Closer and Closer

The Interview

On the ground floor of the Mandir at Prasanthi Nilayam, the room at the western end of the long veranda through which one has to pass to arrive at the steps leading to the first floor, is known as the Interview Room. Persons blessed by Baba with a chance for private conversation and guidance, sit outside the door of this room till He directs them to come in.

Since the day of the Annunciation (23rd May 1940) when Satyanarayana declared Himself to be Sai Baba [See also: Serpent Hill], suppliants from all quarters have been streaming into the village of Puttaparthi to have His darsan, to participate in the bhajans and to earn counsel, consolation, confidence and courage from Him. And on the 23rd of November, 1950, the twenty-fifth birthday of Bhagavân, was inaugurated the Prasanthi Mandir.

Earlier, Swami was residing with a few devotees in the village itself, at a mandir constructed on a small plot of land gifted by Subbamma, the 'foster-mother', on the eastern outskirts [see also: Serpent Hill and Sai Baba Again]. When the seekers swelled in number, a long extension with a corrugated sheet roof was added as a shelter, and a separate structure with a sleeping room and a bathroom was built behind the mandir for Baba's use.

Baba, who was then in his teens, moved among the pilgrims either in the kitchens, where they would be working, or in the extended shelter where they stayed. Persons anxious to win the precious gift of His grace, or those wishing to benefit from His premonitory warnings and preparatory guidelines for spiritual progress, followed Him from one room to another, until He finally sat down somewhere upon a bedroll on the floor. They gathered in a semicircle at His feet and prodded Him with prayers, petitions and problems. On most evenings, Baba moved to the sandy bed of the Chitravathi and, while bhajans were being sung, called a few to follow Him into the thickening dusk so that He could grant them interviews.

The shrine before which bhajans were sung, was on an elevated platform at the western end of the long shed. After the bhajans it was 'closed', a thick blue curtain being drawn across the shed from south to north. Pilgrims proposing to depart were often granted interviews in the mornings and afternoons on the other side of that curtain. Then, as now, all hours of the day were spent by Him in the task of repair, reconstruction and reform of the individuals whom His Will had drawn to His presence. Repair of physical abnormalities and subnormalities was also carried out by divine surgery during such interviews.

Pada - Puja

During the years at the old mandir (and for about five years after the new mandir was occupied by Baba), every person or family leaving the presence for a substantial length of time was blessed with the opportunity to offer Pada-Puja to Swami. Pada-Puja means 'worshipping the feet'. Seated on a silver chair in a room at the eastern end of the veranda, Baba graciously placed His feet on a silver plate. The devotees poured water on the feet while Vedic hymns were recited. They then placed flowers on the feet while the 108 names of their chosen deity were repeated. After this they waved incense and lighted camphor. They offered fruits or sweets, bits of which were tasted by Swami and blessed, to their immense satisfaction. On such occasions Swami would initiate a boy into the Gayatri mantra or a child into the alphabet, would 'christen' a baby or bless a couple about to be married. There were days on which as many as three or more such pujas were performed - a measure only of the extent of Baba's compassion. After the puja, people would linger longingly, until Baba had answered the questions which tormented them and solved the riddles which baffled them. Days might melt into weeks and weeks into months, but the afflicted would await the great experience. Each day was 'the day'; each moment, 'the moment'. There were no definite days or hours when one could expect to converse with Him and undergo the 'conversion'. However, if one had to leave before one had been given this golden opportunity, one would sadly depart, hoping for better luck next time.

In spite of Prasanthi Nilayam being imposing and spacious, it did not have, until 1974, a separate, secluded room for personal conversation with the Avatar. The persons selected by Bhagavân from the rows of eager devotees, were called into the room at the eastern end of the veranda, fifteen or twenty of them at a time. Baba would first address them as a group on the various aspects of sadhana, giving them inspiration and insight. Then he would meet each one individually to impart His message, providing them solace and strength. After diagnosing their ailments, He would prescribe the antidote for their cure in a soft, unobtrusive atmosphere of love.

The events that take place during the interview are recorded only in the tablets of memory. Baba delves into personal feelings and inbuilt agonies, and is ever engaged in revealing and correcting faults, disinfecting habits, filtering emotions, fumigating passions and fostering virtues - a process that discourages publicity.

