SBOI- Selections -5: Man of Miracles   Home
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With Baba in the Hills 
Come to me with empty hands. I shall fill them with gifts and grace.  Sathya Sai Baba

One winter in Madras Sai Baba invited my wife and myself to spend the following June with him at his summer retreat at Whitefield, near Bangalore. We were filled with joy at the prospect, but we had learned by then that it is far wiser to have no firm expectations about Baba's future movements. There is such a colossal demand for his presence and time, and it seems that he goes wherever he is most needed; or in other words he does whatever is most relevant to the advancement of his mission. At least that is the interpretation we put on Baba's movements, but the fact is that they follow some law beyond our comprehension. So we told each other that we might, if lucky, be with him for a day or at Whitefield. As for spending a whole month in his presence well, it was all right to hope, but presumptuous to expect.

Still in this state of mind, we arrived in Bangalore at the beginning of June and stayed the night with a fellow member of the Theosophical Society. He drove us in his car the next morning to Whitefield, which is on rising ground about twelve miles outside the city. On the way he explained that Whitefield had come into being as a British community, but now there were very few Europeans left. It was, we found, a widely spread-out place, with most of the houses large and in broad, pleasant gardens. Eventually, set in a high brick wall, we found a gate with the name "Brindavanam" above it and a khaki-clad Gurkha on guard. We knew from the name that this was Baba's residence.

Just inside the gate was a cottage from which came a benign, snowy-haired man who proved to be Mr. M.S. Dixit. He installed us in a room of his cottage, which I supposed had been the lodge in former days, and gave us the good news that Sai Baba was in residence. We could see no signs of another house, and I wondered where Baba actually lived.

However a little later in the morning Mr. Dixit led us across the tree-studded grounds, through wandering tribes of monkeys, and up a flight higher terrace. Here was a park-like garden of shrubs and covered walks and a good-sized house where we found Sai Baba surrounded by a party of resident guests, with many day visitors from Bangalore.

"Swami", as his devotees mostly address him, welcomed us like a mother who is happy that her children have come home. He offered us the choice of moving into the big house with him, in which case we would have to separate, Iris sleeping dormitory-style with the women on one side of the house and I in the men's dormitory on the other. Or we could lodge where we were with Mr. Dixit, but have our meals and spend as much time as we wished in the big house. We chose the latter.

That morning we watched a "thread ceremony" in the central hall of Baba's residence. The boy receiving the sacred thread was the son of Mr. Jawa, owner of the Joy Ice-cream factories. The parents, grandmother and other family members, all of whom are Baba devotees, were present for the ceremony and the hall was crammed with spectators. Under Sai Baba's supervision, pundit priests from Prasanti Nilayam carried out the ritual. At the right moment Baba stepped into the centre of the scene, waved his hand in the now well-known manner, and from that occult niche in space which he sometimes calls "the Sai Stores" produced the necessary thread to place around the boy's neck.

After the ceremony came a feast on the broad verandah. We sat cross-legged on the floor in two long rows, eating Indian dishes from plantain-leaf plates while a servant kept the monkeys: at bay with a pole. Swami walked around making sure that all his guests were happy. On this festive occasion men and women ate together, but normally at Brindavanam they use the dining room at separate times, Baba eating with the men and sometimes visiting the ladies to talk to them during their meals.

Sai Baba has found that it certainly would not pay him to advertise. Even without the benefits of publicity, crowds tend to impede his movements. So my wife and I felt honoured when he confided to us quietly that he was taking a small party to spend a couple of weeks with him at Horsley Hills, some ninety miles north of Bangalore, and we were overjoyed to learn that we were to be included in the party. All accommodation arrangements had been made by one of his devotees, Mr. T.A. Ramanatha Reddy, the Superintending Engineer of Roads and Buildings in the large area which included Horsley Hills. We should be ready to move, Swami said, in a couple of days' time. We understood that this was confidential information.

As we had expected to be away from headquarters at Adyar for the whole summer in various types of climate, we had a good deal of luggage with us. So we began to plan what to take and what to leave stored at Brindavanam. It was good, we thought, that Swami had given us plenty of warning. If anyone else at Brindavanam knew about the pending move, they said nothing and we said nothing to anyone.

