A Five Year Inner Journey
[Note-2016. This is a letter I wrote to my elder sister, elder brother & family in Nov. 2007. I had moved to Puttaparthi in Oct. 2002. I have snipped some very personal stuff in the letter, and added clarifications within [Ravi-2016 ... end-Ravi-2016] markers. But I have not changed any of the sentences that are retained below, to ensure that I do not alter the Nov. 2007 view that I had.
I decided to share this then personal letter publicly as something appropriate (it may be of help to some readers) to add to my kind-of autobiographical account; please see my post, An Indian Software Techie's (My) Material and Spiritual Journey So Far (till Sept. 2002); Ravi S. Iyer Autobiography, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2016/06/an-indian-software-techies-my-material.html for more on it. end-Note-2016]
Dear Vishalam, Mani, Rajamani & Meera,
It is a little over 5 years ago, in October 2002, when I ‘retired’ and moved to Puttaparthi. It has been a very interesting foray into spirituality or, to be more precise, living life with a deeper spiritual outlook.
Am I happy in Puttaparthi?
I think you all may wonder, at times, whether I am ‘happy’ in Puttaparthi. Our relatives also may be asking you about me. Some may perhaps be even saying that I am wasting my life :-). Further, sometimes, my stomach problem troubles me and very naturally, out of love and concern for me, you folks may wonder how I am coping with it. You folks and other relatives may feel bad that I am ‘all alone’ and perhaps think that at such times I may be badly missing having family people around me for help, and, in general, regretting my ‘semi-sannyasihood’. [Ravi-2016: sannyasi means monk, so semi-sannyasihood is semi-monkhood i.e. neither a monk nor a family guy, but somewhere in between :-) end-Ravi-2016.]
I thought I should write, in some detail, about my inner journey over these five years, with the objective of answering the questions I raised above. I think that may help you folks in being more comfortable with and understanding my ‘semi-sannyasihood’ and also help you folks to answer other relatives’ queries, most of which, I am sure, are genuine queries born out of love and concern for me. You may also better understand my odd behaviour at times :-). I would also like to clarify that I am not writing this letter with any other objectives whatsoever (like wanting to bore others about my story :-)). In fact, the thought of writing this letter has come only as a response to the love and concern you all have shown towards me.
I expect this letter to be somewhat longish, as I want to be sure I communicate my thoughts and feelings properly, so you folks will have to bear with my long-windedness. As some of the things I will mention are somewhat sensitive, I earnestly request that this letter be limited to the immediate family only i.e. Vishalam, Mani, Rajamani and Meera (Rahul and Priya may be a little young to understand this letter). However I am not sure if Mani and Rajamani will have the time to go through this loonnng letter. [Ravi-2016 Now I have decided to share it publicly as it may be of interest to some readers. end-Ravi-2016] --snip--
Having the time of my Life
I am having the time of my life (like in the English song - hopefully some of you have heard it). The past 5 years have been the happiest and most enjoyable period of my life. [It is not that I was not happy in Dombivli/Mumbai as I was quite happy there. But I am happier now.] During this period I have been able to do a lot of things which I had been wanting to do for years but could not do so. For example, leading a simple and hassle-free life in a small town/village, getting a clearer and better understanding of Swami’s teachings, getting some sort of idea about Swami’s life (physical form) and interaction with people, reading lots of spiritual books, meditation, self-analysis, living in a community which is trying to lead a loving life with minimum negative emotions like ego, envy, hate, etc., interacting with many people on spirituality and life in general and so on. [Ravi-2016 Swami is Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, India. end-Ravi-2016] I think the opportunity to live in Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram village and having his devotees as my community/satsang has been truly wonderful, enjoyable and beneficial for me.
Faith in the Atma
I have developed unshakeable faith that I am (or my reality is) an unchanging, ever peaceful truth which we call Atma. I am not the body, nor mind, nor ego, nor intellect but these are just things that are worn temporarily by the Atma for a lifetime. When the time comes for the Atma to leave this body, nothing ever will happen to me as I am the changeless Atma and not the body. By Swami’s grace my faith in these tenets is really strong now. However I am far away from experiencing such reality and living in that reality all the time, which is what I understand the state of Jivanmukta to be. But just developing this unshakeable faith itself has been a great achievement for me.
