LETTERS FROM INDIA ~ #6
DATE: 19 DECEMBER 2012, SUBJECT: TIS THE SEASON, FROM: SOULJOURNS (Ted Henry)
~ THE MAIN EVENT
Buried in the tomb in front of the massive prayer hall in this South Indian ashram is the teacher who became mother, father, grandparents to millions around the world. He came to grant us all personal experiences of the Divine and to transform us in thought and action. Scratch the surface of almost any Sai Baba follower and you're likely to hear a dozen stories of deep personal transformation.
The tomb holding Sai Baba's remains is why so many of us come here. We're here to express our silent gratitude as profoundly as we can. Those unfamiliar with Sai Baba cannot understand his hold over so many otherwise intelligent people. The truth is, there is no hold over anyone. People come here, or think of him in the privacy of their own homes half a world away because they know how much they have changed since learning of Sai Baba's presence in their lives. It is this change they see in themselves that individuals most appreciate as Sai Baba's greatest gift. In this season of gifts, in this time of Christmas, we say thank you to Baba for our greatest Christmas present already made manifest.
~ HOLIDAY CHEER
Everyone loves Christmas here. Baba would always shine a bright light on this holiday allowing for great choirs to form, Christmas decorations everywhere, there would be Christmas talks and plays and he even saw to it that Christmas mass was celebrated in the ashram. Today, with fewer people coming here since Baba's death the crowds from other countries are smaller, but the warmth of this special holiday for many still lives.
The Christmas Choir is meeting once again in the Exhibition Hall for the 2nd year with Gisela Sebastian as the director. An interesting arrangement of tunes has been chosen by committee. Rehearsals have begun. The voices are magnificent, songs are great and inspiring and the love vibrations are off the scale.
There are over 220 choir members so far. Last year we had about 250. A lot of people who used to come for Christmas when Baba was physical are not coming. It is a shame because the energy in Kulwant Hall is beyond words.
Children are also rehearsing for their performance which will be Christmas Day evening which will also include two women speakers. The morning program will include some Christmas songs from 5:30 to 6:00 A.M.
At about 8 or 9 the Christmas program by students from Baba’s schools will treat us to different groups maintaining the spirit as well as a visit from Santa and elves.
South Africa has been practicing for months for their special play which will be performed on December 26 evening. We wish we knew more about it. We heard that a lot of people are involved and that it is a spectacular play."
~ CHOUDARY VOLETI
Jody and I traveled this week to the Super Speciality Hospital to have lunch with its new director, Choudary Voleti, M.D., from Los Angeles, and more recently, from Hawaii. Choudary is just completing the third month of his three year stint as the hospital's director. "The challenges are immense", he tells us, "but my spirits are high. After all, I've got Him helping me".
I first met Choudary when he would come to Cleveland to visit his relatives. One day at the ashram about eleven years ago Choudary was called in for an interview by Sai Baba. Choudary knew I was sitting alone in the crowded darshan hall and he asked Baba if I could join him for the interview. "Ted Henry, a journalist friend of mine from the U.S. would like an interview Baba, he's a good person", to which Baba quickly replied, "In who's opinion?" "No no, Baba, I know Ted, he's a good devotee", Choudary said. Baba then looked at Choudary more closely and said, "In who's point of view?" And just when Choudary believed his chances of getting me into the interview room were cooked, Baba told Choudary to signal for me to go in.
That was a humbling day for me. In the private interview room Baba pounded on my arms three times and then pounded hard on my chest saying, "Good heart, good heart". Back out in the interview room Baba took his chair and then looked down at me sitting on the floor right before him as if I were cocker spaniel puppy. Three times he asked me, "What do you want?" I gave him lofty spiritual answers after the first two questions, but finally he said to me, "No, no, what do you want, material, what do you really want?" Finally, I got the picture and replied, "A ring Baba". A second later he waved his hand in front of me and out popped a gold ring holding a green gem.
