Part I: Memoirs of Early Years:
Some memories of my mother.
Student, teacher and pastures new.
Part II: Stories, Sai Teachings and Reflections:
The Sai cure for stage fright.
The yoga of love.
War and peace.
Memories of a Chinese lady.
Portrait of a karma yogin.
Two Sai stars.
Signs, strange and significant.
The mystery of Vibhuti.
The twain are meeting.
The esoteric Christmas.
What is Truth?
Wensley gains more than a cure.
Easter and the dharmic life.
Sai Avatar and mysticism.
Sai miracle children.
If we have many
lifetimes on earth, and I feel sure we have hundreds, when does our conscious
homeward journey begin? When do we realise for certain that we are homeward
I think that for many, many lifetimes we are like the prodigal son in the parable, so engrossed in earthly pleasures, so seduced by the fleshpots of the world, that we forget altogether who we are and where we came from and hear no call from our heavenly home. The poet Wordsworth talks about heaven lying about us in our infancy, but he was writing about his own experience and I think he was on his last or his near last incarnation. Yet, inevitably, after centuries no doubt of the tough life on earth, every human soul begins to have dim memories, vague intimations, of that faraway, happy, Beulah Land where it had its beginnings before it became, for some mysterious reason, enmeshed in the long earthly adventure.
Something brings back to consciousness but very sweet memories of where we came from and where we really belong. As the memories grow stronger, perhaps after many more lifetimes, as prodigal son, we turn our faces and our footsteps towards our true home. We feel that the true joys are there, there is no suffering, and in that home is our own loving Father. In this homeward journey there are many obstacles, many diversions that may turn our feet in other directions and we may become lost again in the temptations of the world's fleshpots and we may fail to reach our home in that lifetime. Even great Yogis who are very near home, sometimes fall into temptations and are born again on the earth like the beautiful "vibhuti baby" that I saw one year at Prashanti Nilayam. Swami told us that this baby, who was oozing vibhuti from his skin, was, in fact, a fallen Yogi, but he was born near to the ashram of the Avatar and I understand that such advanced souls, who fall from grace in the last lap of their journey home, are always born into fortunate circumstances. (I tell the story of the "vibhuti baby" in one of my earlier books about Sai Baba.)
One sign that I believe shows that you are consciously homeward bound is when in your life no temptations can assail you and divert you because they all have a hollow ring; there is really one desire, one pull, and that is the glory that awaits you in the heavenly home. Some great teachers say that even when you reach the gates of your heavenly home, it is only by the grace of God that you, the returning prodigal, can enter its sacred portals. Perhaps this is indicated by the fact that in the fable the loving father goes out to meet and welcome his long-lost son, embracing him and leading him to the doorway of the home. Perhaps the truth, the need in grace at journey's end is also shown symbolically in Homer's Odyssey where the goddess Athena appears to Odysseus on the shores of his island home and affords him the great help without which he could never have entered his palace.
Only the great love and compassion of the divine Father can help us complete the journey. But, even though no temptation, no Calypso, no Circe has the power to divert us from our goal, there is always the chance that Poseidon may raise a great storm that will drive our homeward bound ship right off its course. The only thing we can do then is to keep a firm grip on the tiller and a clear eye on the compass and so guide the ship back on course where we will see again the Lights of Home shining over our bows and know we are heading for the home port. Remain steadfast and faithful and leave the rest to the grace of God.
It seems to me that in the lifetime that will lead to that homeward bound stretch, where we see the home port ahead, we can, in review, recognise the pattern of events that lead to the journey home. From childhood through to old age we can trace the rainbow through the rain of life, so to speak. That is why I start this book with some memoirs of early years.
memories of my mother.
Paradise lies beneath the feet of your mother - Mahomet.
My mother was, from my earliest memories of her, a beautiful woman with a high forehead and large soft grey eyes set wide apart, which I learned later is a phrenological sign of magnanimity. A small straight nose led down to a mobile mouth above a cleft chin. She must have been about five feet five or five feet four in height and in my earliest memory she is wearing an Edwardian skirt tight at the waist and flaring out widely to about ankle level. Apart from her gentleness, one of the most memorable features about her was a great sweetness. In fact, it reminds me of the charming sweetness of another woman, the Duchess of York, now the Queen Mother. I was still a youth when I first saw the Duchess standing on a platform in a park in Tasmania beside her husband, then the Duke of York and later George VI. I was so affected by the sweetness of her smile that after passing her, I ran through a small gate in the fence of the park and joined the tail end of the crowd that was walking past her. By the time I passed her again, I was one of the stragglers and she seemed to give me a smile of unutterable sweetness.
Strangely, though very gentle and sweet, my mother was a very firm disciplinarian. She even used corporal punishment when she felt it was necessary. Oddly, though, she never used it with my sister Rita, who was about seventeen months older than I was. She did not use it very often on me but I have several memories of her striking the bare skin at the back of my knees or sometimes my posterior. I felt anger and resentment at the time but the great love that flowed from her, even when she was wielding the rod of punishment, made me forgive her quickly and easily. By the time evening had come and I was kneeling beside my bed saying the prayers she had taught me, I had forgiven her completely. Sometimes when both my sister Rita and I received some stern punishment, we would run away, hide among some hanging clothes, perhaps in a cupboard, and call "I'll tell Dad when he comes home!" Whenever we did tell him, he would simply say, "Well, you must have deserved it." He was wisely always on our mother's side in such matters.
My mother was so beautiful to my childhood eyes that I could not understand why she had not been made queen of some country. But my mother was not only physically beautiful, she also had shining spirituality about her. From long before we were old enough to go to school, she told us many beautiful stories from the Bible that she knew so well. I learned later that the source of her copious knowledge of the Bible and her faith and love for that book came from her father, John Presnell of Ross, Tasmania, where my mother was born and brought up. John Presnell was a faithful, sincere follower of John Wesley, who, with his brother brought a spiritual revival to England in the nineteenth century. The Church founded in his name is sometimes called Wesleyan, sometimes Methodist. The one in Ross bore the latter name and there my grandfather spent his Sundays, sometimes as a lay preacher, always as a leader of the choir. He carried his religion into his week days also, holding daily family prayers and teaching his many children the strict, in some ways puritanical, rules of living for God as taught by John Wesley.
My mother, Caroline Mary, must have been one of his most apt pupils. The religion we learnt at her knee while we were still of pre-school age would be called fundamentalist today. In the simple language she used, the main features of the religious teachings she gave were as follows: there is a Father God dwelling in Heaven above the sky, in whose likeness the first man, Adam, was made. (This, of course, gave me a picture of God as an old man, a wise old man, perhaps with a long white beard. He must, of course, be very ancient because he had been there so long.) Our mother told us that, though God the Father was so far away in Heaven, he sees and hears everything we do or say. Furthermore, he records it all in a Book of Life, so if we do something wrong, such as telling a lie, or stealing, that is written down in the great book. But also our good deeds are recorded there. In Heaven, too, is the Son of God whose name was Jesus. Once a very long time ago, when the world was becoming very wicked and evil, this Son had come to earth as a man. He was born of the Virgin Mary in Palestine and for some years walked throughout that country healing the sick and, usually to open air gatherings, teaching the truth about life and death and the right way for man to live to please the loving Father and so go to Heaven when he died. If anyone failed to please God, if he had many misdeeds or sins recorded unrepented in the Father God's Book of Life, he would go to a terrible place called Hell where he would suffer eternal punishment. When I was a little older, I reflected that this seemed rather a harsh punishment for perhaps one misdeed, but at the time I accepted the teaching.
Another of her fundamentalist teachings, which I think is still taught in some Christian denominations, was that at death we remain in a sleep in the grave until the day of God's great Judgment. On that day we would be raised in a body similar to that that had decayed in the grave for years or possibly centuries and stand with crowds of others before God's great Judgment seat. Then we would find ourselves either with the virtuous ones going to Heaven or with the wicked, unrepentant ones on the road to Hell. This was not a very appealing scene to my childhood mind yet, even worse, was the prospect of lying in the cold grave perhaps for hundreds of years waiting the terrible Day of Judgment. Through the years of my higher education, I discarded the whole idea and tried to persuade my mother that it was wrong. She, being quite psychic, had had a number of strange experiences about death, such as a vision of her mother being carried up to Heaven with a fleet of angels at her death, which had taken place some twenty miles away from where my mother was living. She also sometimes would see the figure of one of her family who had died standing at the foot of her bed. Also she frequently heard a knock at the window of her bedroom at the time some relation or close friend had died some distance away. Such experiences, I argued, proved that people did not sleep in their graves but moved on somewhere if they were able to contact her in this way. She was somewhat stubborn about the idea of giving up the Methodist beliefs her father had taught her. I was glad that before she died she discarded the gruesome idea of waiting in the grave for Judgment Day.
There was another feature of John Presnell's teachings that came to me through the lips of my mother. That was the puritanical Victorian age repression of sexual urges. Sex could be indulged in between married couples only. Any temptation to indulge the sexual desires before marriage or without marriage at any age was certainly a sin going against the commandments of the Father God. This she taught as we grew older though it was before we knew where babies came from. This delicate matter we learnt from other sources. Perhaps it was through my mother's influence in this regard that I did manage to remain virginal until beyond the age of twenty-one, though this was achieved with great difficulty and, like many of the youth of that time, I indulged in a hidden, guilt-ridden sex life in the years before my first marriage when I was thirty. Through my student years at University, I met with young men who found different ways of appeasing this strong, almost unbearable sex urge, including regular masturbation and visiting brothels. The young generation, somewhere about the middle of the twentieth century, threw the Victorian morality to the winds and indulged in free love with the aid of a contraceptive pill, but this God-given powerful sex instinct is still causing much suffering and even tragedy among the youth of the world. What is the answer? John Presnell did not have it because two of his younger daughters scandalized their mother after their father's early death by each having an illegitimate son.
Now, returning to my dear mother, I must mention another way in which she fulfilled Sathya Sai Baba's statement that a child's mother should be his first guru. Even though much of her Methodist, fundamentalist teachings had to be revised and broadened through the course of my life, it was, I believe, better than the atheistic way in which many, even most children today, are brought up. At least it makes one aware of the vital spiritual ingredient of life. Mother, though a farmer's wife and therefore a very busy housewife, found the time to teach Rita and me to read and write and do simple arithmetic before we set foot in school but she also gave us in childhood an unseen friend, who had died on the cross for our sake and still helped us in our day to day lives with problems of what to do and what not to do. He, it was, we believed, who spoke to us in the voice of conscience. We loved him very dearly. His name was Jesus.
I want to finish this chapter with a few interesting, and I believe, significant contacts I had with my mother after her death in 1957. When she died, I was ninety nine per cent certain that there was life after death and I eventually contacted her some months after her funeral through a clairvoyant woman from Brisbane named Anne Novak. Happily, I discovered that the love I had shown in my psychic search for her had helped her a great deal and that she was now in a good place and in good conditions which seemed to be somewhere in the higher subdivisions of the astral plane. I have a good hope that I will see her again when I myself pass from this earth.
After the death of Iris, my second wife, in 1994, I had further psychic contact with my mother through Iris. How fortunate I was in knowing the Sai devotee and great clairvoyant, Joan Moylan, during the time of great loss and sadness for me when Iris left me for the spiritual adventure beyond. I have told in other places how she used to come to my studio in the garden of my house in the Blue Mountains and there, Iris, who seemed to know what was happening on this side of the veil, always appeared within a few minutes of our taking our seats in the studio. She would always stay the whole morning and on one occasion the whole day while we talked of memories and about her life on the other side. At some of these meetings, among the people who came were my sister Rita and the younger one Leone, who was, Swami had told me, my twin soul. Iris had told me that she had visited my mother and found her very happy in her astral abode. On one occasion I said to Iris, that my sisters and several old friends have come back but not my mother. Immediately she replied, "Would you like her to come. If so I will get her." She stood up from her chair and vanished but within less than five minutes she was back with my mother.
I have learned in my studies of psychic science, particularly when I was a member of the Society for Psychical Research in London that on the astral plane, where vibrations are higher and therefore matter is lighter and more easily moulded by thought, people are able to iron out any defects in the body which is a replica of their last body on earth and to assume the appearance of any age they choose. Though some, like Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Yogananda, choose to remain at the age at which they passed away, many return to the appearance of their earlier life. So my mother came in, looking about the same age as Iris, that is around the early twenties. Of course the clairvoyant Joan had never seen my mother in life, nor had she seen a photograph, so how could she be sure that the spirit or astral body of the one who had just appeared, was indeed my mother? She seemed to know immediately and described her to me. One interesting thing she said, "Your mother has such a sweetness about her. She reminds me of the Queen Mother." I, of course, identified her immediately by the things she said to me. When she first came in, she seemed to forget herself for a moment and called me "Baby", as if the memory of me as a baby on her knee was very strong. I noted with some surprise that she was carrying her favourite book under her arm, the Holy Bible. At every psychic meeting we had after that, my mother always appeared very soon after Iris and carried the Bible in her hand or under her arm and Iris would respectfully vacate the chair we had placed in position for her and give it to my mother. The latter always gave me a text from the Bible naming the Book, Chapter and Verse which she wanted me to read and meditate on.
During the winter of 1998 when I spent a couple of months at a house in Oyster Cove, north of the Gold Coast, there were several meetings with clairvoyant Joan who was living in that area. At one of the meetings a strange thing happened. It should not, of course, have been strange, because in the well-known book Narada Bhakti Sutras I had read something to the effect that when one makes sufficient progress on the spiritual path it becomes a blessing to one's ancestors for two or three generations and also to one's descendants for several generations. Well, I had a proof of this at one of the meetings. My mother was there sitting in the chair given to her by Iris. Standing near the chair with his back to the wall was Swami in his subtle body. At the end of the meeting, Iris stood up from where she was sitting on the foot of a bed near to Joan and me, went around behind us to where Swami was standing and knelt to touch his feet. Joan had mentioned earlier that there was a line of people along one wall whom she could not individually identify but knew they were my ancestors. Joan was not surprised to see my mother stand up from her chair and kneel at Swami's feet but she was very surprised to see the ancestors forming a queue and one by one kneeling to make the same gesture which all Sai devotees know as padanamaskar, or respectfully saluting the feet. Narada, the great ancient sage, had as ever spoken truth and I felt great joy at being the means of helping my ancestors.
Yet, for me, an even happier event took place at the last psychic meeting I had through Joan with my late wife and mother. It was near the end of the meeting and my mother was talking to me about the last biblical text she had given me at a former meeting. She then said, "But I will not be bringing the Bible any more because I feel now that it is not right to keep to one spiritual book. Even though I think the Bible is the best guide, I think I should broaden my outlook and am now going to start reading books that you and some of the people who come here are talking about." Of course, I knew she meant the books on the Sai teachings. As I thought about it afterwards, I felt a very deep joy in the knowledge that my beloved mother seemed about to make good spiritual progress which would lead her to higher levels of joy and bliss in the huge astral realm leading to the Devichan and Causal planes.
In the next chapter I will tell about my psychic search for my father.
If the red slayer thinks he slays,
And if the slain thinks he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep and pass and turn again.
"Brahma" by Emerson
When I was a
young boy of eight or nine years, one of my joys was to sit in the barn with
my father, door open wide so that we could watch the gently falling rain while
he told me stories. Some of these were about the Trojan heroes, such as
Achilles and Hector or the clever Ulysses - my very enjoyable introduction to
the Greek mythology. Sometimes he told me stories about his own boyhood, his
schooldays and the fisticuff fights he had with the boys from other schools.
He always seemed to win these fights so he became a hero to me, like Hector
and Ulysses. Achilles was a little lower down the scale because he seemed less
generous, less magnanimous. Sometimes he told me about our family forbears but
all I remember of this was that his own grandfather, with several sons, came
from England to Tasmania somewhere before the middle of the nineteenth
century. Apparently they came from the county of Cambridgeshire. They must
have been farmers because they bought land in the rich, fertile districts of
northern Tasmania. I remember that one of the sons was named Samuel because
that was the name of my own grandfather but I never saw him because he died
young when my father was only four or five years old. Grandfather Samuel's
farm had been somewhere in the district of Carrick. This village was, I
believe, named after a village in Scotland. My father's birth was registered
in a church in Carrick. His birth was in November 1872 and his registered name
was Edward Joseph Murphet.
The eldest of Samuel's family was a boy called George, while between George and young Edward were four or five girls. These became so scattered through the years, after their father's death, that I met only two of them, Aunty Lily and Aunty Ada, both of whom lived in Melbourne when I was a boy. My paternal grandmother, whose name was Susan, must have had many problems on her hands with this large family, now fatherless, on a farm with nobody to run it. Samuel's brother, David, whose farm was a good many miles away, agreed to help her by taking the little boy, Edward, always called Teddy, to join his own family, consisting of two sons and two daughters. They were all some years older than the little Ted, perhaps about the age of our Uncle George who was then presumably in his mid-teens. So my father became part of his Uncle David's family. I remember seeing Great-uncle David once when my father took me to see him in his home of retirement in the small town of Perth in the north of Tasmania. To me he was a very impressive but rather an awe-inspiring figure, sitting in an easy chair, with his back to a high garden wall with a few creepers growing on it. I thought his beard was very long indeed. It was completely white except for a few tobacco stains on it from the pipe he smoked. He sat there talking in a kindly, almost loving manner to my father who had spent the years of his boyhood and youth on Uncle David's large and apparently very rich farm. There, along with his two cousin-brothers, Horace and Arthur, he learned to be a farmer. When I heard an old jockey, who had lived nearby, refer to Uncle David as "a gentleman farmer", I gained the impression that this venerable old man had left most, if not all, of the farm work to his sons and farm labourers.
My father told me once that his uncle had offered to give him further education so that he could go into a bank if he wished, instead of being a farmer. But my father felt that he owed it to the kindly uncle who had taken care of him from childhood to remain on the farm as long as his uncle needed him. And so he became a farmer instead of a bank employee. Yet, I must say, that my father did not have the build and appearance of the average farmer, as I knew them. He had small, light bones, delicate hands with the long fingers of a musician and altogether rather fine features. I thought myself that he was a handsome man, with warm brown eyes, black hair, a shapely nose with nostrils that flared out above a brown, Edwardian moustache that curled to the sides as if it had an inclination to become a handle-bar moustache. He had a good baritone singing voice and loved to stand at the piano singing hymns. When Uncle David retired from the farm, presumably selling it, my father went and joined Horace, his eldest cousin-brother, who had bought Mill Farm near Hagley Village. Rita and I were still children when we first went to Mill Farm, one corner of which reached the Hagley railway station and another corner led through a gate to the village of Hagley. Uncle Horace, as we were supposed to call him, had a big black beard and was more of a rugged farming type than my father. For some reason, Rita called him Uncle Dobby and that was the name we both knew him by until he retired to the biggest house in Hagley, where after a few years he died.
It was on Mill Farm that my father first met my mother, Caroline Mary Presnell. She was staying at the time as companion and helper of a very rich old lady, who occupied a large house near the railway station. The easiest way for Caroline Mary, then a young lady in her early twenties, to reach the village to do any shopping she required, was across the laneways of Mill Farm to the exit gate to the village. It was a pleasant walk along smooth lanes and the hawthorn hedges that fenced off the various paddocks. One day, as she was walking from the railway station along a lane on Mill Farm she saw a young man burning farm rubbish somewhere along the lane. The smoke from the fire was blown by a breeze across the lane. As she drew near, he threw a lot more heavy rubbish on the fire, causing the smoke to thicken. She thought the forward young man had done this purposefully to make her come on his side of the fire, instead of going through the smoke. To avoid him, she walked through the thick, acrid smoke. But she did not manage to avoid him. When she came through the smoke, he was standing by the lane on the other side to give her an apology for the thick smoke he had caused. And so, as he had intended, they had met and very soon afterwards the young man, named Edward Joseph Murphet, called to see her at the mansion by the railway station.
The marriage, which eventually came about, took place in Ross, my mother's native village. Grandfather John Presnell had died some years before but Grandmother Caroline and some of her daughters were present. My handsome father seems to have become very popular with those ladies as he did with most people.
After the marriage, the couple went to live on a farm in the north-west of Tasmania which my father had been sharing for some time with his brother George. I can dimly remember Uncle George's family of boys and a few girls. My memory of Uncle George himself is very dim indeed because he died while I was still quite young, probably between three and four. But he was very popular in the memories of Rita and myself because, being a handyman, he had made us a high-backed chair which I inherited from Rita when I was old enough to sit at table and she could manage with an ordinary chair. I think that the farm must have been sold because we eventually went to live on our farm in the district of Westwood, which lies about seven miles from Hagley and approximately the same from Carrick. The farm was called "Meadow Lynn," which apparently means a meadow with a pond in it. It was in the pond in the meadow that I had a near-death experience, which I relate in the book "Where the Road Ends." In the same book I tell the strange story of my vision of a large window in the sky through which I saw heavenly figures and heard sacred music. At the time it seemed like a testament to my mother's teachings but perhaps I should regard it as a preface to my homeward journey.
We spent many of the innocent childhood years on Meadow Lynn farm with my loving mother and father. My father in many ways was more a companion than a parent. He had no discipline except occasionally to shout but he always supported my mother in any disciplinary measures. I was about two months short of the age of ten when my father took my sister and I into my parents' bedroom to see a wonderful thing. It was a tiny baby girl with black eyes and a mop of black hair. She was lying in bed in my mother's arms. With great excitement, we asked Dad, as we called our father, where the baby had come from. We knew that a nurse had just taken up residence in our home and we thought perhaps that she had brought her. "But no," my father informed us, "I found her this morning under the lilac tree. She was in a hole there." We rushed out to look at the beautifully perfumed lilac tree. It was spring and the lilac was in full bloom. Under the tree was a newly dug hole, rather like a little cradle in the ground. "Who dug the hole?" we asked our father, who had come out to join us. "Why, of course, the angels did," he replied. The thought passed through my mind that the angels had done some very neat spadework. I myself by this time had learnt to use a spade. Anyway, the great thing was that we had a new and wonderful addition to the family. She, too, was called Caroline with a second name of Leone, by which she became known. The year was 1916 when she was born and it was about half a century later when Sathya Sai Baba informed me that my young sister Leone was, in fact, my twin soul. Then I understood the reason why we had been so close, each often knowing what the other was thinking, and why she felt the bump on the head that nearly knocked her downstairs when I, some twenty miles away, fell off my motorbike on my head and knocked myself unconscious on the road.
The first effect on me of my little sister's presence in the world was to make me feel grown-up and able to help my father on any job he was doing on the farm. My mother had noted this with some alarm and apparently once said to my father, "Remember, he has not grown up yet." But I thought that I had and my father seemed to have agreed. In the next five years he taught me to use every farm implement except the reaper-and-binder. For most of these implements, I had to drive a team of three big farm horses. Of course, I learned to ride every horse on the farm and a racehorse on a neighbouring farm. But my favourite was a fat little pony called Taffy. I used to ride him barebacked and had many falls. Sometimes Taffy would wait while I got up and climbed on his back again. On other occasions he would continue his galloping journey home and I had to walk the distance. But I never was hurt through these falls in learning to ride a horse, so I learned to love it and became a good rider. Yet, at the age of about eleven I felt a great desire to ride a pushbike. Having a bike would allow me to go further afield, even to the village of Hagley or Carrick or even ride the fourteen miles to the city of Launceston where long ago in my grandmother's house I had first seen the light of day. My good father could easily have afforded to buy me a bicycle but, for some reason known only to himself, he said that I must earn the money to buy it. "How was I going to earn the money?" I asked him. He thought for a few minutes. "Well," he said, "you could trap the rabbits that leave their tracks under the fence between the thirty acre paddock and the bushland." I said nothing but the thought seemed like a terrible doom laid upon me. For a boy, I had a very soft heart.
Some years earlier, when I was about five years old, I used to shed tears when I accidentally stepped on and killed a little spider on the floor and, we had at one time had some pet rabbits among our pets, which included guinea pigs and pet lambs when perhaps the mother sheep had died or was unable to care for the lamb herself. Now I was expected to trap and kill and skin little bunnies. "I don't know how to set a trap," I told my father. "I will teach you," he replied. And so he did but I was not a very good pupil and caught very few rabbits in the traps I set along the fence by the bush. The first one I took out of a trap I nearly let run free but, noting that his front legs were broken and badly damaged, I forced myself to kill him. This gave me a feeling of horror, especially when I felt his warm furry body tremble against my leg as I broke his neck. Then my father taught me how to skin the rabbit I had killed and how to peg out the skin so that it would dry and become saleable.
I think that the greatly desired bike would have remained just a dream desire if something special had not taken place. One evening just before the sun set, when I was trying to set traps away at the back of the farm on the edge of the thirty acre paddock, a man rode quietly up on a horse. He greeted me, then jumped off the horse and came to where I was busy with the traps. I knew him. In fact, in a way he had become my hero. His name was Vern Jones. I knew he had been a scholar at the Launceston Church of England Grammar School and had then gone to the University of Tasmania, after which he had travelled in the outback areas of Australia, "on the track," as it was called. Now for some months he had been living at Westwood, with some farmer friends, helping them and other farmers, including my father, especially at harvest time. He was a well-known and very popular character in the district of Westwood. At social functions, such as a dance in the woolshed on some farm, he could easily be persuaded to sing one of his comic songs. Once when Vern was staying in the district during the winter months, he did something that ensured his permanent popularity with the Westwood farmers. They were trying to get a team together to play the Hagley football team. The football, incidentally, played in Tasmania, was the popular Australian Rules football. It was not easy for Westwood to find eighteen good men who knew anything at all about football. So Vern managed to bring about eight of the required eighteen from his old school. They were all from Grammar's First Team, which always seemed to win the Tasmanian interschool matches and were first class footballers. They stayed the night before the match in the district and, to me, with their colourful school caps and football jerseys, they were very glamorous figures and I longed to be one of them. Well, of course, with this kind of expert help, Westwood beat Hagley by a large margin. The Grammar boys, along with Vern himself, had played brilliantly and the farmers, including my father, had had very little to do. There always seemed to be a colourful Grammar boy wherever the ball landed. Well, it was this heroic figure who now began to teach me how to set a rabbit trap. He made quite an art of it, so that in future it became an art to me. But I still hated killing the little rabbits that now were caught in the traps in large numbers.
Eventually I had a good many skins dried and ready for the buyer when he came on his regular rounds, but still not nearly enough money to buy a bicycle. So my father decided to help me. On bright moonlit nights, he took me and his double-barrelled shotgun over the wooded hills on the edge of the district. I enjoyed this wandering in the bush in the moonlight. We seemed to be going out almost to the Western Tiers, the formidable blue wall that seemed to me to form the edge of the Westwood farmlands. Sometime in the early hours on the first night of our possum hunting, when the moon seemed to be getting too low, we decided to make for home. My father handed me his gun to carry, slinging the bag of about half a dozen ring-tailed possums over his shoulder and headed off in what I thought was quite the wrong direction. "Are you sure this is the right way home, Dad?" I asked. He stopped and pointed to the sky filled with glittering stars. "I steer my way by the stars," he said. "See that very bright star towards the horizon over there?" "Yes," I replied. "Well, if we walk towards that, it will bring us to a point in Westwood not far from home." Then he strode off again among the ferns and logs while I followed with the gun on my shoulder.
My Dad is like the mariners of old, I thought, who used to steer ships by the stars before the invention of the compass. This revealed a side of him that I had not known before. Well, we went far afield on a good many nights after that and eventually I had the money to buy the prized bicycle. It was a great thrill to me after I learned to ride and I explored all the roads of the district, eventually riding fourteen miles to the northern city of Launceston.
I have told in the book "Where the Road Ends" about how my father's health failed when he was in his early sixties, how he left the farm and came to Sydney, where I was working, and how he died there at the age of sixty-five. His death was a great sorrow to me as it not only took away the great companion of my boyhood but also made the first break in the family circle that had meant so much to me. As the years passed and my thoughts went back to our good companionship, my love for him grew more and more and I began to look forward to the time when I would see him again on the other side of death. Then came the time when, as I described in the last chapter, through Joan Moylan I began seeing my deceased wife again and she told me about meeting my mother and two deceased sisters in the realms beyond death. I began wondering about my father. She had not mentioned him. When I asked her if she had seen him, she said, "No, I think he must have reincarnated." Then my deceased sister Caroline Leone walked across the lawn into the garden studio and stood close to me, I said to her, "What have you done with our Daddy?" She told me that he had, some years before, reincarnated into the very small mountainous country in Europe called Lichtenstein. "Whatever is an Australian farmer, who never in his life went out of Australia, doing in that tiny mountainous country?" She replied, "He said there was a family living there who could help him with one of his main problems and that he knew he could help them too. That's why he went to that part of the world." Leone told me his present name and approximate age. How strange it would be, I thought, if I went there and told that young man that he was my father. But I was too old for such an adventure and had to content myself with the thought that I would locate him again in some form in the vast forever that lies beyond earthly existence.
The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts - R.L.S.
I crossed the
red gravel road from the far corner of Meadow Lynn farm to a weatherboard
cottage with walls unpainted. I heard that it had been brought to this central
spot in the district to act as a schoolhouse. I spent most of my primary
school years in this little cottage school known as the Westwood State School.
It was not until the last year of my primary school life that a brand new
schoolhouse appeared in the same playground. On the first day there, when our
mother thought we were old enough to attend school, she walked with Rita and
me across the paddocks and along the road to the schoolhouse where she handed
us over to the teacher. As was the case in the majority of small country
schools, there was only one teacher for all the seven classes from preparatory
to sixth class and the brave young teacher, who welcomed us to the Westwood
school, was a bright, smiling figure by the name of Olive Doak. She was
perhaps in her mid-twenties and was known respectfully by parents and children
alike as "Miss Doak." Among the fifteen or sixteen children who sat
at the long desks were several wild young farm labourers' boys. They regarded
Miss Doak as the enemy but Rita and I thought of her as a sweet, kind friend.
While she set some of the other classes to work, I looked around the
schoolroom. It was quite a large room, making up the whole of the front of the
cottage and, being pine-lined, it seemed to have a subtle, pleasant odour.
Behind us, as we sat in our desks, about six children to each desk, were the
cottage windows that looked out on the road which led to a junction of roads
just beyond the school. In the middle of the wall in front of us was a door
which led, I found later, to two back rooms, which, as I was to discover, had
various uses. One of these was the administration of corporal punishment but
Miss Doak was a very mild disciplinarian so there was not much corporal
On that first day, as she set all the other children to work, scattered as they were among the four long desks, she came back to us, sitting with two other children in what was called the preparatory class. I remember she took a chart and began to teach the alphabet, which we had already learned from our mother, in a new way. Instead of calling the letters a, b, c etc they acquired new names which were, in fact, the sounds the letters made when pronounced in a word. I found this very interesting and very easy and I saw it would help spelling a great deal. "M", for example, was something like the noise a cow makes when she is speaking gently. We made it with our lips closed. The rest of the school subjects were just as easy and interesting to me, especially after the good grounding we had had from our mother guru. Sometimes, hardly more than once a day, we would hear the clop-clop of horses' hooves on the road outside. Miss Doak would come from her high desk and look through the windows, while the children all jumped up from their forms, turned around and watched the passing vehicle with its driver and passengers. Or, sometimes, it would be just one rider on a horse. This was in the days before cars. When Miss Doak had satisfied her curiosity, she would call to us severely, "Sit down, children! Sit down!"