Live in Love
I have developed deep faith that the best way to live life is to treat it as a wonderful gift of God and spend as much time as possible in the emotion and feeling of Love. As Swami says, “Love is God. … Live in Love. … That is the best way to God”. The community here and my stress-free Seva activities give me an extraordinary opportunity to practice this teaching and I must say that I have really enjoyed and continue to enjoy this journey of Love.
I have also better understood the balance between Love and discipline. I have learnt, to some extent, how to Live lovingly without letting people take unfair advantage of that loving attitude. Of course, I have a long, long way to go before I lead a fully loving life. But I have been able to make quite some progress down this road in the past 5 years. Specifically the community and ambience of Puttaparthi has allowed me to enjoy this wonderful exchange of giving love and receiving love.
Let me also say that all folks in Puttaparthi are not angels. One particular example will illustrate it best. One person (it is inappropriate to call him a gentleman) --snip-- was notorious for his Seva in --snip--. He used to shout at people (or rather, curse in --snip--), sometimes manhandle them and, in general, exuded anger --snip--. When people used to complain about him (and quite a few others who were similar) to Swami, Swami would say that he has kept the rakshasa here (or something like that) because if he is let loose on the outside world he would become uncontrolled and wreak havoc on the world :-). [Ravi-2016: rakshasa means demon. end-Ravi-2016] Like the ultra specialist doctors get the most complicated physical health cases, there are some really complicated mental cases in Puttaparthi who find succour in Swami.
Overall there are many, many wonderful people in Puttaparthi and I just avoid the ‘rakshasas’ and have my relations with the wonderful people.
Some Idea about physical form of Swami
Now I have got some idea, I repeat, just some idea about Swami as a person (physical form as against formless aspect of Swami). It is truly fascinating to see and hear about various interactions/incidents of devotees with Swami. Being in Puttaparthi I have got to know many long time devotees who have had some truly wonderful experiences with Swami. Personally, I have experienced that Swami has responded to my heartfelt prayer (but only when the prayer was really heartfelt) and also have experienced that he can just read me (my mind) through and through.
However there are a lot of hard-to-understand actions of Swami. He has a human side to his behaviour and this mixture of human and divine in a physical form is utterly fascinating to me. Now, I am able to much better understand the life stories of other spiritual greats like Shirdi Sai Baba, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa etc. In India, our reverence for spiritual people is so much that fantastic stories are built around their lives even in their lifetime. And after the spiritual great gives up his/her body, the myth and the reality of their life story gets so intertwined that future generations get a pretty distorted picture about the spiritual great.
I am so satisfied that I have been able to observe and study, over these five years, one really extraordinary spiritual great persona in his lifetime and see this very curious interplay of human and divine in the same person. For example, Swami’s anger is legendary and when he decides to ignore somebody, his pointed ignoring is also legendary. It is fascinating to see this mixture of extraordinary Love and sometimes furious anger. It is also very absorbing to see his efforts in trying to change society and the progress (sometimes lack of progress) in these efforts. From an intent point of view there is just no question about Swami’s greatness in terms of Love and Service to Humanity, but even his projects need people to carry them out and one sees the play of Divine Will and human limitations of people carrying out the plan. In my mind it is something like the Vanara Sena helping Rama fight and win over Ravana. [Ravi-2016 Vanara means monkeys, Sena means army. end-Ravi-2016] Rama, inspite of his divinity, had to manage with the Vanara Sena and all the limitations they had. [One very poignant moment in Ramayana is when Lakshmana is knocked down senseless on the battlefield, seeing which, Rama is deeply affected. This illustrates the mixture of divine and human in Rama.]
Not Regular for Darshan and am just a Low-Profile Recluse
I must also say that I do not go regularly for Darshan nowadays. During the earlier days of my stay here, I was very regular. Those days gave me the little experiences which have built my faith in Swami’s divinity. But I also realised that Swami is a very tough Guru. I still have quite some failings (I tend to blame my samskaras for this :-)) and feel that I must first focus on overcoming those failings. And I am so happy that Swami is a tough Guru as that is exactly what I need to overcome my failings. (As Swami says, what is the use of a Doctor who does not give the required bitter medicine to a patient because the patient does not like it, and instead gives more palatable medicine which however is not effective.) Besides I tend to prefer reading and meditation to bhajan, veda chanting and cultural programmes. Of course my stomach problem also does not allow me to stay in mandir for long periods.
