-- *WELCOME TO SOULJOURNS
-- SUNDER IYER, JUNE 19, 2011 (2ND OF 2 INTERVIEWS ON SAME DAY JUNE 19, 2011) THIS IS THE THIRD INTERVIEW IN A SERIES OF FOUR SUNDER IYER INTERVIEWS, "LIVING WITH SAI BABA".
-- THIS IS A TRANSCRIPTION OF A SOULJOURNS VIDEO INTERVIEW FOUND AT VIMEO.COM/SOULJOURNS AND AT YOUTUBE.COM/SOULJOURNS. PLEASE ENJOY AND SHARE.
~~~~~~~~~~ LOVE ALL ~ SERVE ALL ~~~~~~~~~~
[Ted] Sunder Iyer - his nearly 16 years living in the presence of holy man Sri Sathya Sai Baba has brought him unique glimpses into the higher realms. Welcome to Souljourns. This interview, part of a long series, is the second of two interviews recorded on the same day, June 19th 2011, in Elyria, Ohio, USA.
[cuts into Sathya Dharma Prema song sung by Swami]
[Ted] Sunder, good to be with you again. Thank you very much for sitting for this many interviews. We've done several now in a theme because you had such close proximity to Baba back in the early eighties. I wanna begin by asking you to recount, as you did to us off-camera a minute ago, you tenure[d] at Prashanti Nilayam at Baba's side. You started in what year and at what grade?
[Sunder] Um.. this was 1979 when the first.. the college was first setup in Puttaparthi. That's when I joined.. I was one of the first batch of students to join Puttaparthi in 1979.. June.
March, I was there for the summer course in Brindavan, so... I literally came in to Swami's physical proximity sometime in.. during the March of 1979. Uh.. I had no idea I was [am] going to stay, how long I would stay, but I ended up staying until 1994 July
[Ted] 15.. 15 and a half years... [Sunder] 15.. a little over 15 years. [Ted] A long time... [Sunder] It didn't seem that long.
[Ted] All the way through Baba's university as one of Baba's first batch students, as they say in India, you graduated with a degree in what?
[Sunder] In.. Bachelor's in Commerce... B. Com.
[Ted] And then, you immediately set out to achieve your Master's?
[Sunder] And then I did my Master's in banking and finance.
[Ted] And then you took some time off or did you go right into PhD?
[Sunder] No, from there Swami hand-picked two or three of us in each of these sciences for Ph. D.
[Ted] He hand-picked you?
[Sunder] He hand-picked, yes. I was very grateful. So he hand-picked me along with three other students and we did.. I continued my PhD in banking and finance.
[Ted] Had you planned all along to get a PhD or not?
[Ted] Had you planned all along... [Sunder] Oh no way
[Sunder] I mean, with my grades in school and high school, and junior college as they would call it for the eleventh grade and twelfth grade, I had no ideas that I would be studying so much. But my grades improved drastically after I joined Swami's institution. You know you had no distractions. Literally, you were all the time studying or meditating or thinking of something unique and profound. So it was, you were from graduation to post-graduation, I started getting A grades and O grades or whatever and then, so I got hand-picked for a PhD. So '82, I passed my graduation, '84 post-graduation, '89 I did my PhD and then I started teaching as a lecturer in Baba's college for the next.. till 1994.
[Ted] Back up a little bit. Who handed you the diploma the day you got your PhD?
[Ted] That had to be a very humbling experience.
[Sunder] Oh, my gosh.. I have those pictures. They are the treasures. He personally handed the degree to us and He took a picture with us, He gave a medal... that is very beautiful.
[Ted] Did he then ask you, after you took some time off to return and become a teacher or a guest lecturer?
[Sunder] There was no time off. We were teaching along with our research. We were called research assistants then so you also start taking classes, and helping the senior professors with... you started getting trained as teacher and then you automatically.. you fell into the lecturer's category.
[Ted] So you didn't get a sabbatical after you get your PhD... [Sunder] Not really...
[Ted] ...to go to Paris for two years?
[Sunder] No, I have no regrets. I had no plans to leave. But between 1990 and 1992, until I got married, for two years, I left the institute, joined the Ashram... Swami asked me to join the Central Trust accounts where my father was working and I stayed.. spent those two years with my dad. And then 1992, after the wedding, He says, "Now you need a good pay, you need to have good salary, you are married." So He put me back under the University Grants Commission scale of the university and gave me the job back. And 1992 to 1994, we were there until I left July or August of 1994.
[Ted] 1994, so, that leads me to a question that I should preface by saying, for those people who are dipping into these interviews willy nilly and they may be starting with this one which is the third in this particular series, they wouldn't have heard us discuss in great detail that you were Baba's.. one of the attendants to Him for two years, in '81, '82 and you explained to us how Baba picked you for that role because of your long time quest for it. What I wanted to find out, what you didnʼt mention before, was how you first got.. how you received your first interview with Swami.. with Baba.
[Sunder] That was very interesting because we were about three-four hundred students and it all began a few months before that when the hostel building in '79 ['97] as I mentioned in my previous interview, we were living in Mandir because the buildings were being built. The college and the hostel were being built and we would have our classes in the Easwaramma High School and not in the college because the college was not ready and some of the classes were held in the dorms inside the Mandir and of course Baba would walk into some of the classes and sit with us for the whole economics lecture if you will. And...
[Sunder] Oh yes. Those were such fantastic moments of.. he would go to the back to the last row and say, "nobody look at me, everyone look at the teacher.” And He would sit and listen and anyway.. so. The hostel building was finally finished. And in 1980 December, He said we had to move into that building away from the Mandir so that's about couple of miles.. a mile, mile and a half away from the Mandir. And in order to do the inauguration of the hostel, we boys decided to come up with a grand program for Swami because now that was our home and we wanted Swami to come and bless our home if you will and so we came up with.. What can we do to please Swami? That was one of the first.. probably the first where boys actually came up with a dance program which now is the famous bhangra dance where you could actually beat drums and yell and jump in his presence. We were dying to do that after all those strict disciplined lives. So we said, "all right let's do this dance for Swami, we get to wear all these colorful dresses and do the bhangra." And then, so, we had come up with various programs, and then, so, one of those programs, they said, "let's do something unique." So there was a talent search within the 300-400 of us that were around and I raised my hand and said, "hey.. I want to do something," and they said, "what do you know?" I said, "I can do yoga on a rope," because when I was young, I was learning that in Maharashtra, which is called "malkham" for those people who are in Bombay in Maharashtra, they would know this very well. You climb a rope, 20-30 feet up and then do the "asanas" – the "yogasanas" – right up there. It is fascinating science. Itʼs an art or gymnastic feat if you will. I learnt that and I said, "I can do that, and we can get some pulleys from the hostel terrace all the way down four stories high and I can go all the way up and do it." They said, "oh this will be great. Swami has never seen this."
