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With Wounded Wings
When the life-giving Sathya Sai Ganga wends its way into a prison, dead bones become alive. Dry plants put forth leaves. Sunshine sweeps away sadness. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgotten, to whom the Lord will not impute any sin. It was grim and gaunt, this prison in Andhra Pradesh, but, not far from God's Grace. Baba sent a Message to the prisoners, when they asked for it. Let us go through the grateful acknowledgement from prisoner No: 1...1: "We are sinners, certainly; but, our lives have become full of hope, through some stray acts of merit which we chanced to do, in some past birth: for, we have rendered ourselves fit to receive Your Grace! Really, if there are any who can be declared fortunate in the world, we are the ones. We are truly proud of this. That the stream of Your Mercy has started flowing towards these mean men who have injured society and who are suffering punishment, is no ordinary event. We prayed that You should grant us Your Darsan and Your Blessings. You have written to us, out of the vastness of Your Mercy, that You will elevate us with Darsan, Sparsan and Sambhashana, at Puttaparthi! The Sage Narada blessed Savithri, on whose head the blow of widowhood had descended, with the statement, 'May you have Being-with-husband status long', and, she was able to win her husband back from the dominion of Death. We too have learnt from Kalpagiri, whose death sentence was cancelled, that Your Word will come true. It knows no defeat."
The reference to Kalpagiri in this letter reminds us of a page from actual life, which deserves to be inscribed in letters of gold. He committed a foul murder and escaped the sleuth-eyed police of his area. He slithered silently towards the Himalayas and right at the gateway to those sempiternal regions of the soul, he donned the ochre robes of a monk and wandered from one Dharmasala to another, trying to smother the squeaks of conscience by chanting the Name of God. Four years he spent thus, trying to flee from himself into the sylvan glory and silence spread before him. He met many a saint and sage, Sadhaka and monk, but he was harried by a doubt in most cases whether they too were not sheer ignorance or wickedness or pride packed in pious robes. He read many sacred books, discussed the role of Bhakthi, Jnana and Karma in releasing man from bondage and became proficient in the dialectic of non-duality. He decided within himself that he could safely venture into the old familiar regions and so, he extended his pilgrimage to Simhachalam, Thirupathi, Kanchi and Rameswaram, at the extreme south of India. Thence he turned to Madurai and Srirangam, Chamundi Hills, Melkote and... reaching Bangalore, heard of Puttaparthi, where he was told, a new Shirdi had emerged within the last two decades. He boarded the Guntakal train, alighted at Penukonda, and a bus brought him to Prasanthi Nilayam.
Baba called the Sanyasi in. He is the All-knowing One. Nothing can be hidden from Him, by time or space or the artifice of Man. He chided him for running away from the consequences of his deed, a ruse which he could never accomplish successfully. While at Shirdi in the Sai Baba body Baba had told Shama once, "Debt, enmity and murder have to be atoned for; there is no escape." So, Baba said, "Why postpone for another birth the suffering which you must undergo in return for the dire dead?" He told him that the ochre robes ill became a debtor who has not paid his dues. He went up to His apartments and brought down white clothes for him to wear in place of the ochre ones which He directed him to take off. He commanded him to go to the police in his area and give himself up. He gave him the fare and also the precious Vibhuthi Prasadam, four packets of it; He assured him, "Go, confess and undergo cheerfully whatever punishment they ultimately give you. You will not be hanged; I promise that. Your neck shall wear a Japamala, a rosary, which I shall myself put round it, when you come to Me after the sentence is over."
Kalpagiri emerged from the room, like a serpent that had thrown off its coil and renewed itself. There was a glint in his eye, a vigour in his voice, a lightness in his gait that were not there that morning. Baba must be the Lord Himself, he thought. He decided to obey His command and save himself, rather than discarding it and get caught in the net of retribution and rebirth.
