With Sai Baba in Kodaikanal
This story will focus on a marvellous trip, in which I was blessed to be with Baba the first time he went to Kodaikanal. But before I get into that I would like to narrate a related thread to this long story, recounting how Baba brought back German, a language that I thought I had permanently purged out of my life in revulsion towards the Nazis, and taught me an important lesson in letting go of the past. That part of the story starts with my coming to America when I was just ten.
We were incredibly lucky to escape the Nazis. Hitler had already marched into Austria and was preparing to attack Poland and start World War II. After we landed in New York, I insisted on having nothing more to do with Germany or German. I wanted to blot it out of my mind. So, I stopped speaking German at home. Understand that the only language that we had in the family was German and a little bit of Yiddish, which for the most part is just a dialect of German. No one knew any English, but still, I firmly resolved that I wouldn’t speak German any longer.
So I was a little refugee boy in a new country with essentially no language. The first words of English that I learned was when our ship arrived in New York Harbor. We were all excited to see the Statute of Liberty but when the big liner docked, nobody was allowed to get off the ship until we had gone through all kinds of custom and immigration procedures.
During this delay disembarking, stevedores had come on board and started unloading cargo. It took hours of waiting remaining aboard the ship, sitting in New York Harbor. We had been on the sea for seven or eight days during a very rough Atlantic crossing. Down in the lower decks, we were quartered with immigrants and refugees from everywhere. I heard dozens of languages being spoken but no English. As a bright-eyed 10 year-old I was enraptured by all these new experiences. After the boat anchored in New York harbor, I was watching and listening to these stevedores yelling at each other. Up on deck, there was the one guy on the winch and somebody that was way off on the other side of the ship shouting at each other. Then there were others putting nets on the cargo and pulling it up out of the hold. And they would just banter back and forth with each other. I had no idea what they were saying, but there was one particular expression that I heard a number of times, particularly when new people showed up, which seemed to me like a greeting.
And so when our Uncle Fishman, who was our Brooklyn relative who had financially sponsored us, (we were only permitted 5 Marks cash to take out of Germany.... hardly enough to even buy some bread for the family)... anyway, when Uncle Fishman came aboard the ship to welcome us, I ran up ahead to him, and trying to impress him with my newly learned English, I raised my voice as I ran towards him and shouted, “Uncle! Gerradahier! Gerradahier!" ('Get out of here' in New Yorkese, laced with some cuss words I won't repeat here). Fishman, who was a very proper American lawyer, was so taken aback, he turned livid, and when I came within arms length, smiling and all excited, he gave me a wallop across the cheek that sent me reeling. So that was my first introduction to America, for me not too unlike what we had left behind in Nazi Germany. I was devastated and he kept shaking his finger at me. I was Jewish like he was, so that couldn’t be it. But what did I do wrong? I didn’t understand.
Of course Fishman soon figured out what had happened and why I was running away screaming. That I obviously didn’t know any of the language and I must have picked up the words from the longshoremen rapping with each other. So a couple of days after we came off the boat and landed in New York City, he took me out on the ferry to Liberty Island. I think he was sorry that he had reacted so forcefully and he wanted to make up for that. We spent an hour and a half at the base of the statue where the poem by Emma Lazarus is engraved on a plaque. He told me to repeat it by reading it aloud over and over again, particularly the quote at the end, while he corrected my pronunciation.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I had no idea what I was saying, but he made me learn it until I could recite it perfectly. It has stayed with me all my life. So that was my first English lesson. From that point on, I spoke no more German and I would have nothing more to do with Germany.
I learned to speak English by getting a dime from Uncle Fishman and going to the movie theater, and sitting there all day, seeing the same film over and over again until I could figure out what was being said. And then within a month of our arrival I was in school, I remember it was P.S. 48 in the Bronx, and this little immigrant boy with his heavy accent and enough Hollywood movie English to get by, soon became a little American kid.
On 'I Am An American Day' in 1944, during the height of the War and just days before the D-Day invasion of France, I, as a 16 year old, together with my family, joined 150,000 other new immigrants in Central Park, NY, and were sworn in as US citizens by Judge Learned Hand, who, at that time, gave his stirring, historic 'Spirit of Liberty' address. I remember Marian Anderson, the Negro contralto who had been banned from public performances because of her race, had been invited by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to sing the national anthem on this occasion. The much beloved mayor of New York, Fiorello D. LaGuardia, whom everybody affectionately called The Little Flower, led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and gave a rousing talk. Paul Robeson, the booming black bass-baritone, sang the Ballad for Americans. A clutch of American war heroes, including several Air Force Aces were honored and given medals. And after nightfall there were spectacular fire works. It was all profoundly moving and exciting.
I raced through high school in three years. All I wanted to do was join the war and fight the Germans because so much of my extended family had been wiped out by the Nazis. And the Nazis almost got us. Earlier, in the very year we came over, I, as a nine year old, had made a fateful solo trip to Poland from our home in the western part of Germany. All the warm, heartful uncles and aunts and cousins that I visited along the way, who looked after me so sweetly, perished in the horrors of the holocaust a few years later. I couldn't grow up fast enough to get into the War. But, by the time I was able to enlist in the U.S. Army the day I was 17, the European War was over and I had missed my chance. The war against the Japanese was still raging when I enlisted, and so they assigned me to the Pacific, but by the time I got there, that war too was over, and I spent the next two years in the U.S. Army in Korea, Japan and China.