One of the dumbest things I think I ever did in my life was to then push his hand out of the way. I didn't want to embarrass him to learn that the ring he was attempting to put on the ring finger of my left hand wouldn't fit. I was sure the ring size was too small. Baba then pushed my hand aside and deftly slipped the shiny green ring right onto my finger saying, "A big ring, for a big boy". It was a dizzying day.
Once back in the states, Jody and I went to New York one weekend and while there we stopped at the offices of the Gem Institute of America on 47th street just off Broadway. The woman kindly took my ring, examined it under her scope and then pronounced, "I can't tell you what this green ring is but I can tell you what it is not", after which she proceeded to rattle off the names of several green gems.
Sai Baba spent decades teaching spiritual lessons to all who felt called to listen. He also led by example bringing health care, food, hospitals, potable water, schools and universities to millions free of charge. At the same time Sai Baba also spent many years materializing items for his followers but he was always quick to point out the reason for his actions. "I give you tinsel, trinkets and trash so that one day you'll come to want what I really have to give you, liberation".
~ LETTERS FROM READERS:
Am LOVING your letters from India...treasures! Thank you so very much for taking the time
...simple, easy-to-use summations of invaluable lessons! Today I'm living "doubt the doubts"
to share these heart-opening and instructive bits.
and "very, very happy". Jai Sai Ram! (A number of years ago I was rescued by wild dolphins
20 miles off the coast of So. Ca., and Swami's first message to me was "Don't worry, be happy".)
You have just brought me updated versions of that same message! His Divine Choreography
never ceases to move me!
Last Sun., Dec. 9, I was blessed to attend one of Sunder Iyer's workshops on "My Life Is Your Message"
(or is it "Your Life is My Message"?) :) It was thanks to seeing your interviews that I knew not to miss
Swami's LOVE is beyond comprehension. Again, thank you...very, very happy! :)
this one! And indeed, it was life-changing/deepening.
Krishna Mohan Raj wrote: "There will be millions like Richard! (Richard Lubner interview) That is the kind of Sai love that is highlighted in souljourns!"
I believe this man's (Ritchie Lubner) recent experience exemplifies what most people on the planet will experience in the next few months as we enter
the greatly increased energies emmitted by the sun starting Dec., 22, 2012-----if one turns to GOD---whatever name you use for
the CREATER of ALL THAT IS, and FEEL from your HEART most comfortable with. With LOVE, LIGHT, and JOYOUS ENERGY.
BLESS YOUR HEART,
Sai Ram Ted & Jody,
Thanks for everything! I just watched the interview with Ritchie Lubner (a
great first interview) and I immediately thought of the Black Dog Institute and
Beyond Blue in Australia (the names kind of tell the story). I hope you both
and Ritchie himself don't mind, but I sent the link to both of these
organisations. You know how it is, it may not get far but you never can tell
what is in Baba's long range plan… We are always watching for news.
Love and Sai Rams,
Syam wrote: "Those were the days when people were introduced to Swami via Man of Miracles, Holyman and Psychriatist... Nevertheless Souljourns is doing equally fantastic job in connecting devotees with the Lord.
“ Sai Ram. What to say? Words fail. An amazing interview. Ritchie's eyes tell the whole story... Prasanthi Nilayam will be crowded again if you keep this up. So many thanks. John B.
Sai Ram dear Ted and Jody,
I have read the Letters from India#4, in which you talk about Advaita, "Nothing" and "Everything". Relating to this, I thought to forward the following to you.
Love and Blessings,
(Letter to Janet posted below)
I am not a Buddhist but have studied it, more so Aviata Vedanta, or non duality,(which is the core of Swamis teaching) "You are God", Emptiness is easier to understand for me rather than nothingness.
For myself Emptiness is experienced in meditation (and eventually after) as pure Awareness,that is : the mind is empty of thought,empty therefore of a "Me"........... in deep meditation there is no "Me" which is just an idea anyway, a mind made sense of Self, it doesn't really exist as an entity.
Peace of mind is a blessed state.
