When the Guru Is Gone – Sathya Sai Baba

Offering of Flowers To Sathya Sai Baba

What happens, then, when the guru dies or goes away? How do disciples cope with the absence of the one whose living and loving presence has opened for them the door to their own heart, the one through whom all reality has been filtered, and their own self understood? The disciples of Jesus, Palestinian Jews living at the beginning of the Common Era, and the disciples of the Indian Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, both Indians and Americans in 1970’s India, were both forced to negotiate the absence of the guru. These two groups of devotees,  separated by almost 2,000 years in time and more than 2,500 miles, in land mass, inhabited very different cultures. They told stories about their gurus that help us understand the evolving meaning of the body of the guru—both in its presence and its absence. It is an interesting tale of sameness.

In looking at what devotees have chosen to recall we come to see what the disciple community finds destabilizing in the guru’s physical absence as well as how that absence can be overcome; how the pain of loss of the “non-dual reciprocity” of guru and disciple is eventually transcended through a new understanding of the body of the guru. A process that many people face today while  recovering from the loss of Sathya Sai Baba, who many worshipped and adored.

In the Absence of the Body: Discipleship When the Guru Has Gone

 

An ancient axiom holds that when the disciple is ready, the guru will appear.  Much less is said about what happens when the guru disappears—and for this, disciples are rarely ready.  It is often a more traumatic event than the death of a parent or spouse or child, because the relationship between disciple and guru is of a different nature than relationships with parents, lovers, friends, or one’s own children.  While all these relationships can involve deep and selfless love, the love of the guru (in both the genitive and objective sense) becomes the lens through which the disciple understands the self, the other, and the world. And at least initially, the locus of this love is the bodily presence of the guru.

The guru not only shows the way, but is that very way.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” is how Jesus’ disciples remembered him.

Abhishiktānanda, a modern Roman Catholic monk initiated into Indian advaita by his guru, Gnānānanda, writes that “Guru and disciple form a dyad, a pair, whose two components call for each other and belong together.  No more than the two poles (of a magnet) can they exist without being related to each other.  On the way towards unity they are a dyad.  In the ultimate realization they are a non-dual reciprocity.”

 

How and Why We Remember

Gospel scholars talk about the “messianic secret” that describes how Jesus in the Gospels tells his disciples not to talk about his deeds of power or identity as the Christ, but to keep these things silent. Scholars often interpret this “secret” as a literary device (especially in Mark) employed to explain why, if Jesus was working all the wonders reported in the narrative, all of Israel did not come to believe in him, or at least know of him in his lifetime.3

In collecting the early stories of Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass encountered a modern corollary of the messianic secret. He writes that it took a number of years for Neem Karoli Baba’s Indian disciples to openly share their stories of Maharajji (as Neem Karoli Baba was known) due to his own directive that he should not be spoken about to others. There are stories of Maharajji ordering the burning of a collection of stories about him and of his tearing up a manuscript of an article on him. Neem Karoli, much like Jesus, ordered those who witnessed miracles effected by or through him never to speak of them. In the case of Neem Karoli Baba, this reticence is certainly not a literary device. Can it be that for Jesus, too, the “messianic secret” was real—and not a device of the Gospel authors?

We have similar instances of both teachers rebuking those who would compliment or draw attention to them. When his contemporary, Deoria Baba, said that Neem Karoli was an incarnation of love, Maharaji responded, “Why, that wicked man! What does he know? Who does he think he is?” Jesus, when called “good teacher” by an inquiring outsider, answered, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Both of them were opposed having their deeds recorded, and yet their disciples felt the need to do so when they were gone.

Both maharaj and Jesus often complained that their disciples did not truly understand their message, or even who they were. Yet, in spite of the guru’s admonitions, the community of disciples feels responsible for interpreting him to one another after his disappearance, and for preserving/creating a body of material through which the guru will become known by others. The gathering together of such stories offers those who experienced them a way to process the events of the past and gives new generations the possibility of experiencing an awakening similar to that of those who lived in the presence of the guru. In theological language this is called anamnesis, a remembering that makes real in the present the being or event that is being recalled. Anamnesis is one attempt at making the disappeared body of the guru present again.

Now we have the same with Sathya Sai Baba, while alive he complained that his followers failed to understand him. He called himself an enigma, one who could not be known. His passing six years ago, came as a surprise to his community and left them in shock. How did they deal with his passing? On the surface, not very well. While some carried on just as before, holding on to their past habits and routines they had build up during their time with the guru, others floundered. Many left to find another guru or to find solace in a former student and imposter.  Although, I feel that a certain Anamnesis has taken place and the steadfast following will overcome the humbug following, in making  the guru’s Temple and Ashram, the guru himself.

 

Excerpted from Parabola: Where Spiritual Traditions Meet, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2012).

