"At first, God stands at a distance watching your efforts. He is like the teacher who stands aside while the student writes the answer to his questions. When you shed your attachment to the material world and turn to doing good and serving others, God comes encouragingly near. He is like the sun god who stands waiting outside the closed door, like a servant who keeps his place. He does not announce His presence or knock at the door. He simply waits. But when the master opens the door even a little, the sun rushes in at once and drives out the darkness. When you ask God for help, He is right beside you with hands held out to help you. All you need is the discrimination to pray to God, the wisdom to remember Him."
- Sathya Sai Baba -
Lynn, Bal Vikas Child
When I think of our
daughter, Lynn, a mosaic of
bright images comes to mind;
Lynn, the child of whimsy,
improvisor of games and
stories which delighted her
friends. As one of them
would later say, "Wherever
Lynn was, there was
laughter." Lynn, the true
Bal Vikas who loved to show
reverence for her parents,
serving me breakfast on
Mother's Day and tenderly
caring for her father as he
recovered from surgery.
Lynn, the honor student, who
loved school. Lynn, the
child who at 14 when other
girls her age talked about
boys, preferred to sing
bhajans and yes, climb
trees. And most of all, a
Lynn who loved Baba with a
devotion which would awaken
an introspective quality in
her and a desire for
solitude in which to write
poems and thoughts of Baba
in her diary. Indeed, her
intensity of devotion would
draw her two younger
brothers and her parents
closer to God.
It was in the winter of 1974 that I prayed for holy company. I know now it was Baba who answered my prayer; for, soon afterwards, through a deaf friend, we learned about him, and Lynn and I began going to bhajans at our Santa Barbara Sai Baba Center.
It was Lynn who, after seeing our first Baba film at the center said, "Mommy, we must have our own meditation corner." She promptly removed all the books from a recessed book case in our back hall, and thenceforth it was our altar where we meditated daily.
My hopes and unspoken prayers for the children's spiritual education were quickly answered by Baba when, shortly after joining the Sai family, our head of center formed a Bal Vikas class. Thus, at Thursday evening bhajans and again on Sunday at Bal Vikas class, Lynn's devotion had precious opportunities to grow and flower.
Indeed, she was the only child present at the daily celebration of Dasara and was proud and happy when asked to participate in the reading of the Chandi. One the culminating evening of Dasara that fall of 1975, I remember seeing tears of joy in Lynn's eyes as she offered a flower to the Mother. And at Shivaratri some four months later, while many adults were too tired to continue, Lynn's ardor sustained her (as it had the previous year) through the night-long vigil of meditation, prayer and bhajan.
At times like these, my pride in her devotion was tempered by occasional thoughts that perhaps her zeal was abnormal for a child her age. Little did I realize that Lynn was being guided tenderly by our Lord and prepared for the culmination of her short life.
It was Thursday afternoon, ten days before Easter, the all important date on the Christian calender which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. School had finished for the day. Lynn had gone to the park, and I knew she was heading for the tall pine, her favorite climbing tree. I remember watching from the kitchen window as she darted off, calling in her sweet voice for our dog, Jupiter, to follow.
Only 45 minutes later, a neighbor came to tell me that Lynn had had a fall. In her haste to help her brother David, who had been bitten by a strange dog and was crying, she had stepped on a broken branch and fallen some twenty feet to the ground.
As I ran, I heard Lynn call, "Mommy, Mommy!" And as I reached her side, she seemed to know I was with her. She lay quietly and did not seem to be in pain; thus I had no idea she was so near death. I prayed earnestly as I held her hand, "Baba, please be with Lynn, please be with Lynn..." An hour later, in the Catholic hospital nearby, a priest was administering the last rites as she quietly passed on.
Numb with grief, I asked Baba for reassurance. The first thought that came was: "Why, it is Thursday, Baba's day." Indeed, two short hours after Lynn's passing, bhajans and prayers of our Santa Barbara center were lifting her spirit.
