SWAMI AND HIS STUDENTS
This article written by Prof. G
Venkataraman on the occasion of Bhagavan's 75th Birthday and highlights
the essence of Baba's unusual and most extra-ordinary relationship with
His students, whom he always refers to as His property.
Three times thus far in the
history of mankind, Lord God Almighty has come down in human form as a
Poorna Avatar. The age we live in happens to be one of them, and
blessed indeed are we to be able to have the Darshan, Sparshan
and Sambhashan of the Lord. Drawn by His Divine Magnetic Power or
Aakarshana Shakti as He calls it, people of all kinds and from all
walks of life flock to Him. Swami loves all His devotees and showers His
Divine Grace equally on everyone. Yet, there is something
extra-ordinarily unique about Swami's involvement with His students.
This relationship is not what meets the eye of a casual observer. Students
should really appreciate what they are enjoying. Only those privileged to
have a ring-side view, like I have had, can understand, even if it be
rather feebly, how remarkable is the Love that Swami showers on students.
a formal sense, Swami is the Chancellor of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of
Higher Learning, but the role He plays is anything but that of the
run-of-the-mill Chancellor. The role may vary from moment to moment and
over a wide spectrum, but the constant and unwavering under-current is
Prema. Students often describe Swami's Love as equal to that of a
thousand mothers but this, I feel, is a gross understatement. Swami's Love
is equal only to Swami's Love; there is nothing else that can match it.
People normally try to measure Swami's Love for students in terms of the gifts that He constantly showers on them - incidentally, there seems to be no limit to what He gives; I have seen Him distribute everything from T-shirts to cameras and films. However, material gifts form just the tip of an infinite iceberg. It is the constant concern that Swami feels about their welfare, both worldly and spiritual, that in some measure reflects His infinite Love. Like a mother, He worries whether they are eating enough and getting enough of nutritious food. At the same time, like a father, He wants to make sure they are studying well. He is also their Guru, which makes Him concerned about their spiritual development; so on it goes. He is at one stroke, mother, father, teacher, friend philosopher, guide, and everything else one can think of and much more. When cases of jaundice are reported in the village, He wants to be sure that boiled drinking water is available in the hostel. As exams approach, He constantly checks with the Warden whether students are getting enough rest and are not staying awake for unduly long periods. While the exams are in progress, He wants to know how the students have answered and whether the question papers were stiff. It is not just the students but also their families that receive attention and care, especially when there is a medical problem. As the Institute Convocation approaches, one sees Bhagavan in an entirely new role, which I doubt if He enacted in His earlier Poorna Avatars. Swami becomes very much interested and also involved in the drama that the Institute boys stage on the night of the Convocation. There are sessions galore in the Interview Room, every evening after Darshan. He begins by asking the boys what they are planning. When they hesitantly unfold the theme, He listens carefully and advises on how the play should be developed. The script is now prepared and He goes over it carefully, offering critical remarks and suggestions for improvement. Then come the songs. He first studies the lyrics and thereafter calls for the musical rendering. This is when one sees God as Ganapriyudu or the Lover of Music. Gently, but meticulously, He coaches the singers, instructing them how precisely the song must be sung, how proper feelings must be injected, how the action must be in harmony with the singing etc. For Swami, not only must the tune and the beat be right, but, more than anything else, the feeling or Bhava must be perfect. Until it comes out the way it should be, He would insist on rehearsing the song again and again. Meanwhile, He would get other people busy with the costumes. Especially when historical or mythological characters are involved, Swami wants to have a preview of the dress and how it fits the actor concerned. Often, He would Himself do the adjustments so that the right look is achieved. All this might make it seem that Swami is the greatest taskmaster ever. Yes indeed. Swami undoubtedly demands perfection and will never compromise on quality or accept sub-standard performance; after all, is not God the acme of perfection? However, in the midst of all this grind, the Mother in Him surfaces; suddenly He would disappear inside for a couple of minutes, and when He returns, apples, snacks, fruit juice and such other goodies would follow! He knows how and when to inject relaxation and put the nervous actors and singers at ease. After weeks of such preliminaries come the full-scale rehearsals, which take place in the Institute Auditorium. For the boys it is often a tense affair because pleasing Swami is not an easy task.
now on, it is rehearsals over and over again. The practice sessions soon
move to the Poornachandra Auditorium and whenever possible, Swami drops in
to make sure that all loose ends are properly tied up. Comes then the
great moment when the play is actually staged before a crowded audience.