We prided ourselves on having learned to keep a secret, but we still had an important lesson to learn. Like Yama, the god of death, Baba may sometimes give you a warning but you can never know the exact time when his beckoning finger will be seen. Next morning we were awakened from our slumbers about 6 o'clock by a stern voice saying: 'What, aren't you ready? Swami is leaving in five minutes' time."

It was a terrible situation; our things were scattered everywhere. We had neither showered nor dressed nor had a cup of tea, let alone packed. And Baba was waiting to take us away for two weeks. How long would he wait? Would he go without us? We staggered around blindly trying to think and throw things into suitcases.

The stern voice of the devotee at the window agreed to give us a quarter of an hour. But even that still presented an impossibility. When we came out in about half an hour with our cases and valises, we were told that Swami had left. Our hearts sank, but it was not as bad as it seemed; he had gone on ahead in one car, but left another for us. In it we found a few other lucky devotees bound for the hill station, including Mr. Ramanatha Reddy who was to guide us there.

In a forest a few miles along the route we were happy to see Baba's car waiting beside the road, his red-robed figure and a small group of men standing beside it in the morning sunshine. He teased us a little about taking so long, looked startled at the amount of our luggage, then led the whole party in among the fragrant trees for a picnic breakfast.

After that there was a reshuffle of passengers and I had the privilege on my first journey with the great man himself. Raja Reddy, perhaps Baba's closest disciple at the time, was driving the car, two teenage boys sat in the back with Baba, while Ramanatha Reddy and I were in front with the driver. We rolled on through empty barren country and an occasional village or town with people teeming like ants over sugar. Slate-coloured rocky hills began to outline against the sky. The last town we passed through was Madanapalle, the birthplace of J. Krishnamurti. Just before we climbed the steep Horsley Hills we passed a road sign to Rishi Valley where the well-known school run by Krishnamurti's followers is located.

Right on the crest of the hills, some 4,800 feet above sea level, we came to the white Circuit House, our destination. It is not very large but has the comforts of a first-class hotel, being intended primarily as a guesthouse for government ministers and important official visitors. Our host, Mr. Ramanatha Reddy, had been able to secure it for what was to his mind the V.I.P. of all V.I.P.s; Satya Sai Baba, plus whatever party the latter cared to bring along.

Besides the host and myself there were four males in the group: Dr Sitaramiah, Mr. V. Raja Reddy and two teenagers; and there were half-a-dozen women, including three Indian princesses. Being the only married couple in the party, Iris and I were given a suite to ourselves. This was only two doors from Baba's suite, and opened onto a broad balcony from which there was a wonderful view of the country far below.

The plains were a smoky dun-and-green carpet, with isolated hills like children's blocks scattered carelessly over it, and the scores of water "tanks" shone like broken pieces of mirror fallen on the giant carpet. We were living up in the sky - in more ways than one. Here, we thought, we could at last have Baba to ourselves, just a small group of us. At last the ubiquitous crowds were left behind. We could live on intimate terms with this superhuman being from morning till night. We could see what his life was like and enjoy his wonders to the full. No matter how early we arose in the crisp mornings we found that Baba was already up, usually sitting writing by his open door; he attends to his large correspondence himself, besides writing regular articles for his ashram magazine, Sanatana Sarati ("The Timeless Charioteer").

Sometime during the morning, after breakfast with us, he would gather all of us into a room for a spiritual discourse. This would often take the form of narratives from the Ramayana, the Mahabbarata, or the Srimad Bhagavata. Interpreting the stories, Baba would reveal in sharp relief the profound wisdom of Bhakti Yoga.

After a walk in the gardens, followed by lunch and a siesta, would come afternoon tea in the lounge. The first difficulty here was to persuade the Indian women to sit on chairs, for they thought it incorrect to be on the same level as their Swami. Indeed some to the very end insisted on sitting at his feet on the carpet, leaving empty chairs. But when Baba had managed to get the majority onto seats, albeit stiffly and ill-at-ease, he would usually launch into some comic theme, making us all laugh. Nevertheless, this always had practical hints and implications on the ethics of right living.