That night, I could not sleep. I was tormented by the knowledge that Lynn, stunned by her fall, had perhaps been unable to think of Baba at the time of her going. The next morning when I went to her room, Baba had already answered my anguish. There on Lynn's desk were her last words, written just before going to the park. They were a fateful synthesis of the morning and evening prayers.
"O Lord, I rise now from the womb of slumber. Before I plunge again into the daily routine, let me pray most earnestly to Thee, omniscient Self, and seek thy lap, which confers on me restful sleep and blesses me with eternal peace and everlasting bliss."
Our minister was so struck by this event that he opened the memorial service for Lynn with these very words.
The prayer had been written in her favorite purple ink, ready to be inserted into the new Bal Vikas notebook, which her teacher had provided the day before her death. The notebook was to be a replacement for the one David ahd lost on the way to Sunday morning Omkar at the center two weeks previously. Now I know why David had lost the notebook. It was all part of Baba's design. At the time I had marveled at Lynn. She did not get angry at David. She had simply said, "Well, Mommy, since our center leader is moving to a new house, I shall start a new notebook." I told her how happy I was that she did not get angry with David. "You see how Baba is answering your prayers," I said. She had often asked Baba for help in dealing with, as I told her, very natural feelings of sibling rivalry with her younger brother. But Lynn, ever the perfectionist, had been upset by her occasional negative feelings toward him, and she had often prayed to Baba for help. That's why I now know that the way Lynn died was also part of Baba's design: she had fallen in the act of hurrying to David's rescue; her last act was a selfless one.
It became clear that Lynn's death was no "accident" but, like her life, another part of Baba's tapestry. In the days to follow, other parts of the pattern would fall into place, revealing to me as I had never experienced it before, that Baba's loving network was indeed the basis of all existence.
The following day, a dear friend who is a long-standing devotee of Baba, brought us an inspiring message. After bhajans, having learned of Lynn's death, she had gone into deep meditation in an effort to "find" Lynn. She reported experiencing great light, a lifting as on angels' wings, and overwhelming joy. Any shreds of my doubts were swept away, and we wept together.
And then, a crowing touch: late Saturday we learned that Mr Vimu Mukunda, distinguished musician from Bangalore, India, and former atomic scientist, who was now a kind of spiritual troubadour for Baba, had just "happened" to be visiting friends near Santa Barbara when news came of Lynn's passing. He wished to play the veena at Lynn's memorial service.
The morning of Lynn's service, Palm Sunday (one week before Easter), dawned fair and sunny after a brief shower of rain which seemed like a touch of grace. Well do I remember the tangible aura of peace in Lynn's room that day. Later, after the service, friends would remark on it with a sense of awe.
The service was a beautiful one consisting of prayers, readings from the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, and Lynn's own poems. And the high point was Mr Mukunda's veena solo which he concluded by leading us all in singing Lynn's favorite bhajan, "Jai Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati..."
How grateful I was to Baba for Mr Mukunda's presence. It was as if the Lord had blessed the event to be one of celebration rather than lament.
After the service, friends who did not know of Baba came up to us with grief in their faces. How could I tell them - and yet our friends in the Baba family understood - that our daughter had been blessed in her short life to come to Baba in her heart, to love this avatar, who had now raised her pure spirit to him. The tears in my eyes that day were tears of joy and reverence. Only much later would our emotions catch up with us, and acknowledge the finality of Lynn's going.
Shortly after this, a friend and adopted grandmother added another image to Baba's tapestry. Three weeks before Lynn's passing, during a special function at our center, we had seen inspiring films of India; and on the way home that night Lynn had asked her, "When do you think I shall go to see Baba? I want to so much."
That very night, our friend told me, she had had a dream in which Baba came to her saying, "In 21 days she will come to me." At that time, our friend was in very poor health and she thought Baba meant that she was to die in three weeks. Then, after Lynn's death, she realized that Baba must have been referring to Lynn in the dream, because it was 21 days after that Lynn fell from the tree.
