My quest for truth was awakened by the tragic demise of my nephew in 1955 on the occasion of my initiation
(sacred thread) ceremony. Now I see, in retrospect, that it was indeed an initiation. The initial heartbreak had left and, in its wake, several fundamental questions arose in me: “Is there a Supreme Spirit? What is the nature? How can we contact it? What is life? What is death? Is there a soul? Why hasn’t man found a way out of death? What is Time?” and such others. The search went on unanswered till 1960. One evening in that year, when I was taking a stroll, something mysterious occurred somewhere deep in me and all the questions vanished in a trice and peace
prevailed. These questions seemed out of place, of no value any longer. A book on Zen which came to my hand quite unasked for, contained a description of inner illumination or satori which came nearest to my experience. It was a pleasant surprise and a promise. The quest took on a richer hue.
In 1963, my elder brother Sri E. Vedavyas invited me to join him on his visit to Shirdi. Though I had little faith in saints at that time, I consented just to give him my company. On the 8th of February we reached Shirdi at sunset and we went straight to the samadhi mandir to attend the arti. The deep faith that shone on the faces of the congregation for the saint who left off his physical frame nearly half a century ago, was surprise to me. Soon after, the devotees dispersed and the shrine was mostly empty. My brother showed me the tomb at close quarters and told me that Shri Baba’s mortal remains were kept in it. That being my first close look of a tomb, I was shocked. My first reaction was to imagine in what a putrefied condition the body must have been. The marble structure of the tomb and the
profuse incense that was burnt there made me suppose that it was intended to keep out any stench that might possibly leak out. The thought was revolting and nauseating. I at once took leave of my brother and slept in the room, unable even to relish food, in the wake of the shock.
Next morning, a keen apetite woke me up and I made straight for the Madras hotel. As I passed before the samadhi mandir, I found that the morning arti was over and the place was almost vacant. The sight of the marble statue over the samadhi attracted my attention and I wanted to have a close look at the form that continues to charm so many devotees. I stepped in and stood at a little distance from the statue and looked at it. It is quite life-like and I felt that the saint must have looked precisely like that. The sculptor must have been divinely inspired in capturing that mysterious
smile and the inward look. The look captured my gaze. “What does his face, especially his look and smile, indicate of his attitude? Was he elated that so many visited him to pay their homage, adore and worship him? Or was he overwhelmed with compassion for them? Or, in that mood, was he oblivious of his separate existence, his gaze fixed on the divine mystery, the one omnipresent spirit? Or was it a look of recognition of that ancient spirit, of his contacts with those teeming crowds that had contacted him through their countless previous lives? And, was that smile of reunion pregnant with his joy of their future possibility of reaching the spiritual summit? Or was he just oblivious of all this, lost in his ceaseless contemplation of the one spirit, in his at-one-ment? And is the mysterious Monolisa-smile a manifestation of that peace which passeth understanding? Or is there a possibility that at a higher level of consciousness all these attitudes could coexist without the one interrupting the other?”
This last thought flashed with a particular intensity and my spirit leapt forth to comprehend how, in that state, he was viewing all this existence: “Is the universe of myriad forms an image projected in his consciousness? And am I, then, too, a thought in his Mind and are all these my thoughts parts of it?” The intuition took off and wafted my being into far-off states. I knew of nothing else. My being was still, taut with a particular illumination and my thoughts were both existent and non-existent. I am aware how absurd these words must look to anyone. But what else can they be when I verbalize what cannot be conveyed?
Quite some time lapsed in that timeless moment and I was knocked back into normal awareness by what then felt to me like a rude knocking on my shoulders. It was then that I realized that I was seated and that my eyes were shut, that my cheeks were wet with half-dried tears. The shrine was quite noisy and crowded. I saw my brother patting me gently and asking, “You are still seated here! Had your bath and breakfast? It’s almost lunch time. It’s better to finish our lunch.” His words were quite audible but I found it hard to catch the sense, as though I was abruptly awakened from deep sleep. It was quite disturbing even to endeavour to understand the words and still more to respond, the spirit being totally unwilling to be called out from the heart of peace. It was much easier to just obey what he said. It was nearly four hours since I stepped into the shrine which was getting crowded as the time for noon arti was nearing and the devotees were queing up for finishing abhishek! We walked down to the dining hall but to me it was as though the walk were just a vivid reverie. My mind was all set on sinking back into the state of peace and bliss from which it was roused and with which the connection was not yet completely snapped. It was quite a task to pay particular attention to things and persons.
