Odd

Background Information:

These stories are biographical narrations by the author, written down around 20 years ago. This was originally meant to be published as a book, but after completing the first eight chapters, the author chose not to continue, and thus we are left with the stories in their present incomplete form. Most of these stories took place around 1970. The areas discussed in these stories have changed greatly in the last 40 years and may not match what we see today. All of these stories are factual. There is no plan to ever publish this book, so if you want to know more, or if you want to know about other events that occurred, you would have to meet the author personally.

Chapter Eight

A day or so later I asked my friend to take me around the village. We went to the Chitravati river, but since it was the dry season there was no water, just a sand channel.

On a rocky mound near the riverbed stood a tamarind tree from which Sai Baba is said to have magically plucked mangos and other fruits during his youth. I clambered up the rocks and sat beneath it. At the time I was not aware of the significance Sai Baba’s followers attached to this tree; I only happened to go there because it looked like a suitable spot for meditation. I sat in the lotus pose, and my friend sat next to me. With closed eyes I visualized Lord Rama, God’s avatar as the prince who defeated the demon Ravana.

When I opened my eyes my friend was sitting close with his hands folded and a doglike look in his eyes, as if expecting some teaching or order from me. He looked so utterly helpless that I had to pity him. I figured the best thing I could do was to get him out of the village, for here his foolishness would only increase.

“You should to go to Bangalore, where Sai Baba has his smaller center. There will be no interview for you here.”

He asked despondently, “Swami, what paap (sin) have I done?”

“You’ve done many”, I replied. He shivered. “But just do this – go to Bangalore. And Sai Baba may yet see you there.” In the back of my mind I was thinking, “You fool, can’t you see you’re neither rich enough nor unusual enough – like me – to get Sai Baba’s attention?”

Within a few days he left, after arranging with the shop owner my continued stay in his room.

On another day’s stroll, I stopped at an old Satyabhama temple on the outskirts of the village. This temple was established by Sai Baba’s grandfather, Kondama Raju. It is said that his son Pedda prayed here for a second male child; subsequently, a boy was born who got the name Satya Narayana, known later as Sai Baba.

I found it curious that the temple was in need of repairs as if it was neglected by Sai Baba’s followers. By a strange coincidence, I’d arrived at the same time as Sai Baba’s older brother, who had come to visit the temple from his home nearby.

I asked him about his famous sibling: “Do you think he is God?”

He waved his hand impatiently. “This is sinful”, he said with faint disgust. “That’s a big mistake he’s making, and God will punish him for it. He was stung by a scorpion when he was a boy, and after that time started babbling about being Sai Baba.

“It may be that when he was stung that baba came into his body,” the brother continued, “but no matter what happened, for him to claim he is Rama and Krishna is wrong. In our family we worship Rama and Krishna as God, but he has taken that position for himself.”

“When his time comes, he will be punished for this blasphemy.”

The significance of the brother’s final statement was not lost on me.

I’d become an overnight junior celebrity at the ashram; in my yellow cloth I stood out in the crowd, and the news that I’d eaten lunch with Sai Baba had spread like wildfire throughout the compound. I often entertained the crowd by singing Sai Baba’s songs in the style I’d learned from him. Twice daily, different rich men fed me at the canteen. Yet despite the attention I was enjoying, I was growing restless. I’d declared myself a seeker of God, but the easy life here diverted me from my intended goal.

On the seventh day, an excited N.K. came up to me in the canteen.

“Sai Baba wants to speak to you.”

“Should I go to the darshan place?”

“No, you just go up to his quarters.”

“What, right now? Just walk in?”

“He’s there waiting to see you!” N.K. was almost frantic, so exasperated was he with my quibbling. “Please, you just immediately go to him! Even I’m not getting such chance of close contact to Sai Baba!”

So, very casually, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, I walked up the stairs to the interview room and sat down. He didn’t come out. Finally I just strolled into the front room where we’d eaten together. But he was not there either. I looked in his bedroom.

On the bed he faced me, reclining on his side, his head supported under a folded arm. As I entered he smiled broadly and lifted his hand in blessing.

Sai

I looked around for a place to sit, but there was no chair in the room. Finally I just sat down on the corner of the bed. “N.K. said you want to see me”, I began.

“Yes”, he replied. “I just wanted to ask you if you’ve found God yet.”

“No, I haven’t”.

