Dr. Hari Conjeevaram

Ever since my childhood, the world I knew, growing up with my parents, was always about helping others and considering everyone as equal. My parents, both being doctors, influenced me to become a doctor and helped shape the person I am today. Given a chance at home, I used to wear one of my father’s long white coats that was twice my size and act like a real doctor. I was greatly influenced by my father to look for others’ need and offer them help. He would bring people from the street into our house to take care of them and he used to allow patients and their families to stay at our house when they could not afford accommodation. I would often come home from school to find strangers staying in the garage in our house, feeling comfortable and at ease. These strangers were, in fact, my father’s patients and it took me a while to realise that all are God’s children. And once I got to know Swami, I realised the truth that they were indeed my sisters and brothers. 

Heart-to-Heart  Communication with Swami through Seva 

My yearning to go out and serve others started early in my teenage years. When I was in 11th grade, I felt compelled to go and help neighbouring villagers after a major cyclone hit Andhra Pradesh. It was there that I had the unique opportunity to meet Mother Teresa, who personified Swami’s message of ‘Love All Serve All’ through her life. It was also the beginning of my own journey to look for others’ need and follow my heart to serve those in need. 

I first visited Puttaparthi when I was in medical school. Although Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba was not physically present in Prasanthi Nilayam, I felt a sense of calm and peace in my heart. Soon after, the yearning to see the physical form of Swami took me to Whitefield. My first glimpse of our Beloved Lord from a distance was the start of a new chapter in my life. His message about the universality of all religions and ‘Love All Serve All’ was all that I needed to follow Him and seek His guidance. I have been tremendously blessed by Swami with so many opportunities to serve Him in all our brothers and sisters across the globe. Through these opportunities, I have been a witness to my own spiritual transformation – which I consider to be the biggest miracle of Swami in my life. Being a doctor, I have been privileged to see Him, love Him and serve Him in others and be a constant witness of my own spiritual progress.  

I have learnt over the years that as long as we desire to serve others, we not only have to seize the obvious opportunities that are presented but we must also recognise the need in everyone we interact with, at every moment in our daily lives. Where I was and where I am now as a human being and as a doctor, I owe it all to Swami for guiding me to see goodness and God and feel His love in every patient I care for.  

The first time I had the opportunity to volunteer as a doctor was in a medical camp in Puttaparthi, when I was doing my Postgraduate Fellowship training in gastroenterology in the United States. It was one of the most profound experiences in my life when I realised the truth that everything that we do to help others is through heart-to-heart communication with Swami. This heart-to-heart communication cannot be influenced by anyone, even those who may seem physically and spiritually close to Swami. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to serve in medical camps in Prasanthi Nilayam every year and also in other countries such as Guyana and Kazakhstan. The unconditional love, the caring and the empathy that Sathya Sai doctors and volunteers reflect, while doing service, is so profound that people who are being served not only recognise the love, but also the divine power influencing it.  

I was honoured to care for an elderly woman while in a medical camp in Kazakhstan – I could sense that she was worried about her health and I spent some time with her inquiring about her medical issues and explaining everything in detail. She expressed how happy she was that I spent so much time to care for her, but it was what she told me directly that was most significant. She looked at me with soothing eyes and told me and my interpreter, “You have love in your heart and peace in your eyes”. To me it was a reflection of Swami’s pure love and a heart-to-heart connection that she was experiencing. This made me realise that when we do our part, Swami’s love will always shine through and people who do not even know about Swami will recognise His love which prompts us to serve all. Incidents like these remind me how blessed we are to be part of His Mission and to have the opportunity to serve Him. 

Through the years, I have also been a witness to several natural disasters across the globe and had the unique opportunity to serve the affected victims and the needy in several countries including the United States (Hurricane Katrina), Sri Lanka (Tsunami), Haiti (earthquake), Philippines (Typhoon Yolanda), and Ecuador (earthquake). Each and every time, Swami has guided me along with others. I have witnessed the impossible happen when we do our part to help others and have faith in Him. What an incredible blessing it is to be the conduit for such services, as He takes care of everyone while giving us the chance to transform ourselves spiritually. 