 By James H. Reho 

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The key is in understanding that the physical body is only an instrument of the divine. It is not forever. What was it that Sathya Sai Baba said so well ? “You are not the body.” “Drop all attachments to the body and its desires.”  I feel that includes all physical attachment to Sai Baba’s form also. ~  More importantly He said and I quote:  “At first, name and form are essential, that is the reason why Avatars come, so that God can be loved, adored, worshiped, listened to and followed, and finally realized as nameless and formless.” And to end on a happy note, a beautiful video of darshan with Swami to the huanting music of Secret Garden.  

Remembering The Day In Puttaparthi – More Sathya Sai Memories

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I remember on the day Sathya Sai Baba left us five years ago, someone wrote these few words about how radiant Baba had been. Time and time again we were to read similar accounts from those who visited Sai Baba over the decades he gave darshan. So for the last time, I shall report these simple but beautiful words again.

 

“Baba’s face was radiant and his smile so beautiful. He was walking towards me. I could hear my heart pounding loudly in my chest as he came closer. Baba now stood close to me. My attention was focused on his lotus feet. As soon as the border of his orange robe exposed his feet, I stretched out and rested my head on them in a state of total surrender. My head lay on his feet  for a while. Baba then gently moved back and walked away.

Baba walked around the hall slowly, raising his hand in blessing now and then. After some time had passed, to my astonishment, I realized he was walking towards me again. He searched in the crowd, and when his eyes sought mine he stopped and stared. I noticed  his large penetrating pupils, they seemed to be the color of amber, I was  completely taken aback, stunned and dazed. I sat there dumbfounded, in a trance. When I regained my awareness, Baba had already left.  All the devotees were getting up and leaving.

On the journey back home, I was silent, I felt strange and tranquil.”

 

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Remembrance Day-By Terry Reis Kennedy

April 24, 2016

 

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The sun burst upon me like a blast of heat from a furnace as I stepped outside of my house, Sai Prem, on Coconut Grove. It was only 9 a.m. and my clothes were already dripping with sweat. I made my way towards the ashram in a daze of grief, of bliss, of ineffable mixed emotions.

I walked through the tiny streets of Puttaparthi town remembering how I used to run to the main road when word rustled through the air that Sai Baba was out in His car, on the way to visit the students, or His pet elephant Sai Gita, or patients at the hospital. I was crazed with joy seeing Him in His car. I was not the only one.

We hurled flowers at the windows, we touched the doors; we were Gopis and Gopikas that not even the police could stop. Swami loved our madness as He smiled out at us, sometimes even having the driver stop the car so He could have a word with someone. The blasting heat, the monsoon downpours, nothing could keep us away from Him. Before we had a cover over the mandir He would often stop the rain when He came out for Darshan. He loves us that much.

And today it is the same. It was the 5th anniversary of my Sat Guru, the Kali Yuga Avatar, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s leaving—the day He chose to exit His body, a day the Hindu’s say, “He took Mahasamadhi”, meaning the day He returned to the Supreme Consciousness He is, the Great Quietude. In plain America English, He died. Yes, He is immortal. We are all immortal. But for me it was a day I felt pressed into a mold of mortality. Everything I’d lived for, been living for, seemed to have vanished.

Until I got home to my writing desk where I could record my thoughts, I felt barely part of the world as I had known it. Luckily there was a message from my editor at Bangalore’s Deccan Herald asking me to write a recollection of Sai Baba’s life and to have it done in two hours. Most of my professional life I’ve spent meeting deadlines. I was so relieved to have another deadline to meet. As I typed the remembrance I realized what a gift My Baba had given me….a deadline. But in this case it was a lifeline. By having to go to work, to be of use, to focus on readers that would be wanting the news of Swami’s passing, I felt purposeful. There was no time for crying.

Within hours of completing that news story millions of people from around the world were on their way to little Puttaparthi to say good bye to Sai Baba, the “man” who had changed the face of India and the world. The God we loved, the One Who had loved us beyond our understanding.

Today, five years later, He remains the same for me. As I continued on my way to the ashram the crowds grew thicker. I heard that 40,000 people were in Hill View Stadium eating their free breakfast provided by the Central Trust, Baba’s Trust, ensuring Swami’s devotees that nothing has changed for them. Puttaparthi town continues as before. Swami will never leave His home. He had promised us and He had promised His mother Easwaramma. The breakfast plates were also carried home to those who could not walk to the stadium. Everyone got fed, the poorest of the poor, the richest of the rich.

As I neared the Ganesha Gate entrance, I saw that some people were going up Gopuram Road to the stadium and some were coming down carrying their gifts of saris and dhotis, heading towards the ashram. As I entered and passed through the security check I felt lighter, less hot. A slight breeze was turning the leaves and swaying the bougainvillea blossoms. Incense wafted towards me.

