I grew up in Sri Lanka and would hear various relatives speak of "Sathya Sai Baba" and that he was a "magician" of sorts and that he could magically make objects appear.
One of them even referred to him as "God". I dismissed their words about Swami and didn't take them seriously. I didn't know this till decades later but my mother had also been a Sai devotee briefly when I was little and then later decided to follow Guru Maharaj Ji instead. Guru Maharaj Ji was then this very young man who took over his father's mission at age 8 and then left for the West when he was 11 and garnered a huge following soon after.
My mother got us all involved in Maharaj Ji's organization, Divine Light Mission (DLM) activities and satsangs. I spent many evenings and weekends during my teen years walking to the center which was close to our house for satsang, also attending meditation sessions at the ashram, doing garden and kitchen seva, etc. I received "Knowledge" from one of Guru Maharaj Ji's mahatmas at age 15 along with my 3 siblings and our parents. I continued going to the ashram...it was a place of peace and solitude where I could get away from the world's troubles and meditate and be at peace with myself.
I saw Maharaj Ji in person a few years later when my mother and I traveled to take part in a DLM festival in Kissimmee, Florida in November 1978....I stood in a long line for several hours to see him and I entered the tent he was in and we made eye contact and even though there was a feeling of recognition, my heart did not rejoice as I thought it would. I continued walking following the line of devotees ahead of me towards Maharaj Ji and bowed down to him with respect. The experience was a bit of a let down for me. My mother and one of my siblings are still staunch followers of Maharaj Ji but I left his fold soon after the festival and went back to searching for my own spiritual teacher, the one that could speak to my heart.
Fast forward about 2 decades later...I was in my mid 30's and living in Las Vegas with my husband and little son. I met an interesting and loving couple there and we became good friends. Avi and Nirmal Almeida told me about Samuel Sandweiss' book, "Sai Baba, the Holy Man and Psychiatrist" and said that it was a book that I must read. I got a copy of it from the Sathya Sai Bookstore in Tustin, California. I knew after reading a few chapters that this was the teacher/guide/my "everything" ...the Answer that I was looking for in my life. There was no Sai Center in that city at that time, but when our family moved to Austin, Texas within a few months I found a Sai Center and took my 4 year old son, Ryan, there and started attending weekly Sai meetings.
That was in Sept. 1996. I had been yearning to see Swami in His physical form for several years when in November 1999 a small group of 25 from Texas who had plans to travel together had a few members of their group drop out at the last minute. One of the group organizers approached me and asked if my son and I would like to join the group. I was so thrilled. But their departure date was within a week and I had to get so much done before we left...ie: get our visas, arrange for leave from work, make arrangements with Ryan's 2nd grade teacher to allow him to miss school for several weeks, shopping, packing, etc. Well, it all went smoothly, with Swami's grace, and the group traveled to Puttaparthi.
We arrived and settled into the routine of the ashram schedule and finally it was time to go to darshan. The first time I saw Swami in the physical form my heart started beating so fast that I felt I was about to faint. My heart had confirmed that He was the one for me...I was "home", in other words. I joined the Christmas choir comprised of devotees from all over the world. We had daily practice sessions.
Ryan took part in the Christmas story as one of Jesus's followers. He became a very independent little boy during that trip and every morning he'd leave with a group of international children and have fun playing with them outside. He got some money to buy himself some popcorn and pizza at the ashram cafe. I knew he was safe within the ashram grounds. He had strict instructions from me not to leave the ashram and walk outside the gates.
One day however he told me that he broke my rule and followed some children outside. He said he had tried to cross the main street in Puttaparthi and that a car came straight at him when he felt a hand grab him by the shoulder and pull him back to safety. He said he turned back to look at who it was, but that there was no one there. Anyway, he said, that incident scared him and made him realize that he should have heeded my directions to him. So he told the rest of the group that he was going back inside through the ashram gates. He also said to me, "I think that was Swami who saved me, mom." After scolding him for disobeying me I had to smile with relief and agree with his statement.
So what were my experiences with Swami on that trip? They were few and far between but each one of them precious and memorable. One day I was walking along close to Swami's residence when the guard out front waved at me and said "Are you not in the Christmas choir? Go inside ...Swami is giving out sarees to the choir ladies. Go fast. Otherwise you are going to lose your chance of getting one." So I followed his instructions and ran in to Sai Kulvant hall and was ushered straight into the mandir area. For a moment I stood in front of Swami and I got a long stern look from Him.
