I WAS DRAWN TO SATHYA SAI BABA THROUGH SERVICE, and He soon became my ‘Swami.’ Though I accepted Swami as my Guru and Guide, my family and friends did not. Coming from a humble Muslim family background, I had many factors to consider.
I was reprimanded for breaking rules, traditions, and beliefs, which sank my heart. I wasn’t allowed to have any altar or physical pictures of Swami, and He has been formless for me ever since. He has resided within me, around me, and is omnipresent. As a result, I have never needed Swami’s presence in a physical form in my life.
Over the years, I have had many remarks hurled at me, which were tantamount to bullying, and I have been teased for my beliefs. However, Swami and His teachings always kept my faith stronger than my doubts.
A significant turning point in my life was in 2001 when I had my first personal experience of ‘darshan’ (seeing a holy person).
My First Darshan
It was in Prashanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi, that I saw Swami physically for the first time. Interestingly, I didn’t even know what the word ‘darshan’ meant during my first darshan of Swami.
I was seated in the first row, just along the entrance gate that Swami entered, not sure what happens during darshan. When Swami walked in gracefully, my fellow Sai sisters, seated beside me, nudged me to look right. I looked up, and I looked right. There, I saw Swami approaching us swiftly. I just stared. I didn’t move. I didn’t budge.
However, I noticed everyone around me fidgeting, moving, and raising their hands with palms put together in a ‘vanakkam’ (Tamil word for ‘Namaskar’ or palms put together in respect) position in salutation.
Swami approached and was five steps away from me. I was in tears, which were rolling down my cheeks uncontrollably. No! I was not crying in sorrow, nor were they tears of joy. Yet I had tears flowing, along with a strange sense of calm. I felt at peace as Swami walked past me. I felt I had conquered the world’s tallest mountain at that moment, and I experienced that contentment for the very first time.
By the time I experienced all these emotions, it was time for Swami to return to His residence. As He came out of the interview room, I hoped Swami would walk past us again. This time, I was told to put my hands in the vanakkam prayer pose and hand over some letters to Swami from devotees behind me. As I was mentally preparing my course of action, Swami was already standing before me. I looked up. I could sense my lips moving but couldn’t hear myself speak. Suddenly, I felt a nudge. The Sai sister seated on my left whispered,“Tell Swami, Tell Swami, He is talking to you only…” That was when I realized Swami was asking me, “Where are you from?” As I was gathering my courage and energy to reply, “Swami, Singaaaaapoooreeee Swami,” He reached for the letters in my hand and gently touched them. No, he did not take the letters from me, but instead, He turned away for a moment, turned back, and answered the question I had written in my letter to Him.
I took a deep breath and held it till the music stopped in the darshan hall. Phew, then I let out a deep breath! I sat there frozen. I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. I was recalling every moment when I suddenly realized that my Sai sisters were slowly leaving the hall and told me to stop daydreaming. I quickly got up, took my cushion, and started walking back to my room. As I started walking back to my room, everyone kept asking about what Swami had said to me. But I was still absorbing all that transpired during those precious moments.
Lost & Found
Since then, Swami has become my Guide, my Mentor, and my Inner Voice. I have heard many stories about how devotees have come to know of or found Swami. I always tell myself that Swami actually found me. Swami came into my life when I felt alone and was at my lowest point, looking for the purpose of my life. When my life seemed like an ultimate failure, Swami found me at the “Lost and Found counter.” He decided to walk into my life and stay to guide and guard me. I’ve strayed away from Him many times and have given up on Him many times, but He has always found a way to get back to me and be a part of my life.
Becoming a Better Muslim, Becoming a Better Person
My learning about Swami’s teachings and practicing the five values, Sathya, Dharma, Shanti, Prema, and Ahimsa, worried many people around me. Many thought I was part of some cult. Many people remarked that I was being influenced into becoming someone else, which was not true. Sadly, even today, some of them continue to think that way! What no one realized was the positive changes happening in me. I had everything in place for a good life: a good education, a respectable job, and the ability and stability to do seva all around the world. I was, in fact, becoming a better and more well-versed Muslim. But most importantly, I was becoming a much better human being.
Swami always says,
If you are a Christian,
become a better Christian.
If you are a Muslim,
become a better Muslim.
If you are a Hindu,
become a better Hindu.
And that was precisely what I was becoming. Swami’s teachings made me read and learn more intensely about Islam. I went back to learning the Quran properly and with meaning, and I even started sharing verses and chapters of the Quran with my Sai family. It cannot be any more beautiful than this.
22 Years and Counting
Since I met Swami, I have always internalized everything. My happiness, bitterness, joy, and sense of contentment were all kept within me. In the same way, Swami was also kept internalized. But during the recent trip to Sri Lanka for the SSSIO International Conference, I spoke for the very first time about my experiences with Swami to Aravind Balasubramanya when he asked me about my first darshan. During the sharing, I realized how beautiful my life has become! How much good work Swami had exposed me to, like doing grama seva (village service) in different countries! Swami taught me the value of teamwork by involving me in Sai Center activities. Swami taught me to follow discipline, which has brought me far. Swami also made me realize that I needed an ultimate purpose and goal in life.
The Ultimate Purpose
For me, realizing my purpose in life took ‘forever.’ I now take every breath with a purpose, and that purpose became evident when I was busy with Swami’s work.
In February 2023, I was doing grama seva in India when a ten-year-old girl came up to me and said, “When I grow up, I want to be like you, serving others. Can I take a picture of you and get it printed so I can see myself in you?” My heart leaped with joy! It might have been a simple statement, which I later realized it was not, but her words took me by surprise. I realized how service from the heart can have a ripple effect and leave a significant impression on others.
I had always thought my purpose was to get a good job, earn more money, own a big home, provide for my family, buy big cars, and travel around the world. But that day, that ten-year-old made me realize what I was meant to do. Seva! Yes, I’ve realized that I was made to serve. Seva is my purpose–that magnificent, inexplicable contentment I realize today. Again, I am not sure how, when, and with whom I will continue my journey, but I am confident that Swami will guide me, direct me, and make me His instrument since I was born to serve. I am pretty sure Swami will make me His instrument of service.
Love All, Serve All.
About the Author:
Ms. Habidah Shah hails from Singapore and came to Swami at an early age. Her first darshan of Bhagawan was in 2001. She graduated from Edith Cowan University, Western Australia, majoring in Accounting and Business Law, and spent eight years practicing law. Habidah also holds a postgraduate diploma in Law - Mediation Studies from the University of Western Australia. She volunteers pro bono to help Tamil migrant workers in Singapore. She presently works as a Financial Consultant. Habidah actively advocates for social causes on media and social media platforms.
First published in Eternal Companion Vol. 3, Iss. 1