During all this time my antipathy to all things German continued, and remained unabated long afterwards, as I came home from the Pacific, went through college, graduated as an electrical engineer, continued on with graduate studies in engineering and physics, became a ballistic missile guidance system specialist for the Department of Defense, participated in NASA and the National Academy of Science, and finally changed professions and spent 15 years as a rolfer, acupuncturist, homeopath and alternative health teacher at Esalen Institute. I wrote books and taught at the University and at the ashram in India. But all this time I had no reason to ever speak or even think of German, or be involved with any Germans. I was very grateful to be free of that dark period of my life.
The closest that I ever came to even a remembrance of Germany was the first time I went to Baba on Mahashivaratri and saw the SS on his Chair, and remembered the SS Gestapo Colonel on the train compartment with me on the way to Poland, who warned me of the coming genocide of the Jews. But that story is reserved for elsewhere in this book. So, I simply didn’t relate to the German language in my mind, although I had gone to school for four years in Germany. I could write it and certainly read it, but it had seemingly died in my memory. (Dear Reader, If you’re wondering at this point, why there is so much talk here of German… Just please be patient. The connection with Swami is coming).
Many years later, with German now forgotten, I was living at Sai Baba’s ashram and teaching a class in astrophysics at Baba’s university, the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. The term was over the end of April. The boys had had their final exams. I finished marking their papers and posting the results. My job was done. At the time it was hotter than the blazes. It was the hottest part of the year in this desert region, when there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the Sun beat down mercilessly. It must have been 110 to 115 degrees during the day, and at night it didn’t get below 100. It was horrible.
Sai Baba had left the ashram five days earlier, and within a couple of days all the westerners and almost everyone else had cleared out of the ashram, looking for cooler digs. At first nobody knew where Baba went, but then word came that he had gone to Kodaikanal. "What’s Kodaikanal?" "Where is that?", I asked around. Nobody still at the ashram that I encountered that morning, knew anything of Kodaikanal. But I found a guidebook, and it said that Kodaikanal was an exquisite 'hill station' (a mountain resort area) in the South of India, in Madras state (Tamil Nadu), It mentioned that it was in the same general area as Ooty (Ootakamund), a popular hill station that we did know about, since Baba had frequently visited it in previous years. But, the book said Kodaikanal, or Kodai as it was popularly referred to, was the most magnificent of all these hill stations, higher than all the others in the Southern mountains and therefore cooler during the hot season. And it had a beautiful big lake and lots of thick woods around. (Woods are very rare in this part of India.). Oh, how I wished to be there and not in this hellish heat!
A little later at lunch in the canteen among the few ashramites and staff still left, I found a man who knew something of Kodai. He said that Swami was staying in a bungalow belonging to Srinivasan, a prominent Sai devotee, whose summer home was there. I asked the man, “If I were to go there, where could I stay?" He said there were a number of posh resort hotels in Kodai, but the only place that was close to the Srinivasan bungalow out in the woods away from town, was a little bed and breakfast called the Jaya Hotel. Well, I could see little or no hope of getting there, but I could ask and I could dream! And besides, it comes natural for me as a Gemini to gather up bits and pieces of information like that. (Of course, I mention it here because it will make an appearance again later in this story.)
Now, my apartment in the ashram was up on the top floor of a six story round concrete building. I had the penthouse flat on the roof. Normally a choice spot, but now it had turned into a furnace. It was unbearably, ungodly hot. To try and cool off, I went to get some cold water from the cold water tap, but it came out steaming. The water lines were up on top of the roof and, of course, that’s where I was. So I was desperate to get out of there and get some relief. But where could I go?
Being on the staff and living at the ashram as a permanent resident I was not free to leave, because I was under a discipline not to go anywhere unless Swami instructed me to. But also, I really had nowhere to go and little to do. The visitors had all left, and so, my twice-weekly talks to visiting devotees were suspended, and both students and faculty at the University had also left, when soon after Swami's departure the semester was finished. In the extreme heat in my flat I couldn’t get comfortable reading or writing. I was just stuck.
It was at this point that the mailman, Mohammed, a little half-blind Muslim man, panting and perspiring, drug himself up the steps leading to my 6th floor hideaway to hand me a letter. It turned out to be from some person that I didn’t know, a woman whose name I didn’t recognize. I looked at the postal stamp on the envelope to see where it had come from, and I was amazed to see that it was stamped Kodaikanal. Remember, I had never heard of Kodai prior to that morning, and now, suddenly there is a letter coming to me from Kodai! I opened it up and was further astounded to discover that the letter was written in German!
It must have been the first time in thirty years that I had anything to do with German. But not only was it totally odd that I was getting a letter in German, and that it was coming to me from, of all places, Kodai, and that it had been mailed in Kodai five days before Sai Baba had left the ashram to go to Kodai. But even more astounding was what it said. This woman, who I didn’t know, wrote to me to say that Baba would shortly be leaving the ashram and that during his absence a gang of dangerously armed ‘Nazi Verbresher’, Nazi cutthroats, would take over the ashram, lock everyone up and fortify the place against the police and army, and create a lot of pain for everyone there. So she wanted to warn me and strongly urged me to leave there immediately before they discover me, an ex-German Jew, and string me up. Totally crazy!
