Tuesday, October 6, 2015

My view about many-interviews, many-spoken-interactions "VIP" devotees and "form boys" in last eight years of Sathya Sai physical presence

This post is about my view based on my experience of being in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram system from Jan. 2003 till Mar. 2012 as a teacher in the Sai university, Prasanthi Nilayam (Puttaparthi) campus. I must also state that I was never physically close to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, but I was quite a keen observer of the happenings in the mandir (Sai Kulwant Hall), and being part of the system, I used to get a lot of information in my discussions with my colleagues in the university, and some then current "form boy" students and also previous "form boy" students who had become staff in the ashram system, about these happenings.

Some Sai devotees (I include Sai students here) were blessed with many interviews with Bhagavan and/or many spoken interactions with Bhagavan during Darshan. Some such persons were even given VIP seats on the verandah of Sai Kulwant Hall. Among the male students of the Sai university, those students that Swami spoke to often, were named as "form boys". Some of these highly-in-form boys, during the period they were in form, were given prominent places in Darshan sitting so that it was very convenient for Swami to continue his interactions with them.

Naturally, such persons were viewed as special by other Sai devotees (including other Sai students, teachers and other staff). And, of course, they were envied by many :-). Envy in these matters was INESCAPABLE :-). However, I found that this envy was largely within limits. I mean, I don't know of a single case of violence sparked by such envy. Friendships may have been impacted, relationships may have soured etc. but no violence, as far as I know. [This is in the period from Jan. 2003 till Mahasamadhi. The root cause of the very unfortunate 1993 incident in the ashram seems to have been envy. But that was around a decade before my stint in the ashram system.]

My view about these so-called VIP devotees/form-boys in the last eight years or so of Swami's physical presence in Prasanthi Nilayam (when I was part of Prasanthi Nilayam system), but which also covers some events of the earlier years to some extent as I was told/informed about them by others in Prasanthi Nilayam system, is as follows:

1) Swami was keen on helping those who were willing to act as his spiritual-teachers/messengers to spread his teachings. In my view, there were two types of such spiritual-teachers/messengers, though Swami, in his public discourses, never differentiated between such types or paths and viewed it as one. But I think that based on these persons' interests they tended to focus more on one of the two areas that I have given below.
a) Those who focused on devotion to God and Sathya, Dharma, Shanti & Prema values. Family people would have found such teachings very attractive. One should also note that family people overwhelmingly dominate society, at least Indian society, in terms of numbers. Family people also dominate the Indian Sai movement, in terms of numbers. I think the Indian Sathya Sai organization focuses on spreading these teachings of Swami. Perhaps that may be the case with the International Sai organization as well.
b) Those who focused on spiritual enlightenment through intense spiritual efforts of Japam/Dhyanam (intense Bhakti including chanting of Holy Name, contemplation/meditation on favourite form of God i.e. Ishta Devata, Who am I - I am I / Advaita etc.). This would appeal to Bhakti margam (devotional path) & Jnana margam (wisdom path) spiritual sadhakas i.e. keen spiritual aspirants who have the time & motivation to engage in these activities.
The former type of spiritual-teachers/messengers (a) seems to me to vastly outnumber the latter type (b), in the Sathya Sai movement as a whole.

2) These spiritual-teacher/messenger types would typically pray to Swami for guidance in their activities, and as their work directly contributed to Swami's mission, I think Swami would respond to them by interacting with them and also granting them interviews where he clarified their doubts and gave instructions on how to spread the teachings.

3) In the last eight years or so of Swami's physical presence in Prasanthi Nilayam, spiritual aspirants who were not so much interested in the mission part may not really have needed interviews so much, as Sai literature would have covered lot of their queries. However, if somebody had a particular query (even expressed as earnest thought/prayer for an answer; letter was not really needed) Swami would sometimes respond to it in public discourses. [I have had quite a few such queries which I had in my mind while sitting in Sai Kulwant Hall, answered through discourses given by Swami on that day itself in Sai Kulwant Hall! Today my view is that he could sense those queries of devotees sitting there and answered some of them via his public discourses.] In my view, earnest non-missionary spiritual aspirants did get clear direction (including approval or disapproval signs) about their spiritual practices or problems/faults via gestures of Swami during Darshan. [I have received a lot of spiritual guidance via gestures during my regular Darshans of Swami.] 

