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This month, we observe Easter on April 9 and Aradhana Mahotsavam on April 24. Both occasions remind us of the message of love and sacrifice by Lord Jesus Christ and Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba for the upliftment and redemption of humanity. It was a unique event on April 24, 2011, when Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba left His physical form on the auspicious Easter Sunday. In 2011, traditional Easter and orthodox Easter coincided on the same day, a Sai-incidence. This shows that love and sacrifice are supreme.

Just as Jesus continued to teach and minister to His disciples after the resurrection, Swami continues to guide and protect us as our Eternal Companion after transitioning from form to formless.

How Can We Express Gratitude to God?

Through Aradhana (worship) we express our gratitude to God. We owe everything–our body, mind, and possessions–to the Lord. These are all the gifts of God. In return, we can offer love and purity as an expression of gratitude. Lord Krishna says in Chapter 9, Sloka 26 of the Bhagavad Gita, “If one offers to Me a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, with purity, love, and devotion, I will accept it.”

Therefore, it is essential to have pure heart and intense love. Swami often emphasized that God looks at the quality, not the quantity of the offering.

Divine love is the foundation of all Aradhana. Swami said Love is the Source, path, and goal of life.

In the discourse of November 23, 1994, on His Birthday, Swami exhorted us,

“What is My directive? What is it that will please Me? What is that I desire? Only one thing: Love, Love, Love. That is Sai’s most potent weapon.”

Jesus asked, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” He recognized the contribution of an old woman who placed two pence in the offerings box at the temple of Jerusalem. Calling His disciples, He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave part of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, offered everything–all she had to live on.” It is the qualities and love of the devotee that touches the Lord.

On May 17, 1968, Swami said that following His instructions is enough and is more fruitful than all the austerities, japa, and meditation we do to reach the goal of life. His teachings should be followed implicitly, immediately, and completely. Swami spoke about Aradhana, or worship, in a divine discourse on July 20, 1996, where He went in-depth about the types of Aradhana (ways to worship God).

Types of Aradhana

Swami described four types of AradhanaSathyavati (Truth-based), Angavati (Manifestation-based), Anyavati (Symbol-based), and Nidanavati (Slow, steady and sure).

The first is Sathyavati Aradhana. In this, the devotee worships God with the faith that He is immanent in every particle of the universe, just as butter is present in every drop of milk.

The next is Angavati Aradhana. Those who follow this path consider each of the five elements, namely, ether, air, fire, water, and earth, as the manifestation of God and worship them. These five elements are represented in the human body as shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, and gandha (hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell), respectively.

The third path is Anyavati Aradhana. People who follow this path ascribe various names and forms with specific attributes to God. They worship God with attributes like love, mercy, and compassion and reach the ultimate goal.

The fourth type of worship is Nidanavati Aradhana. People who perform this sadhana (spiritual practice) follow nine paths of devotion:

  • Shravanam (listening)
  • Kirtanam (singing)
  • Vishnusmaranam (contemplating on Vishnu)
  • Padasevanam (serving His Lotus Feet)
  • Vandanam (salutation)
  • Archanam (worship)
  • Dasyam (servitude)
  • Sneham (friendship)
  • Atmanivedanam (self-surrender)

By following these nine paths of devotion, devotees can contemplate on God and attain the goal of life. There are as many paths as there are beings. We can follow any of these paths with intensity, sincerity, and clarity to reach the goal.

On many occasions, in His discourses, Swami beautifully described the flowers of worship that God likes. He says:

Puvvulanni Thecchi Pooja Chesina,

Mechchu-konadu Thaanu

Hrudaya Kamalamivva Sadayudai

Grahiyinchu Sathya Sai, Shanti Prema Dayi.

(Telugu Poem)

You may bring any number and variety of flowers. Neither will I accept nor will I be pleased by them. But I will happily accept the flower of your heart and grant you peace and love. Swami also enumerated the eight flowers of devotion that one can offer to please God.

The Eight Flowers of Devotion to Be Offered

  1. Nonviolence (Ahimsa)
  2. Sense Control (Indriya Nigraham)
  3. Compassion For All Beings (Sarva Bhootha Daya)
  4. Forbearance (Kshama)
  5. Peace (Shanti)
  6. Penance (Thapas)
  7. Meditation (Dhyana)
  8. Truth (Sathya)

Let us briefly discuss these eight flowers, which God is pleased to accept.

Nonviolence (Ahimsa): Lord Buddha says, Ahimsa Paramo DharmaAhimsa is the highest Dharma (right conduct). Nonviolence is not just avoiding physical violence. It goes beyond that to the level of words and thoughts. It has to be practiced in thought, word, and deed. It begins with not hurting anyone physically. The next stage is not hurting anyone with words. Sometimes verbal abuse can cause more harm than physical injury. People carry anger and resentment for a lifetime and sometimes for generations. The highest level of practice is to not hurt even in thoughts. Thoughts are very powerful, and they travel fast. They can uplift or cause harm. That is why Swami encouraged people to have good thoughts by singing the name and glory of God even while walking in the streets (Nagar Sankirtan). Prayers like ‘Samasta Loka Sukhino Bhavantu’ (May all the world be happy) embrace everything in the universe, with love including galaxies, stars, planets, animals, plants, and human beings.

Sense Control (Indriya Nigraham): For a spiritual seeker, the fundamental practice is to control the senses. It is said in the Brahma Sutras (Vedantic treatise) that the person in search of the knowledge of Brahman (Ultimate Reality) first needs to practice control of the senses and the mind. So, even for a wise man, Lord Krishna says, the senses are turbulent and disturb him. Like a tortoise that withdraws its limbs within the shell when it comes across noxious stimuli, a wise man withdraws his senses from distractions and temptations. That is why Swami exhorts us to bend the body, mend the senses and end the mind. But, controlling the senses outside and contemplating on sense objects inside is being a hypocrite.

