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Jasmine Dispatch

Oooooomm...Meeting Sai Baba
May 24, 2000

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No pictures are allowed during the service, but most stay long after Sai Baba is gone to dwell in his glow.
Caption

I'd read about him and heard about him, but never dreamed about him like many around the world. There are stories of Sai Baba coming to people in dreams and visions, speaking to their needs and directing them along the spiritual journey that is life. Many are miraculously touched, changed and healed, and now make up the millions who are considered devotees. His devotees and followers span the globe-and eventually his calling leads them here, to India.

His calling is not what led me to India…you did! But we can't pass up the opportunity to meet, or at least see, the man behind the magic, so come along! I'm just as curious as you, and I've got an idea. Let's do this together! We leave tomorrow morning, bright and early, so get some sleep!

Bangalore, India, 4:45 AM.

Good morning, sunshine!!! It's time to wake up! We've got to be downstairs by 5:30 to meet our friends. Just enough time to do some yoga, say our prayers, take a shower and all that other morning stuff we do. Or…we could snooze for a few...OK, but just a few. I'll meet you downstairs.

Bangalore, India, 5:30 AM.

Our ride is here so let's go! As usual, this ride isn't so smooth. I want to kinda doze off, but my head slamming against the roof of the car makes that impossible. Whitefield, Sai Baba's ashram, or spiritual place, is about 30 minutes outside the city. Try to rest and I'll wake you when we get there.

Whitefield, India. 6:15 AM.

We're here! Truth, Right Action, Peace, Love and Nonviolence are the five truths I'm reading on a woman's scarf. She's sitting Indian-style on the floor in the row next to mine, and the emblem is superimposed over a Canadian maple leaf. She's come a long way to see Sai Baba.

It's 6:30 AM now and a quiet flurry swirls about me in the main courtyard of the ashram. A woman tugs on my arm.

"I'll hold your seat for you," she says, "but you should go to the cloak room to get a shawl to properly cover yourself. This is a holy place."

Thank you, thank you. I get up and take my purse to the cloak room-I can't enter with that either. The lady behind the counter gives me a number and a thin shawl in return, and I go back to my seat. There are now about 20 rows of at least 50 people each, plopped down barefoot and Indian-style on the floor under a massive pavilion. All are women; the men stand outside the covering, most in white flowing pants and matching shirts, waiting.

My line scoots forward. The woman next to me, now that I've moved up, has a card in her lap, and she's sitting in a deep trance. The envelope reads, "To the Beloved Swami, a loving letter."

Oooh! My line is moving! We've been chosen to stand now and are being ushered to our seats. I wouldn't have noticed, were it not for the nudge in the back if got from a very anxious devotee: a short Indian woman, trying to peek around into the main pavilion to see how close we'll be to the front. Security is tight. I was just frisked and scanned with a metal detector...

Oh my! A group of women just pushed their way through and are running to find seats. Whoa! Security-two women in beautiful saris-are holding the rest of us back, but a few elude their grasp and scamper to find a choice location. Then, as if all that commotion wasn't enough, another security guard comes and moves an entire row forward, opening a huge space right in front of me. I just recovered my pen and paper after being tackled by women diving for the empty places! Like fullbacks in saris, bodies were literally flung and tackled as each one tried to get a seat closest to the aisle where Sai Baba may pass when he enters.

This is deep. There are about 2,000 people here and each of them seems not to notice the other 1,999. Lost in spiritual trance, soaking up the words of Sai Baba's latest book, or hastily writing, everyone is in her own world. The Japanese woman sitting next to me, in an ornately-designed, gold-trimmed sari with a strand of fresh jasmine flowers flowing from her ponytail, is handing a small tin to people. They quickly dip their fingers in, tap it on their tongues and smudge the rest on their foreheads.

"None for me, thanks," I smile.

Horrified, the woman pushes the tin closer, because surely I didn't see what the contents were-otherwise I would never have passed it up.

"Vibbuhti!" she says, "Vibbuhti!"

