The Journey to the Sai Baba and the Long Wait Thereafter
RS: Dana, as an artist, you’ve lived a full and exciting life. Now, where does the chapter on Sai Baba fit into the life story of Dana Gillespie?
DG: When I first read a book on Sai Baba, which was ‘Man of Miracles’, it was about 31 years ago, then I did something I never do. I instantly went to get a ticket. Actually, my father bought it for me. He said, “I have a feeling you’re meant to do this.” So three weeks later, I leap on a plane and head to India.
I had this feeling that Sai Baba was going to say when I got here, “Hello! I’ve been waiting for you. You are the chosen one.” But of course, not a bit of it. He ignored me for 12 years. I slept in the sheds, got eaten alive by mosquitoes, had extraordinary experiences, coincidences, things that a non-believer will go, “Well, that’s just a coincidence!” But you know, when you have Baba in your heart and you have faith, then you realize that nothing is a coincidence. I had quite a few unusual experiences.
And they were enough to keep me coming back sometimes twice a year to sit and be crushed at the back. My leg was bad. So, the first time I came here, I actually walked into the place and left in a wheelchair instead of being the other way around, because I was determined to sit cross-legged.
It was agony. And I often have walked using a walking stick when I’ve been here. I don’t mind. It’s just the body. I’m not bothered about it at all. Pain is a nuisance because it drains your energy and it can distract you from getting on with loftier, godlier thoughts.
But I have to thank this leg pain because every step I take, which is painful, I have to say ‘Sairam’. Every step going upstairs, I have to hold the railing or find somebody who might be on the step below me and I’ll put my hand on his shoulder and say ‘Sairam! Thank you’. So for that, I’m extremely grateful and I know that Sai Baba has said for every trouble we have, we should thank Him, because that makes us turn to Him more.
If I’d have had a ‘bed of roses’ life – a happy husband, and children, and the rest, which doesn’t go actually with the music business, I wouldn’t have wanted to find anything higher. I would’ve been content with the samsaric (worldly) view of life and that has never been my goal. I’ve wanted to fly free.
At the end of the forty minute programme, as a token of Divine appreciation, Bhagawan presented a beautiful memento, a replica of a Phoenix bird, to Ms. Gillespie. (The Phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird that can be found in the mythologies of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese etc.)
RS: Through these 12 years of anonymity in the ashram, as this westerner with red hair sitting at the back of the Sai Kulwant Hall, with no particular physical attention from Baba, what kept you coming back? Isn’t that a fairly long period of waiting?
He Fosters the Tender Faith with Subtle Experiences
DG: Well, He did little things, small things. One time, I left Bangalore for Puttaparthi and I had lost my passport. So, I thought, well, I’ve read this story about Swami who’s found somebody his traveller’s check or passport in Paris. I thought, “Well, I’ve got a choice – either I go back and they’ll think I’m stupid because I know I haven’t left it there or I go on and He will find it for me and something will happen.” So, I get to Puttaparthi and try and register for a shed accommodation but of course, I get an earful from the men at the accommodation office “How dare you …? Go to the police station!” And to make matters worse, my ticket was also in my passport.
I was desperate, thinking, “What am I going to do?” And then, a group of Austrians from Vienna said, “Oh, come in with us. We’ll smuggle you into the shed. Nobody’s gonna notice.”
So, I thought, “Right, okay.” And because I was really frazzled and shaking over this experience, I plonked down. I didn’t have a mosquito net. I couldn’t find a bed roll. I mean, I was completely unprepared for this occurrence. And I couldn’t find a torch and in the days, when you could do Omkaram, go round the mandir, I thought, “I’m gonna have to get up, I’m gonna have to ask Swami for help.”
I leapt out, ran outside and sat behind the mandir; it was all dark, and I was sitting there, there was nobody around. And then I managed to see, you know, under a bit of a light. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning! I had come out far too early. So I sink down on my knees and I go “Swami, You have to help me.” And I had my hand sitting there. And suddenly, a jasmine flower plopped out of nowhere. There was no wind, there was no jasmine flowers around. It just landed there and I heard this noise, really like a ‘plop’ as it appeared in existence and landed there. I thought, “My goodness! I know He’s gonna help me.” I had the faith, because I’ve always known everyone else is gonna let me down in life. Only God cannot. He has to be your best friend!
