[The declaration ends with a link to a petition affirming our positive experiences with Swami. You can view the petition at the end of the declaration or proceed directly to the link at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/declaration-by-sathya-sai-students-2012/]
It’s almost coming on one year. On 24th April last year, we lost the physical presence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
I live far away from India and even farther from my years in Sathya Sai Baba’s college. I last saw him in 2001, and I don’t know when I will be able to visit his tomb in person; but even then, thousands of miles away, I am drawn powerfully to write what I am about to.
I am writing this in part to pay tribute to the extraordinary experience he was and still is in my life. In part, because I think the few of us who studied in his educational institutions and observed him closely could do more to share our experiences more broadly. But most of all, I want to share what I have to say with future generations – those teenagers, daughters, sons, men and women who haven’t yet been welcomed into this world. They should hear from as many of us who knew him as students what it truly meant to know him. To the wondrous miracle each child is and can grow into, my daughter and millions others like her, and future generations this planet shall bear, all of you should know what an extraordinary gift Sathya Sai Baba was and still is in our lives: Baba who made spirituality a practical reality for us youngsters; Baba, who taught us that being spiritual meant living right, thinking right, doing right; Baba, who made being ‘good’ cool for thousands of us.
Baba had been known to my family since long, but it wasn’t until I went to study at his university that he truly became a part of my life. Like gently falling rain, his impact was neither sudden nor dramatic. But he nourished my life and perspectives in ways I did not realize then. In fact, it is only now, almost twenty years since I left his college that I have begun to understand all that he did to help me appreciate my own potential. He was a parent figure providing love and protection away from home; a role model that inspired me to reach for the stars, a friend and a guide in matters material and spiritual.
I am a mother now, and I find myself talking to my daughter about Swami (as many call Sri Sathya Sai Baba) telling us to control our ‘monkey mind’ which by nature is easily distracted; practicing ‘ceiling on desires’ in this age of Nintendo, endless Barbie models and hi-def television. As she worries about making her first speech at school, I tell my daughter how as a young, shy teen, I felt the same. With Swami’s encouragement, I summoned the immense amount of courage I needed to find my voice and confidence in front of thousands.
In the many years since that I have spent traveling in India and abroad, I am often struck by how little people seem to know about Swami. It is amazing to see that many actually think he was a sleight of hand magician! It makes one reflect on how thoughtlessly we consume media, and how gullible we are in believing anything that seems sensational.
To me and so many batch mates I know, his miracles were not about what he could do but what he made us believe we could. He gave of himself tirelessly to others, selflessly and silently, year after year. How many of us have encountered selflessness in our life? Think back. What did you think of such a person? If you or I could demonstrate genuine, honest-to-bits selflessness consistently in our thoughts and actions we would become role models in our communities.
That is why Swami became my guiding star – the strongest reason I wanted to be a good human being. More than anyone, he helped me discover the wonderful things that make me truly ‘me’. He broadened my perspectives, sharpened my mind, filled me with idealism, urged me to discriminate for myself right from wrong and opened new windows into my soul. He is behind the pause I get in the rush of life, when I feel reminded to act with kindness and empathy. He is in the strength I get to keep standing in difficult times, and in the joy that makes me smile out and embrace the world.
How could he do something so extraordinary? It was because he cared enough to nurture genuine self-growth. He strengthened the roots in a way that made it possible for each of us to spread our branches and grow. He encouraged and inspired each to reach beyond what we thought were our limits. Each one grew differently from the other. How many parents are able to connect with and raise their children that way? He inspired the studious non-sporty types to do dangerous stunts at the annual sports day, the shy to perform on public stage and the overconfident to humility. And his encouragement didn’t end there. I have expressed my earlier thoughts on this aspect of our journey here.
Then why is it that people have said negative things about him? When you read all the allegations about him, any right thinking individual would think there must be some truth to them. Let me address that in my own way. No one is universally liked or admired. Every action of an individual is subject to a range of interpretations, misunderstandings and rumors. So it has been always and so it was with Swami. I definitely think it was a part of his master plan to ensure people don’t follow him blindly. The spiritual journey is an individual one, and must be forged in the crucible of personal experience. I think he meant for us to have the courage to question, to think independently, and come face to face with the truth ourselves. If we base our spiritual journey on something we read in a book or grasp through the media, we are not serious about spirituality at all. To all whose minds are not open to exploring the truth, these allegations are cause enough to condemn him as a fraud. Knowing Swami as I do, I am sure it made no difference to him. Any truly spiritual being would treat both praise and blame with equal unconcern-and so it was with Swami. He was truly untouched by what people said about him and remained interested only in where each soul was in its own spiritual journey. Thus, allegations have served a great purpose-they provided the reasons people needed in order to move on to the next fad. However, that doesn’t make them true.
Swami chose to not get into any debates on these allegations and encouraged us to follow His example. He told us to concentrate on being and doing good in society instead and showing the world what He is by our actions and behavior. When I look around today and see how organizations function, it amazes me that in seventy years of public life, He never had media managers, spin doctors or PR people to put in the right ‘news’ or create the right ‘image’. The general wellbeing of society and each individual’s spiritual growth as a part of that greater society remained His primary concerns.
In these twenty years since my student days, I have had time to internalize his teachings and experiment with their application in my daily living. Swami endeavored to have us strike a balance in our temperament and behavior. He never wanted us to march out in aggressive defense of Him because that would take us away from the internal balance that is essential for spiritual growth; yet, not once do I remember Him wanting us to be weak willed creatures unsure of our thoughts and actions. Love, faith, loyalty and self- confidence were virtues He relentlessly tried to inculcate in us.
“My Students are my only property” He often said. With Swami no longer with us physically, we who have studied during His physical presence are in a unique position to share our personal experience of interacting with Him. We are the only ones who will have been Swami’s DIRECT students-EVER. I would go so far as to say it is our responsibility as his children to record for posterity what He meant to us and – dare I say – what we meant to Him!
So, while like my friends and batch mates from the institute I will refrain from engaging with Swami’s critics in a futile, endless debate on the allegations against Him, as His spiritual child, I WILL speak up for the phenomenon He was and is in my life. This, for me, is a declaration and gratitude that a daughter has for a father, and of a spiritual seeker for the many blessings and the guidance I received from Him.
I am putting out a simple petition and invite my fellow batch mates and friends to pipe in, if they agree with what I have written. It is a single lamp of love I am setting afloat on the silent currents of time. In doing so, I know also these words don’t matter as do my feelings-and if the feelings behind these words are pure, I would have provided my dearest Swami the only reason he needs to bless this offering.
Do recognize that I am acting in an individual capacity, and I have no way of reaching all other alumni or of inspiring any to speak their mind. If someone responds, I have no way of checking if she or he is an alumnus. I am clear also that this is not a numbers game about how many will sign the petition or respond to my blog. This is and will always be about speaking up for the truth and my/our experience. This is a tribute. This is about love.
If you are an alumnus and reading this, there are two ways for you to respond
Finally, my intention not being to start a debate with anti-Sai activists, I will reserve my right to disallow comments or guest posts.
Declaration by a Sai Student
I, a student of Sri Sathya Sai Baba (or Swami, as He is known to many) wish to share my personal experience of studying at the Sri Sathya Sai Educational Institutions during His lifetime.
I wish to state that:
Finally, I sign this pledge as a ‘student’ rather than the more appropriate term ‘ex-student’, because in my heart, I am and will always remain a ‘Student of Sathya Sai’.
Posted by Lom Harshni Chauhan with editorial inputs from Amar Singh (Alumnus, Prashanti Nilayam and Bridavan Campus, 1984-96) .
Lom: Alumnus, Ananthapur Campus, 1991-94.