Be Ever Ready for God

In 1989, I had traveled to India for just three weeks to see Swami, and my wife stayed back to look after our home and the Sai Center, which was operating in our home, where 75 to 100 devotees joined the satsang every week. When I arrived in India on 29th of February, Swami was staying in the Whitefield Ashram. One evening, I was invited to the coveted Trayee session with the students at Swami’s residence, and to my surprise Swami asked me to speak to the students. This caught me by surprise, but also taught me an important lesson—always be ready for the Divine call. In my shock, I even failed to ask Swami to help me to speak, and I ended up probably giving the worst talk of my life.

file photo: El Salvador - John Behner at the Sathya Sai Conference on Ideal Healthcare in April 2009

Love My Uncertainty

When it was time to return to El Salvador, I called the airline to reconfirm my reservation, and the lady replied saying, “what reservation?” She said that my name is not on the list of passengers, and there are no more seats available on that flight – so she asked me whether I wanted to be on a waiting list. Totally confused, I told her I would call back later. When I went for darshan in the afternoon, Swami asked me when I was leaving, and I told him that my reservation was cancelled, and I did not know exactly when I could get a reservation.

Swami gave me that jovial look when He is playing a joke on you, and said, “I know, Swami will tell you when to leave.” I thought “Fine, I will take a few more days of vacation.” I called my employer in New York and informed them that I would be returning a few days late. This was a multinational company, and I was the manager for their operation in El Salvador with over 350 employees.

After a few days, I learned that Swami was going to Chennai. So, I asked Swami if I should join, hoping that He would tell me to go home. But He said, “Yes, come to Chennai.” So, I went along with many other devotees to Chennai, where we had darshan at Abbotsbury and Sundaram. The nagarsankirtan had over 10,000 devotees participating, and special traffic sevadals were helping the local police to keep the crowd in order. After a few days we returned to Whitefield, and Swami still gave me no word about my return date. So, I sent a telegram to the company saying that I was still delayed.

El Salvador - Water Project 2

Next, I heard that Swami was going to Kodaikanal. So again, I asked Swami if I should come to Kodaikanal, thinking this time He would surely tell me to go home.  By this time, it was already April, and I was having a difficult time explaining to my boss in New York that God would tell me when I could return. I also had to file my income taxes by the due date of April 15, but without the necessary information filing taxes is impossible. However, Swami said “Yes, come to Kodaikanal.”  I had been to Kodaikanal twice before, in 1984 and 1985, but this time it was totally a different experience. I was invited into Swami’s home at night to hear Swami’s wonderful stories and listen to students’ satsangs every night.  We were in Kodaikanal for 6 weeks. Because the bhajan hall was being expanded, we worked after morning darshan everyday excavating the mountainside to make room for the larger hall. Swami would stop by occasionally and supervise the work, then give packages of milkshake to everyone. I had five interviews with Him, and on every occasion, I would ask Swami about my returning home. He would respond only with an evasive answer, such as, “I will see you tomorrow,” or “wait,” or He would adroitly change the subject. It was already May when our stay in Kodaikanal came to an end, and it was time to return to Whitefield via Ooty.

I was still wondering what Swami had in mind for me. Does He want me to stay and teach business management in His University? Or does He want me to quit my job in this “fool company” (I worked for a large multinational food company) as He called it? A few days after we reached Whitefield, I received a telegram from the company informing me that I could stay in India as long as I wanted, because I no longer had a job. It was already June 1. I tried to show the wire to Swami, but by now our warm relationship seemed to have dissolved and I no longer seemed to exist for Him! However, I still had the privilege of attending the Trayee sessions at night. One evening, Swami told a story about how Avatars don’t always tell their devotees what to do but communicate by a sign. The devotee must be sufficiently astute to recognize and understand the message. 

A Sign from God

Haiti - Narayana Seva for the Needy

After the session adjourned, I was standing outside Swami’s door praying, hoping that He would give me a sign, and help me be sufficiently astute to recognize the sign and interpret it correctly. When I opened my eyes, there was a 5-paisa coin near my feet. I picked it up, not because of its value, but because I was thinking what a strange thing to find a coin outside of Swami’s door where the sevadals regularly sweep the floors. I was tossing the coin in the air while walking back to my room, and all of a sudden it hit me that the number 5 on the coin could be an indication of the date of my departure. The 5th of June was coming up. I called the airline next morning and was told that there was a long waiting list for the flight on the 5th of June.  As it turned out, on 5th of June Swami was leaving for Prasanthi Nilayam, and all the students had lined up on either side of Swami’s car as He left.  I too got in the line. When Swami came up to me, I asked him if I should leave that day. He did not answer immediately but turned to give padnamaskar to the other line of students. Then I heard Him say, “Yes, yes, yes.”   One does not know if He is answering your question or talking with someone else, but He did say it thrice.

I decided to take a chance and went to the domestic airport where I boarded the local flight to Delhi. With my visa expired and my non-endorsable 45-day international ticket in hand, would I have the same luck?  The lady at the reservation desk gave us the bad news that the flight was oversold. After all the passengers boarded the flight, there were about 25 of us standing around and wait-listed. Then another lady at the counter announced that all the waiting passengers will be put on an Air India flight to Schiphol Airport, in Amsterdam, which was the next connecting location. Thus, my non-endorsable, expired ticket got me to Europe, and then on to the ongoing connecting flight home. I called my boss from Europe and told him that I was on my way home, and I will drop by the office on Monday to collect my final paycheck.  He just said OK and said that we will talk on Monday.

Shower of Divine Grace

When I arrived at the office on Monday, the employees were all happy to see me.  There was no replacement sitting at my desk. I looked at the financial results while I was away and noticed that they were even better than when I left. I called my boss and asked what he wanted me to do. He said that they have been discussing my case in New York (headquarters) and they decided to give me a 25% salary increase!  Incredulously, I asked, “How much?” I thought I had misunderstood him. He further said that I will receive pay for the full time I was away in India, as paid vacation. Perplexed, I said “What?”  Then he explained that when the company analyzed the present results compared to the previous year, it clearly showed another year of excellent performance. Therefore, I would also receive a bonus. It was literally raining money on me, or shall I say God’s grace?  As for the tax filing deadline, I came to know that the US Government had extended the income tax filing date from the usual April 15th to June30th, and I had plenty of time to file my taxes without penalty. Such were the showers of Divine grace from Swami!

Jai Sai Ram 

Mr. John Behner - Mr. Behner came to Bhagawan in 1979. He has served in the Sri Sathya Sai International Organization as Center President, Central Council President, Zone Chairman of Latin America, and Co-Chairman, Humanitarian Relief Committee – to name a few. He is the President of the Sai Foundation of El Salvador since 1989. He was a successful businessman owning the first frozen food company in Central America and worked for 20 years as the executive in-charge of a country of a multinational food company.