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~~~~~~~~~~ LOVE ALL ~ SERVE ALL ~~~~~~~~~~

Sunder : I think posterity should know..people even now should know what the true Sai Baba, who the true Sai Baba is.

Ted: And who is the true Sai Baba?

Sunder: The true Sai Baba is one who is with what he said, one with what he thought and one with what he did.

He was exactly the same person as he spoke. If he said "I am an avatar", its because he believed he was one.[TRANSITION]

He never expected anyone and he doesn't expect even now any of his devotees to stand up for him, in his defense and speak about because then you are, you are only exaggerating that ignorance which is out there. [TRANSITION]
I think it is very important for people to understand that Baba by himself is a very very very simple person. [TRANSITION]
You know once there were a bunch of devotees with Swami and one said 'Swami..I want peace". "What do you want, what do you want?"

..One said "Swami, I want peace". "Ok, I will bless you with lot of troubles in life". He said "No no no Swami...please don't say that, please dont say that..'I want peace...Swami, I asked for peace' and she was terrified and Swami smilingly said 'How will you know peace if you dont practise it in the midst of problems'? [TRANSITION]

Swami was.. blood shot eyes. He was so angry. He had the envelope in his hand. He came right up to me. He threw the envelope on me and said 'Who asked you for money? Did I ask you for money? Who asked you for money? Tell your father and you take your luggage and get out of the ashram". [TRANSITION]

That was a fascinating interview. He said "If you really want my grace, there are three zeroes. lose all the material possessions, everything and you still crave my grace. Second step..all your kins kinman your close relatives, everyone you lose. You are all alone in the world. Can you still yearn my grace? Seek my grace?" And "the third one" he said "Oh but then everybody will think you are a saint or a sage now. And now, when I spoil your reputation. Everything that you believed in good, if I make it bad. And you are so confused you will want to run away. But at that moment, if you can turn around and say "I still need your love and grace", you will have me completely. [TRANSITION]

It is a very difficult concept Ted and when we talk about emptying the cup, the bible talks about it, the zen masters talk about it, Baba talks about it. 'Come to me, empty our cup, empty your mind'. when love beckons you, follow himthough his ways are hard and steep
And when he speaks to you, listen to him though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north-west wind lays waste the garden
and when he embraces you, yield to him though the sword hidden amongst his pinions may wound you
For even as love calms you, so shall he crucify you like sheaves of corn, he gathers you onto himself and then he assigns you into the scared fire so you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feasts. [TRANSITION]

For me, right from the day I began to accept him, I thought myself as a Hanuman. I mean..for me..the relationship was a servant and a master. So when he was talking about Rama and Hanuman, I was very moved with that whole episode. And so he turned to me and said 'What do you want?'. So I asked him 'Swami, how lucky was Hanuman that Rama would hug him often'. Swami looked at me. 'You want me to hug you'? he asked 'like Rama did'? I said ' yes'. He said ' get up' and he hugged me. And when he released me he said, 'how was it'? I had tears in my eyes.Bhagawan-30 But then very playfully he said, 'I was Rama when I hugged, but you are still not Hanuman" [SWAMI singing Krishna Jai]

Ted: Sai Baba. To Sunder, Sai Baba was his mentor, Guru, teacher, best friend and mother and father. And Baba remains his God. Sunder spent 15 and 1/2 years with Baba receiving his Bachelors, Masters and PHd degrees. He also taught for 2 years in Baba's university and he served as Baba's personal attendant for 2 years. This is part 1 of the June 19, 2011 interview in a series of interviews of Sunder Iyer's close association with Sai Baba. Welcome to Souljourns. This interview was recorded in Elyria, Ohio June 19, 2011.

Sunder: Once again, thank you for having me and it is always an honor and a pleasure talking about Swami. And any opportunity to share the wisdom, the knowledge that he had and that he represented, it is always an honor. So I feel very humbled to be part of this Satsang, if you will. The ego question that I put to Swami, it was a small group of boys and Swami was asking, "Ok, any questions, only spiritual questions," coz you know he didn't want somebody to say, "Swami, my mother needs prasadam, or my father needs, you know vibhuthi." He said, "only spiritual questions." So, after a couple of questions, he looked towards me, and I kind of raised myself a little bit and then he asked, "what do you want?" And I said, "Swami, you say that the ego has to be annihilated for ultimate liberation but the ego is so difficult to get rid of. How does one get rid of this ego?" And Baba said, "where do you come from, my sir?" You know, I don't remember if he said, "my good man, " or "sir" but I remember.. I think I remember the word, "sir". "Where do you come from, sir?" Almost instantly. And I was.. at first I tried to be "smart", so I said, "Swami, from you." He said, "No! Where do you come from, sir?" And I said, "from Bombay." And Swami said, "Oh! from Bombay! Where is Bombay?" And I said, "Swami, Bombay is in Maharashtra." That's the name of a state, like Cleveland is in Ohio. And so.. and Swami said, "oh! Where is Maharashtra?" And I said, "Swami that's in the western part of India." (Swami:)"Ok, so you're from Bombay, Bombay's in Maharashtra, Maharashtra is in one part of India... where is India?" (Sunder:)"It's part of Asia, Swami." (Swami:)"And where is Asia?" (Sunder:)"It's one of the seven continents, Swami. It's part of the earth." (Swami:)"Oh, where is the earth?" (Sunder:)"It's part of the 9 planets," and as I am talking to Swami, it's slowly dawning on me that the concept of Sunder is becoming small and there are bigger things happening here. (Swami:)"Earth is one of the nine planets, navagrahalu, mm. And where are these nine planets?" (Sunder:)"They [It] goes around the sun, Swami." (Swami:)"And where is all this?", and somebody said, "Swami, milky way [solar] galaxy." (Swami:)"And how many galaxies? Millions of galaxies! In millions of galaxies, there is one solar galaxy. In that solar galaxy, there are nine huge planets, and millions of stars. And in that.. one of those planets is the earth. And in that.. the milky way.. and in that milky way is the solar galaxy and the earth.. and in that earth is.. is.. one of the countries is India. And in that country there is one state. And in that state, there is one city. And in that city among millions of homes and millions of people, there is one Sunder. Where is the place for ego?" And the way he brought it down, I felt even foolish sitting there because I just suddenly became negligible. And it's.. and Swami said, "so, there is no ego. Ego exists in your imagination. You fight the ego, you will be fighting for the rest of your life. There is no ego. It is in your imagination." And I find that very fascinating. That we build this spiritual path to "overcome the ego" and we setup a long journey only to realize that we've been fighting a shadow.