In the late afternoons or evenings the party frequently went for a drive, followed perhaps by a walk, weather permitting. Otherwise there might be another enlightening discourse by Baba. On one occasion we all visited an Indian village, far off the busy highways and beautifully, unbelievably silent. Here at the home of some Baba devotees we were entertained to dinner, while the whole village crowded around in the courtyard to see and be blessed by the avatar.

But within the first few days another element began to disturb the even tenor of our Horsley Hills idyll. Even in this remote spot the crowds began to gather. Somehow the word had spread that Sai Baba was in the area and people came from far and near, by car, by bus or on foot. Before breakfast the first few would appear, and then throughout the whole day a crowd would be standing in the grounds looking up at the balcony, waiting for the blessings of a look and a sign from Sai Baba.

And he never disappointed them. Often he would go out onto the balcony, look on them with loving compassion and raise his hand in a characteristic gesture of upliftment and benediction. Sometimes he would go down and walk among the visitors, talking with them and producing vibhuti or something else to help those who were sick or in troubled. If a crowd of poor people had come a long way on foot, he would give them all money so that they could go home by bus. Every evening he would bring all who were there into the large foyer and front corridor of Circuit House, and lead them and us in beautiful bhajan songs for half an hour or more.

Interspersing all these daily activities were the miracles of physical phenomena, several each day. Here are some of the more outstanding ones.

One afternoon soon after our arrival we all went for a drive and, leaving the cars, strolled about on a rocky knoll of the hills. Baba several times picked up a piece of broken rock, played with it awhile, and then threw it away. Finally, just as we were returning he kept a piece about the size of a man's closed fist and carried it back to Circuit House.

Arriving there, he took us into one of the suites and sat on the carpet while we sat in a semi-circle around him. He began to talk conversationally on everyday topics, occasionally throwing the piece of rock a couple of feet in the air and letting it fall on the floor. Presently he tossed it over to me, asking:

"Can you eat that?"

I examined the rock closely. It was hard granite, streaky and rather lightish in colour. I admitted its inedibility and bowled it back to him he was not more than two yards away from me.

He took the stone and, still chatting casually, threw it in the air again, while a dozen pairs of eyes watched expectantly. I felt that something strange was going to happen and never let the stone out of my sight. Now as it lay on the carpet I could see a slight change in its appearance. Although of exactly the same size and shape, and still streaky, it was a little lighter in colour than before.

Swami rolled it back to me across the carpet. "Can you eat it now?" he asked. To my amazement and joy it was no longer rock but sugar candy. Baba broke it into pieces giving us each a portion to eat. It was sweet and delicious as candy should be. Is this an illusion, I wondered, are we all hypnotised? So I put a piece in my pocket. I still have it and to it's still sugar candy.

I thought of the popular song about 'The Big Rock Candy Mountain' and jokingly said to him, "I wish you would turn the whole mountain into candy or chocolate." Baba seemed to take this seriously or maybe as a kind of challenge. Anyway he replied solemnly that it would not be right to interfere too much with Nature's housekeeping.

Then it occurred to me that my joke was rather superficial. If willpower, or whatever power it is, can transmute a small piece of igneous rock into an entirely different substance, why not a large piece? And why not into any substance? Gold, for instance? So how very important it is that a man who understands and can employ the occult laws of Nature, must be above Nature: must be beyond normal human desires for such things as power and material gain. Otherwise what might happen?

Writing on this theme in the last quarter of the nineteenth century when a good deal of 'physical phenomena' came before the public eye, A.P. Sinnett said[5]: "It is enough to say that these powers are such as cannot but be dangerous to society generally, and provocative of all manner of crimes which would utterly defy detection, if possessed by persons capable of regarding them as anything else but a profoundly sacred trust." He goes on to say that such powers in the hands of people willing to use them for merely selfish and unscrupulous ends are productive of disaster - as it is said to have been for the Atlanteans.

