The book for which this blog is a rough draft will have more narrative to engage an average reader with an interest in, but no experience of Baba. Yet I have been made aware that my own ego-journey has no place here; thus I shall fast-forward through much of that, only slowing to recount what is relevant to the purpose of this writing: why Swami was on earth in a physical body.
First, however, a word about the virulence and hatred which always seems to emerge whenever I write about Baba – and my former accounts were mild, omitting much I thought too baffling or unbelievable for most of my readers. This account will not do that, and the book perhaps ought to have a warning banner for those passionate believers in a random and purposeless universe whhere our lives have no meaning or value. You have to admire the tenacity of their faith in the futility of whatever they become or accomplish. I have less admiration for their need to demolish all spirituality. I was saddened by my friend, the late Christopher Hitchens’ book attacking religion, partly because he was really gunning for Islam via the two other monotheisms, partly because he ignored eastern experiential doctrines, and partly because too many syllogisms were tautological. We were both trained at Oxford – a Gold’s Gym for the mind – and it has taken me 40 years to get that mental muscle under a semblance of control. I understand and feel sorrow for those unable to deduce that the mind creates what it sees – for it can be arrived at objectively, which is a step on the path to an ineffable subjective experience. I can only forgive those who threaten me to stop perpetuating a lie or U ‘will pay dearly for it…’ I say to them, Find me first. If I am ‘delusional’, ‘mad’, or have been hypnotized for 40 years, thank God, because, as I watched Shock and Awe hit Baghdad in 2003, I thought, This is madness! What we call a civilization amounts to a few exquisite paintings, architectural masterpieces, and some beautiful music, too much of it formulaic and rigidified. That’s it; that’s our great western civilization. That’s what we regard as an achievement so immense the world should suck it up…or die, like the 90 million who have died in 313 wars since 1945. Democracy, justice, education – all shams and deceptions; and we know it. But the generation coming up, in their teens and twenties – they will not be so easy to fool, I suspect. The First Nations, near whose lands I live, have always known it; and, finally shedding the shackles of colonial oppression – even attempted genocide – are determined to protect their Mother Earth from greed and depredation. I learn much from their traditional stories and the wisdom of their elders, for whom the wilderness is both pharmacy and supermarket – and deeply respected for that, for gifts of the Great Spirit. They ought to have converted the Jesuits, not vice versa.
You who dismiss spiritual practice as an atavistic aberration ought to have seen the planet 50 years ago. No yoga, no ashrams, no health food, no meditation, no women’s rights…. We have come a long way, because, as John Lennon put it so succinctly, Love is the answer, and you know that for sure… God is love.
Puttaparthi in the early seventies was a newish small ashram, housing possibly 100 or so, on the edge of a thatched-hut village, by a river that dried up every summer, and far from even a small town. During darshan once, Baba told the few devotees around him: “One day this will be a great city and millions will come to visit Swami.” Almost everyone laughed; the thought was ridiculous. Where I live now is actually smaller than Puttaparthi was, yet if I announced it would become a great city no one would even listen. Yet Puttaparthi is now a city, and there were an estimated two million devotees at the last festival I attended.
He ignored me completely for several months. It was not the guru-chela welcome I had read of and expected. He began to irritate me – though whenever he was close my heart opened and ached for him. I had presumed there would be teaching, yet all we had was the chanting of bhajans. I also expected peace and tranquility, such as I now have, but the ashram was frenetically far from peaceful. I also noticed I was forming close friendships that would suddenly evaporate, always leaving a sense of something learned. An ancient Indian woman, Sudha Mazumdar, adopted me like a son, and I still miss her, miss her instructive advice, and her stories of first meeting Swami – for, in youth, she had been a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba, and was thus very dubious about this man claiming to be a reincarnation; she needed to be convinced, and she was. I will tell you her story later.