Travelling in the crowded train that night, he saw a fellow writhing in pain, with his hand pressed on the abdomen; he could not but part with one of the four Vibhuthi packets he had with him; he was happy to find that the pain stopped and the man slept soundly. He knew that his estimate of Baba was correct. So, he confessed to the police and the death-sentence the Judge pronounced was compounded by the President of India into a sentence of life imprisonment. During the weeks when the petition for Presidential Mercy was being considered, Kalpagiri in his cell was telling his neighbours Chengappa and others that he had met the Incarnation of the Lord at Puttaparthi and that He had assured him that mercy will be shown and that, he would get from Baba Himself a rosary when he finished his term and went to Him, freed from the recoil of the stab that he had inflicted on a fellow being. The word came true: the petition bore fruit.
Naturally, others in the prison were eager to know from him the name and address, the glory and splendour, the wisdom and mercy of Baba. And they wrote to Baba, in their own unsophisticated style, for His blessings, His pictures and books about Him.
The letter from prisoner No. 1... is evidence of the exhilaration felt by the prisoners of that Jail when the parcel arrived, with a Message of Consolation and Courage from Baba. Other letters from Baba followed, and the Prison became a Paradise for the Pious. "We are listening to the reading of 'Sathyam Sivam Sundaram' chapter by chapter: we are overpowered by the grandeur of the incidents mentioned." "The pictures in the book captured my heart." "I have fixed a picture before me; without interfering with my other assignments, I worship it daily." "I am a very sick person, ailing from many diseases. I am decorating your picture in the Bhajan room, as far as I can. I will not get the work done by any of the others." "From my boyhood days, I used to take a delight in religious carols and worship; now, that tendency has again reappeared in me and I am filling all my spare time by Sankirtan and Samaradhana." "As directed, I am reciting Your Name and listening to Your story and sharing in Bhajan." - these are lines from the letters the prisoners wrote. Baba continued sending replies to these correspondents.
Prisoner No. 4... writes. "Each letter that comes to us from Prasanthi Nilayam is a blessing; truly, it is as if Baba Himself is before us, conversing with us." V... writes, "I am an aged man. My sons and my son-in-law are also in this prison. Since we got the chance of sharing in the nectar that you so kindly sent us, the feeling that we are undergoing a sentence is fast disappearing. With this food that we have now secured, our hearts have become full and free. They do not incline towards any other desire. What more do we need? For reading during spare hours, we have your divine story: we have the Puja of your picture. But, yet, O Lord, the heart pines for more, pardon the poor thing." R... writes, "I am eager that along with my mind, all my senses outer and inner must serve God. So, whether I sit or walk, whether I see or hear, I am trying to dedicate every moment to the Lord. Why should these hands be idle? I am writing Ramanama, with intent to complete ten million names. Every day I worship the holy representations of God with incense, lights and prayers. This is my daily routine. Recently Your sacred Name has been planted in this Jail; it sent the first sprouts up very soon; now, it has grown magnificently, heavy with flowers and fruits; under the shade of that tree, I too am enjoying cool comfort. My joy defeats all attempts at description. The letter You sent us the other day made me and all others wonder at our good fortune. It brought back to memory the Viswavirat Veerabrahmendraswami of 4 centuries ago."
The clean mirror reflected clear. Repentance calmed the passions. In the hearts of many a prisoner, there had sprouted the creeper of devotion to the Almighty, the tendrils of which had now got Baba to fasten upon. S. N... spoke to his comrades of Baba, whom he had seen and heard at Hyderabad. "From that day, I have been worshipping Your Form that is installed in my heart," he writes. He became soon a fertile centre of information and inspiration. After Baba visited Repalle, near Guntur, for the installation of the marble idol of Shirdi Sai Baba, a person who had witnessed the ceremony happened to stay for some months as an under-trial prisoner in the same Jail; he described the scene, the enthusiasm of the Lakhs of people who had gathered, the creation by Baba in full view of the multitude, by a mere wave of the hand, of a golden image of Shirdi Sai Baba. He told them a sheaf of the other heart-warming stories about the glory of Baba. The prisoners felt that Baba Himself had arranged this visit by the Repalle ryot, so that His band of Bhakthas might know more about Him.
