They came not seeking God, but to see God in human and with a motive to experience Love in Action. 173 devotees from the United Kingdom, including 133 Youth embarked upon a special pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam with a firm commitment to participate in a 9-day Youth Sadhana Camp at His Divine Lotus Feet, at specific instructions and blessings from Bhagawan.
The journey originally began on the 17th May 2008, with a formal youth meeting in the UK to discuss and explain the purpose of the Sadhana Camp, finally culminated with a most beautiful stint at His Divine Lotus Feet in Prasanthi Nilayam. Just before embarking on to the pilgrimage, the entire troupe participated in a Summer Course held in Leicester in the UK from 25th to 27th of July 2008 which served as a preparatory camp before the Parthi sessions. This unique and spiritually uplifting camp comprised of workshops based on Bhagawan’s teachings, bhajan sessions, yoga classes and spiritually motivating talks by guest speakers.
The children of Sai Kingdom finally landed in Prasanthi Nilayam on 29th July. The group was completely charged and the excitement within the group could be felt by one and all around! How the intense yearning of the hearts could be contained especially when they were sitting at a close physical proximity of their Master Beloved?
And back home they have activities that tag them to their Beloved Bhagawan. These activities consist of nursing home projects where visits are made to nursing homes and time is spent with the residents in the spirit of offering Love and Joy. Other projects include Narayan Seva in conjunction with Mother Teresa service organisation in the UK and also Ashiana, which is a monthly session organised for physically challenged children and involving various cultural, religious and extra curricular activities. Further, many of the youth across the UK pay visits to prison inmates to provide moral support, positive thinking and portray Bhagawan's teachings in order to help them rehabilitate into society.
Sadhana has been the focus of the group in Prasanthi Nilayam. What specific sadhana the entire group does in the United Kingdom following Bhagawan’s teachings and ideals?
As individuals we all took upon ourselves the opportunity to learn about Bhagawan's life, which unfolded by reading Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram (Parts 1- 6). A 3-day UK Summer Course was organised for the youth and held in Leicester, UK as a prelude to the Sadhana Camp in Prasanthi Nilayam on the theme of Humanness to Godliness. The aim was to increase our focus and yearning for Bhagawan as well as create a spirit of Unity within the group. The course consisted of panel discussions, group songs and presentations. We also met on three separate occasions as an entire group prior to the pilgrimage in Prasanthi. Each meeting was an intense days of various sadhana activities, i.e., vedam, bhajans, spiritual talks etc.
Group discipline coupled with sadhana and devotion emphasized by the group had been in practice during the the 9 days of Sadhana Camp in Prasanthi Nilayam. UK Sadhana undertaken in Prasanthi and London was set and approved by Bhagawan in advance. Each day in Prasanthi began with a 3 a.m. wake up call, followed by 21 Aumkars at 05:55, Suprabhatam, Jyoti meditation, praanaayaam in the form of breathing exercises and yoga sessions, as well as a spiritual session consisting of prayers, thought for the day and the day’s briefing by the group leader and caretaker, Ajit Popat. In addition, the group's mandatory activities have also included Sai Darshan and Bhajan's in Sai Kulwant Hall.
And what the group had in store during their days in Prasanthi Nilayam?
One could easily assess the joy and happiness of the entire group from the following narration by the group about the evening session on 31st July in the Sai Kulwant Hall.
On the 31st July afternoon, the group had the rare privilege to offer a bouquet at the Divine Lotus Feet of Bhagawan. His effulgence and Divine radiance could be seen from afar!! During darshan, Bhagawan showered His Divine motherly love to one and all as He went around the entire hall bringing great joy to barren hearts! Bhagawan spoke to the group leader and out of His infinite grace allowed the UK group to offer a garland of group songs at the Divine Lotus Feet. These group songs consisted of a Telugu Song, a Telegu-English song and three English Songs, which were created, composed and musically arranged by the group members with the assistance of three of Bhagawan’s students, who were also part of the UK Sadhana Camp group. This bouquet of songs was followed by bhajans by the group. Bhagawan sat for a full hour looking at the group and blessing them all. In particular, an 82 year old English lady was privileged to offer Aarti to Bhagawan. Interestingly, Bhagawan had commanded that she should accompany the group in July. Whilst she was offering the Aarti, Bhagawani was constantly smiling at her and raising His hands to bless her. Being our Divine Mother, Swami also sang most of the Aarti with her, so as to make her comfortable!! Furthermore, while chanting the universal prayer, Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu, Bhagawan, in His typical style gestured what the Sloka meant as He recited it out ‘oud!’ How could we explain the Divine Love of a million mothers? Seldom does Bhagawan express such pure joy at physical level. Even after the aarti had finished, Bhagawan continued to sit in His chair and could not stop smiling at her and the entire group. What a sight to see!
All conquering love and compassion of the Lord was out on display on the blessed 1st evening when the UK Group got yet another stint to sing in His Divine Presence. Charlotte Hardwick, who was visually challenged had a life opportunity at Prasanthi Nilayam. The programme started with a vocal and instrumental offering by Charlotte. Bhagawan, who intently watched the young lady singing, called her near the stage towards the end of the session and materialized a bracelet for her as a Divine offering. God knows the pulse of the devotee and manifests Himself at the right time, to the right person and with the right reason. The soul would have seen the source, recognized and got into the feeling of ecstasy that could not be aptly imagined by another one. It was a sight to see when God Himself seated in the middle spending quality time with the physically handicapped woman, whose eyes deprived her off the vision to see Him in physical, imparting the much required impetus - Divine energy.