[Ted] He would love that.
[Sunder] He would love that.. and He did, He did. He actually loved it so much that later on, for his 60th birthday, he actually had me perform it again for a much larger audience out in the stadium. And along without, I said, "I also know to jump through hoops of fire." And they said, "oh my gosh.. fire.. now it's exciting." So we got all excited and made these programs because we were just a bunch of young teenagers wanting to do a program. So we said, "let's be as dashing and daring and put something out there." For me, that was my.. for me, having now gone to Puttaparthi, I wanted this “physical recognition”. Any chance to get closer to Him. So, for me I saw this as a great opportunity to get closer to Baba or for him to know, " this guy, yeah.. I.. I remember you, you jumped through the hoops of fire." So I wanted that to register. Anyway, so we did some rehearsals and I could jump through one hoop of fire with no problem and we practiced and we said, "let's make it a small ring two feet in diameter which is a little broader than my shoulder, so it will make it look like 'Ow!'" If it's too big, Baba is going to say, "oh yeah, anybody can walk through that." So we wanted to make it as exciting as possible. And there weren't any google or internet those days. So we didn't have time to do any research, we were just going by trial and error method. So I jumped through one hoop and we said, "this seems to be too easy, why don't we have two hoops now and you jump through two hoops of fire and that makes it more exciting." So we practiced through two hoops.. we did that and I said, "Let's add a third one.. let's add the third one.. So I jump through one, you bring the second one, I jump through two, you bring the third one, and then I jump through all three."
[Ted] And then on to a bed of coals.. [Sunder] I'm sorry? [Ted] And then jump on to a bed of coals..
[Sunder] [smiling] no fortunately I wasn't that crazy but that's a good idea though. You know I often go back and think about that incident.. about how we begin.. I want to give that philosophical message simply here simply because we begin with making an offering to God and God is the prime thing and then it becomes all about the offering. And the offering becomes more important than the God to whom it is being offered. So for me, it was a typical scenario of, "I want to do this for Swami and then how could I do this better," and then it became all about what I can do.. and how best I can do.. outperform.. it was all about me and what I can do. But you know you've got to give me a break - I was 17 years old. So the day came, and we learnt.. now one thing we learnt through our trial and error method was, that you have these rags tied along the hoop and then you set it on fire. So you've got to dip it in diesel or kerosene and then you got to let it dry and then set it on fire. So to reduce the level of smoke.. Now if they were dripping wet, there would be lot of smoke along with fire, I could not even see the hoops, especially when there were three. I had to see all the three to align myself before my jump. So it was all planned, practiced, all set and Baba was supposed to come that day, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Channa Reddy was coming, the Vice President was coming, I'm sorry the Chief Minister was coming as a VIP.. and Baba had invited all the devotees to come to the hostel that day.. ladies, gents, everybody. So they were spread out all over the.. all the three stories and the terrace.. and there were devotees all over the place. And there was a special place for Baba kept. So Baba arrived, he was brought in and there was a dance program that we did and then I went and did the yoga on the rope and Baba loved it. Everytime I did one asana, from there..for me it was far down.. he would raise his hand and bless. It was very sweet of Him and I just loved being in the limelight of Baba, and said "yes yes, I am getting his attention... finally!" And then came my part where I had to jump through the hoops of fire. Now what had happened was, one of the "enthusiastic" volunteer boys came to me and said, "Sunder you had forgotten to put diesel and kerosene, so just two minutes ago I have doused all the hoops with diesel and kerosene," and I said, "Oh my God.. we had done it two hours ago and we had wanted all of them to evaporate so when we light up, it will be a thin simple little ring of fire, not an explosion," but it was too late. They announced my name and I told these boys who were going to hold these hoops of fire, "just get some rags or something and cover your hands because itʼs going to be hot," and they said, "ok Sunder, make it fast.. as fast as you can." Now common sense would have been like, " forget it, just don't even bring up the show, because itʼs too dangerous for everyone involved.. the boys holding the ring and especially for me." And as foolish as I could have been that day, I was wearing a tight neck sweater because, you know, those days we didn't have sports. So nobody was ready for a sports.. a fire- resistant dress[es] and you know, so I had a tight jeans on and I had some, and I went to some boys looking for something tight and one guy had a polyester, tight, turtle-neck t-shirt. So, I wore that because it stuck to my body... little did I think, “wait this is polyester, I shouldn't go.” Anyway, so the show begins, I jump through the first hoop of fire, and the whole thing of course, the moment they lit up, the crowd went "ooh!" because "whoosh.. it just burst up and I could see tremendous amount of smoke. Just as we had tried it earlier, I went through the first hoop and then two boys came and lit up the second hoop. I ran through jumped through the second, I cleared the second hoop, and when I just cleared and I got up, these four boys who were holding these two hoops, two on either side, they turned around and said, "Sunder, we can't do it anymore, its too hot.. its too hot.. I can't hold it." And I told them, "Please, just hang on 30 more seconds. I will do the third one and then we are off." So the other two boys came quickly and lit up the fire. And now three hoops for me and Baba is on the other side of the hoops so I can't see Baba. And so I run and I jump. The guy who was holding the first.. these guys thought my legs had cleared and they had let go. But what had happened was I had not cleared the hoop. So my feet hit the first hoop and everybody gave up... immediately. So I land on the ground with all the three hoops entangled around [in] my body (Ted: all burning). This is what is happening on this side. So I knew it had misfired. But it was all happening so fast. I bent to the ground and I looked up and guess who was standing there. It was Baba who pulled me out and rubbed all the fire sparks that were [was] starting on my jersey.