The First Interview

Dr. John Hislop writes, 

"When he had his first interview with Bhagavân, this writer was seated in a small room with his wife and several others who were part of the interview group. All attention was on the slender, elegant, graceful form of Bhagavân - His deep, luminous eyes, the sweet, warm smiles, and the charm. The critical and questioning mind stopped its restless activity. Anxiety about the world and its problems faded away from the consciousness. There remained just a feeling of quiet happiness. Although Baba was speaking, one was surrounded by quietness. In that peaceful state of being, one's awareness deepened without effort. There was a perception that something alive, something unknown, was in one's heart. In a moment, the realisation came that a current of love was moving in this writer's dry, 'western' heart, and then it was very clear that the source of that love was Bhagavân - nay, more - that the sweetness of Bhagavân Himself was there, with life, in the heart." 

How could Srî Sathya Sai Baba, a stranger never seen before, come into the heart of a mature man and bring about a change from within, a change from which there is no turning back? Surely, God is the only stranger who can do this. 

Hislop writes,

"On that memorable day when I first came into the presence of Sathya Sai Baba, I reached the end and goal of my forty-seven years of search for the One. Who could say the truth so directly that I could see for myself that it was true. Never can I forget that day."

Hislop and his wife contacted Theosophy from Dr. Annie Besant and J. Krishnamurthi, through Thray Sithu U Ba Khin and Mahesh Yogi - a series of splendid teachers who struggled on the path of jnana. "But when I came into the presence of Baba on that ever-memorable day in 1968," writes Hislop, 

"I made the totally surprising and unsuspected discovery that I was a Bhakta! Never had I shown that tendency to myself and I was truly amazed." "The Lord has to come in human form to move among men," says Baba, "so that He can be listened to, contacted, loved, revered and obeyed. He has to speak the language of men and behave like human beings do. Otherwise He will be either neglected and negated, or feared and avoided." 

Thus the Lord revealed Hislop to Hislop, and directed him on to that road within himself which leads to Him.

Doubts and Defects

Another person who underwent a similar revelatory experience was Swami Abhedananda, for long a resident sadhaka at the ashram of Bhagavân Ramana Maharshi. He wrote to me on 23rd December 1961, "To be frank, I must admit that I have been hearing of Srî Sathya Sai Babajî and about his mahimas for a long time. But hearsay does not convey a good opinion about Him. Recently, nearly a week or ten days ago, I got your book, 'Sathyam Sivam Sundaram' from a devotee of His, and I went through it. It is very interesting and illuminating, and is driving me to have a darsan of the Divinity. Will you let me know whether and when I shall be able to have the darsan?"

"Although I have been living my life in this fashion for over twenty years now, I still have doubts and defects. This body is at the fag end of its life, having passed the age of seventy-six. I cannot delay relishing the summum bonum, the certainty of which my doubts do screen. May I request you also to help me earn His grace and thus be liberated from these doubts and defects, this sinuous, unending samsara."

Even before my reply reached him, he had had a vision of both, Ramana Maharshi and Sai Baba, on the 27th at 4 a.m., while fully awake at the Ramana ashram. Baba spoke to him in clear Telugu, and directed him towards a new process of meditation. He came to Prasanthi Nilayam and was immediately blessed with an interview. His letter to me dated the 5th February 1962, gives an account of the grace Baba conferred on him: 

"I must thank you for being instrumental in exposing me to Baba's grace, which helped clear all my doubts. I was really astonished to find my old-age infirmities disappear and my weakened limbs regain strength merely by His touch. His clear exposition, with analysis and analogies, not only put an end to my long-harbored doubts, but made me see Truth face to face in its sublime nature."

"Not only this, but His transformation at the time of my leave - taking into Muralidhara Krishna (Krishna with the flute) in dazzling splendor, is a sight I shall never forget. The darsan of Saguna Brahman (the Universal Absolute incarnated as a 'limited' being), was a blessing bestowed on this poor soul to reveal the oneness of Saguna and Nirguna."




Hislop, too was very prone to accept God only as the Universal Absolute; the limited, temporal, particular incarnation, was to him less glorious and divine. So Baba gave Him, also, a vision of Himself as Krishna, in order to make him aware that the Divinity is full and free, and that It cannot be diminished or devalued if It takes the form of an avatar

Abhedananda continues in his letter, 

"I was still a believer only in Nirguna Brahman, and considered everything that was visible to be mithya. This gracious transformation of His changed me, and made me see everything - visible and imagined - to be Sathya, a part of that same Absolute Principle."