They took away what should have been my eyes
He would not let them take away my soul -
Possessing that, I still possess the whole.
These words of Helen Keller would have definitely inspired the young Charlotte Hardwick. Being blind and thus sharing similarity with the celebrated Helen Keller, Charlotte also seemed to have that undying passion for God that tests her to the highest level by the Greater Heaven. But, her unflinching faith seemed declaring the same sentiment echoing Helen Keller that, possessing Him as her life goal, she still possesses the Whole. Yes, she wrote: When I am in the Divine Presence, I know Swami with my Heart. When I am close to Swami, I feel the warmth of a thousand suns on my face and therefore I feel as if I am coming out of the darkness into the light.
The Love that devotees have for Bhagawan is so unique. A smile on His face lights every other face similarly. A tear welling up in His eye as He is moved, and there is a free flow of tears in all the thousands of eyes watching Him. He reflects the emotions and feelings of the devotees and they in their turn, reflect His emotions and feelings. Indeed beautiful is this unique relationship.
On 3rd August, the day was bit overshadowed by cloudy sky, but not the hearts of the UK group. They were geared up to have a speech session in His Divine presence. As thousands remained silently waiting for the Lord to make His entry, thick clouds folded themselves up and there began torrential downpour. The rain lashed on the Kulwant hall roof bringing deafening sound, and Bhagawan slowly made His grand entry into the Hall.
The first speaker was an elderly lady devotee by name Josephine. Seemingly overpowered by His all conquering love, Ms. Josephine spoke only for a few minutes wherein she stressed on the importance of developing greater faith. Next to follow was Sri Ajit Popat who began with a sloka in his inimitable style. Centering his talk on the theme of "Onward, Forward, Godward", Popat spoke on a plethora of subjects ranging from faith and devotion to realizing the Self as ‘the Swami’ within.
Ajit Popat whom Bhagawan affectionately calls Puppet had only one objective while bringing such a disciplined, dedicated and devoted group to the Divine Lotus Feet. That is to make his Master proud. Having taken all measures to ensure quality and discipline in the group, everyone in the group would be definitely having his or her tale of Divine experience to share with.
Q: What was the impact the sadhana camp and pilgrimage in general made on the group members?
A: The Sadhana Camp has changed me. The activities undertaken have helped me to gain a better understanding of my personal, physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual capabilities"
A: "I am overwhelmed by the level of devotion and love that is so easily flowing throughout the ashram. It's amazing to see such varying levels of caste, colour and creed all in one place, chanting one name in unison"
Q: In this corporate universe, where everyone is otherwise engaged with his/her own profession, how do the members of the group efficiently balance their profession, family and obligation to Sai?
A: "I have now understood that there should not be any difference between any of these. We have learnt that we have to be true to our higher self at every part of the day regardless of whether we are at work, at home or interacting on a social basis. We should not be three different people, but One!
A: "Work while you work, play while you play, eat while you eat, sleep while you sleep - One should give hundred percent concentration to the task at hand, whether it be at home, work or with family and friends"
Q: How do the newcomers in the group feel in His Divine Presence?
A: "Swami's darshan is beyond description. His warmth, His loving smile, the Bliss that we feel when we are in His presence is beyond words and needs to be experienced and not heard."
Q: Sitting and singing in His Divine Presence with Him physically watching is a rare privilege and the group had been immensely fortunate to have this great good fortune. Some words of expression from the singing choir group?
A: Singing the praise of the Lord whilst in His Divine Presence, the words acquire a totally different meaning. When Bhagawan acknowledges with a gesture of the hand, a smile or by providing thaalam, He places us into a state of ananda that can be provided by none else nor explained in words.
Q: The blind lady in dark glasses sang her heart out melodiously in His Divine Presence and it was an emotional scene when the blind devotee was taken to Bhagawan to offer a flower of pure love. How did she feel in His presence when her own eyes deprived her chance to have His glance, whilst very much in His Divine Presence?
Charlotte Hardwick is the young girl who is physically challenged by the eyes, rendering her totally blind. When asked to summarise the above question, she wrote the following response using a small ‘Braille’ typewriter that she carries with her: “My name is Charlotte Hardwick and I have been blind since birth. When I am in the Divine Presence, I know Swami with my Heart. When I am close to Swami, I feel the warmth of a thousand suns on my face and therefore I feel as if I am coming out of the darkness into the light. Jai Sai Ram.”
Q: What motivational message does the group carry back to the UK to inspire more and more towards their journey to God?
A: "Meeting new people and learning from their experiences"
A: "The improvement of Body, Mind and Soul"
Q: With materialism rampant, the world looks so beautiful outwardly…, how best can we organise an effective journey and motivate the world towards God?
Q: The concept of Humanness to Godliness sounds beautiful, but is evolutionary. How does the group motivate itself towards attaining the goal?
Perhaps the answer to the above questions comes from the following account about the Divine Guidelines given by Bhagawan.
Bhagawan specifically provided direct instructions to the group leader to ensure that the youth participated in sadhana in the UK before coming to Prasanthi. He also told him to prepare and train the youth mentally so that all came with unified thinking. As a result, besides the various sadhana activities and meetings, the entire group resolved to recite the mantra "Swami, We Love You, We Need You, We Deserve You"! at 21:30 hrs every single night no matter where we were.
Yes, we need to call Him with that love that is untainted, that is selfless, that is purely Godward. It was a memorable journey, an onward journey, a journey that takes you forward to Godward!