Instead of going home for lunch, as we only had an hour, we found it more pleasant to bring sandwich lunches and eat them with the other kids, many of us on the branches of the oak tree while we ate or, if the weather was bad, in one of the back rooms where there were forms for us to sit on. Another use for the oak tree and the back rooms was for reading classes. Miss Doak would choose the extrovert of the class as monitor, then send the class under the oak tree on bright, sunny days and into a back room on rainy days. Topsy Pontiac was always the extrovert she chose for the responsible position of monitor. Topsy would make us read in turn diligently for a while and then, when we all grew bored, we would stop reading and just talk. When Miss Doak appeared in the distance, we would go back to reading and so the teacher never knew how little reading practice we had. Our little blond monitor was also a tomboy. Often she used to swing above us from branch to branch like a monkey or, if we were in the back room, she would swing from beam to beam. It did not seem to worry her, or maybe it pleased her, that her colourful underwear was always on display during these feats. Miraculously, she was never caught but was always back on ground level seriously monitoring the reader when Miss Doak appeared. Somewhere during the years of my primary school education, this lively, daredevil young blond became my secret sweetheart. I don't think I ever told anybody, not even my sister Rita about this secret and I don't think that Topsy herself ever guessed it.
These happy-go-lucky schooldays, that were largely play days, came to an end suddenly when Miss Doak married a farmer in the district. I was hoping that this might mean no school for a time and therefore more free and happy days on the farm with my father. But it was not very long before a new teacher came. Her name was Flora Macarthur and she was very different from the dreaming Olive Doak, not only in appearance. Her grey eyes told us how very serious she was and the sound of her voice, though kindly with a loving tone, was firmness itself. She proved on the very first day that firm discipline had come to the school. In the days of Miss Doak, we pupils all did a good deal of whispering to each other. On the first day of Miss Macarthur's reign, one of the boys whispered a few words loud enough for her to hear. Immediately she called him out in front and gave him one cut of the cane across the palm of the hand. Hushed silence fell on the school and nobody ever whispered audibly again.
Over a year must have passed before I myself had a taste of her corporal punishment. She thought I was breaking one of her very firm rules, that we must not write on the desks. I was sitting, holding a pencil in my fingers, as if I was writing on the desk, whereas in fact I was away in deep thought. She called me into the back room, gave me four severe cuts across the palms. It stung very much and for a time I hated her but, before the school day ended, my love for her had returned. I think all the children loved her because we knew there was love behind her discipline that, because of her love, she very seriously wanted to educate us all to the best of her ability. So, like my mother before her, she demonstrated what I heard Swami say almost a lifetime later, "Children should have firm discipline and, if it is wrapped in love, they will not resent it."
I remember one happy day when Flora Macarthur took me a step forward towards my life's goal. One day I was sitting at my place at the desk, working silently on some lesson the teacher had left me to do, when I heard her voice. It sounded like music and I realised she was reading poetry to a girl, the one pupil in another class. The poem turned out to be Matthew Arnold's "The Forsaken Merman." I had never heard it before and now, through the rhythm of the words as she pronounced them, I could hear the rhythm of the waves and the sad sigh of the sea. I stopped my private study and sat listening as the rhythm of the words brought the roll of the sea into my heart. I had always loved the sea. Now began my great love of poetry. No longer was it just words put in an awkward way, trying to say something that could have been said better in prose. After that day, the love of good English poetry stayed in my blood.
It was through this woman of the serious grey eyes and soothing voice, that I began to love all school work. It began to appeal to me even as much as farming. These were happy, quiet, well-ordered school days with a touch of beauty showing itself from time to time. But suddenly a blow fell that shattered them. Flora Macarthur fell badly ill and was taken to hospital. Perhaps the Education Department thought that she would soon be back so they did not send another teacher. Weeks went by with Westwood school closed. I certainly had freedom. I spent the days in the open air on the farmlands with my father. In a way, this was what I had always wanted but now, somehow, I missed the school. Had I taken a step, or just perhaps half a step, in what my father and the whole Murphet clan would have considered a wrong direction? My mother would, of course, have approved of the half turn I had taken.
Eventually, any hope of Flora Macarthur's recovery within any reasonable time was abandoned and the Department sent another teacher. This was a widow, named Mrs Dunstan. She had had more years of experience than either of the other two and, I think, was a born teacher. She was firm but did not require to exert much discipline. Her strong personality and air of assurance were sufficient. It was almost as if my destiny had brought her to the school to put my feet on the first step towards my far-off divine goal for this incarnation. One afternoon she asked me to remain behind for a while after the other children had left. I had no idea what she had in mind and was stunned into speechlessness when she said, "How would you like to sit for the Qualifying Examination this year? I know you have missed many months at school but I think, if you will work hard now, that you will pass. What do you say?" Many thoughts and emotions were going around like a hurdy-gurdy in my mind. Surprise and pride that she had suggested this, fear that I would fail her and, deep down, some inarticulate feeling that here was a great opening to something wonderful. But all I could say was, "Well, I will have to ask my parents. If they agree, I will try my best." "I hope they will agree," said the teacher. "Tell them that you would have to come at least one hour before school starts in the mornings. I will come earlier than that and have on the blackboard notes and summaries of the subjects in which you are far behind because of the months you missed."
My mother agreed enthusiastically, my father slowly and dubiously. And so the plan began. The news soon spread around the whole district because nobody before had attempted this examination despite the fact that the state high school in the northern city of Launceston had been there a few years. But how could young country kids from a one teacher school be expected to pass the difficult qualifying examination for entry? The housewives' tongues wagged a good deal to the general effect that I didn't have a chance and it was foolish to try. Their husbands, like my own father, seemed rather stunned and said very little. What they did say, or mumbled, was the question, "Why should a boy, destined to be a farmer, waste his time on high school education?"
Well, in the five months of cramming, before school, during school, and also in the evenings, with Mrs Dunstan's enthusiasm and full belief in my success, I really enjoyed this extra study. When the time for the great examination came, I felt somewhat nervous because the examination was held in a big city school and I felt rather like a country bumpkin among the crowd of quick-witted city kids who were sitting for the exam. I had stayed the night before at my Aunt Harriet's place in the city. She was one of my mother's sisters and my favourite aunt. My mother had instructed me to get a good night's rest but a friend of my aunt's, who was also staying with her, took me to the cinema where there was a horror film which she wanted to see. It had the effect of giving me a sleepless night, with the result that I was not in the best frame of mind to sit for this tough examination. Well, I did my best under the circumstances and, when it was over, I was inclined to think unhappily that I had not passed.
The following day, when my good mother drove in from Westwood to pick me up, I resolved to tell her the truth, even though it might make her unhappy. As we sat together in the forward-facing seat of the rubber-tired phaeton, a recent acquisition, my mother held the reins of the one horse. "How do you think you got on?" she asked in a serious, gentle voice. "I doubt really if I passed, Mum," I replied. She was quiet for a few minutes and I had the feeling that she was praying. Presently she asked, "When will you know?" I told her that the results would be published in "The Examiner" on a date about three weeks hence. "The Examiner" was a daily newspaper that circulated throughout northern Tasmania. We got it regularly so that my father could read it under the lamplight in the evenings.
On the important day when the results of the Qualifying Examination were to be published, I could not wait for it to be delivered. I rode my bike up hill to where it was delivered in bulk and I could pick up our copy as soon as it arrived. Leaning against my bicycle, I opened the paper with anxious fingers, fumbled through and found the page where the names of those who had passed were printed. I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw my name there. It was the first time I had ever seen it in print but there it was, no mistake. I had passed!
I rode rapidly down the hill to convey the news to my mother and father. My mother's face glowed with the good news. Even my father looked pleased and rather proud of me. All he said was, "Congratulations! You did well, lad."
Harvest time was beginning on the farm and I worked extra hard to save him the wages for at least one labourer because he had agreed, probably through my mother's persuasion, that I could go to high school for just one year. That was really all I wanted. Then I would return to my destined life on the farm. I loved the harvesting but my regret that year was that my hero, Vern Jones, had not made his appearance on the harvest fields. This was a mystery to me and nobody seemed sure what had happened to him. One of his friends, a Westwood farmer named Roy Wise, mumbled as if he did not believe it himself, "I think he's gone back to school." This did not make sense. If he meant back to University, that would be closed, having even longer summer holidays than the schools. So the mystery remained.
A parent was expected to escort a new pupil to the high school on opening day. So my stalwart mother, who was shy at meeting new people, especially scholarly men, took me into the headmaster's office. He proved to be a smiling, affable man with curly greying hair, topping a large forehead and kindly eyes; so my mother was put at her ease. From the book-room near the Head's office, my mother bought me the textbooks I would require that year. There seemed to be an awful lot of them but I was proud to carry them under my arm and I remember to this day the pleasant smell of new paper. But when my mother left me to drive back home, the Westwood farm seemed to me not only fourteen miles but half the world away. It had been arranged for me to board with my Great-aunt Mary, the sister of my maternal grandmother. She was a homely person living in a homely house just a short walk from the school. My parents would drive into Launceston to pick me up for the first weekend at home. After that, arrangements would be made for me to ride my bike to Hagley, leave it at Mill Farm, go to the city by train, return by train on the Friday following and then ride my bike from Mill Farm to my home in Westwood.
In memory, my first year at the high school was a time of joy. I think I enjoyed every minute of it. The new subjects, such as Geometry, Algebra, Physics and Chemistry and even Latin, seemed to be pushing away barriers that allowed my mind to expand and my reasoning powers to open up, bringing a wider world into existence. I met Shakespeare through his play "Julius Caesar," of which I learned long passages and used to quote from them whenever opportunity offered. We had a wonderful staff of teachers, all of them wearing their black academic graduation robes over their clothing. We had a different teacher for almost every subject. I considered them all to be a brilliant band of mind-openers. I think my favourite was our form master, Eric Scott, who had just returned from Oxford University, England, where he had gone on scholarship and obtained a degree. He took us for English Literature and Chemistry. I think the latter was my favourite subject at that time, but English Literature ran a very good second. Eric Scott was editor of the school magazine that year and he encouraged me to write an article for it. It took the form of a satirical piece about our French teacher, who had caused a great deal of emotion in the class by expecting us to stand up and recite fairly long passages of French prose, which we had been forced to learn in addition to our other mountain of homework every evening. One of the girls in the class broke down and wept because she could not remember it properly and I played the truant one afternoon because I had not had time to learn my long passage of French prose. Afterwards the French teacher changed her teaching practice but I was not very popular with her. I was rather proud of this, my first article in print. It brought me some fame among my fellow students but now, in retrospect, I feel more shame than fame.
Of the sports, I felt myself enjoying cricket more than anything else. This was a sport my father taught me in the orchard at home. He himself was very keen on the game.
After a successful and happy year at the High, I was back on the harvest field for the Christmas holidays. Then I was permitted by my father, probably at my mother's urging, to return to High for another year. But during the first two or three weeks, I met with an accident. Perhaps it was through some bad karma surrounding the bicycle. Anyway on a Monday morning, riding from the farm towards Hagley station and perhaps thinking I was late for the train, I was riding too fast down a fairly steep hill about a mile and a half from home. The front wheel bumped into an unexpected pothole and twisted. I went over the handlebars and landed face first on the road. When I managed to get to my feet, my face was swollen so badly that I could not see to ride, so I walked, pushing the bicycle back home. At the sight of my swollen, bloodstained face, my alarmed mother put me straight to bed and sent for a doctor. The result was that I had to spend a few weeks in bed and after that was not permitted to return to school until near the end of the first term. I remember that less than a week after my return, the terminal examinations began. During my time at home, I had studied the textbooks, particularly the one on Chemistry, which was still my favourite subject. I remember I startled my second year Chemistry teacher by coming top in the class for Chemistry. He was pleased, of course, but also I felt he was a little put out as this seemed to make him rather superfluous; but, of course, he was not. Well, the year continued at High without any other major events. It continued to be stimulating and mind-expanding. But I did not care much for a new subject introduced in Maths. This was Trigonometry, and there was too much memorizing of formulae for my taste.
Harvest time on the farm again came after the academic year. My friend Vern Jones was still missing. Why was he not there, I wondered, sunbathing his bare arms and chest among the sheaves? But the mystery remained. Then came a very pleasant surprise. After Christmas, before the academic year began, my father told me that he was sending me this year to Launceston Church of England Grammar School. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I would be among the boys with the colourful caps and blazers.
As before, it was my valiant mother who took me to meet the Head at the old Grammar School in Elizabeth Street, the building it had occupied since its foundation in 1842. The Headmaster was a shy man, almost as shy as my mother. His name was the Reverend Bethune. He was an ordained minister of the Anglican Church.
This year I was to board with my Aunt Harriet, whose residence was in the same street as one entrance to the school. It was a shorter walk for me than it would have been from Great-aunt Mary's. My father paid Aunt Harriet my board, as he had done to Great-aunt Mary. Now I realised he had to pay school fees as well. I found out, during the first week at school, one reason why he had transferred me from High to Grammar. I was in the Fifth Form as the grades were called here. The classroom was almost full of boys, some of them quite noisy when no teacher was present. We had finished one lesson and were waiting for the master to come to give us the next lesson, which was, I think, in Australian History. I heard his footsteps come through the door and proceed towards his high desk in front. At the sight of this new master, who was also new to the school, a silence fell over the classroom. I saw him walk to his desk in front, then put a book on the desk and turn around. To my great astonishment, it was my friend and hero, Vern Jones. Seeing me, he left his high desk and came down to where I was sitting. He stood there for about five minutes talking to me while the rest of the class looked on, silently, perhaps in some surprise. Anyway he did a great deal for my prestige. Years later Vern told me that it had been a help to him, too, to see someone he knew so well sitting at a desk in front of him. I understood now why he had been absent from the farmlands of Westwood. He had been studying, mainly at the University, to complete a degree to gain a position as teacher at his own old well-loved school.
He proved to be a very good teacher indeed and, some years after I had left the school and begun my travels abroad, I heard from an ex-student of Grammar that Vern had become the Headmaster of that school. I heard this news with joy. Then, many years later, after he had retired and I had returned from my last journey around the world, Vern obtained my postal address from Cousin Eliot, son of Uncle Horace of Hagley, and wrote to me. This began a wonderful correspondence between us. I even sent him a copy of my recently published book "Sai Baba, Man of Miracles." I did this with a little reluctance, because I knew that, as Headmaster of Launceston Church of England Grammar School, he would have been a member of the Church of England. Yet because his own father had been born in the two-storey farmhouse at Meadow Lynn and during the years of teaching at Grammar, he had bought a farm himself in Westwood, I knew there was a good mateship and understanding between us. He wrote to me of his great interest in and appreciation of the book. I felt relieved and happy about this for the book seemed to mark the beginning of my life's work for mankind and for God.
I passed the Intermediate Examination after my year in the Fifth Form and thought that would probably be the end of my secondary education. Yet, joyfully I found myself there for another year. Perhaps this might have been because that year we moved out to the new school buildings on the banks of the Tamar River. This was a splendidly equipped school, with brand new buildings, tennis courts, cricket field, football ground and the Tamar River flowing along one border to provide good facilities for rowing contests. The Leaving Certificate Examination, which included Matriculation for University, normally took the student two years' study after the Intermediate. But, because my father was not rich and it may have been a strain on his budget to pay the school fees, I decided to study hard and sit for the Matriculation Examination at the end of the first year at the new school. I was now in the Sixth Form of bright boys and keen students. One of them was, in fact, a genius. I told the Headmaster what I hoped to do and he said he would give me all the support he could.
Early in the first term of the year, I also told the Head that I would like to become a minister of the Anglican Church. I had thought about it for some time and decided that this was one way, perhaps a humble way, to devote my life to the good of man. The Reverend Bethune seemed pleased that I had decided to enter his own profession and he spent time during the year coaching me in the doctrines and dogma of the Church. I also went through several rituals, such as Confirmation, administered by the Bishop of Tasmania. My mother seemed quite pleased with my decision and the maternal aunts saw me as the next Bishop of Tasmania.
And so my last year of secondary education proved to be a very busy one, what with academic studies, preparations for my life as a minister of religion and some sport, which was almost a religion in itself among the boys of the school.
Well, I passed the Matriculation Examination, obtaining the Leaving Certificate at the end of the year. But my further explorations into the dogma and doctrines of the Church had led me to a painful decision. During the last few months of the year, my mind had been a battleground between the rationality of a child, a very healthy child of secondary school science and mathematics, against the dogmas of the Church. Rationality won the battle. I felt, indeed my conscience told me, that it would not be right to teach people the dogmas and some of the doctrines which I did not believe in myself. The Reverend Bethune was a little disappointed in my decision and so was my dear mother, to say nothing of my aunts.
So now my well-loved schooldays were over. Another harvest time had come on the farm and I had to decide on an occupation for my life. My father would no doubt think that now I would come back to the land. But privately I knew that this was impossible for me. As much as I loved the smell of the upturned earth and the garnered grain, I felt deep within me that destiny had other far-reaching plans for me.
Student, teacher and pastures new.
At last he rose and twitched his mantle blue
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new - John Milton
sunny harvest field that year at the end of my school days, I thought a great
deal about the problem of my life's occupation. In my late teens I was still
intent upon the idea of spending my future years in doing good for mankind in
some way. As the Church was not my channel for this, what was? Eventually the
idea dawned that child education should prove a profitable avenue. Surely the
right thing was to work on the plastic, unformed child's mind. If that could
be moulded with the right ideals and understandings, the rest would follow.
The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that the best occupation
was teaching the young. What was the road to becoming a teacher?
I found out, by enquiries in certain directions, that as I had qualified to go to University, I could also go to Teachers' Training College. Furthermore, I made the great discovery that if I signed a document to teach for the Education Department in Tasmania for a number of years after training, I could not only have the training and the University tuition free of charge but would be paid a salary which, though not large, was large enough to cover my living expenses during the years of this necessary tertiary education. So henceforth, my good father would not have to pay a penny towards my further education. This was very satisfying to me because I felt rather guilty of failing to fulfil his dream of his only son becoming his partner on the farm. So after Christmas I began taking steps to initiate my new plan. I felt really overjoyed at the idea of becoming a University student and a teacher trainee, but there would be a year's delay before the student life could begin. I had to do about a year as a junior teacher, which was a kind of apprenticeship to the teaching profession. So I spent six months in the city at the school where I had sat for my Qualifying Examination as entrance to High school, and six months in a country school. At the end of that period I was accepted by the Director of Education, signed the necessary contract and so began my happy life as a student.
In those long ago years, Teachers' Training College and the University buildings stood side by side on a hill of the Hobart Domain. So it was very easy to shunt backwards and forwards between the two buildings as required. The point I want to emphasise in this memoir is that, among the many people who influenced my life at this period, were two outstanding gentlemen. One was the unforgettable character who was the Principal of the Teachers' College and known to all the students with great affection as "Johnno." He not only deepened my love of English poetry, but I think of him and have thought of him through the years as a walking poem. Not only that, but he increased my desire to become a writer by appointing me editor of the College magazine within a couple of weeks of my arrival at College. And he enhanced my love of English Literature by our studies, under his guidance, of Shakespeare, Tennyson and several others of the great English writers. I remember him, as I feel sure many student teachers must have done, with great gratitude and sincere love.
The other gentleman who had a strong effect on my future life was Professor Taylor, the Professor of English at the University. For the many essays that we students had to write as part of our course in English, he always gave me A+, which was the top award; and in terminal examinations I was always delighted to find that I had scored top marks, so my assurance and confidence that my future occupation should be that of writing, increased steadily. A memory came back to me at this time. It was the memory of a travelling phrenologist from America. He had spoken to the students from the platform of the assembly hall of the High School. I attended all of his lectures because I myself had been very interested in that subject and purchased a number of old books about it. I spent five shillings out of my pocket money to have a reading from him before he left. He told me, I remember, that I would be a writer, not a novelist, he said, not fiction. My books would be all factual. This I thought now seemed to fit in with my ideals to help bring higher consciousness, spiritual consciousness to mankind. But how would this fit in with my decision to be a teacher? Writing could be more effectual than teaching children, I decided after a good deal of reflection. But having read biographies of a number of famous writers, I discovered that none of them could sail straight into becoming a successful author and necessarily make a living straight after their education. They could not just say, "I will be a writer," and start on their first book, whatever it may be. They either had to have a wealthy patron, wealthy wife or some other rich supporter. Failing such gifts from God, they had to do a kind of apprenticeship as a journalist, an advertising copywriter or in some other paid job. And so I made the plan to begin my adult occupation in the teaching profession, doing my best to widen and deepen the mind of humanity through the classrooms of Tasmania. And, during the school holidays, I would test myself out with short stories and articles aimed at Australian journals and magazines and newspapers. Thus, while teaching, I would prepare myself for the wider field.
There is no doubt whatever that student time as well as being study time is playtime. One good friend of mine, who had been with me as a junior teacher and was now doing Science at the University as well as teacher training at the College, played too much, failed to do his practical science work and so failed in his University examinations. I played too and my student days were happy days but, fortunately, part of my happiness has always been found in study and in the acquiring of new knowledge. And so I obtained all the necessary certificates and diplomas and passed my University examinations for the Arts degree, leaving two subjects to be done extra-murally. One of these, if I remember rightly, was Advanced Psychology. I had done the subject called Logic and Psychology while still at the University and I found the subject of Psychology so fascinating that I knew that I would have no trouble in passing it from home studies. The other subject was Philosophy, presented in the form of Ethics. Philosophical studies such as this were of absorbing interest and I felt quite confident about tackling this as an extra-mural study.
And so it was I was eventually launched on the hard cold world of classrooms full of children, the majority of whom did not really want to learn anything. Some, of course, wanted to learn enough to pass their examinations and so obtain good jobs when at last the years took them beyond the walls of the school into the free world. High school children, although more interested in their studies than those in primary school, still had to keep their noses to the grindstone of intense study, "swatting" they called it, if they were going to pass the exams that were necessary to reach the kind of future occupations they desired. Certainly they were easier to teach than the primary school kids but I felt that the latter, being younger, should be easier material for the mind moulding and forming which was my ambition. But I soon discovered that the very basic system of education as prescribed by the Education Department of the State Government did not allow for any individual ideals and ideas. Time had to be spent in cramming the prescribed subjects into the juvenile minds so that they could pass the prescribed examinations. Otherwise the teacher would be thought by all and sundry to have failed in his job. Children had to be taught to make a living, not how to live.
Well, I was making a living as a teacher but not doing what I had dreamed of doing. During holidays there was a great deal of preparatory work for a teacher to do, so I was not able to put my freelance writing into action as much as I would have liked. But I did some. The short stories I wrote were mainly based on fact, with some twisting around by the creative imagination to make fiction. Articles I wrote were pure fact. I managed to sell both varieties, both short stories and articles, to a number of journals throughout Australia. Thus I managed to get my toes, just the tips of them, on the path towards the occupation of authorship. And so my contracted years of enforced school teaching ground slowly on.
But there was one thing that happened which I greatly enjoyed and, as I see in hindsight, was part of my training for the destined work I was to do for God in later years. In a large town, where I was teaching, there had been regular classes for adults under what was called the University Tutorial Classes. One of the subjects was English Literature. For some reason the Government were economising and the classes were closed down while I was there. A committee of former students asked me if I would carry on these weekly classes in English Literature. This I was very happy to do because of my own love of the subject and so it was that for the rest of the year I lectured to a class of adults on one evening a week. Unlike my good father, who was a natural public speaker, I had always been unduly shy or self-conscious when attempting to speak before a group of adults, however small. This enforced lecturing to adults for a number of months eased my weakness to some degree. But, as I shall relate in a later chapter, I still had to go through a drastic cure for stage-fright when facing a large audience.
As my contracted years of teaching drew to a close, I decided definitely that this occupation was not for me. Not only was it failing miserably to be a channel for my ideals but, in addition, I was beginning to feel trapped in the walls of a schoolroom. I knew I must make a break into broader pastures that would, at least, lead to the world travel that may give me a clue to life's meaning and help me play some part in raising high the understanding and consciousness of mankind.
Journalism, I felt, was the right path. But how to get into it was the question. I was too old, I realised, to get onto a big newspaper as a cub reporter. Perhaps there was some other door through which I could make the break into the newspaper world. Looking back now, I feel it must have been some unseen power of divinity that played the cards for me here. I have described in my earlier book, "Where the Road Ends," how, while on holiday in Melbourne, while having lunch in a cheap Greek restaurant, I met a smooth-faced Englishman, Stan Perry. In subsequent discussion, he suggested that I become his partner in launching a weekly suburban newspaper in an area of Melbourne that was not being served in this way. This seemed like a gift from God, which it was, so I agreed that after terminating my affairs in Tasmania, I would be happy to come over and partner him in the suburban newspaper project. I have told, too, how when I returned to Melbourne and contacted him, he had gone cold on the idea. So I decided to go it alone. I will not repeat the details here but the scheme proved eminently successful for a time and it got me through the entrance door into journalism. Although Stan Perry was no help, except in the distribution of the free paper, it was he who gave me the idea and brought me from Tasmania to the wider world of Melbourne.
I tell, too, in the earlier book, how the work on the suburban paper led to getting a job as a sports reporter on an evening metropolitan paper that had just been launched. This paper was launched very bravely in competition to "The Herald," Melbourne's long-established evening newspaper. However short is its life, I thought, I will gain some worthwhile experience in being on the staff of a big metropolitan newspaper. It was during this time that what I must call divine fate played another card in my favour. It was by pure accident, it seemed, that I happened to read a notice announcing the beginning of a three months' course on advertising copywriting and procedure. It was being conducted by a leading advertising man of Melbourne, to wit, the advertising manager of the Victorian railways. So I joined and spent many enjoyable evenings in this new study. I must have worked hard and had some talent for the work because, in the examination at the end of the course, I obtained top marks in copywriting and was second in advertising procedure. I was given a certificate to this effect. I had no idea what this might lead to eventually.
And so I carried on with my reporter life on the evening paper until the brave paper, unable to meet the long-established competition, went out of existence. So what now, I asked myself? There would be a lot of good, experienced newspapermen looking for jobs in Melbourne. Something that had been lurking in the back of my mind as a temptation, came to the front. This was the memory of my well-loved hero, Vern Jones' stories of his days "on the track." I longed to gain some experience of that life. It would, no doubt, provide plenty of material for freelance journalism. All I needed was the eye for a story. I thought that I had developed that well enough now and I had saved enough money from my salary as a journalist and my profits from the venture into suburban newspaper work.
One thing that had become firmly established now was the Great Depression and I felt sure there would be a good number of men, young and middle-aged who had lost their jobs and had gone "on the track" in the hope of finding occasional jobs here and there throughout the country. So I made postal contact with the editors of a number of papers throughout Australia and there seemed a promise that some of them would accept paragraphs and short articles on a freelance basis. The most promising of these was "Smith's Weekly," of Sydney. Incidentally, I was in later years to meet the editor of this paper, a well-known Australian poet, Ken Slessor, as a war correspondent in the western desert of Egypt. The Depression, beginning in the late 1920's actually created a larger army of wandering nomads than I had expected. It was, in fact, a rich study in human nature. Much I have written about in the book "Where the Road Ends," and will not repeat it here. One thing I find that I did not mention last time was that, among the bagmen, as they called themselves, wandering in the byways of the Outback, I met a man I had known well in my student days. His name was Col. We had both been at the Teachers' College in Hobart at the same time and were good friends. He, like me, had grown tired of the frustrations of the teaching profession and, like me, was now exploring outback Australia. We had many memories in common and now joined together in some adventures. He needed to make some money where he could and I was not loathe to join him in this and thus add to what I could earn from freelance journalism. For some weeks, for example, we picked grapes at vineyards along part of the Murray River and built a raft to float down the river to its mouth in South Australia. But, with the rough material we had at hand or could find, we had not built a very efficient raft and soon abandoned it, then walked together up a lonely, muddy road in New South Wales where, with darkness came a torrent of soaking rain. Wet to the skin and sliding about on the road in the dark, we at last saw one single light shining in the darkness. We made our way towards it and found, not very far off the road, a small cottage where one man lived on his own. He welcomed us with true Outback hospitality and invited us to spend the night in his cottage, where we could dry our wet clothing. Next morning he took us to an empty house, not more than half a mile from his cottage. He said that here we could rest and dry out our clothes more in the sunshine before we continued our journey. We found that the empty house, and the gardens thereof, were full of snakes of a number of varieties, including the deadly tiger snake. However, they moved out of the house reluctantly when Col and I arrived. It was a weird experience to spend the whole of that sunny day surrounded by snakes in what seemed to be part of the Naga kingdom. It took a further long walk and a hitchhike of some miles on a country truck before we located and joined a remnant of the nomad army of bagmen.
On the whole, the months I spent "on the track" was an experience with many worthwhile lessons that I would not have missed, so I am grateful to my old teacher, Vern Jones, for giving me the idea. I relate too, in the earlier book, how I eventually went to Sydney and there, by divine grace, moved into a permanent job as a copywriter in a large advertising agency in Sydney. During my years there I learned, under the tutelage of an experienced copywriter arriving from the head office in London, the art of cutting my well-loved prose to pieces and building it up again nearer to the heart's desire. In other words writing condensed prose in the style of that found in the essays of Francis Bacon and I saw how, working as an advertising copywriter, is the best training for professional book-writing on factual subjects.
I relate, too, how my work with the advertising company brought me into contact with a good many Englishmen on the staff, who had come from the Head Office in London, and how this spurred me on to make my first overseas trip earlier than I might otherwise have done.
I thought at the time that it was very bad luck indeed that the Second World War began a few months after I set foot on English soil for it took me away from the shrinking advertising world into the war itself. But now I see it as very good fortune because it led me into very much wider fields of travel and experience. In fact, it led me into some countries that I probably would not have visited or been able to spend much time in if the war had not taken me there. Some of these were Palestine, Egypt and Tunisia. Also, on the European front, it enabled me to gain an intimate knowledge of countries and peoples, such as Germany, France and Belgium. It was a great help to my understanding of mankind and my search for ultimate meanings. My time in Belsen concentration camp as an army public relations officer and my months in charge of the British press section at the Nuremberg trials, enabled me to see the very core of the dark force we were fighting against in this colossal Armageddon.
I found it hard to drag myself away from the interesting post-war life in Europe, but I managed to return to Sydney in the 1950's in time to be near my mother during the last years of her life and to meet Iris Godfrey, who was to become my wife and inspiring partner in my second odyssey, which finally led to the feet of Avatar Sri Sathya Sai Baba, when the door began to open from the Unreal to the Real, changing our lives completely. This was in 1965.