Those who wanted to use the letter route and thought that acceptance of letter meant approval of its contents and non-acceptance meant some issue with it, got responses the way they wanted! But long timers knew that letter was not really needed for such matters. Prayer was enough. [An old timer told me about Swami once asking him (after he had given lots of letters over the years), when he offered yet another letter, how long he was going to give letters to Swami! Swami also told him that it was time for him to go beyond offering letters!]

4) Many interactions of ashram staff with Swami were about routine matters of the ashram and Sai institutions (university, schools, hospitals, book trust, Radio Sai etc.)! It was not special spiritual guidance about some sadhana. In fact, most ashram staff were Karma Yogis (followers of path of Dharmic/right activity/work which is dedicated to God) who viewed service in the ashram mission as the primary way to progress spiritually. Swami wanted them to follow that path and also promised them that he will grant them the spiritual goal of merging in the Divine, if they sincerely did their ashram mission work. I mean, he is reported to have told some staff that they should simply do the allotted jobs to them properly and come for Darshan regularly - he would take care of the rest.

5) In these last eight years of Swami's physical presence in Prasanthi Nilayam, Swami did not have the time to give interviews to many devotees. VVIPs like top govt. people and business tycoons being given interview was a different matter, of course. They were HONOURED GUESTS. I am talking about people from general Sai devotee community.

But those who DEEPLY DESIRED interviews and spoken interactions, and also needed it for solutions to their material problems or sometimes even for their spiritual progress and prayed intensely for it, may have, in some rare cases, got their prayers answered by Swami. Those who were content with Swami Darshan and gesture interaction for their spiritual journey, and did not deeply pray for or deeply desire interviews and spoken interactions, did not get much of it (or, sometimes, any of it).

[I don't recall ever praying for having an interview and did not get one. The only time Swami spoke to me was when I was receiving a pair of cloth-pieces from him, when he said, "Very happy". I was content with his discourses and his gesture interaction with me, for my spiritual journey. I mean, very early on in my stint as a teacher Swami clearly showed me that he knew what I was thinking in His physical presence, and later he showed me that he also knew what I was doing even outside his physical presence. The challenge was to control one's thought, word and action in ways that would make Swami happy, using prayer or japam or dhyanam or whatever. If I did that well, during Darshan Swami would bless me with a smile and even showed me an Abhaya Hasta once. If I failed then Swami would even turn his face away after seeing me to indicate that he was not happy with me. Simple gestures but UNMISTAKABLE in the MESSAGE that it conveyed (approval, disapproval or neutral). Of course, being a teacher in the university allowed me to have seating where I would be having Darshan of Swami from around five to ten feet typically and typically with four to zero people in front of me (zero if I am seated in the front row).]

6) The index (measure) of a person's spiritual calibre IS NOT the number of interviews he/she has got with Swami or the number of times Swami has spoken to him/her. However, persons who did get lot of interviews were naturally viewed as somewhat special by the devotee community. The special aspect may relate to other aspects of the person as I mentioned above, rather than that person's spiritual evolution level.

7) In this post-Mahasamadhi phase one should be WARY of those VIP devotees and/or "form boys" who claim to be, in some sense, chosen spiritual leaders of Sathya Sai mission simply because they had tens or hundreds of interviews with Swami or because Swami spoke with them hundreds of times. Their spiritual leadership calibre should be judged on the basis of knowledge of Sai teachings that they demonstrate in their speeches/writings and in their practise. Further, in my considered view, Sai devotees who prove their spiritual calibre via their speeches/writings on Sai and their practise of Sai teachings, but who have had no interviews or spoken interactions with Swami and so are NOT VIP devotees and NOT "form boy" students, should also be considered seriously for spiritual leadership positions in the Sathya Sai mission.

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