Sermon in a Church 

One particular experience in Haiti also taught me that when we serve unconditionally and with love and caring, it is the divine in us that is recognised and is experienced. This breaks all external barriers and all one sees and feels is the ‘universal divine’. While volunteering in a medical camp at one of the churches in Port-au-Prince after the Haiti earthquake, I was invited to attend the Sunday prayers at the church. I was very happy to go as I feel that God is the same in all faiths, with different names and forms. After some initial prayers and a few speeches by the head priest of the church and other visiting priests, one of the priests announced that I would be delivering the Sunday sermon.  

After the initial shock and apprehension on hearing my name called out to give the sermon, my immediate thought was that I was not a Christian, leave alone the fact that I had never given a sermon before. But immediately I realised that Swami was uniting the divine in each one of us and it did not matter whether I was a Christian or not. The divine in me would communicate with the divine in every one of the several hundred people gathered in the church that morning.  This gave me confidence that I could indeed give the sermon. In my sermon, I shared what I learnt from being in Swami’s fold. His universal teachings were applicable to all, including all the Christian brothers and sisters watching me and hearing me speak. I knew I had connected with them heart to heart when they loudly exclaimed ‘Halleluiah’ in unison throughout my sermon – as I was relaying Swami’s teachings of love, empathy and service to all. 

Gastroenterology  Endoscopy  Unit  in  Puttaparthi  Hospital 

In 2007, when I came to Puttaparthi to volunteer at the medical camp during Swami’s Birthday celebrations, Swami instilled the thought in my mind how wonderful it would be to be able to provide much needed gastroenterology services in His hospital. Little did I know that He was placing these thoughts in the minds of others as well. After I returned to the US, I received a call from Dr. Narendranath Reddy, Chairman, Prasanthi Council, asking me if I would put together a team of gastroenterologists to help set up gastroenterology services in Puttaparthi. I had not shared my thoughts with Dr. Reddy and I realised then that it was part of Swami’s divine play and He was coordinating everything. When Dr. Reddy presented the initial list of nine gastroenterologists during Sivarathri celebrations, Swami blessed and approved each one of them and instructed Dr. Reddy to proceed. Swami even gave a date for the inauguration of the Gastroenterology Endoscopy Unit in the Super Speciality Hospital. And that was the beginning of an incredible, inspiring and transforming journey. I have witnessed so many miracles that I am convinced that what the human mind cannot conceive of, can indeed happen if God wills it. However, we need to have faith in His Will and also do our part in His Mission. Swami blessed us, and everyone present at the Super Speciality Hospital by inaugurating the Gastroenterology Endoscopy Unit in July 2008. On 12th July 2018, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Gastroenterology Department at SSSIHMS, and His blessings continue to be with everyone including the doctors, nurses and staff taking care of the patients, as well as the patients themselves.  

As an academic physician and gastroenterologist, I have had the distinct opportunity to not only teach the residents and nurses at Swami’s hospitals in Puttaparthi but also to bring trainees under my supervision from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA to His hospitals to experience selfless service. One of our nurses at the University, Sri John Whelan travelled to Puttaparthi in July 2008 to help set up the GI Endoscopy Unit at the Super Speciality Hospital and also train the nurses on endoscopy procedures and services. Witnessing the selfless love and caring that he experienced at the hospital, Sri Whelan wrote, “What is being accomplished in Puttaparthi at the Super Speciality Hospital, and through the Sai Organisation is health- care delivery that very practically and genuinely exemplifies the message: Service to man is service to God”. 

To me the very essence of being an ideal doctor is exemplifying humanness. According to Swami, humanness is ‘unity in thought, word and deed’ and I have strived to practise it at all times as a doctor and a human being.  As a doctor, this has been made easy by practising mindfulness and giving full attention to every patient I encounter each and every time and reminding myself that what brings us together is the God in each one of us. How we conduct ourselves with our patients and everyone we come across and show compassion, empathy and love by connecting heart to heart in a selfless and unconditional manner, is the most important aspect of being an ideal doctor and an exemplary person. I feel very blessed to be a doctor in Swami’s fold in this life, and I am most grateful to Him for the opportunities He has given and continues to give all of us and for always guiding me along His path.  

– The author, Dr. Hari Conjeevaram, is Professor of Medicine, University of Michigan, USA. Presently, he is serving the Sathya Sai International Organisation as a Member of International Medical Committee.