This mood was persistent and had never quite left me during the brief stay of two days at Shirdi. Perhaps my
brother had found out that something unusual was happening to me. “You may go over here again later if you want to, but now we have to go back!” he said. And we were back.
The significant thing, as I see it now in retrospect, is that the spiritual connection with that deeper level of being, continued for months after our return from Shirdi. My mind, when it now and then relapsed into normal awareness, quite instinctively identified that deeper level of Being with Baba. Mostly I was in a continuous state of ineffable peace and quiet and the normal activities of the day were powerless to interrupt it. Days passed as a continuous moment of timelessness; it was as though all things around, including my body, were all parts of a whole which is conscious and aware. Whenever the world around had plucked me into the every day reality, my spirit, once again, at the earliest possible, was summoned back to its pristine state by the vivid appearance of the marble image at Shirdi before my mind’s eye. And then objects and creatures all around would seem to be crystallizations of a pervasive consciousness.
This experience was accompanied by a remarkable change in my physical constitution. My lean frame got filled in with flesh to robustness and I was brimming with energy which was not lowered by late hours of reading at night or by missing my meal now and then. There was a strong urge to walk and walk, almost endlessly, through most of the day and I was not tired. My mind was engrossed in the blissful peace and was not stirred by the traffic on the road. My mind, too, seemed to have grown unusually penetrating. For, the most vexatious of meta-physical questions got cleared in a wink and there seemed practically nothing which it could not comprehend. Often knowledge concerning my friends who were far off, or of the thoughts that passed through my associates’ minds broke in and then I was no less surprised at it than they. Strangely enough, the pervasive peace was shared by all those around me. It was definite that my life turned a corner. The steady current of this experience has ever continued, sometimes quite vivid and sometimes a little less so.
After three or four months followed my second visit to Shirdi. This time no such spectacular experience occurred but I keenly felt that I was visiting a saint who has been my guiding Spirit through lives, that he was somehow connected with my initiation into the quest for knowledge eight years earlier. There was only an intense personal attachment to the Master, and the sense of not having the good fortune of seeing Him in flesh and blood in this life. “What could have happened then? Now that I cannot hope for this, could I at least see any living saint? What would be his impact on me?” This was the object of my prayer at Baba’s samadhi mandir.
The response was prompt and striking, as has always been characteristic of him. During the years that followed, I could come into close contact with numerous saints and bask in their blessings: Mother Anasuyadevi of Jillellamudi, Sri Ranganna Babu (a great Ramabhaktha of Guntur), the late Avadhuta Swami of Chirala, the guru of the Chinthapalli forests of Sileru area, Sri Swami Purnananda of Srisailam, his guru Sri Rakhadi Baba who stayed at Ganeshpuri, Sri Satya Sai Baba, the two Balayogis of Mummidivaram, the Senior Sankaracharyaji of Kanchi, Sri Ma Anandamayi, Sri Akhandananda Saraswati of Muthra, the recluse saints of Kalahasthi and Cuddapah, the recluse woman saint of Chivatam, Sri Samartha Narayana Maharaj of Harihar, and the Saint of Poondi. Besides, I had darshan of some famous devotees of Sri Sai Baba. I saw others like Mother Revati Amma of Madras, and Sri Gulab Maharaj of Nagpur. It is not possible to detail here my experiences with these saints, but one significant feature in all these was I could win their gracious attention only after specifically praying to Sri Baba for the same. Baba was thus once more proving three things simultaneously; he is still alive in spirit and would gladly bless us with the best at our hearty praying; that he is still one with the being of the saints of today even as he was when he lived in flesh and blood; that he can be a competent guru or Master (Samarth Sadguru) to his ardent devotee even today. For a time, a few friends told me that I was on a “saint-gathering” spree and not stabilized on any one. I was not effected by this criticism. Now in retrospect, I am happy to find that, fortunately, my faith in Baba, if anything, grew deeper and has been constant all through. Baba’s invisible hand was leading me to act according to the scriptural injunction;
"Just as the bee which is fond of honey moves from flower to flower, the disciple who is fond of wisdom goes from Master (Guru) to Master".