With a hint of knowing irony in his voice, he said, “Under the tamarind tree you meditated on Rama.”

“Yes, I did”, I replied evenly. “That’s my usual dhyana. I like to meditate on Rama, the ocean of mercy. He protects those who are weak.”

His eyes bored into mine. “But why are you looking for God elsewhere when you sit with him now?”

I let a polite, thoughtful expression register on my face before telling him, “You are a holy man and my elder, and I am very low and sinful. I don’t want to say anything improper to you, please understand, but – you are not God.”

He nodded as I spoke, as if expecting my rejection of his divinity. “All right”, he said when I finished, “as you see me, so I look. If you want to see me as God, I am God. If not, I’m not. But try to understand – that is what God is.” He spoke a little more along this line, peppering his arguments with the usual Advaitist slogans.

I interrupted him. “Excuse me, but I’ve read all this in your Rama Katha book. Now, one time in there you say everybody is Rama, and another time you say that you are Rama. So what do you actually mean? Look, I know you are not Rama. Why don’t you just tell your followers that everyone is Brahman? Isn’t this your philosophy? If it is, then you should know that it is incorrect for you to say ‘everyone is Rama’ or ‘I am Rama’, because Rama is a person, and Brahman is impersonal.”

“Yes”, he replied in a patient tone of voice, as if indulging a wayward child. “But I have realized Brahman, and they have not.”

I got a bit upset at this point. “Then you should make them realize it. But you deliberately keep them in a position inferior to yourself. You are pushing them down, not lifting them up. At great personal sacrifice they are coming here from many miles distant to wait outside for weeks and months just to catch a glimpse of you, and here you are, happily enjoying it all. Even ordinary politicians show more interest in their followers than you do. You just threw all those letters in the can. At least you could read them.”

“Cool down, cool down”, he waved languidly. “As soon as I touch those letters, I know what is in them, and I answer through their karma.”

I stared at him in exasperation, hardly believing what I was hearing. “But karma is always happening. If you act through their karma, what do you need this ashram for? Why do they have to come here to see you? Please don’t mind my boldness, but I am very disturbed by all this. When the curtain moves, these poor people are thinking you are there. They are so gullible, and I am sorry to say I think you are exploiting them.”

“But I was there when the curtain moved”, he said self-contentedly. “You sang Chitta Chora very nicely. I was there.”

Now even more disappointed, I told him, “I know you have mystical powers. You see and hear things ordinary men cannot. So why don’t you use your powers to remove their sufferings once and for all instead of playing them along like this? Why do you keep those who have surrendered to you in ignorance of their eternal spiritual existence? How will they ever get out of this miserable world of birth and death? Just giving earrings doesn’t solve the problems of life.”

“All right”, he said, a hint of resignation in his voice, “you will understand later on.” Then, changing the subject he asked, “You need any help here?”

“No, I am fully protected by God.”

“You don’t give that credit to me?”

“To some extent I do, because these people who are paying for me are your devotees. But I see it is my karma that is supplying my upkeep in this world. And that is true for all those people out there, and that is also true for you. You have a karma that allows you to sit there, and my karma allows me to sit here. If I had your karma and you had mine, I’d be the ‘God’ here, and you would be the frustrated one.”

He didn’t hear me. A change came over him and he sat up, his eyes unfocused and glittering. “I have to go down now”, he said in a distant voice. “I will speak with you again.” He quickly exited, leaving me in his room alone.

I decided to have a look around. Opening a closet in his bedroom, I found it filled with orange gowns. I wanted to find his stock of ash, having myself previously experimented with teleporting ash with the aid of a mantra. But the room was bare of anything save the bed and a few standard items.

So I sat upon the bed as he did, imitating his pose in jest and admiring myself in the bedroom mirror. Then I got up and looked from the balcony as he ran up and down the rows, generating mass hysteria. The police had to restrain people from mobbing him. Then he went onto the Shanti Vedika stage.

I suddenly felt sorry for him. “This man is like a puppet,” I thought. “All these people think he’s God, and he believes it himself – but he, and they, are just being guided by some higher force over which he has no control.”

I went down to see what he was up to. Onstage, he had the crowd going in full swing. Arms upraised, he lead them in song, which they responded to in a riotous chorus. As the song ended he collapsed into a chair. He was worshiped with incense, lamp and flowers, like a murti in the temple. Then a group of Sanksrit pandits chanted the Rudram and Chamakam prayers, which are meant for Shiva, to him. This was too much for me. I walked out of the compound to my room.

