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Chapter 1/ parts 4 - 7

4  Karma

   As beings we have lived in so many lives, and there are yet countless lives to come. It is like a huge warehouse which is filled with the consequences of our actions in previous lives; and all this karma is still waiting to fructify in future lives. We have only taken out one little push-cart-full from this huge warehouse, and that little cart-load is our present life. The warehouse remains full to the brim with future lives. Where they will be lived, in what circumstances, we do not know.
But now, we are oblivious to all that. We care only about this present life. We think that this life is so very important. But, in how many lives past have we had families, have we had possessions, name and fame, worldly achievements and ambitions? Where are they all now? How many more lives are necessary before we wake up to the futility of all ? Swami says, "How often do you need to read the same newspaper over and over again? Today's newspaper is tomorrow's waste paper."

   What is really important is not this life but that huge warehouse of future lives to come. We must find a way to burn down that warehouse. We must fry those seeds so that they can never sprout. We must make an all-out effort to live this life as if it is our last life. The avatar has come to show us the way home. He said that when Rama finished his career and walked into the river, the citizens of Ayodha followed him. When this avatar finishes his career tens of thousands will be swept out with him. Have we booked our reservations for that final journey home?

   All depends on our attitude. As we think so it will be. Swami says, "Dust if you think, dust you will be. God if you think, God you will be. Think God! Be God!" We create the world with our own thoughts. If we think that we are separate individuals and limit the unbounded divinity which we truly are, by shutting it into a cage of narrow-minded selfishness, then our reality protests against this limitation with pain and suffering. In this life itself we must remove the cage of limitation which has manifested itself as this false ego and personality.

  When Swami addresses us in his discourses he doesn't start his talks with 'ladies and gentlemen' or 'citizens of Germany' or 'middle-class housewives'. When he addresses us, he calls us 'embodiments of the immortal self', 'embodiments of pure, selfless love', 'embodiments of eternal bliss'. He knows better than we know who we really are. He says we are the divinity itself. If he says so then it must be so. We may not feel that we are pure, selfless, divine love, that we are unmitigated joy, that we are the unbounded self. Instead we may feel that we are small and limited and filled with bad qualities and misery. That may be our perception, but it is a false view of our essential nature. It is something artificial that has come onto our true nature and hidden it from our view. So, we must set aside these false views and go wholly on faith. We must trust in Swami. If he says our nature is joy and love, that we are divine, then so we are.

   Now, the question is: Are we ready to make such a leap of faith? Are we ready to believe in him rather than in our false self-concepts? Are we ready to first jump in and then find out how to swim? Such one hundred percent faith is what he asks of us. If we follow him and let him drive our chariot then no matter what happens to this outer 'us', we will be heading on the godward path home. For this, faith is all important.






5  The Exodus from Egypt

   Today is the Pentecost, forty days after Easter, when, according to the Christian Bible, the Holy Spirit descended. In the Hebrew Bible this would be the time when the people were wandering in the desert, undergoing great difficulties, as the Lord gave them one trial after another to test their faith and their spiritual strength, until finally they were ready to receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Let us recall that story.

   For 430 years they were slaves in Egypt. And then it was time for them to be freed. God sent Moses to bring them out of Egypt. But God said, "To reveal my glory, I will harden Pharaoh's heart and he will not let the people go." And so Egypt had to suffer all those plagues until finally the Pharaoh let the people go. They left so quickly that they didn't have time to take any food with them except for a few loaves of unleavened dough, and so for their provisions they were totally dependent on the bounty of the Lord.

   They followed the angel of the Lord in the form of a column of smoke, who took them out into the desert and then to the banks of the Red Sea. Here they stopped, unable to go further. It was at this point that God again induced the Pharaoh to harden his heart. The Pharoah marshalled his whole army of chariot warriors and decided to pursue the Israelites into the desert and destroy them. One morning the people looked up towards the horizon and saw a huge army arrayed in full battle dress descending upon them from the west, like death itself. Trapped, the children of Israel were caught between the devil and the deep sea. They set up a howl and lamented to Moses, "Did you bring us out of Egypt so that we would die here?" Moses answered,"Why do you have so little faith? When the Lord has brought you this far, do you thing he will abandon you now?"

   I think you know the rest of the story, of how the sea split to let them through and then closed in again and drowned the army that was pursuing them. And so they were saved. But then they had to wander in the desert without water or food, except what was provided by the Lord in the daily manna which came in with the morning dew, and the water which miraculously came out of rocks cleft by Moses with his sacred stick. For forty years they wandered, and they learned to become totally dependent for their survival and their spiritual food as well, on the bounty of the Lord. It required a total letting go to his grace... one hundred percent trust.
It is really a Swami story... an archetypal surrender to divine providence... a complete faith in God, without any shares. It is what he wants of us.






6  Lost In the Storm

   My airplane experience is of the same vein. I was flying a small plane and suddenly found myself fighting for my life when I got caught in a very powerful winter storm. It was a foolish trip to begin with. I had no good reason for being there. My passenger was slumped in the corner, either unconscious or dead, I didn't know. During all those hours I was busy beyond the point of exhaustion just trying to keep the airplane flying and to stay alive in that awful turbulence. I called on the radio, "Mayday! Mayday! Please help. If anyone can hear me please help me!" But there was no answer.