The young Avatar.
interesting and at first sight inexplicable that footsteps of an Avatar should
be dogged from the earliest years with threats to his life. Swami has stated
that it is impossible to remove him from Earth until his mission is completed.
It is of course a comforting thought to his followers but not so comforting to
his enemies, of which there are always many. I will give what I consider the
reasons for his life-threatening enemies at the end of the story. Serious
threats to the life of the young Sathya Sai Baba began in his youth in the
early 1940's; some 20 years before I had his first darshan in 1965. The events
were related to me by a number of people including the late Raja of
Venkatagiri and his two sons and the late Nagamani Purniya and other reliable
witnesses whose integrity is beyond question. At the time we knew her,
Nagamani was putting together a collection of her experiences and later had
them printed privately under the title "The Divine Leelas of Bhagavan Sri
Sathya Sai Baba". I believe the little book has been printed again since
her death. It is a mine of information about Swami's earliest years.
The young Sathya Sai Baba was born into the Kshetria caste; that is the caste which from earliest times was responsible for the protection and the governing of the people of India. Unlike the Brahmins who were their advisors in governing, they are not vegetarians. From his earliest years, the young Sathya Narayana Raju could not bear to eat the flesh of our young animal brothers, so he began going to the house of a Brahmin lady who lived just a few houses from the home of his parents in the village. The lady who at this time, seemed to have lived alone in the Brahmin house was named Subbama and she became very attached to the young Avatar.
After he had announced his identity as Sai Baba and became known as Sathya Sai Baba, his followers began to gather around him in ever-increasing numbers. No doubt the draw card at first was what he called his visiting cards, that is his miracles. So it was that the large Brahmin house became the venue for the meetings of the first Sai groups. Unfortunately, the village of Puttaparthi, like I suspect most Indian villages, was more than somewhat caste-conscious.
One Brahmin lady living in the village seems to have put the purity of her Brahmin caste above all other considerations. I will not name her, not because of her actions, but because of what happened as a result of her actions. She strongly resented young Sathya Sai going himself and taking his followers who were of mixed castes into the pure Brahmin home of Subbama. She felt that as Subbama did not object, the meetings would continue in her home.
The signs were that the crowds would continue to grow in numbers and the pollution of the Brahmin home would become unbearable. She could see only one way of preventing this. Obviously, and to me, incredibly, strong beliefs in caste purity outweighed any moral and dharmic considerations about the taking of a human life. In brief, she decided to poison the young Sathya Sai. Her plan for carrying out this deed, although perhaps not worthy of Lucrecia Borgia the queen of poisoners, was perhaps adequate for the removal of someone in the remote primitive village of Puttaparthi.
She decided to make a batch of vadis (the savoury little cakes with a hole in the middle like a doughnut). Such tasty morsels were very popular with the boys and youths of the village, so she invited a number of the boys and youths including Sathya Sai. Understandably, the boys arrived very promptly on the day of the feast and sat in groups in the garden devouring the vadis at a great pace. The hostess who I shall name Lucrecia Borgia took little Sathya aside, telling him that she had some especially good vadis for him. He came readily and she offered him the two special vadis in a container. She sat and watched to see that he ate them. Without hesitation, Sathya began to masticate the two poisoned vadis. As Lucrecia Borgia watched he ate up every morsel. Perhaps he knew he was eating poison, perhaps not, but he must have sensed something was wrong because immediately after finishing his vadis he left and walked back to Subbama's home. Lucrecia Borgia, very anxious to know what happened, left the other boys still enjoying the feast and followed after young Sathya Sai. By the time she reached Subbama's home, she could hear Sathya vomiting in the garden. She stood and watched. She was startled and very frightened when she saw him throw up the two vadis whole, even though she had seen him masticate them and chew them up very thoroughly. She began to realise that he was no ordinary youth but somebody special, a being beyond all castes.
She watched him as he composed himself after the ordeal and sat down on the garden seat to recover. She went down on her knees before him and begged for his forgiveness. Sathya Sai fully forgave her, as through the years he has forgiven others who tried to do him harm. So it was that his would-be-murderer became one of his followers. The young Avatar was fully aware even before this attack on his life, that there were many people in and around the village who hated him with a great animosity and violence. His own village was, it seemed a small sample of what the world was to become as his mission grew to world wide dimensions some believing, loving and serving him in various degrees, while unbelievers scorned him and the violent hatred of a few seemed to be a menace to his very life.
The episode of the poisoning made Sathya realise that some of these slings and arrows of hatred against himself, might also strike his good friend and sponsor Subbama, so he decided that while seeing her often himself, he would find another place for his meetings with his devotees, but where? The cave where he often went to meditate was too small for the purpose, so he decided to build his own sanctuary in the form of a hut. Some good friends came along to help him and in a very short time, an adequate hut was constructed. It was a rough and primitive building, but adequate for his present purposes. So he began having his meetings in this little, quiet sanctuary on the edge of the village. This went on peacefully for a time, but his enemies had not gone to sleep.
A small group of youths among the most violently active members of his enemies, formed a plan, an evil plan which they felt sure would achieve the purpose of removing forever, the 'young upstart', Sathya Narayana and give them a bit of good sport at the same time. So it was that one evening when they knew for sure that Sathya was in his hut with a very small number of his closest devotees from the village, they silently crept up to the hut, carrying a pail of petrol and a strong prop. Firstly, they securely propped the door so that it could not be opened from the inside, then they doused part of the wall with petrol and set fire to it. When the flames had taken firm hold, they slipped a short distance away and sat on a rise to watch the fun. Soon the flames were crackling lustily and noisily up the front wall of the hut but to the utter amazement of the watching youths, no shouts, no calls for help came.
Whether or not if they had humbled or frightened their victims sufficiently, thus proving that Sathya Narayana was an ordinary mortal, they would have removed the prop and released them, it is impossible to say. Inside the hut Sathya and his friends soon realised that the walls were in flame and burning rapidly. One of them jumped up to open the door but young Sathya who knew the door was blocked, told him to sit down. "Just wait and have no fear," he said "all will be well". Then after a gap had already been burned in the wall and the hut was unpleasantly filling with smoke, Sathya waved his arm. All had full faith in their leader and felt that this was a sign to bring rain. It was within a minute or two, a gigantic clap of thunder was heard over the hut and over the village. The thunder continued with a violence which seemed to break open the sky and make the Earth tremble. In no time at all, a torrent of rain began to fall. Those inside could hear nothing but the heavenly organ music of their saving rain. Another sound could be heard very dimly above the torrent that pelted against the hut and the Earth beyond. This was the sound of the shouts and curses of the young delinquents who, wet to the skin, were running towards the shelter of their homes. The storm ended as suddenly as it had come and silence reigned, but the heavenly fire-brigade had done it's work. Within the charred wood over the front wall was a gap big enough for Sathya and his friends to walk through. The friends with Sathya were too over-awed to say much. He had saved their lives with a wave of his hand and their belief in his power was beyond all doubt, perhaps even some of the young criminal fire-bugs were beginning to wonder and doubt their own arrogance and think that the hated youth against whom they scoffed, might indeed be somebody special.
Friends of the young Avatar helped him repair the hut and it served his purpose until the number of his followers required bigger premises. Then together under Swami's leadership, they built the Mandir now known as 'the old Mandir' that is another story.
Why is it, one may well ask, do world changing Avatars such as Rama, Krishna, Jesus and Sathya Sai Baba have so many enemies and suffer so many attacks on their lives, often right from their very birth? At first sight it seems incredible that one who brings light and redemption from the heart of God to all mankind should have even one enemy. Yet if we think about it with sufficient depth, we will see that with God's plan of evolution of consciousness and the development of beings with divine consciousness, there must of necessity be struggle and conflict in this training field of Earth. Without struggle, consciousness would remain static without any development and of course, struggle requires that there must be both the good and the bad forces. And so there exists the great divine drama through which we earthlings learn our lessons. Sometimes the struggle between good or forward-pulling forces and bad or backward-pulling forces gets out of hand out of balance. The Asuric or demonic forces gaining such strength that they threaten God's plan. At such times God takes direct action where a God-man comes to Earth with commission to rectify the balance, by reducing the evil and helping and promoting the good. In this way he brings an uplift to the consciousness of humanity and changes the world thereby.
But the entrenched dark forces who hold the power and most of the worldly wealth, do not want such a change. Any change will threaten their ignorant, self-centred lifestyle and so they resist it in every way they can, even to the extent of attacks against the life of the God-man. But the God-man will only leave the Earth when his mission is completed. The crucifixion of Jesus was part of his mission, indeed the greatest part, so it does not represent the defeat of the God-man but rather his victory. Incidentally, it may be asked why are there attacks against the greatest of the spiritual teachers the God-men, and not against the lesser ones. It must be because only the great ones are a real threat to the world order; the greater the sunshine, the stronger the shadow. So by the very light they bring, the Avatars create their own deadly enemies. "To teach the truth," said an old sage, "Is like carrying a lighted taper into a powder magazine". Only One with the absolute power of almighty God can carry the lighted taper of absolute Truth into the powder magazine of the dark forces of Earth.
The Sai cure for stage fright.
One bright sunny
morning in the year 1966, as I sat at my desk in Leadbeater Chambers in the
Theosophical Society's Headquarters estate, two Indian gentlemen appeared in
my doorway. As I knew and respected them both as followers of Sathya Sai Baba,
I called to them to come in and jumped up from my desk to greet them. Their
faces and eyes were shining as if they were bringers of good news. But the
news they brought was more alarming than good from my point of view. One of
them, Sri Venkatamuni, at whose home Swami usually stayed when in Madras in
those days, said to me, "Swami would like you to give a short talk, one
of two talks to precede his discourse tomorrow evening at Osborne House. We
trust you will agree." He smiled. When I had regained my powers of speech
after this startling announcement, I asked one or two questions. "Where
was the discourse to take place? For how long did Swami want me to speak? And
who was the other person giving a preliminary talk?" I was thinking that
after I had obtained the relevant details I could perhaps find some way to
refuse politely. "It will be at Osborne House in the city,"
Venkatamuni answered, and went on, "He would like you to speak for a
quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. The other speaker will be Dr T M
Mahadevan, who is the Head of the Department of Higher Philosophy at Madras
University." He seemed to expect me to be pleased by this but, in fact, I
was even more alarmed. Further conversation indicated that the talks would be
given in the large grounds of Osborne House and about twenty thousand people
were expected. The men waited silently to hear a delighted acceptance from me.
But though I had lectured and taught to adults and children for years in Australia and given talks to Theosophical members at the Headquarters hall at Adyar, never might I say, without some nervousness, this request was quite different. If I agreed, I would find myself speaking before the great Avatar, to say nothing of the Head of the Department of Higher Philosophy at Madras University and the audience would be not a few hundred or a few dozen as of yore but twenty thousand or more. My first impulse, a very strong one, was to find some way in which I could say no. But I was to find then, for the first time, that when Swami makes a request, one can never say no. So I found myself agreeing to their request. Their faces brightened even more but I felt that my own face was rather stiff.
My other visitor, who had not spoken yet, was Major Rama Rayaningar. My wife Iris and I, in the time we had been in India, had had some pleasant associations with Rama and his wife Mathara. Now he spoke. "I will send my car and driver to pick you up, you and your wife, tomorrow evening in good time to take you to Osborne House." I thanked him very much because I had no idea where Osborne House was in the great city of Madras. Now the two ambassadors from Swami took their leave and I was left alone with a very important task before me.
I put aside the work I had been doing before they came and sat down at my desk to think of a subject for my speech and to make some notes. I had about a day and a half to prepare a twenty minute speech so that part of it should not be difficult. I thought of a subject. It would be about one of Swami's greatest miracles, that is how he changes the nature of people. As the old alchemists strove to change lead into gold, Swami not only tried, but succeeded in turning the base metal of human nature into the gold of human divine nature. So I would call the talk "Lead into Gold." I began to make some notes. Then it occurred to me that as I would probably be in a state of platform panic, standing near Swami and facing the huge audience, I should really write the whole speech out. In my past experience in giving radio talks, I had cultivated the art of reading a radio talk just as if I was speaking it without the written text. This was something I knew now that I could do with confidence. I wrote out the whole talk, timing it to be no more than twenty minutes, and felt rather satisfied.
But my self-satisfaction received a blow the next evening when we drove through the gates of Osborne House and saw the very large grounds, with a big crowd already sitting on the grass under trees and under the stars above. It all looked rather gala with lights in the trees and a well-lit platform near the big house itself. Some friends conducted me to the platform where Swami was already sitting with Dr Mahadevan on the other side of him. Iris was taken to a reserved place in the front row of the audience. Everyone was treating us as honoured guests but I felt more like a lamb being led to the slaughter. As I climbed onto the platform, Swami greeted me with a loving smile of welcome. I realised afterwards that I should have knelt and touched his feet but all I did was to put my hands together and give a stiff bow. He gestured me to a seat on his right. For a few moments I looked at the faces in front of me. They seemed to stretch onto eternity. Swami asked the philosopher to speak first. I was both glad and sorry, glad that I would have about twenty minutes respite and sorry that I was too busy with my fears and my own thoughts to listen properly to what the philosopher was saying. I felt sure it would be of interest but my mind was too agitated to follow it.
The twenty minutes respite seemed to go by in a few seconds and the moment came when it was my turn to stand and deliver. Swami gave me a loving smile, like a kind mother, as he gestured to me to go forward and give my talk. I know now, as I did not know then, that he is the witness within us and knew then the turmoil that was taking place in me. Before I began, he lifted his hand beside me, palm upward, as if he was raising the petals of my aura. This had the amazing effect of calming me considerably. The crowd seemed to merge and I felt as if I was talking to one and so I began to read my speech with confidence. At intervals I saw Swami's hand making the same gesture of upliftment which kept the panic at bay. Still I was very glad when it was over and I was able to resume my seat. Now Swami stood up and went to the front of the platform. A deep hush fell over the large congregation. With joy they waited to hear the words of God. There was utter silence except when Swami made some joke. Frequently a ripple of laughter went through the crowd. I felt very relieved that my own trial was over and I could relax and listen. Swami spoke in Telegu so I couldn't understand what he said but it was a joy to sit there near him and hear his golden voice and study the reactions of the crowd. I hoped I had, myself, performed to his satisfaction but how would I ever know? Iris would probably say I had done alright but then she was a little prejudiced and very kind-hearted.
When I came down from the platform and was walking towards the house, I met the Rajkamara, or Crown Prince of Venkatagiri. I had had a few good talks with him on past occasions and I admired his knowledge of the Sanathana
Dharma and Vedanta. Now he looked at me and said, "That was a good speech. You should have it printed." I knew he was not flattering so I felt happy that, in spite of the platform panic, I had not failed. The speech was some months later printed in an edition of the "Sanathana Sarathi", Sai Baba's ashram magazine.
Swami's cure for the disease of platform panic, which is with a sweet smile and gentle hand, to push you in at the deep end of the swimming pool and if necessary to help you to swim, did not cure me entirely that night at Osborne House but it went some distance towards it. Swami, however, persisted. Whenever he found me near the deep end of the pool, so to speak, he tumbled me in. On many occasions, when the opportunity presented itself, he would ask me to speak impromptu to a group of students or adults. On one evening, for example, he had all his students of the Whitefield College gathered together in the dining room of their hostel at Brindavan ashram, he saw me at the back of the group trying to make myself inconspicuous. He sent one of the students to call me to him. When I got there he said with a sweet smile, "Give these students some good advice, will you? Only about ten minutes." Then he vanished and I was left standing in front of them. I did not know what to say. Then suddenly I thought of something Dr Bhagavantam had been talking to me about that day. So I told them how very fortunate they were to be at a University college under Swami's guidance and protection. The abuse of drugs by students had reached India from the west and other Indian Universities had become affected by this great peril. I managed to fill in ten minutes talking about this and the other great advantages they had under the influence of the Avatar. They were a good audience, as Indians usually are. I could see their eyes shining with joy. When Swami returned and took over, he remarked, "That was good advice you gave them." Then he talked to them for about an hour while their eager faces remained rapt in joy. Later I asked my friend, Narender, who was the Principal of the College, what Swami had talked about. "Oh," he said, "He was mainly scolding several of them for undisciplined behaviour." "They were listening with such rapt attention," I protested. He replied, "They listen with joy to Swami whether he is scolding them or whatever he is saying."
And so my lessons went on and my old stage fright passed away to a large extent. Along the way I discovered that I was not the only one going through this curative treatment for platform panic. Dr Sam Sandweiss of the USA, a psychiatrist and author of two good books about Swami, once confided to me that when Swami took him on a tour of the ashram passing by groups of students or perhaps adults, he in his own words, "walked in terror" because he knew that at any time Swami might stop and suddenly ask him to speak impromptu to a group. He knew from experience Swami might suddenly say, "Say a few words to these people or these students, Sandweiss," and it often happened. Like me, he said he had been born with an inborn fear of speaking to a group of people in public. The cure seemed to have worked on him when both he and I had to give talks from the platform in Rome at the International Sai Conference in 1983. But he confessed to me that underneath he still had a degree of the old panic. I suppose that I had a degree of it too, thought nobody seemed to think so.
Of couse, as the years passed by and I found that part of my work for the Avatar was platform speaking, for which he had been training me, of course, and training my friend, Sam Sandweiss, the old panic had evaporated and all I felt was a kind of tension when I first went onto the stage. Some of the great actors, who spent years on the stage, tell me that when they first go on the stage to play their parts, they always feel this tension, this initial stage fright, but they consider it a good thing as it inspires them to put on their best performance. I was happy to see Dr Sam Sandweiss as guest speaker from America at a Sai National Conference held in South Australia. He had much platform work to do there and I said to him, "I doubt if Disraeli or Gladstone or any other great orator could have held his audience in such rapt attention, drawing both laughter and tears from them, as you have done here. You must have thrown off every scrap of your old stage fright." "Not quite," he replied, "I still have a little of it every time I go onto the platform to speak." Perhaps, I thought, even the greatest of orators had that same thing at the beginning of their great speeches, yet it no doubt vanished after the first few opening sentences. And they spoke for maybe hours, bringing pleasure to their audience. If there is any inspiring speaker who does not feel any initial tension, it must be Sai Baba himself.
The yoga of love.
Bhakti yoga, it
is said, is the most essential of all the yogas.
I was first introduced to the philosophy of bhakti yoga by the late Dr I K Taimni at the "School of the Wisdom" at Adyar in India. Dr Taimni, himself a scientist, occultist and theosophist, constantly wore a happy, smiling expression that is often a sign of a bhakta. It seemed to me that his life was inspired and governed by some living divine Love.
Taimni's tentative attempt to interest us in bhakti took the form of discussing some of the aphorisms from the classic, Narada Bhakti Sutras. But I, along with most of his other students, I fear was too immersed in the "head" to be interested in the philosophy of the "heart". I was fascinated by the theosophy of the Absolute, the emanation of the universes, the seven principles of man, and so on. The ancient truths of the East, crystallised in theosophy, seemed to offer all the answers. The studies brought a mental expansion that threw off the old fetters of religious dogma, and led by exciting ways into broader vistas of understanding.
Devotion to a God-with-Form, and the yoga philosophy that goes with it, seemed like an unnecessary intrusion into my new-found theosophic world. I decided that bhakti yoga was certainly not for me.
One of Narada's Sutras states that divine love, "Is like the experience of joy which a dumb man has when he tastes something sweet". The man has a strong urge to express what he feels but is unable to do so. Every man is in fact dumb when it comes to describing the inner experience of even ordinary, let alone divine, love, when it bursts the dam of the heart. The ineffable experience came to me the first time I was alone in the presence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
This was the beginning of a complete turn-about that changed my attitude to many things, including bhakti yoga. Instead of regarding bhakti, as I had before, as an emotional bath for the mindless, I began to understand what the sages meant when they said that it was the most effective yoga for the vast majority of people in this dark Kali Age.
I learned another lesson too. Philosophising about love and of devotion to God is really of little avail until the Christ-child of Divine Love is born in the individual heart. That child is usually fathered by some Form that spells Divinity. This may be a Self-realized guru, a great saint, a Godman or Avatar of the past, some other chosen Form of God, or, above all, a living Avatar.
There have been great bhaktas of the Christian religion who have found their inspiration in the image of Jesus Christ. Then again, the Forms of Krishna, Rama and others, have opened the hearts of millions in Asia. In practically all religions there are degrees of bhakti directed to some chosen Form of God. You don't have to meet a living Avatar to be initiated into the Yoga of Devotion, but I believe it is a tremendous advantage if you do. I, myself, probably needed a spiritual bomb to shatter the thick mental shells around my heart. And so I met a Living Divine Form to ignite the necessary explosion.
Bhakti yoga deals in the main with the control and purification of the emotions. The means of purification is devotion to God in an ever-increasing degree. The aids and steps to strengthening and increasing the devotion are elucidated by Narada and the other sages who wrote about the bhakti pathway. Sai Baba confirms, and applies the ancient teachings, and goes beyond them.
One of the acknowledged aids to fostering devotion is satsang, or the meeting together of spiritually-minded people; especially those following the same Shepherd, or chosen Form of the Divine. Such meetings should be used, it is taught, to tell and hear stories about the Beloved One, to talk of his divine attributes and sing of the glories of God. Even when engaged in the ordinary activities of life the devotee should, where possible, sing songs of praise to Divinity.
Followers of Sai Baba in all countries meet regularly to sing bhajans, which are songs of praise to the glories of God in his many Forms and under His many Names. For, as Baba says, the One God fills all Forms and answers to all Names. Sai devotees are taught that they should have family bhajan singing in their homes at least once a week, and should meet regularly with other devotees for group singing.
Bhajans are mainly in Sanskrit, but Baba encourages the composition of such songs in other languages to suit his followers, for the Sai Movement is international. Many bhajans are now sung in English, Chinese and other tongues.
While the company of spiritual people is beneficial, that of great souls, saints or Godmen is of inestimable value for the enhancement of bhakti, Narada tells us. It is not easy to find such elevated Beings in the ordinary walks of life; indeed a searcher would be fortunate to meet one in a lifetime. And that is doubtless an important reason why devotees travel from far countries as often as possible to spend time near Sathya Sai Baba, and thus have their bhakti batteries recharged.
On the other hand, "Evil company must be shunned by all means," writes Narada. "For it leads to the rousing up of desire, anger, delusion, to loss of memory, to loss of discrimination and to utter ruin in the end".
A student has to be very well established on the path of devotion before he is securely insulated against the effects of bad company. Even an advanced bhakta is in danger of succumbing to the evil influences of those around him, for the sensory urges in his subconscious sleep lightly and can easily be aroused. So it is an important rule that evil company should be shunned at all times.
Even so, the devotee's greatest enemy is really himself, that is his lower self or ego. Sai Baba is constantly stressing the need to transcend this ego, this bundle of sense desires, attachments and delusions that has been building-up in each individual for a lifetime. For many lifetimes, Baba says. Self-inquiry and self-examination are important weapons in the battle of the ego. The devotee must keep an eye on his own motivation, detecting any self-interest content, even in thoughts and actions that appear on the surface to be altruistic. He must seek to lower that egocentric content, and increase the element of genuine love and service to God.
When down-pulling emotions, such as anger, pride, possessiveness and the rest of the brood, make an appearance, they should, Narada states, be directed towards the Divine Form that is the object of devotion. It may seem very strange to the novice that he should be taught to turn the barbs of his most shocking thoughts and feelings towards his beloved Guru.
But Sai Baba confirms this ancient teaching. I have heard him say to devotees, "Bring your worst thoughts and emotions and place them at my feet. I will burn them away in the eternal fire."
Even advanced devotees will at times lapse into detrimental attitudes of the mind. When this happens, they should think of the Divine Name dear to the heart, and offer their errors to Him. This, done with love and surrender will lead to purification.
Another important yoga discipline on the path to emotional purification is given in Narada's Sutra 74 which states, "Do not enter into controversy about God, or spiritual truths, or about the comparative merits of different devotees."
It is not difficult to see such controversy can easily lead to feelings of anger, contempt, superiority or inferiority all of which stimulate and enhance the ego.
Besides, as Baba points out, mere reason cannot solve the spiritual mysteries or find the ultimate Truth. There is bound to be a diversity of views on such matters, and the devotee must be tolerant of other people's religious beliefs. Friendly discussion is in order, but not debate and conflict. As to the comparative merits of devotees, only God Himself can judge such questions truly.
Although, as stated earlier, most people need the great inspiration of a Divine Form for the birth of bhakti, it can be developed and increased by spiritual practices. "Devotion manifests itself in one whosoever it can be when one has made oneself fit for such manifestation by constant sadhana (spiritual disciplines)," says Narada in Sutra 53.
Related to this is the statement by a great Christian bishop who was queried several times by one of his priests on the subject of how to develop Divine Love. The bishop repeatedly answered in the same way: "Love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself." "I know I should do that," replied the priest, "but please tell me how to do it." The bishop finally gave him the only help that can be given in this problem. He said: "You learn to walk by walking, to swim by swimming, to ride by riding; in the same way you must learn to love by loving. Practise loving thoughts, speak lovingly, and perform action of selfless love daily. Through such disciplined actions, love of God and man will grow in you until you become a veritable master in the art of loving." Knowledge, will, and action can lead, if not to the birth, at least to the development of devotion to God.
Man is not all emotion; he has also a discriminatory intellect and will power. These should be exercised in the yoga of love. Narada certainly indicates this teaching in some of his aphorisms. He states, for instance, that the aspirant should give constant loving service, should give up fruits of his actions and through discrimination, pass beyond the pairs of opposites, such as pleasure and pain. The student must strive to reach that state of constant inner joy which is part of his true nature. He should be unaffected by pleasure and pain, praise and blame, and the other pairs of opposites.
The Sai Bhakti way, while confirming this truth, has a still greater content of Jnana, Karma and Raja yogas than are found in the Narada Sutras.
Although man cannot hope to understand God, or even himself, through his rational mind, he must still try to attain at least some knowledge of God, of his own relationship with God and with the world. In other words, Sathya Sai teaches that man must delve into Sathya or the spiritual truth of Being. Otherwise his Bhakti yoga, on a purely emotional level, will be unstable and floating in a void of ignorance will lead to all kinds of superstitious beliefs and practices.
The basic truth of Being is that man is one with God, but through a veil of ignorance called maya, he sees himself as separated. And so he identifies himself with the transient world of forms that reach him through his distorting senses. Especially he identifies himself with his body, with his children, his possessions, his ambitions. From all this he builds a self-image and ego which is unrelated to his true Self. The true Self is the Divine Self, and when man identifies himself with That, he loses the false concept of separation and returns to at-one-ment with his Creator. This is the aim of all yogas.
Moreover, man's understanding of the universe about him is wrong. Even if he accepts that a Divine Artist created the universe, he does not normally perceive that the Creator is within his own creation, that in varying degrees the Divine is in all forms, from the saint to the star to the stone. At times man does have a glimmering of this, and calls it Beauty or, as Wordsworth expressed it, "The Light that never was on sea or land." The yogin by whatever path he travels comes eventually to see God in all things and realizes that there is only One eternal Reality.
But before he reaches such a level of realization, a mental acceptance of the basic spiritual Truth will enlighten his footsteps, and lend support to the wisdom of Love that leads to the great Vision of Truth.
As well as the mind reaching outward for the knowledge it craves, it must, says Sai Baba, reach inward. It must make that inward journey of discovery that we call meditation. While devotional meditation is the type most commonly practiced by his devotees, Baba does teach different varieties to suit individual requirements. But regular practice is prescribed for almost all.
Love, Selfless Love, is the Sai central tower that is being built ever upward towards the divine heights. All structures built around it are support structures, their purpose being to strengthen and facilitate the work on the central Love Tower.
While one of the support structures is right knowledge another is right action. As man has a mind that must be satisfied, so he has hands that must find work to do. The old proverb rightly states that, "The devil finds work for idle hands to do," so Sai Bhakti does not leave them idle. It teaches that the hands as well as the mind and tongue must work for God, and the best way of doing that is to work for one's fellow men, without thought of gain. Work must become a form of worship. Says Baba: "Love for God must be manifested as Love for man, and Love must express itself as service."
The students in the Sathya Sai schools and colleges, for instance, are trained through voluntary work to become true bhaktas in action. Among other things, they help to organise and run medical camps where the poor are given free treatment and help for such things as polio and disease of the eye. These white-clad students also go into the backward villages for big clean-up operations, clearing the dirt from the streets and years of filth from the drains. This is the kind of lowly distasteful work that in India would normally be left to outcasts. But the student-bhaktas do this, as well as their mundane daily chores, as a service to God as an expression of the love felt for the Divine in man. In this way action becomes joy and brings no karma.
All voluntary and social work anywhere should be done in this same spirit of selfless dedication; then it is good yoga, bringing full benefit to both performers and recipients. But if the actions are tainted by worldly desires and motives, yogic benefits to the performer vanish and, because love is lacking, the recipients gain less. This is a Sai teaching.
Bhakti, coming from the Fountain Love in the individual spiritual heart, flows out through all thought, word and action. Sathya Sai urges us to remember whenever we look at our watch, that, as well as it giving the time, its name gives us the message: "Watch your Words; watch your Action; watch your Thoughts; watch your Character; watch your Heart." In this way all life can become a course in yoga, as indeed it should be for those who are aware that man is on an evolutionary path, and that he can consciously speed his way along it.
Many sages have declared that in this present Kali Yuga the easiest way to union with God is along the Path of Devotion to a Form of God that stirs love in the heart. God is both with form and without, both manifest and unmanifest. But in this Age, soaked in body-consciousness, it is difficult for the ordinary person to take the jnana road directly to the Unmanifested or Formless God. That way is for the few. "The goal of the Unmanifested is very hard for the embodied to reach," says Krishna in the 12th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.
It is much easier to worship a Beloved Form and reach the goal that way, as Sri Ramakrishna states - "He in whom Bhakti is surging with fervour has already come to the threshold of Divinity. Know it for certain that he will very soon get into union with God."
Among the followers of Sri Sathya Sai Baba I have met those in whom bhakti seems to be surging with fervour. "They converse with one another with choking voice, and tearful eyes," and describe how "Their bodies thrill and their hair seems to stand on end." These, according to Narada, are manifestations of supreme devotion. He goes on to say that when a devotee reaches the highest levels on this path, and the summit of Bhakti is attained, such a one sanctifies his family, his land, indeed the whole world, and "This earth gets a Saviour."
The fulfillment of Divine Love brings the bhakta into oneness with God. He knows that there is only the Beloved, and that he and all things are at-one with the Beloved. Such a saint, having no selfish motives will, through all his thoughts and actions, help to save mankind from its life of blindness, bondage, and sorrow.
Bhakti is not only the easiest Way, it is also the joyous Way, for it is accompanied by a constant underlying joy, however adverse the outward circumstances.
