Dr. Juglans Alvarez

The first search result that appeared on the internet was this magnificent hospital in India, where cardiac surgery was offered free of charge to needy people according to the best clinical protocols, with love and compassion, in a sacred spiritual atmosphere. It was a tremendous discovery and I was excited beyond belief that something so perfect could exist on this planet! As I scrolled down to get the details, there He was again – 15 years later – Sathya Sai Baba!                   

Speaking of  personal experiences in a spiritual journey is a difficult task. Although I am an adult and a cardiothoracic surgeon, I am still a child spiritually. It is a struggle for me to discuss the highlights of my profound personal experiences with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I will, however, try to share His love that I have experienced. My experiences are deeply transforming, beautiful and touching. I pray to Swami to allow me to be humble and be an instrument of His love. 

I was born in south Brazil in the early 1970s, in a community strongly rooted in Christianity. Most of South America passionately follows the Christian faith. I was baptised as a Catholic, went to a Catholic school and was raised in a warm and loving family, sharing the compassionate and loving universal values prescribed by the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” 

Brazil is a multicultural society. Living in Brazil has allowed me to learn from many people of diverse cultures. During my childhood, the native American and African spirituality and my Christian background opened doors for me to the universality of faiths and spirituality. This led me to the discovery of the brotherhood of man and the oneness of creation. 

From this point, as a young adult, I started a spiritual journey, exploring various aspects of different religions and traditions and I was exposed to the many facets of the multicultural Brazilian spirituality. Simple, loving and warm-hearted are some of the words that aptly describe the characteristics of the South American people. 

My  First Exposure to Swami 

I was happily walking along this joyous spiritual highway when I first heard of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I was 19 years old, a medical student at that time. A Brazilian devotee had returned from a visit to the Ashram and Prasanthi Nilayam and shared his impressions and miraculous experiences. India, at that time, was an imaginary place for me as this was the pre-internet era and there was no information available about Asia, especially India. What I knew about India was gleaned from books and the National Geographic magazine. I vividly remember my strong feelings from that initial introduction to Baba. I knew that saints existed and performed miracles. But, I felt that the miracles of Sathya Sai Baba were only a small part of something more sublime. It was a transformative experience, sparked by pure love and compassion. I was amazed to learn that millions of people were being exposed to ideal human values in education, healthcare and daily living for decades, in a country far away. I also marvelled that this spiritual transformation was happening in the midst of a world in turmoil, in the late 20th century. Lastly, a secret desire began to take root and grow in me to directly experience this astounding phenomenon. But India seemed to be as far away as another galaxy at that point of my life. 

Many years passed, and I continued my spiritual, personal and professional journey, always eager to learn from many different spiritual traditions. I finished medical school and pursued specialisation in the field of cardiovascular surgery. I met Alice, an endocrinologist, and we were married in 2003. My professional life was prospering, but I thought that something was missing. I felt that leading a spiritual life and practising medicine were not compatible, and I continued to search for the meaning of life. 

It was late 2005 when Alice and I received wonderful news that we would soon become parents. Our daughter Isadora, after coming into our family, played a major role in bringing Baba back into our lives. After becoming a father, my desire to live a meaningful, spiritual life intensified and I began integrating spirituality into all aspects of my life, internal and external. So, as per common practice, my desire to learn led me to search the internet – I typed the words “Spirituality – Cardiac Surgery” and pressed Enter. The first search result that appeared on the internet was this magnificent hospital in India, where cardiac surgery was offered free of charge to needy people according to the best clinical protocols, with love and compassion, in a sacred spiritual atmosphere. It was a tremendous discovery and I was excited beyond belief that something so perfect could exist on this planet! As I scrolled down to get the details, there He was again – 15 years later – Sathya Sai Baba! This was one of His hospitals. I wondered if I could visit the hospital, but India was still a distant, far-away destination. Isadora was going to be born soon and I was busy with my career. I thought that maybe I could fulfil my wish to visit His hospital some day in the distant future. 

Swami’s ways are mysterious, and this was just the beginning. Shortly thereafter, there were many interesting “coincidences” as people started to give me pictures, books and other media material related to Sri Sathya Sai Baba. As I was well-steeped in spiritual traditions since childhood, with an open mind and curiosity, I began trying to understand and experience Swami as the ultimate manifestation of God, a true Avatar – a Poorna Avatar. For the next three years, I read, watched and listened to everything that I came across related to Him. But, again, India was too far away for this young cardiac surgeon who had newly become a father. 

In 2008, a friend visited us. A picture of Swami was in our house and she exclaimed, “I know Him! And I have some other friends here in town that went to visit Him.” I was thrilled to meet these people who then shared their beautiful experiences from nine previous visits to Swami’s Ashram. They shared glowingly their uplifting divine experiences from these visits. 