On the morning of the ninth day I decided to go. I went to N.K. and shook his hand, saying, “Thank you and goodbye.”

He was surprised: “You’re going? I thought you would stay here. You sing so sweetly. We had one swamiji from Hrishikesh who also sang for Sai Baba, and Sai Baba took very nice care of him. He will take care of you too.”

“God is taking care of me. What can Sai Baba do? Let him take care of himself first,” was my quick reply. “You should watch out for his health – when he gets into those running moods, I think it isn’t good for him.”

“What?!” N.K. spluttered. “What is this you are telling?!”

“No, never mind, I didn’t say anything”, I reassured him, smiling brightly. I waved him off, saying “Sorry, I’ve got to go now”, and went into the canteen to bid adieu to the manager.

Today there were only about a hundred people gathered at the darshan area. It had been announced that Sai Baba would go to Bangalore; his big foreign-made automobile was ready at his private exit gate.

I went into the Mandir’s ground-floor bhajan hall and made obeisances before the altar upon which the forms of Krishna, Satya-Narayana and Shiva were displayed. As I came out, I looked up and saw Sai Baba motioning to me from the balcony.

I strode up the stairs and found him in the interview room sitting in a chair, his hands on the armrests. I entered, offered him my respects and took a chair facing him.

“So?” he smiled. “Going?”

“Yes,” I smiled back.
“But you said you’d stay two weeks.”

“Sorry, but I’ve become too dissatisfied here. I cannot bear to see these people anymore and all the suffering and anxiety they are putting themselves through for you.”

“Do you know where you will go next?”

“No, I don’t, but I hope to end up in a peaceful place.”

All at once he rose from his seat, his eyes again glittering. He gazed down into my face and intoned meaningfully, “Until you find what you’re looking for, you’ll have no problem for food.”

He lifted his right palm: “I will maintain you.”

“For whatever you are doing for me,” I replied, “I am very thankful. But I don’t accept you as God.”

In an odd voice he prophesized, “You yourself will become God.” He moved his hand forward as if to give me vibhuti.

“No”, I countered, “don’t give me that ash. I don’t want to take it from you like this. Just let me take it from the container.”

“But why won’t you take it from my hand?” he purred.

“Well”, I grinned, “I know it doesn’t originate from your hand, so let me take it from where it really comes.”

“You’re wrong. It does come from my hand”, he insisted.

“Sorry”, I grinned again. “I don’t believe you. Let me take it from the container.”

Without saying another word, he went into his quarters and brought out a small pot filled with ash. Holding it out to me he said simply, “Very well. If you want, take it from here.” I sprinkled a bit on my head.

“Please go happily and remember my words to you.”

I said, “Namaste,” and got up to go. He spoke once more.

“You dislike me, don’t you?”

“No, you’re a nice man. Why should I dislike you?”

“When you find what you’re looking for, you will dislike me,” he said softly in that odd prophetic voice. He left me and I went downstairs and out of the compound.

Relieved to be departing the village, I walked out of town along the main road until I reached the highway. I turned to have my last sight of the ashram. Just then, Sai Baba’s big car glided out of the special gate, drove down the road and turned onto the highway in my direction.

The automobile sidled up next to me, its motor humming. In the back I saw the familiar smiling face ringed by the frizzy hairdo. Next to him was a well-known female singer in an expensive silk sari. As his electric window buzzed down, he told the driver to turn off the engine.

“I’m going to Bangalore”, he called to me. “Would you like to come?”

“No,” I told him. “Now I’m taking my own direction.”

“But you don’t know where you are going.”

“That’s true, but I am going nonetheless.”

He turned to the lady and said, “He doesn’t even know where he’s going. He’s just looking. I tell him to stay, but he says ‘no, I am going.’ I ask him where, he says ‘I don’t know.’ All the time just looking, looking.”

Then I said jokingly, “But like everybody, I am only looking for you.”

Sai

Still speaking to the lady he said, “Everybody’s looking for me to become themselves. He’s looking for me to become myself.”

I laughed, a bit embarrassed. I could see he knew my motivations all too well. He turned to me again. “Go to Jilallamuri and see Amma.” Amma was a woman whom many said was an incarnation of a goddess. “You’ll be very happy in Jilallamuri.”

“How shall I get there?”

