Building Prasanthi Nilayam Wherever We Are
In the mid 1980s, with the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, a small and silent Sadhana movement began in one corner of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Chettiar family (which later was instrumental in conducting the Paduka Pooja festivals and bringing the Suvarna Aditya Ratham or the golden chariot in Prasanthi Nilayam) initiated the Likhita Nama Japa Sadhana. This consisted of repeatedly writing the holy name of Swami in a book via the simple yet powerful mantra - ‘Om Sri Sai Ram’. It needed nothing more than a pen and a book. But the Sadhana had crucial requirements - one’s whole heart and complete focus.
Swami says this should be done while thinking of His name, saying His name and writing His name - and it brought about powerful results - an elevated state of being and a growing yearning for Swami in the being.
These Likhita Japa note books containing 60 crore ‘Sai Ram’ Naama written by 3,620 devotees were offered to Bhagawan in Prasanthi Nilayam on 12th November 1986. The devotees came in a procession on 12th morning, carrying the bundles of Likhita Japa note books tied in a yellow cloth. The note books were then piled in front of the Ganesha idol in the Darshan grounds. Bhagawan blessed the unique devotional offering by sprinkling materialized Vibhuti over the note books and blessed all the devotees.
It was a tiny spark of divine inspiration that grew into a conflagration over the years as more and more devotees got addicted to the bliss and peace that this form of Namasmarana in the Likhita Nama Japa Pustaka (book for writing the holy name) brought about.
Soon, hundreds and thousands of books had to be printed and distributed across Tamil Nadu. The devotional fervor spread to neighboring states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh as well.
Then came the inspired target - let us devotees offer 100 Crore (1 billion) Nama Japa to our Swami on His 70th Birthday! The Bhakti movement only grew with that goal.
The Divine Acknowledgement
On the 18th of December 1994, Swami spoke at length on the beauty and power of this sadhana. He said,
“Good company does not mean participating in bhajans and religious gatherings. Satsang truly means cultivating the company of one's Sath (conscience). It means being immersed in the contemplation of God. Carry on your daily duties with your thoughts centered on God. Deem every action as an offering to God. That is the way to perfect one's human nature and sanctify one's life.
As this may not be an easy process, the method of Likhita Japam has been recommended for purifying one's mind. Likhitha Japam is a form of spiritual exercise in which one is engaged in writing the name of the Lord). Likhitha Japam should be performed in a spirit of devotion. It is not quantity that counts. Even the writing of a few names with sincere devotion is better than filling pages mechanically.
In Tamil Nadu, numerous devotees have written with true devotion the name of ‘Sai Ram’ many crores of times, thinking of the name in their minds, spelling it by mouth, and writing it by hand. The unity of mind, speech, and action has produced purity in thought, word, and deed. Any spiritual exercise like Likhitha Japam should be done wholeheartedly.
Only then it becomes sanctified and godly. All actions should be performed in this spirit of dedication and in accordance with the dictates of one's conscience. The name of the Lord is like a precious jewel which must be considered valuable and cherished as a gem.”
In that same discourse, Swami illustrated the power of this sadhana with the example of Hanuman whose every bodily hair reverberated with the name of Lord Rama. He then reiterated the importance and effectiveness of the Likhita Nama Japa Sadhana saying,
“Sometime ago a devotional exercise called Likhita Japam was started in Tamil Nadu. It was a collective (Samashti) exercise. Large numbers of devotees assembled at one place and wrote the name of the Lord as a (spiritual exercise). The joy to be derived from such a collective effort is indescribable. The community bhajan in which all join to sing in unison is an equally blissful experience. This community singing was started by Guru Nanak. During community singing divine vibrations emerge sanctifying the whole atmosphere. The same result cannot be expected when one sings alone. Community singing promotes unity which leads to purity and divinity. Today there is no unity, purity or divinity. What mankind needs today is unity based on the spiritual oneness of humanity.”
The Divine Words Followed by Divine Action
Enthralled by Swami’s encouragement, the Likhita Japam sadhana became a movement in itself and the initial target of offering 1 billion names to Swami was far exceeded. Swami too responded to the sadhana.
On the 31st of August 1995, He accepted the loving sadhana offerings of the devotees. He had a large pit dug right in the mandir premises where all these books were placed. In that very spot, Swami installed a lovely idol of Hanuman. With a beaming smile, Swami sat on the concrete slab beside Hanuman as the gleeful photographers clicked away to glory.
The members of the Chettiar family rushed to occupy a place at Swami’s feet and Swami blessed them with photographs too. It was the grand culmination of a simple sadhana that started years ago.
On deeper introspection, we realize that another potent message was conveyed that day - that Prasanthi Nilayam stands not on a foundation of mud, stones, concrete, and cement but on the name of the Lord! Conversely, anything that has the name of the Lord as the foundation becomes Prasanthi Nilayam.
(On September 30, 1999, the idols of Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita also were added and an altar was created at the northern end of the Sai Kulwant Hall.)
Building Our Own Prasanthi Nilayam
When Swami created the magnificent super specialty hospitals, there were questions about their sustainability. And when both sustained for decades, there were questions on whether a couple of hospitals are sufficient to solve the problems of all the poor and needy.
The Avatar hasn’t come on a medical mission to build hospitals. The mission is not as ephemeral as that. It is to inspire everyone to follow Him on the path of Sathya, Dharma, and Prema and realize the innate Divinity. The hospitals are just a physical concretization of that mission. And that ensures the rise of many such hospitals in the times to come as a side-effect of one’s adherence to the path of Sathya, Dharma, and Prema.
The same holds true with Prasanthi Nilayam. We cannot build it in every country for it can have no second. Nor is it possible for everyone to travel to Puttaparthi for various reasons. But what is definitely possible is to base all our actions and activities on Swami’s name - follow that path of Sathya, Dharma, and Prema He has paved for us.
In that context, as we build altars, shrines and centres for Him, let us make sure that it is built on the foundation of His name and not mere mud, stones, concrete and cement. Prasanthi Nilayam is born from the Karma and Bhakti of the devotees.
As we build any temple for Swami, let us first get together as Samashti (community) and engage in Likhita Nama Japam and other sadhana. Let us remember His words -
“Large numbers of devotees assembled at one place and wrote the name of the Lord as a (spiritual exercise). The joy to be derived from such a collective effort is indescribable.”
If there is one song that Swami Himself declared to contain the essence of all His teachings, it is the Telugu song - “Sai Mata Biddalam Andaram” (We are all the children of Mother Sai). There is a line in that song that says, “Desham Ante Matti Kadu Desham Ante Manushaloi” (A country isn’t the land; A country is its people). In the same vein, “Prasanthi Nilayam Ante Matti Kadu, Prasanthi Nilayam Ante Manushaloi (Prasanthi Nilayam isn’t a piece of land; Prasanthi Nilayam is its people.)
As Swami has shown, let our abodes for Swami be built on our devotional efforts. Let us become true devotees so that all our temples are worthy abodes for our Bhagawan.