I am writing this from Brindavan. I came here from California about a month ago. In that time, I feel like I have died and been reborn!
To explain: Let me go back to about a year ago, when I was here last. At that time, when I took leave of Swami, He gave me permission to return to India for a prolonged stay, starting this October. "You come then," He said, "I will have some work for you to do.” I began planning for a Sabbatical from my teaching duties at an Institute in California.
But then, during the summer, serious illness struck. The diagnosis was a probable cancer in the liver area. Tests indicated `positive'. A biopsy and liver scan were recommended. But, I had heard of a metabolic therapy called 'Gerson Therapy' (Disclaimer: The contents of this article are purely the views of the author. We do not endorse any such alternative therapy) that was effective against all types of Cancer. So, I went to Mexico and commenced this very intensive cancer regimen. For two months, I battled the illness. All thoughts of the Sabbatical in India vanished as the available energy was directed towards staying alive.
Even though the body was very sick and oftentimes the mind got discouraged and was ready to give up, yet the inner man never doubted that Swami was with me, that He knew of this illness, and that, in time, He would pull me through.
After two months, the therapy took hold and I felt very much better. I knew then that I must go to India, if only for a short visit to thank Baba and re dedicate my life at His Lotus Feet. I couldn’t stay in India for more than a few weeks, since the therapy needed to continue for several months more to make sure there could be no relapse.
I wrote to my aged parents (my father is 88 and my mother is 85) who live on the other side of the U. S. Continent, that I planned a short visit to India, to see Baba. They got terribly worried. "You are not well enough to undertake such a trip. They are having floods and epidemics there. There wont be any good food for you,” they wrote back. "Why don’t you telephone Him, instead of going; it will be much better for your health and cheaper too," they suggested.
I got their letter on the 10th October, the day before Yom Kipur, the Jewish high holy day. They are devoted Jews. In honour of them and in gratitude to Swami for my new feelings of well being, I decided for the first time in many years to observe this Jewish holy day of Atonement, by fasting and immersing myself in prayer. This was the first interruption in two months of the therapy, which called for hourly feedings of specially prepared juices and medications. I asked my nurse helpers to take the day off. I felt I had only one duty to perform that day, and that was, to write to my parents and wish them the very best for the Jewish New Year and also to explain to them that it was not possible to telephone Baba, but to make them happy, I would at least try to send Him a telegram, and ask for His directions.
As I went to the Institute Office to mail the letter to my parents, I thought about what I might say in a telegram to Swami. While absorbed in these thoughts, I heard my name being called by the Secretary, who had seen me approaching the Office. "Al, there is a long distance phone call for you from the International Telegraph Office, in San Francisco."
I very rarely receive phone calls in the Office since I am there so infrequently and I have never received a telegram before. So, I was startled, to say the least. The operator on the other end of the line relayed the telegram message to me, it is from Prasanthi Nilayam, India. It says, "Please come immediately."
I couldn’t believe my ears. "My God! Is this real?"
Up to that moment, I was immersed in my life at the Institute, teaching, keeping up with the rigorous demands of the ther¬apy, and all the hundred daily involvements and chores that we have in our home setting. Now, everything changed instantly. I was galvanised into action. I didn’t know when I could actually leave, but, I ran home and started packing. Some friends heard the news and came over to help. One called the airlines to find out what flights were scheduled that day. Another offered to drive me to the nearest airport at Monterey, 75 kilometres away. Another got together some food for the long journey ahead, since I was on a restricted organic diet. Another brought me 600 dollars in cash, with the statement, "You'll need money for the trip; You can pay me back when you return." Another, a Catholic sister studying there, gave me her treasured Cross to take along to ask Swami to bless it. Still others came by just to give their well wishes for a safe journey and asked to be remembered to Baba.
It was as if Swami's Shakti and Prema had suddenly crystallized in this remote place. Busy as I was with packing, I choked up at this unfolding scene of love. In no time, the packing was done, and all the other matters, related to my house and classes, and the people helping me with the therapy, were taken care of.
Within less than two hours of receiving the telegram message, I was on my way, on a 13,000-mile journey to Swami. A new non stop service from Los Angeles to London and London to Bombay which was leaving within an hour of the arrival of my connecting flight in Los Angeles would get me to Bombay in record time!
Coming to that first small airport at Monterey without reservations and learning that the various flights were all fully booked, posed no real problem at all for me, since I knew that Divine Energy was fuelling my present journey. Somehow, a seat always appeared. I made good my promise to myself that day to take no food or drink for 24 hours. Somewhere over the North Atlantic, I untied the food basket that my friend had fixed, and, closing my eyes, offered a shiny, juicy apple to the Lord. Then, opening my eyes, I looked around the darkened aircraft. I remember the sense of awe I felt at finding myself in these surroundings as I broke the Yom Kipur fast. A sweet sleep followed, high up at 40,000 feet. Soon enough, we were in London and 12 hours later, at Bombay.
I had no visa; but, the Customs Official decided that last year's visa would do. I didn't argue! Collecting my luggage, I ran for the Indian Airlines flight which was to take off for Bangalore in 30 minutes. Of course, it was full; but, as with the other flights, space became available. Anyway I landed at Bangalore. It happened that the Chief Minister of Karnataka was on the plane. A driver who was a Sai devotee had delivered someone to the Bangalore Airport. Hearing that his Chief Minister was aboard, and curious to see him, he hung around the airport, until my flight landed. Coming out of the terminal, I connected with the driver, just as he was about to drive off to the West End Hotel, where he was stationed. "Sai Ram. How about taking me to Prasanthi Nilayam?" I asked him.
"Yes,” he said, "but Baba is supposed to be coming back to Bangalore tomorrow,” he replied. Let us go, anyway,” I told him. "O.K. We can stop at my place on the way and I'll tell my wife I wont be home this evening" "Good,” I said. I felt at peace inside; the journey was coming to an end.
Three hours later, we were at the Darshan Line and my heart rejoiced as I again saw the Lord. He greeted me, with, "Achha! When did you arrive?” I knew was home.
That is really the end of the story. Baba stayed for a week more in Puttaparthi and then, came to Whitefield, Bangalore. At the time of this writing, the daily Darshan has been continuing for three weeks and a half, and my heart is filling up as I sit happily at His Feet basking in His Grace. Can you now see, why I said I feel a little like I died and was re born?
Swami has given me permission to teach at the College in Brindavan. It looks like the Sabbatical has started after all, although under totally unexpected circumstances! Even if He tells me to leave tomorrow there is never really any return to the previous life.
Every time one comes anew to Baba, one's life starts anew. Clearly the illness was a purification that He sent. Baba told me during the interview that the body was now healed. "I am always with you. I never forget you for a moment. I am in your heart; and, you are in mine,” He said.
When our beloved Sai says that, to us what else is there to do but to fall at the Feet in gratitude? What a wonderful good fortune we all enjoy to be alive in this time in the presence and knowledge of the Yuga Avatar, our dear Swami.
He says He never forgets us even for a moment if only we would follow His lead and never forget Him even for a moment. Truly, what other Sadhana is there for us, but to steadily and constantly love Him, love Him, love Him?