As our head of center remarked, everyone in our Sai family was deeply affected by the love Lynn left behind; a love she had quietly and undemonstratively shared as a participant in our worship. Her going made each of us re-evaluate ourselves and understand how vital each individual is to the life of a center.
And finally, as a legacy of Lynn's passing, her father, who had been an atheist, became a spiritual seeker. The poetry of paradox was again released. We usually consider death a tragic event; yet in this instance, as a dear friend would say, Lynn's life and death were a beautiful solo in Baba's symphony. Indeed, Baba sent my husband a vivid dream which pointed out to him that our child had given him the key to a priceless treasure, awareness of divinity within. Some months later, he would share with me, "Lynn has given me a gift - I am now a believer."
I will close with our daughter's own words which she wrote on a family camping trip:
The golden sun climbs up from behind
A round, green hill.
All the sky is blue, cold and open.
Sai Baba stands on a single rock,
Smiling with the glory of dawn.
And this poem, expressing her yearning, which our minister shared at her memorial service:
To Baba, who sits on a golden throne;
Surrounded by snowflakes and frothy sea foam.
Come into my heart
Remove with your touch the tears of my heart
And replace them with a blissful song...
Why Fear When I Am Here?
Shortly after Lynn's story
appeared in the Sanathana
Sarathi, I found myself
in a period of depression.
Perhaps the sharing of our
daughter's story stirred up
some residue of grief, or
perhaps it was simply one of
those dry spells that occur
from time to time in the
devotee's life. Whatever the
reason, I found myself
praying to Baba for a
special sign of his love. I
did not specify what it
should be; I simply asked
him for reassurance.
One week later, my prayer was answered in a most dramatic way. Coming to bhajans that Sunday evening, I was surprised to see Mr Vimu Mukunda, distinguished devotee of Baba and talented musician, who had actually played his veena at Lynn's memorial service three years earlier. We had not seen him in all this time, for he had been traveling around the world. After our bhajans, the center president asked Mr Mukunda to share Baba's words about Lynn.
As she was introducing him, I could scarcely believe what was happening. Had Baba heard my plea? I listened as Mr Mukunda revealed that he had just happened to be in Baba's presence when Mr Kasturi, according to his custom, was asking Baba's permission to publish the stories slated to appear in the March, 1979, issue. Among them was the story of Lynn which I had submitted to him. Mr Kasturi then asked Baba about Lynn, and Mr Mukunda heard Baba say: "She was a beautiful child who brought joy to all who knew her. Why hold her back? She has finished her karma. She is with me."
Tears of joy filled my eyes as I listened to Mr Mukunda speak. Although at the time of Lynn's passing many miraculous signs reassured us that she had indeed "graduated" from this university of the world, here was the proof of her liberation from Baba's own lips, coming to me as if in direct answer to my prayer for a special sign.
As I look back, I now realize that this dramatic incident prepared the way for my first journey to India to see Swami's physical form, a journey which would materialize a year later; and the process of transformation hastened by our daughter's death would continue.
During the first visit in Brindavan, Baba would take me through the ABC's of spirituality, starting with his first commandment, the basis for all spiritual evolution: "God is one"; or, in Swami's words: "Unity is Divinity."
Now at this point in my life, I certainly loved God and my fellow man; I had worked hard to implement Baba's teachings, and I was quite sincere when I told him mentally just prior to the trip: I desire nothing from you Baba; I do not need miraculous manifestations of vibhuti and the like. I wish only to experience your divine love and to share it.
Our longed-for interview with Baba would take place. Baba manifested vibhuti for a sick child, her mother weeping tears of gratitude. He asked most people in the group, "What do you want?" But when it was my turn, he asked gently, "And how are you?"
"I'm happy, Baba. Very happy," I replied.
"Happy, very happy," he said sweetly. And I felt a wave of bliss flooding my entire being.
That was all; then he went on around the group, and when it was my friend's turn, he asked, "And what do you want?"
She replied, "Baba, I want to know if you are the Godhead."
Baba answered, "Who is God? What is God? You must experience."