He was rubbing it off and saying, "oh bangaru, bangaru, bangaru, don't worry I am here."
[Ted] How could he have come so quickly?
[Sunder] That's the beauty of the whole thing. And I tell these stories at Sai Baba retreats to explain the point that for me I never could digest the fact that when He said, “I am love, I have the love of a thousand mothers, I love you more than I love myself.” I [c]would say yeah it is easy to speak, I could never comprehend what you really mean by it. At that incident, He was sitting in, what we call the jhula... the jhula, the garden swing and so the boys are gently swinging him back and forth and sitting all around him. There were hundreds of devotees all around right? However [though], everybody was shocked.. nobody could act at that moment. I believe when I started running towards.. to jump the third hoop of fire, Baba was.. who was sitting here, He jumped up from the jhula, pulled up his robe, and started walking fast, almost running towards me, straight. People were too shocked.. they were watching here.. it was pretty dark you know. Because the hoops of fire had to be seen, we had dimmed all the other lights. And so, Baba is running towards me, I am running towards the third hoop. So when I jumped and landed, he was the only one who pulled me out and I can never get tired of telling the story simply to explain that He was having silk robes himself. He was wearing the best of robes because it was inauguration evening, He had the VIPs around him, He could have sent word to stop it. But at that moment, when the situation called, He just jumped right in. To me, that is selfless service - right there. I mean, for Him, with no thought of His safety at that moment, from Him to come all the way and for Him to do this, when there were 500 or more, may be a 1000 and more devotees and students all around, who could have jumped in. Everybody was too shocked to even move and He was the only one who acted. That is His spontaneity of love. It is fascinating.
[Ted] Did he have words with you later about such a stupid move?
[Sunder] He started calling me "the mad fire man". He said, "fire boy.. where is the mad fire boy?" So the next day Darshan, he is calling, "hey, where is the mad fire boy?" and he told all the others sitting in the verandah, "oh that was the boy, that was the mad fellow who wanted to jump through. Why did you do all this?" Chiding.. but very pleased that I did this for him. For me, that was one of my very best moments of my life apart from being very embarrassed by Swami. It was a very touching moment because He came and pulled me out of the fire. And from then he started referring to me as the fire boy. So in a matter of couple of months, he one day said, "hey mad boy, come," and I went and sat for my interview. So that's how I got my first.. I call it.. for me I personally call it my initiation - a fire initiation in to the Sai fold. I had to kind of burn some draws [?] I believe. So I had to go through it.
[Ted] Well we all do but not quite so dramatically normally.
[Sunder] I don't know why I did.
[Ted] I love these stories. I am sure anybody who is watching these videos feels the same way. I hope now that.. now that we have Baba's Mahasamadhi behind us, that there will be more stories forthcoming because these stories need to be shared.
[Sunder] oh yes,
[Ted] These stories are so wonderful and can only convince the tip of the iceberg. So many other boys and now adults, sai men, sai women who have personal stories with Swami, the avatar and I hope that we hear them all.
[Sunder] Ted, you wouldn't.. there would be no end to it if you'll pick up every student who stayed there for a decade or more and listened to their stories. Each one would have a treasure of stories just the way I am telling you - it's not just I was the only one. I want to make that clear. Because it shouldnʼt be appearing that, “Oh Sunder was the only one.” It was not the case. Every student has something to offer and even now, when we meet at Babaʼs retreats, old students... we say, “wow, did this happen to you?” and we exchange stories.
[Ted] But from my viewpoint, there has to be a willingness initially to step forward to share this. So, I hope this is an inspiration to people.
[Sunder] I hope so too...I hope so too..because the exposure and the affection the students had with Baba and the angle at which we approached Swami and we saw him was completely unique and I think devotees get a great pleasure, even non devotees for that matter, to get a glimpse of Swamiʼs personality though our eyes and thatʼs the whole point. I hope to share that perspective.
Ted: Jody and I see so much input from people around the world who watch these and the one thing they say over and over again that really touches us deeply. For them, often, this is their personal darshan. This is their personal sai study circle. This is the first time in the whole community, in the whole state, in the whole country where they know no other sai devotees. Ity is 150 countries, people whos end these emails about these interviews and that reason alone should give us cause that it is important to continue to spread the word of Baba from those closest to him because it becomes their darshan, their satsang.In a way their darshan too because thatʼs as close as they will get to having Babaʼs personal darshan.
Sunder: You know..there is,.,I have one more little story about the spontaneity of His love and it is fascinating how these are things and this is one story where both these stories, I was involved. In this one directly and the other one was..I was involved and witness to it personally. I mean I like telling stories where I am involved so it is 100% authentic. So Baba saving me from this fire or helping me out of the rings or whatever, however you want to call it was done in the view of thousands of people. I want to tell you a story where nobody was watching this except 2 or 3 of us and the humility that Baba has and the kind of love He has. It is the most touching story that I ever tell people. There was this boy, and I am going to keep it short for want of time so we get to cover a lot more. There was this boy from abroad who joined the hostel and initially he had all this attention from Swami. So he was in cloud 9 enjoying his days and slowly Swami started putting him on his own routine and then the boy now started feeling the mosquito bites and sleeping on the floor was tough and as days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months he was getting more and more frustrated about the disciplines and the rigor[ous]ness of the Indian dorm situation. So much so that the warden of the hostel at one point was literally worried that this guy is spreading his negative influences to others because Baba was ignoring him. But the sports meet, by then the sports meet was on. We were the ones who first started playing games in from of Swami. He came and watched us and we introduced the sports meet as one more occasion for Baba to come and enjoy. So the sports meet was on and this boy finally got a chance to vent out his frustrations if you will. He was good in Karate and things like that so we said ʻWhy donʼt you handle a Karate showʼ? You take these boys, train, and break bricks and you know do all these kick things. He was excited. Suddenly he got this positive energy and he was practicing. Unfortunately a week or so before, he hurt his leg so bad that he couldnʼt even walk. He had done something stupid and one of his foot was very badly cut. So much so that it was deeply bandaged and the other foot was also swollen. So he was literally on crutches. So the situation is like this. Now this boy is back to where he was. All the more negative and frustrated because there was one opportunity for him to get back into Swamiʼs focus because he had fallen out of Swamiʼs focus and he wanted to do something and he thought, “ok, this Karate show will back..,” you know, once again he would get namaskars from Swami and the chance of photographs and once again Swami would come back to him and in that sense, he was motivated. But now suddenly this hit him very hard and he is now physically hurt and not only that he is not going to do a show but he is not even going to be able to participate in that meet. He couldnʼt even walk that bad. It was that bad. So the situation is that morning, he is in the sick ward. There was one room dedicated for sick boys and whoever is sick or hurt would lie there so it is easy to monitor somebody who is not well in one place rather than have them scattered all over the hostel. My friend and I are talking to the warden on the steps of the hostel and it is about a little after morning bhajans. And we are ready to go off to the college to do our teaching and we suddenly pause to look at Swamiʼs car driving down the road towards the hostel. All the gates are normally open when Swami drives by and invariably he drives by. He doesnʼt come into the hostel because there is nothing going on in the hostel. Nobody is around, no boys, no students, everyone is in the college. So we just stood reverentially waiting for Swamiʼs car to pass by but to our astonishment it slowed down and actually turned into the hostel gates. And we froze, we said ʻOh my gosh, Swami is coming in now?ʼI mean the hostel is not even clean. Usually he announces that he is coming and we get things cleaned up. Not that it is bad but you know...I donʼt want to...