Even if I am not regular for Darshan, I get to hear a lot of accounts of direct experiences others have had with Swami and that itself is so wonderful to hear. Of course I know many of these people quite well now and know that they do not fib.
Let me also say that I am a small guy here. I just teach some computer programming Lab courses (important people in Academia are those who are Ph.Ds, publish papers and teach tough theory courses). And as I am not so regular for Darshan my visibility in the ashram is also quite low.
I live somewhat like a recluse. I have my circle of contacts here but it is a limited circle. I am very happy with this low profile as that frees up more time for my spiritual efforts. Most well known people here are deeply committed to Swami’s mission and are usually extremely busy. I admire their dedication but I have realised that I am not comfortable being a dedicated missionary. My path is some Seva + some spiritual effort + enjoying life. By spiritual effort I do not mean some heavy meditation or prayer but more of spiritual reading, introspection and leading a loving and enjoyable life.
Comfortable Living with Myself
I have become extremely comfortable living with myself. I truly enjoy my solitude. Most people become very uncomfortable with solitude. Perhaps because of my samskaras I tend to prefer solitude, though I do enjoy the company of sattwic people.
I am, out of my own free will, happily leading the life of a sort of sannyasi (semi-sannyasi). I have withdrawn from family and try to use my available free time and unfettered mind to focus on my efforts to get into the deeper realities of life or just explore and enjoy life. Due to this mind-set, I do not interact much with you all. Sometimes you may feel that I never call up or even email and only you’ll have to call me. Please do not feel bad that I do not call you. Please understand that I am like a sannyasi. I have a lot of love for all of you. But it is a detached sort of love.
However I have absolutely no problem if you call me up. I am and always will be happy to talk to you all and meet you all.
Mentally Very Comfortable with My Health Problem
I have come to terms with and am mentally very comfortable with my health problem, especially in the context of living alone and in an ashram kind of environment. This is a very important point, especially from a perspective of addressing your loving concerns.
Typical Sannyasi issues
Let me first tell you about the father of a devotee from Dombivli. This gentleman’s father had become a sannyasi and left home and family, and I believe his family had to undergo a lot of financial and other trouble because of him leaving the family to fend for itself. Some years later, after the sannyasi’s son (the devotee from Dombivli) had got settled (financially OK and married, with children), he visited his father in some ashram. His father was suffering from some health problems and there was nobody to care for him. So his father had become quite unhappy and was regretting having become a sannyasi (or something like that).
Such a situation may be quite common perhaps and so I think it is very natural that some of you may be worried about how I am managing in Puttaparthi with my health problem. Let me assure you all that I am extremely happy in Puttaparthi and have never ever felt unhappy about being alone even when my health problem became a little acute. Never have I regretted, even for a fleeting moment, my move to Puttaparthi and ‘semi-sannyasihood’.
My Health Problem As Of Now
Manage with Puttaparthi Level of Medical Care
In general, I have decided that I will avail of medical facilities available in Puttaparthi and manage with that. There are quite a few people in Puttaparthi who are doing exactly that. I am completely prepared to face life with Puttaparthi level of medical care, even if certain facilities are not available here. The faith that I am the Atma and faith in the formless aspect of Swami have enabled me to look at my health problems as something that is happening to an instrument and not my reality. So these health problems do not really scare me or worry me. However, like Bhagawan says, the body is an instrument which is a gift of God and so we should keep it in good shape (to the extent possible). Therefore I definitely take adequate care of the body and also consult with the Doctors in Puttaparthi when required.
But I am not worried about the body. You may feel it is a little odd and inappropriate for me to say this (as my problem is quite minor) yet I would like to say it: I feel I am not afraid of death now. If it is time for this body to be given up, so be it. I will just pray to God and be in the awareness of the eternal, unchanging, ever-peaceful and immortal Atma. I am saying this because, in my opinion, often it is the fear of death and fear of suffering that makes many people very unhappy and uneasy if they are alone during a bout of illness. I would like you to know that, by the Grace of God, my mental state is such that I am extremely comfortable with my solitude even when I am having a health problem. So you need not have any feeling that, “Paavam, avan ke odambu sari illai - thaniya irkaan anga – kashtama irkum”. [Ravi-2016 Tamil for, Oh poor guy! His health is not good. He is living alone - must be difficult. end-Ravi-2016] I assure you, in all honesty, that is certainly not the case with me. I don’t think I could have said all this 5 years ago. But my inner journey of the past 5 years has certainly, by the Grace of God, made me mentally very comfortable with my health problem.
