Dr. Hector J. Castaneda

From 1984 to 2011, I travelled to Prasanthi Nilayam every year. I have had the privilege of serving God through Sathya Sai International Organisation. I have learnt patience to tolerate others and tolerate myself. My performance as a doctor has changed my vision and I believe that prayer enhances the healing effect of medicines.  

I am a neurologist from El Salvador. I have had the blessing of knowing the Avatar of this era for 36 years. I now see how Swami was guiding me throughout my life to serve in His Medical Mission. I was seven years old when I decided to become a doctor. This decision was inspired by an elderly lady who was very sick. I could not do much except provide gentle compassion and love. She invoked in me a firm determination to become a physician to help such people in future. Later as I was growing up, Swami guided me to participate in Boy Scouts where I resolved to serve God, my parents, my country and to help every person I encountered. 

Main  Principles  of Ideal Healthcare 

I did my medical training in a General Hospital where I saw human suffering and was moved. This experience helped me embrace a way of thinking that led me to enter politics so that I could help my fellow   countrymen. As a physician with political experience, I learnt to convey ideals of righteousness and service to the public. Eventually, I found my way to the Sathya Sai   International Organisation (SSIO) where I used these skills to give speeches about Him and the importance of selfless service. 

It was in 1984 that I read the first book on Sathya Sai – titled “From Sai to Sai”. Through this book, I learnt about Swami’s compassion and unbounded love. I immediately identified with His teachings and this became my first experience of Him. I realised that His love transcended all barriers of nationality, religion, ethnicity and culture. 

I resolved to follow His teachings, especially about the practice of medicine. In particular, the following principles became etched in my heart: 

Globalisation:   State-of-the-art healthcare should be made available to the sick anywhere in the world.  

Non-commercialisation:   Healthcare should be free for all human beings. 

Humanisation: Healthcare should be delivered with compassion, love and adhering to Sathya Sai Human Values. 

Spiritualisation: Those involved in patient-care must know the importance of spirituality in healing and try to incorporate it in their practice. 

After reading this book, I was drawn to Bhagavan and decided to visit Him. I went to India for the first time and spent one month with Sri Sathya Sai Baba, learning His teachings. When I returned to El Salvador, I tried to introduce these teachings into the curriculum at the medical school including the concept of Sathya Sai Human Values and selfless service.  

Opportunities of Seva to the Needy 

In 1986, when our country was embroiled in internal conflict and revolution, we held a rural medical camp. During the camp, we were mistaken for one of the ‘opposition guerrilla’ groups. Military helicopters were sent to hover over us as a warning. Only by the grace of the Lord were we exonerated and although we provided healthcare for the first time, we had to stop our medical camps until the political strife ended. 

In 1993, after the political situation in the country settled down, we resumed our free medical services with six doctors and a groupof 16 Sathya Sai devotees visiting a war-torn community. We collected US $200 and purchased needed medicines. Then with Swami’s grace,we began to serve that community once a month. We continued to conduct this free medical camp for the next 13 years. Bhagavan provided everything we needed for the medical camps without any need to solicit funds. We eventually stopped the service in this location because of safety concerns arising from the rise of criminal gangs. 

However, our Beloved Swami gave us another opportunity. We started a permanent Medical Clinic in one of our Sathya Sai Centres with the help of a private hospital that provided furniture and medicines. With Bhagavan’s blessings, this clinic continues to lovingly serve the patients till today. Bhagavan always takes care of those who serve Him selflessly. Today, the private hospital that is helping us is one of the most successful enterprises in the country.  

I am also very grateful to Swami for opportunities to serve at Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital in Puttaparthi and at the medical camps in Prasanthi Nilayam during His Birthday celebrations. At these medical camps, I was blessed to serve together with my wife, daughter and son-in-law, who are also physicians.  

In 1986 and 2001, El Salvador was shaken by devastating earthquakes. In response, the SSIO, at international and national levels, along with our local medical team provided much needed healthcare as well as food, supplies and construction material.  

In 2010, we responded promptly to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The Sathya Sai medical team arrived within a week after the earthquake and, together with other experts and volunteers from the SSIO, provided medical services, food, water, sanitation and education for more than a year in Haiti, and even constructed houses for the destitute. 

Swami has provided us with several opportunities to serve Him and, at the same time, reminded us of His Divine Presence through His Leelas. On one occasion, I was asked to provide a medical consultation for an elderly gentleman who was a resident of Prasanthi Nilayam. My wife and I went to see the patient. After a thorough medical examination, it was a blessing for us to spend time with the patient listening to stories and experiences of Bhagavan’s miracles. Listening to Swami’s Bhagavatam was a joyful nectarine gift for the soul. 