What do you do with news like that? I threw the letter in the trash. But it was so strange coming from Kodai and in German, and arriving five days after Swami had left for Kodai, but posted ten days earlier, and considering that I had only first heard of Kodai that very day. What does it mean? As I started to also throw the envelope into the trash I noticed that there were some other things inside it I hadn’t noticed before. There was a little folded circular from the Jaya Hotel that gave the number of rooms they had and what they charged. And it was describing the same Jaya Hotel that I happened to first hear about an hour earlier!
And also in the envelope was a beautiful picture postcard of Kodai that was taken from a helicopter or plane, looking down on this jewel of a resort sitting on top of a mountain with all these woods around it and capped by an absolutely gorgeous mountain lake. God, it would be so inviting to go and cool off up there and escape from this heat! But, then I thought, what diabolical trick is being played on me here to tempt me so unkindly! Well, I didn't have long to stew on those thoughts.
Some 15 or 20 minutes after receiving the letter, a messenger came up to see me and said that Doctor Gokak who is the Vice Chancellor of the Institute and my boss, was calling for me. He wanted to talk to me in his flat down in the ashram. I went over to see him, and my first thought on entering his place was, "Wow! He's got air conditioning! It'll be so nice to hang out here for awhile." But no such act of compassion was on Gokak's mind. He wanted me to talk to an acquaintance who was visiting him that day, and so he introduced me to this professor from the University of New Delhi. The man had just come to the ashram that morning. It seems he was the head of the Indian Society of Poets and the poet laureate of India. He had come because he had never been to Baba, and wanted to have Baba’s darshan. So, of course, he was very disappointed to discover that Baba was not there.
But finding himself in the ashram he was curious to know more of Baba’s life, and he fervently wanted to hear some devotees' experiences. Gokak related his own miraculous journey to Baba, but then Gokak thought, ‘Well there is this westerner who teaches at the university who has had a lot of unusual experiences. I will send for him and he can talk to you, and you can see that even people coming from abroad have some remarkable experiences with Swami.’ That is how I got called there and introduced to the visitor.
Shortly after I met this professor in Dr. Gokak’s study, the man says to me, “Look, I can catch a flight back to Delhi this afternoon, so I think I better get back to the airport, but would you mind coming with me in the car to talk. It takes three hours to get from Puttaparthi to the airport, so we can spend those hours together in the car, and then afterwards I can direct the driver to take you right back here to the ashram”. That was music to my ears. Clearly, a new situation was unfolding and I was keenly aware of it. Far from seeing everything that had been going on that day as some sort of devilish trick, I now began to suspect that it was Baba who was behind all these strange incidents that had already happened to me. I only needed to let go of trying to understand and just calmly watch the day progress. Sai Baba had taken charge. Now, all I needed to do was to not get in the way and enjoy!
It was immediately obvious to me that my transportation to Bangalore airport had arrived, and the next episode in this unfolding drama was now underway. Of course, I had no expectation of returning to the ashram once I got to Bangalore; I just knew I was going on to Kodai. I had a great time being with this man, talking to him of my Baba experiences. He was a lovely guy, and what a nice way to spend three hours thinking only of Swami! Inwardly I knew I was going to see Swami that very day. Before meeting the professor in the car I ran back to my place and packed a little bag. In India you don’t take much. You can buy kurtas and lungees, the necessary clothes, for a few rupees any place. I took my passport and some travelers checks I had in a drawer, and off we went.
When we got to the airport I asked at the Indian Airlines counter how you get to Kodaikanal and they responded there are no airports up there, but you can fly into Madurai and then take a taxi up the mountain. As it turned out, the one daily flight from Bangalore to Madurai was sitting outside, and already loading its passengers. I asked if I could get on it? Yes, there was a seat left. Now, this was before the age of credit cards, and I knew that in India, at that time, you couldn’t buy tickets at the airport; you had to go to the airline's city office. And, of course for that there was no time. I just looked up plaintively at the Indian Airlines official who had been helping me, and he said, “Look, if you want that last seat I can sell it to you.” I paid him the cash, he gave me a ticket and I was on my way to Kodai.
In the Airbus I was sitting in three abreast seating with me on the aisle. Next to me was a man in a caftan, one of those long Indian robes; he was probably in his late forties, looking very guru-like. On the window side was this very attractive young, new-agey woman, not more than 21 or 22, who was carefully looking after him. She brought out her thermos and various snacks of special foods, and she started serving him. She was looking very devotee-like, busily catering to her guru. They were deeply engaged in a lively conversation with each other, and to my astonishment it was in German! So again German was coming into my life that day. I was listening to them, but, of course, I didn't let on that I could understand them.
I was very surprised by what they were saying to one another. The man said he was looking forward to seeing Sai Baba’s face, when Baba hears of their grand project. And she commented, 'Maybe Baba will be so proud and happy, he may even do a little jig in utter glee.’ (Clearly they knew absolutely nothing of Baba. And Baba dancing a jig? Did they mean just like the time in 1940 when Hitler came to the Arc de Triumph in Paris and reviewed his conquering Wehrmacht marching up the Champs Elysees and did a little jig? I shuddered.) Under the airplane seat they had a little scale model of an elaborate temple complex that they were proposing to build in the village of Puttaparthi, Baba's birthplace, 3 to 4 miles outside the ashram. The fellow was saying to her how they will have to raise tens of millions of Marks more in Germany, among wealthy Sai devotees. They had already bought this beautiful track of land in Puttaparthi, right smack in the village, and they were going to put up this temple for all the foreign devotees to enjoy. A Sai Baba temple for foreign devotees in Parthi? Sounded totally fishy to me. Intuitively I knew that Swami was not going to put up with this, but I didn’t say anything.