This "Me" or I is merely a projection of the mind likened to a wave on the ocean,the wave does not permanently exist as an entity does it?
But I AM ,the ocean does and is eternal.
The Ocean can exist without waves,but waves cannot exist without the Ocean.
But you can still use the minds capacity to think, to solve problems, to do one's duty.
Otherwise it is silent but very much awake.
One doesn't become Zombie!
By some Divine mystery the mind it feels itself to be very real as an entity, but the only reality is the Ocean or I AM,we are That,non duel.
The more meditation one does integrates the feeling of "Me" into the Ocean,it gradually identifies as the the Ocean, God.
The mind is really the Ocean,it is connected and part of it but existing in this world in a body.
It becomes deluded into believing it is a separate entity,the egoic self and body.
The ego is therefore an idea,it doesn't really exist,but is can be so strong that it survives bodily death and eventually reincarnates over and over.
This if what Lord Buddha realised,he saw that the person he thought he was as a Prince was unreal,just an idea, a conditioned mind rather than an empty mind or No-mind as Buddhists say, a pure wave with no "Me" and as he put it ,the "Me" is the Architect of the body and all future bodies, after realisation he said "Oh Architect thou art no more,thou shalt not build this house again " he entered Nirvana, no more rebirths, which is the cause of all suffering.
No matter how good a life you have, suffering in one form or another will come.
Even grass suffers under the burning sun or floods or is eaten and dies.
But of course this pure Mind whilst in a body has the same capacity as the Ocean,thence you have Avatars of various degrees,we are all Avatars,all descended into the physical ,Swami said once even animals are Avatars in that sense.
But we are not aware of our true Self,yet.
Hope that helps you, thats how I see it,whoever the "I" is !
Om Sai Ram, have a blessed Christmas, when the realised entity Jesus came to teach us.
(Souljourns note: Thanks for the above which you expressed so powerfully. I hope it's of use
to all who read it.)
“ Sai Ram. What to say? Words fail. An amazing interview. Ritchie's eyes tell the whole story... Prasanthi Nilayam will be crowded again if you keep this up. So many thanks. J. B.
(Souljourns note: The Ritchie Lubner interview posted on Souljourns last week has generated much comment. More viewer excerpts sent to us will be included in the next edition. If you have not yet seen this interview, click here: https://vimeo.com/55651228 A new Souljourns video interview recorded here at Prasanthi during Christmas will be posted here next week. )
~ OPTIONAL READING - A TREK THROUGH TRIBAL INDIA
(If you've been to India before feel free to skip the following. If you're from India, this next section is all too obvious for you. If you've never been to this ancient part of the world, then you might find interest in what follows)
I told Sai Baba I was a journalist when I first met him close to 15 years ago. He always seemed to approve of my interest in reporting on the life, lessons and love of his ashram, Prasanti Nilayam. And he also approved of my reporting on other spiritual traditions and holy people. It's what I've been trained to do and it's what I did professionally before retiring from 44 years of working as a television journalist.
Of the nearly 200 video interviews we have posted to Souljourns on the internet (youtube.com/souljourns or vimeo.com/souljourns), most are about how Sai Baba has transformed the lives of his devotees, but there's also a significant number of interviews with people from other backgrounds, or who would not necessarily be described as Baba devotees. Their messages are love but their paths vary. While in India on this trip I am traveling to several holy places and ashrams seeking a variety of spiritual viewpoints. One person I am interested in is Amma Sri Karunamayi, the holy woman of Pennisula in southeastern Andhra Pradesh.
Last week, Karthik, a good Sai Baba friend and I set out by car to travel to Amma's ashram, a grueling 11 hour drive from Puttaparthi. Even though I have been to rural India many times, lived two years doing relief work in a tiny South American village and have traveled the world extensively, riding the back roads of India is always an eye opening experience. One of the purposes of my visit to Pennisula was to report on the free medical camp staged there for the tribal people of the region, but just getting to that area was our first concern.