"Baba had anticipated all the difficulties and doubts which I carried to Him regarding my efforts in sadhana, and He cleared them all. He instructed me, convincing me about the validity of His advice, and how to proceed further. I am not quite convinced with the popular view attributing Avatarhood to Baba. He seems to me to be the perfect Poorna [purna: complete, full] Brahman, personified to end the unsettled state of the world by making man realise his own real nature, which is Bliss."

Sri Maharajakrishna Rasagotra, presently India's envoy to France, writes of moments he has spent in Baba's presence:

"Words cannot sum up the quality of such moments spent in Baba's company. He sits there, a picture of compassion, nay, the very embodiment of Love transforming each fleeting fraction of time into a moment of revelation, enlightenment and release. When He enters a room, you feel enveloped in the warmth of His love. You feel a part of Him, and the identification of one with the other is complete. Perhaps that is why there is nothing in one's past, present or future which is hidden from His gaze."

No more Cobwebs

"Years ago, when I first sought Him out in a remote place, without prior appointment, acquaintance or introduction, he brought up, without any suggestion or provocation from me, the subject of death, saying, 'The loss of your child weighs upon your heart still. The living must get reconciled to the inevitability of death.' He then proceeded to bring into my vision an altogether new horizon with which I was not acquainted before," says Sri Rasagotra.

I heard Him gently ask a devotee thus: "What is the cause of your worry? What are all your fears based on?" And He continued, "Your worry and fear is based on your experience in the past, experiences of yesterday. But today is not yesterday. And tomorrow will be different. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Why do you then give fresh life in your heart to the ghosts of yesterday?"

The interview is an occasion when Baba cleans the cobwebs from the brain, erases the wrinkles on the brow and cures the myopia of the intellect, by removing the distractions from the mind. He advises us to pay attention to the breath and listen to the 'Soham' it recites. He fixes a silencer to the tongue. He sweetens and softens the speech, he lightens the burden on our shoulders and gives us hope for the future. He gives new meaning to our actions and places, new goals for us to achieve. In fact, he sublimates our emotions and sanctifies our passions. Sri Rasagotra, who has experienced the grace that Baba confers during an interview upon those who go to Him with constant yearning, writes, 

"A man who goes in for a meeting with Him, seldom comes out the same. He emerges from the encounter, exalted and radiant, as if Baba has stripped him of his motley cloak of many patches and fitted him out in Love's pure raiment, for a fresh journey towards a bright, new destination."

"The transformation begins almost at the first moment of contact with Baba and the process of irresistible uplift never slackens thereafter. Perhaps this is His greatest appeal, which draws to Puttaparthi and Brindavan, men and women of all faiths and beliefs from every part of the world. The impact of His personality is instantaneous, electrifying and elevating. In His luminous presence, one feels part of a higher order of reality, lifted out of oneself, as if one were on a different, altogether purer plane of existence, where there is no lust, greed, anger or falsehood, and where, while there may be suffering and pain, there is no fear."

William Penn writes, 

"That is the wonderment of Baba; once He enters your life, He fills it completely. It becomes totally different, totally delightful."

Baba installs Himself as the Master in every heart that is warm with love. No problem is beneath His notice or beyond His benediction. He challenges us with dilemmas, and when the effort fails and the ego surrenders, He deals with our personal problems with intimate sympathy. So most of what happens then - the counsel He bestows, the courage He installs, the dilemmas He reconciles, the despair He overcomes, the symbols of grace He gifts, the revelations He vouchsafes and the doubts He resolves - is not recorded to be retold. Some idea of what those whom Baba selects, earn during an interview, can be gained from the following account received from a participant.

What Does Happen

"There were seven others in the batch which Baba called into the room that morning. A doctor from Bombay, a lady from Sri Lanka, an American couple from Los Angeles, two American scientists from the Psychic Research Society in New York, and a gentleman from Hong Kong. A remarkable assortment indeed, and a good sample of the variety in the eager rows of visitors sitting before the mandir awaiting this stroke of luck. There was an ornate chair in the room, but Baba sat on the floor, with us sitting around Him. As He sat down He created vibhuti, and gave us each a share, He called on me to translate His Hindi into English, though my Hindi was poor and His English was unexceptionable. It was a unique experience for me and I was genuinely happy at getting the chance. Perhaps that was the reason why He asked me to do so. Baba made us feel quite at ease, as if we had gathered before our family hearth. He appeared extremely youthful and handsome, cheerful and buoyant - the very embodiment of graceful charm."