Baba told Hemadpant one day at Shirdi, "Look at that mango tree in blossom. If all the flowers you see brought fruit, what a splendid crop it would be! But, do they? No. Most fall off faded; or, they fall off when the fruit is tender or unripe. This is what is happening to those who come to this place." His Grace alone must save us from falling and so, we have to pray to Him for His Grace and win it by our virtue and steady Sadhana. However Sathya Sai Baba has a more heartening role for us. He says, "When the Sun rises and shines, not all the lotus buds in the lakes and ponds bloom; only those that are ready, do. The rest have to bide their time. But all are destined to bloom, all have to fulfil that destiny. There is no need to despair."
When we reflect on the implications of these words, we can understand why some of the prisoners slowly relapsed into indifference and were satisfied with erratic correspondence with Baba. But among those who clung to the Divine Feet from the moment Kalpagiri made the Divinity known inside the walls, Chengappa deserves special mention, since his story reminds us of a mountain torrent reaching the plains and the sea, after many a steep fall. His letters reveal an intense yearning for spiritual realisation. "A slight difference of opinion arose between myself and my wife and, so, I decided that she should no longer live on earth. I resolved to end my life too, along with hers. Placing some poison on my tongue, I stabbed her while she slept and swallowed the fatal dose. The woman died; but, death declined to accept me. I could only sense the fire on my tongue; nothing more happened inside me. I felt I must die soon. So, I ripped open my bowels, with the knife still dripping with her blood, and fell on the floor. I regained consciousness in the hospital, to which the Police had transported me. They stitched the ghastly wound and made me whole. Later, while I was confined at the Rajahmundry Jail, they had to open the stomach again and after some years, once again, in order to repair the damage done in previous operations. The wonder was, I survived all these calamities. I surmised that God was guarding my life for, perhaps, He had planned a good future for me, when I could do some work for Him and for those whom He chooses. Therefore, I offered my body, heart and soul to God. I have since felt supremely happy, for, I live every moment in the knowledge that I have the Grace of God. The Godly are my kith and kin; sages are my dearest companions. I have lost all interest in my erstwhile kinsmen. I have secured You, Baba, Lord, come on earth. What more do I need? I have placed Your picture, the one You sent, before the seat which I use for Dhyana. When I open my eyes, I see you; when I close my eyes, I recite Your Name. This is my Nithyapuja; I practice the Sadhana of being with You, in You, forever. God for me, I for God... this is the thirst. This gives me limitless joy." He is happy that the doctors have prescribed for him uncooked greens, and pulses soaked in water for that is the Sathwic food which helps the Sadhaka to have his meditation unhampered by Rajastic thoughts.
When Baba wrote a letter to him, encouraging him in his resolve, Chengappa writes: "I placed the letter on my eyes; I pressed it on my heart. I was as happy, as Sitha must have been when Anjaneya placed in her hands, the signet ring of Rama. It was Thursday, the Silence Day, when I could not communicate to my comrades my joy. I had read in the Sanathana Sarathi that you had recommended silence during Thursday. I read the precious words myself. Ah, How fortunate I am!"
Others too in the Jail were subjected to this Divine Alchemy, as their letters indicate. A seventy-year old prisoner writes, "Like Ramdas, I am engaged in Ramadhyan in this prison ever since I entered it. Once in ten years, I am permitted to go home and see my people, my mother, brothers and other relatives. My mother bore me and bred me and underwent great sacrifices to make me a man; but, I have given her only sorrow in return. I have rendered myself incapable of serving her in her old age. My heart is filled with a yearning that bids me to come to You and be Your servant until I die." No. 8...7 writes: "As a consequence of a crime, three of us, brothers, are undergoing sentence here. We are trying our best to fix our wandering minds on Your Lotus Feet. When will these unfortunate fellows get the lucky chance of having Darsan of the Lord of Parthi?"