I could tell immediately it was to be an adventurous ride when I quickly heard the disheartening sound of metal scraping upon metal. Our hired car's brake pads were shot, something, Sudharshan our driver wasn't interested in fixing until it was nearly too late.
Just getting out of Puttaparthi was its own ordeal. First the driver needed gas and stopped at a place whose only customer was a brown dog sleeping in front of the gas pump. Just as we were about to leave a tractor pulled in carrying an open trailer bed loaded with 35 seated women, children and a few men. They nodded their approval when I gestured that I wanted to take their picture and we had a pleasant exchange. Sudharshan, our driver next stopped to deliver a package somewhere on the road and then he stopped at his extended family home to pack a blanket, pillow and some food. On the way out of town he stopped to fill up a Coke bottle with some kind of fuel additive which he then poured into the gas tank, "Car running smooth sir", he said to me.
In broken english I was then told that we would take a short cut to make our long journey only require 6 hours of driving. As mentioned earlier, late into the night, eleven hours later we finally arrived to our destination, a cross country journey that was anything but brief or smooth.
The short cut took us over some of the worst scrub board, rumble chute roads I've been on since my Peace Corps years in Paraguay. Jody had decided earlier not to join us on this trip for fear of car sickness and within ten minutes of starting our journey I was grateful for her decision. Whenever the one lane patch of asphalt roadway would come to an end, what followed were always dusty pock marks and sink holes to navigate through. "Sai massage!", I would hear from the front seat. "Excuse me", I would say to the driver. "Sai massage sir, we call these areas Sai's massage. Are good!"
Our driver was quite intelligent and was fairly well versed in tamil, hindi, telegu, english and a sprinkling of russian. His words weren't merely spoken but shouted from his lips. I often thought he was angry with my buddy, Karthik the way he would scream in hindi at him, only to find out later that this loud speaking tone is the custom here for many.
Once we were off some bumpy stretches of dirt road it was time for our inflight entertainment. Sudharshan turned on what he thought was a video dvd of devotional songs. At that point a fold down TV screen lowered in front of us and the whole scene just became unreal, in-coach TV in rural India. It was actually a CD that was inserted into the player, so the video screen flipped back up into its ceiling compartment as some Baba songs began to play.
On the way we passed through many villages, some medium size cities and several Moslem towns, one of which seemed to have mostly ancient wooden buildings and houses that reminded me slightly of earlier travels through Nepal. We stopped for our first meal at a restaurant that had an enormous open fire, wood burning kitchen right as you entered the restaurant. I started coughing just as I tried to take a picture of the smoke and soot filled stove area and everyone started laughing. We ate outside in one of eight round huts enjoying our respite and then climbed back into our tiny Indigo. I was glad that we had been skirting the mountains thus far in our travels and didn't need to depend too heavily on our faltering brakes.
What followed was the usual scene in any area of rural India, goat herds claiming the narrow roadway, lines of women in colorful saris working the peanut and rice fields, children carrying bundles of tree limbs or water vessels on their heads and the ever present sight and sounds of big trucks coming the wrong way down the highway right at us. Options here are few, you quickly get use to the incessant horn pounding and near head-on collisions, or else.
Finally we were on the Hyderabad - Chenni highway and the pace of our travel picked up. We went through Madanapalli in an area known for its distinctive mountains. Enormous rectangular shaped boulders stand upright, shoulder to shoulder at the top of these hills. From a distance these mountains look like city skylines with no people.
Next on our roadway was the popular temple town of Tiripati and then at least a dozen small villages. As the sun went down we found ourselves still miles from our destination and stopped at a roadside hotel for dinner. I feasted on a plate full of dosas, crispy savory pancakes which are best dunked into sambar, a vegetable stew made with tamarind and pigeon peas.
Back on the road I began asking Karthik and Sudharshan what the problem was and why it was so late with hundreds of kilometers to go before reaching Pennisula. Robbers, was their reply. At first I thought they were kidding, bandits on the open roads of India? Then I was told that some roads, normally fine to travel on during the daylight hours were dangerous at night. That certainly got my attention. Closing my eyes to catch a small nap just became impossible.