Ted: No, its okay. You were boys. It was probably bad.
Sunder: It was still clean for 400 boys. Let me tell you. But when Swami is coming, you want t to make sure all the more, he walks barefoot most of the times, so you know we wanted to make sure thereʼs no..you know. Normally we do that. But this time Swami is coming right now. So my warden froze, and we all just froze. Swami stops, the door opens and he is out. He is holding his robe up and he is looking at us and he is saying ʻJust waste of time, waste of timeʼ. When he starts doing that you are like ʻOh my gosh, something is just wrong hereʼ.
Ted: So you were just standing and talking and he said waste of time?
Sunder: We were looking and talking to the warden and suddenly we saw Swamiʼs car and we just turned around and Swamiʼs car comes and stops. He gets down and says ʻWaste of time, waste of time. Unnecessary talkingʼ. So we thought, ʻOh my God, we are in deep troubleʼ. You donʼt want such kind of comments from Swami at all because he will keep on pointing that out later on so I was ʻOh my God, got caught in the wrong placeʼ. Anyway, this is whatʼs happening. So swami went past us into the hostel so fast that we could not even.. and we started following him behind and he took a detour straight to the sick room. We started following him. He turned around; once again the stop sign came. ʻStopʼ, he said ʻStay there. Waste,waste,wasteʼ he said. And he turned around, there was nobody in the hostel. There were these workers and they were standing, they all were like this. “Swami, Swami,” they were all like this, you know, just standing. He went straight past everyone just 4 or 5 of us and then went down the hall all the way to the sick room which is next to the restroom ok? He goes into the sick room and the next thing we see is... this boy. And mind you Ted..he is as tall as you 6 + and he was at least 200+x pounds..huge guy.ok? Swami has his arm across Swamiʼs shoulders and Swamiʼs arm around this boyʼs hip and Swami is taking him to the restroom. Waited there and brought him back..ok? We were so stunned and exactly as you are not able to make out what exactly went on, we were like that right there at that moment. And we were wondering what is this..Swami is taking him, coming back. Didnʼt he have the crutches..What happened to the crutches? And then we hear the boyʼs version of the story. He gets up that morning and he finds the crutches are not there next to his bed and he wants to go the bathroom..badly. And since itʼs the sports meet, the crutches are always in demand./ Somebody or the other is hurt. So somebody who could walk to the college had taken it and gone to the college and it was not time for him to return it back. Because this boy was sleeping. Anyway, so this boy is lying on his bed. You know this is his version now. He is lying on his bed and he is cursing the daylights out of this place now, saying, “I want to go to the toilet, I canʼt even walk now. What kind of a Godman is this? What kind of a thing I have come and got stuck into. This crazy hostel, this crazy lifestyle, this crazy Godman. And I am right here.” So he was in the brink of collapse. Thatʼs where Swami pushes you. He was on the brink of collapse. And that moment, when he made up his mind that this is a total waste of time, I need to go back, the door opened and for him, he sees Swami walking in. So he thought, he tells us later, ʻI thought I had a visionʼ. But it wasnʼt. It wasnʼt a vision because it was real. He told him get up, he put his arm, Swami put his arm around him and took him to the restroom. Now this act of love to me can only be described as pure selflessness. There is omniscience on the one side. He is driving past the hostel, he knows this boy is in trouble. He could have stopped, come into the hostel, rolled down his window and said ʼHey, go take care of that boy; He needs to go to the restroomʼ. We would still have been..I would still be telling this story to you in the same gusto even if that was done. But at that moment, it wasnʼt, it wasnʼt about showing I know what is going on. It wasnʼt about showing off your omniscience. It was about acting right there. Giving everything that you have to convince that boy that I am always there for you.
Ted: Beautiful, beautiful story.
Sunder: no audience, no spectators, no TV cameras, no limelight. Nobody to see these moments where he would give up anything and everything to touch or transform a boy. And thatʼs all it was.
Ted: You know, it is one thing to read about the summary of these. I donʼt know this has ever been printed out. There are so many wonderful stories about Baba. Itʼs another thing, quite different and more dramatic to hear it told from a first person, eye witness perspective. It brings to life these events that happen all the time at Prashanthi Nilayam that many of us canʼt even fathom. We occasionally read about them and then we hear from you and others about the first person stories about Baba coming over and the risk to his own form pulling you out of a fire of rings and it just adds so many different layers on top of the layers of understanding we have already been given as we pursue this which brings me to the question I wanted to ask you about. You were beginning to tell us off camera about prayer and asking and I ask you to continue with that account.