Ted: No secret that Baba himself married you to a woman named "Maya".

Sunder: Yes, and I think it is more than just pure.. sheer coincidence. But, yes it is true. we get caught up in this mirage as we were talking about. The unreal.. the real and the unreal nature of the universe, which in Sanskrit is called the "mithyA".    Which is not an illusion, because an illusion does not exist, but a mirage, for all practical purposes, it exists. Scientifically, it can be proved that a mirage exists and yet you know it's a mirage in the sense that it's not real. You cannot go to that place and drink water or you cannot go to that town that appears to be there or you can't live in a house there because it does not exist and yet for all practical purposes, its there. That’s the beauty of this ego and then the result and the effect is all this creation and all the attachments. So we are fighting and trying to get rid of a mirage which we don’t need to.

Ted: There’s no point to it.

Sunder: There’s no point to it. And when we say, you know, just go back and think of how we, we look at everything around our lives as revolving around our ego. Where is East, I say east is to the left because of where I stand. Where is West, West is to the right from where I stand. Which is up, this is up from where I stand. And from where I stand, this becomes low. So from where I stand, I have defined my society. I have defined my culture. I have defined what is good and what is bad. What are values, what are ethics? I have defined everything, and now comes the master who is going to take you out of this box and you are saying ‘No no no, you have to fit into my box and then I’ll worship you”.

Ted: Well I guess by definition an accusation can only be negative. So let’s talk about those. How did you come to reconcile whatever accusations were that you were aware of as an attendant to Baba and then just as a devotee years after that.

Sunder: You know I am going to approach this sensitive subject the best way I can. As maturely as I can. I am not going to get into the debate of which accusation was true and which was untrue because that is a never ending thing. But I do want to, before I begin, we were talking about how Baba received offerings and also receives accusations. He made a very beautiful comment one day. He said when you do a ritualistic pooja, pooja is a form of worship that Hindus do where you actually chant the name of God and you take flowers and put on the idol. So he says “When people are offering flowers, one or two that could be a withered flower. So that’s okay, they don’t know it. They are just offering flowers. One or two could be withered or old one or dried up flower can come and fall at God’s feet. So that’s okay. So he regards accusations as “you know what, that’s the person who doesn’t know he is throwing a withered flower, that’s alright. His magnanimity is why he chose to ignore these accusations. Number one, he never thought they were accusations. They were like you know that’s some ignorant people who don’t follow what goes on. So that’s okay, it’s part of their ignorance. I don’t want to get back and clap hands and make it more louder and proclaim that ignorance. They will learn it in their own way. That was how he took it and he never expected anyone and he doesn’t expect even now any of his devotees to stand up for him in his defense and speak about. Because then you’re’re only exaggerating that ignorance which is out there and making it real. But having said that, I do want to point the vast difference that exists in cultures. In the western mind, the spiritual path is very new and when they come to India and trying to adopt the Indian cultural traditions and even in India, today, because of the western influence and things like that we have forgotten the sanctity and the intensity that exists between a master and a disciple. And this is not something which is new to the Sai Baba fold. It has been existing for centuries together. And there are saints who have written poems on it. There are sages who have written .The intensity and the tests and the path that the Guru or the master lays out for a disciple is very intense, very straight forward, extremely pure. And it is the strength of the disciple that actually pulls himself through.

Ted: And Sunder I want to take a moment or two, however long it takes to underscore or double underscore especially from my perspective. I mean I am a Baba devotee but I am a journalist. I mean I have spent 44 years in the field of western journalism. I know how easy it would be for anybody with let's just say less than honorable intensions to run with any of five quotes they could pick from this interview of what you said and turn it into something that’s totally the opposite. As you were discussing with me yesterday and I would like for you to turn to this if you feel comfortable with it. Sometimes it has to do with how the Guru-disciple relationship is evolving or devolving in the mind of the disciple. That is if they feel the Guru is less attentive to them for whatever purpose. They may go running with their tail between the legs away from that Guru as fast as their legs would carry them and start besmirching the reputation of the Guru for whatever their disappointment is. Do you feel comfortable with sharing without going into any names or...

Sunder: Of course, I was going to come to that. It’s very important to understand especially when we talk about accusations, those which are sexual in nature and things like that about Baba, I know personally a couple of people who have actually been close to Baba with me and who have been online, you know, know...writing things. There was a time when I got out of Puttaparthi and I called them up and I said “Hey you know, you and I lived together, went through all this together and we shared so much of our philosophy and knowledge together and as far as I know, you always loved Baba. What is it, what is it that is changed you so much?” And he didnt have an answer but he just said, “I am angry with him. So I just want to make sure I spoil his reputation”. I said, “but you know in your heart that he didn't do anything of that nature”. He said, “I don’t care. I just want to ruin his reputation”. And the reason why these things happen is when Baba gives you importance, he can raise you you really very high up. So you are walking in the University, everybody looks up to you. Now you are close to Baba and Baba calls you up for everything and everybody looks at you with great respect. And then when Baba decides to spurn [churn] you, and he decides to cut you off, it can be miserably ...not only are you feeling now lonely that Baba is not talking to you, but he can turn around and literally make your life miserable.

Ted: And he can so this to students or 65 year olds alike.

Sunder: Anybody, anybody, anybody. And I will quote Khalil Gibran's poem, please remind me. Because it summarizes so beautifully what Baba does. And Khalil Gibran was not a baba devotee and he wrote this poem..

