Crossing Paths with Sai Baba


    contributed to Edge Life by Philip Charles Quinn

    I gradually had become aware of Sai Baba (an avatar born in India in 1926) during the last decade or so because stories about him kept surfacing. I’d find out that friends of mine were devotees. So I was curious about him. Of course, when I saw what he looked like, I thought, "You’ve got to be kidding!" First of all, the very idea that I would consider devotion first to a human being…I cannot process that. That doesn’t work in my personal theology. Number two, I can’t seem to get worked up about Hinduism. So we’ve got a human being and a Hindu. And then someone who wears his hair like that! So on all burners, you have somebody who’s not making a lot of sense to me.

    Sai BabaAnd that makes it all the more amazing because I really, truly am not easily seduced. I truly am not. But over the years…how can I say this…our paths have crossed in some pretty amazing ways. So I would occasionally say a silent prayer like, "Baba, if you can hear me, if you’re out there, I could use your help." And then, to be honest with you, I would add as an aside, "Yo, Jesus, Mary and anyone else up there on the Christian team, if I’m screwing up here, it’s not from a lack of faith, it’s that I’m just visiting. Let’s not make this a big, huge deal, okay?"

    So am I superstitious? Yes. I am spiritually, respectfully superstitious. I have too much Catholic in me to not pay attention to my Catholic history, and too much devotion to Jesus, Mary and the Christian mystic teachings. I also am dominantly a monotheist. So turning my devotion to Baba was potentially a real crisis for me. I mean, who is this man and why am I so drawn to him? That was very, very difficult for me and still is. At the end of the day, what I usually do is run away and go back to "there is only one God in many forms" and that’s the end of that.

    A health scare
    The first time I called on Sai Baba was more than 10 years ago during a health scare I had while in northern Scotland. You have to understand that I’m in the middle of nowhere and nobody but my friends know I’m there. I said, "Baba, I don’t even know why I’m praying to you. But if you’re there and if you’re listening, I think I’d like some of that vibhuti (holy ash that Sai Baba reportedly materializes at will)." Now why would I ask for vibhuti? I’ve never asked for that in my life. Holy water, yeah. Holy oil, uh-huh. Holy ash, no. "Ash" to me is Ash Wednesday. Ash has its own sacred place in the Christian tradition. But in India, ash is the sacred element.

    So the next day – the very next day! – this little tube the size of a 35mm film canister arrives filled with vibhuti with a note that reads, "To Caroline Myss from Sai Baba." This was within 12 hours of my prayer and I’m up where Christ lost his shoe in the Highlands of Scotland! The package had come via someone I had met many years earlier who had come to three of my lectures in Copenhagen. I didn’t even know this man! Do you know how many thousands of people I meet? Do you think I would give this man my address, much less my social schedule, plus call him up and tell him I’m going to see a few friends in northern Scotland in case he needs to reach me? Do you understand how ridiculous that is? That’s why getting that package impressed me so much. I mean, if I had gotten a call from a very close friend who said, "Hey, I just got you some vibhuti," that would have been impressive enough. But to actually have a package arrive delivered by someone I didn’t even know was way, way beyond impressive. And where did he mail it? To where I was visiting friends in a remote part of Scotland! A stalker couldn’t do a better job!

    From that point on, Baba had my attention. And I started to experience connections with him on a fairly regular basis. For example, when my older brother Joe was critically ill and my younger brother Eddie was dealing with some very stressful circumstances, my mother said to me, "Can’t you do something? Can’t you write Sai Baba?"

    I said, "What do you think I should do, Mom? Address an envelope to Sai Baba in care of India? I have no idea where he lives." I woke up the next morning to find that his address had been faxed to me from somebody in Australia!

    After the container of vibhuti had showed up in Scotland, I took it with me wherever I traveled. It was precious to me. It was like having my own altar, a direct phone line to this mysterious being who always knew where I was. Not long after, I was doing a workshop with Norm Shealy at Norm’s farm. I made the mistake of telling this group of 28 people about the vibhuti and everybody was like, "I want some, I want some." It was just too much for me. I thought, "Go away! How dare you ask for this? How dare you?"

    But then it occurred to me that there was something I needed to learn from this. So I opened up the canister and told people to just touch it a little bit. One man stuck his finger in all the way to the bottom and I said, "Do you understand what I just said to you? Why did you do that? This ash is sacred to me. What is it with you people having to be so greedy?" I mean, I leveled him. He came up to me later and apologized.

    On top of that, a woman in the group comes up and says, "My aunt is dying, she’s a devotee of Sai Baba, can I take some to her?"

    And I thought, "Can you take some to her? I’m already halfway out of it!" Well, her aunt had never been to India so I put a little vibhuti in a Kleenex for her. But I was raging. I was raging at my own stupidity that I’d just shared something so precious so carelessly. I put the lid back on the container and it’s never gone out with me again. It’s upstairs in my room and that’s where it’s going to stay.

    Well, about six weeks after that workshop, I get a letter. I still don’t know who it was from. There was no postmark. It was filled with seven packages of vibhuti and a note that read, "These are from Baba. He says thank you."

    Through gratitude
    Then, in the summer of 1999, I was tested for Lupus. I was really terrified because it’s an ugly disease and I had lost my best friend to it. I was told I would have to wait at least a week for the results. On the day of the test, I prayed to Sai Baba. And even though I still didn’t really know much about him, I prayed, "I am going to come to India to see you. And if I’m going because I’m sick, I’m going to count on you to help me. And if I’m going because I’m not sick, it’ll be through gratitude."

    The very next day, I received a call that the blood test was negative.

    Soon after, I flew to India and spent five days at Sai Baba’s ashram. Five days is nothing. Many people go there for five months. When I first saw the ashram, it blew me away because it was so not like the beautiful Catholic monasteries and convents I was used to. It was small, concrete and just visually awful. There were thousands of people crowded outside. It was intensely hot and it was very uncomfortable.

    You had to wait like six hours in the blazing hot sun to go in and watch Baba come in for 20 minutes. When people were allowed to go into the mandir, the huge open temple, they would practically kill each other to get the best seat in the house. And the smell! I am such a stickler for high-voltage hygiene so it was very difficult for me. There was a sense of brutality and horribleness to it all. I was just shocked.

    Mass of humanity
    Well, I’m sitting there in this mass of humanity and somebody comes up to me and tells me I’m wanted at the guest office or whatever it’s called. And I’m thinking, how did they find me out of thousands and thousands of people and how did they even know I was there? I find my way to the office and two people I’ve never seen before give me some kind of ribbon and tell me I’ve been awarded VIP status, because Baba wants me to sit in the front. How and why that happened I have no idea. Nobody knew I was there or that I was an American writer; nobody over there cares about who you are.

    Now, when Baba comes to darshan, which is his twice daily appearance in the mandir, he walks around at ground level and people desperately thrust personal letters toward him. Every so often, he’ll take a letter, which I saw was a really big deal for people. So what the heck, I thought I’d write a letter, too. The next day, he walked past me, turned around, came back and asked for my letter. After the darshan, people were streaming up and kissing the ground in front of where Baba had stood when he had asked for my letter. I was told that it was out of character for Baba to stop and actually ask for someone’s letter. I mean, it was really a big deal for these people. I didn’t expect or receive any response from giving Baba the letter. It was more like an act of faith.

    So where do I stand today? I still don’t have any answers, but Baba’s presence in my life has become a constant. And I find that very, very comforting.

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