"Oh," I smile, dipping my fingers and smudging my forehead. So this is the that Sai Baba produces at will. Again, something I'd only read about. The ash, they say, flows right from the palm of his hand as a blessing to his devotees. I even read that a picture of him in London produces the powder as well. The owner of the photo immediately took it as a sign to turn his home into a shrine, and it's now a temple where the devoted and the doubtful come to see the vibbuhti-making picture.

I want to ask where she got it from but now, as I turn to her, she's in a trance with her hands folded prayerfully in front of her head.

Vocabulary

serendipity - finding something good that you weren't looking for
pavillion - a large tent or canopy
trance - an hypnotic-like state
ornately - elaborately or grandly

My legs are asleep again. It's 7:30AM now, an hour since we arrived, and still no sign of Sai Baba. I just can't seem to get it right. My shawl is stuck under the lady in front of me, and my feet are doing that unbearable tickle they do when they fall asleep and you need to change positions! But there's nowhere to go...

Out of nowhere everyone is chanting the Om, 2,000 people strong. Wow-the vibration is intense. Uh oh, here they go again. The women are scooting, inching, squishing toward the aisle, and the men are too…

Look, there he is! Sai Baba-which means "God incarnate"-has graced the crowd and is slowly passing through the rows, as a high-pitched voice pierces the air over loud speakers, leading the group in another chant.

So this is Sai Baba. Not quite what I'd imagined God to look like: a funny looking man with a huge wirey afro and a sort of exaggerated face. But-enlightenment comes from the inside, the physical body is but a shell to house the spirit, etc., etc.

Sai Baba passes through each section...slowly...slowly…and the crowd turns in his direction as if in orbit around him. From far away all I can see is an explosion of hands being thrust into the air, waving envelopes or gifts, similar to the lady whose card I'd seen earlier. Some he takes; others he doesn't. Those whose card or letter he chooses profusely thank him and fall from my vision down to the floor.

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Many kneel at Sai Baba's throne once he is gone to soak up the last of his energy and presence.
Caption
Deliberately he pauses and stares into the eyes of others, as if to commit their presence to memory forever. Maybe he'd met them in a dream and is communicating with them. Most are frozen in response. He is closer now but on the men's side. He stretches his hand out over the crowd, and suddenly the men begin to push and fall over each other. The vibbuhti! It really does seem just to fall from the palm of his hand. Those who are lucky enough to catch it bathe themselves in it, washing their hands over their face and neck...

He's now covered the entire crowd. Hearts are aglow-some because he's taken their note, others because of his mere presence. Most clap and sing, or chant along with the screeching voice coming over the sound system. Those who aren't clapping seem to be lost in love. Two nearby women, for example, sit motionless, gazing at the bright-orange clad Swami on his throne, as if Cupid's arrows just penetrated their souls. The Swami, like a conductor, his fingers in the air wagging back and forth with the sound...very softly, very slowly, with very deliberate and calm motions...smiles out at the people.

Two more songs, and he stands. Men in white approach him by way of a ramp on the right side of the pastel pink-and-blue canopied stage. In two lines, they each present him with different offerings: fruit, baskets, flowers and finally, fire, which is then waved around him from head to toe. He blesses each of them by dusting their shoulders with vibbuhti. They fall and kiss his feet.

"Ooooooom, Shanty, shanty, shanty hee. Mari he ooooooom."

And he's gone.

What? That's all? He didn't want to say anything? Or teach? Wow. I'm not sure what I expected when my friends told me that Sai Baba was here in town and not at his main ashram in Puttaparthi, where he was born. Maybe deep down I figured the cosmic serendipity that led me to Bangalore brought me here, and would somehow enlighten me. Maybe his presence was enough. What do you think?

Click image for larger view
Caption
We were just in the presence of a man who many feel is on the level of Christ. How do you think that should that affect you? As with Jesus, some say he's a fake and a phony, and that he takes people's money. I came to see for myself, and what I saw was a man who has somehow been able to touch and teach a lot of people. That means something.

So, while I may not personally be moved or led to believe that he is God, I recognize his light and his love. And it occurs to me that each of us will connect with certain people and share a part of ourselves in a way that sheds light on their lives. That's what life is all about.

Let your light so shine, and share the gift that is you with the world.

Jasmine

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...jasminehamlett@bigfoot.com
 

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