Bhagawan-55Ted: What is this quote because maybe it is very appropriate

Sunder: I will come to that. I really want to..that will be my punch quote because it’s a very beautiful poem. But the way.. and I was talking about the three zeroes that Baba was talking you know with Peddha Pottu amma and we were sitting and that was a fascinating interview. He said if you really want my grace, there are 3 zeroes. 1, you lose all the material possessions, everything and you still crave my grace. So you are not asking Baba “Oh God what happened, I lost my job, I lost my house Baba what is going on?”You just say Baba, I still need your grace. Baba said that is one step. Second step – all your kins, kinman, your close relatives, everyone you lose, you are all alone in this world. Can you still earn my grace, seek my grace .And the third one he said, ‘Oh, but everybody will think that you are a saint or a sage now. And now when I spoil your reputation, everything that you believed in good, if I make it bad and you are so confused, you want to run away. But at that moment, if you can turn around and say “I still need your love and grace”, you have me completely.

Ted: So you have to give up everything and some people aren’t willing.

Sunder: It is a very difficult concept Ted. And when we talk about emptying the cup, the bible talks about it, the Zen masters talk about it, Baba talks about it. Come to me, empty your cup, empty your mind. You know Swami Brahmananda, another swami, mostly swamis have the same names. Another swami writes this beautiful poem in Hindi and it is sung in so many places. It says “Khaak ho Guru ke Charan ki (ख़ाक हो ग('    ) चरण की )”. Khaak means you becom the ashes, the dust of Guru’s feet, “Tho Prabu Mil jayega, only then will you get the glimpse of divinity”.
When you become a dust. You know what that means becoming a dust is everything that I believed in, can I take it out of my head and give it? And that’s why it is easy to sing a bhajan saying, “Tan, man, dhan, sub tumhare charan Baba". That means by Body, my wealth and my mind is all at your feet. It is easy to say that but think of what you say and think of whom you are saying it to. Because if I stand in the presence of love and say I love you. Are you willing to surrender? Yes Baba, everything I believe which is mine is yours. He says ‘all right’. (Ted: Three zero time) And then you say ‘Oh, oh, hang on a second. Not this but that, not this but that”

Ted: You have conditions...

Sunder: It is a very deep understanding. It requires a very deep understanding. It is an extremely personal path which only the person who goes through will understand that and appreciate what he is.. is happening. For an outsider, especially for somebody who chooses to be ignorant, because of their ego. You know, I was sharing this analogy of how there is a light on your face, a floodlight and there are 2 people behind. They both are wearing masks and both are having a sharp knife in their hands and you are terrified. You are ignorant. Why? Because the focus is on you. Now you take this light which is on you, the ego away and focus it on those people. Now in that light, in that knowledge you will see ‘Hey, this is a surgeon, this is a surgeon. With the knife, he is going to save my life. You take that light and shine it on the other guy. But this is a thief who wants to take my life. Both are wearing masks, both are having the knife in the hand. So when you are so full of yourself, and the light is all about you..who am I and what I believe in and what I am full of and then you can’t look at those things. For you, the surgeon and the thief will appear the same.

Ted: So in all these stories, especially the story about the three zeroes, but all the stories that you have just been talking about help relate even better than I might have envisioned as this conversation was being played out in my mind about talking for a few minutes in this hour or so about the accusations against Baba helps me to really understand it better and as we put a cap on this part of the discussion, I am just guessing that it is safe to say that you fully understand why some people might be good with passing the first zero test, maybe even the second zero test but if they get stuck, they could turn against the teacher.

Sunder: Exactly, you could turn against the teacher and it is okay because you fought with the lion and you go back hurt. And that’s why Baba doesn’t judge you because you know you are can pass the kindergarten test but then when you fail a doctor’s exam or the highest level exam, nobody is going to say,” come on you failed “.they are going to say “hey good, try again”.

Ted: And one day my big question will be to find out and I would love to talk to somebody, maybe this would help to bring somebody forward. Someone who was once in that position, who got through the first two zeroes but because they failed the last, they turned against Baba only to one day eventually return to Him. As their mentor, guide, guru, swami.

Sunder: Even if they didn't return to him per se, even if they returned back to spiritual path, Baba has done his job. He has got the fire of awakening on and it is going on because he does not identify himself with himself the way you and I do. I remember once one session when Baba was with the students who were leaving him because of this very thing. And he asked each person because who knew each of them very close to him and this is something nobody knows about. I was there because I was in Baba’s room then. And these were close people who stayed with Baba, and grew up with Baba even before the college was established and now they were leaving him because they were tired of being associated with Baba because of these accusations. So it was 1980 and they were like you know “we are just going to go away”. And so Baba asks each one by name and this is a very touching thing because I was in tears although I had not fully understood Baba, I was touched by the personal part of it. He asked each one by name “You, I gave you toothbrush, I gave you soap, I gave you money, I gave you all this. Why are you leaving me? You know that I have not done anything bad. Why are you doing? And you, you, you tell me right now, I am sitting right with you here, tell, any of you raise your hands and tell that I did something bad to you. Why are you all leaving me? Everybody kept stark silent. He said “It’s okay, touch my feet and I will forgive all this. Because don’t go against your guru. That is the worst sin. For you, not for me. I am thinking of you. Don’t leave me now with this in your heart. Leave me if you want to go out and get married. Leave me if you want a better job but don’t leave me like this. Don’t leave me thinking like this. You know in your heart, you know in your heart”. None of them answered anything and they left. And Baba continued his mission. But when you really go to Baba, its purity, its one hundred percent purity. And this comes from a person who has lived with him, you has had the most intimate moments with Baba but that’s for my personal growth. Its nothing, its something, no one other than me can understand. I can assure you there is no way that those things can ever be interpreted as something demeaning, something for his pleasure if you will. I mean..

Ted: And you were there for a significant period of time and in this two year period, seeing him so closely, everyday for two years, all you ever saw you’re saying is the upliftment coming from Baba of the spiritual principles and teachings of his devotees.

