A Sai-lent Transformation
When reflecting on life, there are many episodes or chapters which stare at us, leaving us dumbfounded. Some of these moments bring us joy, some sadness, and others a plethora of emotions, which are best left unexplained. One such ‘chapter’ I shall share with you; but as I write this account, a deep question dawns on me, one of individual transformation – how much have I changed?
I was born and brought up in the UK and had pursued all my studies in London. The academic year of 2003–2004 was a momentous period for me, with various events that had taken place. I had enrolled in the MSc programme (Chemical Research), which was up until then, the toughest course I had ever taken. I had also undergone knee surgery during the early part of my Masters programme, which had a huge impact on me, both on a physical and mental level. I was at a stage in life where certain ‘major’ decisions were still left – perseverance towards a medical career, (despite prior rejections even after being interviewed twice) or whether to pursue a PhD. In the grand scheme of things and given the varied multitude of experiences I have had, these experiences all now seem unimportant (oh! what a dose of spiritual hindsight might have done for me, back then…)
But the major life-changing event for me that year was a trip to Prasanthi Nilayam; it was an event which would shape my future, in terms of my outlook on friends, music, general attitude and thoughts towards spirituality. The operation earlier that year had taken the wind out of any enthusiasm I may have had towards my studies; research results were not going my way, and the thoughts of ‘what if’, and ‘why this academic path’ crept up from time to time. Going on that specific pilgrimage had breathed a new sense of enthusiasm into my work. After all, the interactions that I had with Swami, the opportunities to play harmonium on numerous occasions (11, in the space of a week), in both the Sai Kulwant Hall as well as in the Prasanthi Mandir, and that one precious chance to sing unto the Lord of the Universe (that too, in the Mandir), were beyond my imagination. It was, as Shakespeare once put it, “Such stuff as dreams are made on”. But dreams are something that one wakes up from, whereas this had truly happened to me (I don’t wish to enter an advaitic, non-dualistic debate right here, so please bear with me). Till this day, I sit back, and wonder – why? Was it karma? This wasn’t my first ever trip to Puttaparthi, nor my last (since that famous pilgrimage, Bhagawan Baba has blessed me with the opportunity to visit Prasanthi Nilayam every year, bar 2013, where I have been involved in numerous musical and cultural offerings and participated in the most prestigious of events – Grama Seva).
The sadhana leading up to the trip was extremely rigorous and hectic; those who were involved in the music programmes would meet up every Friday, from 8:00 PM (for a few hours), as well as the entire weekend, planning, practising, and offering our material to Swami. Great distances would be travelled by some to reach the practice venue; lots of sacrifices had to be made regarding ‘personal’ commitments, versus our commitments to Swami. It is strange, how one segregates ‘my work’ from that of ‘Sai work’, failing to realise that, ultimately, all is His work. But personally, I never saw this as a chore, for it served as escapism from the mundane world, and as an opportunity to have that precious sathsang with various like-minded individuals.
Part of my research Masters programme involved sitting for two exams based on aspects of pharmaceutical chemistry and organic chemistry – extremely difficult papers. Prior to these exams, a senior Sai sister (who was part of our group) had said, “Don’t worry about your papers, Swami will take care of it – you do His work, and He will take care of yours… up until now, you have been doing ‘His work’ ” (a reference to my constant attendance and participation in the practices). Since my Masters programme was a year-long course, the trip to Prashanti Nilayam was in between, with no clashes with exams – only Swami could orchestrate such a plan. But the real gem of the story is as follows: out of the 11 students who joined the MSc course, only four of us passed. With Bhagawan’s grace – I was one of the fortunate. The stress that had built up over the course of the final few months, especially when leading up to my project presentation and vivas (rigorous university oral exams), was swept away by a wave of joy and relief. A sense of ‘thanks’ overcame me at that moment – this was one tough Masters programme, and Swami had helped me over the finish line. Considering all the various obstacles and events (multiple commitments) that I had encountered throughout that academic year, it was He alone who could have made this (passing of my Masters) possible. I say this fourteen years later, knowing full well the effect of the Sai-lent hand.
Various choices and changes have taken place thereafter; the conscious decision to dissociate with old friends or colleagues, but knowing too well that whomever comes into my life ultimately is orchestrated by Bhagawan alone. Attachments, detachments, expectations, etc. are lessons I’m still learning. A change in career direction (I now work in financial services), after realising that medicine wasn’t what ‘He wanted for me’ (applying three years in a row, despite only ever being interviewed twice at the first attempt) – was a lesson in ‘letting go’, ‘seeing the bigger picture’, and accepting His plan for me. But above all, developing and maintaining that constant faith in Him too, that no matter what happens, He is always there, safeguarding my future. A senior once commented that as human beings we establish our own parameters, and then expect God to fit perfectly within ‘our little box’ – spirituality doesn’t quite work like that, you see.
I had mentioned at the beginning of this article, that there remains a question of ‘individual transformation’. As of late, I sometimes wonder whether I have made the true transformation that Swami is looking for. A sense of awareness is a positive thing (as once pointed out by a senior brother) but when will one act upon that awareness? With this thought, I conclude that my learning will never end; change is a constant feature in this vast universe and as spiritual aspirants, we are no exception to that change. The growth that has taken place, whether knowingly or unknowingly has been tremendous. But at the same time, much, much more needs to be done. It is with these final words that I pray to Bhagawan Baba – may He continue to guide me along His chosen path for me, protecting me and nurturing me. And may He bless me, so that I become what He desires of me – His true reflection of Pure Love.
Sathya Sai Baba is referred to as ‘Swami’ and ‘Bhagawan Baba’ by the writer.
Kapil Dev Prasher, United Kingdom