Suppressing the senses could be risky as, after a while, they explode. It is more critical to direct the senses for the right and sacred purposes. Sense control is then automatically achieved. Swami says to use senses to see, hear, think, speak, and do only good. Emphasizing the importance of sense control during the discourse on His 69th Birthday, Swami said, “Today, as an offering to Swami, give up eating meat, consuming liquor, and smoking. By renouncing these three, you will benefit yourselves as well as society and the nation.”

Compassion for All Beings (Sarva Bhootha Daya): Lord Krishna says that one who considers the pain and suffering of others as one’s own and tries to alleviate them is the greatest Yogi. One of the greatest examples of the practice of compassion is Lord Buddha. He denounced animal sacrifice. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba showed compassion not only to human beings and animals but also to trees and so-called inanimate objects. Once, when cement walls were being built in the ashram, someone was spraying water on the cement with force. Swami sent a message that the walls should be watered gently! Even inanimate objects are permeated with consciousness. So, we must ensure that we tread softly and revere everything and everyone. The great master Sri Ramakrishna was so connected with the universal consciousness, that he identified himself even with the grass! One day, when a man was walking on grass, Sri Ramakrishna felt his chest hurting, as if the man was walking on his chest.

Forbearance (Kshama): Swami says that the greatest virtue for a spiritual seeker is the practice of forbearance. He gives the example of the Lord Jesus. When Jesus was crucified, instead of cursing those persecuting him, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Swami was the greatest example of forbearance when He was subjected to torture and sorcery in His childhood by those who mistook His behavior to be caused by demonic forces. Without a complaint, He exhibited fortitude and patience. In His discourse on May 25, 2000, Swami extolled Kshama as the grandest and noblest virtue. Forbearance helps us develop the courage to face troubles with determination and live in bliss despite challenges.

Peace (Shanti): In his letter to the Church at Phillippe, Saint Paul mentions, “Peace that passeth all understanding.” Swami calls this peace Prasanthi; It is not an ordinary peace but supreme peace unaffected by any situation, event, or person. Swami also shows us how to have such peace. When we say, “I want peace,” Swami says to remove the ‘I’ or ego and the ‘want’ or desires. Then, you are automatically left with supreme peace! This is at the individual level. At the worldly level, Swami says,

“Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in character.

Where there is beauty in character, there is harmony in the home.

Where there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation.

Where there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.”

Penance (Thapas): The spiritual seeker is expected to undertake austerities and lead a disciplined life. This is a long-standing tradition among many faiths. For instance, Muslims fast for 30 days during Ramadan, Christians fast for 40 days during Lent, and Hindus observe fasts on various occasions, including Maha Shivaratri. But the real penance for this age, Swami says, is to practice Trikarana Suddhi (unity and purity of thought, word, and deed). What we think we should say, and what we say we should do. Whenever there is no harmony in thought, word, and deed, it will lead to agitation. Lord Krishna also clearly describes Thapas at the body, mind, and word levels in Chapter 17 of the Bhagavad Gita.

Meditation (Dhyana): This is an essential spiritual practice, and Swami has elaborated on it in His book, ‘ Dhyana Vahini.’ Swami says that everything we do should be done as meditation. But Swami knows our mind is turbulent, fickle, and wavering. So, to control the mind, one should constantly practice and observe detachment from the external, sensory world. Swami was benevolent in saying that even if we are able to concentrate on God for 11 seconds, He will appear before us. Before meditating, we must prepare ourselves by practicing control of the body, senses, mind, and breath.

Truth (Sathya): The final flower of worship is Truth. Swami says God is Truth, and Truth is God. His name itself is ‘Sathya.’ Even before He declared Himself as Sathya Sai Baba, His given name at birth was Sathyanarayana. Swami says where there is Truth, there is God. One should adhere to truth and honor the given word at all costs. To uphold the path of Truth, Rama relinquished the kingdom and was exiled to the forest, honoring his father’s words. The noble king Harishchandra gave away his kingdom and renounced his family, to honor the promise he has given and adhere to truth. Every word Swami says is a mantra, and it is always true. Whether it was the establishment of hospitals or various service projects, His words always became a reality. In His infinite compassion, Swami kept the promises He gave devotees, blessing them by appearing at the last moments of their life.

Our heart gets purified when we worship the Lord by offering these eight flowers. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God! Swami says that purity leads to divinity. Once we experience divinity, we reach the final stage, the goal of Aradhana, where we realize the Truth. We see unity in diversity and oneness in creation. We see that every moment and every atom is permeated by the divine–Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma.

Experience Bliss Through Aradhana

We then live in the bliss of the Self. This bliss is beyond the comprehension of the mind and expression by words. As the Taittriya Upanishad says, “This bliss is many times more than the ordinary happiness we enjoy at the physical level (Manushyananda), which is the happiness of a youthful person, who has all physical beauty, strength, who is intellectual with noble character, and who has all the wealth and power in the world. If Manushyananda is one unit of happiness, then Atmananda is described to be 1018 units, quintillion times greater!

When we do Aradhana sincerely with devotion and dedication, we not only experience Atmananda (bliss of the Self) but also see the oneness, namely unity in diversity. This is Jnana (supreme wisdom); as the scriptures proclaim–Advaita darshanam jnanam (seeing oneness is wisdom).

Swami, in His infinite love and compassion, has prescribed many methods of Aradhana to spiritual seekers depending on their level of understanding and spiritual progress. A combination of any/all of these paths will lead us to the goal of Self Realization with His grace and our sincere efforts.

Jai Sai Ram.