Those for whom the Sai Bhakti door has opened know with a bright certainty the goal towards which they are heading. The road towards it has a radiance and profound contentment of its own. True, there are some sharp thorns on this narrow Way, and sometimes dark clouds engulf its radiance. But deep in his heart the traveller knows for sure, in the words of John Masefield, that, "Though the darkness close, even the night shall blossom as the rose."
War and Peace.
immemorial there have been wars on earth, first between tribes and then
between the nations (which are really full-grown tribes). Yet the vast
majority of people in the world want peace, not war. This being so, how do
wars come about, and can they be prevented? The past century has proved that
they cannot be prevented by such well-meaning organisations as the League of
Nations and the United Nations. Something more is needed than the organisation
of leaders to prevent war. Hitler's plan was to create a master race in his
human stud farms, using what he considered the Aryan stock in the German race.
This master race was to become the rulers of the slave people in the rest of
the world. This may have brought about world peace, but not the kind of peace
that mankind would want. It would have been the peace of slaves. Human beings
have been defined as divine spirits having a human experience. They want
individual freedom as well as peace. The same fault lies in communist
domination because communism in practice, becomes a tyranny in which the few
rule the many and individual democratic freedom vanishes very quickly. So what
is the root of war and can this root be removed?
Swami tells us that the root of all conflict between the races or the nations lies in the individual. How do conflicts, armed or otherwise, begin in the individual breast? Can this be changed? Can this inner conflict within the heart of humanity be changed? Can the root of all wars great and small be dug out from your breast and mine?
Who is the enemy within the one who we must all defeat before peace in the world can be really established? Swami tells us that it is our own egos. This is his name for what some teachers have called our lower selves. That conglomerate of selfish desires, self-centred ambitions, narrow pride, ignorant prejudice, lust for power and wealth and the other demons within, who motivate our lives. This ego fights an eternal inner war against our higher Self, which is also known as the conscience and the divine spirit of our being. It is a strange set-up. This divine centre of our Selves, also known as the Jivatma, is our true eternal identity, yet it has to fight a constant war with this horde of demonic enemies which together make up the evil force that we call the inner devil or the ego. In simple terms it is a battle between the good and the evil within us. Poet Laureate Masefield called this, "The long war beneath the stars." Through many lifetimes we have each been the battlefield for this war within. So if Swami is right, and I'm quite sure he is, those wars that have been going on between groups of people since time immemorial are, in fact, an outward expression of this long war beneath the stars that has been going on within ourselves, since humanity began its first lessons in schoolroom earth.
While the inner war is usually being fought between the higher Self and the ego, war between God and the devil within man, between groups of people small and large is often ego versus ego. Yet the wars that always seem to have come with the advent of a Godman or Avatar on earth are definitely the Divine or God forces versus the anti-God forces. Take, for instance, Rama the first human Avatar of God on earth. While he was the embodiment of dharma, or right-living, he was essentially a warrior and his first purpose on earth seems to have been the removal of what Swami calls a diseased tree within humanity. Mankind could not live the dharmic life while this diseased tree, this anti-God force, was active. The leader of the anti-God force was Ravana and his followers were the rakshasas or demons inhabiting Lanka at that time. So a long hard war had to be fought to remove this impurity from the body of mankind. Only then did a just peace on earth become possible.
There was a parallel situation when the next human Avatar, Lord Krishna, came to earth. This time the diseased tree in humanity was a caste that had forsaken its dharma and, instead of governing and protecting the people, was exploiting them for its own selfish gains. Krishna tried to bring about the reform of the caste without the necessity of war while, no doubt, knowing that this was impossible. On the battlefield just before the outbreak of the fighting, he gave that immortal teaching to mankind known as the Bhagavad Gita. It is significant that he gave it there on the eve of the terrible slaughter that was to come. It teaches us, I think, what the divine man's attitude must be to any sacrifice of life. This is not only true of human or animal sacrifice but also of vegetable. Whether we are cutting down a tree or killing smaller vegetable life, though we need not recite the whole Bhagavad Gita, we should offer the life to God in an appropriate prayer, which may be verbal or silent.
After the evil caste had been removed and a just and dharmic peace was possible, Krishna performed his wondrous mission to mankind and created that Divine Love in the human heart that we still feel today.
The next Godman who changed the history of the world, placing it on a higher spiritual level, particularly in the Western world, was Jesus the Christ. He stated openly that he had not come to bring peace but a sword. Yet his mission to mankind, delivered in the main to the Jews in Judea, lasted only three years, a little less than three years, and though many of his disciples and other followers hoped he would take the sword and lead them against the Romans who were occupying the country, he knew that this was not practicable and was not the way to go. Jesus foresaw the hopelessness of the challenge to the Roman might. But a successful challenge to Roman power followed and helped protect the early Christian religion. The sword Jesus spoke of came after his crucifixion, after the beginnings of the new religion named The Way and later called Christianity, had been thrown out of Palestine and taken root in Britain at the place known today as Glastonbury in Avalon, in the West of England. The Roman emperor, Claudius, was fully aware that Glastonbury, where the leaders of The Way were gathering, was the base from which the new religion would be given out to the world. And, knowing that this religion was a threat to the godless power of the Roman empire, Claudius declared that it must be wiped out. To do this he sent the best legions of the Roman army with his best generals to lead them in Britain with the object of completely wiping out the roots of the new religion. However, because the coming of the Messiah had been prophesied in their own scriptures, known as the Triads, the leaders of the Celtic nations, or Britons, quickly accepted Jesus, or Jesu as he was called in their scripture and fought valiantly against the highly trained Roman legions. In a nine year long bitter and bloody war, the Roman steel never managed to pierce the ranks of Celtic warrior men and women to reach the holy land of Glastonbury. So it was that the sword of which Jesus spoke, saved the child Christianity and it was from Glastonbury that the Apostles of Christ took the message of love and peace to many parts of Europe and North Africa. So here again it was the greedy power-loving dark forces of Rome against the staunch God-loving, freedom-loving Celtic people.
Well, that great struggle between darkness and light took place some two millenia ago, but let us come to peace and war in our own time. Looking back at events of last century, we see the sprouting of seeds for a tremendous conflict between good and evil, between light and darkness in this century. On the one side we see the sudden upsurge of modern science and with it the emancipation of the human mind that led to a great crest-wave of the intellect. The asuras of the dark forces directed this wave towards the shores of materialism and atheism. Eventually men were saying and even writing, "God is dead". What need is there of a God when all is explained by the laws of cause and effect through eons of evolution? On the other hand, against this wave of darkness, this denial of the spiritual dimension, God himself came to earth in the form of the Avatar, Sai Baba of Shirdi. Assisting in the forcefield of Light was Paramahansa Ramakrishna, Paramahansa Yogananda and the Mahatmas in the Great White Brotherhood of Adepts. The old forms of religion were weakening and seeming ready to fade away. The clash of materialistic interests between nations came to a head in 1914 with the unbelievable horror of trench warfare for four long years. Both sides claimed that God was on their side but was it anything more that the god of war glorying in "blood and iron" to use Bismark's phrase?
Yet a deeper current was underlying this clash of material interests; the current that goes back to at least the age of Rama, the underlying struggle between Might and Right, between the Light and the Dark forces. World War I was really a forerunner of the next war involving almost the whole of the world and known as World War II. Here we see more distinctly and clearly the struggle between the Light and the Dark. The young Avatar, Sathya Sai Baba, was twenty years old when this war ended. His spiritual power had no doubt helped in the victory of the forces of Light. Another great spiritual leader of the time, Sri Aurobindo, whom Swami had named an Avatar of the Individual, stated during the war that if the Axis forces of tyranny and darkness won the war, the divine plan would be set back by a thousand years. So he himself played a powerful part to ensure that victory went to the Allied forces of individual, democratic freedom.
Two diseased trees in the life of a spiritual growth of mankind were cut down in that war, one being Nazism and the other being Fascism. Yet even so, one tree remained and so the Cold War began, showing its teeth in the 1950's and developing into a living nightmare for freedom-loving people during the 1960's. We lived on the verge of the outbreak of World War III, facing the horror of a war with both sides using atomic and nuclear weapons, leading to the devastation of the planet and the destruction of a large part, if not all, of the human race. It was at this time, during the 1960's, that my wife Iris and I were living in India and seeing a great deal of Sathya Sai Baba.
On one memorable occasion, when the two of us were sitting with Sai Baba alone in a room at Brindavan ashram, we asked him the vital question: "Swami, will this threatening terrible World War III with nuclear weapons really break out?" We held our breath for the answer. It came quickly and in a very definite tone of voice: "There will be some small wars in the world but no atomic Third World War." We felt relieved and sat silent for a few moments. Then Iris said, "But Swami we know all people want peace, but what about the governments? They seem to be manoeuvring for war." "Well," said Sai Baba "the governments will have to be changed." He spoke in a light, casual manner as if he were talking about something as easy as the changing of a building in the ashram. We looked at him in stunned silence. Was this little man before us in the red robe and the bare feet and mop of dark hair talking about himself changing the government of Russia (for that was the government we were talking about)? For the moment we were thinking of him as a man, a lovable, well-meaning friend with supernormal powers but to imply that he could change the government of Russia was something that we could not, at that moment, accept. We had forgotten that, as he had often said, he could call in all the powers of the formless God to do whatever was right. Even when we thought about the divine omnipotence that he possessed, our poor faith was not equal to the belief that he could change the government of Russia. Not long after that, our heavenly six years residence in India had to come to an end. We said a sad farewell to Swami and, after lingeringly spending time in England and America, we returned to our home in Australia.
In the years that followed we made many returns to the feet of our Sadguru, Sai Baba. One of these returns took place a few days after Gorbachev had appeared on the stage in Russia and that country had begun the governmental change that brought an end to the Cold War. On the day of our arrival, Swami, knowing no doubt that I had a question to ask him, called me into the interview room but he called several other men with me. Somehow I did not feel it was right to ask him this great question in front of others. So mentally I asked him very definitely if he had brought about the change of government in Russia. A mental question is as good as a verbal one to Swami. His eyes gave me the affirmative answer but all his lips said was, "Gorbachev is a good man." I knew then that he had played some wonderful, powerful tune on the akashic strings that had manoeuvred circumstance and brought about the great change. With the passage of time, I felt more sure of this stupendous fact and my heart continually gives thanks to our living God on earth for the gift of continued life to Mother Earth and the human race.
But what about the future wars using the deadly weapons that modern science has made possible? I have no doubt that the only way to prevent them is to end the inner war that has been going on for so many centuries beneath the stars. But, knowing that struggle is part of the divine plan for the development and evolution of mankind's consciousness, I see that that struggle cannot end until, again in the words of John Masefield, "Until this case, this clogging mould, is smithied all to kingly gold." This may not be such a long time in God's eternity but does it not seem a very long stretch of centuries in man's time? Yet we need not individually wait that long for bringing inner peace to ourselves. There is a line in a benediction that I often heard given in the days when I was a member of the Liberal Catholic Church. It is this: "There is peace that passeth all understanding. It abides in the hearts of those who live in the eternal."
To live in the eternal is to live in the divine Self, our true nature. Meditation will lead us into this divine centre but, of course, we cannot actually sit in meditation during all our waking hours. Swami states in his wonderful book "Sai Gita" that not only should we meditate when we go into a room to do so but while we are moving about in our daily lives. That is, while our hands and feet and lower minds are busy with the business of the world that involves our daily work, our higher minds should reach up and merge with the God, the Atman, that is our true Selves. While we manage to do this, we will certainly find peace. Furthermore, this practice brings a strong awareness of the oneness of all life and, consequently, fosters that divine Love towards all without exception. This brings us to joy and inner peace which is the father of peace in the world. In the book just mentioned, Swami makes this connection very clear. He says, "If you want peace and happiness, you must live in Love. Only through Love will you find inner peace."
Parts of this article were given in a talk by the author at the Sai Conference in Canberra during April 1998, the year Swami has named the Year of Peace.
Portrait of a karma yogin.
Some men are
born with the gift of making money, a pile of money; is this a blessing or a
curse? It can be either. If the great wealth is used solely for the
gratification of one's own selfish desires it will prove to be a terrible
curse, leading not to joy but to unhappiness, often tragic unhappiness. This
was the theme of Charles Dickens' Novel, "A Christmas Carol". But
if, on the other hand, the wealth is used to bring happiness and a fuller life
with spiritual progress to other people, then the wealth becomes a true
blessing, bringing joy and contentment to its owner, for then he is a true
Karma Yogin and in serving man he is serving God. Some men discover this great
truth during their lives, as did Scrooge, the hero of "A Christmas
Carol" but some seem to be born with this wisdom.
One of these was John Fitzgerald. John, who now resides in Queensland, Australia, is, he learned with some joy, a descendant of the Fitzgerald who made a translation, the most popular one, of the Rub(iy(t of the old Persian poet and mystic Omar Khayyam. Perhaps some of his wisdom and his good karma comes down to him from his famous ancestor, but he met with a great tragedy when he was a boy of only eight years. His father whom he loved very much, was killed in a car accident on the roads of Victoria, where John was born and reared. John's two elder brothers wept copious tears at the news of their loss, but John himself, was I think, feeling something too deep for tears. One can imagine the feelings of the young mother suddenly left with a family of five children, three boys and two girls. She was also left with several Menswear shops in the city of Melbourne to either sell or manage. She decided to manage them but she wanted to keep the family of five round her, at the same time. This she managed for two years but then realising that the task was beyond her, she sent the three boys to a well-known Roman Catholic boarding school in Melbourne and kept the two girls at home. To John, who was now ten years of age, this separation from his mother was a sad trial, yet it was probably a good thing for developing strength of character. In this world of boys and men only, he had to face and deal with many kinds of unexpected situations and he learned some unpleasant facts of life at an early age. He found, for example that one of the masters was seducing some of the other boys. This certainly gave him a great shock, but like most boys when such unpleasant and unexpected findings cross their path, they brush it aside. This John did, and found his outlet and compensation by spending more time in the school sports. His two elder brothers, one two years older and the other four years older than himself, were, he says, a good help and guidance to him in some difficult situations.
When John was sixteen years old he had reached the end of his secondary education at the Roman Catholic College and had qualified for University but felt that tertiary education was not for him. He felt inwardly the call to travel and find his destiny beyond the city of Melbourne. Specifically, Queensland seemed to be the state that was beckoning him but he had no money to get there and did not want to ask his mother for any financial help, so during the long holiday that followed the end of his schooldays he told his mother that he planned to hitch-hike to Queensland. No doubt she felt a great shock at this news as I remember my own mother did when I made such announcements to her. So John's mother, like my own, bowed her head to the storm and wisely gave her loving consent to the adventure. Just an adventure, she thought it was at the time, having no idea what it would really lead to.
The God of fair beginnings, called Janus, by the ancient Romans and Ganesha by the Indians, was smiling on him. Without difficulty he hitch-hiked all the way from Melbourne in the south, to Coolangatta just over the border from New South Wales into Queensland.
The Sunshine Coast lay before the young adventurer with its shining clean buildings and its beaches of golden sands and lines of curling surf. It seemed to give John a laughing, happy welcome. He felt over-joyed and confident this was his country.
The job in the Real Estate office seemed to have been waiting for him and it was the kind of work for which he had a real talent. Fortune favoured him in another way too. During the next few years he met two different business gurus or mentors who taught him much about the nature of this special world, the Gold Coast Real Estate business. He learned that there were many great opportunities here for one who had the confidence, the right perception and the judgment to sieze and make the most of the opportunities that offered. After a few, a very few years, he was in a position to open his own real estate business and by the time he was twenty five years old he was a millionaire. That is, in less than ten years after he had set out on that penniless hitch-hike from Melbourne he was in the 'big money' and there were greater things to come. I think of him, myself, as a second Dick Whittington, an historic achiever in more ways than one.
It was a good many years later, in fact not until 1998 that I had the pleasure of meeting John Fitzgerald. I met him through another remarkable man, Dr Ron Farmer, the Clinical Psychologist and a true devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. Soon after our meeting, John invited me to lunch at his house on the Nerang river bank. During my many years of travel, I have seldom met with such a charming, welcoming, house. As we walked through the beautiful, landscaped gardens, the house seemed to have a perfectly proportioned exterior that seemed to lift the spirit. Inside, the colours and proportions gave me a definite feeling of rest. As we sat at the dining table, with outside views of the river and the sunny sky blessing us from above practically the whole of the dining area was covered by a clear skylight I could not help asking, "Who was your heavenly architect, John?" "No architect," he replied, "I designed the house myself." He gave this matter-of-fact, though remarkable answer without the slightest show of pride in his voice. When we had explored the whole of the house after lunch, I could not help remarking to John who I knew was more than interested in Sai Baba, "If Swami ever comes to Queensland on a visit, I will nominate this house as the right place for him to stay." John's face then lit up with a smile of joy. It was during this visit that I had the pleasure of meeting his attractive young wife and his two very young children, a boy and a girl.
A short walk along the bank of the Nerang River from his house are the offices of his business, and under the same roof Dr Ron Farmer's clinic. It was not from John himself, but from Ron Farmer that I heard all about his heart-warming philanthropic work, but before telling the details of that I would like to say something about John's first visit to Swami.
This took place in the following year, that is, October 1999 when I was again staying in Queensland at my summer residence at Oyster Cove, north of the Gold Coast. John called to seem me about a week before he left for India, and I observed that he was really in high spirits at the thought of spending about a week at the ashram of the great Avatar. He must have been giving a good deal of thought to the project, because on the day before he left, he said to Ron Farmer, "I have decided to invite Swami to come to Australia, telling Him how very much Australia needs Him. I will ask Him to stay at my house when He's in Queensland, letting Him know that Howard Murpet said it would be a very suitable house for Him, and any close followers He would like to take there. I will, of course, offer to pay His fare and also the fares of up to a hundred of any followers He likes to bring. He paused and looked at Ron's face to note any reactions there. In his kindly way, Ron Farmer said, "You must understand, John, that it is very unlikely you will get to talk with Sai Baba on this, your first, and rather short meeting. "Well," said John, "I will write it all in a letter, and get that to Him somehow, while I am there." When Ron told me of this idea, I said, "Of course, Swami knows Australia needs Him as does every other county in the world. It is a very generous-hearted gesture of John's and I'm sure Swami will appreciate it but I doubt if it will make any difference to His world travel plans. He travels the world every day in His subtle body but the only country He has ever gone to in the physical is Uganda and I would say the thing that took Him there was that He knew that four years later, the dictator Edi Ahmin would expel every Indian from his country. It was a very dangerous time for them and one Indian friend of mine living there at the time was very fortunate to escape with his life. The offer of paying the fares of a hundred of His followers will not change any plans that Swami has for travel. Swami once, a good many years ago told me that He would not travel abroad until His own house was in order, by that He means India, of course. Well, do you thing that's in order? It was compassion for the thousands of Indians living in Uganda that took Him there, to give them a warning. Moreover, offering Swami a free ticket for Himself and a house to stay in, will not count in Swami's scale of things. I remember once in the early days, Walter and Elsie Cowan even sent him a ticket, a return ticket to America and expected Him to come, but instead, He used the ticket to send my friend, Dr V K Gokak on a visit to the Sai people in the United States. Even so, I might be wrong in all this, I hope I am and we must not discourage John in his generous, happy but over-optimistic gesture."
Well, of course, John did not manage to get any conversation with Swami but he had a very happy visit. Every day he got a good position for Darshan and he told me that Swami looked into his eyes with such a deep and penetrating look that he must have seen the depth of John's mind and soul. Whatever may have happened to the letter and the invitation there can be no doubt that Swami knew everything about it. My own feeling is that Swami would have heard John giving details of his plan to Ron the day before he left. I know He has heard things I have said to Iris, especially if the matter concerned our relationship with Him. Furthermore, although we like Him to take our letters, He does not have to read them to know what they contain.
Well, now to come to John Fitzgerald's philanthropic work, his work for God through his work for mankind. "So as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me," said Jesus. There are, of course, many ways in which man can help his fellow men, but John must have felt the greatest compassion for the suffering children of this age. They seem to have been born into unfortunate circumstances beyond their control. Generally, I would think, it is the parenting that has failed them completely and so they leave home and naturally join their peers on the street. This almost certainly leads to drug addiction, to a life of crime and then the road back to a normal, useful and happy life has become well nigh impossible.
John wanted to find out how he, with his gift of making millions, could best help in this terrible situation, so he sought advice as to who might help him and he was directed to Ron and Swanny Farmer, who were then living in Sydney. Well, surely it must have been God himself who was guiding John because I think he could not have found a better pair of helpers. I will not say very much about them here because I intend to devote a whole chapter to them later in this book. Suffice it say then, that as well as being Sai devotees they were both highly qualified Clinical Psychologists.
It was during a discussion with Ron and Swanny that John said to Swanny, "Will you be my navigator?" He knew that she was working for a salary in a Nursing Home and he was offering her a full-time job to navigate his project by first of all helping him find the right children and also, to find the best way to help them. Spontaneously, he had felt great faith in her judgment and integrity. Husband, Ron, who understood his wife well and loved her deeply, remained silent, leaving the decision to her, entirely. Incidentally, Ron himself was fully occupied with his professional clinic. The sudden question, with all its implications must have been something of a shock to Swanny but she did not have to think about it long. Her heart was in the kind of work that John was suggesting and her intuition told her that she could trust him entirely, so the answer was "Yes." Ron was quite as pleased as the other two at her decision because he meant to help them also in every way he could and so it became a partnership of three. I understand from Ron that Swanny spent the whole year finding out about the right children to help and the manner in which they could best be helped. She decided that the children should be recruited not from the streets, but after they had been thrown out of foster homes before they had taken the fatal step of going on the street. The task of reforming street kids was almost impossible, "So we will beat the street by getting in before it," John decided. Then he added, "If you can find any kids who have been thrown out of at least two foster homes, give them priority." So this was the plan on which they began the work.
Although John really wanted them both to move to Queensland to set up a foster home where he could have more control and play a bigger part in the work, he finally agreed to them setting up a foster home in Sydney, where they were living and where Ron's professional work was well established. So they began the work in Sydney with a foster home, taking in a number of very difficult boys who had been thrown out of more than one foster home. Swanny found a very good Matron or Mother of the home and with the loving supervision of Ron and Swanny Farmer, along with John himself who flew down frequently from Queensland, their home continued to run successfully for a number of years. When the lease on the building came to an end and they needed to find new premises, John again tried to persuade them to go to Queensland where he said he would be able to spend more time on the work. At first, Ron and Swanny who were well settled in Sydney, thought they could help him to establish a foster home somewhere near the Gold Coast in Queensland by flying up there frequently to help in the work, but John, who very much wanted them to come to Queensland, said something like this, "If you come and live up here, we can do wonderful work together, work you have not yet dreamed of. I see into the future that we will be able to do magnificent work together." Ron told me that he spoke to them of their future work together in such a visionary, enthusiastic way that they were both quite thrilled with the idea of moving north and helping this enthusiastic young man with his work for God. They felt that they were a part of it and so they decided to move north into the philanthropic dream of John Fitzgerald, the Karma Yogin.
After a search, they found what Ron calls, "A big, old fashioned, rambling Australian home," with eight rooms, and there they set up their second foster home in a seaside suburb of Brisbane. That foster home is still running, but after it had been going a few years they realised that the children they were getting had not only been expelled from foster homes but also from schools and they realised that there was also a need to provide schools for expelled children before they went on the street. So they set up their first school on a property belonging to John at a place called Ormeau. There was a lot of preparatory work involved, of course, in finding the right, most suitable teachers. Swanny Farmer is the Director of the school and Dr Ron Farmer is the Adviser and also the tutor of any pupil who needs special tutoring, while John foots the bill for this and the foster home. John also plays an important part in the training of the boys (it is a boys' school). He takes them for walks on the weekends and teaches those who wish, to ride his polo ponies. Furthermore, any boys who want to learn to play polo receive instructions from John himself. All instruction and training are given along the lines of Swami's EHV or Education in Human Values and so Ron says, "It is as much educare as education, bringing out and developing good character traits that are already lying deep within the pupils."
There was a time when John optimistically felt that he might interest other millionaires in such work. At a business meeting of a group of wealthy men, when John tried to spread an interest in such philanthropic work, the shrewd businessmen questioned him about the cost and the results. Then one of the businessmen, voicing the feelings of all of them, I expect, said to John, "How can you do it, how can you spend all that money for such small results? It's a drop in the ocean, it's not commensurate how can you do it?" So John replied, "Well, I can only answer it this way. If you were walking along the street and in front of you a little old lady fell down, how could you help, picking her up and seeing that she was alright to walk on alone. How could you not do it? That's my only answer. How can I not help these unfortunate kids?" This seemed to be typical of the reactions of the wealthy he tried to interest in the work. He felt that his own school under the direction of the committee of three was doing very well. John had named the school "Toogoolawa", an Aboriginal word meaning something like "A place in the heart" it certainly has a firm place in the hearts of the trio who guide it.
John Fitzgerald and Ron Farmer have, in a way, become like spiritual brothers and one day some time ago John said to Ron something like this: "I've come to the point where I have to make a big decision. You see, Ron, I've made enough money for myself and family, plenty for that, and just to go on making money for its own sake is pointless. I have no desire to make more money which becomes superfluous when your own personal and family needs are well covered. Money becomes just figures on paper and I have no interest in pursuing it for its own sake. So I don't really know what to do with my life at the moment. I must spend some time in thinking about it and making a decision as to what I should do for the rest of my life." So then John went away to be on his own in the Australian bush. This was his way of contemplating and deciding. Three weeks later he came back and invited Ron and Swanny to his office. He said, in a positive manner, "I have decided what to do. I will not go on making money for myself and I will not run away from the world. Everything I make will be for the Toogoolawa school project and my company will have to make even more money to enlarge and extend the project. As there appears to be little or no help from other businessmen, I realise now that I have to do it myself." Telling me about it, Ron said, "That was a quickening and a firming of his intention to make money entirely for the school project." And so the expansion began.
John already had branches of his company in Sydney and in Melbourne and also over in Perth. He decided to begin by establishing a Toogoolawa school in Sydney and another one in Melbourne. His friends, Ron and Swanny agreed happily to fly to these two cities and begin the difficult work of finding the right premises for schools and recruiting the right kinds of teachers. This was a much more difficult matter than it might appear on the surface. Often, when they felt sure they had found the right place, the right location, the right building which was available to be rented as a school, they found an obstacle among the people in the neighbourhood of the proposed Toogoolawa school. These people felt, evidently, that it would be a definite menace to the neighbourhood to have such recalcitrant and potentially criminal children in the vicinity. And so the whole thing would fall through. In fact, it was easier to recruit the teachers than to acquire the building for them to operate in. And so it was that Dr and Mrs Farmer needed to make repeated air journeys to Sydney and Melbourne; and I began to see why much money was required to launch the extension of this philanthropic work and how much more it would cost to operate it when founded.
This preparatory work was a plus for me personally because each time Ron and Swanny came to Sydney I had the joy of seeing them and talking to them about the progress of the project and many other things. But John and his two helpers will not give up, I know. Eventually success will be achieved and I feel that I am not optimistic in expecting great things, magnificent things as John puts it, to be attained out of this work. John has an inventive mind with a great deal of creative imagination for this practical kind of welfare development. He has already, I know, thought of new ways of making the money required and I predict that all difficulties will be overcome and the Toogoolawa school project will expand in ways to help and redeem the lost children of Australia.
Instead of philosophising about Nishkama karma, that is, doing selfless work without any desire for the fruits of the work in a personal way, he puts it into action. That is why he stirs the love in my heart and I namaste to him as a true Karma Yogin.
Memories of a Chinese lady.
When my wife
Iris and I went to India from England in 1964, we planned to stay for one year
spending six months at the Theosophical School of The Ancient Wisdom and then
six months visiting any interesting Ashrams, thinking we might find addresses
of some such Ashrams, from people at the Theosophical Headquarters, Adyar near
Madras. This we did but we also met Sathya Sai Baba during that first year
with the result that we stayed for six years. We finally had to tear ourselves
away in the middle of 1970. Then after spending some time in England and over
twelve months in America, mainly with Sai friends in California, we reached
destination Australia about the end of 1971.
A couple of years or so later, some time in the early seventies, we were planning to re-visit Sai Baba in India and spend about six months there. We hoped to go as far as Singapore on the Greek Ship the Patris on which we had had the memorable voyage in 1960 at the beginning of our spiritual search, me for my prophesied 'Star in the East' and Iris for a teacher who would lead her to God. The Patris at the time was taking Australian passengers as far as Singapore from where they went on by plane to England. We would go by plane to India.
We managed to book passages on the Patris but just before we sailed, a friend who had spent some time in Singapore told us that if we wanted to do any shopping there, we should go to a certain shop in Northbridge Road where the Manageress was fond of Australians and always gave them a good deal. He could not remember her name but as she was the Manageress we should have no trouble. Of course we wanted to do some shopping in India, as who didn't, in those years. It was our first visit to that City and we had heard that passengers on the Patris were given accommodation for a number of days at a good hotel in Singapore, so we would have plenty of time to visit shops and other places before catching our plane to Madras in India.
It was a wonderful trip of about three weeks on the Patris of happy memories. The Captain, Ichiadis, who had been the First Officer aboard on our earlier voyage gave us special treatment and we had meals at the Captain's table several times. I shall never forget the first time. Iris was sitting on the Captain's right and I was somewhere along the table, when after soup, the fish course came, what were Iris and I to do? We had been vegetarians since 1964. I decided to eat the fish but Iris was a very strict vegetarian and she told the Captain that, being a vegetarian she had to miss the fish. His unexpected reply was, "Well, I don't like the look of it so I won't have it either" and he kept her company as a vegetarian for the rest of the meal and for other meals that she had sitting at his right. He was a thorough gentleman, as all well-educated Greeks that we have met, are.
We were sorry when the Patris sailed back to Australia while we stayed in Singapore but we spent a very pleasant week there on some sight-seeing tours and doing our shopping. For the latter, we made straight for the shop in Northbridge Road recommended by our Australian friend and sought the Manageress. Her name proved to be Janny Tay and we did not have to do the usual bargaining which was customary in Singapore in those days because Janny gave us good price reductions without asking; even on items she did not have in the shop and had to send out for, she gave us reduced prices. At the end of our shopping Janny looked at a ring on my finger and said, "That is a beautiful ring may I ask where you got it?" I told her how it had been miraculously manifested for me by Sathya Sai Baba in India some seven or eight years earlier. I gave her the ring to examine it was made of Panchaloha, the untarnishable alloy used for making idols in India. There was some interesting carving on the Panchaloha and a beautiful embossed gold figure of Shirdi Sai Baba on the crown of the ring. As Janny Tay's interest did not wane, we both told her more about Sai Baba and his spiritual teachings. At the end of the talk she said with a sigh, as if regretfully, "Ah, well, I'm a Buddhist of course," but she added, "Come to see me whenever you are in Singapore." We decided that we would certainly do that although there seemed little hope of her becoming a Sai devotee.