Over the next five hours I must have heard either the driver or my friend make a dozen phone calls seeking guidance until soon it became obvious. We were lost, bandits if we turn that way, or additional kilometers maybe if we turn the other way. Once again, what to do? Karthik seemed to be on the phone the most, talking to Amma Sri Karunamayi's brother, Ravi who promised we could reach Amma's ashram around midnight, without running into thieves, if we followed his precise advice.
By now it's late, we're on an obscure dark country lane and whenever we would come to a tiny village Sudharshan would roll down his window and asked the first person we saw if we were headed in the right direction. In the town square of one placed we passed through it was a sea of seated cows we had to swim through. No fewer than 40 cows, bedded down for the night blocking all passageways in or out of that tiny town.
A little further down the road we came across a man standing beside a lowered road gate. It was the entrance to a wild game reserve. The gate keeper's purpose was to let us know that from that moment on, we were on our own. The gate opened, we passed through it and we became very vigilant. Finally we were nearing Amma's ashram. As a young woman she spent ten years in the forrest all by herself. The wild animals here never posed a threat, in fact they befriended her.
As we were about 5 miles from Amma's ashram I began to grow calmer when all of a sudden four men in front of us quickly turned on spot lights, stopped us and gave us the once over. I immediately thought they were bandits and had I been driving I would have attempted to speed past them, but quickly they let us go after recognizing a big American sitting in the back seat. I didn't find out until three days later that they were government people looking for sandalwood smugglers.
It was nearing midnight in the middle of the forrest as we approached the ashram gates and the very first thing we saw was a six foot tall brick wall around the whole compound, topped by five foot high strands of electric fence. A friend working at the ashram with Amma would later tell me the purpose of such a fence. It was to protect people on retreat walking the ashram grounds from tigers, wild cats, bears, wild boar and forrest dogs. Of course all of us inside the grounds had to also heed the poisonous snakes, scorpians and nearly foot long tarantulas. And people come here for contemplative meditative retreats.
The story of Amma, her love for Sai Baba and her work with tribal people who lived outside her forrest home of Pennisula will be saved for another day.
After four days on the road we came home via yet another shortcut. This one took us right through the mountains, around hairpin turns and down steep descents. The scrapping of the brake pads grew louder and louder. Finally we arrived to a town where our driver made inquiries regarding where we might find a mechanic who could fix our car.
What the driver found about a mile away, right on the main highway was a tiny black roadside shed that housed an array of tools and sharp objects. And standing outside the shed ready to leap into action to jack up the car, pull off the front tire and tug at the metal pads until they eventually came free of the wheel was the shed's junior mechanic, an eleven year old boy. This kid was all business working fast and hard, until the senior mechanic took over to repair the pads, and he was fourteen years old. Two boys, as quick as a fox, skillfully repairing our car's worn brake pads, finished the job within 25 minutes. A two minute long test drive followed, and then our driver handed the kids 150 rupees, approximately three dollars, and we were on our way home. But not before one final incident.
Even though Sudharsan managed to shave two hours off our return trip with his new route, we still ended up driving into the dark night, something you don't always want to do here. Sure enough, somewhere absolutely in the middle of nowhere, we were stopped again, this time by two young men dressed in police uniforms.
They wanted to "check our papers". Shining their light into the back seat they spotted my black camera bag and asked me, the big foreigner to step outside to give it to them. Karthik and Sudharshan quickly leapt to my defense explaining that I was a North American television journalist. I'm not sure why that explanation would necessarily help matters but it did. I showed them the books, water bottle and roll of toilet paper being carried inside my black bag and then I asked to do a brief video interview with them and they agreed. This brought easy smiles to their faces, the tension melted and all of us ended up laughing away a brief moment in the Indian wilderness.
LOVE ALL ~ SERVE ALL