We got to Madurai and headed out to the taxis that make the trek up the narrow winding road scaling the mountain to Kodai. The luggage goes on top and people just jam into the vehicles until they’re sitting on top of each other and they can barely get the doors closed. Again I found myself sitting next to and practically underneath these two Germans, still busily rapping to each other excitedly about their great project. Although we were pretty much inhaling and exhaling each other’s air, I don’t think that they even noticed me. We might have perfunctorily nodded hello, but we never said one word to each other.
The overloaded taxi crawled its way up the mountain in low gear, the poor engine screaming its objections the whole way. By the time we got to Kodaikanal, and then on to the bungalow where Baba was staying, it was time for afternoon darshan. People were already lined up, with ladies on one side and men on the other side of a little walk going up to the steps of the entrance of the bungalow where Baba would come out. There were relatively few people there, altogether at most 50 or so. Suddenly, I felt very uncomfortable about being there, since I really didn’t have permission to leave the ashram and come there, plus being totally worn out and smelling the part, from that taxi adventure, stuffed into a telephone booth-sized space with reeking humanity. So, I decided to hide behind a rose bush on the men’s side, near the entrance. I just wanted to see Swami walk and give darshan but I didn’t want him to see me. Perhaps the next day, washed and presentable, I would feel a little more bold about being there.
But as Swami came down the steps he headed straight towards my rosebush, bent to the side and peeked around it, where I had been trying to make myself as small as possible and now felt totally exposed. Smiling at having discovered me, he said, “Ah Drunker (his pet name for me), you have come. Good. I was expecting you.” And then he said more seriously, "I had a communication from Kutumbarao (the manager back at the ashram) that a police inspector had come from Hyderabad (the state capital), and they were investigating some foreigners, believed to be Germans, who had bought land in Puttaparthi, and who were hiring villagers, and were doing things which were strictly against Indian law and …." Here I interrupted Baba, “Swami, they are here! I came up with a German man and a woman in the taxi. They're the people involved in this, and they are sitting right here at darshan!”
Swami said, “Get the man and bring him inside now. They're giving the ashram and Swami a bad name. Swami will speak to him and you will translate Swami’s words into German.” I was amazed. It was the first time that there had ever been any mention of me in relation to Germany or German at the ashram. But suddenly, I was directed to translate Swami's words into German, with my now 35 year long unused German, and, at that, in the barely remembered German of a 9-year old. Lucky for me, it turned out that the man knew enough English that I didn’t have to translate or say a word. He brought his model, but Swami never even looked at it, or gave the man a chance to say one word.
Swami was furious with him, scolding him that he was giving the ashram a very bad name and said, “Don’t you know that this is illegal and that they will throw you into jail and it will be very difficult for you? You must go back to Germany right now and give all that money back to those devotees. Swami doesn’t need any temples built outside, and he doesn’t want your money. He only wants you to establish God in your heart.” Swami was berating him very strongly. The man stutteringly tried to say something and show his model, but Baba would have none of it and again told him to get out, go back to Germany immediately and return all the money. That seemed to be the end of the affair.
But after he sent the man out, Baba turned to me and said, “You write a letter in German to all the German centers, and also write to the head of the German Sai Baba organization.” (I later found out that this head of the German Sai centers had been a field officer in the Wehrmacht, Hitler's victorious army that conquered all of Europe and North Africa during the War; but afterwards he, like so many other Germans, had a deep change in heart and became a committed Sai devotee.) “Tell him”, Baba continued, “to send your letter to all the centers instructing them not to give money for such purposes…that this is not good. Swami doesn’t want their money; he only wants their love.” And then he added, “In your letter include an account about your own experience giving money to villagers. Write it out in German and bring it to Swami before you send it. Swami will check it.”
Swami will check it? In German? Well, he says that there is only one language, the language of the Heart. But German? Well, I was just completely floored by all this business that was happening that day. The sudden reintroduction of so much German, after a hiatus of some 35 years, was uncanny; it certainly seemed like more than coincidence. Was Swami behind all this? Incidentally, I never did find any trace of the (crazy?) lady who wrote me the letter that started it all.
So, now I was given the task of writing a letter to all the German devotees. After making some inquiries I found a German couple that was there. His name was Gustav and hers was Suzanne. Gustav had been drafted into the German Army towards the end of the War but managed to run away and desert during the last few months of the War. The Nazis hunted him but didn’t catch him. Suzanne was part of the Bund Deutcher Maedchen, which was the female version of the Hitler Youth. So, in a way they started off being Hitler’s kids, but like many Germans they came to their senses. Of course these two went even further and became Sai devotees, and a few years later they even hosted me, an ex-Jewish refugee from Hitler, for a month in their home. During that time together in their house in the German countryside, we exposed and put to bed all the tense karma between German and Jew, and we became very close loving friends, really family. When I first met them in Kodaikanal in Sai’s aura, the past was forgotten and they joyfully helped me write the letter to the German centers.