Now, I am not saying that I am above pain and suffering like some great yogi :-). Not at all. My physical tolerance for pain is just the same as it was before. But mentally, I am much more comfortable than before, with accepting any pain and suffering, even when I am all alone.
Medico Legal Issues
As I am not a ‘full sannyasi’ but only a ‘semi-sannyasi’ :-), medico legal issues apply to me (like it applies to any other citizen of the country) and legally only next-of-kin have certain rights. Therefore I feel I must not hide my health problem from you all (though it is certainly not a serious problem). Besides when you ask me about my health I am very reluctant to utter lies.
I feel that, as a ‘semi-sannyasi’, I have a dharma different from family people. That dharma, as I understand it, is that I limit my contacts with the outside world and for my health problems too, I manage with myself and my community in Puttaparthi. The community in Puttaparthi is such that they can manage to provide some support for almost anything in Puttaparthi. Outside Puttaparthi is another story. Swami keeps most regular ashram staff very busy and while they can organize things in Puttaparthi using local help, taking a few days off to accompany somebody to Bangalore is not very easy to do. --snip--
Most people in Puttaparthi are not sannyasis or even ‘semi-sannyasis’. They are regular family people (even if some of them are unmarried) who live in Puttaparthi and go to their relatives during holidays/breaks. But, of course, there are some sannyasis and ‘semi-sannyasis’ like me, who have distanced themselves from their families and treat this community as their world now. [Like the ‘Mera Naam Joker’ song, ‘Jeena yahaan marna yahaan, Iske siva jaana kahaan’ :-) [Ravi-2016 Hindi film title meaning, 'My name is Joker', https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mera_Naam_Joker; its song title/first lines meaning, (Have to) live here (have to) die here, besides this place where else to go. end-Ravi-2016]
Relatives’ Queries / Concern
If relatives or friends ask about me please tell them that I am very happy in Puttaparthi and that I am overjoyed with the spiritual ambience that Bhagawan has created here and that I have received wonderful spiritual guidance indirectly, i.e. not in person, from Bhagawan. [Ravi-2016 I think I would have meant via public discourses of Swami and through other persons who shared their experiences with Swami, with me end-Ravi-2016.] If they ask about my health you may tell them that I continue to have some stomach problems (no need to get into details) but that I am managing with the medical services available in Puttaparthi. And if they do raise the issue of, ‘Paavam, thaniya irkaan anga’ [Ravi-2016 Tamil for, Poor chap! He is living alone there. end-Ravi-2016], do tell them that I simply enjoy my solitude even when my stomach problem troubles me. If they are not convinced, specifically tell them that, never do I feel that nobody is here to help me when my stomach problem troubles me.
The objective of my suggesting that relatives or friends can be informed in this manner (only if they ask about me) is that I feel it will address their loving concern. It certainly is NOT an ego issue as if I want to project that I am happy (even if I am unhappy). I feel that their love demands that I respond and address their concern truthfully, and the truth is that I am very happy here even when my stomach problem acts up. By the way, some relatives may not appreciate such elaborate responses (indirect spiritual guidance, overjoyed with the spiritual ambience etc.), so in such cases please tone down the response to just, “He is happy in Puttaparthi”.
Ah!!! It feels so nice that I have been able to get all this off my chest. --snip--
That’s it. If you have managed to read till this point, I thank you immensely for your kind indulgence :-). Perhaps this may allow you folks to understand my peculiar behaviour better now.
I pray to Bhagawan to shower His Grace on all of you.
Love and Warm Regards
==== End of A Five Year Inner Journey document ===============================
Ravi: I had sent the above document (as a Word document attachment) via email to Vishalam and other(s) on Nov. 23rd 2007 (Swami's birthday). Vishalam responded on 26th Nov. 2007 (over email) [slightly edited only to fix typo kind-of issues, besides --snip-- and clarifications within [Ravi-2016 ... end-Ravi-2016] markers:]
It was very nice to receive a letter from you. I got the full 8 page letter and I read it completely. [Ravi-2016: In the covering email to Vishalam & others, I had asked for a confirmation that they got the full letter (8 pages). end-Ravi-2016] --snip--
I feel so happy that you are able to get whatever you have wanted out of life. Not for a moment have I felt any pity for you when you took the decision to take the path of self realisation. Initially I was a little worried that you might have taken such a decision immaturely and therefore regret it.
