DEAR ROY (Part Two)

The Class of '88

by Roy Creek

A devotee's book about the experiences of a group of pilgrims to Baba's ashram in 1988, serialised exclusively on this website.

CHAPTER ONE

APPRECIATION

The first visit to Puttaparthi is always dear to one's heart. It invariably follows a period of yearning coupled with determination to sit before the Avatar of the Age for any number of reasons. It doesn't matter about the stories of illness, disease, hardship, the people of foreign lands, the culture shock, the distance involved or any other fear. The desire is fulfilment or, as in my case, to pay homage at the feet of the most important Being to have trodden this earth for two thousand years. My thoughts were along the lines of 'If I had been alive at the time of Jesus of Nazareth, knew of His existence and had not gone to kneel at His feet, what an opportunity I would have missed, what blessings and what lessons would I have also missed. I would not have another opportunity for perhaps another two thousand years and maybe many lifetimes', or, as I know now, the reincarnation of this Avatar. Yes, upon reflection, it was fulfilment too. However, as I re-read and write this I know that my expanding awareness has brought to me an increasing recognition of Mohammed - may He be in peace - and His teachings and the desire of all Muslims to surrender to the will of God. It has brought to me recognition of the teachings of other God realised beings and my understanding that these teachings are universal and that it is man's interpretation that varies and sometimes destroys. Nevertheless, Truth and Love can never be destroyed and what follows in this book demonstrates this simple truth.
The following extracts and comments that are the content of this book come from some of the people who had similar thoughts in 1987 and now had made their Pilgrimage to see Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the February of 1988. For some, this was their first memorable journey, for others, it was a return to their 'home' and as some were to find out, the lessons could be hard. This was going to be a workshop too.
This book contains extracts and related events from the thirty three people that I was able to write to and subsequently, able to delve into their answers to find if there was a common happening, revelation, knowing or growing that over the years has become apparent. I have used extracts from the contents of their replies, in no particular order, except for their relevance to an event or to a subject being written about. They include phrases that may show one or more common factors amongst those who had the opportunity to come before Sai Baba in that hot February .
I would say to all those who have replied, that to me, the experience of receiving all your answers has been so rewarding. They have opened my eyes (and I hope those of yours as a reader of this little book), even more, to the beauty of Sai Baba, His ever attendant love, His teachings by the experiences He bestows upon His devotees, the awakenings, and so much more, and so much love
The constant pleasure and sometimes the pain of remembering will always be with us. However, it is not always a smooth road, else we surely would not be learning. As one put it:-
I think a lot of us have had a very up and down pathway since (5)
There is also the teaching from these letters on how to appreciate the little gifts and graces that I had often either taken for granted, or those of which I had not even been aware. This is perhaps, one of our teachings, our self taught teachings (is there any other way?), that so often we miss the point of an event, the divine hints, the subtlety of Swami's remarks, until they come up and hit us in the eye, or as has happened here, someone points out an event with such joy and pleasure, one that I had not previously noticed or attached too much importance to. One letter refers to the joy of sitting in the Pornachandra Hall at the Mahashivratri festival -
I always hoped I would be able to see inside that magnificent building - not really thinking that I ever would! (16) -

We had all heard of this wonderful hall and there was excitement amongst us when the news circulated that we would be sitting inside it the very next day. I, like the others had heard of this wonderful hall and had a yearning to see inside this unique building with its tremendous open span roof. As it became time to open it up to thousands sitting outside, the roller shutters that lined each side, were rolled up to give a completely opened area lined by columns down each side. Being in a wheelchair, I was quickly placed by one of the columns near the front and I gazed upon the large stage flanked on either side by huge pictures representing the five religions.
There was another time when we knew that we were to sing before Swami in the Mandir. These were events of which the true significance and the rarity may not at that time have been appreciated. I was not one of the thousands that sat all night singing in the Poornachandra at this celebration of the Mahashivrati, but I was certainly there for some parts of the night of the invisible moon, singing or listening to bhajans and again in the morning to listen to Swami and later to see Swami's students in a dazzling display of efficiency hand out little plates made of dried leaves stitched together with slivers of wood and then dispense prasad from large, and I mean large, aluminium bowls to all the many thousands there in what seemed to be no more than twenty minutes. Of course there was enough prasadam for everybody. Have you ever been to one of Swami's events where there has not been enough? This followed by an apple like sweet. As one member put it :-
Connected with the Festival we were given the food (Prasad) which had been blessed and multiplied by Baba - another treat. (78)