Now as to my story that he told me to put in. It is a fascinating vignette of India. The story relates to a man named Narayan Reddy, who lived in a village of about three to five thousand souls, a long bike-ride down a dirt path from the ashram. I met him several years earlier, when I had heard that Swami was going to inaugurate a Sai Baba temple at this village. I biked there, planning to be a few hours early, look around, and have my first experience of a typical Indian village, where two-thirds or more of the country's population lives. But, as it turned out, it was monsoon time and the heavens opened up about 40 minutes after I got there. The dirt road leading to the village quickly became flooded and turned into an impassable mire of mud. Of course the Sai function was cancelled and nobody from the ashram showed up, so I was the only outsider there, stuck without shelter or language or anyone to advise me what to do.
When I first arrived in the village before the storm hit, the first thing I noticed and stopped to watch, was a bunch of kids playing under the statue of Kali at the entrance to the village. It was a big statue on a pedestal all covered with the dark purple powder used for sacred rituals. The godess had a fearsome look, holding a flaming sword and garlanded by a string of skulls. Certainly not the visage of a warm, motherly figure, but of a fierce warrior, standing guard there to protect the village against anyone who would wish it harm. The kids were playing tag when suddenly one of the kids straightened out and appeared to be under some sort of spell or reverie. All the other kids stopped their play to watch this boy. Obviously, whatever was happening with him had happened many times before, for they acted like it was no particular novelty to them. Now, the native language of that place is Telegu, which is also Baba's native language. Telegu has a particular kind of melodic ring that I easily recognize, although I don't understand the language.
From within the trance he was in, this boy now started speaking in Sanskrit, a bit of which I can understand, but which none of the kids knew. I could make out some divine names (most everybody in India has one of the thousands of names of God) and something about practices (sadhanna). It didn't have any understandable meaning to me. While this was going on, one of the kids ran to get the village priest, who came very quickly and listened to the Sanskrit message coming through the mouth of this boy, and then left. I later found out, this was the way in which Kali, the patron devi of this village, directed them in their spiritual lives. All this happened during the first half hour after I got there; then the monsoon started coming down and everyone (except me) scattered. I and my bicycle had nowhere to go.
That's when I met Narayan Reddy, who was the Convener of the Sai reception committee and the only one in the village who spoke some English. Someone must have told him of my predicament. He came running towards me in the downpour, found me soaked to the skin, and took me home with him, carrying the bicycle on his shoulders. In his hut he introduced me to his budding family, fed me, and gathered up some straw for me to sleep on in the attached room to the hut, where his cows and bullocks were quartered. The next morning I woke up with the warm, welcoming eyes of a cow placidly looking at me, about 10 inches from my face. Narayan collected me and took me out to look at his 7 acre patch of land which he tills and which feeds his family for the whole year, from a single crop after the monsoon.
Also on the grounds was a shed in which he ran a school for the harijan (untouchable) children in the village, during the many months between harvest time and the next monsoon. "Why don't you grow more crops per year?" I asked him. He told me this would require irrigating his field from a bore well. And that would cost about 8000 rupees (about a thousand dollars at that time) to install. There's no hope at all, he lamented, for anyone in the village to ever come up with such a grand sum. But nevertheless, he said, he dreamed of some day being able to do that, since the off-season crops would fetch a very favorable price in the market, and he would have enough money to build a real all-year school for those poor outcast kids.
At that time I had been coming to the ashram three times a year from California, and the air-ticket typically cost about $1000. Well, I could skip one trip for such an obviously good cause, and I decided on a subsequent visit to his village to loan him the 8000 rupees, with his avowed promise to pay me back within three years. He, of course was totally delighted to get the money and I was also delighted to be the instrument of this opportunity to do some really worthwhile Narayan Seva (Service to God by helping to ease the lot of the poor). We shook on it, and I gave him the money and left for America shortly thereafter.
When I returned the following year, Baba called me in for an interview the day I came. The first thing he said to me was, "You gave money to a villager, more than he had ever seen in his life, and you caused some very bad karma for yourself, for him and the whole village. Now Swami has to take care of it." Having admonished me for foolishly doing what I thought was a laudable deed, he materialized about a one and a half inch long lingam, for me to wear around my neck. The lingam was a solid roundish pear shaped object, with three slightly smoothened sides to it; it was tooth-colored, somewhat translucent and looked like it was made of enamel. Swami said it was a kala lingam, and the three smoothened sides represented past, present, and future time.
But how was I supposed to wear it around my neck? Swami noticed my puzzlement and he took the lingam back and blew on one end of it. Immediately a neatly bored-out hole appeared in its long dimension. This happened right before my astonished eyes. Swami, said, "Get a brahmin string in one of the the shops outside, put it through, wear it on your neck, and do not take it off. It will help with the karma."
I later found out that Narayan Reddy and family had disappeared with the money. I lost track of him completely. Before he left the village, where generations of his family had been born and died, the sudden possession of so much money gave rise to violent jealousies. Many fights between factions allied with him and opposed to him, developed. Some teen-age boys went at each other with coconut knives and several got badly hurt. The provincial authorities were alerted and put the headman of the village under arrest. All sorts of other problems arose in the village as a result of Narayan Reddy receiving thousands of rupees from this foreigner for constructing a bore well. After Reddy left the village, he quit the Sai Baba organization of which he was village head, went to the city and, it was rumored, became a prominent leader of the Communist party. It was at that time that Swami had called me in and told me that I had created some very bad karma for all concerned.