Visit to Prasanthi  Nilayam,  2009 

Alice, my wife, was already a “candidate devotee” like me. It was early 2009, and there was a Guru Purnima trip to the Ashram being planned by the Brazilian delegation. Although I wanted to go to India, I was reluctant due to some recurring issues. It was very difficult to take 2-3 weeks off from my cardiac surgery practice and we felt that we could not take our three-year old daughter with us. But our loving Swami presented us with so many exciting, unimaginable Leelas that it became clear that we should go. Finally, as a wedding anniversary gift, Alice bought us tickets to visit the Ashram with the Brazilian delegation during Guru Purnima 2009. 

During that incredible Guru Purnima trip, I was convinced that my spiritual yearning and quest for divinity would be realised. Everything I was searching for, over so many years, was actually present in this world and right in front of me: Sri Sathya Sai Baba was God in physical form. As a group, we were blessed to sing to Swami the day before Guru Purnima. Finally, we also had the opportunity to visit Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences (SSSIHMS), one of Swami’s Super Speciality Hospitals – a blessing to so many needy patients – which Swami had first revealed to me during my search on the internet. 

Upon returning to Brazil, we progressively engaged in more spiritual and service activities with our Sai brothers and sisters, participating in many events. One of these events was the Pre-World Conference held in April 2010 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Just before that meeting, I had a dream where Swami talked to me about an interesting, upcoming opportunity. In October 2010, a World Conference in Cardiac Surgery would be held in Chennai. As cardiologists and cardiac surgeons from all over the world were expected to attend, I inquired with Him if it would be an excellent opportunity to showcase the impressive work being done in His Hospital in Puttaparthi. In my dream, Swami said, “You can propose that” and walked away. Upon waking up, I was unsure about next steps, but I was certain that things would happen exactly the way Swami wanted them to happen. 

At the pre-World Conference meeting in April 2010 in Buenos Aires, I met Dr. Narendranath Reddy, Chairman, Prasanthi Council. I introduced myself to him and, not citing the dream that I had with Swami, I told him that the international community of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons would be coming together at a conference in Chennai, a few hundred miles from Puttaparthi, and it would be wonderful if they could spend a day or two in Puttaparthi and hold another conference. Dr. Reddy said that he would personally ask Swami. 

Conference on Cardiovascular Diseases 

Two and a half months passed, when I received an e-mail from Dr. Reddy informing me that Swami had advised that a conference on cardiovascular diseases should be organised in Puttaparthi after the Chennai conference. Swami also stressed that “it should be organised quickly because time is short”. We immediately began to plan and act, as we had only 15 weeks of lead time. By Swami’s grace and with His blessings, the preparations went smoothly, and the conference was a resounding success. Hundreds of delegates from all continents came to Puttaparthi and Swami even personally attended some lectures at the SSSIHMS auditorium and blessed all the attendees.  

Tears of divine bliss

On the last day of the medical conference, we went for a special Darshan with all the conference delegates, sitting right in front of Swami. In the end, just before Arati, Swami called me. I was so emotional and in bliss that I could not contain my tears. I cried in joy and gratitude for all the opportunities and blessings He had given me. As I was sobbing, He wiped my tears with His handkerchief and even gave me the handkerchief as a gift to cherish. I then cried more, with indescribable joy, emotion and energy. His divine energy was so intense that I felt physically infused with something similar to a strong electric current for many days thereafter. 

After wiping my tears, Swami asked me the usual key question, “What do you want”? My answer came spontaneously from my heart. I had five requests. Although it might appear to be too many, they came straight from my heart as a continuous stream. I asked Him: 1) May I Love All, 2) May I Serve All, 3) May Swami always guide me, 4) May Swami protect me, and 5) May I be constantly aware of my Atmic essence. 

Experiencing  Swami’s Cosmic  Presence 

Then Swami blessed me, and I took Padanamaskar. I cannot describe the blissful, divine experience in words, and I felt His cosmic presence as pure light (Jyoti), pure bliss (Ananda), and supreme peace (Prasanthi). 

My experience of these events, beginning with the dream, the successful medical conference, and culminating with Swami’s divine blessing were all clear demonstrations of His divinity. I will be forever grateful to Swami for such unique gifts and blessings. 

I was fortunate to have this incredible experience in the last week of October 2010, barely six months before His Mahasamadhi. Since then, Swami has guided and blessed our family in our journey as I requested. Despite our human limitations, we are doing our very best to love all and serve all – as per His blessings. 

Our family has grown and now we have a son, Santiago who arrived in 2012. We emigrated to Canada in 2014, where I work at the Toronto General Hospital/University of Toronto as a cardiovascular surgeon, mostly performing cardiac surgery on patients with heart failure. Professionally and spiritually, I think that I have realised the dream of mindfully working, loving and serving all patients, families and colleagues that I meet along the journey of my life. 

I strongly feel the omnipresence and omniscience of Swami and I feel His Presence, as strong as ever, everywhere and inside each one of us. All are one. 

– The author is a cardiovascular surgeon from Toronto, Canada.