In the play, 'Waiting for Godot,' voted as the "most significant English-language play of the 20th century" and a classic in the Theater of the Absurd, one of the main characters comes to the following realization:
"Let us do something while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed… But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it before it is too late!"
In fact, through a dialogue on waiting passively for meaning in life, 'Waiting for Godot' characterizes the angst of existential dread, similar to the sense of meaninglessness many of us feel as we go through the motions of our routines and define ourselves through the lens of our successes and failures.
The Prema Vahini, the first 'Vahini ' written by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and published in the Sanathana Sarathi, offers an 'action plan’ to live meaningfully through action. A rendezvous with Dr. Suresh Govind at the Zonal Young Adult Festival (ZYAF) held in Chicago in 2019 and his relentless encouragement led to an intense study of this spiritual text. It was started with a sense of urgency to "make the most of it before it is too late!" Nobody had any idea that it would continue for four years, culminating in July 2023.
It has been a very impactful journey for me.
Many of us YAs had isolated ourselves from the communities we grew up in as we were confused about culture, religion, and spirituality. We began to gain significant clarity on human values and the qualities we should acquire as spiritual aspirants through the careful study of Prema Vahini. This was done through virtual satsanghs facilitated by several young adults in Region 5 (SSSIO USA) and beyond.
How do we reconcile the quest for personal liberation with the responsibility of civic engagement and addressing social inequities?
The emphasis on individual or personal liberation had always seemed incongruent with the teachings of community activism. It was frustrating to confront statements attributing a person's lack of food, water, healthcare, and safety to their previous karma when the Avatar Himself built entirely free hospitals and a clean water project serving 300 villages. We learned that, apart from service, selfless community engagement, through direct activism, is also our duty. Yes, political activity is not something Swami encourages, but He advises us to be patriotic, which involves voting and raising issues that must be addressed.
Multiple chapters in the Prema Vahini emphasize the importance of service. It also indirectly urges us to hold our leaders and community organizations accountable by emphasizing that good character is a leader's key attribute. Good character is built by spiritual discipline. So, engaging in consistent personal sadhana (spiritual discipline) is the foundation on which all activity is based! In Chapter 71, it says:
"Mere repetition of the slogan is useless if service is done without faith in the divinity of people and with an eye on name and fame and the fruits of one's action. Whatever actions one undertakes, if one constantly has as companion the contemplation of the Lord, and if one has faith in the essential divinity of people, then the statement about service to humanity and service to God being the same is justified."
On airplanes, we are advised that when there is a drop in cabin pressure, we must wear our oxygen masks before trying to assist others. So, too, we must do sadhana to cultivate closeness to the Divine before trying to enlighten others. Since the community comprises individuals who are embodiments of the Divine, we must derive our activism and community advocacy through connection and intuition. That is why, though it may seem 'unscientific' to a superficial mind, performing Japa helps when natural disasters, human-made tragedies, or pandemics occur. Dr. Suresh Govind constantly emphasized how performing prayer in the context of our interconnectedness reached all of us and was an act of service.
To what extent do conversations surrounding mental well-being, boundary setting, and emotional regulation align with Sai's teachings?
Today, we face one of the most significant mental health crises humanity has faced, primarily because of bullying and predatory practices. Social media has only amplified its impact. One might mistakenly argue that demonstrating patience, even towards such poor behaviors, is noble and a sacrifice for God as it means we are losing our "egos" through such practice! Tolerance or indifference toward Adharma is also Adharma! Bhagawan tells us, "Avoid Bad Company," – which may seem at face value to avoid people not following the 'teachings of God.' We should not only dissociate from those who espouse Adharma through abuse and bullying but also actively oppose them in our respective capacities.
In Chapter 27 of Prema Vahini, Bhagawan says, "Engage yourself in the journey of life with good wishes for all, with strict adherence to truth, always seeking the company of the good, and with the mind always fixed on the Lord." We must only be in the company of Godly individuals – but how is withstanding abuse doing so? Mature conflict management with emotional regulation is undoubtedly needed through empathy and understanding other people's perspectives. And yet, guarding our mental health is essential. Throughout Prema Vahini, Bhagawan states that developing "viveka" is an essential trait of the spiritual aspirant and that we must discriminate between good and bad situations.
In what ways can we practice self-compassion in our journeys with life?
Through the confusion of reconciling different viewpoints on how one must lead life, many of us struggle by labeling ourselves as "bad devotees" or, sometimes, simply giving up. This is because the goal presented to us, i.e., becoming jivan-muktas and attaining moksha, seems ridiculously distant. As part of the four-year study, we learned the Kaizen principle to improve in one area by 1%. Efforts are in our hands; results belong to God. In that spirit, we selected goals for ourselves and persevered toward them. I slowly learned to reassure myself, stopping negative self-talk as an act of spiritual discipline. We chose to take one principle from every satsangh (or even several satsanghs) and consistently apply the teaching to our life through the Kaizen principle – noticing minor improvements over time rather than attempting to accomplish a supreme lofty goal.
Through the study of Prema Vahini, we came to appreciate that EVERYTHING we do is meaningful. Our union or connection or "yoga" occurs through acquiring Knowledge (Jnana Yoga) as we start our spiritual journey. We take action collectively as an antidote to our feelings of nothingness. And devotion or Bhakti becomes the vehicle of our ascendence. Though the world continues to change, the timeless, Eternal Truth continues to ground our lives in a purpose.
- An attendee of Prema Vahini Satsangh.