Towards the end of our planned six months' stay in India, which proved to be well over six months, we managed to make brief contact with my young sister Leone, who had made a brief stay in India during her trip around the world. She was planning to call for a few days in Singapore and then go on to China the country in which she had always been very interested. We told her if she was buying anything in Singapore to go to the shop in Northbridge Road managed by our friend Janny Tay. She said she would do so but later by letter she let us know that Janny Tay had left the shop and, as her stay in Singapore was brief, she did not try to locate the lady. This news surprised us greatly and we thought that maybe my sister had gone into the wrong shop. We hoped we would find Janny Tay still managing the shop where we first located her. So, on our return journey to Australia, although we were only staying in Singapore for one day and had no shopping to do, our first call was at the shop in Northbridge Road but Janny was not there. We asked some of the assistants in the shop if they could tell us her whereabouts but they did not know, or if they knew, they did not want to tell. On several subsequent transits through Singapore we visited the shop hoping that she may have returned but she was never there, so eventually we decided that we had lost a promising friend, and never expected to see her again.
A few years later when we were spending a longer than usual time in Singapore, a totally unexpected thing happened. It came about this way. We were staying in a pleasant apartment some distance out from the centre of Singapore, in the green and leafy grounds of a settlement belonging to a religious organisation. We had some connections with this organisation and were able to obtain the apartment for a couple of weeks.
One day we had a surprising visit from a prominent Sai devotee with whom we had had a slight acquaintance. It was Dr Kanda Pillay, a leading Orthopaedic Surgeon with a practice in Singapore. How and why he had traced us to this remote spot, we had no idea, but were very glad to see him. After a pleasant talk, mainly about Sai activities and Sai people, he asked why we were staying this time so long in Singapore. "Well," we explained, "We are trying to catch up on the interesting places we have not had time to visit before," and we told him our plans for that day. "You can use my car and driver to go there," he said, "I will not need it myself today." Despite our protests he insisted in his kind gesture. After a very enjoyable journey we sent the car back to Kanda Pillay's home in Singapore. The next day he paid us another visit at the flat, this time with an invitation. He had arranged, he said, a special luncheon party at a good restaurant in Singapore and he would like us to come to it if we would. The people at the luncheon, he said, would be mainly followers of Sathya Sai Baba and it would be a good opportunity for us to meet some of his Sai friends. He would send his car to pick us up at our apartment and take us to the restaurant - how could we refuse!
Next day Kanda Pillay did not sent his car but came in it himself to take us to the luncheon. At the restaurant he led us to a private room where we found about twenty people, men and women, sitting around a large oval table. Before leading us to our places he took us around the table introducing each person to us. The guests were a mixture of Indian and Chinese. When we came to two Chinese ladies sitting together he introduced one of them saying "This is my friend Janny Tay." I caught my breath and I heard Iris give a gasp. Neither of us had recognised the Janny Tay we had met some years before. "Not the Janny Tay of Northbridge Road?" I queried. She looked surprised and then replied, "Well, I used to be at Northbridge Road." It was, beyond any doubt, our Janny Tay the lost had been found and furthermore, found as one of a party of Sai Baba followers. This added a big bonus to our pleasure.
After a delightful luncheon period she took us and a few others to her home, where in the evening, her husband Dr Henry Tay was planning to show a short movie, a videotape I think, on Sai Baba. So we had the rest of the afternoon and tea-time to talk and there was much to say. We did not ask her how she came, after all, to be a follower of Sai Baba but there is little doubt that her interest began with the talk about my ring and Swami's teachings at her father-in-law's shop on Northbridge Road some years before. Whatever had happened since then seemed to have made her a firm devotee of Lord Sai. Henry was, she said, a follower too in his own way. During the long talk we learned something of Janny's background. Both she and Henry had obtained medical degrees at a Melbourne University, in fact I think that was where they met but Janny had herself never practiced medicine. She had gone straight into business as manager of her father-in-law's shop. We met her two small children when they came home from school. The girl, Audrey was the eldest and the boy Michael, a very likeable little fellow.
During her missing years, that is, missing to Iris and me, Janny had not been idle, she had not only become a Sai Baba devotee and visited Swami in India, but had also launched the first stages of a string of shops that would spread over Singapore with some in other countries. They specialised in selling watches and were known as the Hour-glass shops. As the years passed, other things were added, such as a watch factory in Switzerland and eventually Henry was persuaded to give up his medical practice and join Janny in the expanding business. Other commercial ramifications were added and eventually the business became so large that it was made into a company. Janny, who remained the leading light of the company became quite famous in the business circles of Asia when her investment and other activities spread to Australia. Her name became well known there, particularly in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
Our own friendship with this warm-hearted Chinese lady ripened through the years, in fact we always made contact with her while passing through Singapore, either going to India or coming back. If our time was short we had lunch with her and she always loaned us her car and driver, whose name was Mr Wong, for transportation to the restaurant where we were meeting. If we were staying for a night or more, Janny invited us to stay at her mansion-like house which had been built in the prosperous years after our first or second meeting. If she was away overseas on business we often stayed with her sister Anne, a very beautiful lady living in a very beautiful house. Anne's husband was also part of the medical profession being an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist. Furthermore, he became during our many visits, Chairman of the Singapore Sai Centre, a large and very active group which we visited several times when opportunity offered.
On one occasion when Janny had asked us to stay at her place, and had suddenly been called away overseas, we found our host was Henry and our hostess, the third child, Sabrina. Henry kept a close eye on her but she proved to be a perfect little hostess. Audrey and Michael were now absent, being in England to complete their education. One of the many pleasant memories of our visit to Janny were luncheon parties she organised, sitting by the side of her luxurious swimming pool. There we met her friends and also some associates from her business connections; they were all cultured and interesting people. One afternoon, when all visitors had departed and we were sitting having a pleasant chat with Janny, she made an unexpected request. Unexpected, because she was a person who gave favours rather than asking them. We were leaving next day for India and of course, Sai Baba. "I know you always have an interview with Swami while you are there," she began "So I will be very grateful if you will do me a favour." An opportunity to do her a favour was something we were always looking for and we told her so. "Well," she said, "I have purchased a large tract of land in Australia, in fact in Queensland, in the northern part of the Gold Coast. I would like to develop it into a kind of Health Farm and Holistic Healing Centre, but it would be a very big project and I would not like to attempt it without Swami's agreement, so would you please ask him if I should go ahead or not. If he says, "No" I will sell the land and if he says, "Yes, I should go ahead" I will do so. Would you mind doing that for me? If I wait 'til I go myself it may be too long. I may not even have the favour of an interview from him." She paused, looking at us questioningly. We both quickly agreed we would do as she asked if Swami gave us the opportunity, as we felt sure that he would, while we were there, "But," said Iris, "It would be a good idea if you gave us a photograph of yourself. We know you have met Baba personally but it would help him to quickly bring you to mind if we showed him a photograph." Iris was very astute in such matters. Janny quickly found a suitable photograph of herself and gave it to Iris. Both she and I were happy to have a mission to perform for our dear friend.
Well, the moment came when we were sitting alone with Swami in the private interview room where he takes individuals, after seeing everybody first in the main interview room. It was the opportunity to put Janny's question to Swami as to whether she should develop the Holistic Health Resort or simply sell the land. Iris handed Janny's photograph to Swami and we told him the place where she had purchased the land was at Oyster Cove in the northern regions of the Gold Coast of Queensland. Swami silently looked at Janny's photograph and then seemed to go off into deep thought. I have seen him do this before I think it is more than thought in the ordinary sense. He has the power of course, to go into both the past and the future at such times. We anxiously awaited his reply. Suddenly his eyes which had been far away came back to the present and he smiled, we held our breath; "Yes," he began, "Tell her to go ahead and develop the Health Centre but tell her not to develop a place for the under-privileged only, it will be a spiritual place and the rich need spiritual guidance as much or even more than do the poor, so she should cater for them too. She will understand what I mean." So we wrote a letter telling Janny of Swami's reply and on our return journey going through Singapore about six weeks later, we discussed it with her giving her all the details. She was certainly very pleased. "Yes, we will make it a spiritual place," she said, and went on "and plan to make it attractive to the rich as well as the poor. When the time is right we will start a Sai Centre there and if you will come there and be my Chairman, Howard, it will become a great Sai Centre in every way with a healing atmosphere." I replied that if it was possible I would certainly be her Chairman, thinking that she meant of the Sai Centre only. "Thank you," she said "I will build a house for you at Oyster Cove." I thought she was speaking somehow metaphorically, and did not take her statement literally.
Well, years passed, a good many years when we did not see Janny. We sometimes stopped over at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia instead of Singapore on our Sai-ward journeys, which had become less frequent anyway. When we went through Singapore, Janny seemed to be away always on business somewhere in the world. We heard that she was developing a centre at St Kilda in Melbourne, from talk, it seemed to be a kind of super Roman Bath with warm sea water for swimming, massage centres and the rest, but on occasions when we spoke with Janny's sister Anne, in transit through Singapore, we were told that Janny was certainly going ahead as rapidly as possible with the big project at Oyster Cove. Our informant said that a golf course was going to be part of the centre at Oyster Cove and also a polo ground. It sounded as if Janny was carrying out her instruction to cater for the well-to-do. Perhaps we might be lucky enough to visit it ourselves one day when Janny was there herself, we hoped so. But before that happened, Iris had departed to the vast and happy Forever, leaving me alone to cope with the lights and shadows of earth.
Though I saw nothing of my friend Janny for several years, I heard of her. The news was that she was selling off some of her Australian possessions, such as a luxury apartment at Surfers' Paradise and an expensive home in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. The grapevine reported also that she had sold some of her chain of shops, that is, the Hour-glass shops. This was all apparently a result of the serious currency troubles in Asian economies. I wondered if the Oyster Cove project would also have to be sold, or even abandoned. It must have been about in late November or early December of the year 1997 that I had a phone call with the well-known voice of Janny Tay at the other end. After brief greetings, she said, "Your house is ready, Howard, can you come up for Christmas?" Dumbfounded, I asked her what house, what did she mean, what house and where? "The house I promised to build you Howard, at Oyster Cove of course, it's all ready, when can you come?" The dim memory came back to me that she had said she would build me a house, but I had not taken that seriously. Now there was a house ready and I was being invited to take it over immediately. As well as expressing my gratitude to her I had to let her know that I could not come at Christmas as I had made other arrangements. Remembering that Iris and I had found it too hot in Queensland in summer time, I said to Janny that I would try to come down in June the next year, that is, 1998. I did so and found a colony of about a hundred attractive houses on the shores of a lake which was, I was informed, mainly a man-made lake. A few grand two-storey houses were built close to the edge of the lake. One of these was a part-time residence for Henry and Janny Tay. The short street leading directly to it had been called Tay Court. From this, one could reach two other palatial residences on the lake shore, both of them having been erected by wealthy Singapore friends of Janny. The only other street in Oyster Cove at this time, in which 'my house' was located was named Wisemans Court. Next door to my very attractive house was another similar one occupied by Janny's half-sister named Helen Richie Robbins. She was a widow of an Australian army man of that name. Originally from Malaysia, Helen now regarded herself as a permanent resident of Oyster Cove, her job being to look after Janny's interests while the latter was absent in Singapore or elsewhere on her business matters. Our two houses were connected by a paved courtyard and she proved to be a very good friend, always bubbling with happiness, despite the not-far-distant sorrow of her Australian husband's death.
I learned that the progress of the big plan to build a luxury hotel, establish a golf course, build a very fine building to house the Holistic Centre had been slow somewhat. I was not told why but assumed that it was financial difficulties brought about through the currency crisis in Asia; but Helen gave me the impression that there were no problems about capital for developing Oyster Cove. Although the beautiful street Wisemans Court, and the other even shorter street, Tay Court, seemed as blessedly free of motor traffic as the roads of Tasmania had been in the first years of the motor car, the two official offices were very busy indeed. One of them was for selling real estate and the other busy currently on other development and plans. After I had been in my new delightful residence for a few weeks, Janny herself arrived from Singapore.
Soon after her arrival she came and we had a good talk in a lounge of my delightful residence. She asked first if I was comfortable I assured her that I was and again expressed my thanks for this most unexpected development. She replied that I should not have been surprised, because she had promised to build me a house long before. Then I remembered something too. I said "That was a long time ago, some time in the 1970's and I dimly remember saying I would be your Chairman of something what was that?" She seemed delighted. "You promised," she said, "you would be Chairman of my Holistic Healing Centre," and she immediately called Helen in and told her that she had made me Chairman of the Centre that she hoped to open at the end of the year. Helen expressed pleasure at my appointment and said she would have to get the Architect in to make a change to his plans to include an office for me, there. She seemed a little surprised about Janny saying that it would be opened at the end of the year. The real estate manager was not only surprised, but 100% sceptical.
Janny who was always busy as well as optimistic, did not stay long. She had to go down to Melbourne to inspect the progress of her bathing project at St Kilda and to see Sabrina who was still at school in Melbourne. Oyster Cove proved a delightful place to spend the worst winter months, always seeming to have sunny skies and warm weather. Although the Sai Centre at Oyster Cove would be something for the future, there were already several ones not far away to which I was able to go at least once a week, while I was there.
My health began to show the signs of my advancing years towards the middle of the next year, that is, 1999 and I was not able to travel to Oyster Cove until about the middle of July. However, I stayed for a longer period although there were further signs of deteriorating health. It was sometime during the month of September that Joan Moylan, who was living at Paradise Point, not far from Oyster Cove, came to my house to give me a session with my wife, Iris. It was not only very enjoyable, but a very instructive sance. Iris came and sat, facing us, in the chair that we had provided for her against the wall, about two and a half metres from where we were sitting. Then my mother walked in with her Bible under her arm. Iris immediately got up and offered her the chair, coming and sitting nearer to us on the foot of a bed. Other people began to appear, including my two deceased sisters and Iris' deceased mother, Eve. Then Swami was suddenly there standing beside the chair, now occupied by my mother. It seemed a good chance to ask him a very important question, because, as there seemed no prospect of the Holistic Centre being opened that year, I was beginning to doubt if I would be able to do the job offered by Janny. So I asked Swami if I would be well enough to take the position of Chairman when the Holistic Centre opened. His reply came in three words, "In name only." Soon after that he disappeared from the room but we had a very interesting session with unexpected visitors. I believe that was the time when a line of my ancestors appeared along one wall and Joan said she knew they were ancestors of several generations but was not able to identify them by name. At the close of the session they all formed a queue to touch the feet of Sai Baba, who had reappeared. I felt very pleased that my deceased ancestors of several generations were on the journey home to God.
I felt that I must let Janny know what Swami had said about my position of Chairman so that she could think about getting somebody else to fill the position. I knew that Helen was expecting her in Oyster Cove during the next week. I must find an opportunity to talk to her and explain the position; she would, I knew, be very busy talking to those who were already working on the Oyster Cove project, turning 'negative energy into positive energy,' as she called it. On her second day in Oyster Cove I went for lunch with her and a number of her friends at a 1st-class restaurant at Sanctuary Cove, a short drive away from Oyster Cove. I managed to tell her there that I needed to talk to her and she understood that I could not do so there among all the other people, so when we drove along Tay Court to her big house and everybody else had dispersed, she took me by the arm and led me to the double swing overlooking the lake. I did not waste any time because I knew her days were always busy solving problems and smoothing the way to the progress of the Oyster Cove development. So I told her just what Swami had said, that I would be able to fill the position of Chairman in name only. She realised as I did, that there were problems holding up the building of the Holistic Centre and neither of us were sure how many years would pass before it could be built, because now a new road had to be put in before she could get official permission to begin the earth-moving and to lay the foundations for the building that would be the heart and very purpose of the Oyster Cove Health Centre.
Janny sat silent for a while looking out over the Lake as we swung gently backwards and forwards. Suddenly she turned, looked into my eyes and said "Howard, if you can be Chairman in name only and in spirit, that will be all I need, after all, if sometime in the future I need a more active businessman as a Chairman, I can always appoint a Deputy," she patted me on the arm in a friendly manner and concluded, "So you are still Chairman of the Holistic Centre as well as of the Oyster Cove Sai Centre when the time comes to form it." I was surprised and very gratified that this wonderful Chinese lady whom I had loved like a sister for so many years still wanted to have me officially connected with the Holistic Centre for which Swami had given his blessing. 'Holistic' is a New-Age word that seems to embrace 'whole' and 'holy', a healing that makes people whole and holy, a work that is both spiritual and practical and I felt, she might eventually find somebody more qualified to lead such a work for God.
So I will end this chapter with the happy memory of sitting and swinging gently over the edge of the shining lake, beside the wonderful lady I had met so many years ago, over a counter in a shop, in Northbridge Road, Singapore.
There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will -
I agree with the
Bard on this and moreover feel that there is a time when the shaping divine
force strikes the note that starts something of importance.
I had met Dr Ron Farmer and his wife Swanny some ten years earlier but the time was not right for our special spiritual brotherhood to begin. Now, in June 1998 the time was right. We were the only three guests for dinner at a friend's place in Queensland and so had the opportunity for a long talk together. At the end of the talk I felt that I must see them again and hopefully see them often. They must have felt somewhat the same because it was not long before they paid me a visit at my house in Oyster Cove.
Ron and Swanny invited me to spend the following weekend with them at their home about half an hour's car drive away at a place called Willow Vale. It was to be the first of many delightful weekends spent in the fresh invigorating air and spiritual peace of their residence. We approached it through rolling green hills and found their long one-storey beautiful house on the top of one such grassy hill. There seemed to be no other house nearby, just the open countryside with, in one direction, a view of a mountain range that was part of The Great Dividing Range. It reminded me of my country upbringing in Tasmania where neighbours' houses were out of sight behind trees on distant farms, with, in one direction, the glorious blue wall of the Western Tiers. Yet I very soon found that the aloneness spelt by my first view of the Farmer residence was certainly not loneliness, in fact, two unseen houses were not very far away. One was on the other side of a high white lattice wall with tall palm trees supporting it while the other hidden house was down the hill hiding behind an edge of the hill and hedges helped by clumps of trees. The house beyond the lattice wall was occupied by two ladies and two other four-legged beings, generally known as a dog and a cat.
We did not see much of the two ladies but quite a lot of the four-legged entities, especially the one known as a dog. He was a glossy, completely black labrador named Yang. It was an appropriate name as he seemed the personification of all things gently male. I felt that he showed good taste too, in choosing Ron as his master and friend. I think he went home only for meals and spent the rest of the day with Ron. Their day together would begin early, with Ron finding him waiting on the mat by his front door. Then their mutual demonstration of affection would begin, with pats, strokes and tail wags interspersed with conversation in which both would join, Yang talking in his own version of human language which he fondly hoped his beloved master would understand. Ron told me that if he and Swanny got in the car to drive away, Yang would turn his back on them and look the other way as if he could not bear to see this terrible event. For most of the day where you saw Ron you would also see Yang. I too, loved this near-human animal from the moment I gave my first pat to his shining black side.
I once happened to go to the house beyond the lattice when the lady Diana was feeding her treasured Yang. To me she made the remark "Yang is a soul-dog you know." I agreed whole-heartedly but thought to myself, "But surely all domesticated dogs have souls," and so, too, do many cats including the one I first saw sitting aloofly on the grass of Ron's lawn.
My heart gave a jump when I caught sight of her, she was that 'Thing of beauty that is a joy forever,' as poet Keats remarked. I spoke to her from a distance, she turned her head and gave me one disdainful glance from her shining blue eyes then turned her head away. Suddenly I remembered the cat-enticing technique that my wife Iris, a great cat-lover, had taught me long ago. I tried it on Yin and within about five minutes of this cat-magic, she walked slowly across the grass towards me and sat at my feet. I was able to stroke her beautifully marked head and her plush back of an indescribable off-white colour. Before my weekend at Willow Vale came to an end, Yin was rolling over on her back inviting me to scratch her tummy. She was no longer aloof with Ron and Swanny and at a later time would sometimes follow Ron around like Yang and another labrador dog that joined the family.
Unlike the glossy black Yang this one was rusty in colour and so had earned the name Rusty. He lived in the other hidden house at the foot of Ron's grassy hill. His owner was another Sai devotee called Kevin Dillon. Kevin Dillon, however, was frequently away on his property further north in Queensland and so Rusty began to attach himself for much of the time with Ron. The latter told me that Rusty was uniquely useful in one way. He had a keen eye for the venomous reptiles that were often found in the long grass among some trees at the lower end of Ron's property. When Ron began to mow his grass, Rusty would come through a gap in the hedge and keep a close watch on the mowing operation. He would sight a snake hiding in the grass just before Ron, pushing his mower came to the spot where he was in danger of being bitten by the snake. Rusty would seize it in his teeth at a spot where it could not bite him and shake it to and fro until it was dead. I have seen the kookaburras fly to the branch of a tree with a snake in the beak and shake it vigorously in the same manner, killing it before they made a meal of it. Rusty's only purpose in killing a snake however, seemed to be the protection of his friend, Ron.
Some weeks later when I came for another heavenly weekend at Willow Vale, something tragic had happened to our beloved friend, Rusty. Somebody driving a car on the Dillon property, fortunately not too fast, had failed to see Rusty and with a front wheel had hit the dog's hindquarters. The result was that Rusty walked with a bad limp and sometimes would collapse and sink to the ground. Ron took me down to the foot of the hill to see the injured dog. We called his name and he came limping through a gap in the hedge wagging his tail and seeming to smile welcome with his eyes. I suddenly felt a great sympathy for this suffering friend and had the idea of putting my hand on the injured back near towards the tail, Ron did the same, both of us hoping that we had enough healing in our hands to help his injury get better. The dog seemed to enjoy it and stood quite still. After this period of healing, his limp seemed to be better and his hindquarters did not suddenly collapse on the ground as he tried to limp along. For the rest of the weekend, Rusty came out towards us for his healing session whenever we came near to the Dillon house and there was a definite improvement in his injury, by the time my weekend was up. Ron told me later that he continued the healing practice on his own and eventually Rusty had no limp at all. After that he spent much more of his time with Ron and Swanny, even accompanying them on walks. Yang, who had previously seemed to enjoy Rusty's company, showed signs of jealousy. Ron played the part of the spiritual father to him and gave him a 'human values' lecture against the negative emotion of jealousy. Yang seemed as if he understood or perhaps it was just the tone in Ron's voice, in any case, he would hang his head in shame.
After my return to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, I received by phone, regular bulletins about the adventures of the four-legged Farmer family, Yang and Yin and Rusty. Things seemed to be going harmoniously among them and I feel that through the love and understanding of Ron and Swanny Farmer, some, if not all of the three, will be elevated to a human incarnation at the next birth or soon after. I am tempted to go on writing about these beloved entities but feel I have said enough to show the part they play in the lives of my two star friends, so I will now tell something of the background of each of them and show how they became involved in John Fitzgerald's work for God.
First then, some interesting biographical facts about Dr Ron Farmer. He was born in the state of Queensland and remained at school there until the age of sixteen. Then he travelled to Melbourne and joined the Royal Air Force. This was about in the year 1954 and his main ambition in joining the Air Force was to learn all he could about radio electronics. After about three years of this he found it no longer of interest so left the Air Force and worked for a number of different companies that served the Air Force. One of these was the Aeronautical Research Laboratory at Fisherman's Bend in Melbourne. Here he found himself serving with the War Games Department where part of his duties was to interview helicopter pilots. This work took him to Sydney where he was asked to study psychology to help in his interviewing of helicopter pilots. This study of psychology at the New South Wales University was the break in his life that might be termed 'lucky' but I prefer to call it 'the finger of God' placing him where he was meant to be. He loved psychology so much that after two years, sponsored by the War Games Department, he felt a strong urge to continue and did so at the University of Queensland, where for a time he was given some financial help but eventually won a scholarship which carried him through to his Ph.D in Psychology.
Not long afterwards he was back at the University of NSW as a lecturer to graduates in Psychology on the subject which he calls Behavioural Therapy. This had previously been considered a very complicated branch of Clinical Psychology but Dr Farmer had the gift of making it seem quite simple and interesting. The result was that he found himself giving talks on the radio and being interviewed by the press on this fascinating subject. His name thus became well-known to the public and he found people coming to him for help in their mental and psychological problems. In this way he found himself building up a clinic and dealing with patients from the members of the public, in addition to his university work. He thus found himself going through a period of very high pressure work which led eventually to a nervous breakdown. Employing some of the therapy that he had used for his patients for his own treatment, he turned the nervous breakdown into what he called a 'nervous breakthrough'. When he had fully recovered, he wrote a good lecture on this method of treating a nervous breakdown, which I have heard on an audio cassette. It is probably available to anyone who needs it.
A very important part of Ron's breakthrough was his spiritual awakening. Although he went on lecturing at the university for a time, he found this work and the other limitations in the academic life a handicap to his now fascinating development of the spiritual dimension which was showing its face more and more in the world around him. So that, after six years altogether of university lecturing, he resigned and started his own clinic in Sydney. Yet he did not feel this work altogether satisfying and after about a year as a professional Clinical Psychologist, he felt the compulsive urge to go exploring. Perhaps it was, in reality, the urge to become somehow more involved in what has been called the New Age. And so he went to live in a commune at a place called Nimbin, in the north of New South Wales.
While reading many books born of the New Age, he built himself a house in Nimbin and opened a clinic in which to treat patients professionally by his clinical psychology. Moreover, with the aid of two friends, he opened what must have been the first New Age Bookshop in New South Wales. His shop, like his clinic, was situated in Lismore. In order to stock it, he ordered books from all over the world and so he had the pleasure of reading his growing stock of books, which included the work of leading spiritual writers from all countries. He spent about eight years soaking up this world wide literature of the developing New Age. Inevitably, he ploughed his way through to books on Sai Baba. This was in the year 1984, a most important milestone in his life. The finger of God seems to have been active here too, because soon after the arrival of the books, he found himself at a friend's place watching a video about Sai Baba. During the film there was a close-up of Sai Baba looking straight into the camera and so he seemed to Ron to be looking deep into his own eyes. "At that point I nearly fell off my chair," said Ron. Asking him why he reacted in this way, he replied, "When he looked straight into my eyes, I felt sure he knew all about me and all about everybody. In fact he knew everything. I knew that this was the man I had to follow, there was no-one else like him." Now he read avidly all the Sai Baba books in his possession and felt that Nimbin, Lismore and neighbourhood were not the right place for him. He had to be where there were more Sai people and Sai activities and so it was that he returned to Sydney and re-opened his clinic there. And of course, he attended any Sai meetings and other activities available in his area.
It was while he was visiting a Sai Baba meeting in Homebush, a suburb of Sydney, that he met Dr Devi, the wife of the well-known Dr Sara Pavan, the Anaesthetist. Dr Devi one evening announced to the meeting at Homebush that she was going next day to a Nursing Home where the patients were all seriously handicapped mentally. Anyone who wished to come with her, she said, were very welcome. One person went and that was Dr Ron Farmer. He was quite unaware of the fact that one of the most important things in the whole of his life was to happen to him at this Nursing Home. Towards the end of his visit on that first day, the Matron of the Nursing Home said she would like to introduce him to the Clinical Psychologist who was working regularly at the Nursing Home. Ron had no desire to meet this Psychologist. All of that profession that he had met in recent years had no interest whatsoever in any aspect of God or the spiritual life of man. So he gave some reason to the Matron and excused himself from the meeting; but he was very interested in the Nursing Home itself and before long he was there again. This time the Matron said, "I have told my Psychologist about you and she is very anxious to meet you." This time Ron made no excuse but submissively went upstairs with the Matron. She conducted him into the clinic and introduced him to the dark-eyed, smiling Swanny. He had immediately, he told me, a deep feeling that something important, something inexplicable was going to happen. He had never had this feeling before at the point of first meeting someone. The inexplicable feeling had, he said, an overture of deep peace, he wanted to see her again. Asked what she felt at the first meeting, Swanny said, "His face looked so very sad and I felt a strong urge to make him happy." So they began seeing each other frequently, usually at lunch-times. One of the most important things they had in common was the fact that they both used spiritual principles wherever possible in treating their patients, but it was not long before their feeling for each other deepened into something more important than their academic interests. This was love, the kind that, while including romantic love, goes far beyond. It is the true love of union and includes sharing and caring.
After they were married, Swanny began having dreams about Swami which brought her onto the Sai path with Ron. They had been married about three years, both happily working in their profession of Clinical Psychology when the bell rang heralding a new chapter to their lives. The bell, in this case, was the telephone bell in their home; it rang about ten o'clock one evening. Ron went to answer it. On the other end of the line, a young man's voice said "You don't know me but my name is John Fitzgerald, I have a lot of money and I want to help street kids but I don't know where to start." There was silence for a few moments then the voice went on, "A friend of mine, in fact, my Architect, took his son to one of your meetings. It was a meeting on Human Values and he told me that you and your wife were the best two people in Australia to help me with my project." John Fitzgerald went on to request them to visit him at his office on the Gold Coast as soon as they could, if they were interested in helping him. Ron replied that he and Swanny were going up to the Gold Coast in the following week and they would be happy to call and talk to him. When he returned to Swanny, Ron said, "I have been talking to a young man in Queensland who is either mad, or he is a very wise man." He told her the gist of the 'phone conversation and they both decided to call and see him on the following week when they were going up to the Gold Coast on some other business. And so, in due course, they were sitting in John Fitzgerald's office listening to his philanthropic dream. One thing that impressed them both was hearing John say, "My gift of making millions is something God has given me, so I must use it in doing God's work." The interview lasted for three hours and at the end of it they were his partners in the Karma Yogic work he was planning to launch. Swanny had such faith in this new found friend that at his request she agreed to give up her work and spend all her time helping John. Dr Ron Farmer agreed whole-heartedly with this move, he too, felt full faith in John Fitzgerald. Thus, the divine association had its beginnings.
Now I would like to give some background information about Swanny Farmer, who is, I must say, one of those rare people whose pure inner beauty shines through, thus endowing her with a special outer beauty. I feel it was someone like her to whom Shakespeare addressed the words, "Do noble deeds, not dream them all day long and so make life, death and the vast forever, one grand sweet song."
Swanny was born in Indonesia in the year 1952. Her father, a businessman in Djakarta, found his fortunes greatly improving after this third daughter was born and so he was able to send her two older sisters to complete their education at Hanover University in Germany. When Swanny was seventeen years old, that is in 1969, she was also sent there to join them and complete her tertiary education. She specialised in psychology because it seemed that this was the kind of training she needed to help people in their lives. She obtained a Master of Arts degree at Hanover and worked for a time in Germany. She was invited to become a German Citizen, but decided instead, to go to England and obtain another degree in psychology. Thus, she attended the University of Manchester and after about two years there, obtained a degree of Master of Science in Psychology. With these two degrees she was certainly qualified to work in her professional field in many parts of the world. Her heart called her back to her home in Indonesia where she worked in the psychological field for about two years. However, Swanny felt that she was not making full use of her potential in Indonesia and as one of her sisters was practicing as a Medical Doctor in Australia, she decided to move to that country where, indeed, she had no difficulty finding professional work and eventually finished up working up at the Nursing Home for mentally disadvantaged children in Liverpool near Sydney, where eventually she met Ron Farmer.
