
The work here thus far for Souljourns has been intense and as the days go by I'll find the time to share the high lights of someadditional accounts before posting the video interviews to the internet. So far I have not found a good way to begin posting Souljourns interviews from here in Southern India. The internet speed in our tiny tree house type apartment is too marginal to accomplish this but I will continue to find a way to begin uploading these stories to Souljourns. If this effort fails, I'll have many interviews to add to our Souljourns collection upon our return to the U. S.
~ FATHER CHARLES OGADA
A major disappointment for this Christmas season at Prasanthi is the news that our Catholic priest friend, Father Charles Ogada is unlikely to be here. I believe it was six years ago that I met the Nigerian priest who has been coming to Sai Baba's ashram for a long time. I couldn't believe Father Charles had not been celebrating Christmas mass here and I told him so. Actually I told him that he must find a way to celebrate Christ's birth here, and he did. When asked about this request, Sai Baba instantly approved. Father Charles mass always centered on Baba and drew muslims, jews and hindus as well as christians.
I am still keeping my fingers crossed that Father Charles will find a way to be here. If you visit our Souljourns website you'll find three interviews with Father Charles and two discourses on bringing back the central issue of God's Oneness to Christians around the world. God's Oness, non duality is Sai Baba's key theme, the awareness that all is love, that all is God. It is not a new theme to the Christian world but it is a concept that has been largely forgotten in the west.
~ ENCOUNTERING MYSTICS
It happens here often. You'll be sitting alone in the meditation hall or the lunch room and the next thing you know an evolved mystic will be sitting next to you asking about your day, or more importantly about the evolution of your soul. Carl Meissnitzer from Austria showed up in my life this way. A long time devotee of Sai Baba and close friend of Father Charles, Carl is fond of asking me about about my understanding of maya, the illusory notion that none of this material world is real, but that it's only a drama from which we are destined to shake lose the underpinnings of our ego and then to awaken to our true identity that we are atma, Divine.
"So Ted, how attached are you still to the notion that events and items in the material world can ever bring you peace?" I answer him in the usual way parroting the positions of Sai Baba. I tell him that we have to see through our attachments to everything material including friends and family members as well, that these are all part of the movie we are "watching" that's being projected onto the screen in front of our eyes. It is a very tough lesson to learn. I remind Carl how difficult this is for meto accept but that I am working on it.
"So Ted", Carl asks me one final time, "What's your understanding of advaita, that only God is real, that only God exists?" After I give him my best understanding of that question which I've been working on for 26 years now, he hits me with the big one.
"But are you sure?"
That throws me for a loop. But now as Carl replies to me this way more often I have begun to throw that same line right back at him, "So Carl, are you sure?" And he always says yes, and we both laugh.
I asked him why he keeps pressing me on this issue and he said that he had heard that Sai Baba once referred to me as a doubting Thomas. Baba made reference to me in an earlier interview by saying that I was a good man, a good husband but that I continually had spiritual doubts about Baba's identity. I have come a long way since that interview maybe ten or twelve years ago, but Carl is still interested in Baba's statement to me.
The other day while sitting on the stoop next to one of the many feral dogs in the ashram that cozied up to me and went to sleep at my feet, Carl told me something useful about the issue of doubt. "Doubt the doubt, Ted", he said. Instantly this registered as a helpful comment. When in doubt, the path to eliminating it is to begin with the process of inquiry, which can then lead to a new act of beginning to doubt the doubt. "Doubt the doubt, Ted". Likely this will be seen as small change to many, but for me it carries great helpfulness in all that it suggests.
~ JODY'S LESSON
Jody was telling today about a recent conversation she was having here at the ashram regarding the emergence of Sai Baba into her life. She said for many decades her life was filled with a mix of events and that it was like a black and white television, the picture was clear, she could see the unfolding scenes and she made the best of it all. But then color TV burst onto the scene and suddenly everything was much more vibrant. It had a presence she wasn't accustomed to and from that day forward there was no turning back. That's the effect of one holy person who can burst into your life when you least expecting it. Jody's world has been turned upside down by Sai Baba and the effect is lasting. The same for me.
~ THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
One of the popular books that contributed to my start upon a spiritual path was M. Scott Peck's, "The Road Less Traveled". On page one, the first three words of the book read, "Life is difficult". The American psychiatrist wrote in 1978 that psychological challenges in life often parallel spiritual challenges.
I tell you this as a preamble to a story I hope to write one day next week about my recent four day adventure out of Sai Baba's ashram to the far flung reaches of the state of Andhra Pradesh. I traveled 11 hours by car with a former Sai Baba student who received his MBA at Baba's university. We traveled though mountains, prairie, some very rough roads and a wild animal forrest preserve to the forrest ashram of holy woman Amma Sri Karunamayi. For me it was the road less traveled, more like the road never traveled. There's one story to tell about the mere challenge of reaching Amma's ashram that might be of interest to those who have never been to India, and of course there's the story of Amma.
Sai Baba has led us to interview holy people from many realms of spirituality, a gift to us we forever appreciate. In keeping with his request that we see all spiritual paths as containing merit, Baba's guidance has brought Jody and me into relationships with people of deep spiritual significance. Amma is one of them. She told me that Baba visited her parents home when she was an infant and carried her around in his arms.
Amma refers to Jody as Sai Ma and to me she says my home is Puttaparthi, Baba's home. The four interviews I have recorded with her are listed on Souljourns and I have recorded still more interesting stories with her during the last several days.
In the weeks ahead I'll be traveling to another ashram in Madanapalli, India, to a sacred home in Hydrabad and to the offices of one of India's leading surgeons, a Sai devotee who lives in Bangalore. I hope to include their stories on these pages.
~ ASHRAM TIDBITS
- Gerald Dominick is from the California coastal region but for several years now he has been living here in Puttaparthi permanently. He has an interesting newsletter he sends out occasionally and if any of you are interested I'll make sure you are added to his mailing list. The same with Satish Naik. Please just let me know.
- And speaking of Gerald, he told me recently about something very small that you might find interesting. No longer must you enter the Western canteen in your bare feet. Yes, you may keep on your flip flops. This may seem like insignificant news but it does matter. In the infinite wisdom of the people who maintain the ashram, several years ago they installed a fancy type of corrugated brick on the path and steps that lead into the canteen. Since discarding your footwear was always the practice before entering the canteen, the rough edges of the brick would give you an unexpected Reflexology treatment prior to lunch. Good for your soles, but not fun.
- A Christmas memory came back to me last night when talking to Jody. I was sitting up front in the darshan hall on Christmas morning, perhaps six or seven years ago when Baba came walking by. His health was fading and he needed to be supported by two university students who were holding on to Baba's arms. As he came in front of me just a few feet away I looked at him and silently mouthed the words in his direction, happy, happy, very happy.
I don't know why I chose to do that rather than to just say the words out loud, it's just what I did. And much to my great surprise, Baba eyes caught mine and he did the very same thing back to me. He silently mouthed his response: Happy. Happy. Very Happy. That simple gesture that took only a handful of seconds made my Christmas experience.
That's it for now. Please let me know if you have any questions about life in this unique ashram.
LOVE ALL ~~ SERVE ALL