He then turned around and walked away. I sat down next to the line of women waiting for their sarees and I asked to the woman sitting next to me..."Where did he go?" She said "I think he's going to get some more sarees." But he never came back and within a couple of minutes we, the few ladies who were waiting for their sarees, were asked to leave. I thought "Now that was interesting. Why usher me in with such haste using the guard as a messenger and then walk away from me?" I was puzzled then but I figured it out later. Another day, during darshan Swami came by and spoke to a group of us choir ladies. I wasn't sure if I had heard Him correctly and so I turned and asked the others what they had heard ...and everyone of them had heard something different and we all had heard something unique and appropriate only for themselves. Very intriguing I thought...that Swami was able to relay unique individual messages to all of us with just a few words. Magical indeed!!
Ryan did speak to Swami during a break during play practice. Swami asked him where he was from and what his name was. A few days later he had developed a cough and was coughing during darshan. He said that Swami came by and materialized vibuthi for him and indicated for him to eat it. The vibuthi was yellow and sweet, meant to be eaten by a child. Ryan was sitting in the men's section as he had been told that he was too tall a boy to sit with me. Anyway, a few of the men in our group sitting across from my son confirmed that they saw Swami materialize the vibuthi for him and one of them said "I just had this feeling that this was going to happen for Ryan today."
Ryan said that he tried to bring some vibuthi back for me but that some unknown adult that he was seated next to grabbed what was left on his hand after he had tasted some and took the rest for himself, despite Ryan's protests. A few days later when Ryan and I were outside the ashram gates walking, Ryan saw a ladder with a platform that was being used for construction and ran up the ladder. No sooner had he had done that the gates of the ashram opened and out came a car with Swami sitting in the back seat. Swami rolled down the window, popped His head out, looked up at the platform, smiled a big smile and waved at Ryan. Of course, Ryan lit up with joy and excitement and gave Swami a huge smile in return, waving back at Him many times. Swami then looked at me, still smiling, and then His car moved on.
Finally, on Christmas day the children had just finished their play and Swami walked on stage and materialized a chain for the child who played Jesus. At the same time Ryan bent down and touched Swami's feet. He then came running to the edge of the stage with a very surprised expression and I asked him what had happened. He could hardly contain his excitement. "Mom", he said, "I got a shock when I touched Swami's feet. I felt energy that started from the bottom of my feet go up through my body and then pop out through the top of my head." His eyes were round, like little saucers, looking still very surprised as he said this. We never figured out what that was all about, although someone not of the Sai fold explained it this way by saying "That was Swami clearing out Ryan's chakras."
I am very grateful that Ryan had his various experiences with Swami. I enjoyed them vicariously through Ryan. I traveled to see Swami twice more after that first trip and every time I'd see Him walk in for darshan I'd start crying and could not stop. I'd cry for hours on end... however long He was in the room. It was really quite unusual. I felt exhilarated at times and at other times I felt very sad as I felt separate from Him...my emotions would go back and forth, in other words. I had severe headaches during those days due to dehydration most likely with all the crying, so I had to make sure I drank plenty of water.
I've had a few dreams over the years ..one in which Swami, wearing a sari, gave me a long hug and said "I am sorry" twice. A friend, Rosi Goldsmith, explained this dream that this was Swami was saying that He was (the) "saree" ...the "gift" and that I didn't need a physical gift (ex: a saree) from Him because I had the biggest gift that one could ever hope for...Swami Himself was my gift!!
Another dream was one where I was in a tourist bus and we were driving through the countryside around Puttaparthi and the Andra Pradesh countryside. All around us were the familiar plants and mounds of sand with their familiar slight tint of redness. Swami was sitting ahead of me, chatting with a friend of mine, and then turned to look at me and gave me a playful, sweet look. Another dream seemed to be a pantomime of sorts and Swami with his hair looking large and darker than usual and quite prominent seemed to be watching all the action going on in the pantomime. It was interesting as if He was watching all of us take part in the drama of life.
Anyway, so it goes...
Love and Sai Ram,