Not being a devotee of Sri Sathya Sai Baba of India, I wondered why almost eagerly I had accepted an invitation to help celebrate his birthday in Santa Barbara. I had never met him—that is, not in person.
No. Certainly not in person, I reflected, as I sat taking in the garlands falling in graceful loops over Sai Baba's pictures. Flowers were everywhere. Candles of different sizes and varying fragrances flickered in a light breeze. Whisps of grey from glowing incense wafted its pungent odor through the room filled with devotees.
My thoughts went back—was it really seven years ago—to the time when Indra Devi on one of her whirlwind visits arrived at our house, her tape recorder blaring at its loudest some kind of sing song! Seeing my husband's dismay, she shut it off. Hardly able to contain herself, she excitedly asked us to sit and listen. We wondered what Indra would be telling us this time. She spoke of Sai Baba, an Avatar, whom she had recently visited in India...
Now in Santa Barbara I listened, having been interrupted in my thoughts by a devotee, one of many, as he told in a resonant voice of his experiences at Sai Baba's ashram - of miracles, of the crowds, and of His love.
Just as Indra had told us on that visit long ago, I recalled. She had then shown us a medal hanging from her neck which Sai Baba had materialized just by waving his hand in the air in a circular movement.
This materializing of medals, rosaries, little statues and rings, some rings with stones in which Sai Baba's image could be seen by the wearer, had left an uncomfortable feeling with me ever since.
"Anyone else who wants to share his experiences with us?" Helene Vreeland, our hostess asked. Impelled by an inner prompting I stood up. Walking slowly to the front, I wondered what I was going to say. Somewhat bewildered, I faced the devotees assembled to celebrate Sai Baba's birthday.
Could I really share my experience with them, an experience so different from the ones related?
Indra Devi came to my mind again, who in the intervening years had become one of Sai Baba's most vocal devotees in America.
So I began: "Indra Devi stopped at our house one day on her way to a lecture. Waving a big birthday card, she urged me to sign it quickly as it had to be mailed immediately if it were to reach Sai Baba on time. Taken by surprise, I signed.
A month or two later while meditating, I was startled when Sai Baba appeared to me. It was not difficult to recognize him from the photographs I had seen. In his hand I saw the big birthday card I had signed at Indra's urging. Smiling, he pointed to the line I had written and read, with a question in his eyes as well as in his voice,
"Many happy returns?"....
"Oh, Swami. Happy returns of the day only, I meant, of course." I said, feeling embarrassed and foolish.
He laughed and was gone. Yet his laughter remained with me. Even now in this crowded room I can hear it.
There was a slight hush when I had finished—then clapping and laughter.
Driving home in the moonlit night, I couldn't shake the feeling that by having spoken openly of my experience, I had made a commitment of belonging to the group of devotees, I had just left; commitment long overdue and an acknowledgement that Sai Baba had touched my heart.
Suddenly, a surge of love and joy streamed through me and with it the realization of a new direction in my life which became a reality, when I was blessed in meeting Sai Baba at `Brindavan' in person,
I had a `happy return' as Sai Baba had indicated. His will prevails, ever.