One day, sitting waiting for darshan, I noticed a young western man who had just arrived. I watched him walk to find a seat and had the vividly irrational feeling that I hated him. Just his strutting walk infuriated me; his smug class-nerd’s face needed punching; even his hair was annoying. How could one hate a complete stranger? For weeks thereafter I was always thrown into his company one way or another, until I grasped the fact that I had to learn to love him. I soon found qualities I liked, but during the process Swami always paid him special attention in my presence. He was a lawyer, for example, but Baba said, “Not lawyer…lover…” As soon as I began to see his soul was one with mine, our paths rarely crossed again. This process of drawing out personal faults until they were identified was intense, and the ashram was unlike any other place I have been. The energy seemed fiercely tangible, almost visible. It was still a while before I realized that this was in fact the potency of Swami’s teaching: a complete environment where souls were smelted, with the crap rising up to be scraped away. A 100 years of life’s lessons passed in months. I became painfully aware of the karmic flaws in my character that were so deeply embedded they were more like animal instincts: a cat does not choose to chase the rustling leaf or bird. There is no space between sense perception and action. Lust seemed like that to me. Certain western girls there evoked an instant response: I want, I want, I want… They seemed to know it as well, one always pulling her sari up until only her eyes were visible – and eyes don’t lie. I was always able to discern a woman’s sexual interest from her eyes, but in India the secret of concealing in order to reveal is still understood, and ought to be studied by western ladies who think a man is attracted by virtual nudity. After a while in India ankles would light my fire – and the women know this too, wearing jewelry and bells above the heel. It went without saying that Indian women were unattainable, virgins until the wedding bed; thus the westerners were more troublesome, a tempest rocking the frail raft of my inner work. I also found myself becoming friends with men even more lust-afflicted than myself. One, a tailor named Khan, even assured me that sex in the astral planes was even better than down here. “You get a hundred wirgins,” he said, “and no matter how much you do this-thing they are still remaining wirgin. You tire of these, you get one hundred more, all too much beautiful – for the God is too much good, isn’t it?”
As a philosophy it posed more questions than it answered – yet not if lust was your Holy Grail. It was for Khan, and – although it was not my ideal eternity – it was for much of my time down here. My slavish obedience to the King of Lust only became shamefully apparent when I was drinking chai outside the ashram one day. Propped against a wall and sitting in filth and dust was a young beggar girl dressed in rags so dirty no western mechanic would have used them to mop oil spills. No more than eighteen, she was, I now saw, so beautiful – huge almond eyes, full lips, flawless bone-structure, teeth like pearls – that in the west photographers would fight to shoot her Vogue covers. She also had a baby, either a very big baby, or a three-year-old pushing the easy life for as long as he could get away with it. Two things then occurred: she pulled aside her wretched sari, revealing no choli and the kind of full perfect breasts shown by Indian erotic art, but rarely found in reality without a surgeon’s help. The huge grimy infant immediately went hungrily at a nipple as roughly as a man eating mangoes. Then the girl did something I had never seen before nor ever saw again: she hoisted the bloated child, took his penis in her mouth briefly, and then extracted it urinating – urinating into her mouth, and swallowing the contents, of which there had to be half a pint, since the pissing poseur’s stream lasted over a minute. Thoughts collided in my head like a pile-up on the LA Freeway. Men in India pissed wherever they felt the urge, so primitive sanitation was not an explanation. Auto-urine therapy is a feature of Ayurvedic medicine, even practiced by Prime Minister Moraji Desai, as he happily informed the media. ‘Auto’ is the operative word, however: you drink your own piss. The therapy is not without virtue, either, since urine does contain natural antibiotics (going into a war zone, I was told to piss on a bad wound if nothing else was available, wondering how this could be explained to a wounded Arab). A severe infection, though, only responds to the fiery purge of modern synthetic drugs. I also recalled that Mandarins in old China used to wash the face with baby’s urine to prevent signs of age [free business idea for someone in an anti-aging scam, with