On spiritual practices

Spiritual practices were a part of my early years. There were daily fixed prayers, daily readings of sacred texts, daily services, and rituals to be performed at births, marriages, deaths, and celebrations of holy persons and holy days. After awhile, I lost interest in these “necessities” of worship.  

  When I came to Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s Prasanthi Nilayam Ashram in Puttaparthi in 1990 I understood why I had given up doing spiritual practices. He said, “Sadhana should not become mechanical repetition of set formulae or execution of dry formalities.”Illustrating this statement, he noted, “A sage who lived long ago had a cat in his hermitage; whenever he performed a homa (offering ritual articles in the sacrificial fire), the cat frisked about the fire and gave him a lot of trouble.  So he used to catch it in advance and keep it under an inverted basket for the duration of the homa.  His son who watched this operation for years thought that this cat-catching and cat-imprisonment were vital parts of the ritual itself.  So he took great trouble to seek out a cat before every homa and felt happy when he got one which he could keep under an inverted basket in the same room. That is an example of meaningless mechanization.”

I had become like the son—doing what I thought was expected without understanding the deep symbolism of the fire, for example, the giving up of desires in the hopes of becoming one with God.  

Happily, Avatara Sai explained how to practice. “Bring the recurrent desires of your mind to me,” he said, “every time they emerge.  They cannot shock me for I willed them!  Bring me your confusion, your fear, your craving, your anxiety, your inability to love the world, your hesitation to serve, your jealousy, all the deficiencies that defy your sadhana.”

What a revelation; God had willed my behavior. The actions and reactions that I was most ashamed of were the very things that my Beloved Guru wanted from me. Over the years I heeded his guidance, dropping garlands of bad habits and vices at the Lotus Feet. 

Swami spoke directly. He said, “If a person turns the rosary on the fingers, and is intently engaged in watching the tip of his nose, unmindful of the distress that dances around him, we can at best name him a sloth, that is all.  Get up, place the rosary in its bag, and engage yourselves in relieving distress—that is the true spiritual path.  Do not waste all your years with stone images, pictures of idols. Learn to see in every living vital active person, the embodiment of all energy, all beauty, all beneficence, namely God.”

I had never wanted a spiritual guide. I thought people who followed gurus were weak and unable to heed their own intelligence.  But it was Sai Baba who gathered me up and pulled me to him, like a mother finding her long-lost child. In short, he saved my life.

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