So, not only were you being given at that time, spiritual food but also this sacred blessing of Prasad.
You may then or maybe later, realise that you have witnessed another of Swami's miracles and yet another blessing. As one member put it -
The most profound aspect has been His love . (94)
I had looked forward to being at the Ashram at the time of the Mahashivrati festival but was not prepared for the spectacle of many hundreds of devotees pouring into these sacred grounds by every conceivable form of transport; Coaches, cars, taxis, bicycles, bullock carts, rickshaws and on foot. It seemed that there would be little accommodation left by the time of the festival, but many slept outside or in their vehicles. Sleeping positions were marked out on the hard sandy ground by clothing spread out with the washing. Every day the queues became longer and the 'sheds' filled up. The vacant area for Darshan outside the temple was getting smaller and smaller as more and more squeezed in to sit on the newly swept sands. As a disabled person I was allowed to sit by the side entrance to the grounds and every day could see the boundary for the devotees being drawn on the sand by some person who seemed to know just how much room was required for the expanding number of devotees. All this with a growing atmosphere of a very special event approaching.
The joy of singing in front of Swami was mentioned in many letters. It is a joy to sing in the Temple and it is a joy to sing outside in the Temple grounds, but to have the privilege, the spectacle, of leading the bhajans inside the Temple was beyond the imagination. One of our group had asked if we could sing for Swami. You may imagine the panic when Swami agreed to our request to sing before Him in the Temple saying "Yes, on Thursday" which was only three days away and not even a programme organised let alone any choir practice. But He knew the problem, He enjoyed the joke that He had played and readily granted an extension to Thursday week.
There was some frantic practice, but Elizabeth, a true musician with the ability to play the small harmonium that appears at all bhajan sessions had the skill to draw out of us all the very best in intonation and rhythm. She happily schooled the songsters three times a day in a cool opened sided building. The occasion was summed up so beautifully in the following words
- We had been given the special privilege of singing in the Mandir, and that and the regular practice sessions leading up to it, helped to strengthen the bond amongst members of the group. (99)
One of our group had written a delightful bhajan and her joy of having it performed before Swami on that memorable occasion still lives happily with her through the following years as described in her words :-
And we sang my song I had written for Him, which made it extra special for me. (95)
What indescribable joy was hidden behind those few words, what a blessing. This was service to Swami, and He had graciously allowed us to serve Him and leave these jewels indelibly in our memories and only later for us to realise the fullness of a beautiful gift that had been bestowed upon us with His love. We were all so happy that this bhajan had been included.
I had gone to two rehearsals and enjoyed them, but I felt that to ask the wonderful volunteers who came to my shed door every morning with the words 'I am your charioteer for today' to also give up their time to find me and then take me to and from the practice sessions was too much to ask of them. And then there may have been a problem of pushing a wheelchair in to the Mandir and fitting it in what might have been a difficult place. It decided me to opt out at an early stage, rather than later. It was obviously a great joy that I missed and may have been a wrong decision for if Swami wants you in, you get in. As I discovered to my joy in Christmas 1992. Those joyous devotees who came out of the Mandir after that bhajan described the difficulty they had in hearing the musicians because of the multitude of sound. They were directed by Swami who at the appropriate moment stopped one bhajan ready for them to start the next. The timing was perfect for as they finished the last bhajan the temple bell loudly rang. Even when you are expecting that bell to ring, it makes you jump.
Reference has just been made to the 'bonding' of the Group and that the '88 group had a collective spirituality about it (8 ) and to the fact that this Group, and of course, other groups, were "the group of people that were drawn for that occasion , by Baba." (19)
and again :- The strong feeling and bond of spiritual love between us was amazing and wonderful. Strangers for a moment only, then close friends - All one. (32)
This may seem a little too much to take in, but the joy that was experienced by receiving three interviews has not been experienced by members of this Group who have returned in the following years.
Having said that, I don't think anyone expects to receive the same thrill of this ultimate experience upon a second visit and it was Phylis Krystal in her book 'The Ultimate Experience' that first warned me in my innocence, that the second visit could be quite tough, for now the learning had to begin, the self analysis, trying to really understand why, who and what we are, our purpose. Even really why we were at Puttaparthi. Many could ask themselves 'Am I on a pilgrimage or is it the experience that I need, or a blessing etc., or even, did I need to go.

