A New World
IN THE FALL OF 1978, MY IMPASSE CAME TO AN END. Although I did not recognize it immediately, my life was about to be transformed again. My mother, who had been living in Ojai, California, for about three years, came to Arizona to visit her friends, Bob and Barbara Bozzani. Their home was about a two-hour drive from our home in Tucson, so Rose and I drove up to see them on a Saturday. After a pleasant visit, as we prepared to leave, my mother handed us two books – 'The Holy Man and the Psychiatrist' by Samuel Sandweiss and 'Sai Baba Avatar' by Howard Murphet. Accepting the gifts, we headed off to our home in Tucson.
After a couple of weeks, I decided to look at these books. I was amazed at the story told in the two books. In all my reading of metaphysical and religious texts, both popular and academic, I had never seen anything so remarkable and heart-warming.
I felt compelled to follow up and explore the life and teachings of this seemingly divine master, Sathya Sai Baba. What was particularly unusual was that these books touched my heart profoundly. My heart had become dry and lifeless. My spiritual path had always been primarily an intellectual pursuit. But the truth in these books intuitively held me spellbound. The experience of finding a genuine spiritual authority was new and remarkable.
This experience reminded me of God’s immanence within all of us and, therefore, of our essential unity.
A few weeks after receiving the books, Rose and I went on a drive to the Gila wilderness of New Mexico and the White Mountains of Arizona. We spent one night in the town of Alpine at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. I had been thinking all day about the stories of this amazing holy man, Sai Baba, and was captivated by the charming way He related to his devotees. Miraculous signs and unusual displays of grace highlighted the stories that extolled his love and sweetness. The stories were unlike anything I had read or heard before. Throughout that night, I was unable to sleep. The mantra "Om Sai Baba" kept on repeating in my mind for the entire night. No other thought or word broke the spell, and yet, in the morning, I was fully refreshed.
When I got up from bed in the morning, I looked around the small motel room. The curtains, carpet, and bedspread were all orange, the color of Sai Baba's robe! Opening the entry door, I was startled by the beauty of the scene outside. I saw fresh snowfall covering the tall pines of the rural alpine setting, the roads, and the parking lot. Everything was quiet, still, and serene, wrapped in a pristine white blanket of snow. And to me, the world appeared anew. I knew with great certainty that the truth and love that I had newly experienced would transform my life. Again, my life had been changed, this time by the love and grace of Sathya Sai Baba, on the morning of November 23, 1978. It was Sai Baba's Birthday! Baba says that the real birthday is the day God is born in our heart. So, I count that day as my birthday too!
Returning to Tucson from the White Mountains, I gained a new outlook. The faith and devotion that overwhelmed my consciousness showed me a new dimension to spiritual life. I had always believed that the essential questions in my life would succumb to the rule of reason. The new dimension that now surged from my heart opened the door to show me the closeness of God within. And so, the power of the heart started to transform my consciousness. I had not previously felt a close relationship with God in any form, but now having tasted that sweetness longed for more.
Sai Baba must have looked within my nature and decided that I would need something tangible to hold on to. My nature was pragmatic and analytical. My mind demanded some proof before it would surrender its dominion. Not more than a week or two later, that proof appeared! I had cut a black and white picture out of the book, 'Sai Baba Avatar' by Howard Murphet, and placed it in a small plastic frame on my desk. It was a picture I would later learn was taken on the sacred night of Mahashivaratri, the annual sacred night of worshipping Shiva. I was drawn to the picture because it reminded me of the images of the Himalayan Masters that my mother had on her altar when I was a child.
Within about a week of framing the picture, it seemed to have a small smattering of fine grey ash outside the glass frame. This holy ash, called vibhuti by Sai Baba devotees, is a symbol of Sai Baba's presence and grace. It symbolizes the end of all matter – that which cannot be reduced to any further state. It also represents the end of desire and the futility of worldly materialism. I was amazed to see the ash on the front of the picture. Rose too, saw the ash and, unbeknownst to me then, even tasted it to be sure it was not dust or incense ash. It was fragrant and clearly not the result of any other cause. It could only be a sign of Sai Baba's presence and grace.
I viewed the experience as a token of the omnipresence and grace of God, who is with us every moment.
Soon after, I decided I wanted a smiling picture of Sai Baba in that frame. I changed the picture but saved the original. However, after about ten days, I gave away my new smiling Sai Baba picture to a friend with whom I discussed my experience. So, I put the original photo back on my desk in a nicer frame. After reflecting on the experience with the vibhuti, it seemed only respectful to keep the picture in a beautiful frame. I purchased a new golden-colored wooden frame with non-glare glass. I acquired some dark green mat boards for the border to secure the photo and create a nicer presentation. I carefully brushed off the image several times. I also meticulously cleaned the frame and the glass to be sure they were spotless. If holy ash appeared again on this picture, I wanted to be sure there was no question of mistaking the sign.
I placed the picture beside me on my left side as I sat on the floor. I turned to my right to cut a small piece of mat board with a box cutter. I then removed the center portion of the mat board, where the picture would be secured. Looking immediately back at the picture, I observed a small mound of loose gray ash lying on top of the photo to my left!
How could such an event take place in the seconds that I had looked away? I was, of course, wonderstruck by this spontaneous display that I could only attribute to divine grace. I picked up the picture and bent it slightly while tilting it to allow the ash to slide down the center of the picture into my hand. Clearly, the ash could not have been on the picture as I carried it around the house. Nor had it been there when I had set the picture down seconds before. I placed the ash in my mouth and ate it, as is customary when Sai Baba offers it to a devotee in the audience before Him in India.
Why would He show such compassion to a person like me? Certainly, I held no claim to saintliness or even of unusual goodness.
This experience was undeniable proof that my rational mind could not ignore or refute. It happened before my very eyes. There had been no one else present to observe or interfere. I viewed the experience as a token of the omnipresence and grace of God, who is with us every moment. It demonstrated that He constantly sees our thoughts and actions and can immediately respond when the time is right. And indeed, if He was in me, then He was also inside everybody else.
This was a momentous revelation to me. This experience reminded me of God's immanence within all of us and, therefore, of our essential unity. For the same God resides as the witness and motivator within each of us. This experience also proved to me the amazing grace and compassion of a loving Lord. Why would He show such compassion to a person like me? Certainly, I held no claim to saintliness or even of unusual goodness. But more was to come…
(I will narrate more of my experiences in the concluding article)
About the Author:
Mr. Jonathan Roof is currently retired and living in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Jonathan first visited Sathya Sai Baba in India in 1979. As a result of his interactions with Sai Baba, he wrote the three volumes of Pathways to God. The first volume came out in 1991 and the third volume in 2004. Jonathan served as an SSSIO officer in many capacities for 33 years. In 2011 he led the USA pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam. Mr. Roof was President of the Sathya Sai Baba Central Council USA from 2001 until 2011. He has spoken extensively at Sai conferences throughout the USA and Canada.
First published in Eternal Companion Vol. 1, Iss. 10