Sunder: Totally. 100%. Because, if, that’s why I keep saying that it is our good fortune to believe him as God. He believed he was divine. He believed and he knew that his touch would change a person. He knew he could lift your consciousness. He knew he could take away. He said “I am an ocean and you are the river. You flow into the ocean and you can never pollute the ocean”. It was a fascinating saga of watching him just live who he thought he was. Who he believed he was. And I just want to finish this with Khalil Jibran’s quote and that will put everything in perspective. Because when we talk of love, when we talk of Baba’s love and anything with love, this poem is so fascinating. And this is what Khalil Jibran wrote; it says ‘When love beckons you”. It says

when love beckons you,follow Him

though His ways are hard and steep

And when He speaks to you, listen to Him

though His voice may shatter your dreams as the north-west wind lays waste the garden

and when He embraces you, yield to Him

though the sword hidden amongst His pinions may wound you

For even as love calms you, so shall He crucify you

Even as He is for your growth, so is He for your pruning

Even as He ascends to the tenderest branches that quiver in the morning sun,

So shall He descend to your roots and shake them to the clinging to the earth.

like sheaves of corn, he gathers you unto himself (That’s how the poem goes. It gives me goose pimples even now)

like sheaves of corn, he gathers you unto himself

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

and then he assigns you into the scared fire

so you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feasts.

Ted: Sunder, the spiritual path is not for the faint of heart.

Swami-9Sunder: No it is not, and that is why he says,
but if you in your cowardice would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, then it is better for you to walk out of love’s threshing floor, out into the seasonless world where you will laugh, but not all your laughter and you will cry but not all your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself for love is sufficient unto love.
(see end for full poem) And with Swami who was an embodiment of love, you cant play with fire. You cant think i' s lip service going and saying “Swami, I am ready to give up everything for you. I am yours Swami, I want to learn surrender”. You know once there was a bunch of devotees with Swami and he said “Swami, I want peace”. “What do you want, what do you want” and one said “Swami, I want peace”.”Okay, I will bless you with lot of troubles in life. He says "No no no Swami...please don't say that, please dont say that..'I want peace...Swami, I asked for peace' and she was terrified and Swami smilingly said 'How will you know peace if you dont practise it in the midst of problems?” If everything is fine, if everything is nice and rosy and pink, you don’t need, how will you know you have peace? If I give trouble and then you practice peace, then you know oh yes, I am learning peace. So the more trouble I give you, the more you practice peace.

Ted: And you come to look back and see that the troubles have not been troubles because its net result is peace.

Sunder: Net result is peace, it is peace. So the more we seek for purification, the more we seek the eternal divine pure love, the more we seek self enlightenment, we have to learn to give up our boxes. That is why the word Guru means, the “Gu” stands for “Guna atheetha”, that is “one beyond qualities”. And the “ru” stands for “Rupa varjitha” that means “One beyond the form”. So for a Guru who is beyond qualities, there is no good quality and bad quality. You are beyond qualities. There is no good and bad. One who is beyond the form. What would be and if he wants to take you to his level, what are you willing to give up? And we got to approach this, the idea, in a more philosophical, in a more matured way. Rather than saying, you know what, this is good, this is bad. Okay, did Baba do this, did Baba do that. You know. Who did this, who did that. Oh, he is good, he is.. So we are caught up in this good and bad. Values make sense in a society. In a purely individual spiritual path, there has to be a time when you have to transcend values. You know, you learn swimming, you wear those floats and you learn swimming. Those floats are keeping you alive, you owe a big deal. So the values play a big role in keeping the society alive and in perfect order so you don’t drown. But then once you learn swimming, what happens? You don’t need them anymore; the very thing becomes a hindrance. So you got to get rid of them not because you are against them, because you don’t need them anymore. Then you transcend that. So that’s the beauty of Baba’s teachings. He wants to pull you out from this cage we've built ourselves in.

Ted: Sunder, I sense its time to change the pace a little bit. That’s all very heavy and I really enjoyed it but I know I will be taken to task by devotees who are familiar with this series because they have already seen the interview with you and Maya, last year with your in-laws and they just love it all. But I want to change the pace to accommodate some of their wishes expressed to me. And they want what I call more "inside baseball". You know what that term means. Inside base ball means talk among ourselves as devotees especially those who have the good fortune to actually go and see Baba at Prashanthi Nilayam, his ashram. I always liken it to people who have no idea what an ashram is to a place which is the size of Ohio State University campus with sixty buildings in it and has got this one open air temple and that’s where Baba comes for darshan everyday and I want to hear a little but about before the temple had a roof, back in the 80s when you were there, he picked you out of the crowd in the sand under the blazing sun and asked you to assist him in the house where he lived right there in the mandir. Just paint us a bit of the picture for those who are familiar with the general facilities so they can come to better appreciate his dwelling place, how small it was and how sparsely furnished it was and what life was with Baba back in 80-82.

Sunder: I am glad you asked me this question especially in the light of recently what they apparently found in Baba’s room and the media blowing it out of proportion and you know just as you did, I have received some emails saying what is this? Can you explain and things like that. I think it is very important for people to understand that Baba by himself was a very very very simple person. And its very important to understand that the Yajur mandir where Baba resided comfortably, thank goodness, finally in the last 10 or 15 years of his life is only the 10-15 years of his life. But as far as I knew, till he was 65 or 70 years old, he lined in that little room above the mandir or the bhajan hall. The little small room which was just 10 feet by 12 feet.

Ted:That was the size of the room?

Sunder: 10 or 12 feet. Oh yes, it was a very small bedroom with a small bathroom. And even the bathroom, believe me Ted, wasn’t tiled. And before he fell this third time and he really broke his back, he had already fallen twice and there was once when he fell and he was hurt and I was there and we had people in the ashram pleading with Swami, "Swami please let us redo that bathroom". Because that was the cement walls which you know over a period of time, water you know keeps working on it and it is not mossy but becomes very slippery. So Baba would say. ”No, no, what are these guys, these 'bonna paththa's," you know pointing to us like buffalos. "What are these buffalos doing here? they can keep the bathroom clean. Whose money you think you are doing? This is devotee’s money. I don’t want a good bathroom”. And they actually had to fight with him and convince him to put tiles in his bathroom. I have seen Baba, the towel that he used to dry himself. It will be one of those really cheap towels simply because he believes that absorbs water better than a Turkish towel.

Ted: I see people do just the opposite including myself. I don’t think they absorb water at all.

