I dedicate this post with all humility to my Guru, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba who taught me an important lesson - there are no shortcuts on the spiritual path. You have to work harder and more sincerely on your path than anyone else or be banished altogether.
The month of November is most sacred for devotees of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba because it is the month of the Avatar's birthday. The 'akhand bhajans' - spanning two whole days - are conducted world wide two weeks before His birthday which is on November 23rd. In every nook and corner of the world, the 'akhand bhajans' are held. It is sheer spiritual bliss, if I may say so. And for as long as I can remember, even as a child, I used to stay awake and pray during the 'akhand bhajans.' By the time I was in my teen years, the 'akhand bhajans' used to be conducted in my parents' home. Therefore, it goes without explaining how special the occasion is for me and my family.
After moving to
Delhi, I usually attend the 'akhand bhajans' without fail
at the International Sai Center,
in . This
happens without fail. Delhi
This November 2013, it didn't. From October itself, I had seriously begun slipping in my sadhana routine. The discipline and the commitment had dived into a real deficit. While I have many excuses for it, the truth is that one who is committed to the Lord cannot ever offer any excuse for slipping in sadhana. That is the truth.
So, after a serious sadhana deficit, I went to the
Sai Center in
in the first week of November. It was a half-hearted attempt to show that I am back on track. Whom was I fooling? Me or Swami? Maybe both. Due to many traffic related issues, I reached
just 10 mins before the bhajans were to end. And then the funniest thing
I could not enter the Bhajan Hall. The doors were closed to me. Shock, anger and outrage is what I felt at that time.
In my entire life, I have always taken pride in being able to reach Swami anytime I wanted. In fact, one of Swami's promises to me just after He left His mortal body is this "I am pleased with your sadhana. Therefore, I grant you this boon: Whenever you want to see me or speak to me, I shall appear before you in this Form and give you darshan."
Yes, I took that for granted and perhaps I became arrogant that I have access to Swami anytime I wanted. Thus, I forgot the most important point he said 'I am pleased with your Sadhana' which means - it is not the devotee who is important or makes a difference to God. It is the quality of devotion - it is the depth, intensity and purity of Sadhana. And I had slipped up big time.
The confirmation of Swami's displeasure came when I was stopped from entering the Sai Bhajan hall. A first in my whole life. Then, I knew, with certainty, that Swami is angry and displeased with me. I understood instantly why. But I will not elaborate on it here.
Standing outside the closed door, with tears flowing out of my eyes, with my hands in 'namaste' greeting, I cried "Swami, I am sorry. I have been arrogant and egoistic. But I can't stand it if you banish me. I can't bear it if you ignore me. Please let me in this time. I promise to improve and work hard on Sadhana and I will never ever take your presence in my life for granted."
I was in such a state, seriously.
And then just like that out of the blue, the male Seva Dals who never ever enter the section where women pray, came and opened the door for me in person. They let me in into the Bhajan Hall.
The Bhajans had ended. The aarti was going on.
I was grateful. As I was about to proceed to sit with the others, one of the senior lady Seva Dals stopped me from going to join the devotees and beckoned me to sit next to her.
By rule, Seva Dals cannot directly pray to or spend moments in worshipping Swami while the bhajans are going on. Their role is to serve the devotees and look after their welfare. It is believed that to be Swami's Seva Dal is to the greatest honor conferred by Swami on a person because a Seva Dal is one who serves the Lord's loved ones and thereby binds the Lord to himself/herself forever. He who serves the loved ones of the Lord is seen as greater than a devotee of the Lord.
I thought to myself. Swami wants me to work to serve His devotees. And at this moment, with the sadhana deficit, He doesn't feel that I deserve to sit with His devotees whose sadhana is more sincere.
My Guru hadn't banished me completely. He is giving me a chance. And yet the long route ahead to reclaim His approval seemed to be way too long and hard for me then.
I just wanted to give up efforts because I felt that my Guru is punishing me for a small thing. And in a petty way, I wanted to rebel and show him that I have a mind of my own and a will of my own. My ego took over my head.
Instead of attending the akhand bhajans that I never miss, I decided to go for a weekend 'adventure' trip. I was like "Why should I sit for akhand bhajans for two whole days when my Guru has banished me like this? I won't bother."
The weekend 'adventure' trip was fun but at every instance, I saw that I had let my ego rule over my Bhakti and that by doing so, I was defeating myself, not my Guru. Towards the end of the adventure trip, the bus nearly overturned. None of us were hurt but we were stranded in the middle of nowhere for quite sometime. In those moments where reaching back safely was beyond control, I contemplated all my actions and I prayed steadfastly to Swami:
" I know that I have been letting my ego rule my Bhakti. I have become arrogant. Please forgive me. Please help me reach home safely."
I reached home safely and thanked Swami for it. But Swami had completely withdrawn and stopped responding to me. I know the signs very well. He had, in effect, banished me.
My Guru banished me for an entire week. I couldn't bear it that I wasn't able to get through or have access to Him though I knew very well that I am to blame or rather my ego was to blame.
On 16th November at about 4 pm, I stood before His photograph in my home and cried. From the outpouring, I said a lot of things about the harsh and somewhat unfair tests and sufferings that He has put me through for no fault of mine. I said "You have made me suffer more than I deserve. You have let X,Y and Z happen to me in my life but I never complained or lost my faith. But don't banish me like this because despite all the flaws that I have, my love and dedication to you is sincere and true. Do not punish me by throwing my Bhakti back on to me like this as if it means nothing of value to you. I want your grace, your presence and I have some questions for you and I want you to tell me exactly how to redeem my sadhana to regain your love and trust." I also asked some specific questions that were very personal. To be honest, I expected no reply because whatever I had said was in anger and I didn't expect Swami to reply to my anger.
At 9 pm, I received a message from Brother Arvind B from Prashanti Nilayam. This is the first time Brother Arvind has ever sent me a message . His message and its timing was simple yet profound - an indication of Swami playing the Divine Director of the Play that He is directing. Brother Arvind sent URLs of his written works on Swami and suggested that I read it as I am writing a book on Swami and the information may be helpful.
Here's the icing on the cake: Right from the first blogpost onward, every question I had asked Swami to resolve for me on November 16th afternoon - there were clear answers to it in Swami's own words.
Tears flowed down as I read Brother Aravind's posts. Every post answered my angry, bitter sweet queries in Swami's own words. It also explained difficult situations undergone by other devotees like me and how they have progressed on the spiritual path and in their steadfast devotion to Swami through the testing times. I understood then that I am not alone or being punished or being judged. I am being given an opportunity to change for the better and to fuel my own spiritual growth through these transitions.
Swami's love, compassion and grace are always openly streaming in to those who open their hearts to him and even to those who, like me, rebel way too often because the ego steps in and takes charge.
Never before have I felt so utterly humbled by my Guru's love and compassion towards me.
I want to complete this blogpost with Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's divine words:
"Karma which pleases the Lord is superior to the Karma which fulfills the yearning of the devotee. Whatever the devotee does or thinks or plans or observes, they should be draw down the grace of God. The devotee must test every thought, feeling and action on the Lord's declared preferences."
When the Guru banishes you, simply welcome it and learn from it. He is your most loved one, the one whom you would trust with your life and more. If He has chosen to banish you, it is because He has understood that His words have not been shown the respect it deserves, that you have not been as sincere as you claim to be and perhaps it is your only true chance to reflect on how to win back that trust, friendship and grace again. Because a Guru banishes you to save you from yourself and the pitfalls you create in your life out of ignorance, ego or sheer materialism.
Thank you SWAMI for banishing me. I am going to work doubly harder to return to your circle of grace.