Experiencing  the Power of Gayatri  Mantra 

Sathya Sai Ideal Healthcare is a gentle combination of state-of-the-art medicine together with a dose of compassionate care steeped in faith and Bhagavan’s infinite love. During the time I was on call at Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital in Puttaparthi, a Japanese lady was found having a seizure in her bedroom. She was brought to the casualty section of the hospital where I examined her. My diagnosis was cerebral haemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) probably from an intracranial vascular malformation (a blood vessel abnormality) and began treatment for swelling of the brain. While the medical prognosis was grim, Bhagavan’s omnipresence and omniscience guided us to provide the best modern medical care, delivered with compassion, love, faith and a hefty dose of prayers. The patient recovered completely and went back to Japan and is doing well, showing sincere human efforts supplemented by divine grace can work astounding miracles. 

The practice of Sathya Sai Ideal Healthcare is a constant exercise in selfless service. Once Swami said to my wife “your work is service to God”. I have tried to live with constant awareness of these divine words since 1987. Swami always helps those who help others. I provide free medical service in a Catholic clinic in a poor area in San Salvador once a week. With Bhagavan’s grace, the clinic has reciprocated every year with medicines and supplies for our rural medical camps and Sai clinic. I also serve on the Board of Directors of a private hospital which has helped our Sai clinic with medicines and given us hospital supplies for medical camps in Haiti. These are some examples of how Swami helps His servers. 

In October of 1998, I had the opportunity to experience the strength of prayers. Swami has bestowed upon us the Gayatri Mantra and constantly reminded us of its power. It was a Saturday morning and I was getting ready to visit a reforestation project in the northern part of the country where we were also conducting medical camps. With Gayatri Mantra on my lips, I left my pet dogs behind. Usually, they accompanied me on such visits but this time it was Swami’s divine intervention that made me leave them at home. When I got into the car, I continued to chant the Gayatri and then stopped by to pick up a friend to accompany me on the trip.  

The day was like any other rainy day, and we took a refreshing walk on the grounds undergoing reforestation. Suddenly out of nowhere, we were surrounded by five individuals in black uniforms and ski masks, who threatened us with guns and rifles. I immediately started chanting the Gayatri Mantra in my mind. The effect of this in me was almost immediate. A sense of peace and calmness came over me that I could perceive was slowly spreading to our captors. I managed to get my friend released and started negotiating with my armed kidnappers. This lasted three days during which they walked with me within the surrounding forest. I was chanting the Gayatri Mantra constantly and every time they stopped for rest, I would meditate. Soon, I began to feel Swami’s presence. It was a challenge to see God in my captors even under such adverse conditions. The captors began to interact more with me. 

Meanwhile back at home, my wife, close friends and devotees gathered to chant the Gayatri Mantra. All these prayers, chanting and good thoughts brought about a happy and quick conclusion to the ordeal. As planned, the ransom money demanded was handed over by a courier to the kidnappers. When the kidnappers received the money, they examined the package and found that the ransom was paid in full. When I went home after my release, to my pleasant surprise, my maid informed me that she discovered a suite case in the car with half of the ransom money. Two years later, the kidnappers were arrested by the police. During their arrest, they stated that they had kidnapped a doctor who they suspected was a sorcerer and had “bewitched” them into believing that the courier had given them the full ransom money, while in fact they had received only half the ransom money. This was an instance of an amazing leela of our Lord Sai and the power of prayer.   

Prayer Uproots Desires from the Mind 

Being a prisoner made me reflect on the meaning of this event in my life. I could see a spiritual metaphor at play by Swami. The five armed captors represented my five senses that have captured my mind. The teak trees that I had planted were the desires that I planted in my mind; and my senses held me prisoner among my desires. When you cut a teak tree, it sprouts defiantly. It becomes necessary to cut and uproot them, so that, they do not sprout again. In my life, prayer has been the only weapon to control my senses and allow only good thoughts that can uproot and destroy my desires. I continue to struggle with this and I hope to have better control over my desires by the end of this life. 

From 1984 to 2011, I travelled to Prasanthi Nilayam every year. I have had the privilege of serving God through Sathya Sai International Organisation. I have learnt patience to tolerate others and tolerate myself. My performance as a doctor has changed my vision and I believe that prayer enhances the healing effect of medicines. I feel that with Swami by my side, this life’s journey, dedicated to God, will be more pleasant and all challenges will be surmounted. 

– The author is Medical Director (Zone 2A) Central America of Sathya Sai International Organisation.