| - Sree Gurugita.
I shall mention a few instances of Baba’s grace during these years.
In 1968 I resigned my job and lived at the ashram of a mother for an year. After that, on a specific indication from Baba I left the ashram and settled in my present job here, at Vidyanagar. At first I was very much disappointed with the life here which had stifled my spiritual longings. There was none who shared my aspirations, none to join me in satsang. Life looked dreary and barren even like the rocky soil here. I yearningly prayed to Baba either to take me to a place where I could have satsang or to secure it here for me. Within a few months there was Baba’s response in the most seemingly casual manner. A Christian boy, a student, started criticizing me for adoring a human being like Sai Baba. A discussion ensued which went on for days and drew large numbers of students to participate in it. Out of these a small group took shape and decided to have weekly satsang (devotional or spiritual gathering) on Thursdays for bhajan. The bhajan, by the grace of Baba, has been going on for the last nine years without interruption even for one week. The situation was so moulded that I happened to rent the house myself, Baba’s grace has been manifesting in the most miraculous ways to the participants in the bhajan.
One Thursday, after bhajan, Baba inspired me to declare to the participants: “if all of us pray with all our hearts, great saints would come here and bless us instead of our going to them. We are sure to come into contact with great saints.” Baba has been keeping up his word as illustrated below.
In 1971, I started for Mummidivaram (in East Godavari Dt. A.P.) to have darshan of Sri Balayogi on the holy Sivaratri day. On the way I stopped at Guntur to see Sri Ranganna Babu, a great devotee of Sri Rama, and invite him to visit Vidyanagar. “I shall seek the permission of my guru Sri Rama and, if he permits me, I shall go to Vidyanagar. It is not in my hands to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Many eminent people come from Hyderabad, Madras and other place to take me there but generally Sri Rama does not permit me to go”, he replied. I said, “I shall see you again on my way back from Mummidivaram. You please ask Sri Rama. If he is pleased with the devotion of the students at Vidyanagar, he would agree”, and took leave of him. All that I could do was to pray to Baba. He demonstrated while he was in flesh that he was all the saints and gods. So he should inspire Sri Ranganna Babu through Sri Rama to visit my place.
Again the response was striking. On the third day, I saw Sri Ranganna Babu on my return journey. He was the first to greet me gleefully, “Sir, Sri Rama has permitted me to go with you! ‘Ranganna’, he said, the students at Vidyanagar, are doing bhajan with devotion. Go, see them’. And he gave me grapes to be distributed to the devotees!” So saying he at once started with me. He had spent two days at Vidyanagar, stepped on a plot of land and said, “Here would spring up an ashram and a mandir! Great yogis will visit this place and great religious ceremonies like yagnas will be performed here.
Another instance: On the evening of 26th July, 1975, we were doing satsang at my house. I was reading out to the gathering the chapter entitled, “Sri Sai is in All Saints” from my present book on Baba. Just then we had finished reading the leela (miracle) of Baba’s transfiguration as Sri Guru Gholapswami to one Mule Sastry. A small van stopped before my house and some one there announced, “The Swami has come!” When I came out I saw the saint Sri Samarth Narayana Maharaj of Harihar. He entered our satsang hall, sat on my mat (darbhasana) and blessed us with his presence for full two hours. He too said, “Here will spring up a fine mandir and great souls will come and stay here”. Sri Narayana Maharaj is the twelfth incumbent of the seat at Harihar and he belongs to the tradition of Sri Samarth Ramadas, the guru of Shivaji.