Today in our world men of exoteric science have learned the secret and hold the power of disintegrating matter into atomic energy, and this stands as a constant threat to the very existence of humanity on this earth. They have also learned to transmute base metal to gold though the process is too expensive to be economically and socially disruptive. A safeguarding law of occultism is that spiritual and moral advancement should keeps pace with the growth of the intellect and the acquisition of the knowledge of Nature's deeper secrets. When this law is broken a dangerous situation must inevitably arise.

One sparkling morning I was walking with Swami and the two teenage youths in the gardens of Circuit House. Baba was wearing an ochre coloured robe which fell like a smooth cylinder from shoulders to ground. As Iris had ironed some of his robes a couple of days earlier, I knew for certain that they contained neither pockets nor places where anything could be concealed. His sleeves were straight and loose, without cuffs. He carried nothing in his hands.

One of the young men was returning to Bombay next day and wanted to take photos of Swami, so the latter posed for several pictures. Occasionally, as we strolled and talked, he paused to pick a berry or a bud from one of the shrubs. This he would examine with the concentration and thoughtfulness of a botanist: then after a while he would throw it away as if it were not quite suitable to some purpose he had in mind. Finally he picked a small bud from a bush, examined it, seemed satisfied, and handed it to me, saying. "Keep that."

Soon afterwards we went back up the steps to the front entrance. Baba did not go to his own suite but walked straight into ours. He sat on an armchair while the young men, my wife and I gathered around him on the carpet.

Swami asked for the bud that he had given me. I handed it to him, and he held it in his fingers for a while, discussing it.

"What flower is it?" he asked.

We confessed our ignorance. He suggested that it might be a button rose and we agreed.

Then looking at me he asked: "What do you want it to become?"

I was at a loss to know what to say, so 1 replied: "Anything you like, Swami."

He held it in the palm of his right hand, closed his fist, and blew into it. Then he asked me to stretch out my hand. I gasped, and my wife gave a squeal of delight as from the theurgic hand that held the flower bud there fell into my open palm a glittering diamond of brilliant cut. In size it matched the bud, which had completely vanished.

Baba graciously presented me with this beautiful and amazing product of transmutation magic. I still have it.

We were on the floor around Baba expecting a morning discourse, perhaps one of those wonderful stories from Indian mythology which lead the mind to the deeper truths of life. However, before talking, he showed us a green leaf and wrote on it with his fingernail.. Then he handed the leaf to me, but I could make nothing of the writing, which he said was a mantram in Sanskrit.

Next he asked for a book, and one of the ladies who occupied the suite passed him her Telegu grammar. Placing the leaf between the pages, he shut the book and tapped its cover several times. Now he opened it and took out the leaf. The writing was still on it, but instead of being green and fresh as it had been a moment before it was brown and so dry that it easily crumbled into dust.

Baba tossed the book on the carpet nearby and, after talking for a while, left the room. Well, I thought, on the face of it this miracle would not stand up to the sceptic; the brown leaf could have been somehow "planted" in the book earlier. So I picked up the volume and searched its pages for the missing green leaf, but could find nothing.

Why am I doubting, I asked myself when I have seen him do so many things equally incredible and inexplicable? Sai Baba had somehow blasted this leaf, as another One who stood above Nature had blasted a tree two thousand years ago. It was as if, for the leaf, many months of summer had been telescoped into that one magical moment when Baba tapped the book.

On the subtle planes of being, interpenetrating our physical plane of existence, there may well be classes of entities for whom our physical space would be actually non-existent: our "here" and "there" would be all one to them. The ancient wisdom teaches that there are such beings. It also teaches that a physical object can be disintegrated into a subtler substance, or "energy-system", which can be moved by some agency at near light speed, and reintegrated to form the original object. This is the general principle behind the phenomenon known as an apport; that is, so far as it is understood.

At Horsley Hills Sai Baba produced a particularly striking example of such telekinesis. One evening a party of us were sitting on the carpet in his suite; Ramanatha Reddy, the doctor, the young men, Iris and myself were there. Swami asked me the year of my birth, and when I told him, he said that he would get for me from America a coin minted there in that same year.