Sunder: You know I have often..every single aspect of spirituality that I learnt from Swami was a one on one experience. Thatʼs why I value these very very much. I learnt the difference between asking and praying. And I want to share that perspective because it is very important. I often ask people, when you pray do you ask something and if you ask something, is that asking praying? And one of the reasons why most of us donʼt get what we “ask for” answered is because we are asking and not praying. And I am not merely playing between 2 different words. For me prayer is very different from asking something. When you are asking you are just asking. When you are praying, you are not asking. For somebody who is spiritually evolved can probably understand this but as youngster for me, I leant this first hand. And it was such a powerful experience that taught me what true prayer really is. And how you sit in front of your God, your chosen deity to whom you ascribe omniscience, you ascribe omnipresence, you ascribe omnipotence and everything and then what do you do then. If he knows everything then what am I going to ask? Isnʼt it an insult to tell Him that I need something? The mother knows when the child is hungry. She doesnʼt even wait for the baby to cry because she knows exactly when the feeding time is. You know, she watches over the baby even when the baby sleeps. And when you ascribe that quality to God, then what do you do? Isnʼt it insulting for us to say ʻSwami, I need this. Swami, I want that. Swami, please help me. Cure him or her or meʼ. For me, thatʼs a very powerful lesson. And this is how I learnt it. He came to the hostel one evening. And spoke about, on a Sunday, and spoke about ʻSoham Pranayamaʼ. Very rarely does Swami speak about Pranayama or mantra or yoga. So that was one of the most beautiful discourses of Swami. Where he expounded the meaning of ʻSohamʼ and said ʻWhy is Soham such a wonderful mantraʼ? Because the ʻSoʼ, which meansʼthatʼ, which comes into you as you breathe in and the ʻhamʼ that is you, ʻIʼ, is going away as we breathe out. So ʻthatʼ is coming in and ʻIʼ is going out. ʻthatʼ is coming in and ʻIʼ is going out.ʼSoʼ breathe in, ʻhamʼ breathe out. I think it is a very profound explanation. It is very simplistic in nature but he said when you think of it every time, the ego just, everytime you breathe out, you breathe away yourself out and allow the infinity to come in. I thought that was a very powerful thing. And to me, I havenʼt read about this perception of ʻSohamʼ anywhere else in the world, honestly. Anyway, so I heard this and said I am going to practice Soham...because I was so much into yoga by then. Every single thing I was taking practice. For some reason, I thought if I do this maybe Swami would give me an indication that I am on the right path. I was clinging to every indication, every blessing, spiritual blessing that swami was giving. For me I said, what if I practice Soham now everyday and letʼs see how do we, how do I make Swami react to this. Sunday afternoon, I said Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday is when my class goes for darshan. Okay, because you see all the boys coming in for darshan everyday but its not the same boy standing in the first few lines. Different grade boys get the opportunity. So Monday it is the commerce or first year graduate boys. So every week we go in turns. So we knew that our class was..this was somewhere much later in the 80s...after Swamiʼs room and all that. Much later...so I knew my class was going in on a Wednesday. So I said, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, if I practiced,” Iʼm on Thursday, so, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, if I practiced 3 days, Thursday I get to stand first in the line. And I go sit first in the row, I am sure he is going to give me an indication that my prayers have reached him.” So for some reason I wanted..I thought I was doing this to please him not realizing that you know we do most of these spiritual pursuits for our own sake. We donʼt say ʻOh Baba I have been praying for you so long..why is this happening?ʼ. You didnʼt do it for him. You did it for your own self. But at that point, I thought I am going to do it to please him. So for the next 3 days Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I seriously very ardently practiced the Soham pranayama. I kept breathing in ʻSoʼ, breathing out ʻHamʼ. I was hardly paying attention in my classes. The nights I would hardly sleep...literally austere thapas if you will I did for those 3 days thinking that on the fourth day he is going to show me something. Some real sign that I did it. And I wanted that from him, ok? So Thursday evening, I came first in the line, went right there, sat right next to the birthday boy. The birthday boy usually sits right next to the front pillar. You know, if you remember. And I was sitting right next to him. And so even before the darshan began, I was so full of myself. I said, “you know what Baba, I donʼt want any little actions here and there just looking at me and all is not going to be enough. Or coming and standing in front of me is not going to be enough. Because that way I can touch your feet. Thatʼs not a sign..I want something out of the world.” Now this is asking, literally. I wanted something out of the world. “You have to show me something out of the world that I did this Sadhana and you accepted it.” So I wasnʼt ready to take just a look or a smile or a nod. I said, “give me something, I donʼt know what it is, I practiced so hard for the last 3 days. Come on, you have to do this.” He comes out for darshan, comes to the birthday boys, and picks out the chocolates and throws it around and not one falls on me. He looks around and starts walking out for his darshan. And for me the first thing was ok, not even a look. He kind of completely ignored me and he walked away. He finished the ladies side, he was coming down the gents side. I knew the darshan was kind of getting over. He has picked up people for interview. In all that commotion my mind I was thinking, “ok Swami, letʼs have a compromise. Maybe you can just look at me and smile at me. How about a smile?” Honestly, this is exactly what was going in my head. “Ok Swami, atleast just give me a smile. I know you are busy, you have people for interview, and you are going to go in.” The reason why I was panicking was as soon as the darshan gets over, I sing bhajans. So I have to get up and go into the bhajan hall and once I go into the bhajan hall there is no telling that Swami is going to come and talk. Because the bhajan starts and then Swami comes in just for the arathi and walks away. This is the only chance where physically there could be some communication taking place. So he comes and he starts his last few steps at the end of the darshan and I am looking at him and he completely ignored me. And he came and stood right in front of me and he spoke to a boy couple of rows behind asking ʻWhere did you come from?ʼ and he told the VIPs “Oh...he is So and so has come from there oh call you parents.” So the boy gets up and looks for his dad and he calls his mom and dad. All the time Baba is here. And this is where the true lesson began. Because I am looking at Baba, staring at him and now I am saying ʼOk Baba forget smile forget everything just look down at me..Come on cant you just look down at me?ʼ And I am staring with fury eyes, sitting straight. Now it doesnʼt need God to know that somebody is sitting down and staring at you. You and I do that. You walk into a shopping mall, if somebody is looking at you, you would wonder why is this so and so staring at me? It doesnʼt need to be divine. So it would have taken him a second just to look down, but he didnʼt. And all the time, I was screaming. The distance was so close less than 3 or 4 feet between me and Swamiʼs face. I could literally see through his nostrils. He was standing so close. He was talking to that boy, waiting for the boy to call his parents and all the time my head was bursting with this. “Swami, please, 3 days! 3 days! I didnʼt speak to anyone, I was practicing soham, you have to look down and acknowledge, please acknowledge. Swami canʼt you hear me? I mean you are right in front of me, can you hear me? You have done this before; you have to do it now.” There was absolutely stoic face with Swami as far as I remember. There was no expression at all and then he turned around and to my dismay, he walked, picked up the people for the interview room and one by one they are going. And I am like, “Swami just one glance, one little glance.” I have come down to that much now. He went and he started shutting the interview room door. And usually even before he shuts, he kind of peeps at the boys and then shuts the door. Sometimes he gives a loving smile or he just mocks a face and then shuts the door. Things devotes donʼt see usually. But I was hoping at least a look before he shuts the door. He didnʼt; he went and shut the door and I was just stranded right there. At that moment, I remember, at that moment suddenly everything went ʻShhhh.ʼ From all that screaming and yelling at Swami in my head, it became completely silent. And tears were almost welling up my eyes and its over, its over. Thatʼs it. I have to go to the bhajan hall. 3,4,5 second passed or probably 10 seconds, I donʼt know. And then suddenly the door, the noise came and all the devotees were getting up. There was a hush, I looked around and I was about to get up because I was about to go into the bhajan hall. And then suddenly there was a hush, I looked, I saw the interview room open. By this time, the birthday boy had got up and gone away. So I moved into that corner pillar. Just for the 2 minutes to ease myself and get up and go. He comes out. Apparently one of the ladies had not still come for the interview. Now always Godʼs actions are very subtle. Ok? So he comes out and He says, “hey, lazy, come on.” And so now that woman gets up and starts walking to the interview room. And at this point, I am sitting under Swamiʼs feet and my mind is completely blank. No more...sorry, go ahead?