Sunder: But then people would pour gifts and I myself we could get gifts of all kind of perfumes they would give Baba. We would get tons and tons of perfumes and Baba said “Keep it away, keep it away”. Because he would again choose in Dussera, during birthdays, he would call boys and give them. There will be tons of handkerchiefs and honestly for us there were some of these cosmetic soaps, I forget the name. It was “the soap”. We used to hope Baba would give us because Baba would have tons of them in his room and so in today’s world, if somebody would go and see “Oh my God, Baba is using cosmetics and this and that”. He was keeping it just to give away. And he always had this thing that people are giving me with love, let it be here. You know, swami would take, if I was a jeweler and if I made a crown for a temple and I would say Baba you have so many temples in puttaparthi. This is a crown I give you, let’s say, because there was a crown mentioned in this and I was thinking just picturising this must have been some jeweler you know giving it to Baba to place it the next time he opens a temple or you know, gift it.If Baba accepts a gift, he would keep it. You know he loved these gifts and he would keep it because as the sign of blessing. It is very, you know, if somebody gives you a gift and you say, alright, you take it please and put it away, it sounds so impersonal. For Baba once he accepts it, he accepts it, and he always used it to give it to people. So his personal quarters was extremely simple and straightforward. One bed and that was an uncomfortable bed which I have seen him using because that was, that’s there in the picture in the old pictures of Baba where there is a five hooded snake somebody had given him on that bed. The bed itself is uncomfortable because it’s a small oval shaped bed and the snakes coming out is pretty scary. But then I think eventually they got rid of the top part and Baba used to use that as the bed to sleep on.

Ted: If you was very uncomfortable then...

Sunder: Because it was oval in shape, It wasn’t like you know you could go this way or that way. It’s pretty.,’s nice to look and visualize but it’s not practically, I wouldn’t have loved to sleep on it more than a day or two.

Ted: Now for those who are familiar with the ashram, back in 80, there was no canopy, there was no tile floor outside as you'd be looking at the mandir, ... the verandah and above the interview room, the interview room was always on the first floor there, it was to the very end. And above it would be, what I mistakenly thought of as his bedroom but you told me that ...

Sunder: That’s his living when you are facing the mandir, to the right side at the bottom is the interview room. Right above that was his place where he would come out and sit and grant audience to the trust members or people in the ashram whom he would like to talk personally and things like that and that room was another small room as big as the interview room which you have seen is tiny, yes,    12 feet by 10 feet or whatever. One single chair for him to sit and there were two tables in either side, one to keep all the mails and the other one was just a garbage for him to tear that you know the envelopes and letters that he would read. And there was one ceiling fan, there were no air conditioners in that ancient temple. There were no air conditioners, one ceiling fan in his bed room, one ceiling fain in the living room.

Ted: His bedroom would be behind that room with the one chair then.

Sunder: Yes, would be right across. There's a curtain and then right across that would be the bedroom and the bathroom. And like I mentioned you know the previous time when we did the interview, he literally started his day with a flashlight. Believe me, because people right across the West Prashanthi could see him and he didnt want to put on the light because Suprabadham wouldn’t begin an hour after he got up. So His, His...He was a very strict disciplinarian but He did have access to these so called goodies which are at his beck and call because he would take it to give people. And a real quick example in my own case, when my father’s 60the birthday was there
on January 16th and it was the same year as Swami’s 60th birthday. So Swami would say “we both are same age” and all that. But then the night before he would grant my father an interview and he said “tell your father to come for interview” and the night before he did that, he sent a sari for my mother and a dhoti for you know my father and Colonel Joga Rao had brought it to our room because again when Swami gives it to you, you take it right to that person. So Colonel Joga Rao was a big shot but he had to come all the way to our room and my father was saying “Oh please come sir, please sit down”. So in the little brief conversation that he had while giving “Swami please asked me to give this to you so you can wear it tomorrow for the interview”. He told my father ”Oh, what is the pooja, what is the magic you are doing? That Baba did something I can't believe” and my father said “What did he do, what did he do, I did not do any magic” and he said, “You know, Baba opened the cupboard where he has all


these expensive saris kept" and again you know, if somebody says why does Baba need all the silk saris in his room, this is why he needs it. So Baba opens the cupboard, goes personally and opens the cupboard and he is looking at the saris and he is thinking “Hey, Sundar’s mother is skin color, something like mine a little dark, so what color sari will suit her?”. So now Colonel Joga Rao is thinking “why would he have to do this, he should pick up something and give it. They will grab it”. But that’s the kind of thing I was telling yesterday. How does a person be so divine and yet pay attention to these small details? It’s fascinating. Why would he do that? It wasn’t that my father gave you know tons of money for donation and oh, by the way, he did. My father actually sold the house in Bombay, not that we’ve made any big money out of it and then after giving my sister’s whatever, he came and he decided that he should write a check and donate to Swami. And he said “Oh everybody is donating, I should also donate. Swami has given us a room in the ashram, I have to pay for it”. I said “I don’t, don’t bring me into this picture. Its between you and Swami". I was terrified when it comes to money. The next and I didn't even know when my dad had given this to Swami but the next day he came, Swami was blood shot in his eyes, he was so angry, he had an envelope in his hand, he came right up to me, he threw the envelope on me and he said, "Who asked you for money? Did I ask for money? Who asked you for money? Tell your father and you take your luggage and get out of the ashram."    I was shivering and I said, "Swami I don't know anything." (Swami:) "Open that envelope," and I opened that envelope and there was a check for 40,000 Rupees. Swami said, "did I ask you? Can your father afford it? Who's asking you to do that? Tell him to pack his luggage and go away. I don't want your money," and he was so angry that we went out of our way to give money, which my father honestly couldn't afford at that time. To give that kind of money to.. but he wanted to "do it" because he was moving in "big groups" and everybody did it, so he wanted to do it. Baba was so angry, he said, "I don't ask.. I know who to take money from."

Ted: Wow. You know, this is so amazing. I do think it's almost appropriate to say a word or two about that because I am asked that a lot. A lot of people, even among devotees, they are not quite sure what the money situation is. In 15 years of following Sai Baba as a follower, as a journalist, as an American, I can honestly say I've never heard of one solicitation. I think it's forbidden to ask for any charitable contributions of any kind, not only in India or in America or anywhere around the world where Baba's organizations are.