compliments]. Was the girl simply thirsty? Or was some rustic superstition involved? Halting this pile-up to remind me I was his slave, his creature, his toy, King Lust pulled out all the stops. She’s hoping to make a rupee after sitting there for 12 hours, I thought, leering over at her as I schemed. For 20 rupees she’d follow me to a mountain cave and do anything. But she ought to wash. And what about the infant imposter? Before long, the shag gland now sultan of my mind had her installed in a nearby cabin, with new saris, and a general makeover – perhaps during a trip to Madras (now officially Chennai). Had I known she could probably be bought, a sex chattel, for around 300 dollars, I would almost certainly have added this perquisite to my plans for benign sex slavery, the Thomas Jefferson of Andhra Pradesh. Why stop at one? The Kama Sutra often required a few women, and some complicated equipment. The domain had everything, and rivalled Khan’s astral whorehouse, obviating death as a prerequisite for admittance. Yes, it had everything – except any consideration for that girl’s dignity or free will. I froze in horror, recalling a parable by the Marquis de Sade, where an aristocrat, who enjoys sex whilst torturing and murdering, confesses he is depressed to think that, after death, his victims find peace and joy. He seeks a way to pursue them with agonies through all eternity. Sade’s point, as so often it is, shows lust, like every desire, can never be satisfied, always promising satisfaction through some greater excess, its grip ever firmer, never leaving hold until your death. Desires can only be transcended, never fulfilled. Of all the things I have ever desired and attained, the only one to deliver a permanent fulfillment is the quiet mind, equanimity, and the certainty that divinity is in all existence, for nothing but God exists. Separation is a mental illusion, for we bring imprints from possibly millions of previous lifetimes into this one, and need the maya or illusion to expel whatever prevents us recognizing our divine oneness. I consulted the teachings on transcending lust, because I now saw it as a monstrous obstacle in my path. The usual Indian advice is to regard all women as your sisters. Since I have no sister, I found this hard. Nothing worked until I tried thinking of them as my children. This got me around the ashram safely, at least. The next skeleton in my fault closet was impatience – closely related to an intolerance of stupidity. No doubt the reader can imagine how these twin faults were identified – yes, I found myself assigned to teach five of the stupidest 14-year-olds that ever learned to feed themselves. Concomitantly, someone nominated me as assistant to the assistant postmaster [if there was an actual postmaster I never saw him]. Nothing could ever be found in this office, since there was no filing system. Raju, my boss, had some mental block about any system not involving piling documents etc wherever there was room for them. He refused to accept that work would be 50 times easier if we just created areas for subject matter – an alphabetic approach was problematic when half our papers were in languages that either had 30 more letters than my 26, or else possibly did not operate at all upon a principle of interlinked letters or glyphs. My epiphany came when I jumped up onto our unstable table and, possibly frothing at the mouth, screamed at the assistant postmaster, my boss, Raju, every insulting expletive that came to mind. For a moment it even looked like a torrent of green slime poisoning the room, the village, the world. Instead of violent outrage, or instant firing [which was technically impossible since I wasn’t hired or paid], Raju began weeping, looking up like Oliver Twist, and I suddenly saw vividly the toxicity of these uncontrolled and unhelpful emotional reactions or mind-states. It was like riding a horse for ages without noticing the reins were broken and it charged wherever it liked, oblivious to heel or voice. Worst of all was the revelation that unloving thoughts and deeds permeate the whole universe with their poison.
I do not pretend that I was ‘cured’ or purged of these flaws, but, thanks to Swami, I was ever after mindful of them as potential snares, weak links, portals leading to darkness. Lust and impatience did not vanish, of course, but I strove to make the former part of love, and to ensure the latter was both justifiable and helpful in a situation. Every emotion has a valid use, but to be used oneself by these emotions creates a universal imbalance. Those who have children will know that there are times when you’re obliged to be angry with them – but you must never lose your temper. Never: uncontrolled anger crackles through a home like electric storms, and then adds more anger to a world already mad with fury.