Swami is now like the proverbial mother, there He is in the 'pit' scanning
the faces of those around to see if they are enjoying the play; and when
they do, how proud He seems! And how He shows His satisfaction when He
comes up the stage at the end, and how gloriously the Love-feast continues
later in the backstage when dignitaries shower praise on the boys for
their superb performance! But one must not get the impression that that is
all there to it. For Bhagavan, the Convocation Drama is not just routine
cultural entertainment. Rather, it is an expression of His Divine Message,
communicated in drama form by His beloved students. Life itself is a drama
in which the Lord coming down as an Avatar, plays as it were a
cameo role. And, as a part of this play, He literally produces and directs
a play - a play within a play! Altogether, it is absolutely fascinating.
After the Convocation comes the
annual sports festival, and once again it is a glorious opportunity for
delightful Divine intimacy, but of an altogether different kind. Swami
wants the event to be a gala success, not for His sake but for the sake of
the students. And so He fusses about all the various details, the band,
the march past, the flag hoisting, and the various individual items. He
makes sudden and unexpected visits to the sports field to inspect the
arrangements and watch the rehearsals. When His car is sighted, the cry
goes around, "Hey! Swami's car!" And what a change it brings about on the
There is one particular visit of this nature that I must recall at this point. It was not during the usual sports season but a few days before that extra-ordinarily unique event, the Sri Sathya Sai Unity Cup Cricket Match. As the big day was nearing, we would often be in the cricket ground doing something or the other, missing the evening Darshan in the process. As if to recompense us, Swami came to the ground almost every evening for a round of inspection and supervision. One evening, as He was about to return, He decided to step into the Pavilion that had just been completed. He asked His car to be stopped in front of the Pavilion Block, got down, climbed up the few stairs, and went round the various rooms examining the fittings, the plumbing, the curtains, the chairs - the whole works one might say. Only a handful of us went inside with Bhagavan. After doing the round, He came to the Pavilion verandah. Meanwhile, all the boys who were involved with various chores in and around the ground gathered on the road by the side of Swami's car. There were a few hundred students there. Swami just stood on the veranda giving Darshan, hands folded behind and gently rocking. He made no effort to go down and get into His car. I was behind Bhagavan and therefore could not see His face but from the looks and the effulgent glow on the faces of the boys below, it was abundantly clear to me that Swami was simply pouring out His Divine Love in infinite measure. Truly, it was a sight for the gods! Time stood still for all of us. There was Swami in total Bliss, and there were the students lost and drenched in the downpour of Prema. For me, it was not only an unforgettable but also a unique experience; among other things, it taught me what Swami means when He says, "Students are My only property!"
If there are ups, then there also must be downs - that is the law of life, and so it is between Bhagavan and students. Sometimes, Swami seems "upset" and the whole lot gets flung into the "workshop" as one says in Prasanthi. Swami is never really angry but pretends to be, so that the students realise their shortcomings and rectify their errors. When Swami seemingly distances Himself from the students, there is a tense drama of sorts. The boys are in deep distress; they cannot give letters and give vocal vent to their feelings because 'Swami is not coming their side'. If students are in agony, the Mother in Swami too seems anxious for an early restoration of normalcy. But the Father in Swami seems to hold back! The fascinating drama continues till one day Swami walks past near the students during Darshan. They now cry out loud and in deep anguish. Swami appears to pause; a small dialogue begins. We are too far to hear the actual words, but it seems that Swami is gently reprimanding the students. Suddenly there are cries of "No, Swami", "Please Swami", and so on. Looks like there is going to be a thaw after all. Yes there is, and boys want to make sure; they burst into songs. Swami stands there listening; there is one song, then two, and then a third one as well. Hurrah! Swami has been 'won over'! Everyone heaves a sigh of relief, and, as if to make up for lost time, Swami now showers more Grace than even before!
