My own foray into the world of renouncing material life (or the thought of it) began in the early sixties when I met Narsingh Dev Saighal, who came from a family of Anglo-Burmans. The famed dancer Ramgopal, who was then in London was Narsingh’s uncle. His father was a senior naval officer in the erstwhile colony of Burma. Narsingh himself was a Major from the Corps of Signals, who left the army after he saw his sad-guru in Vietnam. The Indian Army had a Signal detachment there as part of UN troops.
NSD Saighal had been influenced by the teachings of Swami Ramdas and his house which was an old palace in the corner of Millers Bank Road and the railway line closer to the Cantonment Station in Bangalore. My association with him did inspire the ideas of leading a life of simplicity and piousness, till I saw him seeking employment and settling down to what could be a modified material life. Not that I was going to renounce the world, but the idea of questioning ones inner self has always intrigued me. I did read Paul Burton’s ‘Search in Secret India’ which through some light over the idea of seeking something … not sure what it was … maybe the truth, but then I was just eleven. Then after reading Ayn Rand’s Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged, further confusion prevailed, but it was clear to me that there was much more to life than what we see. Selflessness and selfishness were connected in some way.
The other person who I knew was into this (still not sure what, but I can now call it practical philosophy), was my uncle Subbuswamy. Photographs of Jiddi Krishnamurti, Bertrand Russell and Puttabarti Saibaba adorned his walls. He spoke authoritatively on matters of philosophy and had a library, I wish had. He was a devotee of Sai Baba. This was the sixties and Sathya Sai Baba had just visited Bangalore and I had seen him with his afro-style hair do at Shivajinagar. There was a question of belief in my mind and I asked my uncle, ‘Do you believe in Sai Baba’? He promptly replied ‘Do you’? Then he asked me what I knew of Sai Baba, and that I could only develop belief if I knew.
I know several people, who are the devotees of Sai Baba, i.e.: Shirdi Sai Baba and Sathya Sai Baba or Puttabarti Sai Baba. Many of my near relatives and friends worship them. I have seen and heard of the great solace and relief from misery that many have attributed to Baba.
These are not ordinary people and have extra ordinary compassion and capacity to do good to mankind. Many owe their living and sanity to them ‘God incarnates’. I too was indirectly a benefactor when my bus would carry tourists to Whitefield, the summer abode of Sathya Sai Baba. Today’s news is that Sathya Sai Baba is recovering well from his ailments. Some millions have prayed for his good health.
I once met an Indonesian cleric who had come to our seminars and he spoke of faith and belief. If one has 90% faith, he said, belief follows and vice versa.
There are layers of devotees from the innermost circle to the outermost. Each circle merely represents the proximity of the believer and not necessarily the intensity of their beliefs. My own state is perhaps akin to John Milton, who was blind and the last line of his poem titled: On his Blindness: “They also serve who only stand and waite”.
My search for this inner question never ceased and I get touched or see the symbols of this inner greatness for mankind wherever I go. While in Kashmir I heard of the Kupwara Baba, who many dignities visited to seek some soothsaying or astrological predictions. There are many Babas and Pirs in the mountains, who are revered by the local populace. My curiosity took me to Kupwara Baba and after some hot tea, discovered that he and his mates were from Tamil Nadu and that he was a retired judge, now living as an ascetic. He did touch the lives of many who sought his predictions and offered solace to the local population in the unforgiving weather and political climate.
Later, in my very short stint in Leh, I had to cross the Changla Pass, the second highest in the world. Every driver crossing the pass would carry some offerings to Changla Baba. On reaching the highest point I saw this hut adorned with Buddhist pennants flying in the air and inside was an interesting sight. There were photographs of every God of every religion one could think of and money strewn on the floor. This is where I saw a relation between ‘God’ and belief … driven out of respect for nature. Or was this the fear of the unknown? I had no answers, but all I know that I had a miraculous escape from a snow storm that had buried my jeep, some kilometers away from Changla Baba. This was at 17,590 ft above m.s.l. in the 80s.
Spirituality like money and everything material begets itself. Lands that have no visible signs of it grapple uncertainly with the unknown. It is death and the remembrance of those who died brings the human mind to touch the realm of spirits, in these parts. But then, death is a relief and to be celebrated, at least in some religions.
The jury is still out about religion playing a positive part in society, but there always seemed to be a case for the unknown … spirituality?
I guess it is philosophy, which at its best can be fuzzy. That is why you have people some as Baba who interprets it for you to connect the material and the other. Everyone needs to connect the dots and a need exists.
A perception exists that a study of philosophy is not a vocational subject. It is not popular and all I can say if one could graduate with ethics and philosophy, it will keep you ahead in the circle. Some are born just inclined to it!