He said something to the lady. She took 25 rupees out of her handbag and handed the money to him, and he held it out to me.

“You have 25 rupees; it costs 23 rupees eighty to take a bus from here. Just go to the bus stand and wait.”

Taking the money, I waved, “All right, so goodbye. This is the last time we’ll see each other.”

“No, we’ll meet again,” he said gaily. He told his driver to start the engine, and the window buzzed up. Then he was off.

I went to the bus station; the Jilallamuri bus soon came and I boarded it. Rolling through the parched landscape, I reflected on my recent experiences.

Amma lived in the simple village environs of Jilillamuri with her husband and six children. She attracted much bigger crowds at her place than Sai Baba did at the ashram. Like Sai Baba, she was reputed to have miraculous powers of healing and problem-solving. But unlike him, she arranged that her crowds were fed daily free of charge with a sumptuous feast.

In the morning and the evening she gave lectures dressed in colorful silks, crown and ornaments like Devi. The rest of the day she wore a simple sari and did household chores.

She lived in a no-frills four room house with her family. In the yard she had built a spacious hall for the pilgrims. It wasn’t difficult to have audience with her, and it was all the easier for me, for I came dressed as a sadhu and had been sent by Sai Baba.

I found her in the kitchen, cooking for her family. She was a plump, friendly woman with a big sindhur dot on her forehead who looked for all the world like an average Hindu housewife. She fed me first and then we talked.

I told her that I was searching for someone who could show me a higher state of spiritual awareness, and that I had not been satisfied with what I’d seen in Sai Baba. She immediately said, “Oh, then you should go see Bala Yogi.” Bala Yogi was an ascetic mystic who lived not far from Jilillamuri.

“Yes, I can go see him also”, I replied, “but I see you are very advanced yourself. I am impressed by your simplicity, practicality and especially your charitable attitude to others.”

She gazed at me unblinkingly for a moment and then said, “But I cannot help you. You have a great desire to become God. But that is impossible. God is already God. We are like small drops that have been churned out of a big pot of dahi (yoghurt). We can’t claim to be the whole pot of dahi; of course at times some people may think we are. But we should tell them we are not. Sai Baba says he is the whole pot. But it’s all from the last life. He’s left over with some power. Anyway, it is not my policy to criticize.”

Just then a man walked in. Amma got up from the table we were sitting at and touched his feet. She introduced him to me as her husband. Assuring him she’d be only a few more minutes, she then turned back to me.

I told her that Sai Baba said I would become inimical to him after I found what I was looking for. She remarked, “I also see many things, but I keep them to myself.” I asked her what she meant by ‘the whole pot of yogurt’, and she explained that it was the totality of everything of which we are only tiny parts. We can only realize that totality through devotion, she said; by devotion she meant service to family, friends and fellow man.

She paused, detecting my skepticism. I commented that I’d heard this explanation before. “I can more or less accept what you say intellectually, but I think the actual realization of this oneness that gurus and avatars speak about is much more difficult than it is admitted to be. That is why I am looking for a teacher who can show me this truth you are telling me about.”

“So, that’s why I am saying you should go see Bala Yogi,” she replied quietly. “You won’t find what you want here. Anyway” – she closed her eyes as if meditating on some inner vision – “keep clean inwardly and outwardly. That is the only way to always feel the presence of God in everything.”

After taking her blessings, I left. I was impressed by this woman, much more impressed than I was with Sai Baba, but meeting her had not done anything for my growing desire to actually experience transcendental knowledge myself. Outside, I asked the way to Mummidivaram, the village of Bala Yogi. I begged the fare and boarded the bus.

Bala Yogi was an ascetic who had renounced his home when he was only six years old. He came to Mummidivaram and sat down on the ground in meditation, never to move from that place again. It was said he neither ate nor passed stool nor urine after that. Moreover, a cobra snake was his constant companion. A house had been built around Bala Yogi by the faithful, and the people of the village profited greatly from the pilgrims that flocked to see him. But he remained aloof from all this attention.

It was only possible to see him during a period of a few days out of every month. During those days a huge multitude gathered at Mummidivaram to have darshan. It so happened that I arrived there during one of these peak periods. The darshan queue was so long that I supposed it would take me two days of standing in line before I would get a chance to see Bala Yogi. I lost heart and decided to move on.

But while I viewed the scene from a distance, a man hailed me. He’d been sent by a government minister who had noticed me. The minister, thinking by my dress that I’d come all the way from North India, invited me to have a special darshan.