Sunder: Yeah. And just to add to this, he said, "My hand is always like this (blessing), never like this (asking). I will never do this (asking). I will never..."

Ted: I once went around the campus, the ashram, again the size of a major university here in America. And I finally, after asking many many people, "If I wanted to make a donation, how would I do it? Nobody's asking, there's no sign, there's no.." Finally someone said, "there's this one sign. It's about 6 inches by 8 inches. It's tacked on the side of one of the canteen walls. " And it says, "If you wish to make a donation, it has to go through the bank in town via the Central Trust. For charitable use only. " To my knowledge, that is the only sign anywhere in India of instructions of how to follow through with a donation and even then, I'm told by reliable sources that not all of those donations are accepted when it comes that route.

Sunder: When it comes to Baba, when he.. when you go and personally try to give him something, he decides whether to take it or not. And like I tell you, in my case, he definitely didn't like the idea of us donating money. And it's not like I.. if I was in his place, and I have this mission and this "vision", I would grab every single cent that comes into my coffer. Why would I say no? But that's.. that's what made him divine. That's what made him, in spite of all these accusations, no one could actually pin him down. Because when it finally came.. push comes to shove, you didn't have anything finally. I mean, so the media has all this. Oh, all right, what did he do? Did he wear Nike shoes and come out for shopping? No. Ok, you found 500 pairs. It was for the students or it was for somebody.

Ted: And I believe, as Jody pointed out to me, there is.. correct me if I am wrong, no known incident of his ever wearing shoes in his lifetime.

Sunder: No. He's worn those chappals (sandals) in Kodaikanal when he would go out (Ted: Sandals!) and we would.. sandals, yes, sandals.. no, (laughs) no shoes. I think it's very ridiculous to think that Baba was hoarding money for some "apparent" reason. The fact that he would need that money to give away... and its wonderful. Like, when a parent leaves, he's left behind so much treasures for now these people to run this institution. It's fantastic. When I read it first, I said, "thanks God! Thank God there's actually this kind of money now to sustain what He has started." What He spent his entire lifetime to run, He's actually taken.. safeguarded it personally and it's as if He's saying, "All right, you know what, kids, now it's all yours. Do it. There's cash, there's gold, there's jewels - everything that you wanted." This is truly the sign of divinity. He could have spread it before He died or when He got old.. to give it away to people and you and I would have never heard of it and we would have still claimed.. whatever. He never hid[ed] anything.

Ted: Well, you know, from the thousand towns and villages that received water.. fresh water projects, the hospitals, the schools, the universities, the housing for widows, the list goes on and on - major humanitarian projects. The money had to come from somewhere and Jody's curious and so am I. From whom would he accept money?
Sunder: It's.. it's very interesting. There would be these big businessmen, big industrialists who had.. you know, Bhagawan-58who had so much money to spare. And you get tax benefits and things like that. And you have the typical case of Isaac who had this money and waited for 7-8 years since Baba. Let me tell you this point. So it was always from people who had enough money to give, He would accept the money, and He would say, "Ok, do whatever you want. Do whatever you want.. go give it to them." Or he would take the money personally and keep it. If they give gifts to him, he would say, "ok leave it behind." Um.. India is a cash rich economy and a western mind will never understand that. Why would you have.. I don't carry more than $20 in my wallet today in the US for the last 10 years. The moment I land in India, I'll have a lot of cash and less credit cards because it's still a cash rich economy. So, to find cash and gold in somebody's house, it's normal. It's not abnormal. Even a poor person will have a lot of gold stacked in his house.

Ted: Women in India wear their wealth.

Sunder: Altars.. women.. jewelry. I mean, it's part of.. it's not uncommon. So, it's going to, probably, not raise too many eyebrows, you know, in that sense. But if you want to look at something suspiciously, you're going to say, "Oh my gosh! Baba had 98 kgs of gold." I said, "thank God he had that kind of money." And the reason I am saying "thank God" is when Baba announced the hospital, announced on his birthday, 1990 or 1991, he said about the hospital, I was working at the Central Trust. I was in the accounts section. My father was the accountant. And, if not now, some other time, I'll tell you how he brought me close to my father. That was 2 years before my father died. That's a whole different story altogether. But I was an accountant there. I knew the Trust has nowhere close.. nowhere close to the money that would have been needed when he announced this hospital thing. My father was.. (Ted: It must have shocked them) his blood pressure.. it shocked all of us. We thought, "Wow!" You know, we thought Swami was just living in cloud nine. This is no way possible.

Ted: And a year later, to the day, it was functioning.

Sunder: It was functioning. It was fascinating. So He had things in place. He knew exactly what He was doing. He had things in place. And He got the ball rolling at the right time. It's a mastermind. It was a master plan that was brought into effect. And for us, even though we saw this happening in the institute, the college was just being built. It was part of another university. And Swami was constantly telling us, "I'm going to make this a.. Swami's university.. it's going to be a Sai university." And we would be very humble, very prayerful, but in the back of our minds, we would look at it as something.. we couldn't comprehend it.

Ted: Sunder, how were you picked by Baba to be one of his attendants, so close to His form?