After hearing Swami’s discourse from years gone by I found myself smiling at the youngsters who smiled at me. “From which place did you come,” their perennial question made me happy. Though I have lived in Parthi for 25 years I told them the truth they wanted to hear. I replied, the United States of America. Oh, the USA one of them said, as if to let me know how informed she was.

In spite of the heat, in spite of the crowds I managed to get into the Ladies ‘side of the dining tent. And I was served a heaping plate of south Indian delicacies, foods of a region that I have come to love…slowly, very slowly. It was like an arranged marriage, Telugu country and me. First I found I could not adjust. But Mother Sai taught me how to accept the things I could not change, and to change the things I could—that meant transformation. I learned how to grow where I was planted.

Today, I heard a little voice inside me say, “Remember Who loves you, Baby.” And I remembered. Thank you, Bhagawan, for my life.

Remembering Sathya Sai – More Sathya Sai Memories

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Sathya Sai Baba with Dear Sai Geeta – now passed on.

 

 

I do hope Sai devotees and others will enjoy this sweet letter from Ted Henry. (with thanks.) 

 



Love as Thought is Truth.
Love as Action is Right Conduct.
Love as Understanding is Peace.
Love as Feeling is Non-violence.

Duty without love is deplorable.
Duty with love is desirable.
Love without duty is Divine. -Baba

 

 

 

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~ THE MAIN EVENT

All is well here. Sai Baba is everywhere and his hand hand can be seen here in everyone’s lives. From dawn to dusk people talk of amazing first person experiences, from dawn to dusk my head spins from what I hear, see, learn and understand. Enough said.

~ LIFE IS BUT A BREEZE

Somewhere from deep within the Deccan Plateau comes an evening breeze that regularly cools off the still tiny town of Puttaparthi. Following the evening bhajans and darshan, the walkway back to Round House 1 is a good place to catch the breeze that always seems to bring the day’s best relief from the hot winter sun. Yes, it is winter here, but who would know? Daily the temp climbs to the high 80s with seldom a cloud in sight.

I do tend to go on about the ambiance of Sai Baba’s beautiful ashram. Actually I can’t help it. The late day’s devotional singing in the open air prayer hall clearly sets the stage for the brief program that remains at the end of each day here, a good dinner and a long read of one of the hundreds of Baba books available in the ashram. Jody is the chief reader in our apartment, but I manage to get in some good reading as well. And to my credit, as of heading into our sixth week here, I have yet to read a single word in any of the novels I brought to India with me.

The evenings are anything but lively here. You’ve got the sound of the crickets outside, the occasional howling dog off in the distant, and the ever present whirring of the two ceiling fans in our flat.

 

~ SOULJOURNS INTERVIEWS

We spent time with Jay Jethna yesterday. Jay is from Austrailia and works for the United Nations. On video he told us three amazing stories, not the least of which occurred back in 1968.

Jay was 13 at the time living in Uganda, where he was born. A friend told him that he had heard that God was coming to town in two days. Jay couldn’t wait and was extremely excited even though he had no idea if  “The Blessed One”  had a name or what he looked like. Jay and his family showed up to wait for Baba at the 6 pm appointed hour. It wasn’t until 1 o’clock in the morning that the country’s important guest finally arrived. Several people got out of the car but there was no sign of Him. When Jay asked someone about this he was told that the man in the orange clothes with fuzzy hair was who everyone was waiting for and that his name was Sai Baba. Jay had seen this man get out of the car earlier but thought he was one of the security guards.

The next day Jay sneaked into the backyard of the people hosting Sai Baba trying to get another view of the important visitor. Baba was blessing people in the yard when he spotted Jay in the back. When he went up to Jay, Baba told Jay that he was not well, which was true since Jay had suffered from a serious life long asthma condition.

And then Baba said, “Go”, but Jay thought this meant Baba wanted him to leave, to go back to school. But Baba wanted to see Jay for an interview, of course and later, once inside the host’s home Baba produced a fluid from the palm of his hand and applied it to Jay and said, “Go, no more sickness”.

Jay left and from that day forward he has never suffered from asthma again in his life. Twenty two years passed before Jay gave much thought to Baba again. At the age  of 33,  he was visiting a shopping mall with his wife in Hong Kong. On the sign board were the words,  “Sai Baba and this made him think.”  This prompted Jay and his wife to visit the tenth floor offices of the local Sai Baba center. As they entered, bhajans were underway, something Jay and his wife, Julie had never been exposed to, but they stayed anyway and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Needless to say, Jay reconnected with Sai Baba in his life and has become an ardent devotee coming to Prasanthi countless times since turning 33. Jay has two additional stories to share on Souljourns, both of which are blockbusters. Look for them soon at vimeo.com/souljourns and/or youtube.com/souljourns.

Also look for the many other Souljourns interviews we’re recording in India. So far we have about 30 of them recorded, and in their own way they’re all powerful. Many of them include useful guidance for additional spiritual growth.