"I found that if we but reach out to God we can touch Him. Sing to Him and He will sing through us. Place our entire life in His Hands and we feel His warmth. Such love is for all who answer His call.” —Charles Penn
There are hymns in praise of pilgrim centres (Tirtha mahaatmyas) which extol the holiness of a place by saying each ordinary action performed there is sanctified to a greater degree. For example, in the holy city of Benaras, whatever one eats is Prasad (consecrated offerings received as grace). There, just relaxing and enjoying oneself is a meritorious deed, conversation is repetition of God's name, and lying down in one's bed at night is equal to prostration before the Lord. Because of the extraordinary holiness of the place, commonplace acts are transformed into more meaningful processes.
How true this is of Prasanthi Nilayam! Experiences there have made me realize that the ideas expressed in pilgrim poems like the one mentioned above are not just poetic figures of speech or imaginative hyperboles. Such descriptions are really, attempts to report accurately, to "tell it like it is."
To rise in Prasanthi Nilayam in the customary predawn hours and bathe and be drawn toward the Mandir is to be blessed. To circumambulate the Mandir, to sit and meditate, to recite OM, to listen to Suprabhatam, to take part in Nagarsankirtan to participate in any or all of these activities is to start the day most auspiciously, turned toward God, enacting a holy way that automatically orients us to, and brings us closer to, the divine.
In the course of the day at Prasanthi Nilayam we pilgrims perform simple actions which minimize attachments to the world and focus us on the spiritual. Simple food, simple comforts, simple accommodation keep us healthy, and indulging in consciousness diverting luxuries and frivolities is not missed. The reduced number of distractions and activities calm the mind and concentrate it on deeper truths. To do a small service lets us experience an expanded sense of unity.
"Wisdom and leelas everywhere"
When we go to sit patiently and wait for Swami to come through a door, we deepen our yearning, clarify our hopes and find insights revealed—we find inspiration. To observe Sri Sai in action is to, study Holy Scripture.
When we speak with a friend, ever-mindful of Sai's near presence, His omnipresence, we practice Satsang and chanting, seeing the light in all. We find wisdom and lilac everywhere.
Every bite of food does become Prasad, sanctified by being offered to, and received from, Baba. In the healing haven of Prasanthi Nilayam every nap can become a taste of pure calm consciousness. Every conversation, because Baba's name is on everyone's lips, is a prayer or mantra. Every moment spent waiting for darshan is a meditation on Him. There is naturally a strenuous rigour here which tones one up, though it does not harmfully strain. It is a 'striving toward the light, which is rewarded with a tuning up, harmonizing, a closer synchronization with spiritual rhythms. No mechanical rituals, but outlets for heartfelt worship. No greedy overdoing it, but a gradual ripening.
If one is squeezed together with others to sing bhajans, it is a pleasant Tapas (purifying austerity), as well as a chance to enjoy with fellow pilgrims an ocean of blissful song. Cleansing vibrations wash over the ashram resident, like ablutions in holy Tirthas (pilgrimage sites), from Benaras on the Ganges to Rameshvaram at the Southern tip of India. The peace inside the walls of Prasanthi Nilayam makes it a haven, a heaven up to which the noisy demonic cannot climb. The beauty of trees and flowers, pastel buildings, and devotees from many lands make it pleasant with variety.
The bliss of being with Baba, enjoying His love, basking in His mystery and glory are a foretaste of ultimate realization. Thus it is usual to depart from Prasanthi Nilayam feeling charged, freshened, empowered, re-energized and full of thanks. At peace, one feels purified by one's pilgrimage, re focused, ready for life's adventures, as if one's unraveled nerves had been magically knitted together again to perfection by Devas. One's debilitating worries are dissolved, replaced by faith in the will of God.
But it all happens so naturally, so spontaneously, as a matter of course. "I had Baba's darshan, and am healed. I saw Sai and sighed."
And after leaving Prasanthi Nilayam in Andhra Pradesh, one finds one has taken that safe haven of spiritual possibilities with one, wherever one may go, and Baba's healing presence is inside.