Sunder: I mentioned this in our previous interview. When I got my first interview, he kept asking, "What do you want? What do you want? What do you want?" And I said, "I don't want anything Baba." He forced me and so he came so close with all his big hair I was so terrified. Suddenly it came to my mind that I've always been curious as to what Baba would do in His room. Because, for me, liek I said, I wasn't born in a Sai family. I came across Swami because of circumstances - my father not being in Bombay, and they were looking for a good college. One thing led to the other and it's all there in our previous interview and I came into [i comes to] Swami's fold.    And so.. but when I'm watching Him giving darshan and going upstairs I would spend.. those days we lived right bang across Swami's mandir in the dorms. We didn't have a hostel built yet. So that was all being built. And the college had already started. So we were living bang across Swami's. So I would constantly, you know, walk down and you know stand in front of Swami's mandir in the evenings and nights and watch that little light on, "I wonder what goes on in there." "I wonder what goes on in there and how great it would be if I can be there so that I could really know that this is my Guru." For me, it was a very ardent desire. And so, when he cornered me in the interview, I said, "Swami I want to be.." I called it 'room duty'. "I want to do 'room duty', I want to be in your room." He said, "Achcha! (Ok!) Come from tomorrow. "

Ted: So it was that simple (Sunder: it was very simple, just said "come from tomorrow"). I remember most when you told this story before, your desire. But see, I equate that with everybody's desire. I think a lot.. you're not unusual. There's a lot of people who want to know what Swami's like behind the closed door. And is he looking at the letters, is he co.. holding meetings, devotees and trust members and other come out. You had a chance to play that out. I guess my curiosity though is, that can't be the first time people asked him to do it, but He picked you! He gave you the opportunity. (Sunder: I'm grateful. I'm so.. yeah, I'm so grateful to that.) Did you know you were on a fast track before he gave you that hint that, "yeah, your wish is granted. Come on out."?
Sunder: I didn't. I didn't know what track I was on whether fast or slow. but I am so grateful because I got to.. I got to see him and that's why I don't hesitate sharing these stories. Because I think posterity should know. People, even now, should know what the true Sai Baba.. who the true Sai Baba is.

Ted: Ok, who is the true Sai Baba?

Sunder: The true Sai Baba is one who is just one with what He said, one with what He thought, and one with what He did. He was exactly the same person as He spoke. If He said, "I'm an avatar," it's because He believed He was one. He lived, even in His own quarters, even when He was alone, He believed He was. And that is why I keep telling.. even said yesterday, He would look at a letter and He would look at the name and for Him, looking at a name or a letter would mean that He was looking and blessing that person. He would honor Himself literally in that sense of the term. He respected himself because he knew what his body was. He knew where he walked, where he looked, where he touched and whom he touched and even in his room, a little ...he wants the chair in one particular angle, he just wants it there. It’s fascinating how he would want his room clean. And there is again signs of omniscience, omnipresence and playfulness if you will. We cleaned the interview room downstairs before he comes down everyday. And so one day, he comes. He is just walked down the steps and he has not even come and inspected the room because the next day he was interviewing the President of India or something so he wanted the room spic and span. So as it is, you know how clean it is. But we went an extra step forward and cleaned every single possible place. Four of us cleaning a 10 foot by 12 feet room. Okay, four of us. We spent every single possible place.

Ted: You used a toothbrush to clean all the crevices?

Sunder: Those brooms and cloths and everything. No, not a toothbrush. But so, Swami walks down the steps and he has not even come down and inspected the room. The steps are so narrow and so..its a winding staircase. So he comes down and as he is coming down, he is saying “lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy”. So we knew we were in trouble. The know we knew we were in trouble. But we had cleaned every single place. So he comes right down and straightaway he takes me and says, “look at that corner”. There is a little small cobweb there. “Lazy, lazy, lazy, you are not good”.

Ted: Like a drill instructor in the army.

Sunder: So number one is how did he know that there was a cobweb? I mean he is upstairs and we have been cleaning for 2 hours literally. And so he walks down, he didn't even look around to see a cobweb. He just walks down, straight away takes me and says “Look at that. There is a cobweb”. So you are wondering does he even needs to know something. There are moments when he becomes omniscient I think even without his knowing. It's become.. It’s so natural for him. You know that is the kind of spontaneity with which he lived every moment of his time.

Ted: Time for a couple of final questions. And I'm reminded of.. how can I put this? Did he ever get to the part, the point in your life where he clearly and definitively touched your heart?

Sunder: Oh, yes! Yes he did. Ted: And did he ever get to the point in your life where he broke your heart? Sunder: lingamYes, he did! He has done both.

Ted: You agreed to this interview.

Sunder: I know, I did. When he touched my heart, and I’ve probably not even shared this with Maya. Maybe I have done it, I don’t know if I did. But there was this moment when which I can never ever forget. He was once talking about story of Rama. It was just 2 of us who were sitting in his room and he was talking about Hanuman and Rama and the relationship between Hanuman and Rama. And for me, right from the day I began to accept him, I saw myself as a Hanuman. I mean, for me that relationship was more as a servant and a master. And even now I identify myself more as a Hanuman rather than an Arjuna or Radha or any of the other devotion. For me, it’s master-servant. So for me, its always like that. My God and master. I always used to write to him and in the envelope I will put, to Sri Satya Sai, my God and master.

Ted: you are born to serve.

Sunder: I am greatful or that. So when he was talking about Rama and Hanuman, I was very moved with that whole episode. And then so swami asked to the other boy what he wants and he was very benevolent that afternoon. And he said something, I was hardly listening to what was going on because I was so caught up in that moment. So Swami said how sacred was the relationship between the Lord and the one who serves. And He was talking about Hanuman and he said you know, all of us are hanumans. We all have money minds but we can become from this normal monkey to this great devotee. And so he turned to me and said 'What do you want?'. I was [clears throat].. I told Swami...because Swami said Hanuman was.. Swami was.. Rama was so engrossed with Hanuman and he would hug Hanuman often. So..that is what he would.. he was talking in the story and I was.. so I asked him 'Swami, how lucky was Rama.. how lucky was Hanuman that Rama would hug him often'. Swami looked at me. 'You want me to hug you'? he asked 'like Rama did'? I said ' yes'. He said 'get up' and he hugged me. And when he released me he said, 'how was it'? I had tears in my eyes. But then very playfully he said, 'I was Rama when I hugged, but you are still not Hanuman".

Ted: You are a Hanuman wannabe! Sunder: Hanuman wannabe, yes!

Ted: What a touching story with which to conclude unless I sense you have one more note to add to that, do you?

Sunder: No, I think we will leave it at that. All I want to say is the relationship between Baba and his devotees, individuals are very sacred, very pure. And there should be no room for any of Baba’s devotees to give room for any kind of doubts or anything that would cross their mind thinking otherwise. That is the opportunity for us to grow out of the box. There is an opportunity for us to surrender to our masters. And it is going to come to us individually in our lives at some point or the other.