As already told, Swanny Farmer changed her job again at that fateful three hour interview with John Fitzgerald when he invited her to be what he called his navigator, in finding the right children to launch his Toogoolawa scheme of providing schools, as well as some accommodation hostels for the unfortunate children who, often through bad parenting, were homeless, school-less and on the point of becoming street-kids. Ron, who whole-heartedly supports the project and gives it much voluntary help, carries on other work for Swami too. One of these is conducting a small publishing business in conjunction with his wife Swanny and a Sai friend by the name of Ross Woodward. They have already published a very good book designed to help people anywhere in the world to conduct study circles on the literature of the New Age, particularly the teachings of Sai Baba. The quality of the book holds out good promise of other treasures to come.
Dr Farmer of course, continues his main professional work regularly seeing patients at his clinic which is in the same building as John's company offices on the banks of the Nerang River. In this therapeutic work he frequently makes use of the Sai and other spiritual teachings. He told me about several of these as we walked together on the grassy lands round his home at Willow Vale. At my request he put several on an audio tape for me. Here briefly, is the gist of one such treatment.
A Minister of the Uniting Church asked Dr Farmer if he would treat the Minister's twelve year old daughter. Dr Ron Farmer agreed and in due course the twelve year old girl was sitting in his clinic. Her main problem was that in the school classroom, when as a pupil she was asked to stand up, perhaps to read something, to recite something or answer a question, just the fact of standing there in the classroom of sitting pupils would bring on such a powerful agonising form of stage fright that she would break out in a cold sweat and be unable to speak a word and so would have to take her seat. As neither teachers nor pupils have any understanding or sympathy in such situations, the twelve year old girl would suffer a great deal.
Eventually after asking her several questions, in an endeavour to find a door that he might open for her, Ron asked intuitively, "Do you have any recurring nightmares?" The answer was that she did, a terrible dream that recurred every week or every fortnight. In the dream she was walking along the edge of a cliff when she fell over the precipice and in terror went down towards the bottom. She always awakened before she hit bottom but it was an experience of great terror. Ron felt that if he could cure this nightmare terror it would also cure her classroom terror.
Ron remembered one of Swami's teaching to the effect that it does not matter in the least what form and name of God you worship but you must remember He is with you always and you must trust in His love and His help. This girl was the daughter of a Minister of a Christian Church and would probably look to Jesus as her divine guide and saviour. So Ron asked her, "Do you believe in Jesus?" "Oh, yes I do," she answered. Then Ron asked, "Do you love Jesus?" "Yes," she replied enthusiastically, "I love Him with all my heart, He is my life." Then Ron explained to her the principle taught by Swami, that is, if we hold onto the name and form of God, bringing it into everything we do, life will become harmonious and any problems will be solved. Moreover, Swami says, unlike what is taught in modern psychiatry, that the unconscious is benevolent. So Ron proceeded to relax his patient and asked her to close her eyes. Then he took her in imagination, through the details of her recurring nightmare. She was walking along the cliff edge picturing the scene and then her foot slipped and she began to fall, but now she was holding onto the hand of Jesus as she fell. He kept repeating to her, "You're holding onto the hand of Jesus, you're falling, but you're holding onto the hand of Jesus," this he repeated for about ten minutes. Watching her face as he made her picture that she was holding onto the hand of Jesus, the expression of fear changed quickly into a beautiful expression of peace and happiness. So eventually, he asked her to open her eyes and asked her, "What was that like?" She replied that she forgot she was falling and felt happy in the protection of Jesus. Asked what she felt in her body, she replied that she felt relaxed, deeply relaxed. Then Ron asked her to imagine she was in the classroom situation and that the teacher had asked her to stand up and read something, but while she was standing up she pictured the scene where she was falling, holding onto the hand of Jesus, so she felt relaxed and not at all worried with this situation because she was holding the hand of Jesus and felt the joy of his protection. After this guided imagination, he said to her to open her eyes again. Then he said, "Do you feel now that you will be alright in the classroom when you have to stand to your feet and speak?" She smiled happily and replied, "Yes, I feel sure I will because I will have Jesus close to me holding my hand." "Well," Ron replied, "If ever you have the slightest return of that problem, contact me and I will bring you some more help." She agreed that she would do so, but she never contacted Ron and he felt that his spiritual therapy had worked. He has found that this use of the name and form of the God one adores has a very powerful effect. It releases the stupendous power of divine love which always conquers fear.
Signs, strange and significant.
In the Blue
Mountains just west of Sydney, Australia, I have a number of friends, most of
them followers of Sai Baba. I would not have called Peter a Sai devotee at the
time of this episode, but he was certainly interested in Sai Baba and perhaps
it was to encourage this interest that Rocky Bugmann, an active member of the
Sai centre in the mid mountains, gave Peter a very attractive, good-sized
photograph of Sathya Sai Baba. Without framing it, Peter stuck the photograph
on the wall of his bedroom in a position that allowed him to see it easily
while he was lying in bed. Incidentally, Peter is a bachelor of middle age and
lives alone except for his four legged friend, a dog named Adam. Perhaps Adam
acquired that name because of his hatred of snakes. Adam of the Garden of Eden
had no reason to love the reptile, for it was because of a snake that he was
thrown out of paradise into the wide and terrible world.
Although Peter has a large house, he usually allows Adam to spend the night on the floor of his bedroom. It may have been no more than one or two nights after he had hung the picture that the strange phenomena began. While Peter was lying comfortably in bed with the light on, gazing intently at the photo of Swami, it suddenly became three dimensional, that is, it stood out an inch or so from the wall. At the same time, the image of Swami changed to a man who appeared to be an historical character. Judging, Peter said, from his clothes, style of hair and beard, he belonged to history but Peter could not identify him. After a while the photograph went flat against the wall again and Swami was there. For the next five or six nights, the photo of Swami played the same strange tricks, the only difference being that it was not the same person who appeared in place of Swami. Each night there was a different one, always appearing to be someone from an earlier period of history and never identifiable by Peter. Peter was quite fascinated but puzzled. It must be some sign to him from Swami but he could not figure out what it was meant to tell him. And who could help him? The only other person in the room to see this pantomime was Adam the dog, and he seemed quite unaffected by the strange antics of the picture.
Then came the night when, instead of another human being appearing in the three dimensional photograph, in the place of Swami came a large cobra. It was raised and its hood was spread as if about to strike its victim. Peter was horrified. This, he thought, is a symbol of evil and he immediately turned out the bedroom light but it was a long time before he could go to sleep. He, like many followers of the Christian faith, perhaps through the myth of the Garden of Eden, regards snakes as an animal cursed by God and therefore evil. At last he fell asleep. No dreams came to help him with his problem and as soon as he woke in the early hours before full daylight came, he got out of bed with the intention of removing the picture. But it was not on the wall anymore. Knowing that he had not stuck it to the wall very securely, he looked on the floor below where the photo had been hanging. It was not far away but ripped into many small pieces. This must have been the work of Adam the dog who was lying near the heap, as if to protect his master from any evil that may remain in the torn-up picture. Peter gathered the pieces and burned them.
It was not many days after this that Peter informed Rocky and myself about the episode, about what had happened to the photograph. Both of us assured him separately that to Swami, who is an incarnation of Lord Siva and his consort Parvati or Shakti, snakes are certainly not evil, just the reverse really. Illustrations of Lord ..Siva often show him with a necklace of snakes around his neck. They are one of his symbols and he has, indeed, appeared as a cobra to a number of people at his ashrams, including myself. The one that appeared to me was a beautiful white cobra in the garden at Brindavan. It had behaved more like a friend than an enemy of man. Peter understood readily and happily. He was very pleased when Rocky gave him another photograph. But he had had his ration of signs and wonders and the second photograph behaved as photos are expected to.
I think that Peter would now call himself a Sai devotee. There are, of course, many different brands and types of devotees and they meander to the feet of our Lord by many strange but interesting routes.
* * *
The Sai signs that came to the married couple, Syd and Karen Paterson were also strange and certainly significant. The Patersons live near me in the Blue Mountains and I regard them as earnest devotees who are making good progress on the Sai path that leads back to God. Strangely, they too witnessed some Sai photograph leelas but, unlike Peter, it was after they were already Sai devotees. It was in this case a framed photograph hanging on the wall of their sitting room. One day when they were sitting discussing Swami's teachings while looking at the photograph on the wall, it began to play some strange antics. It would, for example, move along the wall to left or right and sometimes seemed to come away from the wall towards them. At other times bright lights would appear around the photo, bright pink or green or just white light. Of course, they told each other what they were seeing after it had happened but to test that it was just not a fault in eyesight, they decided to tell one another at the time of the happening. For example, Syd might say, "The colour has turned to silver," or, "The photograph is moving along the wall to the right," and Karen would confirm that she was seeing the same thing. Then Karen might say what was happening and Syd would agree that he was seeing the same thing. So they decided that what they saw was actually happening and believed it to be a sign of God's presence in their lives.
Other signs also came to them separately. For example, Syd who is a painter by trade, one day - and all day - during his work saw the face of Swami appear on whatever surface he was painting, perhaps a door or a wall or a cupboard. This gave him great joy and he had a wonderful day.
Another sign that he spoke to me about was that one day he suddenly experienced adwaitha or non-duality - everything was one. This brought him a great feeling of bliss, an uplift of consciousness. Unfortunately, he said, this did not last all day but just for a short period. Nevertheless he has remembered it always and knows that the truth of Being, lies beyond what we see with our eyes and is in truth, oneness of all life.
Later on, about the middle of the year 1990, Syd had his first dream of Swami and it was to him a very important prophetic dream. It remained very vivid in his memory. He told me that it seemed to begin with him standing talking to a neighbour who had lived next door to him in a Sydney suburb. Suddenly they saw the form of Sai Baba on the opposite side of the street standing on the pavement. Swami had a white robe on, said Syd, but I don't know whether he was aware at the time that white is the colour of mourning in India. Whether or not he understood the significance of the colour white, Syd knew instinctively that the old overcoat that Swami had swung across his shoulder, represented the body of his own father. Swami gave them a smile and a wave and moved off down the street. Syd was so full of his strong feelings that he omitted to return the wave but the neighbour did so, remarking something about Swami being the head of some weird cult in India. Syd did not answer but remembered thinking, "If only you knew the truth!" At the first intersection, Swami turned as if to go along the cross street but instead he faced up towards Syd and his friend and gave another wave. This time, both men returned the wave and Swami vanished.
It was a sad dream for Syd because he felt sure that Swami was giving him a sign that his father, who was very sick in a nursing home hospital, would not last very long. Thinking about this, Syd prayed earnestly to Swami to be granted four boons. The first was that the hospital would warn him of the approaching death in sufficient time for him to let his old mother know, so that she, who was living in the same nursing home would get there in time for his father's passing. The second was that he, himself, would manage to be present in the bedroom of his father at the actual time of his passing. The third was that his father would have a peaceful end with no pain and the fourth was that Syd would be aware of the actual moment his father left his body. Perhaps this was asking a lot, he thought, but felt sure that somehow Swami would grant his wishes.
It was not long after this that the call came from the hospital telling him that his father's condition had deteriorated so rapidly they were sure he did not have long to live. So Syd had time not only to warn his mother but also his brother. That morning they were all sitting in Father's ward. Brother had brought along his wife too, but Syd had not brought Karen because at this time they were just at the very beginning of their friendship and Karen did not know his parents. The patient did not seem to be aware of their presence. He was sleeping peacefully with no apparent pain and so the hours dragged by, with a nurse coming in about every half hour or so to check the patient's condition, which seemed to indicate to Syd that the end was not far away.
After a few hours of watching, mainly in silence, Syd felt that his mother, who was unwell herself, was looking as if she needed a rest. So he advised her to go to her room and lie down for half an hour then he would call her. She went and the brother, who had some urgent business to attend to, left too with his wife. Syd was left alone with his thoughts. His good father, for whom he felt great love, was still alive, breathing quietly. Then, after about ten minutes, something strange happened. A shaft of what seemed like dark blue energy about a yard in length and perhaps six inches in width began to emanate from his father's throat chakra at an angle of about forty five degrees to the body. Then it vanished and the sound of the breathing stopped. At a later time, Syd learned from someone who had had a great deal of experience with death and dying and the hereafter, that this was his father's astral body leaving the physical. But Syd must have known this himself intuitively because of what happened later.
The next event happened almost immediately. Swami came into the room, not the usual Swami but one about half the size of his small self, a dwarf Swami and he was dressed in green, which is not a colour he ever wears. Syd took this as a symbol that his father had had a peaceful passing because to Syd the green colour meant peace, like the peace one feels in a green meadow. To emphasise the point further, the diminutive Swami floated onto the bed and sat cross-legged on the chest of the dead body. Having emphasised the point to Syd of his father's peaceful passing, Swami vanished. Soon after that two nurses came into the room. One of them went and stood behind Syd with her hands on his shoulders while the other went to the other side of the bed to examine his father's body. The one behind asked gently, "Where is your mother?" Syd replied "She's gone and so has my father." "Oh, no," she replied, "I think your father is still alive." But the nurse on the other side confirmed that he had passed away. Syd sat for a while in quiet remembrance of his beloved father and mentally gave his thanks to Swami for granting him the four boons he had requested and indeed for being present and blessing the transition of his father who had not even been a Sai Baba follower.
Karen, who is very studious and gentle, has had her own experiences of God's hand in her life. While her husband Syd has felt the unity of all life, she has gone beyond the maya in a different way. For example, she says one day at work, when everything seemed to be going at a mad rate it was as if worldly affairs in her life, that is the maya, was going around at an ever increasing rate and seemed impossible to handle, her mind went beyond it all. She saw it as it was, an unreal, crazy illusion. She wanted to laugh at the crazy antics of people, including herself. It was unreal and she stepped back from it all into the quiet peace of reality. She found that on future occasions when the worldly merry-go-round seemed to be getting out of hand, just to focus on the memory of this occasion was helpful in trying to re-establish that peace.
Earlier in the same year that Syd's father had died, Karen too, had witnessed the compassionate hand of Swami at her own father's death. "Neither of my parents were followers of Sai Baba and they only ever heard his name when I was at home with them and could not help talking about him sometimes." Her father was sent to hospital through his emphysema and the work of some other mysterious, tropical virus. She felt somehow that this illness was terminal but the hospital staff was not very co-operative about informing her and the rest of the family of his state of health. So either Karen's mother, sister, herself or another member of the family spent a lot of time in the ward to check on his recovery or otherwise. One day when she was in the ward alone with her father, he suddenly asked to her great surprise, "You know that fellow you went to see in India I've forgotten his name what was it?" Karen told him. "Yes, that's right," he said. "I had a dream of him the other night." Karen felt great surprise and delight to hear that Sai Baba actually visited in a dream, her non-Sai father. She questioned him about the nature of the dream. "Oh," said her father, "He just walked up to me and shook my hand." The pleasure Karen felt had a tinge of sadness. She felt sure that this handshake meant that her father would leave his body very soon. Then she asked her father, "How did that make you feel, Dad, when he shook your hand? Was it a good feeling?" "Oh, my word!" her father said. There was such enthusiasm in the old man's voice that Karen felt assured and humble, with a rush of gratitude to the Lord that he seemed to be taking care of her father at this time of his great need.
A few days after this pleasing but worrying conversation, Karen's father did, in fact, pass away. Only her mother was present and she told Karen that it was an easy, peaceful passing. He just seemed to stop breathing, she said. Karen knew with an inner knowing that Swami had been present unseen and had given her dear dad a peaceful and blessed passing. She was very grateful and somewhat surprised that Swami would in this way, help one who had never taken the slightest interest in him.
To me, the fact that Swami gave loving help and compassion to the two fathers is a sign that Syd and Karen have their feel firmly on and are making good progress along the spiritual path. The ancient sage Narada in his Bhakti Sutras states that anyone well advanced on the path of devotion will bring divine help to several generations of ancestors and descendants. So I feel that Swami's blessing to one generation ahead, that is to the two fathers, is a result of Syd and Karen's own devotional work and progress. Swami is interested in and brings blessings to the members of the Sai devotees' families.
Narada's Sutra 71: His ancestors rejoice, the gods dance in joy and the earth gets a Lord and Saviour. Such a devotee who is full of God-realisation gives salvation to seven generations of ancestors and descendants in the family. The gods rejoice to see a man of God-realisation as he is one with God. The Earth gets in him a saviour who can bless all mankind.
The mystery of Vibhuti.
ashes, dust to dust." With these words of the funeral service, the human
body is committed to its final formless form. In some denominations of the
Christian church, ash is blessed by the priesthood, becomes known as Holy Ash
and is used as a symbol of penitence, reminding man that his time on earth is
short and that he should use his time to seek the true eternal values. Back in
the timeless mythology of the Hindu religion, ash was used by Lord Siva as a
symbol or flag of victory. After his victorious battle with the god Kama, the
god of desire, Siva reduced his enemy's body to ashes and smeared his own body
with those ashes, so then it was a victory over desire. But, as we all know,
Kama, like Phoenix, rose from his own ashes and is very much alive and active
within each one of us, where he is known as the kama rupa, or body of desire.
Indeed, as I have heard my late friend Dr V K Gokak say, "He lives our
lives for us." Only one who has reached the state of enlightened
self-realisation could, as Siva did, adorn himself with holy ash as a sign of
victory over desire. So why do we smear our foreheads or swallow quantities of
this symbol of victory and purity which Swami has named vibhuti? And why does
He call it vibhuti?
This is part of the great, the important, mystery on which I would like to invite your consideration.
Looking into the Sanskrit dictionaries for the meaning of the word 'vibhuti', one finds such definitions as 'manifestations of divine power' or 'opulence by which God controls the whole universe.' Other words used to define the meaning of vibhuti are divine glory and splendour and magnificence. In some translations of the Bhagavad Gita, we find the title of Chapter Ten is, "The Yoga of Vibhuti" while in others it is called "Manifestations of the Power and Glory of God". And we so learn that the union with the divine which we seek is aided or perhaps accomplished by the power, glory, splendour and munificence of God and this is called vibhuti.
Nowhere in the great Scriptures of the nations have I personally read of or heard of a Godman or saint who produced holy ash from unseen dimension by the wave of his hand or by any other means.
Interestingly, during the near-half century that Sai Baba spent at Shirdi, He used ash, from the fire He kept burning, to help people with their health and other problems. This ash He called 'udi' which must bear some relationship to the word vibhuti. So why did Sri Sathya Sai Baba name the ash that He manifests many times a day by circling His hand by the title vibhuti? Surely He must mean us to understand that this wonderful material which comes in various shades of colour, perfume and taste, carries with it the divine power, glory and splendour that lie in the meaning of the word itself. And surely this is something of which we should be fully aware when we use vibhuti either externally or internally.
We should not be like I was when He said to me on the first day of our meeting in a room in Madras, "Would you like some vibhuti?" I said "Yes," because I wanted to see Him manifest it out of nowhere. I had no idea what to do with it, nor of its power. But I discovered its power of healing on the following day when He manifested vibhuti for my wife and cured her of hepatitis on the spot. It is strange that Swami, not always, but frequently, manifests His divine power and compassion through material things, such as the leaves and flowers of plants, water, lingams and nectar but certainly most often through holy ash.
I have heard people say that the power of vibhuti lies in its placebo effect, its effect on the mind of the patient, thus creating greater faith and expectation. But I know of cases in which the recipient of vibhuti had no expectation at all, no expectation of a cure, that is. My wife, Iris, was one of these in the case just related, but the most striking in my experience was the cure of the parachute jumper, Squadron Leader A. Chakravarthy and his absent wife, which I describe in detail in my book "Sai Baba, Invitation to Glory", I will repeat the main facts here.
Chakravarthy, along with two scientists with whom he had arrived at the ashram, was called for an interview during his first evening there. Swami manifested several things for two of his friends and then told Chakravarthy to join his two palms together in the form of a bowl. Then Swami waved His down-turned hand in small circles above the bowl thus formed. Vibhuti poured from His hand until Chakravarthy's two joined palms were full. Then He told the parachute jumper to eat the vibhuti. The Squadron Leader, who was also head of the parachute jumping school in the Indian Air Force, had no idea why he should eat the vibhuti but he came from a spiritual family and had the feeling that he was in the presence of a Godman, so he did as he was ordered. He consumed every morsel of this double handful of vibhuti. "The flavour was quite pleasant and I thought I was getting some spiritual benefit from it," he told me.
He had an interview on the following morning and the same thing happened. Again the Squadron leader did as ordered and ate all the vibhuti, having no idea what the specific benefit might be. He and his friends returned to Bangalore after spending the one night at the ashram. He was amazed and of course, overjoyed to discover in the next few days that he had been completely cured of a disease that the medical doctors had told him was incurable. He was even more astounded to find that his wife was cured of the same incurable disease. They had both been told by several doctors that the disease they shared was not only incurable but would prevent them having children. Now, as if to confirm the cure, Swami told them that they would have a son to be born on Swami's own birthday that year. This duly took place. No placebo effect could have played any part in this unexpected healing of two people by two double handfuls of vibhuti given to one of them.
Several friends have told me how they have cured diseases in animals, mainly pet dogs and cats, by the application of vibhuti and this seems to indicate that the healing power exists in the vibhuti without any help from mental expectation or even faith.
The quantity of vibhuti required and time taken for healing are also part of the divine mystery. In Chakravarthy's case, two double handfuls of vibhuti healed two people almost immediately. In the case of Mayan Waynberg, (given in my book "Sai Baba, Invitation to Glory") another example of vibhuti healing an incurable disease (that is, incurable by ordinary medical means), the patient was instructed by Swami to take a pinch of vibhuti in water daily, but it took nearly two years for the complete cure. Different diseases, different methods and only the Divine Healer Himself knows the reason. All we can know is that this sacred substance that we have learned to call vibhuti is imbued with the divine power, glory and opulence to work great miracles.
Then there is the amazing worldwide phenomenon of the appearance of vibhuti on articles, mainly on holy pictures, under the glass when they are mounted in frames with a glass front. Such things are happening to Sai followers from Russia to Malaysia and Australia. Why and how is this done, may be asked.
Well, I would say, it certainly builds faith and even takes people to Sai Baba. My famous friend, Jegathesan, of Malaysia told me that when he heard people talking about Sathya Sai Baba, his reaction was negative but when vibhuti began to appear on the pictures of Swami and other holy figures in the home of one of his relatives in Malaysia, faith was born in his heart and he immediately went to see "The Living God in India." Well, we all know the fine work that Jegathesan has carried out in the Sai mission to the world.
As to the 'how' of the operation, I have heard more than one person say that the job is done by other beings and not by Swami. But psychic science has proved beyond question that, in general, discarnate spirits do not possess the psychokinetic power to move even a featherweight physical object.
An exception to this rule is the stone-throwing poltergeist and it's not the nature of the poltergeist to smear holy ash on holy objects in order to increase man's faith in God.
We know that Swami Himself can travel in a flash to any spot on the globe and, when there, use His divine psychokinetic power to carry out any physical work He likes. We know, too, that He has helpers, multitudes of helpers, on the subtle planes as well as on the earth plane. He could endow any of these helpers, be they discarnate, angelic or devic, with the power to spread vibhuti on the glass or under the glass of holy pictures, inside books, on the cover of books when they are lying underneath other volumes, on the hands of saintly dying people (as once happened to a dying Sai devotee in Melbourne, Australia). So, whether He does the work Himself or delegates it to some of His numberless subtle helping hands, it is not possible to know, and I do not feel that it matters, since all the divine work is done by God.
Remember the story of the man who, sitting on the roof of his house during a rising flood, refused all help from men in boats and helicopters who tried to rescue him, saying, "Don't bother, I have prayed to God to save me." When in due course, he was drowned, and his soul stood in the presence of God, he said to the Almighty, "I prayed to You to save me, but You did not." God replied "I sent rescuing boats and a helicopter to take you off your roof and save your life but you had forgotten that all helping hands are My hands."
Another mystery is why does vibhuti appear in some homes and not in others? By what criteria does God select the homes? Are the people blessed by vibhuti, more spiritual than those who are not? From my observations, I do not think so.
I have noted that the ash recipients in India seem to be more humble, more egoless than usual. I first saw the phenomenon, for example, in a Brahmin home in Coimbatore. It seemed to have covered practically everything in the shrine room and while I sat watching, it was pouring from a small statue of Shirdi Sai Baba.
Many years ago on my arrival at Prashanti Nilayam, I met a young man in the village outside the wall. He told me the story of his aunt who lived in a humble dwelling within the village. He told me that while Swami was away on tour, vibhuti and amrit began appearing on the pictures in his aunt's home. It was not long before crowds of people filled her courtyard to see the phenomenon and receive gifts of vibhuti and amrit, there being plenty for everybody. Attending to the growing crowds became too much for the poor lady who was a widow. She became overwrought and unable to carry on.
Then suddenly Swami, who was still on tour bodily, appeared to her in His subtle form and said "I am stopping this now. Lock your gates and let nobody in." From that moment no more vibhuti or amrit appeared. My first book on Swami had been published and the young man knew my name, so very kindly he took me round to meet his aunt. All was quiet there. Though her pictures were no longer producing ash or amrit, she had stocks of it kept in jars and kindly gave me some. She belonged to the class of the meek, the humble, the surrendered to God, the lovers of the good. Swami had both blessed her and protected her.
But in other countries of the world and also in other parts of India, I have found vibhuti appearing in the homes of people whom I could not class as humble and surrendered. In fact, they seemed to have as much ego as the average searcher in the domain. So the mystery remains and I feel that only God Himself knows the answer.
The twain are meeting.
'East is East
and West is West and Never The Twain Shall Meet' says the well-known line of
Rudyard Kipling, but he does go on to prophesy a time when they will meet and
that will be at the feet of God. Today the twain are meeting, in truth, at the
feet of God, not only East and West but races of all the world are coming to
the feet of the Living Avatar of God. This must surely signify the approach of
a great change in the consciousness of mankind. But before considering this,
let us talk about what we understand by the term 'Avatar' and what it has
always signified in the history of man.
It was during my first visit to Prasanthi Nilayam Ashram in 1966 when I first heard Swami being called an Avatar. I was sitting with a small group of young Indian men on the ladies side of the Mandir, when Swami suddenly appeared and started walking across the large square of sand that has now become a green park. He was walking barefooted and red-robed towards one of the terraced houses that then stood in line with their backs to the road, and their doors and front windows facing the square of golden sand. We watched the progress of Swami in silence for a time, then the young man sitting beside me with whom I had a great deal of discussion, said in a quiet voice, "Many of us regard Him as an Avatar." This gave me something of a shock did he mean that this little figure, with the mop of fuzzy black hair above his soft luminous eyes was God? I looked at the speaker again. It was the serious face of the Crown Prince of Venkatagiri. From our previous discussion, I had learned to respect the knowledge and insight of this young man. Now he spoke in all seriousness about one that I had considered to be a great yogi with miraculous powers and understanding, being an Avatar of God. I remained silent, but mentally decided that when I got back to the Theosophical Headquarters, I would get any books I could find from the library, and try to learn what I needed to know about the term 'Avatar'.
However, I did not, in fact, learn very much from the books available. Lord Krishna, who lived some five thousand years ago, seemed to have been the last of the Avatars. He brought great changes to the people of the earth at that time as did, indeed, the former Avatar Rama. Did such Beings, when they came to the earth, always shake and move and change the world? Later on, I remember hearing Swami say that Jesus Christ was a partial Avatar Jesus did in fact change the Western half of the world from the pagan, power seeking, egotistical values of the Roman Empire to the compassionate Christendom. If a partial Avatar could do so much, what might a full Avatar do for the whole world? But first, I must get clear in my mind, what was meant by an Avatar, and find out if this small red-robed figure, whom I had begun to respect and love deeply, was really one. While I pondered this question, I continued to be with Sai Baba as much as I possible could, which was most of the time.
'God as Man on earth!' this seemed to be a far-fetched and incomprehensible idea certainly in my early years. Christian theology had taught me that God had come to earth once, but only once, in the form of Jesus Christ and that He would never come again, except at the end of the world. Certainly, my own thinking and Theosophy had knocked this idea out of my mind. It was not now a part of my belief system. I knew that Theosophy did accept the truth of the earlier Avatars, Krishna and Rama - but this was all so long ago.
The idea of God Himself coming to the earth in the form of a man in this modern world was a concept that seemed impossible for me to accept. And if Almighty God did in fact decide on such an unlikely move, why should He choose to be born in a remote, primitive village, hidden away in Southern India, where the mass of mankind was unlikely to hear of Him for a very long time, if ever?
Then suddenly, the whole idea became acceptable to my understanding and to my belief. It happened this way. One day, I was strolling quietly in a small garden that fronted the doorway of Swami's interview room in the two-storey house that stood where the white, lotus-shaped Mandir now stands at Brindavan, Bangalore. We were all expecting Swami to emerge from the doorway at any moment. Appearing suddenly, Swami walked into the garden among us. He stopped not far from where I was standing. A young Indian, probably in his early twenties, stepped boldly in front of Sai Baba, and even more boldly asked the question, "Are you God?" the hush that fell over the group of men seemed expectant, and yet somehow fearful. But Swami was his calm, normal self. He pointed his finger at the young man and replied, "You are God!"
Then, standing among us in that small, quiet garden, He gave a simple revealing talk that taught me so very much about the nature of man and God. The gist of it was that God incarnates in every man and woman born on earth but we are not aware of this wonderful truth, although perhaps sometimes dimly aware. Our very purpose in being born as a human being, He told us, it to work towards the realisation of the great truth of our Divinity. We are, in fact, when born Avatars, without the knowledge of this stupendous truth! The ones who are called Avatars are those who are born with the knowledge of this great truth of their identity with God. And so He said, "The only difference between you and Me is that while you are Avatars and you do not know it, I knew it from the time of My childhood. When I tell you as I do, that you are God, that God is within you all, you may or may not believe it, but you have to do more than believe it, you must by the life you live, and through your Sadhana reach the point where you experience your own Godhood. Then you will not only believe, but realise that you are God. That is the one step that you must realise in your mind and experience in your whole consciousness, that you and I are one."
I knew at that moment that Sai Baba was an Avatar. And then as the weeks, the months, the years passed, in close proximity to Him, the conviction that He was the Avatar of this age who came for a certain wonderful purpose became firmly rooted in my belief system. Now after more that thirty years of His Presence, physical or subtle, the understanding and belief that Sai Baba is God on earth, has become firmer, broader and more understandable.