The same saint afforded us another proof that the strength of devotion of our group was mainly responsible for the arrival of great saints to these parts. From 11-12-1975 to 23-12-1975 he performed a yagna at Vakadu (four miles from here). Our group visited him there everyday. On the 20th, a member of our group was meditating in his presence. The swami then told him, “As you people here are doing dhyana and performing satsang and bhajan with devotion, I happened to come here from afar to perform this yagna.” The next day when his disciples were dispersing the crowds, he said to them, “The disciples of Bharadwaja would be coming here. Let them sit here and meditate”. Henceforth none from our group was ever asked by his disciples to clear off from that place.
Now a few instances to show how Sri Sai Baba had established his claim over me as his own. Sometime before I came to Vidyanagar (i.e., when I was at the ashram of a Mother) I happened to go to Naimisaranya to take darshan of Sri Ma Anandamayi who was conducting a Bhagawata Saptaha there. The Swamiji who was giving the exposition, in the course of his talk one day said that only a living sage can lead us to Enlightenment or liberation and that one who had shed his body, however great, can at best bless us with material welfare only. This raised a question regarding the efficacy of my devotion to Sri Sai though I did not give it up.
Sometime after my arrival at Vidyanagar, an old student of mine in Hyderabad visited me and invited me to his house in Pune on my next visit to Shirdi. I casually agreed. I subsequently visited Shirdi with the idea of staying there for a week. But from the second day of my stay at Shirdi, all my mind was strongly driving me to visit Pune. Finding it useless to confine my body at Shirdi any longer, I at last arrived there. My friend was away at his office and I resolved to go round the city before he returned home. On the way the sight of a flower-shop made me inquire whether there was any great saint in Pune. A gentleman told me that there was Gulavani Maharaj, a disciple of Sri Vasudevananda Saraswathi (alias Sri Tembe Swami). I at once visited him with a simple offering. When he saw me prostrating, he addressed me, “Oh! You are the child of Sai Baba”. Thrilled at this uncanny knowledge, I expressed my doubts about the efficacy of my devotion to Sri Sai, a saint who had shed his physical body more than half a century ago. He said that Sri Sai Baba is not a mere saint but a manifestation of Lord Dattatreya, that he has been guiding seekers spiritually even after his mahasamadhi and even manifesting himself physically before some; that I was, on the right path and that I need no other guide.
Some time later, a saint of about 55 years appeared in my dream. Though his form was quite different, I had the vivid feeling that he was Sai Baba. He embraced me and said thrice, “Why worry that you don’t have a guru? I am here?”
Again, during the holy Navarathri days of 1970, I happened to visit Puttaparthi with another friend, Mr. E.V.Krishna Rao. As, at that time, I was in a hospital laid up with typhoid, the friend took me all the way from Chirala in a taxi at great expense to himself. On our arrival there we were told that Sri Satyasai Baba does not grant interviews during those nine days. I was anxious for my friend who incurred heavy expense for the trip. I prayed to Sri Sai Baba of Shirdi. That very day Sri Satyasai Baba granted us an interview along with two Nepalese and two foreigners! He told me, “Sri Sai Baba’s grace is ever with you. You need fear nothing”.
I cannot refrain from mentioning another experience. On the holy day of Sivarathri in 1975, I had finished my worship. At about 8.30 a.m., I had a strong urge to take darshan of one great saint, Sri Venkaiah Avadhuta at a village named Golagamudi. I called one of my students, Ramakrishna whose father was a devotee of this saint and asked him to join me. Ramakrishna said that the saint does not stay in any place for more than three or four days and that we had better enquire whether he was in that village. But I prayed to Sai, “Baba! I want to take darshan of your manifestation, Sri Venkaiah Swami. Please bless me to have his darshan and special blessings”. I burned incense before Baba’s picture and left for that village. On our way another bus which was to take us there crossed; we got into it. In it there were a few sadhus who carried a stringed musical instrument which belonged to the saint. They told us that the holy one came to Nellore some four days earlier and that he decided to stay there for full ten days, but at 8.30 a.m., that day, he suddenly started for Golagamudi. He reached there just half an hour before our arrival. Owing to the sudden change of his plans no other devotees visited him and we two sat in his presence for full six hours. At the end of it he blessed us.