My friend asked, "Will you help me?"
"Yes, yes, I will help," he replied, and then he made the familiar circular motion and manifested vibhuti for her, which he proceeded to share with some in the group. He skipped over me, however; later I realized that he had honored my intent: hadn't I told him that I desired no physical manifestations?
Baba then went into a discourse with my friend about her "monkey mind" and reminded her that she must "choose" spirituality. Finally, he said, "Do you want Sai Baba?" and when she said, "Yes", he manifested a ring for her. The ring was large and showed Swami with his right hand raised in the familiar mudra of reassurance to his devotees.
At this point, my own monkey mind took over, and I felt a sense of dismay. I very quickly forgot my noble intentions and thought: I wish he would manifest a japamala for me! No sooner had this thought crossed my mind when Baba actually materialized one and dangled it enticingly in front of us, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum! Would he give it to me? With a twinkle in his eye, Baba tossed it to a devotee from Italy, a stocky lady already sporting a huge ring which Baba had given her on a previous visit. I couldn't believe it. From there on, it was all down hill. By the time the interview was over, my mind was making the mad monkey look like a sage by comparison.
The next day, I found myself looking into that Pandora's box which Baba had opened. What I saw didn't please me one bit: jealousy, unworthiness, self pity, and so it went. Where were all those "divine" feelings I had been so sure I would experience? The day following this encounter with my supposedly non-existent ego, I finally came to my senses.
"Baba, what am I doing? I came here to ask of you only one thing: Please take all this petty egoism, and let me be a channel for your divine love."
And this time, I really meant it; it was not just a pious wish. As I waited in the darshan line that morning, tears filled my eyes, and I held up my japamala. Baba seemed to know what was in my heart for he walked over to me directly and put his hand firmly on my japamala, blessing it and filling my heart with joy. Gone was the anguish and doubt of the day before. I was transformed.
It was as if he were saying: "Now that you are willing to surrender the self-image which was so precious, I can give you what I wanted to give you all along: the experience of your own divinity." That day, for the first time in my life, I know I actually experienced divine love; I felt as though I were floating six inches above the ground.
The days of our first visit were flying rapidly by. On the 19th of January (we had arrived on the 4th), Baba was due to leave for Madras and then for Bombay. We were slated to leave for the States on the 21st; but there was no way to know Baba's timetable. We decided to see the travel agent to confirm our seats on the 7:30pm flight, which wasn't due to arrive until 9:00pm on the 21st. That would give us ample time to make the midnight Air India connection in Bombay. The travel agent hesitated: "I think you had better get the noon flight to insure plenty of time to make the connection." My friend and I looked at each other. It occurred to us simultaneously: this was a sign that we might be seeing Baba in Bombay after all.
Meanwhile, the theme of oneness continued to assert itself during our visit. One the morning of the 19th before Baba was due to leave for Madras, unknown to one another, each of us had been inspired with the idea of presenting Baba flowers during morning darshan. This would be our last contact with him and a way of expressing our love and gratitude; however, as it would turn out, neither of us did buy any from the flower sellers that morning. No sooner had we walked into the darshan area when a friend, whom we had met at the ashram, approached us holding not one, but two garlands. She said that Baba had appeared in her morning meditation and told her that our love was a magnet; he wanted each of us to have flowers! And, of course, as events unfolded, Baba did stop to bless each of our garlands that morning as we held them up for a last goodbye.
The next night, our last in Bangalore before departure, we were invited to the home of Kekie Mistry, Photographer. We felt it was another farewell gift from Baba as Kekie treated us to slides of the recent birthday celebration and World Conference at Prashanti Nilayam. This was especially meaningful for us because Baba had remained at Brindavan during our entire visit, and so we had not had the opportunity to make the trip to Puttaparthi.