Prisoner No. 8...8 writes, "Ever since we heard about Your Divine Name and read the Divine Story, we have been keeping Your Name in mind every moment. That sweet lozenge has become our companion. The epistle that you sent to the prisoners here has been received with reverence. Many of us have learnt it by heart and can reproduce the contents. It passed from hand to hand and the message was imbibed with alacrity by group after group, who read it and enjoyed it. In the eager rush to read it sooner than others, the paper got crumpled and torn in places. But, we have pasted the pieces together and kept it framed for all to read in the Puja Room." The prisoners write to Baba for books and Bhajan song collections, for Notebooks in which they could write Ramnam continuously until it totals Lakhs, and sometimes they refer to their mothers or children who, they fear, might be in distress.
In such cases, Baba has sent money through the post to the addresses mentioned and when the addresses are found to be correct and the persons known to be alive and available. He has despatched clothes and other gifts by post, with letters of consolation and encouragement.
I shall close this narrative of alchemy with one more letter; the writer had the good luck to fall into the company of these Sai-inspired Sadhakas and he writes, "My native state is Nepal. You might know that Nepal is a very God-fearing country, since You have been to the Himalayas. I am now undergoing imprisonment as the result of past actions and the consequence of sin. But, I do not reckon this to be evil; I am convinced that this is for my own good. You have written in one of your letters to one of my comrades, 'Even Kamalanabha is subject to Kashta' (Even the Lotus-Navelled Lord of Creation is described as having suffered misery). So, what of poor me? Since some months, the recitation of Your Divine Name and the Reading of Your Story are happening in this prison. In the stream of devotion, my mind too has got dissolved. The letter you sent a few days ago had a more profound effect on me than on many others; it read as if it was written to me and about my problems. Who can tell when exactly Your Grace will be showered on one? You have taken residence in my heart, I call you my Hrudaya Sai".
Baba has been accepted as the Guardian and Refuge by some prisoners in the Hazaribagh and Gaya Jails too, mainly due to the influence of some Telugu-speaking citizens who had to serve sentences there. Those of us who dismiss a criminal from the mind as soon as the prison doors are closed, with him safely inside, will be surprised that Baba is there, inside the bars, assuaging the bleeding heart, the penitent mind, the vigilant conscience, the innocent sufferer, the child aware that it has erred and determined not to err again. Most crimes are perpetrated in passion, in the temporary blindness of hatred, in the momentary insanity of anger, in the egoistic bravado of greed, in the malice that ignorance breeds.
The law too is very often an ass, as they say: it was framed with little consideration for the iron that enters the soul when injustice hits one in the face, for the warp that the emotions get when they live through dirt and disease, drink and dice, and the deleterious atmosphere of homes broken by divorce and disorder. Baba asks us to correct the corroding influence of the cinema on the mind and He has often spoken of the responsibility of literary men and artists like musicians and dramatists to produce clean entertainment and wholesome inspiration for the rising generation. The respect now shown to cleverness rather than virtue, the absence of any teaching of scripture and Sastra to the children in schools, the evil example set by elders who indulge without a shred of shame in antisocial activities like cheating in business, adulteration of foodstuffs, vendetta in politics, all these have been mentioned by Baba as conducive to crime.
Like the mother who pours extra love on the wayward child, Baba is kind to repentant criminals and the sunshine He spreads over these is a sign of His Universal Love. He has always insisted on the criminal confessing his crime and bearing the consequences gladly, resolving not to repeat the offence. As a matter of fact, He advises against asking pardon. Be bold, face the result, suffer and learn fortitude. Repentance is enough compensation for the sin; so use the period of the sentence, for repentance and inner purification. That is his advice.
I remember a person who came from Uttar Pradesh, to escape from the legal proceedings which he had to face for alleged misappropriation of funds belonging to the Co-operative Society where he was employed. Baba advised him to return and accept his guilt; but promised that He would mitigate the punishment, provided he repented sincerely. The man could not muster sufficient courage to go back to his place; but Baba insisted that he should, and he left with Baba's blessings on the mission of self improvement.
Rendering base metal into gold - that is the rehabilitation work which Baba likes most. Wherever He is, whatever He talks about, the purpose is essentially this. For example, let us see Him at Brindavan, Whitefield, where He spends a few weeks every year.