Ted: It is a message to be said, underscored and said again. And you have done all three. Thank yo so much!

Sunder: Thank you. Sai Ram.

Additional Footage
Maya: I just had a question about what you said about Swami reading the letters. You said he doesn’t need to read the letters but he still does. I think that could be more as a, I don’t know what to say, like a reassurance to people who send the letters to him. Now they hear from you that Swami did actually read those letters. Otherwise how would they know that Swami is reading it or what is Swami doing. So don’t you think that’s why...

Sunder: There is no doubt about it but I think more importantly the way I saw him for him, if he looked at somebody’s name, he was thinking of him, he was blessing him. And It is not my interpretation. Well it is my interpretation but I thought he was doing that. Because I remember a person brought him a list of names which is just a list of names printed. There were four or five sheets of it. He kept it on his lap, took his hand and went through it like this. Turns the page., again goes through this. So it is five, seven minutes, everybody is watching what he is doing. He is going through each name and going through like this. He did that when there was a list of students getting admission into Baba’s college. He would take each and every application and go through that. So wouldn’t it be easier for him to say “Ok, good. What are the numbers? What is the total number? I don’t know what these names mean? You know, Krishna, Rama, Govinda”. But for him, each person’s name he would read like this. His hands going...turn the page and doing the same thing again four or five pages. Why would he do that? You know unless he, I think it was more like he blessing them. Blessing each individual. So when you handed over letters from devotees to Baba, when he accepted it, he knows exactly what he is doing. And that is what is so Bhagawan-36important for devotees to just hand it over to him. For them, that itself was a blessing. That is good enough.

Jody: Do you remember you were talking about how sometimes he would let you touch him and sometimes he would let you stay away? I once saw a married couple after an interview go up to him and the husband said “Swami, thank you so much” and Swami took his hands. It was a western couple. “Swami, thank you so much” and Swami took his hands and shook. But the wife went “Swami, thank you so much” and Swami escaped her hand my millimeters and he went like that. It was so embarrassing for everyone and he sort of jumped back. He absolutely didn’t want her to touch him for some reason. But it was okay for her husband just a second before. But I am sure that wasn’t to embarrass her or because there was anything wrong with her. I’m sure there was some important reason.

Sunder: Yes, that’s why I said those are the kind of things that you can never understand why or how. If the two of us were there and one touched his feet, he would be happy about it. But if the other person thinking “he touched Swami’s feet so I can also touch his feet” and he would immediately shrink back his feet or get up and walk away. It was something that he was was very inexplicable. You can never understand why or how. I can understand though one part of it. In public, Swami would not, even in private, when it's women, he always honored Indian traditions. And especially being the boy’s hostel, he wanted to set an example with boys. He wouldn’t really allow anybody to physically especially women to be physically close or touch him. In that sense of the term, he would never do that. And he just honored the culture. You know, he was born and brought up in..

Jody: Oh so that may have been the explanation..

Sunder: That could have also been one reason why he would not allow a woman to hold Swami’s

Jody: He had held my hand during that...

Sunder: Oh yeah, I am just saying in the interview room.

Jody: Although that is his choice in the interview room.

Sunder: It could have been depending on who else was there in the room, he didn’t want it to. He is very conscious in that sense when he is in public. You know as to what he does and who touches him and who doesn’t. But even in private, even in his own room he is like that. Even when there are 4 people and let’s say, there are 4 authorities who come to him and they all take....they just don’t go to him and touch his feet and leave. Unless he tells them to touch his feet, otherwise he will say “Go”. And if he does this, they will just have to leave, they can’t touch his feet. So it not like “Oh, I am with Swami, I can go and touch his feet”. If he is annoyed with somebody, he will listen to them and say “Go”. That person has to just slither out. I have seen.. I have seen so called VIPs standing in front of Swami, inside, but Swami not looking at them at all for days.    But though they would come in everyday and stand, Swami would just talk to everyone but ignore them as if they just don't exist.    That's.. that's hard on them actually.    If you're ignored when there are 5000 people, it's different. When you're 4 people and you're being ignored, you can feel the burn in that room. And we would feel uncomfortable because this person would be standing next to us. And Swami would just talk to us and ask us to ignore him as if he just doesn't exist. And these are people who would have been at one point so close to Swami. So for them, that would have been, you know, a big test. So nobody is spared. Nobody got spared from the rod of His love. He knew whom to put in place. Nobody.. that's why.. that's one of the things that impressed me most when I was a youngster.    I saw.. I said, "hey, this guy, he knows exactly what he's doing.    He's in total control."    That confidence appealed to me so much as a young boy.    You know, and I always thought, - and I'll probably touch upon this in the next interview - "how does an eighth grade pass have that confidence? How does that person from a village get that kind of confidence?"    He's dealing with top scientists and doctors and not even an iota of doubt of, "oh my God, he might know more than me." Not even an iota of that, you know? That boldness, that courage, where does that come from [in] a villager? You know, where does that come [from]? It has to be from a source within. There is no other answer for that. Nothing mattered to him.

Jody: And he proved repeatedly that he knew our thoughts. (Sunder: oh yes.) Even if we were 13,000 miles away.

Sunder: Oh yes, oh yes he does. In fact, there was once a person whom we knew told a blatant lie to Swami having done something below in that room downstairs and so.. my colleague was with me and he was a little bold with Swami and he allowed him to speak once in a while. So after that person left, he just asked Swami, "how does a person lie to you in your face and walk away? How do you allow it?"baba1

And Swami just smilingly replied, he said, "I'm an embodiment of truth. I'm giving you a chance to speak truth to me.    If you ignore that, that is your karma.    It doesn't affect me, it affects you." And he was so deep serene in his saying, we felt shivers. We were like, "oh my gosh, who is this?" (Swami:)"I am.. I am the embodiment of truth. To me, if you lie, it is your karma. That karma will never leave you."    So, he had always given us a choice, you know.    "You are in my presence, you can speak the truth or you could like."

When Love Beckons

When love beckons to you, follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.

Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant; And then he assigns you to his sacred fire,

so that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,

Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,

and weep, but not all of your tears.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires,

let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude; And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.