Well, I wore the lingam night and day for over a year and it got almost black. One day it mysteriously disappeared off my neck. I looked everywhere for it; I couldn't find it. On my next trip to India I had a chance to ask Baba about it and he said, “I took it back. The karma was finished”. So, it was taken care of. Now, in Kodai ten years later, with Narayan Reddy and the loan I had given him for the education of the untouchables, long since gone and out of my mind, Swami told me to tell this story. So, with some help from my new German friends, I wrote to the German devotees of how when I thought I was doing Narayan Seva, serving God, I was in actuality serving only the ego of this Narayan, seemingly a good man, but who was tempted by the large influx of money and, through his actions created so much trouble for everybody.
I wrote that local laws had to be known and closely followed so as not to reflect poorly on Baba, and that, in general, westerners should be super careful getting involved with villagers, who are embedded in a culture and a value system that is markedly different from our own, and may interpret acts of giving very differently. One must always gather up all the relevant fact and apply foresight to see what consequences will come of one's good intentions. And before one acts on anything remotely related to Swami one should never proceed without first getting his approval. I showed Swami the German letter. Well, Swami who appears to be conversant with all languages, read the letter, commented favorably on its firm tone, and approved it.
That being done, he said to me, “Now you come and be in the bungalow with Swami." Speak of being given 'good chances'! I had to pinch myself to believe what was happening. Rooted as I was at that time in a self-deprecating feeling of unworthiness, I came there full of catastrophic expectations, unsure of whether Swami would be cross with me for following him to Kodai without his direction, and would possibly throw me out, or worse. But, far from being unhappy with me, I realized it was really he who had brought me there in the first place. And then to top it off, he invited me to be in the house with him while he was there. He also hugely upgraded my accomodations (as I will get into further on). It was a case of 'my cup runneth over'. I was totally surprised and overwhelmed, and also a little embarrassed, not really understanding why this was happening. But golly, I was immensely delighted at the turn of events.
From that time on, every day I spent hours in the bungalow. I didn’t have any particular place to be, but there were couches and chairs around, and I was obviously free to be anywhere in the house. I meditated and read and studied the advaitic (non-dual) scriptures and Swami’s Vahinis. I ate lunch in the kitchen, food prepared by Swami's cook. There was a room that Swami used for his interview room and sometimes I would be invited in to be in with him. I would see Swami in the hall many times during the day, walking along from room to room, frequently passing right by me. I would always fold my hands and salute him. Many times he would be moving his lips and repeating some Upanishadic verses under his breath.
One time I was close enough to hear what he was reciting and I recognized the famous mantra from the Isha Upanishad: 'Purnamada, Purnamidam, Purnat, Purnamudachyate, Purnasya Purnamadaya, Purnameva Vashishyate. Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi'. I knew it and had always loved it. I learned the chant from Ravi Shankar when he visited the ashram for Baba's darshan. The meaning of the mantra is, 'This is Full and That is Full. Out of This Fullness emerges That Fullness, and yet, This Fullness remains ever Full. Om Peace Peace Peace.' While chanting this to himself, Baba with his right index finger, would repeatedly trace out an Om in the air. He seemed to be walking in a reverie, totally Self-absorbed.
I remember lots of little incidences. One time a fly or mosquito got into his robe and Swami did a little dance trying to get it out. Contorting his body in all directions while shaking his robe he encouraged the thing to leave, but that bug wasn't about to be evicted from his inner perch on the Lord, and there was no way, try as he would, that Swami could reach it from outside his robe. He made no attempt to crush it, he was just trying to set it free. Finally Swami took off his robe, and the little thing having gotten the message, went on its way. That taken care of, Swami put his robe back on again and resumed his journey into the interview room. For me it was great fun to see him squirm around good-naturedly in such a human way; but still, I never forgot that Swami was a very different kind of being. Yes, in every laudable way he was so human, but unmistakably he was always fronting for the Infinite. His divinity was so manifestly transparent through his human outer form, it served to give us a clear peek into who we also truly are, but have not yet discovered in our more densely veiled selves.
One time the governor of Tamilnadu (the Madras state) came to visit and Swami received him and his party on a little balcony area at the front of the bungalow. There was a couch and some easy chairs there, and Swami sat down on one side of the couch and the governor sat in a chair close to him. Swami motioned to me in the hall that I can also be there. Swami was speaking to the group in Tamil and Hindi, neither of which I knew, so I just found a chair, sat down in the back near the door, and meditated. It wasn’t very long before Swami and the Governor and his party left the bungalow. Now that the balcony was empty I moved over to the couch sitting down on the very same spot where Swami had just sat. Immediately I had this remarkable experience. I was jolted by a burst of energy that pulsated through me. It was powerful but not at all scary or unpleasant. It was as if I had been suddenly awakened from a deep sleep. It seemed like part of Swami’s aura had been left behind and I was enveloped in it. I felt myself easily going inward into a profound silence, which persisted even after Baba's energy that had remained there, diminished.
There were lots of other wonderful experiences being there in the bungalow with Swami, including some memorable trips in the limo with him. It was all really exceptional and unique, although at the time, it seemed very natural to me. Only in thinking back on it long afterwards, did I realize the extraordinariness of those weeks spent with Swami in Kodai.