Bala Yogi was said to be fifty years old but looked only thirty, having the wispy beard of a young man and long matted locks of hair on his head. His finger- and toenails had grown out long and crazily twisted. He sat glowering in the half-lotus posture with a large fired clay statue of a cobra behind him, the hood of which was poised over his head like an umbrella.

The pilgrims passed quickly before him. There was no time for anyone to have more than the briefest look. I had entered with the minister and some other big men who apparently wanted to have a private talk with the yogi. They stopped the procession of pilgrims and announced their desire to discuss improvements of the pilgrimage site. Bala Yogi simply screamed at them incoherently, sounding like nothing else than a child throwing a temper tantrum. The minister and his friends retreated quickly, and the procession resumed. An attendant asked me to leave.

I went out and stopped at a soft drink shop. There were photographs of Bala Yogi hung on the back wall. I struck up a conversation with the man behind the counter and asked if there were any relatives of Bala Yogi living in this area. “He has three brothers”, the man answered, “and one doesn’t like him. The other two are members of the committee that organizes the pilgrimage services in town.”

I asked for the address of the brother who had rejected Bala Yogi. He lived in the outskirts of Mummidivaram, in the area of the family’s ancestral home. I went there and found him to be an elderly man, retired from active life.

Asked about his brother, he recalled, “One fine morning the boy left home. He went over there where he is now and sat down. He wouldn’t eat, and there was this cobra with him that frightened everybody away. The family used to go there and clap hands from a distance; then he’d send the snake away and we could talk to him. But try as we might, he would not come home. Later on all these people started coming.”

“But what is his goal?” I inquired.

He shrugged. “His purpose is known to him alone. All I know is that he doesn’t like people. He only stayed where is now because the family begged him to not go farther off than he’d done. You see, he was only six years old, and naturally mother and father were quite afraid to lose him. But he never cared for them – his own parents! He certainly doesn’t care for these people who come to worship him now.”

Then I asked, “What do you think about all these people saying he is God or an avatar?” He answered emphatically, “Just because a man has three wives does not make him Dasharatha.” Then he explained that his father had three wives, just as King Dasharatha had. King Dasharatha was the father of Lord Rama. “My father had three wives, like Dasharatha, and he also had four sons, like Dasharatha. But that doesn’t mean that one son must be Rama.”

It appeared that Bala Yogi needed to sit in one place to maintain his powers. There was also a secret about his connection with the cobra that I found out later in the Himalayas. And, though common folk considered him to be God, Bala Yogi himself never made such a claim; indeed, he didn’t seem to care a fig what his devotees thought about him.

After bidding goodbye to the yogi’s brother, I went out and sat beneath a tree to think things over. Giving up my worldly life, I had set out to become an accomplished spiritual master, but I knew I needed training. So far I’d seen three well-known masters who were said to be highly advanced. But I found Sai Baba to be a mere caricature. Amma was praiseworthy for her simplicity and dutifulness, but she could not help me in my search; at least she was honest enough to admit it. And this Bala Yogi looked like a grim misanthrope who just sneered at anyone who fell at his feet.

Considering all this, I found myself laughing at how useless my search was proving to be.

But I’d looked for only ten days. I couldn’t so quickly give up hope that there was a teacher somewhere out there who was genuine and who could actually help me.

I decided to go to the Himalayas.

[ Editor’s Note: The biography ends here and has never been completed. In all likelyhood it will never be completed. ]

Parts in this series:
Chapter 1: Exposure to the Tantric Path
Chapter 2: Secrets of Left-hand Tantra
Chapter 3: The Gate of Dreams (Tantrics of Kerala)
Chapter 4: The Self in the Mirror
Chapter 5: Again a Mouse
Chapter 6: I become ‘Swami Atmananda’
Chapter 7: With and against Sai Baba
Chapter 8: Odd Gods of the South

Background information: These stories are biographical narrations by the author, written down around 20 years ago. This was originally meant to be published as a book, but after completing the first eight chapters, the author chose not to continue, and thus we are left with the stories in their present incomplete form. Most of these stories took place around 1970. The areas discussed in these stories have changed greatly in the last 40 years and may not match what we see today. All of these stories are factual. There is no plan to ever publish this book, so if you want to know more, or if you want to know about other events that occurred, you would have to meet the author personally.