In this third of a series of three articles, a USA devotee describes his journey to Sai Baba and, ultimately, to Self-realization. Read Part 1 and Part 2 .
A Personal Invitation
When I told my wife Rose about the appearance of the ash, she said, "Well, that's nice. If Sai Baba sends us a personal invitation, then maybe we should go to India to visit him." The chance of someone on the opposite side of the world sending a personal invitation to someone they had never met before seemed remote to me. We had been to India in 1973 when we were in college, but we did not know about Sathya Sai Baba then. We were soon to learn that no obstacles could come in the way of divine will.
When all of this was happening, in the late fall of 1978, my mother began planning to take a tour group to India to visit Sai Baba's Ashram at Prasanthi Nilayam. My mother soon put together a nicely typeset invitational flyer to mail to prospects for her travel group. We received our copy shortly after the second manifestation of holy ash. On the top of the flyer's front page, it was written in bold, “This is your personal invitation to visit Sathya Sai Baba in India”!
But, at that time, we had other challenges in planning such a trip. We were both relatively young, just 25, and had neither the time nor the money for the trip to India. However, a commercial real estate deal suddenly came my way at the real estate office where I worked. It was a transaction to purchase 110 acres of commercial land for my employer's client. When the transaction closed escrow, I received a check for $10,500.00. That was a princely sum in 1978 and was more than enough for a trip to India. Just as I received the check, my real estate broker delivered the shocking message, saying, "You are fired!" Apparently, he thought he could get my attention this way and motivate me. I felt, instead, now I have both the time and money to pursue the trip to India!
I instantly felt as though my field of vision had widened. I felt light and bright, and time stood still.
By the end of January 1979, Rose and I climbed aboard a Boeing 747 bound for India to the garden city of Bangalore en route to the little village of Puttaparthi, a remote hamlet in Andhra Pradesh state.
Interview and Practice
Rose and I soon reached Puttaparthi, located about 114 miles north of Bangalore. We were allotted a small room in the West Prasanthi housing block. Near the end of our visit, in mid-March 1979, we were called into the mandir (temple) for an interview with Sai Baba. We were in a group of about 15 to 20 people of different nationalities. During that interview, we had the opportunity to ask a few spiritual questions.
I asked Sai Baba if the Self-realization experience that I had when I was 18 years old in college was the genuine state of spiritual consciousness that I was striving for. He answered, " Yes." Although I knew in my heart that it was the goal I was seeking, I still wanted Him to confirm it. Before leaving the Ashram several days later, Sai Baba came out for darshan and stood directly in front of me, granting me the opportunity for padanamaskar before leaving. That first of many trips to Swami lasted for six weeks and confirmed our hopes and beliefs in what we found.
On returning to Tucson, Arizona, I involved myself intensively with the activities of the local Sai Baba Center, participating in service activities that I understood to be key to attaining my ultimate goal. My original Self-realization experience had arrived concurrently with the resolution to do service. But, in the excitement and bliss of that initial experience, I had focused on the result and had forgotten the causal part service played in bringing about that state.
Soon after that first trip to India, I began serving as an officer of the Sai Baba Center, which started to meet at my home soon after. In the spring of 1979, we held the first Arizona Sai Baba retreat. In 1980, I started a writing project to provide study circle material on Sathya Sai Baba's teachings which later became the first volume of Pathways to God, completed in 1984 and published in 1991.
During that time, I attempted to apply myself diligently to understand Sai Baba's message and implement it in my life. I worked with intensity in the hope of regaining the Self-realization that I experienced so briefly in 1971. I was convinced of Sathya Sai Baba's divinity and was confident that His path would lead me to that goal. I applied myself fully and intensely to serve the Sathya Sai Organization and work toward Self-transformation. I was not trying specifically to do "service"; I was only trying to meet the needs of the devotees and the organization in any way I could.
My center of consciousness also suddenly shifted from the head to the heart. In a flash, all thoughts and desires disappeared.
Realization of the Goal
On January 30, 1987, Rose and I stayed in Bangalore at the Taj Hotel on Mahatma Gandhi Road. We drove back and forth from the ashram in Whitefield for darshan twice a day, morning and evening. After visiting Whitefield for darshan that day, we returned to the hotel. Shortly after dinner, I purchased a book in the hotel bookstore titled 'Be as You Are: The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi' by David Godman.
I read a statement in the book that suddenly struck me. And I experienced that change of consciousness that I had experienced only once before. I again felt the rush of bliss and light I had experienced as an 18-year-old college student.
More than 15 years had passed since that original experience, but the sensations were unmistakably the same. I instantly felt as though my field of vision had widened. I felt light and bright, and time stood still. Again, it was as though I were seeing objects around me for the first time. Suddenly, my entire mental focus changed in several respects. At once, I felt that my consciousness had shifted from being directed toward external objects to being focused within. I could not imagine that I needed anything outside of myself.
My center of consciousness also suddenly shifted from the head to the heart. In a flash, all thoughts and desires disappeared. The observer, the act of observing, and the objects of perception became one. Furthermore, after almost constantly yearning for this liberating experience for more than 15 years, that desire too suddenly vanished! I felt connected and whole as I had never felt before. The experience was such a sudden and abrupt change of consciousness that it took my breath away.
Having briefly experienced that altered state earlier, I tried to avoid analyzing the experience too much. I did not want to relinquish the experience quickly, as I had done before. I was initially concerned that the experience would not last, but as minutes turned into hours, and hours turned into days, and days into weeks, I became stronger and more confident that the delusion had gone. I experienced tremendous relief and peace upon attaining what I had long sought. Delusion would not return. After more than 35 years until this day, the expanded consciousness of that state has remained with me always.
Sathya Sai Baba fulfilled my heart's desire on that day.
Thus began a new exploration of consciousness that continues day by day. Also, the shift in consciousness to the heart opened up a new way of looking at things. Although the path of wisdom took me to the brink of my goal, the final destination was beyond its borders. It is the heart that is our true guide and source of strength. But the opening of the heart only seemed to start in earnest at the time of spiritual awakening. After that time, the opening of the heart was noticeably accelerated.
I am less and less prone to react to negative external situations. I experience a greater sense of surrender to the divine will.
Several times, I have been asked how I have changed since that day in January 1987. Although little has changed externally in my life, everything has changed internally. I continue to experience progressively less agitation as time goes by. I am less and less prone to react to negative external situations. I experience a greater sense of surrender to the divine will. I also seem to act more and more from the heart than the head. I have also become better able to distinguish between the Atma and the body-mind-intellect, or Anatma.
It is, of course, easier to quietly enjoy the bliss of the inner Self without attracting attention to oneself. But, if one has truly learned what Sai Baba has come to teach, one must know that we are all One. I would have wanted others to share their experiences of Self-realization with me when I was so desperate to know. How could this individual not share with others in a similar situation? Hence, I offer this account of my spiritual journey to Sri Sathya Sai Baba and all the fellow spiritual pilgrims on the path to Self-Realization. The results belong to Him.
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. 2, Iss. 1