During the evening, my friend was inspired to purchase one of Kekie's photographs. This particular photo, Kekie told us, was one of Baba's favorites - Swami had told him, "This is the face of God." And so I followed suit. Suppose we did have the chance to see Baba in Bombay, and suppose he were to autograph them for us? And extravagant wish, given the unpredictability of Baba's travel itinerary; but by then we were both learning that miracles are the order of the day in a devotee's life. It's simply a matter of staying awake.
In the Dharmakshetra, unlike Brindavan where there were a few hundred devotees at most, there were thousands waiting for a glimpse of Baba. Our hearts sank; how could we even hope for contact with him? We sought out a volunteer and explained that this would be our last opportunity for Baba's darshan as we would be departing that evening for the States. Kindly enough, she seated us somewhere towards the center of the vast throng and disappeared. But a few moments later, for no apparent reason, she reappeared and directed us to follow her. This time, she took us to the front of the crowd and seated us, like VIP's, in the first row behind the bhajan leaders. Further, she seated me right on the aisle, so that if Baba came near, I would have an opportunity to hold up the photograph.
Well, you guessed it. Baba did come to me and sign my photograph, "Love, Baba" as my friend and I had prayed he would. We had agreed that if Baba should sign my photograph, I would then hold up hers, but when I did so, Baba shook his head and murmured gently, "Only one."
For just a few moments it was my friend's turn to feel left out; and then the true meaning of Baba's actions dawned on us both. As we discussed it later on our trip home, we realized that Baba's words, "Only one," had been the theme of our entire trip; the precious lesson he had given us. And he had provided opportunities for each of us to confront our self-created obstacles to that awareness - for instance, my experience in the interview. Having provoked these happenings, he had then given us dramatic glimpses of our oneness; for example, that morning when our Seattle friend gave us the garlands; the insight we shared in the travel agent's office; and the realization that had it not been for her impulse to buy the photo of Baba at the slide party, and had she not provided the pen which Baba used to sign it, I would not now have this treasured sign of his love on my altar.
What does oneness mean? Baba gives us a practical test. When we feel pain at another's pain, and more difficult, joy at another's joy, then we can know that we are experiencing the divine unity he speaks of.
As if to underscore the significance Baba attaches to this teaching, an event happened several years after my trip to prove to both my husband and myself that we finally "internalized" this principle.
I was gathering notes and remembering the highlights of that first trip to Baba, preparing for a talk on "Unity is Divinity" at a neighboring Sai center, when out of the blue, my brother-in-law came to visit. He had driven all the way from Los Angeles to share startling news. After years of setbacks in business (which had involved considerable financial sacrifice on my husband's part in order to help his brother), Peter announced that his ship had come in. A major chemical company was about to produce and distribute his invention, and so bright were the prospects, it now seemed that he would be a millionaire in two years' time.
Our spontaneous reaction to this sudden news was one of pure joy. For both my husband and myself, there was not even a hint of the "if-only-it-had-happened-to-us" syndrome, simply genuine happiness that Peter and his family would be enjoying the kind of life-style they had long hoped for.
And then I experienced a flashback - I was recalling my very different reaction during our interview five years ago, at my friend's grace in receiving a ring from Baba. At that time, I had felt contraction and dismay, but now, on hearing Peter's news, I was experiencing a sense of expansion and joy at his good fortune; and this in spite of the strained relationship which had grown up between our two families. I knew now that the timing of Peter's visit was Baba's. He had given us the opportunity to realize that we were progressing on the path.
After Peter left, I felt joy at having passed Baba's surprise "quiz", and perhaps it was the catalyst for what happened next. I had resumed preparing notes for the talk on unity, and was recalling my experience in the interview with Baba when the revelation occurred.
In the interview room Baba had asked me, "And how are you?" I had replied, "I am happy Baba, very happy." Then he had said, "Happy, very happy." At that instant, a wave of bliss had surged up within me, and now I realized the bliss I had felt was also his: He and I were one. Implicit in that moment of ecstasy was the knowing, the experience of divine union. And I had been foolish enough to regret not being given a japamala.