Now let me try to give you in a few words an overall view of the day-to-day work of an Avatar in this modern age, and the special work for the world, the way in which He will change the world before leaving His body as Sathya Sai Baba. When I speak of His day-to-day work, please remember that it is a seven-day week for fifty-two weeks of every year, for He never takes a holiday. This day-to-day work of God is about the transformation of individuals. His aim is to place the feet of every individual, who is ready, on what He calls, 'the ancient road back to God'. There never has been any other road than this, although within it there are many laneways. He leads the feet of the individual along whatever laneway or Yoga path that is most suitable to his temperament. For the majority of people in this age, the most suitable Yoga pathway is that of devotion.
This may be called the Yoga of Love. For this, Swami opens the Heart Centre of each individual who is ready and lets the love flow out towards him as God and towards every individual in the world at whose centre, God exists. I know this because this was my own initiation on my first visit to the Ashram in 1966. Love is the super glue that binds us all together to God. Karma Yoga or yoga of service to mankind is a very important part of his devotional path. So, Bhakti Yoga or Yoga of Love, combined with Karma Yoga is the main devotional path for the majority of people in this age.
As part of His work at the level of the individual, there is the establishment of the Super Speciality Hospital at Prasanthi Nilayam with another one near Whitefield. There is also His remarkable work in the educational field. As all the devotees may know, His educational institutions range from kindergartens to colleges, and to the Institute of Higher Learning, which has all the powers and authority of a university. To academic excellence is added the spiritual guidance and authority of the Avatar. Years ago, when the university was first established I heard one of the very old and learned devotees say that a boy who has spent only one year at a high school should become a Chancellor of a university is one of Sai Baba's greatest miracles. But to me, there are some that seem even greater, and establish Him beyond question as Almighty God in human form. Such, for example, is His suspension of His own Laws of Nature, by making apples and pears and other fruits grow on the branches of wild bush trees.
This divine work, among so many individuals over the face of the earth, has already brought Rudyard Kipling's prophesy true. 'East is East, West is West and Never the Twain Shall Meet, Till Earth and Sky Stand Presently, at God's Great Judgment Seat.' The twain are meeting East and West are gathering at the feet of God. But, does this mean the end of the world as the poet seems to suggest? It certainly does not mean the end of the planet, but I believe that it does mean the end of the old world and the beginning of an entirely new one. In early days, when there were not so many of us gathering at His feet, I have heard Him say, "The Golden Age will begin before I leave this body." He has said it since and He has said several times that the new world will be ushered in before He leaves His present body. He has said it in a quiet casual voice, as if it was nothing at all. But it is in this manner that He makes all world-shattering announcements. He did not say what year that this great change of the world would take place only that it would be in the first two decades of this 21st century the beginning of the new millennium.
There are many, many workers on what the late Sir George Trevelyan used to call 'The Forcefield of Light' helping the great living Avatar in His work of changing the old world into the new. Among these many first grade assistants to Almighty God are two of those called Ascended Masters. These two are Ascended Master Kuthumi and Ascended Master El Morya. In the book entitled "The Light Shall Set You Free", they have made two statements of interest that I give you here. One is 'Avatar Sai Baba is carrying the Christ Consciousness in the world today.' The Christ Consciousness means of course the same as the Krishna Consciousness or the Divine Consciousness in man. The other statement they make is that 'The Golden Age would begin in 2011 or 2012'. It is explained in other parts of this same book and in other spiritual books that by the year 2011, due to the work of Sai Baba and His Helpers in the Light, a sufficient number of human beings will have raised their consciousness to create what they call 'the critical mass' that will bring about a quantum leap in the consciousness of all mankind to bring us into the fifth dimension from the third dimension in which we are now. And as man's consciousness creates the world in which he lives, the Golden Age or the new Sathya Yuga will begin. Any stragglers will be brought up to the fifth dimensional level by Prema Sai (Sai Baba's next incarnation). And, so it may seem, in the new century the members of the human race, who have suffered hell itself in the last century, will find themselves back in the metaphorical Garden of Eden talking and walking with God.
First published in "Sanathana Sarathi", November 2000
What is Truth?
When at his
trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus stated that he had come to earth to teach
the truth, Pilate replied, "What is truth?" and walked away.
Apparently he did not think that this tall gentle Jew, whom the temple priest
had sent to be tried for his life as a trouble maker to the Roman rule, would
have the answer to this big question. It was really laughable to think that he
would have the answer to a question the Greek Philosophers from Socrates
onward had failed to answer satisfactorily. Well, what is the truth? Do we
know it yet, 2000 years after that mocking question was asked in Jerusalem?
Did Jesus teach the truth that he claimed he had come to teach? I believe that
he did for those with ears to hear. Perhaps he did not emphasise the meaning
sufficiently, but he certainly emphasised the importance of knowing and living
the truth, for he said, "If you know the truth, the truth will set you
Most men and women long to know the truth about their own being who they really are and what the purpose of their lives on earth is. Does all this struggle and endeavour end in nothing or does some important, happy destination lie at the end of this long road, this seemingly meaningless journey of pain and pleasure? Is there some formula for living that will lead them with mathematical certainty to a goal that will bring them permanent satisfaction and happiness.
Many men and women have searched through the world for a wise Teacher who will give them the answers to such questions and who will reveal the truth of being and provide the recipe for living that will bring them the freedom and joy they seek. Well, as one of those world wandering Sadhakas, I eventually found the One, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I knew I had found my teacher but I did not immediately recognise him as a Godman or Avatar.
Very soon however, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba gave me the answers to most of my main questions; the mysteries that remain are probably beyond the level of my conscious understanding. He told me that there was just one purpose in my life, that it was to develop and expand my consciousness until it had become one with the Divine Consciousness of God and thus to become one with the Divine Being that goes under many names. There is only one Being, He told me One without a second. In the darkness of our ignorance, we think that we are separate beings and that there are billions of others, but in truth there is only one Being. Such an illogical statement was hard to accept against the evidence of my senses. Through the years that I spent in the environs of His physical presence, I began to realise the truth of this astounding paradoxical statement. Though you and I see many, touch many, hear many, communicate with many, there is in truth, only One. If this be true, then surely we must be part of the One.
I remember one day some years ago at the ashram, I was sitting on the verandah of the Mandir, as Swami was calling into His presence a number of boys who had just joined his elementary school. He was standing perhaps three metres away from where I was sitting. I remember He asked each boy two things his name and where he was from. Each of them stated his name and address in India. Each one seemed overjoyed to be in the presence of Swami, while one little fellow, though smaller than the rest, had the brightest smile. He gave his name readily and when Swami said, "Where are you from?" he replied, "From You, Swami." Then the Lord Sai smiled too. "Look," he said happily, "Here is one who knows he is from God."
This boy could not have been much more than six and here was I, in my sixties and still trying to understand and realise that I was from God that indeed we all are. So we come from God, yet we are still an integral part of Him the One Being; and furthermore, in our present state of human consciousness, we are not aware of having any connection with Him; we are, in a sense, like the prince in the story who was taken from his royal home by a band of robbers. He grew up with the robbers and believed that he was one of them; indeed he had no idea of his royal identity not until many years later, when a turn of circumstances brought him back to his home, did he realise his true identity.
Must we go back to our spiritual home before we realise who we are? On the contrary, I think we must realise our identity before we can go back. Well, if we have come from God as the little boy stated, and with which Swami agreed, how did this happen or seem to happen?
There are three main explanations propounded by some of the great Rishis of the past who gave commentaries on the Vedanta. The word 'Vedanta', by the way, means the end of the Vedas, because this philosophy comes from the Upanishads which are found at the end of each Veda. The word 'Upanishad' means that these teachings are for those who sit close to the feet of the Master. They are, it is implied, beyond the understanding of the ordinary man or woman. The great sages strive to understand them but do they always succeed? Now, briefly, here are the three explanations on how there seems to be such a diversity of life, whereas in truth there can be only oneness or unity.
The first explanation briefly is that God through his shakti, created a maya or illusion in which we see ourselves as separate, whereas in reality we are only one. This is sometimes called 'the mortal dream'. Our everyday consciousness in its waking state is really a dream state and only when we wake from this dream will we see the truth of oneness; this is called the Adwaitha Vedanta or in English, non-duality.
The second great theory as given in Vedanta is that we were always throughout eternity, separate souls, though part of the one God. The best analogy I can think of for this is the fruit of the pomegranate with its many separate seeds within the same skin, all being part of the one fruit. We are still part of the one fruit or the one Being without a second, whom we call God. We, the separate seeds, are not aware or have somehow forgotten who we are.
The third of the great theories is this: The one and only God created or emanated the myriad of separate souls from within himself, they are part of his very breath, part of his essence, as the Old Testament of the Hebrews state; and for all eternity they will remain separate from their creator, that is, separate in form while being one with God in their spirit or essence. This particular understanding of Vedanta seems to lie at the base of some of the world's great religions. For some reason, known only to God Himself, separate souls in this world are born into the great illusion believing that they are separate or asunder from God. This mistaken belief of being asunder from the One is the original sin, or error from which all other errors emanate. When, through the discipline of spiritual training, we come to understand and realise that though apparently separate in form, we are, in essence and in truth, one with God and with each other, then we come into the Kingdom of Heaven which is simply the state of Divine Love, or the feeling of oneness with all. Sathya Sai Baba, whose teachings are in line with the main teachings of Vedanta, together with the love he stirs in each spiritual heart, has not said, to my knowledge, which of these three explanations is correct. Since they all teach the one God and our eternal oneness with Him, perhaps the theories of creation are not important.
Though a great deal of joy-giving light has been thrown by the Sai teachings on such fundamental questions as where we come from, who we really are and the purpose of our long journey through this schoolroom of earth, it seems to me that one big question remains. That is, why did we have to come to earth in complete forgetfulness of our unity with the Divine One, or to look at the matter in the evolutionary way, why did we have to begin the journey in the mineral kingdom with only a modicum of consciousness?
Why did we have to develop that consciousness through life in the plant and animal kingdoms before reaching the human stage, and then struggle on further up the evolutionary ladder until we reach divine consciousness? As God is Chit or Absolute Consciousness and it is taught that we, each one of us, is wholly God, why the necessity of the long climb through aeons of time from the modicum of consciousness in the mineral to the full consciousness of the God-realised man? In brief, why was it, what the Masters call 'the journey of necessity', really necessary?
Perhaps this is one of the questions which, in Paramahansa Yogananda's terms 'will be left for eternity', or perhaps when we have reached that adulthood of consciousness as God-realised individuals, we will know the answer.
The esoteric Christmas.
many millions of Christians throughout the world know that the 25th of
December is the traditional date for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Very few,
perhaps, know that this has not always been so. In fact, it did not become the
accepted date for the Christmas festival until nearly the middle of the fourth
century A.D. In her book entitled "Esoteric Christianity", Dr Annie
Besant, who was President of the International Theosophical Society for more
than a quarter of a century, ending about 1934, quotes Williamson Gibbons,
author of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and a number of
others on this interesting subject. From these I gained the following facts,
which should be of interest to all who join in the Christmas festival. Indeed,
other spiritual people who regard Christmas as belonging only to the
Christians may feel inclined to celebrate the 25th of December themselves when
they know its true meaning and implications.
Not knowing and finding it impossible to determine the actual date of the birth of Jesus, Christians of the earliest centuries chose any date for the celebration. It is said that over a hundred different dates were chosen by sects of the Christian church. Dates in September or August, February, March, June and July were chosen by groups of Christians in different countries. Perhaps this did not matter so much but it was certainly better that all should celebrate on the same date. So in the year 337 A.D. the head of the Christian church, Pope Julius (, residing in Rome, decided on the 25th of December as the date for all Christians to celebrate the birth of their Saviour and leader Jesus Christ. At this time, about half of the people of Asia Minor, Europe and North Africa had become Christians, while others retained their old religions, mainly that of ancient Greece. At about this time, or a little earlier, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. So it paid those in power, or seeking power, to adopt this new religion.
Now what was the reason for the choice of this date, the 25th of December, above all other possible dates? There must surely have been a good reason and, in fact, there was. The reason goes back through many centuries to time immemorial. It goes back, in truth, to the worship of the sun god or the sun hero who reincarnated every year on that date. This was, of course, connected with the rebirth of the sun in the northern hemisphere. The wise men of ancient times, as do those of esoteric understanding, believed in the maxim, "As above so below and as below so above". They understood that what happens below on earth is, in a sense, a shadow of more important happenings above. As you and I, having three-dimensional bodies, cast a two-dimensional shadow, so events in the higher spiritual world of many dimensions cast three-dimensional shadows here on earth. We are concerned here with the rebirth of the physical sun on the 25th of December and the parallel rebirth of the sun hero, the one bringing earthly light and the other bringing spiritual Light.
At midnight on the 24th of December, known as the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, where our culture had its roots , the sun, which had been declining for six months and seemed likely to leave the earth forever, was suddenly reborn. The reincarnating sun rose above the eastern horizon, proceeding through the constellation of Virgo just above the horizon. So it was that on the early morning of the 25th of December the sun was reborn through a virgin. This was the great and wonderful event to the earth below. But, in the world above, there was a parallel, a yet even greater event. To the wise men of the ancients and likewise to the modern esotericists, a life-giving saviour sun is the body of the spirit known as the Logos. The dictionary gives two meanings to this word Logos, one is the Son of God and the other the Word of God. It is the Son of God, whether he be considered a messenger or an Avatar, who brings to man the wisdom of God in words. The new-born physical sun is at first a weak infant. He seems to struggle against the dark, which is predominant while the nights are longer than the days, and this valiant struggle of the youthful sun continues until he reaches the line of the spring equinox. And when he crosses that, he is said to be crucified and rises triumphantly to ripen the corn and fruits, thus bringing warmth and sustenance to the creatures on earth. His life-giving ascension into the heavens continues until the summer solstice in June, then he begins his six-monthly decline until the next winter solstice in December.
The Logos or Godman, who descends to earth to bring the divine Light and thus save mankind from spiritual death, has many parallels in his birth and life with his symbol, the physical sun. For one thing, he is always and inevitably born of a virgin as the sun is born through the cosmic virgin. The mother of the Godman may not be a virgin in the physiological sense but she is always so in the spiritual sense. Let us think of the few whom we know, Isis of ancient Egypt was the virgin mother of Horus, one of the Godmen light-bringers. Devaki, the mother of Krishna was of a spiritually pure virginal nature and in some accounts of Krishna's birth his mother, Devaki, was a physiological virgin. The Chinese account of the birth of Buddha claims that his mother, Mayadevi, was a pure virgin. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin according to the biblical account, while all accounts show her to be a spiritually pure woman. Those of us who are fortunate to have known Eswaramma, the physical mother of our Avatar, Sathya Sai Baba, know that she was pure and virginal of heart. It would seem that none of the saintly mothers of the Godmen had any bad karma to adversely affect the bodies of those Godmen who came to earth through their wombs.
Knowing something of the lives of the great Avatars of history, we can see more easily through them, the continuing parallel of their lives with that of the new-born sun. They too suffered in the early part of their lives from the threats of the spiritual darkness around them. The Avatars are not, of course, born every year like the physical sun, but they reincarnate at the end of a cosmic year when the spiritual light is fading and the power of darkness comes near to eliminating the last shreds of spirituality in the hearts of men. Then in the boyhood of the young Avatar the parallel with the sun continues. His life is still threatened by the power of darkness. We know the threat to the baby Krishna by his wicked uncle Kamsa was there from the very beginning of his life and continued through his childhood. We know how, when he heard of the birth of the baby Jesus, the prince of darkness King Herod, who had heard in a prophecy that this child would be a threat to his throne, had all the male children born about the same time in Israel slaughtered to make sure that he had eliminated the threat to his power. But an angelic messenger had warned the baby's parents and they took the young Jesus into Egypt where he lived until the threat to his life was over. We know, too, how the dark forces worked through certain ignorant and misguided villagers to kill the young Sathya Sai through poison and fire.
But is this interesting, strange parallel with the life of the sun seen also in the many sun heroes who have come to help mankind through past ages? Annie Besant states that this is so and that the similarity in the pattern of their lives is too great to be accounted for by a mere coincidence. Today we do not, of course, think of a sun hero, a saviour, as he was called, being born every year at the winter solstice, as perhaps some of the ancient peoples did. Oddly, however, in a metaphorical way we do think of him being born each Christmas. As Rudolph Steiner points out, in some of the Christmas carols we sing 'Christ is born on earth today', 'Today the angels are rejoicing and singing on earth as well as in the heavens'.
Perhaps in past ages many of the ancient peoples celebrated the 25th of December not because a new sun hero was born but to rejoice in the birth of one born in past years. The Celtic peoples, for example, used to light fires on the hills of Scotland and other countries on the 25th of December, and the bells would ring in rejoicing and thanksgiving to Bael, one of the ancient Light-bringers. When they became Christians, the Celts continued lighting the bonfires in honour of the new saviour and redeemer, Jesus Christ. How appropriate it was that the Christian leaders in Rome in the year 337 A.D. chose this date to celebrate the birth of Jesus! Whenever he was actually born, was he not the great and recent bringer of the spiritual Light and therefore the Saviour and redeemer of mankind?
Another of the ancient light-bringers, or sun heroes, was Dionysius of ancient Greece, renamed Bacchus by the Romans. In Rome itself, it seemed very useful and appropriate that on this day any ritual celebration by the Christians would hardly be noticed and attacked by the non-Christian Romans who were busy noisily celebrating the birth of Bacchus who, as well as being a sun god, was also the god of the grapevine. A good deal of noisy celebration and drinking seemed called for. Also sports and games were part of the Roman celebrations of the birthday of Bacchus. Altogether it was safe for the Christians to hold their quiet spiritual rejoicings on this day. Christians were not altogether safe from violence even at that period in the first half of the fourth century A.D.
So the Christmas rejoicings and celebrations go back into the dawn of time. We can hear the bells ringing out through the many centuries, giving it a greater dimension. As well as this greater dimension in length, the concept of Christmas gains also a greater width. It embraces not only the birth of Jesus but of all other bringers of spiritual Light. We can include all of them, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Sai Baba in both of his births and others we know and appreciate, in our prayers of thanksgiving and our songs of joy on that special day of the year, the 25th of December, honoured and sanctified through so many generations of our forefathers and perhaps by ourselves in former incarnations. We do not need to belong to a Christian church. We do not even need to think of ourselves as Christians in order to open our hearts and minds in unity with all our brothers and sisters on the earth and of all time and feel our oneness with the one and only God, who has periodically paid his special compassionate appearances on earth in the many forms and under the many names we know and of so many more that we do not know.
Sai Baba teaches us this by holding Christmas celebrations at Prashanti Nilayam each year. And though I have spent Christmas in many lands among many peoples, those held at Prashanti Nilayam are the most spiritual and meaningful that I have ever experienced. Thinking of Christmas in this esoteric way helps us to feel in our spiritual hearts the unity, the love in all religions, as Swami teaches us to understand and accept.
Wensley gains more than a cure.
lives in New South Wales near the Queensland border with her husband and
children. It was while I was in that area in the early 1990's that she told me
an interesting story. That is nearly a decade ago now but I have not told her
story in an earlier book because something seemed to stop me. The reader will
realise by the end of the chapter the reason why I had an inner prompting to
wait. She not only told me her story verbally but wrote it for me in all
It was in October of the year 1990 that she noticed a swelling on the right side of her neck. This she was told was an enlarged lymph node. In the following month a number of lymph nodes were removed from her right armpit and from the shoulder. Her medical specialist informed her that she was suffering from a disease known as non-Hodgkins lymphoma. This disease, he told her, was treatable but could not be cured - it always comes back. Wensley remarked, "I would like to be the exception to that rule."
During the early months of the next year, that is 1991, she heard about Ian Gawler's clinic for people suffering from cancer and in March that year she paid two five day visits to his centre. I would like to introduce Ian Gawler here because I knew him personally some years before. He was suffering from a serious bone cancer and had several months' treatment from a number of psychic healers in the Philippines. Then he was advised to go to India to Sathya Sai Baba to complete the cure. He did so and Swami assured him that he was cured. Ian felt complete faith in this and, after gaining some strength, returned to his practice as a Veterinary Surgeon in Victoria. Then he had the idea to open a clinic in which he could help patients suffering from cancer. So it was interesting for me to learn how Wensley fared in Ian Gawler's clinic. Briefly she told me that it had been well worthwhile and she gained a number of benefits from her time there. For one thing she was taught some very useful techniques in meditation and visualisation. A woman she met at the clinic showed her a photograph of Sathya Sai Baba and gave her some of the vibhuti he had manifested. Furthermore, it seems to have been through this woman that she obtained a copy of Dr Sam Sandweiss's book The Holy Man and the Psychiatrist. One day while she was resting with her eyes closed she became aware of a man standing before her with a great deal of compassion in his eyes. He had a peculiar headgear which seemed to be a cloth tied over his head. When she opened her eyes the vision faded away. She told her friend about the vision who wondered if it could have been Sai Baba. Later when she saw a photograph of Shirdi Sai Baba she recognised the man in her vision. She began to feel a longing to go personally to Sai Baba, whom she somehow felt was her Sadguru in this life, yet he seemed so remote, so far away in India that she felt reluctant to go to him at this time.
The benefits she gained at this time at the Gawler Institute are too numerous to mention here. One, however, is that Ian Gawler taught her a number of affirmations which she used and felt were very helpful in fighting the disease. One was, 'At last I can be my true self' and another, 'I have much to achieve in this incarnation' and a third, 'My spiritual evolvement is number one priority in my life.' On returning home towards the end of April in that same year, she found that the tumour or swelling on her neck was only half the size it had been eight weeks earlier when she went to Ian Gawler's clinic. Her oncologist was pleased and told her to keep it up, whatever it was that she was doing. So she kept to a strictly vegetarian diet with fruit juices and mineral and vitamin supplements. She also continued the meditation and visualisation that she had learned at the Gawler Institute. She did this twice daily for a period of half an hour to one hour each session. Often her meditation would be the white light meditation that Ian Gawler had taught her. "I would visualise the light as coming from Baba," she said, and sometimes his form as Sathya Sai would appear to her while she was meditating on the light. And sometimes, surprisingly to her, she would hear the word Jesus pronounced strongly and clearly by an inner voice when the form of Swami appeared. "I did not understand this at first," she said, "But later wondered if Jesus was the one who sent Swami or did it mean that Swami was the Father who sent Jesus?"
Wensley continues her story: "While at the Gawler Institute I learned that disease comes about when the divine energy that is constantly flowing through the body is blocked at some point and for some reason. Then at the point of the blockage of the sustaining energy, probably the one called prana, a lump is formed. So I tried to visualise the divine energy again flowing through my body, propelled by Sai Baba or by Jesus, so that the lump would be removed.
A few weeks later, tests showed that the lump in my neck had been reduced to the size of a pea and my Oncologist remarked that this size was normal in many people. A week later I could not feel anything at all where the lump had been. And this was only about six months after the original diagnosis.
About a week after this very encouraging development, I was driving my car along a road when I saw a notice above the entrance to a ground, saying "Sathya Sai Camp." Although I was not familiar with the name Sathya, the word Sai arrested my attention. There were some people under the sign at the entrance, so I made some enquiries. The two I spoke to were Arthur and Poppy Hillcoat, who became my friends later. They confirmed that it was a Sathya Sai Baba camp and kindly invited me to join the camp. I felt very happy about their invitation and told them that I would attend the next day. This was a wonderful day for me being among a crowd of Sai devotees, hearing bhajans sung for the first time and enjoying a talk by Arthur Hillcoat. Arthur and Poppy kindly gave me a beautiful photo of Sathya Sai Baba sitting in a cross-legged position. They also gave me two of your books, Howard, Sai Baba Man of Miracles and Sai Baba Avatar. It was by a photo in one of them that I was able to confirm that the one who came in my vision while I was at the Gawler Institute, was Shirdi Sai Baba.
It was in October of that same year that I had my first dream of Sathya Sai Baba. He was looking straight at me and was surrounded by an aura of pink light. Then he extended his aura to envelop me. (Later Wensley, no doubt, would have learned that the pink colour is the aura of love.) It was in December of that same year that my oncologist could not find any trace of my recent disease. So I thought with joy that I was cured. He remarked that he wished all of his patients would manage their diseases like I did. My joy at being cured was deflated when I heard my oncologist telling my general practitioner that I was in remission. I recalled that he told me earlier that this was a disease that could not be cured but would go into remission and then come back.
I continued reading regularly the books about Sai Baba and enjoyed many dreams and visions of him. Consequently my love for him grew more and more and I felt certain that he was the Sadguru I had hoped to find. So I decided that my search was over and I must as soon as possible visit him in India.
In the early months of the following year, which was 1992, I intensified my meditation both on Sai Baba's teachings and on his present form. While I was doing this I was surprised to hear the name Jesus pronounced several times and I felt certain there must be some connection between Sathya Sai Baba and Jesus. I longed to know what the connection was. Was it, I wondered, that Sai Baba was a reincarnation of Jesus or did it mean that Sai Baba was the Father God who sent Jesus? Then I was given a vision. In this Jesus was standing before me, dressed in a long white gown. He held his arms before him to make the sign of the cross. Next I saw Sathya Sai Baba in the cross-legged position in which I saw him in the photograph, floating towards the figure of Jesus. Then the words came to my ears or inner ear, "Sai Baba crucified." The words sent a shot of sadness and compassion through my heart at the thought that Sai Baba too had suffered the pains of the crucifixion. But how could this happen? It must mean, surely, that the two were one, one in the Christ consciousness and the cosmic consciousness.
There was another thing in that vision. When Swami was quite close to Jesus, I heard the latter say, "Sai Baba is the Lord." When I thought about these words, I decided that it meant that Sai Baba was the Avatar carrying the divine consciousness in the world today.
One day during the Easter of 1992, I was feeling rather low in spirits so I put an extra large pinch of vibhuti into a glass of water, drank it and lay down to rest. Later as I was waking from a sleep, I heard a voice saying, "Divine intervention." Then a few minutes later, as I was looking into the glass from which I had taken the vibhuti water, I saw two images, one of Swami and one of Jesus.
The fruit of my many visions and dreams was my first visit to Sathya Sai Baba at his ashram in India, that is, his main ashram known as Prashanti Nilayam. This took place in November, 1992. On the day after my arrival I was granted an interview. I shall never forget the exultation and gratitude I felt when I heard Swami say to me, "Your cancer has been cured." So I felt this was not just a remission but, by His Grace, a cure.
Sometime later I had a dream, a very vivid dream, in which a lady who was Indian but dressed in western clothes, appeared and said to me with a smile, "The object of your disease was to bring you to Sai Baba." How blessed I am that He whom Jesus called the Lord has revealed His divinity to me in so many ways and in His mercy, turned the remission into a cure. I am humbled to be the recipient of so much of His Grace. Now when I wake up each morning to the glory of the sunrise, I feel happy to be in a new day in which I can love God. My latest dream message was that just as the Mother-Father-Siva-Shakti God loves me, so I must strive to mirror that love to Him and to all mankind on planet Earth. This will be an expression of the Divine One within me. Thank you beloved Swami."
Note by author: It is almost a decade now since Wensley gave me her story and while I was writing this chapter in October, 2000, I tried to make contact with her through friends in Queensland, but nobody seemed able to trace her. So, sadly I began to think that perhaps, after all, the killing disease had returned and carried her off as the same non-Hodgkins lymphoma did to my wife. Then, joy of joys, I had a phone call from 'the pink twins' in Brisbane, telling me that Wensley had walked into a Sai Baba function carrying a bunch of beautiful flowers and smiling like a picture of radiant health. They told her that I would like to hear from her and she phoned me the next day. Now I can happily conclude this chapter by saying that Wensley's hope to be the exception to the rule came true. The so-called remission was a cure, as Swami told her, on her first visit to him.
Easter and the dharmic life.
One day, a
little over half a century ago, I was sitting in a coffee house in the
wonderful city of Old Jerusalem. The table where I sat looked through the open
front onto a cobbled street. This was the street I had come to see and to walk
along. Its name was the Via Dolorosa, which means the Way of Sorrow. This is
the street along which Jesus of Nazareth walked carrying his heavy cross on
that first Good Friday some two Millennia ago. His back was covered with blood
from the metal tipped whips with which he had been scourged and there was
blood on his face from the crown of thorns that had been forced into his
scalp. Though a man of strong build, he had been greatly weakened from the
torture he had suffered at the hands of the Roman soldiers and his cross was
heavy. Story tells that he fell over at least once during his journey up the
hill to the place called Calvary or Golgotha. Having reached that summit, he
was nailed to the cross he had carried and remained there suffering until the
sun set on that first Good Friday. Then, as bodies were not permitted to
remain on a cross on the Jewish Sabbath, which was the Saturday, Jesus the
Christ was killed by a spearthrust by the Roman legionnaire named Longinus.
The corpse was taken down and Jesus was carried by his great uncle Joseph of
Arimathea and his friend, another devotee of Jesus, named Nicodemus. They put
the corpse in the private tomb in the garden of Joseph's house in Jerusalem.
Then a large stone was rolled in front of the tomb, closing it off. Finally a
squad of soldiers from the Temple troops was placed on guard at the entrance
of the tomb.
All was quiet throughout the Saturday, the Sabbath, but early Sunday morning brought the beginnings of the final act of this world drama, out of which a great religion was born. Somehow the stone had been rolled back and the tomb was empty. Nobody was there. A little later in the day, Jesus walked through a closed door into a room where some of his disciples had gathered. His physical body had been transmuted into a subtle body which some have called a spiritual body, a body of glory and a body of light. This is a phenomenon that Swami has demonstrated many times. That is, he travels through walls or closed doors in his subtle body and when necessary lowers its vibration to create a solid body that can be felt by human hands and can be seen by normal human eyesight. Some days later, after communicating with his disciples and others, this body of Glory, this body of Light, ascended to the highest spiritual realm as Lord Rama and others have done.
What, if anything is the significance of this Easter story to you and to me? "Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected to save all mankind," write the Christian theologians. "But," preach the Christian evangelists, "To be saved you must believe in Him, in Jesus." I want to take you, if you have not gone there already, a step deeper into this great, important question. In fact, Swami has already shown us that step if we can take it. He teaches us that we are all one and I feel that most of us accept that, even though we may not have experienced it. But if we ordinary humans are all one beneath the surface, then surely Godmen are also all one and they are aware of it. Swami has shown himself in the forms of Rama and Krishna and Dattatreya and Jesus. All physical forms are but the clothing of one Godman, one Avatar of God. Swami has indicated, not only by taking the form, but in other ways, that he and Jesus are one. Once on the Christmas day platform at Prashanti Nilayam, I said a few words about the several different names Jesus had been known by when he was on earth and afterwards. One of these was Isa, which he was called in India and the Middle East. Swami opened his own discourse by saying the true name of Jesus was Isa the letters of that name also make the word Sai. Isa and Sai are one. So the Godman who can save us from our iniquities and lead to the goal does not have to be named Jesus or Isa. Today his name is Sai and by his loving grace, his infinite mercy, he is leading us on to our spiritual home. But why, you may ask, did the all-loving Godman in the body named Jesus or Isa have to suffer the Via Dolorosa and the Crucifixion?