"He suddenly turned towards the American couple and asked them if that day was not the 33rd anniversary of their wedding. They were stunned. It took a few seconds for them to say yes. He then created a ring with His portrait embossed on it, and placing it on the trembling palm of the lady, He asked her to put it on her husband's finger. He waved His hand yet again: a gold chain, with a golden lotus suspended from it, emerged. He directed the gentleman to put the chain around the neck of his wife. Their joy knew no bounds; they had never dreamt that Baba would remind them of the significance of that day. How could He, when they themselves had forgotten it in His presence. And Baba had now celebrated it with such unforgettable grandeur!"

"Baba asked the scientists, 'What is your explanation for the materialisation?' They sat silent. 'The laws of physics,' Baba said, 'do not allow something to be created out of nothing. But they do not hold good as far as I am concerned.' They asked, 'How is that?' Baba said that science was limited to the world that could be perceived, that was manifest. But the spiritual eye can see matter where even the most powerful microscope can find none. 'I need no X-rays or chemical graphs to diagnose a disease. You, too, can develop such spiritual insight. I am here to reveal to man this possibility and to lead him to new vistas of peace and potence,' Baba said."

Why Bring to Life?

"The scientists asked Baba whether He had gone out of His body to rescue a man who was drowning in a well at Kuppam village, as was reported by Murphet. Baba said, 'I did save the man, Radhakrishna, from drowning; but I did not go from here to there to do that. I was there already. I am everywhere at all times. I need not go or come back.' "

"They asked Baba, 'On what basis do you bestow grace upon people?' Baba replied, 'I bestow grace when a person has fully surrendered to Me and when the situation so demands. At Madras, Walter had three attacks of heart failure, full and fatal, but I saved his life all the three times, for that was needed. I also brought Radhakrishna back to life for just ten days, because I deemed it necessary. You ask Me about death and the extension of life; but I say that you are neither born, nor can you die.' "

" 'Can you grant grace to a country as a whole?' asked an American. 'I can,' said Baba, 'if I desire. I have granted these two scientists special grace, giving them many chances to watch Me and listen to Me, for they are interested and have the capacity to help humanity by the knowledge gained from these experiences.' Just then, one of the scientists observed that the stone on a ring materialised earlier by Baba, was missing. All of us started looking for it; but Baba indicated, with a smile, that He had dematerialised it."

"Then Baba rose and gave short personal interviews to each of us. Within minutes, all my doubts and uncertainties had been resolved. He injected into my life a new sense of purpose. As I stood speechless before Him, He reassured me, holding my hands in His, saying, 'Do not worry. I will take care of you. I am always with you, beside you, in your very heart.' "

"A few days later Baba called the two scientists, two new couples from America, a British citizen and myself into the interview room. He enquired about the missing gemstone. Then He took the ring back from the scientist and, holding it before His mouth, gently blew upon it three times. The missing stone reappeared, firm and beautiful. 'It is Sankalpa, the Will, that does it' Baba explained."


Ring, with the face of Krishna, 
materialized by Baba at another occasion

"Baba then spoke of the need for the cultivation of compassion and humility, self-control and a virtuous character, among scientists. He spoke of the atom bomb and other destructive weapons, and described the holocaust wrought by such weapons. As He began speaking, 'Seven thousand years ago, on the historic battlefield of Kurukshetra..' an American intervened with the question, 'How does Baba know of events that took place seven thousand years ago? From books, or through other means?' Baba smiled, 'I know what happened seventy thousand years ago! I can go forward and backward in time, and learn of anything I wish. Time and space can impose no limitation on Me.' "

"Someone questioned Baba about the halo that Hislop had written He saw around Baba's head. 'Thousands have seen the halo,' Baba said. 'You must be both, near Me and dear to Me, to be able to see it,' He added."

"This question led to many others, and Baba answered them all in a short talk He gave us: 'You are surprised that I can be in two bodies at the same time, or in a thousand different places. When I give you a ring or any other object materialised by Me, it instantly informs Me whenever you are in imminent danger. I can reach you immediately and render all necessary help. However, even if you have only genuine love and devotion for Me, My response will still be immediate. I respond to every sincere prayer, no matter what form or name of God you may adore and worship.' "

"Once, in this very room, Indra Devi of Tecate (Mexico) was sitting with others, listening to Me. She had an American gentleman, whose wife was in the States, sitting here. I knew that her car had met with serious accident while she was in it. Even while engaged in conversation with them, I saved her and gave all necessary assistance. Here, I told her husband not to worry, and to go home as planned."