Students hardly realise to what extent Swami goes out of the way to confer favours upon them. They are the ones privileged to lead the Bhajans both in Prasanthinilayam and Brindavan. They are the ones who are permitted to present special musical programmes on festival mornings. They are the ones who chant the Vedas before the Divine Discourse, and also on other important occasions. For their sake Swami comes many times to the Institute to witness special programmes and also to speak to them. He even answers specific questions. On occasions, on Sunday afternoons, He spends some time with them in the Poornachandra Auditorium, before coming out for the regular Darshan. It is for their spiritual advancement that He organises the Summer Courses. It is to encourage them that He takes them to Kodaikanal; and my word, what an experience that is! It is to give them the delectable taste of Divine intimacy that He holds the famous 'Trayee Sessions' while in Brindavan.
Students may forget Swami after they leave His portals but the Lord never does. When Swami went to Delhi and Mumbai last year, Bhagavan not only singled out the alumni from the crowd, but also made kind enquiries. And to those around Him, He lovingly recalled all particulars about the student concerned, even though the Student had graduated over a decade or so ago. The list of examples of Swami's Prema is endless. As if all this is not enough, on Sports Day, 1999, Swami, in an unparalleled act of extra-ordinary and infinite compassion, took upon Himself a serious injury in order to avert disaster to students who were to later perform dare-devil stunts. Barring just a handful, no one knew about this Divine act of sacrifice till several days later when Swami Himself revealed the details in a Discourse.
there any particular reason why Swami appears to single out students for
showering His Love in such abundance? Speaking in Trayee, an elderly
devotee reported that he once asked Bhagavan to explain this mystery.
According to this devotee, Swami replied that those who are today enrolled
as students are really Rishis of the past, receiving their due in
this Kali Age. Hearing this, Swami, in Whose Divine presence this
talk was being given, laughed as if to say, "What! Are you suggesting that
these fellows with whom I am struggling all the time are Rishis?"
Swami may have made light of the devotee's remark but there surely must be
some deeper meaning underlying Swami's most compassionate relationship
with the students, particularly when one recalls Krishna's association
with Gopalas on the one hand and with Gopis on the other. Quite possibly
it is all a part of the same drama and an extension of that glorious
chapter of Srimad Bhagavatham, now being enacted in a different
format and under the settings of the Kali Age. It is my personal
belief that this indeed is the case.
According to the Bhagavatham,
not knowing who Krishna really was, Brahma the Creator once
tried to embarrass Bala Krishna. But soon he learnt his bitter lesson, and
as he was about to withdraw to his celestial abode, he saw Krishna playing
merrily with the Gopalas. Brahma then mused, "These little boys do not
have any idea of how lucky they are to have the very Lord as their
playmate." Quite possibly, Brahma is saying something similar even now. I
hope our students do really appreciate, value, and treasure the priceless
gift of Divine intimacy that they are receiving, which is exclusively
reserved only for them. Although Swami does not expect anything in return,
I believe students owe it to Bhagavan to be the best exemplars of those
who seriously put into practice Swami's teachings. For Swami,
Aacharanam, or observance of His teachings in daily life is far more
important than being able to discourse on them. Students should
unwaveringly aim at Trikaranasuddhi. And, under no circumstance,
should they permit themselves to fall into the category of Aarthi
[the seeker of wealth] or Arthaarthee [one who wants the Lord to
solve his problems]; instead, they should constantly endeavour to be
counted among those who have realised their intrinsic Divine nature.
Having recognised this truth, they must gear up for the higher duty that
beckons them. They should appreciate that if twelve Apostles of the Son of
God could do so much to spread the Message of their master, how much they,
in their hundreds and thousands, could do to spread the Message of the
Lord Himself. Humanity looks up to them, and they should not disappoint
humanity. To disappoint mankind would in a certain sense amount to
disappointing Swami Himself.
Before I conclude, it is
appropriate that I recall a touching prayer once addressed to Bhagavan by
Prof. Sampath, an illustrious predecessor of mine. He said: "Swami, it is
my prayer that when I am reborn, I would be blessed to be a student of
Your School and Your Institute, and one day receive my degree directly
from Your Divine Hands. It is only when I become a student of the
Institute that my life would be complete." Those of us who have missed the
opportunity of being a student of the Institute in this lifetime, might
well consider addressing such a prayer ourselves.