Long before the time of Jesus, in the temples of ancient Egypt, men went through the ritual of crucifixion as an initiation to the highest. But why did one have to go through it in agonising actuality on the human stage? Was it simply that a great spiritual Light should come into the dark world of the west under the Roman Empire? It was that and more than that. Spiritual masters such as Rudolf Steiner have given interesting esoteric reasons why the Crucifixion of Jesus is for the benefit of all humanity, but here I would like to give only the explanation given by our own great Master, who, as I said earlier, went through it all himself in an earlier body. And why do I say that you and I are today treading the Via Dolorosa, treading it voluntarily as the Godman did two thousand years ago? We have come through a certain doorway in consciousness from the ordinary self-consciousness of mankind to a level where we have become aware of the purpose of our lives and where we are going. We know that our destination is union with God. We know that we are treading the path to our spiritual home. We have discovered, too, beyond all doubt that we are two people. Each of us is at least two people, one the obvious self-assertive one who makes a great deal of noise on the stage of life, what Swami calls the personal ego. We have inherited this from a long way back when we were parts of the animal consciousness. This was necessary for that phase of life but now, with our feet on the spiritual path, we realise that this ego who dominates our lives is really an anachronism. He is an anachronism and an impostor who belongs to a past time. He has no place in eternity. But the other Self does belong to eternity. He has been buried away in the dungeons of falsehood and maya, in the darkness of our ignorance for so long that we seldom hear his voice. And when we do, we call it 'conscience'. It is, in truth, the voice of God and is therefore the root of all consciousness. We now know that the ego self has to be eliminated in order that the God Self can take command and guide us into that spiritual harbour which is our destination. But it is not an easy struggle while our feet are on this slippery and narrow path. Some have named it the razor's edge. Jesus himself said that it was a way that was strait and narrow. I am calling it the Via Dolorosa.
Swami has said that pleasure is just an interval between two sorrows and here we know the purpose and meaning of sorrow, hardship and adversity. We know their meaning and their value in helping our faltering footsteps up the slippery, rough, cobbled road to Calvary. We know that we must strive here to live the dharmic or sacred life that will take us in the shortest possible time to the cross on the hill and what lies beyond it. Swami makes a cross with his two forefingers and states that the cross stands for the final death of the personal ego. When this false ego is finally annihilated from the body, which is its tomb, there will arise that glorious eternal spiritual Being which is our true Self. And this, as the Godman Jesus illustrated, will be able to communicate with and inspire his brother men who are still on the human path, to arise and become part of the one God.
So this great drama of Easter is important to every one of us because it illustrates what every human being must go through before he comes to his glory. It is our model. It seems to me that we must strive with all the divine will that is in each of us to live the life of dharma, the special sacred life, as we strive with brave hearts and divine understanding towards the cross of final victory that stands on the hill. We all know and we are all striving to practice those five divinely human values, those five bright beacons that our Lord has given us to keep our feet on the slippery way. I just want to say here that it behoves us to delve as deeply as possible into their meaning.
Take, for example, the first one, Sathya or Truth. It was Jesus who said, "Know the truth and the truth will set you free." What is this truth that will set us free from our bondage? For me it is the fundamental truth of oneness. If we can reach within the glittering lights of diversity and take hold of this truth of oneness and strive to live it, then we are well on the way to freedom.
The last of the five beacons is Ahimsa or Non-violence. That seems fairly straightforward, but is it? One of our greatest Godman leaders, Lord Krishna, encouraged the violent destruction of a large part of the Kshetria caste in order to rid the world of a group that had grown evil beyond redemption. He was cutting down the diseased tree, as Swami says. But Krishna encouraged the right understanding and the right attitude when necessary violence must be carried out. We know that life must be destroyed in order for man to eat and to live. When our hands are doing violent acts, from the chopping up of spinach, through the cutting down of a tree, to the slaying of men in battle, we must do it with love and reverence, without any violent feeling towards the form of life that we needs must destroy for a greater good. For all forms of life from a blade of grass to the greatest sage are a part of God. I feel it would be true to say that the more we can follow the life of dharma, the more we can weaken our false ego as we try to tread the narrow path, less painful will be the final crucifixion of the ego.
Here we have the key to true Shanti. While our feet and hands are playing their part in the tug of war between good and evil, let our minds be in the eternal, the infinite. A line from an old prayer says, "There is a power that maketh all things new. It lives and moves in those who know the Self as one."
May that power grow in us all as we struggle up the Via Dolorosa with the great vision of oneness before us.
(This is a slightly condensed version of the talk the writer gave at the Australian Sai Conference held in Mittagong, NSW in 1997)
Sai Avatar and mysticism.
I would like
here to draw an interesting comparison between the teachings and missions of
Sai Baba Avatar, who walks the earth today and those of Mysticism. Mysticism
began as a powerful spiritual movement about one millennium ago affecting all
the monotheistic religions. Whatever the founders of these religions may have
taught, the ordinary members of Church, Synagogue, Mosque and Temple worship a
God 'out there' somewhere, somewhere beyond the bright blue sky. The Mystics
however, arising from the membership of the various religions found a God
within themselves, deep within, seeming closer to them than breathing, nearer
than hands and feet.
It may be that the fathers of the Mystic movement in each religion had an intuitive sense of the inward divinity; or it may be that the movement was born with those who had meditated deeply and discovered the inner presence. In any case, the movement grew in some religions rapidly, in some slowly. In most of the religions it was not welcomed, in some it was condemned as blasphemy to bring the austere, judgmental God from his pure throne far beyond the earth, into the intimacy of one's personal body, into the body of sin, as thought many. This was not acceptable to a large number of the orthodox religionists, yet in spite of this opposition, the Mystical movement grew apace and eventually had a good influence on each of the monotheistic religions.
For some reason, it grew most strongly and rapidly in the Muslim religion and a good proportion of the followers of Allah became Mystics or Sufis as they were called. In the Jewish religion also, Mysticism was, and is, a strong movement; it is known as the Cabala. It had no particular name in the Christian religion but those individuals who followed the mystical path of close inner union with God were often called Saints. Some who responded to the divine voice within themselves, such as Joan of Arc, were martyred and then later canonised as Saints.
There was, moreover, a vast difference between the God of the ordinary religionist as taught in the religious institutions and the inner God of Mysticism. The former was a judgmental God giving the heavenly rewards to those who kept his Commandments; and terrible punishments, often everlasting, to those who disobeyed his laws; whereas the inner God of the Mystics seems to have been a close and loving friend, leading his human children along the pathways of love and deep understanding back to their spiritual home. It seems strange that a greater proportion of people is not attracted to the intimate God of the Mystics away from the judgmental tyrant resident in the remote skies. Perhaps it is because it is not easy for most people to find the inner divinity, maybe many more would, if they were given leadership.
When, in my student days, I was researching all the churches of every denomination to find the one that appealed to me most, I heard no mention from the pulpit of the God who resides within the heart of man. Indeed, I had to live through many decades and travel through many countries before I met the One who revealed to me the great secret, which is the secret of life itself and is so simple that it should be made known to every child.
The time was the mid sixties of last century. The place was a small garden at Brindavan, near Whitefield. I was strolling in that garden with a few men of varying ages; we were waiting for Sri Sathya Sai Baba to appear through a doorway. When he did appear, one who must have been the youngest among us, accosted him with the pointed and important question, "Are you God?" It was then that we received from the divine lips of Swami, the great revelation. Perhaps it was the matter-of-fact tone of the stupendous statements that made me accept them immediately without question. He told us that we were all Gods, we were, indeed, Avatars of God, having brought God to earth within us, each one of us, when we were born, but we had forgotten this great truth long, long ago. The purpose of our lifetimes on earth, he said, was in order to remember the great truth of our own divinity. It took many lifetimes to re-discover and experience this one great truth of our identity. To help mankind in this task, Avatars with full memory of their divine identity come to earth from time to time. He, himself was one of those; he had known it from his early childhood in the remote village of Puttaparthi. "God is everywhere," he said, "But the easiest place to find Him is within yourself."
At later times through the years I spent with him, he frequently reminded me in many different ways of that God within, who is our true identity. Once he said, "My job as your Guru is to lead you to your inner Guru." Then many years later he said, "I have brought you to your inner Guru or God and there is no spiritual reason why you have to come to me again." Then he added as an afterthought, "But in a human way I always like to see you, of course." So here was Sathya Sai Baba revealing to me, very soon after I had come to him, the reality of the inner God discovered by the Mystics through inner search, but never mentioned in Sunday School or Church. Surely every child should be told this magnificent truth about themselves.
So it is that I see Sai Avatar as a super Mystic and I ask myself what is the difference between an Avatar and a Mystic are their teachings different or the same? Is their mission on earth different or the same? Considering their earthly mission first, I see that of the Avatar today, as of all former Avatars, to be vaster, more expansive than that of a Mystic. Sai Baba, Sai Avatar, has the charisma necessary to attract huge crowds from all parts of the world and the teachings to change the consciousness of millions. He has said that he is the Avatar of the masses, whereas one such as Aurobindo is the Avatar of individuals. Unlike Aurobindo, Sai Baba's teachings are put in simple language that does not require a philosophical bent of mind to appreciate and understand.
To all people of deep spiritual perception, the signs in the world today are not those of doom and destruction as might appear on the surface, but of a great change. A change that could be described as the death of the old world, or of the old world order and the birth of something that is entirely new, stupendous, wonderful, in fact what has been termed the Golden Age. The present Avatar has said, and I have often heard him say it, that the Golden Age will be born before he leaves his present body in the year 2021. In support of this, two of the leading ascended Masters have predicted that this new age will begin in a little over a decade from now, from this time of writing; it is now early in the year 2001. Other great workers in what Sir George Trevelyan called the 'Force field of Light' are working for this new age and know that it is not far distant.
No Mystic, be he Christian, Sufi, or Jewish, ever came to the world with such a mighty mission as this. The Mystic's aim, in whatever century he was born, was to teach as many people and change the lives of as many people as he could in his lifetime. But he thinks in terms of individuals, or perhaps hundreds, and eventually maybe thousands of individuals, but his mission is not to raise in a few decades, the level of the consciousness of the whole of mankind.
One of them whom I feel to be among the greatest, that is, Rumi of the Sufi order of Mysticism must have brought many to the light through the Dervish Dancing he started in Turkey, through his poetic teaching and his great influence on the world of art, but his ambitions fell far short of bringing a quantum leap upward to the world consciousness. So, while the Avataric mission and that of the Mystics is different, their teachings in general are much the same. The differences are few, mostly a matter of degree and can be related to their missions.
While I have through the years read something of the writings of the Mystics, particularly of the Sufis, and some of the Christian Saints, the one I have studied more thoroughly is a modern Christian Mystic named Joel Goldsmith. Although he would be classed as a Christian Mystic because the Master he followed was Jesus the Christ, he was Jewish by birth and lived in our modern age from approximately 1890 to 1964. To what might appear to be a coincidence, though I believe when on the spiritual path, there is no such thing as a coincidence, most of his books and a large quantity of his audio teaching tapes, suddenly became available to Sai friends of mine. Together we studied his books and his tapes. The most remarkable thing about them is the way they fit into the Avataric teachings. Put in different words and language, style, they make an excellent supplement to what Swami has taught about the relationship of man and God and, while giving a different reason for the great illusion of separateness, teach the truths of Adwaitha or the essential oneness of all mankind beneath the veil of illusion. The only difference in the teachings of the Mystic and the Avatar that I have noted, is in the matter of prayer or man's verbal communications with God.
The Mystic, Goldsmith, follows closely his understanding of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament which says such things as, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be added unto you." His Master, Jesus, also says in other places that the Kingdom of God is within you and that God himself is within you and in prayer we should ask, he says, for further understanding and enlightenment and for help in living the Spiritual life of compassion, forgiveness and so on. If we do that, Joel Goldsmith points out, there is no need to ask God for any material advantages, such as a better job, a higher salary or anything else of a worldly nature, because God has said through Jesus, that all such things will be given to you if you concentrate on using prayer for the advancement of your spiritual evolution. Sai Baba, on the other hand, encourages his devotees to ask for whatever they want, whether it is material or spiritual. He says that he will give people what they want if it will not bring them any harm, in order that they will, in time, ask for the things he wants to give them. Those things are of course the spiritual treasures. So Sai devotees happily petition God for material things that will help them in their daily living. Many even ask for simple things like a parking place for the car and believe that Swami helps them.
Perhaps this wider latitude granted by Sai Baba is that he calls people to him at an earlier stage in their spiritual development, earlier in their spiritual journey homeward, than those who would be attracted to the Goldsmith teachings. People have to be ready, Swami says, before he calls them unto him, but they are ready at an earlier stage than they would be for the Mystic's teachings. And so, they have analogically, the easier kindergarten or primary school privileges. Furthermore, by giving them the material trinkets they love, he establishes more firmly, their love for the living Avatar, placing their feet more firmly on the spiritual path. Interestingly I discovered, when much later he told me that he was now in my heart and visits to him physically were no longer necessary, that the material things such as rings and watches and the many other trinkets, do work as a kind of talisman in helping to bring the student to his inner God.
In speaking about the Vedic chant, the Gayathri, I have heard Swami praise it because it contains only one petitional prayer and that is the request for spiritual Light. As our footsteps advance along the pathway home, our petitions to God will automatically become spiritual requests and not those of a worldly nature.
The other types of communication between man and God, those we generally call meditation or contemplation, Joel Goldsmith teaches that they should be carried out at least twice a day for a period of a quarter of an hour or more each time, and then throughout the day whenever possible, if it be only for a minute or more. This, in a sense, is like the 'receiving' practice in Subud, by the Master, Pak Subuh, who said that we should endeavour to receive the spirit and grace of God while we are occupied in our daily task, particularly when cooking or preparing food. Such divine blessings, he said, would be tasted by those eating the food.
Joel, like Swami, gave specific instructions in different forms of meditation and said that each student would, in time, discover the best form and the most fruitful technique suitable to himself. These teachings are really no different in essence from those of Sai Avatar, except that the latter perhaps adapts the instructions for the type, manner and periods of meditation to the needs of the individual, but he does encourage all of his devotees to interweave in their daily lives, communications with God such as repetition of the divine name, quiet moments of meditation and sweet loving interchanges with the divinity. Whatever can be fitted into the necessary worldly tasks of one's life, helps to increase the strength of one's divine life along the pathway home.
It is interesting to note that the modern American Mystic gives as much emphasis to love or prema in the development of the divine life as does Sai Avatar. Joel is sterner than Swami in condemnation of human love as being too tainted with selfishness or the element of self-interest, to equal the selfless purity of divine love. Man must be satisfied with nothing less than the attainment of this pure, selfless love. Swami, while saying the same thing in principle, is a little more tolerant and understanding towards certain kinds of human love. Mother love, or more correctly, parental love, is closest to the pure love of God and in some cases where a parent is prepared to give his own life to save that of the child, love reaches its highest level. As Swami said when he was on earth as Jesus the Christ, "No greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend." And there have been examples among world explorers, among warriors on the battlefields, and among members of families, of those whose love has been so great that they have willingly given their lives to save that of others. Here, the greatest of all human values reaches its zenith in the pure Divine Prema.
It is, indeed, heartwarming to know through study and experience that the stupendous mission of the world Avatar is being supported, if in a humbler and relatively modest way, by the Mystics of the world both present and past.
I would like to conclude this chapter by stating that I personally have found great joy in the realisation that Mysticism is giving its unqualified support to the work of Sai Avatar, as we workers on the divinely human path must strive to do.
Sai miracle children.
A completely new
and fascinating phase of Swami's work for mankind has been launched. He is
bringing to birth in different parts of the world, what I have termed 'Sai
miracle children'. He is reported to have told a Sai devotee who has spent a
long period with Swami at the ashram in India that there will be thirteen of
these children and I understand that there are five of them in incarnation
already. One of the five is in Holland, another in India, two of them in
countries that I am not certain of and a fifth one in Australia. Of the
latter, I am quite certain, as I have spoken to his mother and had reports
from several of my close friends who have been to visit him and I have a
photograph of the little boy himself.
The story of his birth, which was related to me by his mother and the account of his subsequent miraculous manifestations are of such an outstanding nature that they would perhaps sound incredible to any but Sai devotees of long-experience and deep understanding, yet there are many unimpeachable witnesses to them. First then, the birth. When she was six and a half months pregnant, and certainly not expecting the birth of the child, she was having a meal one day in a well-known restaurant with her husband and possibly some friends. She told me that during the meal, she suddenly had a vision of a group of monkeys standing in front of her making excited noises, while the one who appeared to be leader came close and was talking to her in some language that she did not understand. She could make nothing of this vision of excited monkeys. Although a Sai devotee, I expect she had not read about Lord Rama and his army of monkeys led by the great devotee, Hanuman but to me it seems that the child in the mother's womb has some close connection with Lord Rama. At any rate, on the following day, the mother was rushed to the hospital as the birth of the child was imminent. She told me that while she was getting undressed to go to bed in the hospital, she saw Vibhuti oozing from her body, particularly around the stomach area. Immediately she felt it must have a connection with the child she was carrying. She did not feel that she, herself, was worthy of such a manifestation, so the child within her must be very holy indeed. She felt some worry however, that he was arriving so prematurely. He arrived that day and was very small indeed, weighing only a kilo and a half. He was put into a crib and at this particular hospital it was customary to write the religion of the child just born, on a label to be put on the crib, in order that ministers of religion visiting the newborn babies could give their blessings to any child born into their religious flock. This mother and her husband were close followers of Sai Baba, so on the label for religion, she wrote 'Sai Baba'. She was somewhat surprised and very pleased that all the religious leaders who visited the hospital that day, including a Buddhist priest and several from Christian denominations, as well as giving their blessings to the newborn children of their own religious denominations, all came and blessed the little boy under the label 'Sai Baba'. On this first day of his life, something else surprised her when, going to look at him lying in the crib, she saw a gold cross lying on his forehead. It had just appeared there as he lay asleep so she took it off and hung it around his neck.
Although so tiny at birth, the little boy was perfectly healthy and grew quickly to normal size. East and west met in the two parents. The beautiful and spiritually advanced mother was Singhalese, from Sri Lanka, while the tall, handsome father came from Greece. They named their Sai miracle son, Alexander Saisha. He is generally called Alex. I know, as I have a photograph of Alex, taken when he was between two and three years old that he is a very handsome little boy indeed.
The account of the miracles that flow from him was given to me partly by his mother and completed by my close friends who have visited him. I think the Vibhuti must have been manifesting on his skin while he was still a baby-in-arms. I know the Vibhuti appearing on his face and head could not have been such a nuisance to him as it was to the little Vibhuti baby-in-arms that the Indian parents brought to Swami over twenty years ago. I saw it appearing immediately after the mother had wiped it off him, she, and the baby's father had brought him to Prashanti Nilayam to beg Swami to make the manifestation of Vibhuti less frequent. I write about it in my book entitled Sai Baba Avatar. I would say that little Alex of Australia is not a fallen Yogi reborn, as Swami said the little Indian child was. Alexander Saisha is one of the group being sponsored into incarnation by Sai Baba for a particular purpose of which I will say something later on.
Sometime after the manifestation of Vibhuti on his skin, Amrita began to flow at about the third eye area. This is sometimes called 'the nectar of the Gods'. Then a healing oil bearing a wonderful perfume, started to flow from the crown of his head. This oil, of which I have been given a little myself, is reported to have cured cases of cancer. Of course, neither the Amrita nor the oil are flowing constantly, which would be too much for the child to bear. They flow intermittently, sufficient for quantities of each to be kept in bowls by the parents, for gifts to some of the lucky visitors. I, myself, have also received a little of the Vibhuti and can say that it's taste is not like any other Vibhuti I have ever had. It is sweet with some indefinable pleasant flavour.
Another outstanding phenomenon manifested by this little Australian boy who is not yet quite three years old, is the production of Shiva lingams. They do not come up from within his interior or by the wave of his hand, as do those of Sai Baba, but simply appear in the palm of his little hand as he lies asleep in his bed. He may be either asleep or awake when they appear but they are of remarkable size, some larger than a duck egg, his mother tells me and they are all made of beautiful crystal of glorious colours. Swami, himself, who is frequently in the house tells the mother to whom these sacred symbols of Lord Shiva should be given. It is really a great honour to receive one.
Another remarkable production recently begun by the little miracle boy is items of jewellery. Although a few of these have been medallions, the great majority have been rings golden rings. Between thirty and forty of these have come from Alex up to this time of writing which is May, 2001. Some of the rings have borne precious stones, and all appear of first class quality, "The kind you would find in the best jeweller's shops," remarked an observer friend of mine. The rings may appear in his little hand partly buried in Vibhuti, or they may be lying beside the sleeping child. Rose petals are often found, strewn by some unseen power, on each side of the little sacred form. Sometimes, the shining gold rings are found among the rose petals. Who receives these beautiful and valuable rings? Once or twice the little boy himself has handed a ring to some lady among the daily visitors, but generally I understand, the oft present Lord Sai in subtle form tells the mother for whom each of these rings is intended. Some of the ladies who receive the jewellery, are overwhelmed at the receipt of such a precious gift. The reader may well guess that this little Australian member of Swami's miracle team receives plenty of visitors. The fact is, that although no publicity, bar that of word of mouth, has ever been given, people from all over Australia and many from abroad come daily to see him. The house where he lives is a small one and only thirty people at a time can sit comfortably there. The generous hard-working mother books people who apply by phone, allowing for thirty each day, six days of the week. Sunday is a rest day. Applications have been on such a scale that she is always booked out for some nine months ahead. They certainly cannot cope with more than this number and that is why the parents have asked me not to give any indication of the location of the little boy and his unnamed parents in this chapter.
These young parents are not rich, just the reverse in fact, yet they give food as Prasad to all the daily visitors. My Carer, Sita Iyer, along with two good friends of mine, had the blessing and the great joy of visiting the home recently on a day when mainly friends of the family were present. They described the food served as, "More like a banquet". In the main, the mother cooks the meal herself with some help from a member of her family. One of my friends heard the mother say, "I cook for Swami, and he is often here while I'm cooking to direct me. Then I serve it as Prasad to my little son's visitors." I know personally, from long experience that only the best quality food is served in Swami's presence and that when visiting friends to have a meal He usually goes to the kitchen first and either helps cook Himself, or gives advice to the cook. So I understand that when he supervises the cooking for the visitors of His miracle child and perhaps He stays there some of the time when it is served, the little mother considers that nothing but the best is good enough. But, the question is, how does a young couple on a small income provide such expensive food for so many people six days in the week? I know that some of my friends think of the 'loaves and fishes' when Jesus fed the multitude. I feel myself that something like this must be the answer. I have known cases in India where Swami has multiplied the food and I think of Jack Hislop's remarkable and story about how when he was on a visit with Swami and the hostess was overcome with embarrassment because she did not have the food to serve them dinner, Swami said to Hislop, "Go and get the food in the car, Hislop." Jack knew full well that there was no food in the car but he went anyway. He found, standing near Swami's car, two Angels holding a tray of food between them. A big tray it was, but Jack managed to carry it inside, his face still stamped with a look of amazement, at which Swami said, "You can shut your mouth Hislop, They are always there but you just don't see Them."
The parents of little Alex do not say how this miracle is achieved. It, like so many other things of which they do not speak, are private matters between them and Swami. And so, for their comfort and indeed for the little boy, I can only say that their location is somewhere in the vast continent of Australia. Furthermore, I know nothing of the other four miracle children except that they exist. As they are all Sai-sponsored children I presume their miraculous powers must be the same as, or similar to, those of little Alexander Saisha. Anyone may hear by word-of-mouth, of the location of any one of the team of Sai miracle children, but if it is the Australian one, please remember that the parents who are true Sai Baba devotees will not accept a donation in the form of food, money or in any other way.
Now, let us consider briefly, what Swami may have in mind in initiating this new and unexpected phase in his mission. Swami has not told anybody to my knowledge about any special reason he may have so I can only give my own opinion here. I have stated in a number of places in my writings that Swami has said, in fact he said it as early as the 1960's, that the Golden Age will begin before he leaves this body, which will be in 2021. So, I expect that every well-informed Sai Devotee is aware that this is the culminating point of his mission to mankind. It is a greater mission than any Avatar has attempted before, but as I heard Sir George Trevelyan state from a Sai platform in Rome, "Avatars do not fail, it is not in the nature of an Avatar to fail in his mission," or words to that effect. We know if we read the sacred writings with a little insight that the Avatars who have gone before have not failed in their main mission to mankind on earth. And so, I have great confidence that this living Avatar will not fail in his mission.
No doubt many of my readers have heard about the big propaganda campaign against Sai Baba that was launched in recent times. The dark or backward-pulling forces were undoubtedly aiming to ruin the Avatar's mission once and for all. But, did they ruin it? The strong wind that blew away the chaff leaving only the grain behind may have helped rather than hindered his mission. Perhaps he intended for this wind to blow for what was the chaff but those of little faith and less understanding. In the words of the old hymn, those, "Who never loved him well, and those who had lost the love they had." Of what value is such windblown chaff in the building of the critical mass that Sai Baba must create in the very short span of years that he has at his disposal. If the Golden Age is, as he has stated, to have it's initiation in the few years between now and 2021, what is the function of the critical mass, as it is called in science. A good homely analogy is the small amount of leaven or yeast required to raise the flat loaf of unleavened bread to the level of the baker's loaf. In the same way, the present level of the consciousness of mankind can be lifted by a quantum leap to the level required for the Golden Age by the power of the critical mass. What must this critical mass consist of in numbers and in quality? We do not know the numbers required but no doubt God does. We may, perhaps, have some thoughts about its quality, about its content; surely it must be the true grain without any admixture of chaff. It must be those devotees of God who have deep understanding, firm faith, those who are striving with all their willpower to live according to the highest values of truth and the Divine Love. In short, those devotees who are firmly on the journey home.
So it may well be, I think, that this team of thirteen miracle children are meant as a strong weapon in the building of the critical mass and thus help to bring about on time, the greatest miracle ever. That is, raising the mighty loaf of human consciousness and thereby bring about that new world of peace, contentment and joy for which we are all longing. At least, that is my opinion and my great hope.
This is the last
of a series of books I have written about the living Poorna Avatar, Sri Sathya
Sai Baba. Oddly, the series began with the book Sai Baba Man of Miracles and
ends with the chapter on the Sai Miracle Children. I did not plan it this way
but as, on the spiritual path there are no coincidences, it must have some
significance. The only one that I can see is that Swami has stated that
miracles are his visiting card, or the card that states his identity, that is,
his identity as an Avatar.
I learnt just before I met Swami, from a lecture given by N Sri Ram, at that time, the International President of the Theosophical Society, that although advanced Yogins may have the siddhis, to manifest certain supernormal phenomena on occasions, if they demonstrate this power too often and for too long a period they will lose the supernormal power. The only beings who can manifest this power frequently and for long periods, in fact, for the whole of their lives, are the Avatars of God. Well, Sri N Sri Ram was undoubtedly not only a very wise man but one very well versed in the Sanathana Dharma of India and, I accept that Sai Baba's constant and frequent demonstration of His miraculous powers from childhood to the present day is certainly His visiting card to all who have the eyes to see and the spiritual understanding to welcome the Divine visitor to the earth. His changing the atomic structure of hard granite to that of sugar candy, was to me, intellectually, His complete demonstration that He used, smilingly and happily, the power of Divine or Absolute Consciousness which none but an Avatar can do. Yet His most heartwarming miracle for me, was when, as an answer to my prayer, He came in a flash from Prashanti Nilayam in India to a room in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, just at the right time for me to see Him with my fleeting ration of clairvoyance while waking. He showed me that He was standing there beside my couch waving His healing hand above me and I found that I had been brought back to perfect health. The only two antibiotics ever known to cure this terrible disease had failed to do so.
I always felt great elation when people visiting the Ashram from many different countries told me that one of my books, often Sai Baba Man of Miracles, had brought them to Swami. Perhaps the pinnacle of my elation and satisfaction came when an Indian man who lived in New York noticed me among a crowd in front of the mandir at the ashram and said in a loud voice for all to hear, "There are two Australians whom I respect and honour; one is Don Bradman because he beat the English at their own game and the other is Howard Murphet because he wrote the book that brought me to Swami." It was the first and only time I had ever been bracketed with the great Australian hero, Sir Donald Bradman. Of course I should not have been surprised at the verbal thanks and praise I always received when visiting the ashram. Long ago, when Iris and I were talking with Baba one day, the subject turned to our futures, and when I asked Him about my future, his words were, "You have an illustrious future, you will bring many people to the light." I had never heard Him use the word 'illustrious' before, and that He should apply it to me was quite overwhelming. They were the only words of praise that He ever gave to me for my work, but they were enough. Swami is very sparing with words of praise, probably because He knows they tend to inflate the ego.
While the writing of this series of six Sai books, of which this will be the last, although being of benefit to mankind and therefore proving to be my true work in this incarnation, it was also of very great benefit to myself. It was my best spiritual exercise that which took me, as deeply as my mind and heart are capable of delving, into the meaning and scope of this Avatar's work for mankind.
Finally, I would like to say a word of thanks to the writers of the many letters I have received. A few I was able to answer, but sadly for the many which came in the years after my eyesight had failed me, I was generally not able to give an answer. The secretarial help I had, although very compassionate and kind beyond measure, was, of necessity, limited in time and was not able to include answers to my letters of appreciation from readers in many countries.
So now, my final word of this Epilogue is to give thanks from the bottom of my heart for all the joy-bringing appreciative letters received from many parts of the world and to say, "God bless you."
This book, like
the former two, Where the Road Ends and Sai Inner Views, is, of necessity a
spoken book, that is, I spoke it onto audio cassettes, which left a gap that I
could not have bridged without the help of someone.
The two ladies who bridged the gap for me, putting the book into typed script, were Karen Paterson who lives in the Blue Mountains and Fran Pearce, the Horticulturist of South Australia, who also gave me a great deal of help in my last two books. My deep thanks go to both of these willing helpers in the Sai service. Karen also helped in the final editing by reading the typed chapters aloud so that I could make any corrections or alterations.
There were others, too, who helped me in many ways to fulfill happily this order from the highest, that is, Lord Siva himself. Outstanding among the many was Pru Remme who helped in a number of ways, including some editing.
I want to record here my eternal gratitude to all.
By the same author:
Yoga for Busy
Yankee Beacon of Buddhist Light
(first published as Hammer on the Mountain)
SAI BABA Man of Miracles
Sai Baba Avatar
When Daylight Comes
Sai Baba Invitation to Glory
(also published in USA as Walking the Path with Sai Baba)
The Undiscovered Country
Where The Road Ends
Sai Inner Views and Insights