To continue with my experiences there, the day after the state governor had come he came again, bringing with him the chief minister and the general commanding the Indian forces in the southern half of the country. Swami took them into the interview room and he told me to come in also. Srinivasan, whose bungalow it was and who at that time was the No.2 man in the international Sai organization, was directed by Baba to translate everything that was said in that interview into English. Swami spoke of love and service and other oft-repeated Swami teachings. Then he asked the group, “Are there any questions”? Well, these guys were all totally intimidated by Swami; they couldn’t even get a word out. Swami loves to have questions, which he uses as a platform to teach, but these VIP's had no questions at all. Not a peep.
Now earlier that morning, Swami had called in all of the westerners that were there. This was about a week after I had come, and by that time more people had shown up at Kodai. There were about 45 to 50 westerners there by that point. In fact most of the people who came to Swami in Kodai, were westerners. They could afford to go to this mountain resort and stay there. At the time it seemed like there weren’t very many local people who knew anything of Swami. In the interview that morning with the westerners, Swami gave us the purest advaitic teachings, expanding on his highest message, 'You yourself are one with God; you are not the body, you are not the mind; you are not this separate individual; you are the Atma, you are God Itself; you are in no way different from God.' It was a very moving and inspiring talk; we asked questions and Swami answered and elaborated. It was really beautiful. I took some notes and published the essence of that interview in the ashram monthly. Swami spoke almost exclusively from the divine perspective, the elevated non-dual unity perspective, rather than from the individualized human perspective, bound up in separation consciousness within a world of samsara.
It was a wonderful talk, but now in the afternoon, Swami was talking to these VIP's and they weren’t asking any questions. So I piped up with a question and said, “Swami, I want to know what happens to the individual after realization of the Atma has occurred? When all there is is Atma, will there be any trace of the individual left”? I posed that question hoping for Swami to provide some continuation of his teachings to the westerners in the interview that morning. But Swami said, “This is too difficult for here. Best if you ask about Krishna or Rama or any of the Puranas (spiritual histories). Those are more appropriate now.” So I came up with a Rama question, wondering when Rama first revealed his divinity. Swami then proceeded to tell a previously unheard of story about Rama. (And I never got an answer to my question about Atma and the individual; I think I was supposed to find that out directly for myself.)
I thought a lot about Swami's response to my first question relating to that morning's interview, which was then superseded by the second question. Swami's reply, 'This is too difficult for here' meant to me that Swami taught at different levels at different times to different people. Perhaps it meant that the westerners who he spoke to in the interview that morning, had spent many previous births in India and didn’t need to do all those puja practices. In fact, in the morning interview, Swami spoke of that, saying that most people who practice spirituality, set aside an hour or so for worship or meditation, and then turn their minds elsewhere. But meditation and inner contemplation had to be 24 hours per day. There should be no time that your central focus is not on God; or on your own truth, which is the same as God. God is the one reality, the one unchanging constant in one's life, the basis of everything else, the love that motivates every action. That should never be overlooked or forgotten. Rather than pujas, that constant remembrance of the inner divinity, the Atma, should be the focus of inner inquiry, which silently, subliminally, needs to go on all the time.
Coming into a culture they did not grow up in, westerners frequently tend to belittle themselves by trying to imitate long-time devotees they see at the ashram. They develop an interest in all the ritual paraphernalia and customs and particular stories, believing these to be vital for the spiritual quest that brought them to Baba. But that may not be appropriate for them at all. Some devotees they meet at the ashram may have had many interviews, but these may have been consumed with getting Swami's blessings to place their sons or daughters in universities, with asking Swami whether they should come for the next big holiday, with asking Swami to bless the marriages they arrange for their kids, or with their concern when their kids leave the family home to go for work abroad. They ask questions and like to hear stories about the great beings who have gone before. Swami says, "I give you what you want so that you will want what I have to give you." Many of these long-time devotees, who are deeply devoted to Swami as God, may not yet be ready to hear that they themselves are God.
There are others, however, including many westerners who come to Baba, who are ready to hear and internalize the highest teachings. So, the message of that morning's interview for those devotees was 'go straight to the heart of the ultimate truth'. You don't need to engage and be sidetracked by all the pujas and peripheral practices. This doesn’t mean that you don’t continue with your sadhanna (spiritual practice). It doesn’t mean you don’t sing bahjans. But it means that the key thing is what you do with your mind and how you bring your heart and mind together in the oneness of what truly is. One time he had said, ‘Dust if you think, dust you are. God if you think, God you are. Think God. Be God, You are God.' That morning Swami made that very clear, and it has had a most profound effect ever since.
That afternoon, in the middle of Swami giving his Rama story (which was in response to my second question), he suddenly turned to me and said, “You go now. Go!” It was right in the juiciest part of the story; he just interrupted himself in mid-sentence and ordered me to leave. Well, what can I do? I had no choice. He said 'go' and I had to go, but I had no idea why. It seemed strange to be evicted so precipitously. What had I done wrong? I just couldn't get myself to hurry out; I sort of hung around for awhile and took my time picking up my stuff while Swami continued his talk. Then he looked at me again and finally, with a lot of resistance, I left. At that time, I was spending my days in Swami's bungalow, and in the evenings Swami had arranged for me to stay at the Rajmata’s place. The Rajmata was the queen of the royal couple that reigned in that area of Tamilnadu during the time of the British Raj. The king had died, but the Rajmata was still very much alive. After Indian independence and unification, the queen, who was no longer reigning, had become a Sai Baba devotee. The royals still had their sumptuous summer palace in Kodai.