But on talking to you I have realised that you have taken to this after a lot of deliberation knowing fully well what you were in for. and whenever anybody talks to me about you I always tell them that you are very happy and that is what matters.
Ravi, you have risen above a normal mundane existence and I only pray that you go up in the spiritual ladder. I always feel that in your previous birth itself you must have started this spiritual journey and are therefore pursuing it now quite early in life.
In a way, I am also trying to lead a less complicated life. I have to constantly answer people's query 'why did you leave your job, how are you passing your time, you are sitting at home now.' [Ravi-2016 Vishalam is a medical doctor. She took voluntary premature retirement from her senior doctor position in Mumbai's municipal corporation. She was attached to a municipal hospital in Chembur, Mumbai prior to her voluntary retirement. end-Ravi-2016]
I am trying to enjoy every moment of life by savouring every moment, seeing the stars, looking at the moon, doing yoga to take care of my health, I go for walk everyday with Mani thereby spending time with him and also trying to keep him fit. I go to a children's remand home at Mankhurd on alternate days for 2 hrs. I attend to their medical problems and also try to give them love. Many of them are destitute or have very bad home conditions. This [Ravi-2016: service to remand home children end-Ravi-2016] gives me immense pleasure and I Iook forward to going there.
Of course I am very much into the every day life, I also take care of our --snip--, I have not detached myself from the world of Maya.
I fully understand what you are trying to convey.
Your health problems - don't worry, leave it to God. Of course I know that you are not worrying. I can come anytime when you want for the tests. You just tell me when you want to do them.
Once again, it is not right to say I am proud of you but I fully understand your attitude and your inner quest.
All of us here are fine. Rahul is coming on Dec 25 and will be here for 3 weeks. My mother-in law is keeping good health and is fine. [Ravi-2016: Rahul is Vishalam's (only) son who was (and is still) based in California, USA.]
Mani has read a part of your letter and will read it fully shortly. [Ravi-2016: Later she wrote that Mani had read the whole letter. end-Ravi-2016]
Love to you and take care.
[My response (on 27th Nov. 2007) to Vishalam's mail was mainly inline within her mail contents. Here I have presented it as non-inline [with contextual info. within square brackets and in italics, when required].]
Dear Vishalam & Mani,
I am so happy that you both found the time to go through my loonng letter. In a letter one is able to convey a lot more than over a phone call. So now I am very comfortable that you know both about my journey of the past five years and my mind-set as of now.
I am not sure about having risen above mundane existence etc. :-), as I still lead a fairly regular life without doing anything that one traditionally expects spiritual people to do (like long meditation, or deep prayer or austerities). And I also have a lot of failings. But I guess I now have some small insights into my reality and have also got a much, much better theoretical understanding of the Hindu view of the reality of life (both the Vedantic/Jnana view as well as the Bhakti view). And many thanks for your prayers about my spiritual progress. I really appreciate that.
I can certainly understand how you are able to savour the experience of life, now that you have the leisure to explore life more deeply. I pray to God to give you deeper and more enjoyable experiences of this wonderful journey of life.
[In response to her visits to Mankhurd children's remand home:]
I think this is very good and I am sure that down the line, if not already, you will not only be giving love but also receiving their love.
[In response to her still being in every day life:]
Of course, one has to play one's role in the great drama of life. I too, keep track of my --snip-- :-).
[In response to her willingness to come anytime to help me with (medical) tests:]
Thank you so much for your offer to help.
I am so happy that you have been able to appreciate my unusual attitude to life. Thanks for all your support.
Saw the second mail which said that Mani had read the entire letter (8 pages). Mani, thanks a lot for taking the time to read my entire letter. As I mentioned earlier I am very comfortable now that you know both about my journey of the past five years and my mind-set as of now.
Do give my love and regards to Maami (your mother-in-law). Very happy to know that Rahul will soon be spending some time with you'll.
Love and Warm Regards