This incident was for me a graphic example of how Baba's time-frame differs from our own. Lovingly, he had saved for me the "fruits" of my lesson on unity until, in the fullness of my own time, I was able to demonstrate that I had grasped the principle.
It is typical of Baba in his role as teacher of his devotees to validate learning in this new way. As he has assured us, there are no shortcuts on the spiritual path. Only be manifesting in our lives and in our awareness the love and unity he teaches, can each of us claim the divinity within. As the Course in Miracles states: "To give and to receive are one. To know love, teach love." Or in the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, "It is in giving that we receive."
In my case, he had first prepared me for the experience of unity by putting me in touch with my feelings of separateness and the resulting doubts and fears which, until his merciful intervention, had been blocking my awareness of my true nature - for how many lifetimes?
For most of us in Baba's orbit, synchronous events and happenings - "chance" meetings and the like - gradually prepare us for the experience of unity which he speaks of. I like to call these events "cosmic coincidence"; and over and over again in the charmed life of the devotee, Baba uses these little miracles to remind us that we are one with our fellow beings and one with him.
They will often occur in a moment of crisis when we are thinking of him. At such times, he lifts the veil of maya - or what we in the West might simply refer to as the world being too much with us; when pressing concerns can blind us to the larger reality.
Recently, my older son experienced an emotional breakdown. He had moved to a neighboring county. I was not acquainted with any psychologists or support services, and I was at a loss and floundering. I asked Baba for guidance; and the very first thought that occurred was to call a devotee in this nearby community whose son had experienced similar difficulties; and so I placed the call.
She could not recommend a specific psychiatrist but suggested that I call a psychologist who had worked with her son in the past. As matters developed, this young man responded to my call in such a way that I knew Baba was guiding me step by step. He told me he was about to have lunch with his best friend who just happened to be a psychiatrist and the head of the county's Continuing Care Services. This man, he assured me, was a highly spiritual person and one he would recommend for my son.
To make a long story short, a week later we walked into this psychiatrist's office for my son's first visit. And what should we see on his bookshelf but a copy of the Course in Miracles. I found myself thinking, "Thank you, Baba; obviously, this man is a seeker."
But the crowning touch was yet to come. As the psychiatrist began talking with my son, I noticed four copies of a book right on his desk in front of him. I took a closer look. It was none other than the beautiful Supremacy of God by Ilon - a series of vedantic essays which constitute a hymn of praise to Sai Baba as avatar of the age. This particular book, as it happens, was the one my younger son had given to his Bal Vikas teacher as a Christmas gift!
Not only had we been guided to a doctor who could identify with my son's devotion to Baba, but also he was a total vegetarian and, in fact, he had just finished reading Dr Samuel Sandweiss's book Spirit and the Mind.
Needless to say, it was one of those "Why fear when I am here?" episodes so dear to the heart of the devotee; the synchronicity which is our proof ongoing, of the eternal bond linking each of us with him.
As I look back over my life, it becomes increasingly clear that only those experiences which have inspired love and awareness of unity have any meaning. The downers, difficulties, losses and trials I now perceive as unique opportunities which Baba seized upon to awaken me.
So, indeed, what is good? What is bad? Most often what the world considers "good" has the effect of prolonging the delusion; while the "bad" removes it. As devotees, we are supremely blessed in knowing that by turning to Baba, we can experience the truth of this cosmic paradox, and we are thus empowered to weave whole cloth out of the warp and woof, the seeming ups and downs of our lives.
More and more, life in this world appears to be a gigantic "koan", unsolvable by the mind; solvable, in fact, only by love. Has he not assured us: "It is the heart that reaches the goal. Follow the heart! A pure heart seeks beyond the intellect. It gets inspired."
This is the transformation Baba brings about in each of us. He is our divine psychotherapist, slowly, gently and surely removing the blocks to love's awareness.
"I am always with you, even if you don't believe in me, even when you try to forget me, even when you laugh at me or hate me, even when I seem to be on the opposite side of the earth. I am in you. You are in me. Don't forget that. We cannot be separated."
- Sathya Sai Baba.