   We were over an uninhabited wilderness area in the mountains of Northern Nevada. There were no radio stations anywhere near. Finally the fual gauge was bouncing on empty, the airplane itself was coming apart, and I had no energy left to fight. I just let go of the controls, knowing full well that in no time at all in such a maelstrom, the airplane might be flipped onto its back. For the first time in thirty-five years I turned to God for help.

   When I was a little boy I thought very often of God, but then, when we came to America, science became my god, and I forgot all about God. But now, after all those years, I cried out to God, "O Lord! Please come and help me! I don't want to die!" But then I let go of even that hope and added, "Let thy will be done." It was a complete resignation to the divine will. Suddenly, this wonderful voice came over the radio, "Aircraft in distress, can you hear me?" And from that point on this angel of mercy guided me around the worst cells of the storm and brought me safely into an airport 50 miles away on the other side of the mountains.

   The airport was open for only about 10 or 15 minutes. And during these few minutes a snow plough had cleared off the runway just in time for this little airplane to come flying out of the clouds and land. After four hours of battling the elments, I was exhausted. Now, I thought, at last the danger was over. But then, almost immediately after we touched down the storm hit again in a swirl of snow. Suddenly I had my hands full again trying to keep us from crashing. A torrent of wind had picked up one wing and was about to flip us on our back. I quickly managed to get the power back on and turn the airplane into the wind so that it could ride out the storm. Just as it had gotten around... plop... plop... plop... the engine quit as the last drop of fuel was used up. But now we were safe. At that moment, the passenger woke up and said, "What happened?" I knew everything would be OK.

   The control tower man told me, "I don't know how you got here, but you can thank God you're alive." "A ground controller guided me here," I replied. "He had a radar and saw me in trouble and vectored me here." And the tower-man said,"Are you kidding? That's a Indian reservation out there... a wilderness area. For two hundred miles there is nothing. No ground stations, no controllers, no radars." That ended the conversation. The adventure was over... but a new one had been launched... undoubtedly, the greatest adventure of all... the adventure of waking up to the presence of God in your life.






7  The Play of Life and Death

   In some such way, through the experiences he sends, we slowly begin to learn how he functions within us. It seems whenever there is a crisis he waits until the last moment to step in. He takes us to the precipice and even down into the depths. And then, at the last moment, he raises us up to the sky. And soon it's down the roller-coaster again. But then, just when we think we know a little bit about him and how he works, he dashes all our knowing and we are plunged back into confusion and wondering what's going on.

   Like this he plays with us, and slowly but surely, all our expectations and hopes, all our concepts, all our knowings, all our self-importance, and with them, the ego that claims ownership of all these wisps of the mind, dissolve into nothingness, and just a sweet unpredictability and loving presence remains.

   I've been close to death a number of times, but I must not have been ready to end in joy, for I am still standing here. The last time was just a few months ago. Swami had told me, "This is a very serious illness. You must go into the hospital and think only of Swami." And then he sent me back to America to get medical treatment. A Sai brother from America, Don Heath, whom I had known for many years and who happened to be visiting Prashanti Nilayam at that time, got very sick and also ended up in the hospital. Lying there side-to-side we decided that if we had to die, how nice it would be if we could die in this holy place.

   I've been the funeral director at Prashanti Nilayam seven or eight times when Westerners died there. It was my job to look after the last rites. I would arrange for twenty rupees of firewood and organize a procession of devotees to take the body down to the sand-banks of the Chitravarthi River. We would have a little service and then light the fire, and in a few minutes the body rejoined the five elements.
   So, I said to Don, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could save twenty rupees between us, if we both go at the same time?" He said, "Let us see what the Lord wishes." A few days later he was dead, whereas this body, as you see, is still standing here, talking.

   A few months after returning to America, I visited my old institute in California where I had previously taught. Everyone there was so very loving to me. They asked me to come back and stay for a while and get healed there. And so I returned and lived there for a couple of months. One day, when I was coming into the lodge, I saw a man sitting there whom I had last seen in Prashanti Nilayam, a doctor from Australia. He was talking to someone, and I went over to him and said, "Graham, what are you doing here?"

   He looked up at me and his face turned ashen. Overwhelmed with astonishment, he said, "Wow, is that really you Al? Are you alive?"
"Well, I don't think I'm a ghost," I replied.
   Without saying another word he ran up to his car to get his camera and immediately came back to take a picture of me. For a moment I was wondering if he had lost his mind, but then he explained, "Just last month I attended your memorial service in Sydney. So many people came and there was beautiful singing. The mother of the Australian boy you looked after at Prashanti Nilyam gave a heart-warming talk and several others spoke in memory of you. We made a video to circulate to the other centers. I will send you a copy."

   So it looks like they got me mixed up with Don. Now, I'll have to disappoint all those nice people. You see it was all just a play of Swami's. I think no one enjoys the Lord's plays as much as he does. We should be happy knowing that with all these little dramas and play-lives that we take so seriously, we are giving some enjoyment to the Lord .









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