One of the group put it like this :-
"In 1991 I went back to Puttaparthi. What a contrast, a) He wasn't there at Puttapathi. b) We were a group of 90. c) He wouldn't acknowledge that I existed at Brindavan. I was there to look after thirty of the group, it was 'Seva', thankfully the needy got an interview, I felt rejected " (100)
Many have had this testing experience of apparent rejection and some have reacted with bitterness. It certainly sorts out the wheat from the chaff and when you read what they have to say 'Ego' 'Ego' shouts out at you. It can be so painful, but if by now you don't realise that Swami is always with you, the failing is yours.
If you didn't know that you were going to be in the repair shop at the commencement of your visit, you certainly knew by the time you left. Sometimes it takes a few days and for others it is not until they are on the plane home or even some months later, when people comment on the difference in you. It happens to us all, it just takes some a little longer to realise the cure, the healing and the heightened awareness that has so subtly been given.
One person who was in the workshop almost before she arrived, found it so traumatic that she put it " I expected to go into the repair shop, but didn't expect Him to take the engine out as well !!" It was obviously a time of great upheaval of mind, thought. motivation all mixed with an aura of happiness when one realises that you have received the blessing of Swami, that you have made the right decision to come and have chosen the right time.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I went for my second visit. I felt, upon reflection, that in my first visit that I had not had the thoughts or the attitude that were correct for a devotional stay in an Ashram, although that was not the way that I looked on it at the time - It had been for me, too physical with shops, ice cream, broken callipers, wheelchair, sheds (not that I minded them), food, water, mosquitoes and many other distractions. I resolved that the second time would be different and found out the hard way that it is what Swami wants to give us that rules the day. But it is in your moments of reflection that you begin to appreciate the love, the healing and the gifts given (not material gifts) and you know that your choice of timing was correct.
Or was it your choice? You might ask yourself 'Why am I here at this time'. You know that you have to use this opportunity that you have worked for so many lifetimes and to use it well. Swami warns us that we may not get another opportunity - we should all heed this remark.
One of the great pleasures of going with a group is that one meets fellow travellers with like, or similar minds, all united with the common purpose of going to meet their maker. Relationships that will last for ever, relationships that may have already covered many lifetimes, expressed in one letter as :-
all these things that have come to us all were surely predetermined lifetimes ago (17) -
but certainly they will never be forgotten. As another said :-
"Now I felt part of a very loving family and the transformation in one year was incredible. It had all been brought about, of course, by His blessings during our pilgrimage". (40)

Although there are of course many varied feelings in the relationships between group members during their time at the Ashram, this cannot be surprising for we are all going through the 'workshop', many of us having experiences that were unimaginable only a short time previously. Consequently, there are times when solitude is required or comforting, nursing or just a touch of tender loving care. Both giving and receiving. As one member put it:-
This is an important lesson I am learning - that we are all one in Swami - and He is in all. (33)
This caring for each other, this having a regard for another's feelings is all part of the pattern of observing and serving. It was described this way by one devotee :-
I feel by being close to Divinity as we were , exchanging looks, words, thoughts, having our questions answered, may only be the beginning of something destined for some other time, for the benefit of others and ourselves. (9)
And here we have the crux of it all, and I repeat " for the benefit of others and ourselves" Perhaps we have always naturally considered the welfare and feelings of others or, perhaps the teachings of Sai have made us realise our shortcomings and guided us along the path. If one takes this line of thought further, we can be assured that all the lessons that we are given, and I did not say learnt, are given at this time to lead us further. And amplifying upon that statement, I now feel that I was certainly given additional strengths, but I am not too sure that I used them correctly and that opportunities presented were possibly wasted. I tried very hard not to make the same mistake a second time. And then when one reflects on the events of one's stay, it is always possible to see that one could have realised with clearer vision the tremendous gift that one has received by being able to even be at the Ashram. Then thoughts begin to go through the mind that time and opportunities have been wasted, and a resolve that resolutions must be made that if another opportunity is given, that love, service and devotion should receive greater attention.

However, one who has looked deeper than I says:-
"I am not sure that to analyse brings us to the right answer" (6)
Which is true, for if we are not careful, we can let outside events and other's thoughts colour our thinking, perhaps ignoring our intuition and forgetting the teachings of our beloved Swami that we should live in the now and shape the future. The past cannot be altered, only paid for according to the law of Karma. So let us not dwell on the mistakes of the past, but step forward with resolve, to the future that we are now shaping with the guidance of our Lord.
Let us take comfort from the words:-
So, I am still moving towards Swami, ever content to do so, with the last words Baba said to me fresh in my mind "Come again, this is your home". (14).
It is this journey home that seems to be eternal that can discourage us. But take heart, it has always been recognised. As Llewellyn Vaughan Lee the Sufi teacher says, it is a matter of remembering were you come from. This remembering is no simple task, meditation is a way, and who can remember that far back? If you can't remember today, or tomorrow, read again the parable of the Prodigal son who went into the physical, the material world and when he recognised his folly, returned to be rapturously welcomed by his Father.
And what sort of welcome do you get when you get when you go to Baba? Of course, it is the same.

(to download Dear Roy Chapter 1, click here)

to continue reading, click here)

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