He began to circle his down-turned hand in the air in front of us, making perhaps half a dozen small circles, saying the while: "It's coming now..... coming..... here it is!"

Then he closed his hand and held it before me, smiling as if enjoying my eager expectancy. When the coin dropped from his hand to mine, I noted first that it was heavy and golden. On closer examination I found, to my delight, that it was a genuine milled American ten-dollar coin, with the year of my birth stamped beneath a profile head of the Statue of Liberty.

"Born the same year as you," Swami smiled.

What would the sceptics say about this, I wondered. Would they suggest that Baba carried around with him a stock of coins so that he would have one to match my year of birth. Such old American coins, now long out of circulation, would not be easy for him to obtain in India through normal channels.

I have no doubt whatever that this was one of Baba's many genuine apports. While he circled his hand before us, some agency under his will had dematerialised this gold coin at some place somewhere, carried it at space-annihilating velocity, and re-materialised it in Sai Baba's hand.

From where did it come? Who knows? Baba would never say; perhaps from some old hoard, hidden, lost, forgotten long ago, and now belonging to no one alive.

Although I had come to know through first-hand experience that Sai Baba was certainly not an impostor and that his miracles were genuine, I could not help thinking that the use of sand as a medium for production was something which gave fuel to the sceptic. Admittedly several of his followers had told me that in fact everything he had produced from sand he had also produced at other times without it that is, from the air.

Even so, an objective psychical researcher, hearing the stories of the sand wonders, is bound to raise the queries: are the objects previously "planted" in the sand? Or does Baba by some lightning sleight-of-hand slip them in just before he digs them out? In fact, for anyone who had neither seen the miracles for themselves nor felt the spiritually elevating presence of Sai Baba, I suspected that "sand productions" must leave a bigger question mark in the mind than "other productions". .

But this was because such events had not hitherto been fully and thoroughly reported to me by a careful observer. At a later period I had my own close observations of the sand miracles confirmed by several of India's leading scientists - but that is jumping ahead of the story.

The first point I want to make clear about my Horsley Hills experience of Baba's "sand productions" is that on the journey from Circuit House to the place of the miracles I sat in the front of the car with Sai Baba and Raja Reddy, who was driving. Baba carried nothing in his hands, and he was wearing his usual robe; none of the objects later produced could have been concealed on his person.

A few miles from Circuit House the car, and several other vehicles following it, stopped by the roadside. We all got out and went to a patch of sand some fifty yards away which had been seen from the road on an earlier journey.

Baba asked the young men in the party to make him a sand platform, so they scraped and pushed the sand with their hands to build a flat stage about a foot high and four feet square. Baba sat cross-legged in the middle of this and the party clustered in a semi-circle around him. I was in the front row of the spectators, right at the edge of the sand platform. The thought passed through my mind that if any object had previously been buried here, near where Baba was sitting, he would have to dig down more than a foot through the newly-piled sand to reach it.

He began as usual with a spiritual discourse which, apparently, always has the effect of harmonising and purifying the psychic atmosphere around. Maybe this is a necessary preparation for the miracles. Then with his forefinger he made a drawing on the surface of the sand just in front of him, and asked me what it was. From where I sat it looked rather like a human figure, and I told him so.

Laughing, and with the expression of a happy child playing on a beach, he scooped up the sand to form a little mound above the drawing, about six inches high. Still with an air of happy expectation he put his fingers lightly into the top of the mound, perhaps an inch down, and drew out, head first, a silvery shining figure, like the drawing he had made. It was a statue of the god Vishnu, about four inches in height. He held it up for everyone to see, then put it to one side, smoothed out the mound before him to make a flat surface again, and began once more to discuss spiritual topics.

Soon he made another drawing in the sand on the same spot as before. Again he scooped sand over it, making a mound - a wider flat topped one, this time. Again with a happy chuckle he felt with his finger-tips into the top of the mound and scraped a little sand away; less than an inch down was a photograph. He pulled it out, shook the yellow grains away, and held it up for us to see. It was a glossy black-and-white print, about ten inches by eight.