Jody: What does he do?
Sunder: No he is standing there..There is a small step up and I am sitting down. He is standing just right outside the interview room door. And he is calling the lady and they are coming and she is coming to the interview room and swami is saying ʻKya, lazy,lazyʼ and all and he is letting her in. And just before he followed her back into the interview room, it took only a second. And by then I was completely quiet. I was just watching him. My mind was completely tired. Physically, spiritually I was completely exhausted after that ʻprayingʼ... quote – unquote. I was just watching. He turned around. He had materialized vibuthi inside the interview room. So his fingertips were full of vibuthi. So he turned around, not a word. He turned around and put the vibuthi on my forehead, walked into the room and shut the door.
Ted: You must have just died! Sunder: I am still alive, arenʼt I?
Ted: I donʼt know!
Sunder: I take home a fantastic message from that. When we think we are praying, we are so full of ourselves and what we want. And what has to happen to us. That our prayers never reaches the divine source within us. It doesnʼt. and I think all this... all the emotions and the hysteria that was going on in my head that I thought was prayer was actually all the chaos and static that I was creating a strong field for God to even answer. It wasnʼt even reaching him. Though he was physically he was inches away from me, yet when I completely, when my mind silenced itself, he knew exactly what I wanted and the answer was right there. And to me, I take that even today, even in my most intense moments of life when I am so tempted to pray, I silence myself. Because I think the divine mother knows your innermost desire. And the only thing that stops that from materializing is us. Itʼs not the divine, itʼs us. And you know God says, Swami says Godʼs light, grace is like sunlight. Itʼs all there for you. You have to only open the door. You have shut the door. And by our praying and asking whether it is for healing me or somebody else, whatever it is, it is asking. If we are learning to accept it in complete silence, I think our innermost desires will automatically manifest.
And to me and Maya, evey time we share this, that comes as a predominant thing. So I shared this story in swamiʼs presence in Kodaikanal.
Ted: In Swamiʼs presence?
Sunder: I shared this because it is one of my favorite stories and I shared this with Swami and I ended the story saying how Swami says and this is how I learnt that “it is only in the depths of silence that the voice of God can be heard”. And to me it was in that silence, suddenly that communication took place.
Ted: In your silence?
Sunder: Yes, its only in the depths of silence. Because when I was praying, ʻSwami please look at meʼ, all there was is noise and then the interview room door shut and I was blank. In that silence, the communication took place automatically. He knew what was wanted. But here is the catch to the whole thing. And this quote is not there in any book out of Swamiʼs mouth. So I say this and I ʻOnly in the depths of silence that the voice of God can be heardʼ. I say that, I bend down and touch Swamiʼs feet after I talked and then I get up and Swami says ʻGood speech, good speechʼ. And then he repeats what I said ʻIt is only in the depths of silence that the voice of God can be heard. Yes Sir, but,”. “Oh there is a but to it”? “But it is also in the depths of silence that God can hear your voice”.
I think that is so powerful. The quote that we read is “in the depths of silence the voice of God can be heardʼ. That means you can hear Godʼs voice. But he is now telling us, “it is in the same depths of silence that I can hear your voice.”
Ted: You mean your inner voice carries your true message to Godʼs ears.
Sunder: In the depths of silence. To me that is a fantastic riddle. Because you cannot hear a voice when there is silence. So what is the voice of... what is the voice you hear? And when you hear the voice, is there silence or no silence? This is a koan for people to think. This is the riddle that will take lifetime to think what is the voice of God and how can you retain the silence in that communication and to me that is true prayer. If we are able to attain that depths of silence, communication or communion takes place instantly.
Ted: Sunder, 2 more things. And one is you prompted me to ask you something that you touched upon except in a fleeting moment. How did it come to be by that you were talking, sharing this story in front of Baba?
Sunder: This was in Kodaikanal when Baba handpicked a few of us like he did every year. Later on, many other batches of students have been with Swami in Kodaikanal. That was his summer retreat if you will where he had lesser devotees and more relaxed time.
Ted: Go on..about that. For just a second because Jody and I were told first hand that he was a more relaxed Bhagwan Sri Satya Sai Baba when he was in Brindavan, Whitefield which we experience and enjoy thoroughly. But then I am told he was more and even more relaxed in Kodaikanal.
Sunder: I havenʼt experienced Bhagwan in Brindavan because I was totally in Puttaparthi. I was a Prashanthi Nilayam product if you will. Not a Brindavan product.
Ted: Which is a different campus, a different environment.