When I first came to Kodai I got a room at the Jaya Hotel, the same place that was first mentioned to me, and whose flyer I found in the crazy German letter I received the morning when I first heard of Kodai. But then, after Swami told me to come into the bungalow with him during the day, I was given this spacious guest room to stay in, in the Rajmata's beautiful palace. From the Srinivasan bungalow that Swami was in, I could get to the Rajmata's place by walking a few kilometers through the woods. It was a lovely walk even when it was dark, walking with a flashlight. And so, that day, after walking most of the way through the woods, I approached the Rajmata's place. But when I was still about half a kilometer away, a powerful monsoon storm hit. The wind came up so quickly and was so strong, I had to hold on to the nearest tree, to keep from being toppled. Then the rain came in a torrential downpour and all the surrounding trees vanished from sight. I suddenly felt like I was holding on to the outside of a submarine after it had dived into the waters. When I finally made it the remainder of the way to the front door, I was not only thoroughly soaked but totally out of breath, trying to pant and breathe as the flood of water seemed to displace even the oxygen in the air.
The next day while I was coming into the bungalow, I saw Swami and he asked, “Did you get wet?” “Yes, Swami,” I answered, a little embarassedly. He laughed and said, “You didn’t listen. I told you to go." Clearly, if I had gone immediately the moment he told me to, I would have gotten to the house in time and not been soaked. I had interpreted Swami telling me to go, as my having done something wrong and being unceremoniously thrown out, when it was really Swami’s grace looking after me. From a lack of self-confidence and fear, I just hadn’t picked up on Swami's omniscience. He demonstrated again and again that even when it looked like he was being a stern father, he was really being the caring mother. There were many experiences like that. He once said, "I toss you snowballs but you think I'm throwing rocks".
During that time with Swami in Kodai, occasionally he would take me out in his car. One time he invited me to come along when a devotee asked Swami to accept a parcel of land from him, located in a choice spot in Kodai. On that trip Swami went to look at the land, which today houses Swami's ashram in Kodai. It was beautiful land, full of colorful plants and good vibes. Swami was obviously happy to receive the land and told the man so, and blessed him with padnamaskar. Then on the way back to the Srinivasan's bungalow, Swami directed Radha Krishna, his driver, to take a route that would go near the Rajmatta's mansion, where I was staying. Baba turned to me to tell me that he was going to drop me off at the Rajmata's place but he said he would not directly drive by the front entrance. He said he would stop the car a block further down a side street and I'll have to walk the rest of the block to the place. He said, "So many people will come and they will mob the car, so I am going to let you off around the corner and quickly drive by." I think you can tell by now, it was always great fun being with Swami. He makes you feel like family when you're close to him, which, of course, you really always are.
When his time at Kodai was finished Swami was going to go on to Ootacomund, or Ooty (pronounced Uti), as it was popularly known. The international Sai organization had planned a conference of all its office holders for five days in Ooty and Swami was going there from Kodai to speak daily at the conference. I had never been part of the Sai organization; Swami had on previous occasions made it clear to me that he wanted me to teach, but not get involved with the organization. Ooty is a lovely place, also a hill station and resort place, and now Swami would be there and give discourses. I didn’t know if they would give me a badge and let me in as an observer, if I went there. Of course, it would be a wonderful conclusion to this extraordinary gift Swami had given me to be in such close proximity to him in Kodai. But, I had been given no direction to include Ooty in my trip.
Inside the bungaIow, on the afternoon before Baba's departure from Kodai, I had a chance to ask him if I should go to Ooty or return to the ashram in Prashanti. He said, “How did you get here? You didn’t ask Swami, but you got here. How?” I said, “I prayed to Swami to show me what to do and all these things happened very naturally and I just followed my heart”. He said, “Always follow your heart! Even if you get a direction coming straight from Swami's mouth and your heart speaks to you and directs you to do otherwise, always follow your heart! You heart is the most important Swami you have. Always follow that Swami. Your heart will always show you the right way to go. Follow it.”
That evening when I listened inside, it became clear to me that I was supposed to go to Ooty, When I got there, Swami told me to be part of the conference. Of the several hundred participants, I was the only one that wasn’t in the Sai organization, but I was included in every meeting, although I was only really interested in being present for Swami's talks, which were not open to other devotees who had come to Ooty for Swami's darshan. At the end of the conference an official photo was taken of Swami with all the participants. Swami told me I was to join in, and so I was the only non-Indian and non-organization type in the picture, sticking out like a sore thumb. But Swami had directed me to always follow my inner guidance and it had led me there, and then, as it turned out, on to Swami's summer course in Brindavan, after he left Ooty.
Previously I had never trusted the inner intimations I felt, to guide me on the particular course to take when there was an unsure situation. I had always been afraid that what I thought was the will of my inner guidance was really the ego posing as my heart, whispering directions to me. So, instead, for 20 years before that, whenever the need arose for a decision, I would only use the chits to divine Swami's will, (as described elsewhere in this book.) After Kodai, those doubts disappeared, and from that time on I came to trust in my own heart to show me the way, knowing that that was the Swami who was always with me, and could always be fully counted upon.
So, like that, one surprising thing leading to the next, took me out of my hellishly hot flat in the ashram at Prashanti Nilyam, and gave me this story-book summer, consisting of one miracle after another, being close to the Avatar. It was a grace-filled fairy tale ride that still leaves me breathless.
Al Drucker, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin