Volume 5 - Issue 11
I offer my most loving and humble pranams to Bhagavan. Respected elders, brothers and sisters, Sai Ram. As a young boy growing up in America, I never imagined that I would travel the world, let alone come to the other side of the planet, to a remote Indian village like Puttaparthi. For many, America is a dream land, a land of opportunity for thousands who go there every year in search of a better life. But for me, the road to a better way of life began here, in this tiny corner of Andhra Pradesh, at this abode of highest peace, and home of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
While the miles I’ve traveled may be great, the transformation I’ve undergone is greater. Shortly after my first trip, people I knew began to say, “Jeremy, we don’t know what it is about you, but you’ve changed.” Even my father said to me, “Jeremy, I don’t totally understand who Sai Baba is, but based on the positive change I’ve seen in you, He must be all right.” And thus began my new life.
Guarded and Guided by Him
Bhagavan caught hold of me at a crucial and formative time in my life. I was 18 years old, without direction, and in bad company. But Bhagavan had other plans for me. After learning about His Incarnation, I began studying Sai literature, participating in the local Sai center, and making trips to see Him at just the same time that the budding youth wing in the Sathya Sai Baba Organization was beginning to blossom.
I joined a group of 18 youth from the United States who attended Bhagavan’s Summer Course in Brindavan in 1995, and was fortunate to attend both the first and second World Youth Conferences. Thereafter, I did my final year of college in Hyderabad where I lived and worked with the Hyderabad youth group. Now at age 36, I have spent exactly half my life under Bhagavan’s care, and am eternally grateful to Bhagavan for carrying me safely across those important years of my youth.
Three Important Lessons…
With humility, I offer this august gathering a few of the lessons I have learned along this journey:
And now I’d like to elaborate on each of these lessons I’ve learned.
First, take refuge in the words of Sai.
Bhagavan says that, “The mind is the source of all suffering.” And just as a thorn can be used to remove a thorn, so too can suffering of our confused and wayward minds be relieved by thinking about the words and ideas of Bhagavan. But these words must be meditated upon. Food cannot be digested with only one chew, and mental peace cannot be gained from a quick or occasional reading of Sai’s teachings. In my experience, it often takes the mind many years to grasp the meaning of His teachings.
For example, Bhagavan often describes the spiritual path as a house: the foundation is self-confidence, the walls are self-satisfaction, the roof is self-sacrifice, and the house is self-realization. For years I listened to this analogy, and it remained largely unclear all the while. Only after some years of working on this puzzle did it begin to occur to me that Swami is describing a sequence of events, and that each stage must be passed through to get to the next. Nothing can happen without self-confidence.
With self-confidence we can begin to engage in the world and to extract from it our own desires – self-satisfaction. But sooner or later, we must learn that satisfying our own desires doesn’t give enduring peace and happiness. It is at this point that we must begin to use our own potential to relieve the suffering of others. And only after this “roof” of self-sacrifice is constructed can the mansion of self-realization be secured.
Perhaps the truth of this simple teaching came quickly to others. For me, it took time to digest. But my point is that we must all put effort into understanding, in a deeper way, the words of Bhagavan, and not skim too quickly across the surface. Mental peace can be attained if we all take refuge in His words.
Second, take Bhagavan as your only true friend.
For young people, friendship is very important, and often misunderstood and misused. Swami often says, “Tell me your company, and I’ll tell you what you are.” The influence of the company we keep is very powerful, especially in the years of our youth. So, being in good company is essential for a good life. But the real meaning of friendship deserves to be explored carefully.
Bhagavan explains to us that, “God is the only true friend.” We should then ask ourselves, “Who is a friend?” A friend can provide company and companionship – that’s true. But a true friend is the one who knows the deepest reservoirs of our hearts, whose care for us is perfect and inexhaustible and who is closer to us than any other. And who but God can be that friend?
Once Swami patted me on the chest and said, “This is not a two-seat sofa; this is not musical chairs…Your seat is on that plane, but My seat is in your heart.” True sneham, or friendship, should not be cheapened by putting all things into our hearts. We should reserve our love for God, for who can truly satisfy the pain and deepest yearning of our hearts, but Him?
Lastly, we should engage whole-heartedly in good work.
Wrong use of the body leads to all kinds of troubles. But to escape this suffering, we should put our body to good uses. Swami has prescribed that Seva is the proper use of the body, and also a powerful tool for spiritual transformation. “Bend the body, mend the mind, end the senses,” Bhagavan has said.
I’d like to share an experience to illustrate this point. In the USA, the youth regularly take up a variety of service projects. One extraordinary opportunity came in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the coastline of the southern states of Louisiana and Mississippi. Sai youth responded quickly, locating a town that was not receiving much assistance, and sending a large truckload full of needed supplies to Tylertown, Mississippi.
Not satisfied with this initial effort, we organized a second trip to repair the roofs and homes of poor victims who could not afford to have their roofs replaced after the terrible storm. Such large-scale projects are inspiring to be a part of, but another example I’d like to share illustrates well the power of doing service even on a relatively small scale.
The Magic of Selfless Work
Because winters can be very cold and snowy in many parts of America, homeless people run the risk of freezing without proper clothing and footwear. A few winters ago, some members of our group noticed that some homeless men in our city had only plastic bags over their feet as footwear. So we made a decision that the following winter we would buy 75 pairs of boots and distribute them amongst the homeless people.
When we went to the store to buy these 75 pairs of boots, we were pleased that the owner of the store himself took care of us. It took quite some time to buy so many boots and at some point in our work together, the owner of the store said to us, “Boys, 75 pairs is a lot of boots. Would you mind if I ask what you intend to do with them?” So we explained that we planned to give them away in winter to people without good shoes.
He was just quiet for a little while and then the store owner said, “Boys, in all the years that I have been in the shoe business, I have never seen anyone come into my store to do what you are doing. I will sell you these boots, but I will only charge you the price that I have to pay for them myself. I am only sorry that I did not know about this earlier, else I could have worked with my suppliers to get the boots even cheaper. Please contact me next year so we can work together to do this good work.”
Finally after we paid for the boots and were leaving his store, the owner said, “Boys, every year I invite my employees and their families to come and shop in my store before Christmas, and I give them a very big discount. I want you two boys to also come in with your families, so I can give the same opportunity to you too.”
When Love is Put in Action
On the day we planned to give the boots away, our youth group had a meeting to talk about our work. Very often, the poor and homeless are treated badly, even by people offering them services. We all agreed that we would work differently. We reminded ourselves that God is the indweller of every living being, and therefore, we would treat every single person as if he were Swami Himself, and give only love towards one and all. As the long line of people began filing into the downtown church where we were giving away the boots, the poor and homeless were at first very restless and aggressive with each other and with us. But our group continued to treat them all in a loving manner.
Very quickly, the atmosphere began to change. Soon, everyone became peaceful, orderly and happy. Each person was invited to sit down in a chair and be served food and drink while they waited their turn to find a pair of boots. When their turn came, our workers peeled off the old shoes and socks from their worn and tired feet, and carefully fit them with a new pair of socks and boots, and sent them on their way happy and recharged.
At the end of the day, after almost all of the boots were gone, there was one man who had received his pair of boots and was about to leave, when he noticed another man who could not find a pair of boots to fit him. The man without boots was very discouraged as his shoes were in very bad condition and not fit to last through the tough winter months. Observing this, the first man with boots in hand went over to this man and gave him his boots and said, “Here, it looks like you need these boots more than me. My shoes are in better condition than yours, so please take my new boots.” With this, the man walked away smiling.
We need not wait for hurricanes to befall us for opportunities to serve. In fact any act of love directed to relieve the suffering of another person is worthy service. In this work love is the essential ingredient. Service is nothing more than love in action. It has the power not only to uplift the downtrodden, but also to transform us into more selfless loving human beings. A very nice Telugu song captures Swami’s message about service:
Dear brothers and sisters, I’m not sure we can truly fathom the significance of the World Youth Conference. That we are here in attendance must be a boon earned over many lifetimes. We have all come fars to be here – by plane, train, and automobile, but on the path of transformation, we all have more to go. On behalf of the world’s youth, Bhagavan, I pray you will carry us all the way to our destination and bless us with the strength to be Ideal Sai Youth.
Jai Sai Ram!
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Vol 5 Issue 11 - NOVEMBER 2007
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