He passed it around for some of us to look at closely, and later I examined it at leisure back at our quarters. It was a photograph of the Hindu gods and avatars, standing in two rows to form a forward-pointing arrowhead, with Lord Krishna in the foreground at the tip. Heads of Satya Sai Baba and Shirdi Baba could be seen as small inserts on the body of Krishna. This print, I felt, was not produced in any earthly studio. Baba later gave it to Mr. and Mrs. T. A. Ramanatha Reddy, our hosts. It stood with the unearthed statue of Vishnu for some days on a side table in the dining room at Circuit House.

Other objects produced from the sand in the same manner went to various people in the audience. There were, for example, a jappamala (rosary) for Mr. Niak, the Collector of Kolar District, and a pendant which was given to a revenue officer.

But there was one supreme production from that sand patch of which we all had a share. Baba did his outline sketch, which I could see from where I sat was a little container of some kind. Then, in the usual way, he scraped the top sand with his open hands to make a tiny hill above the drawing. Pausing a moment with a delighted smile, he felt into the crown of the hill and took out a silver-coloured container. This was of circular shape with a neck and a screw-top. At a guess its spherical bowl would be perhaps two and a half inches in diameter.

Sai Baba unscrewed the lid and a wonderful perfume pervaded the air. Putting the container to one side, he went through the same process again of drawing and mound-building. This time the product was a golden spoon like a small teaspoon. With this he stirred the contents of the bowl and, standing up, began to give some to each of his spectators.

Like the others I opened my mouth while he poured a spoonful onto my tongue. The word that came into my mind was "ambrosial"; it seemed nothing less than the food of the gods; it suggested a mixture of the essences of the most heavenly fruits, the divine archetypes of the loveliest fruits of earth. The taste is quite indescribable; it has to be experienced.

The devotees call this glorious nectar amrita, which has much the same meaning as ambrosia - the food of the immortals. Several devotees, including some westerners like Nirmalananda and Gabriela, had told me about seeing it produced on rare occasions from the sand, and all tried in vain to describe its exquisite taste and aroma. Others, including Dr. Sitaramiah, had witnessed Baba produce amrita by squeezing his own hand, and in other ways. But no one at this time had seen manifestation of amrita for about three years, and I was very grateful that Baba had given my wife and myself this personal experience of a thrilling, deeply-moving miracle. It was witnessed on this occasion at Horsley Hills by about forty-five men and more than a dozen women. Baba went around giving some to all, except to the women who were staying at Circuit House. There was enough amrita for everyone to have a spoonful each and the bowl was still not empty. Baba handed it to me to carry back to our quarters. I felt very honoured and held it carefully in my hand as we drove up the sharp bends to the crest of the hill. Sand still clung to the designs carved on the silvery metal, which I was told was the sacred alloy panchaloha. On the balcony of Circuit House I handed the container back to Baba and he straight away walked around giving some to each of the ladies who had not yet tasted the "food of the gods".

I sometimes wondered afterwards what had happened to the little bowl but about a year later a Bombay devotee told me he had visited Baba at Horsley Hills a day or two after the event and been presented with the panchaloha container. It still held some amrita which he and his family enjoyed, and the miracle bowl now occupies a place of honour in his home.

So here are the answers to the two points raised by my inner psychical researcher. First, the objects could not have been previously hidden in the sand patch ready for Baba to take out because they came from the top of a mound, made before our eyes, on the top of a foot thick sand stage, also built while we watched. Secondly, even if Baba could have carried the objects to the sand patch that night without my seeing them, an utter impossibility, he could not by the most expert legerdemain have slipped such articles as a glittering idol, a large photograph, a bulky jappamala and a shining bowl of nectar into the sand under our noses without our being aware of the fact. If he could, he is superior to the most expert conjuror and should be making fame and fortune on the stage as an entertainer.

Quite apart from the miraculous production of such objects there is the strange mystery of the amrita itself - its ambrosial out-of-this-world quality, its power (shown on various occasions) to increase in quantity to meet the needs of whatever numbers happen to be present. What, I wondered, was its actual significance? I determined to ask Sai Baba about this at the first opportunity.

Source:Howard Murphet's Man of Miracles

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