O, Lord, pour Your words of love and wisdom through me. When not a blade of grass moves without Your Will, Your love and attention were surely present in my life before I knew of You
I did not find out about Swami until I was nearly 30 years old. I’m well north of that now. As He says, each of us is born with an invisible garland of karma around our neck from previous lives. My birth occurred this time in America into a military family of loving Christian parents. My father taught me discipline, perseverance and to tell the truth; my mother kindled the flame of love for God by reading stories from the Bible. The family of four children moved frequently with Army assignments. Adapting quickly to new environments and new friends was our way of life. Though we did not meet until a year or so before our marriage in 1970, my wife grew up similarly as her father was also in the Army. Growing up amidst a mobile lifestyle would have a bearing on how my wife and I came to India to see Swami the first time.
As a university student in America in the late 1960s, I was simultaneously distracted by the turbulence and excesses of the times, while searching for answers to fundamental questions, "who am I, what is the purpose of life?" Some of the karma began to unwind. I gave up hunting and fishing as a sport practised by my family. Though an honorable institution for a country, I gave up a career path into the military. I chose psychology as a major course of study primarily to find out about myself, not with bread-winning in mind. Immediately after the last year of college in 1969, undecided about a career, I traveled with my wife-to-be to California which was viewed then by many as a place of inspiration. Within days of our arrival we joined a meditation group on the north coast and immersed ourselves in a western form of the spiritual discipline Surat Shabd Yoga. In several months we were married, a traditional wedding with both extended families. We began to go on retreats with the meditation group to Mount Shasta in northern California. On one of the trips the group went to the city park. We were enjoying the refreshing sights and sounds of the large spring pool of the headwaters of the Sacramento River where hundreds of gallons of water per minute gush forth from the base of a hill. Something caught my eye in the pool, it was a large wood axe. I picked it up and heard a voice inside, “You will build a house here.”
Continuing in the tradition of moving, we lived in several states and worked in various fields for two years during a time the country was in an economic recession. Jobs and places to live came our way. We felt it was time to settle down and raise a family. Still with no careers identified, in 1975 we drove across the country directly to the city of Mount Shasta at the base of the mountain. We arrived in the midst of a snowstorm. We found a motel room and walked in the snow to a nearby health food restaurant called “Friends of the Mountain.” When the owner heard we came for the spirituality of the mountain, she said, “Oh, you need to see Pearl!” Within a few days we were in Pearl’s living room beginning, along with others, an informal teacher-student relationship. We took up “I Am” affirmations and meditation, in a form of Raja Yoga, or Yoga of the mind. Practicing affirmations, we became vegetarians and engaged in actions comparable to what we now know as "Ceiling on Desires." A career in education opened up unexpectedly, a field inherent with service and requiring additional degrees. Two children were born, and, yes, we did build a house in the Mount Shasta area. During this period, we were regular attendees at readings and meditation sessions. A Sai devotee from New York, Hal Honig, gave Pearl a photo of Sai Baba which became our first view of His form.
In 1976 we attended a public meeting on Sathya Sai Baba in Mount Shasta. We left with vibhuti and began feeding it daily to our infant son who had experienced a health issue at birth which would require surgery towards the end of his first year. Nine months later when we brought him for surgery, a scan showed no difficulty at all, so we were sent home, relieved and grateful. We believed it was Swami who healed him. A year more passed, and our daughter was born. We soon attended the Sai Centre in Mount Shasta, one of the first Centres established in America. With kids churning in our laps, we sat through the singing of Indian bhajans and left the Centre afterwards, looked at each other, and agreed, singing foreign songs was not for us. We did not return for three years. Then in 1979 we found an audio cassette tape atop a pile of recycling items as we entered a health food store. The tape was labeled “Sathya Sai Baba Sings the Bhajans at the Golden Jubilee”, His 50th Birthday celebration. We came home, put the tape in the player, and heard the beautiful entrancing singing of the Lord. It was as if the sky opened up and rainbows came out. We played it nearly every waking moment for several days. We realised singing devotional songs stops the mind and opens the heart. We were definitely caught in His net of love. We began attending the Centres devotional meetings and singing bhajans enthusiastically. We read books about Swami, heard about the overpowering love in His presence, had dreams and inner experiences, and by 1981 we were on a plane as a family to see Swami.
Here is where our upbringing of frequently moving affected our trip to see Swami. We had no doubt He was the Indivisible Supreme Absolute Lord. We had heard of people from the west going to live near Him. Why not us, too, we thought. So perhaps naively, yet full of faith, I quit my job, we sold our home, and embarked on our journey to see the Lord. Among many other signs that bolstered our faith to go in this manner were stories of Swami’s miracles that we heard at the time—stories similar to miracles Jesus had performed: Bringing back to life Walter Cowan and others; a family being in a car wreck and discovering the baby unharmed 50 feet from the accident on a pillow with a photo of Swami beneath it; and food being served from a miraculously never-ending supply in the cooking pots.
Our trip is another full story. Seeing Him for the first time, talking briefly in darshan line were transforming events. Suffice to say in this short account, staying indefinitely at the ashram was not meant to be for us.
There was no Western Canteen at the ashram in those days. The South Indian Canteen food was too spicy for our western palate, and we began to lose weight. We followed Swami’s directions to stay on at the ashram. As we continued to attend darshan, we realised we had to return to America. The night before leaving, Swami came to me in a dream and said, “I know you are leaving, but I am not through with you yet.” Thus, He began as a jeweler working with unrefined gold to mould and refine me, sometimes with heat and pounding, but always with His love. As He told me on a later trip, “You think that Swami will disappoint you. Swami will never disappoint.”
As devotees, when we are called into His orbit, we are all blessed with transformation as we follow Swami’s directions and His teachings. Over time we move toward the end goal, Self-realisation. The number of years counting oneself as a devotee seems less important than perseverance to be constantly true to His teachings. As to perseverance, when I look back, there were periods where I could have done more, but it is said, remembering to return the errant mind to one’s spiritual efforts is true spirituality. The goal of constant integrated awareness—or keeping the Lord ever-present in my mind’s eye—remains.
Sathya Sai Baba has opened my eyes to the essence of the Christian path, love. He explains the growth in awareness Jesus experienced as an example for each devotee: first I am in the light, or I am Yours; second, the light is in me, or You are mine; last, I am the light, or You and I are one. Most touching for me is Swami’s statement in His Christmas discourse of 1972:
The statement of Christ is simple: “He who sent me among you will come again!" and he pointed to a Lamb. The Lamb is merely a symbol, a sign. It stands for the Voice---Ba-Ba; the announcement was the Advent of Baba. "His Name will be Truth," Christ declared. Sathya means Truth. "He will wear a robe of red, a blood red robe." (Here Baba pointed to the robe He was wearing!). "He will be short, with a crown (of hair). The Lamb is the sign and symbol of Love.” Christ did not declare that he will come again. He said, "He who made me will come again.” That Ba-ba is this Baba and Sai, the short, curly-hair-crowned red-robed Baba, is come. He is not only in this Form, but, he is in every one of you, as the dweller in the Heart. He is there, short, with a robe of the colour of the blood that fills it.
To end this brief story, after the first trip we returned to Mount Shasta, I resumed my career and my wife began an education career, and sometime later, He gave us the chance to build a second home. Many more trips to see Him occurred, as did opportunities to serve in the Sathya Sai International Organisation.
Dear Swami, may You always be with me!
Tom Scovill, USA.