Hilda Charlton of the United States writes thus about her experience of this alchemy: "A quietness fills the air, a peace, Santhi indescribable, which is not lessened but only made more cognisable by Baba's voice, as He sings a song or speaks the wisdom of the ages to those whose Grace it is to receive. As I arose at 4 a.m., and walked down the long garden to the spreading tree at the end of the path, there was a cool silence which brought a flood of joy in its wake. The bright moon illumined the garden. Silhouetted against the sky were the stately fir trees, the heavy fig trees, the line of Asokas, the brilliant red of the gold Mohurs and the white gardenia bushes. The statue of Krishna in the centre of the pond made me yearn for the music of the flute which I felt might emerge any moment from its lips. Arms automatically rose in adoration of God's Glory that beckoned me from every side."
"In His talks yesterday, Baba had said that the best time for meditation was the Brahmamuhurtham (from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m.). To meditate under these trees in the open is a spiritual treat, for, we are perhaps carried back in memory to the days when in past ages we were meditating on the banks of the Ganga, in the Himalayan valleys. Baba has told us that it is good to form a habit of meditating at the same place, at the same time, and for the same length of time each day, at least until one progresses enough. Baba has also said, "The inner meditation is only one factor, the aim must be to derive Ananda with every breath, by filling every moment with the sweetness of His Name. Pranayama of this type must become part of your very being. Then only do you start the process of truly living." Today is the First day of January, 1965. I remember Baba's admonition not to attach too much significance to any particular day. Everyday is Guru-vaar, not Thursday alone, He has said. Every second is a new start and has to be celebrated as an opportunity. The New Year, beginning on a particular day, is just a convention, a creation of man's limiting mind, separating God's Infinity into tiny sections. But I find many coming into the bungalow with garlands of fragrant flowers. The altar is made a magnificent heap of white pink orange and magenta flowers.
"Baba started the day taking sweets from the air and distributing them to all saying; "These sweets will bring joy into our lives". He made a small picture with just a wave of His Hand and gave it to Mr. B. Then, turning to Mrs. B., he asked rather playfully, "Jealous?" he took the picture back and placed it in His right Hand, clapping hands quick. Instantly, there were six copies of the same, one for each of us, sitting before Him.
"During the conversation that ensued, He picked up a piece of paper from the floor and rolling it into a ball, gave it to Mr. B. He found on his palm not a ball of paper but a flavoured sweet block, which, it seems, was his favourite. In the same manner, he prepared another paper ball for the wife, which too became on contact with her hand, another item of edible sweet!"
"These little surprises, as He called them, culminated in the miracle of Om. A devotee had come from Madras, bringing with her a jewel in the shape of Om, which she had got made; she now held it before Baba for being blessed by His Divine Touch. Baba looked at it and laughing, joked about the Om being more like a monkey's curved tail. Evidently, He did not like the artist's handiwork. He asked the devotee if He could correct the Om or whether she preferred a new jewel, with His own portrait incorporated in it. She chose the new jewel, naturally. Keeping the Om jewel in His closed fist, He blew on it and when He opened His palm, we found to our astonishment that the Om had disappeared and in its place, there had come into being an exquisitely designed gold locket, with a large portrait of Baba in colour encircled by diamonds and with a pendent of lovely pearls. "This is a reward for twenty three years of unremitting prayer." Baba said, while placing the jewel in her hand.
"The miracles of Baba are done with purpose to inspire, to encourage and strengthen faith. The greater miracle of Baba, is, of course, the supreme miracle of the change in our nature, in our character, which is far more inspiring and uplifting than the creation of jewels. Sai Baba at Shirdi said, "I give what you want, so that one day you will want what I give." And so, one feels, it is with Baba; every move, every word, every act (and every act of the Lord cannot but be a miracle) has a deep meaning, which we can seldom unravel."
"I saw a miracle of change in character, that was highly inspiring. Baba declares that He does not effect the change from outside in, but He releases the innate perfection, lying unknown and dormant in us. A lady from Britain came to Baba with no background of spiritual yearning, and no previous study of Eastern religion or philosophy. She was on a tour of South India and her intention was only to stay for three days, before she resumed the tour. But on meeting Baba and glimpsing His Glory, she cancelled all further engagements and stayed on for full four months!"