" 'Now science and technology have advanced tremendously, but man has no peace of mind. Tranquillisers and sleeping pills have become a must for everyone. A simple and regulated life which includes natural foods and plenty of physical exercise, is the best remedy for the complicated diseases that haunt man in all lands. I do a lot of work as you must have seen, and take a small quantity of simple food. I do not take milk, curds, butter or fruit-juice. This body will continue to be in good health until its ninety-fourth year. I must admit that, occasionally, I take upon Myself the ailments of My devotees, but these only pass through My body without having any effect on Me.' "

Helping Thousands

"Someone asked how many hours Baba slept at night. 'I do not sleep at all,' He replied. To a question about gesticulating with His hands, Baba said, 'During bhajans, when I am seated, you find Me gesticulating with my hands or fingers. Sometimes it appears as if I am writing in the air. People are curious to know why. At such times I am communicating with people you cannot see. I am engaged in tasks that you cannot understand. I write replies to questions asked by someone far away, and help thousands of people in every part of the world.' "

"Then He called us into the antechamber, one by one, and spent some time with each, healing and heartening, comforting and correcting. I secured a second chance to touch His feet and to draw strength and spiritual sustenance from another assurance of His ever-present grace."

"An American asked, 'When will I have another chance?' Baba smiled and, patting him on his back, replied, 'Today, a group of villagers has come. I give Myself first to the needy and the poor. Most of the people who come here have no money to spend for a long stay, I'll give you another chance when I am free.' "

" 'The material is only a baser state of the spiritual, of the divine. It is the fulfilment of God's Will, the measure of His power. Creation can take place only when the power of the spirit is channelled properly. Sai Baba is bringing this truth into our awareness today,' said the octogenarian, Dr. Sigfried Knauer, MD, of Mexico. Speaking about the interview he was granted, he told an audience at San Diego, 'He called me in. After some minutes of talk, which I will keep to myself, Baba asked me to cup my hands, and he slowly dropped one by one, thirty-three tiny amber-colored pills. (Thirty-three vertebrae, He explained.) The pills had formed in His palm, one after another.' "

"At Bombay, before my departure from India, Baba called me into one of the rooms at Dharmakshetra, where He was alone. He circled His hands a few times, and turning His palm up, He showed me how a liquid was slowly filling one hand. 'Oil,' He said. It had an exquisite fragrance. Then He rubbed both palms to spread the oil evenly on them, and He gave me treatment with the oil. In gratitude, I wanted to touch His feet, but He did not let me do so."

No Reaching

"By what path can we reach You soonest?" once asked a doyen of Hindu metaphysics. Baba replied, "I am too near to you to prescribe a path for you. You cannot reach Me. If you need Me, I am yours." W.G. Steve, an architect from Honolulu, narrates, "The little interview room was crowded, and Baba launched into a spiritual discourse, with specific comments directed towards some but seemingly applicable to all. Then came the individual session during which He quickly cut into the secret depths of our being - our problems of health, previous meetings when He had contacted Irene in a dream (!) and, would you believe, the details of that dream, difficulties we encountered in our individual efforts in sadhana, the personal desires of each of us, and our own internal turmoils. Vibhuti was also manifested. All this was quickly, naturally and spontaneously delivered and conferred with love and understanding, which rendered new meaning to old words. Here was a confidante, guide, doctor, friend, father, mother and god beside us both, as One."

How is this supremacy of the spirit attained? When Baba says that we, too can attain it, what does He really mean? Dat Pethe sheds light on this: 

"Whenever a meeting of two individuals takes place, it is really two separate psychological setups that meet, each set-up confronting the other with a complex of innumerable experiences, stored memories, sentimental attachments, bias towards various matters and situations, and countless idiosyncrasies. These form the background and the source from which the words used in conversation by the two individuals originate. But when Baba is talking to somebody, one is struck by the discovery that on His side there is no such set-up at all. And He gives us the power to get over the handicap of our own confused and disorganised set-up."

Once, to an earnest aspirant clamouring for an interview, Baba said, 

"I am giving you interviews every day (through the inner voice). It is you who always avoid granting Me an interview, an enter-in-view, from viewing you as Me, in Me." 

When we realise the truth in Baba's declaration, "I am in you and you are in Me; we are really One," the so-called 'interviews' with Him become superfluous. Jerry Bas writes, 

"A fellow pilgrim from the United States, when about to return home, prayed to Baba for an interview. Baba stood before him for a few seconds and said, "Be great! Be great! In reality, you are great!... Interview? Interview is small; it makes you separate." That reply is worth pondering over in silence for some time.




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Written by N. Kasturi M.A., B.L.