I will conclude this chapter with an instance of how Baba has been actively guiding me in my material life also. Owing to my keen reflection on joy and sorrow in life I came to a decision to remain a celebate all my life and dedicate all my energies to the spiritual quest. Even my father had stopped pressing me to get married. This was before I stayed at the ashram.
At that time I used to visit a recluse saint at a nearby town, Chirala. He was a perfect Avadhuta. One day when I saw him, he gave me an old, dark nylon sari with which some generous soul probably covered him the previous night to protect him from the winter cold. He told me to cover myself with it and to keep it with me. Some friends later remarked that the saint indicated that I should get married but I was not convinced. After a year or so I happened to visit a celebate saint who lived in the thick forests of Chinthapalli range who explicitly told me that I should get married in view of my karmic ties since a former life and that I had better clear them off. After he attained niryana (shedding his physical frame) I had a doubt. The saint was known to my father and my eldest brother. Could he have counselled me to oblige my father? But there was no way of ascertaining the truth. In 1973, I visited Shirdi to pray for explicit guidance in the matter. I stayed there for a week, spending all my time in circumambulating the samadhi (tomb), devout study of Baba’s life and prayer. On the seventh day, which happened to be the holy Vijayadasami (dassera festival) the anniversary of Baba’s mahasamadhi was being celebrated I finished my chosen routine by midnight and I waited near Baba’s samadhi for half an hour but I did not receive any message from Baba.
Tired with the day’s routine I relaxed in the nearby park. Within five minutes a bespectacled gentlemen approached me and said, “One great man is staying with me in my room. He is one Puran Dalayi from Bombay. He wants you to see him. I am Roy from Calcutta”. I was at first surprised by the unsolicited greeting. I even suspected that probably
some smuggler must have mistaken me, from my midnight walk for one of his own tribe and thus was seeking to establish contact with me. However, I wished to see what it was and I at once went to his room which was nearby. An elderly man of about 55 or 60 was standing before a room in which there was no light. At my approach he entered the room, switched on the light and turned round. I was amazed to find before me a man who seemed an exact replica of the forest-dwelling Swami (of Chinthapalli) who was no more! Only when this gentleman addressed me in Hindi did I realize that this was a different man. He said, “Sai Baba appears before me in my dhyana. Today I paid my respects to the samadhi and sat here in our room for mediation. Baba appeared before me and said, ‘One of my devotees is doing pradakshina (circumambulation) to my samadhi for a message from me’. Convey this, my message, to him at once!” Saying thus he gave me a message. I told Baba that it was not possible for me to identify the said devotee in that crowd, and so I said I would go and sit in the nearby park and I would deliver the message to whosoever comes there within five minutes of my sitting there. Should no one come, it is not
my business. ‘So you should impel the said devotee to go over there within that time’. So saying, I sat in the park. You came within that time and so I had sent for you and came here. Here we can have privacy. Now, young man, what is your problem for which you want a message from Baba?” “I am sorry to say so but I do not want to share my problem with any one except Baba. If you tell me the message which he wished you to convey to me, I shall see whether it is connected with my problem and, If so, I shall accept it”. The old man smiled and said, “You wished to know what Baba has to say regarding the question of your marriage. Baba wants me to tell you that you should get
married and that thereby your karmic ties would be worked out.” “Yes, that was the issue I had in mind”, I confessed. “After your marriage both of you should come to Shirdi and serve Baba for at least a week. That’s baba’s pleasure,” he added. Accordingly, my marriage took place on the 6th of March, 1975 and on the 14th of April, my wife and I visited Shirdi and stayed in his service for two weeks.