You must know how to use the opportunity you got in this life, having come in contact with the Lord. The lamp illuminates, but it can be used for various purposes, good or bad; the Ganges is sacred, but its waters are used for good or bad purposes. How you use this opportunity depends on your destiny, your luck, and how much grace you are able to earn. Develop faith; strengthen devotion, and the rest will come by itself.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba, September 29, 1960
The above quotation made me think about the great responsibility and opportunity that Swami gave us by being able to see Him, touch Him and, above all, receive His teachings directly from Him. I want to share the lessons I learned as I recollect His advice during my interviews.
The Omnipresent Loving Lord
We visited the ashram for the first time in 1984, and every year thereafter. Five years passed before Baba called us for an interview for the first time in 1989. We were a small group of five Salvadorans, and to our joy, He gave us three interviews, one after another. Although the interviews were short, Swami revealed different facets of His divinity:
1. as a benevolent and loving mother;
2. as a stern father giving instructions for a dharmic (righteous) life; and
3. as the omnipresent Lord who knows the most intimate details of our lives.
He showed His omnipotence by manifesting a beautiful ring that fits perfectly on the finger of the devotee who received it. But what filled us with the greatest joy was His blessings on us and our children for happy family life and His promise to see us in Puttaparthi the year after with our children. It suddenly flashed in my mind that it was expensive to travel to India, and reading my mind, He looked at me and said, "Don't worry; I will provide the means." It happened exactly as He said. To take care of my late father's belongings, I applied for leave without pay from the Social Security Institute the following year. But due to politics, I lost my position as head of the teaching department. Later, when I filed for retirement, I was awarded compensation, which was sufficient for our whole family to travel to India. It was His way of letting me know that He knew my thoughts, and He kept His word by granting me the resources to come to Prasanthi Nilayam with my family.
His teachings transformed our lives. We realized what actions were righteous and justified and how to act correctly. We also understood what we needed to do to overcome the vasanas (impulses and tendencies) we carried forth from previous lives. We grasped the need to control the senses, deny the temptations caused by the bombardment of stimuli from the outer world, concentrate on God and repeat His name, and be aware of the repercussions of our thoughts, words, and actions.
In April 1990, just after the guerrilla offensive in San Salvador had passed, our family had a memorable journey to Puttaparthi. On that trip, I had been granted the privilege of sitting in the mandir's veranda; when Swami passed by me, I mentioned to Him that our group was eager for an interview. "I'll call you after darshan" was His response – so it happened.
You can imagine our overwhelming joy when we were called for the interview. Swami’s words showed that He knew everything about the lives of every one of us. He materialized a Siva lingam for a doctor in the group, forecasted a good husband devoted to Swami for our daughter (which came true later, beyond our expectations), and a university degree for our son (an excellent student who graduated with honors). He taught us the need for unity in the family, which is vital for individual and social happiness and emphasized the need for marital fidelity. He blessed me with a long and healthy life (I am now 82 and healthy). We will be grateful forever for the joy of being in His presence with our entire family.
The experiences we have had over the years with Sri Sathya Sai Baba have given us a deeper understanding of the law of karma. As a result, we have made an earnest attempt to make the right choices in our lives, and we pray that we may continue to do so in the future.
At a very young age, I joined the Boy Scouts, which prepared me for working in the Sri Sathya Sai International Organization since selfless service is one of the pillars of Baba's teachings. For 13 years, we conducted a monthly medical camp in a rural area. We gave our time and energy to provide free healthcare for people in need, and dispense medicine saturated with His love. Swami's presence was very much felt since the very beginning of our service. It is very apt to remember His assurance that if we take one step toward Him, He will take a hundred steps toward us.
On one occasion, Swami told the students in the mandir, "To reach the ultimate goal, determination is very important in addition to discrimination." But what struck me the most was that we must be determined to leave behind our bad habits or persistent desires, to continue on the path of dharma and not relegate them to be done later because we don't know if we will ever find time later.
Do More Sadhana
During our last interview, I prayed to Baba, "Swami, help me have the determination to improve myself spiritually." He responded: "Do more sadhana to develop determination. You are doing good sadhana but do more."
Reflecting on my life, I am grateful that I have had a long and healthy life. However, I am committed not to rest on my laurels but instead spend the rest of my life engaged in spiritual practices that will take me toward Self-realization to merge with the Divine. Let us live with the name of God on our lips and let our actions be saturated with the divine love of God.
Jai Sai Ram
Dr. Hector J. Castaneda
About the Author:
Dr. Héctor José Castaneda was a Professor of Internal Medicine and Neurology at the Faculty of Medicine of the National University of El Salvador for 25 years. Dr. Castaneda is the founder and past President of the El Salvador Neurological Sciences Society. He received a doctorate in medicine from El Salvador University in 1966 and completed postgraduate residency in neurology in 1973 at Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA. Dr. Castaneda came to Swami in 1984 and has served in the SSSIO of El Salvador since 1985. He has held various positions, including National Council President of El Salvador, and Central Coordinator for Mexico and Central America. He is the Medical Director of Zone 2A for the countries of Central America, Mexico.
First published in Eternal Companion Vol. 1, Iss. 7