Sunder: It was different campus and atmosphere. Yes, Baba would be in a completely different mood and frame of mind when he would be in Brindavan. There is no doubt about that. But he is more of a God, Darshan, in Puttaparthi. There it is more of, lot more of, what I hear from students itʼs a lot more intimate, lot more freedom with Swami.
Ted: How does Kodaikanal contrast with..
Sunder: I donʼt know. Thatʼs what I said. Since I donʼt know Brindavan, I wonʼt be able to contrast with that but Kodaikanal was a heaven on earth. Because there, you are..there is bunch of 10 or 15 of us spending one month with...living with swami in and out. So he goes into his bedroom door and shuts it and we got the sleeping bags right outside his bedroom door. So he opens the door, he could actually step on our hands or face sleeping. So we are literally sleeping outside his room. And thatʼs the heights of proximity if you will you could have with Baba. And that you would just feel like a dad taking his sons out for a vacation. So he said oh there is nobody getting up early in the morning. There is no suprabadham. All of you get up late. I donʼt want to see ..its very cold in the morning, Make sure you have a hot water shower. No cold water shower. So he is very sweet and loving and he makes sure you eat and eat and eat. Oh my God, he feeds you so much. And so you spend a whole month with him doing this. A whole month. And so every evening.. afternoon he would sit and say ʼOk, so now what do we doʼ? We would just sit and chat. So Baba would come and tell stories. HE would get some of his old devotees would visit him there because they wouldnʼt come to Puttaparthi. They would come once or twice a year because of after all those initial years of extreme proximity. And Baba would say ʻOk, tell your story, tell your story ʼ. And things like that. Its fascinating how you listen to them and the older stories of Baba which these devotees would say. So in those evenings, he would make me speak. So every evening for that whole month, I spoke something or the other along with 2 or 3 other boys.
Ted: And the stark reality is we sit here in Elyria, Ohio in June of 2011 talking about these most beautiful stories. Because there will never ever be another Kodaikanal session or Brindavan. And his Mahasamadhi or perpetual resting place in the mandir in puttaparthi is all people have. Does it strike you from time to time as it does me and Jody and Iʼm sure Maya too a stark reality that we canʼt quite wrap our arms around yet?
Sunder: That loss is irreplaceable. And since we have been contemporaries of him and we have watched him and talked to him and we have breathed the same air that he has done, and we walked the same earth that he did. Itʼs a loss that our generation can never get over with. However spiritually evolved we are, at least I can speak for myself, there will always be a corner in my heart which will melt at the thought of Swami.
Ted: And what is it that will cause your heart to melt? The smile or whimsical way or whack across the head? ---
Sunder: Everything. Everything about him. Everything that he stood for. His life, his simplicity. Thatʼs what touched me the most. You know he could have. The way he would leave his car and ride half the distance with us in the bus.Not a very comfortable thing. He would climb into the bus and recently saw some pictures of him in a plane with the boys. That was another delightful, I am sure would have been a delightful experience of sitting with Baba in the same plane. I know Mayaʼs father did that. But its fascinating. Those moments are going to be cherished forever in the hearts and minds of people who had that opportunity. And to me, I want to take that and use it for my own spiritual evolution. And it has helped me. Every moment I spent with him as helped me evolve to where I am today and where I see myself go tomorrow.
Ted: You have time for one quick, final story? I donʼt know how long itʼs going to be but I am reminded of Harold Kushner, famous American Rabbi who wrote a book about why bad things happen to good people. And you reminded me earlier of a story from Baba along that same theme.
Sunder: Yeah, I will try and keep it as short as I can. I always have difficulty in consizing my stories. Because they are so...I kind of relive those moments when I say that and I tend to stretch it exactly the way I experienced. But I will do my best. There was a time when I was in Babaʼs room and my father had a very nasty experience in Haryana. He was robbed and beaten up and he almost died in the streets. And I have always known my dad to be an extremely honorable man till the last day of his life. An extremely honorable person and I will talk more about it in the next interview of ours. And his relation with Swami and thatʼs a whole different aspect of Swami .A more divine aspect of Swami. But then when I you know those days, you dint have email exchanges. So I received a letter from my mother and father but he kind of saying yeah I am ok, but this is what happened. I felt immediately a pang ofʼ what am I doing here when they are trying to struggle to eak out a livelihood and I am just enjoying Babaʼs companyʼ. I felt a sense of guilt within me. And I never had the courage to ask Swami about it. Or even why did it happen?But for me a more philosophical question came to miming. I said ʻwhy do bad things happen to good peopleʼ? Here is this guy who is devoted to God who does his 3 hours every Morning Prayer ever since I have been. From 3 in the morning to 6 and thatʼs when I would get up when I was 6 and 7 years old. So it would be constant. And he was so strict in his sadhana and all that. Wasnʼt God supposed to protect him?