So I thought, “Well, I do not know how He’s going to do it but I know He’s going to do it.” And then, at the next darshan, I’m ignored, of course. Well then, I’m a bit disheartened.
And in those days, when you could walk up at the back, I always used to walk up there alone. They always said, “Don’t go. There’s snakes and scorpions.” But I used to think “Oh, if I sing bhajans, nothing’s going to bite me.”
I’m up there in this cool breeze and I’m watching the eagles flying around. And when I’m up there, I suddenly hear this – like a voice saying, “Go straight down now to the main street. Go now, NOW!” So, I rush down and as I’m going past the accommodation office, a man is coming out with my ticket and passport in his hand. And he’d found it. He tried to return it but because I wasn’t registered, they didn’t know who to give it to. So, we met, and in those days, that street was always very crowded.
RS: Did you find out where the man found out your passport and ticket?
DG: No, because I looked down to check if it was my name and when I looked up, he was gone. It was one of those great stories! And I’ve got another little one like that.
You know, when I first came here, the first thing that hit me about seeing Sai Baba was I must never eat an animal again. Meat is off the menu for me.
RS: It was instinctive?
Narrating the background story of another piece, “Play The Game, Be Happy”, the graceful singer explained that the piece was based on an Interview Room conversation with Bhagawan. Utilising an opportunity granted by The Lord, the singer had posed a “million dollar question” unto Bhagawan concerning life as to ‘what is the purpose? what is the meaning? … of life?’ and pat came His reply: “Play The Game; Be Happy!”, and thus a beautiful, meaningful song.
DG: Yeah. He was quite far away, He was always a bit of an orange dot in the distance, although there were less people. But it just hit me and I was looking to be a vegetarian, although I’ve never been that keen on meat. But it just hit me. So I came back full of beans from my first trip to Baba, saying to everyone, “I’m going to be… this is Mother Teresa, step aside… the spiritual life for me, I’m going to be fantastic, I’m helping little old ladies across the road, whether they want it or not.”
And I enrolled as a helper at the main cancer hospital, pushing trolleys and I was all trying to do good. And then, my father said, “I think you should go back again.” He had married again. He wanted me to take his wife, my stepmother.
We go back and in these 3 days, I’m trying to show her Puttaparthi. Somehow, all the wonderful things that I had wanted to be fell by the wayside. My promises were broken left, right, and center and I felt so miserable that my word was not my bond, to quote Shakespeare. I sat one day in the bhajan hall in Whitefield, actually, in floods of tears.
I was about 20 rows back and Swami’s up on the chair and everyone’s happy and He’s beating time with His right hand the whole time. He’s happy and I got my glasses on. So, I can see Him really clearly and I want to sink down low behind the woman in front of me. And my clothes were soaked with tears. I have never cried like that, it was like a tap had been turned on. And I now know when they break a coconut, you know, you’ve got to break the person so that the milk comes out from within.
This was my breaking point. I was a broken person totally dripping wet (from crying). And every now and then, Swami would look at me and He’d go like this as if to say, “Calm down!” and I kept thinking it was for the person behind me or in front. And He’s still beating time like that and then He’d come back and do this gesture to suggest “Calm down!” After this went on for 15 minutes, and by this time I was wringing wet with my clothes. I really couldn’t stop the tears…
And then I made the inner connection with Him and said, “Look, if You are everything I’ve read about and if You can know exactly what I’m feeling at this moment, I demand a sign.” And all I could see was that He’d never moved His left hand, He’d just been beating time with His right hand. So, I said, “Just beat with the left hand once for me.”
And He looked me straight in the eyes and went once with His left hand and then carried on with His right hand and never moved His left hand again. So, this was very good for me, because it made me realize His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence!
I’ve had to learn stage by stage and if He’d have welcomed me that first trip, going, “Yes, here you are! You’re the chosen one!”, I hate to think what my ego would’ve grown to, because I come from a profession where they judge you on your looks, which I’ve always thought was pathetic. I don’t judge anyone on how they look. I look at their heart.
source – copyrights: radiosai.org