My guru, or spiritual teacher is Sathya Sai Baba. The first time I saw His picture was at a friend’s medical office. I was about 21 years old at that time. He handed me a copy of a Sai Magazine and when I opened the magazine’s middle page, I saw a big man's face and His afro; this photo literally came alive and popped out of the paper! This didn’t shock me. On the contrary it was a nice surprise and I thought to myself: "Wow, something like this hasn’t happened since I was a little girl". That’s how I met Swami. That night I couldn’t sleep until I finished reading the entire magazine.
A few days later I went to the Sathya Sai Center in Bogotá (Colombia). The orange robe caught my attention as well as the songs in different languages, but I will always remember my heart bouncing with joy when they lit the camphor and sang the Arathi. That flame ignited a flame in my heart that had been asleep for years. Not long after this, I went to India and stayed for almost four months in Baba’s ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam (the abode of Supreme Peace). I could write a whole book with all the experiences from this first trip, but the most important thing is that Swami transformed my heart, which was full of impure habits such as criticising, complaining, superiority complex , worldly desires, judgment, lust, greed, etc... He began to purify my heart through His teachings, His devotees, but above all, through His unconditional love.
One night in the ashram I dreamt of Lord Rama. I had been reading the Ramakatha Rasavahini for a week and I was fascinated by the story of Lord Rama. This was one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had. In the dream, Rama looked like a hermit. He was gloriously beautiful and deep blue; He attracted me like a magnet. Next to Him was Lakshmana and Mother Sita. I approached Him, mesmerised, and I couldn’t take my eyes from Him. Then He said to me, smiling, "pure heart"; I immediately nodded and answered “Yes”; but He sharply told me with a stronger voice “pure heart!” making me understand that I had to have a pure heart. I again replied "Yes", but for the third time he replied in a strong commanding voice: “PURE HEART!” I was so startled that I woke up. That day I was in bliss, I remember going to darshan and asking Baba – “What do you do to get a pure heart?” This was the same prayer I asked Him during the afternoon darshan. Later that day, before going to the canteen for dinner, I went to the ashram’s bookstore and as I entered, on the first book rack, was this yellow book titled Purifying the Heart by John Goldthwait. I was compelled to look at it and bought a copy immediately. I started reading it right then and there.
This book literally transformed my life. It teaches, in a very practical way, based on Baba’s teachings, how to get rid of our false self, or our ego, and how to awaken to our true Self (the Atma). In a nutshell, this book is based on the premise that everything in our world is but a mere reflection and/or resound of ourselves. It invites the reader to, with any circumstance that arises, practise seeing what are we attached to, and how to be unattached to the things or thoughts that we’ve been clinging to for years (mostly unconsciously). The book explains how all situations and people are reflecting our heart-closing thoughts, and how every situation and/or feeling (sadness, anger, fear, frustration, etc.) is an opportunity to see what we are attached to, to stop identifying with it, transcend it and be our True Self.
The following are personal examples of how Baba, through His teachings and this book, helped me.
At work, I had a colleague that my boss, Mrs. LB, preferred and was often praising (or so I thought so). My boss was also often criticising my work. My old self would have quickly judged my boss as inconsiderate and preferring others, insensitive and judgmental towards me. I would have thought, "Why would she treat me thus?” However, given that I’d been reading Purifying the Heart I asked myself, “What is she (my boss) reflecting?” I felt the discomfort and disdain, but regardless of what my ego thought I prayed to Swami for months, “Please let me see how she is reflecting ‘something’ from myself”. After approximately 6 months of this search and praying to Swami, I reasoned that what really bothered me was that she didn’t recognise me, my hard work, and my dedication despite all my hard work and effort. She always criticised my deliverables and gave me feedback on what wasn’t done right.
At last, one night I surrendered and said: “I don’t care what Mrs. LB says or does, I will deliver this presentation to my best ability”. That night I realised that she was reflecting my attachment to recognition. This person wasn’t recognising me. That hurt my ego because I’d been recognised since I was a child: being an A+ student, recognised in sports, in mathematics championships, by my professors in university, etc. Here, for the first time, an authority figure (my boss) wasn’t recognising my hard work and results. I was attached to the praise and recognition. Right then I surrendered and thanked Swami for letting me realise this attachment. I made a conscious effort not to be attached to being praised and told myself that it was all an ego trip. Plus, I was who I was. I should not be affected by recognition or by the lack of it.
Next morning, at work, Mrs. L.B. called me to her office; I was ready for her feedback on what to improve and redo; however, she simply said: “Paula. Great job on the presentation!” My reality had changed! Then I recalled Baba’s teaching that when you change, your whole reality changes.
The next story is about how Baba helped me realise how I was attached to status and reputation. A few years back I moved from my home country to the USA. This was unexpected, but I was guided by Swami to move. I had to leave my parents and friends and I had to quit my job. Not long after I moved I started looking for a job; however this was more challenging than ever before. I was applying for many jobs; however, I wasn’t getting any calls. None. I was frustrated and couldn’t understand what was wrong. Normally back home my resume stood out. I was an alumnus of the best university in the country and had worked for very prestigious companies. My previous job hunting experience had been easy and a couple of times I had to pick between offers. However, this time, after 10 weeks of intensely applying for dozens of jobs, I came to a point of despair.
I remembered the book Purifying the Heart and re-read it. Again, I questioned myself: Why was this presenting itself in my life? How was this a reflection of myself? Why was I frustrated and even angry at this situation?
After deep reflection and being ruthlessly honest to myself, I came to realise that what bothered me was that I misinterpreted not getting a response to my job applications as if my experience and education were worthless. Then it clicked. I had been expecting (unconsciously) to be called for interviews based on my ‘‘brilliant” resume. However, in this market, no one knew my school nor the companies I’d worked for. This was a hard blow for the ego! I remember sitting in front of Swami’s picture and telling Him I was grateful because this had showed me how big of an attachment my sense of self had to all these titles and experience. I cried and opened my heart to this realisation.
The very next day, out of the blue, I got a call from a job search company. He did not provide much information. He told me I could be a fit for a consultant position. He pointed out that he needed to tweak my resume in order to better present my resume to his client. He changed my whole resume! I then started to get phone interviews from companies.
Once again, when I changed myself and detached myself to these tags of status and reputation, my reality changed. And I got a job in no time. Swami just used this situation to purify my heart and helped me get rid of useless ego luggage.
There are many other circumstances that have helped me realise that my ego had attachments (and my ego always fought back to validate these). However, I was open to question my paradigms and deep rooted beliefs. I’ve used difficulties that arose in my life to be ruthlessly honest with myself and to search for the underlying attachments.
I still have a long way to go on my spiritual journey, and only my guru knows how much is ahead. Truly I don’t think about it much. I live life repeating God’s name and, following as best as I can, Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings: Love All, Serve All. Help Ever, Hurt Never. And when I catch my mind/ego diverting to other thoughts I simply go back to repeating God’s name.
I truly believe that He has been preparing me for His Highest truth or teaching: that He and I are One. That we are ALL ONE. In retrospect, I believe one takes little steps towards this realisation, and every attachment we let go of gets us closer to who we really are: the Atma (God).
God is not involved in either rewards or punishments. He only reflects, resounds and re-acts! He is the Eternal, Unaffected Witness!
Sathya Sai Baba
Paula, Currently living in the USA