"These were months of complete dedication and renunciation of old habits, likes as well as dislikes. She had never meditated in her life before coming to Prasanthi Nilayam and was not conversant with Yoga or Hindu systems of thought. Yet, we were struck when she drafted a programme for the twenty-four hours of each day and when she stuck tenaciously to it. At 4 a.m., she was up, meditating, whether she had slept well or not, during the night. Her day was filled with reading, writing, meditating, Japam, and acts of service, like sweeping the compound of Brindavan or Prasanthi Nilayam. This she persevered in doing sincerely, though on account of the changed climate and food, she was plagued during this period of intense Sadhana with abscesses and infections, which were irritating and very often painful. She had to keep awake during most nights as a result of these, but, she held fast to her determination."
"Her steadfastness and perseverance as well as her love for God were rewarded by Baba; slowly, her meditation sessions became calm and rewarding. A new radiance was shining in her eyes. There was a strange charm in her face, which was not there before. Her quiet unobtrusive unselfish acts made her, as Baba advises all to become, a hollow ego-less individual, a flute with which God can sing the melody of perfection."
"She left after four months equipped with a completely new outlook, an awakened consciousness and a sincere desire to continue her Sadhana. Baba has assured that if a person will give the whole being to God, and meditate as directed, one can, within three months, attain results that will be most encouraging. The results depend, of course, on steady faith and Sadhana done continuously."
"Before she went overseas, we had the privilege of witnessing a miracle of Baba. As she was soon to be married in Britain, Baba had promised her a Mangalasutra, a jewel to be worn for the wedding ceremony. One day, while we were sitting before Him in a group, He took a betel vine leaf from the box near Him and started carving on it a decorative design, with the edge of the tiny silver spoon used for spreading lime upon it. From time to time, He would hold it up and show it to us, and we admired the design that was unfolding before our eyes, with each line He drew. We did not realise that He was designing the Mangalasuthram for our friend. Then, suddenly, He held up the leaf on the conclusion of the picture, and blew thrice upon it. The leaf disappeared and in its place was the most beautiful wedding jewel ever seen as designed."
It was of gold and the symbolic significance which Baba explained to the recipient was such that she will always be reminded of her Sadhana. On each side were three rubies; representing the three Gunas which must harmonise in husband and wife. Right at the top were two rubies, side by side, which symbolised the husband and wife. Suspended from the main jewel, there was a pendent of perfect pearls, having in the centre, a lotus, made out in precious stones, to remind them both of Prasanthi Nilayam, with the Lotus Circle right in front of the Hall. It was indeed a delightful reward for days and nights of intense Sadhana; she had not squandered even one moment of those four months.
Baba is unfathomable, unknowable. One cannot comprehend with the human mind, what He is. One can only trust, believe, and obey. As I stood before Him, immersed in wonder, He said, "Everyone sees the world through glasses and their world is that which they see through them: worry glasses, hate glasses, glasses of envy, jealousy, greed. I wear only Love Glasses. I cannot hate even if I want to. Hate and anger are not part of Me; nor is Disease possible for Me, I may hiss to warn and correct: but, I never hate. I am Bliss, and Bliss only. I am Wisdom, Anandam, Santhi. That is My nature."
Baba reconstructs Man by revealing to each the Sai within him. Whether it be a prisoner within the high walls of a jail or within the high walls of ego-built desire, He is the liberator, the watchful Master, who takes you as you are and leads you on to the joyous Vastness of freedom.
Hilda Charlton, who has spent decades in Ceylon among Buddhist Sadhakas and who has practised Tantrik Sadhanas under Hindu Gurus in Delhi, chanced to hear of Shirdi when in Bombay and during her stay at Shirdi, she came to know of the Form that Sai Baba has taken to bless mankind. She came to Prasanthi Nilayam about three years ago. Here she found the fulfilment of her striving, a place where she could do Sadhana with the assurance of success.