Why do these things happen to these kinds of people? And then that gave me to ask questions...why do saints suffer? Why is there... what is the motivation then? If we are turning towards God and values and good things, and then bad things are going to happen to us. You know hey..why do we even do this? What is the meaning behind it?I took that question and wrote a detail letter to Swami as to ʻWhy swami, why is this? How does one make sense of this?ʼ I wrote it, I read it and I thought it was a bit too philosophical for me to you know, ʻhey swami, here is a big philosophical questionʼ. I kept it in my pocket thinking let me think about it kind of a thing. I kept it in my pocket. Swami walked by that day and he picked that letter as he went and just walked away. He dint even ask me what it is. He just picked up the letter and walked away. He just picked it up and I was like ʻOh my goshʼ..I let it be. And later that night, I knew he read it because the letter was shredded and it was in the basket. I made sure ʻis my letter there?ʼ.It was there, it was shredded. So I knew he read it. At that moment..but he dint show me any signs that he read the letter, or any smile or anything. He just... For me I thought maybe he dint understand such an English. You know I used to write to him in English.I thought maybe swami dint understand what I was asking. Anyway so okay, I forgot about it. I wouldnʼt even venture to seek asking Swami because I dint know where I was with Swami on this question. Was he angry with me, upset with me,he dint understand what I wrote,I dont know. So I just left it. A couple of weeks or so passed by. And I am telling you this background so you are able to correlate. But where I was at that afternoon, I couldnʼt. So I am right there washing vessels after Swami had his lunch. And he would go for his afternoon Siesta for an hour or so. So everything is very quiet. And we clean up the kitchen and lunch and I am cleaning the vessels and I am coming down to a last little glass where you pour all the sambar and rasam and it is a yucky kind of thing. So I was going to open the tap to clean it when I suddenly heard..ʼHey... Emtraa chesthunaavuʼ? what are you doing? And I looked behind and right behind me, Swami.. Baba had crept and I was like, “Oh my God,” I was so scared. He crept right up to me, said “What are you doing, chee chee chee,” he looked into the sink and there was this glass full of these leftovers. He said, “Oh my God, look at that; what do you people eat?” He kind of joked and then quickly he said, “Clean it,” and he opened the tap for me. And as he opened the tap, the water started filling this vessel and all the dirt started coming out, you know. So he said, “Look at this, look at this, look at this. How the dirt is coming out.. thoo thoo thoo. Look at all the good water going in and only dirt is coming out.” And then he says, “you see this and youʼre scared, so you close” and he closes the tap, “and you stop doing good water. And look at it now, good and bad mixed – all confusion.” And then he said, “when there is bad inside you, you pour good into it. Then all the bad will come out. Donʼt be afraid because bad is coming out.. oh, there is no point doing good and you stop it; now thereʼs good and bad mixed in and thereʼs confusion. What do you do?” This is how heʼs talking to me across the sink. “What do you do? Open the tap. Do good, do good, do good,” and everytime he did, “do good,” he kept opening the tap harder and faster and faster. And then now the good water was pouring in, and in a minute, all the bad had come out. There was nothing left, the glass was empty. It was just good in, good out. He says, “choodu, choodu.” And now he was like a 5-year old. “See, see, see, no more bad. Only good in, good out, good in, good out, good in, good out.” So in Telugu, he said, “mi bhaya bhranthilu.” It means, “your fears, your delusions are coming out. Let it come out. Do more good then, do more good. When it is coming out, do more good.” Eventually, what is good (points inwards), good (points outwards), good in, good out. “Good is God, God is good.” He kept muttering, “Good is God, God is good, good is God,” and he walked away quietly. And I just stood...
[Ted] He totally remembered your letter...
[Sunder] Yes. “Good is God, God is good,” he kept on muttering and walked away and I just stood at the sink with my answer right there. I mean, this couldnʼt get more zen than it was that afternoon. For me if something is happening bad, itʼs all the more reason that my illusions are coming out. May be its expressing itself in the form of sickness of my near and dear one. Who knows? What if these “three zeros” are coming...
[Ted] Stay with it... stay with it...
[Sunder] Stay with it and be more intense in (Ted: yes) what you are doing. So eventually itʼll be only good in...
[Ted] Donʼt push it away, welcome it.
[Sunder] So I love that story.
[Ted] Thatʼs a great, great story. Sunder, this has been so much fun. This is the third, and goodness knows how many we are going to do. And we look forward to sitting down again for part four of this ongoing series, “Living with Sai Baba” from June 2011, looking back to the early 80s, late 70s, and beyond that. More will be revealed. Sai Ram.
[Sunder] Sai Ram.
** EXTRA FOOTAGE **
[Sunder] I think we have to face the past consequences of our karma. And itʼs a simple logical reaction of “every action has a reaction”. So if Iʼm going to throw the banana peel on my driveway, thereʼs a high probability I might slip on it and fall the next day. Right, so, when Iʼm slipping and falling the next day, itʼs because of my past karma. But then, because I fell down, that doesnʼt mean that I get discouraged by cleaning my driveway. So, Iʼve got a chance today to start doing good in my life, to be selfless, to think of others, and put others before my wants. And when I start doing that, I still have.. I am still not escaping what I did yesterday. I still have that potential slip on that banana peel because I threw it yesterday. So when I fall down, instead of saying, “Oh my God, I am doing good, now why is it not.. why am I still being paid?” I should look back and say, “you know what? This is all the past. Iʼve got a chance now to build a bright future.” So, once the past is purged, all that remains is just good.
[Jody] Is that the same as saying.. and/or.. would you also be saying to yourself, “I put the banana peel there. Iʼll not do that again.”
[Sunder] Yes, oh yes.
[Sunder] I wonʼt be doing that banana peel again, but I have to accept...
[Jody] Anyone could have fallen.
[Sunder] Yeah, anybody could have fallen. My wife could have fallen, my kids could have fallen. So my action, whether I know it or not, itʼs going to affect my kith and kin. So when it happens, I donʼt turn to God and say, “oh my God. Why is my...” – itʼs my action thatʼs caused it.
[Jody] And so thatʼs...
Sunder] Any action that we have taken in our past based on our illusion, based on fear, based on our adherence to ego, and based on playing the victim role – every action is going to play itself in the future as a reaction.
[Jody] And every reaction offers us the opportunity not to do it again, (Sunder: exactly, yes) to learn its lesson.
[Sunder] As long as, yes, as long as we have the courage to accept it (Jody: to face it) and you know this is my own.. itʼs a purging.. itʼs happening. But my fresh actions are going to be as selfless as possible, as good as possible, as free as possible. So if my thoughts and my words and my deeds are now set on the path of liberating myself, and people around me, itʼs not that Iʼm going to escape what I did yesterday... but Iʼm on the path. Sooner or later, if not this life, then in the next life, Iʼm going to be completely free. Completely be, “good water in, good water out.” I canʼt wait for that to happen. So the more evil comes out of me, the more negative things happen to me, the more it should inspire me to say, “Hey good, letʼs get rid of this as fast as I can”. So I have to do more good, more intense, so I can get rid of it as fast as I can. Ithinkthatʼs a fantastic lesson. Itʼs very powerful. Itʼs very powerful. (Laughs)
[Jody] God is good, good is God. [Sunder] God is good, good is God. I love that. [Jody] God is good, good is God. I can see him doing that. (laughs) [Sunder] I love the way he teaches some of these lessons, very simply. You know, very simply he does it and he walks away. (Jody: laughs) Itʼs fascinating. [Jody] And we get to hear it, today. And everybody who watches this gets it. Thank you Baba.