I am writing with the knowledge that humanity is entering a period unlike any other in history. Baba mentioned this to a small group 40 years ago, even giving a date 60-odd years in the future when human consciousness will either transform, or all that is solid will melt into air, by whatever means we have so industriously invented for our own destruction, or by a mighty judgment from Mother Gaia. The planet will not miss us. The greed of a few has ignored the warnings of scientists about climate change since the eighties [see Paul Kennedy, Preparing for the 21st Century], when it was pointed out that the planet is designed to be a closed, self-sustaining system, producing or dispensing with whatever she needs. By releasing millions of tons of gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere we have disrupted this perfect system, stripping our atmospheric shield from ultra-violet and other harmful spectra of light. Skin cancers soar; species become extinct daily – tiny things you have never even heard of, but which perform a vital role in keeping the eco-system balanced – and balance is something the whole universe craves. Bad must be balanced by good, etc etc. Scientific lackeys were even unearthed by corrupt corporate politicians to refute the science, when its data were irrefragable and even visible. When water warms its volume increases. Antarctica, the world’s largest ice mass, has already lost enough melted ice to cover Mexico. In the fifties, Albert Einstein and the philosopher Bertrand Russell – generally considered the two most intelligent men alive when I was a child – personally paid for a full-page ad in the Times where they stated unequivocally that if we did not immediately dismantle and ban all nuclear weapons humankind would destroy the planet and itself within 100 years. President Eisenhower’s farewell speech similarly warned of a dangerous collusion between big industry and the military that would make war too profitable to resist. People listened to three of their most respected men, but they did not hear. Believe Sathya Sai Baba or Einstein Russell, it matters little which, but we have a couple of decades left to unite as one in order to save our home.
It took all of human history for the global population to reach one billion, around 1900. Since then, in a mere 100-odd years, we have added over six billion more. If the planet warms another 1.5 degrees Celsius, rice will not grow, and two billion people in China and India will starve. As sea-levels rise tens of millions will become refugees. The problems are immense, and many climatic effects are imponderables. Is this where evolution has been heading? No, because Darwin’s theory is nonsense, most of it actually disproved. Species adapt, but this does not demonstrate progress. Life in Old Kingdom Egypt or Vedic India was infinitely better than this armed madhouse. Their communities recognized the evils that destroy peace: wealth had to be spread around; each worked according to his ability, with all regarded as equals – much as we don’t view our hands or feet as lesser parts because of the work they perform. Rulers were once wise men, enlightened sages, whose decisions were based upon divine principles. Recorded history is simply the account of a steady decline into ignorance. We now approach the consequences of lives lived for acquisition of things that are worthless, since the King of Death himself has nothing beyond this world, and we shall certainly leave it bereft, unless we face our only certainty and use it to work out why we are really here. Death defines life; and also contains its meaning.
Baba said: “The mind is fed by five senses. Take away those senses and only you are left. No world, no things, no sound, no taste, no thought – yet consciousness is there. The God of Moses says, I am that I am, yes? This is the truth of your soul. It is never born and never dies; it dwells in eternal bliss, at one with all. You are all divine and eternal, yet you do not realize it. This is why I am here – not for anything else. Love is God, and you feel this in your heart. You feel goodness and compassion there too. They are not thoughts. Make the mind a tool, but control it to be silent when not required. Like a monkey it leaps about to little purpose. Make the mind do one thing – mantra, counting breath, it does not matter – and you will control it, having also peace. Practice this each day, and you will then know that Swami, you, and God are one and the same. The soul can never be harmed, so why fear? I am here and will always be with you. Be happy, love all as one, and the whole world will reflect happiness and love. It is so simple that your busy mind overlooks it. One moment of giving love and peace to all is worth ten million dollars, even more. But all karmas must be settled, for people and countries. I shall have to leave this body when that time comes, because this big hair and red robe distract you from the divine in your heart. I want no worship; I need nothing; but I come because you are all free to do whatever you wish. Too many are now wishing to be bad. I come to protect you from them, and to repeat eternal truths, laws that never change. When this body is no longer seen, you will understand more, and see this world of maya for what it is. Never fear; always I shall be here, for where else can I go? Where can you go? Be good, do good, see good. Yes? Oh, it is still too simple for you!”
[To be continued]