One who has mastered his mind is a true master. Here is an incarnation of supreme devotion and ultimate faith in his Guru. He walked the earth as a living example of selflessness. He left us the hope, faith and promise that the tradition of liberation always delivers.
It was sometime in mid-2015, when Phaneendhar, an ardent Sai Baba devotee and my long-time follower, showed me a picture on his phone and said to me “This is Baba Ganeshananda Giri; he has lived with Shirdi Sai Baba as a young boy. A genuine master deeply connected to Shirdi Sai Baba. You should meet him.” I was intrigued at the fact that someone who lived with Sai Baba is still in his body, but was not sure when the trip to Shirdi would materialize. I told Phaneendhar, “Check the schedule and fix the trip. We shall go – you and I.”
However providence had other plans. In mid-December 2015, the Shirdi Sai Temple of Palakkad in Kerala, decided to make a documentary in Malayalam about the life and times of Shirdi Sai Baba. Sunil Nair, the producer of this documentary, a close friend and a long-time associate, suggested to me that I be part of this project. Anything related to Shirdi Sai Baba is always my first priority. I agreed to go to Shirdi and they decided to start the production schedule without further delay. Just then, at the most opportune time, Phaneendhar texted me from Dubai suggesting once again that I should meet Baba Ganeshananda Giri as he was also in Shirdi at that point in time! He gave me Babaji’s mobile number. I was under the impression that Baba Ganeshananda Giri would be having many disciples organizing his schedules and looking after him. When my disciple called, to her utter surprise, she got him on line directly. The moment he heard my name, he immediately said he wants to meet me right away! I felt truly blessed and overwhelmed. An instant connection happened even before our first meeting. None of us knew that he was admitted in ICU due to difficulties in breathing and doctors had strictly warned him not to move until perfect recovery.
He was suffering from breathlessness and was on medication, yet he suggested that my disciples could wait at Gurusthan for the meeting. Now, since he is a great Guru, everyone assumed that he would probably send one of his disciples to greet us and then lead us to him. The way the situation played out was quite unbelievable! We learnt that Baba Ganeshananda Giri, despite his medical condition, discharged himself from the Intensive Care Unit and came to the Gurusthan to meet us, but soon he was overcome with dizziness and fell unconscious. The people who were with him immediately took him to Sai Balaji Guesthouse nearby and made him lie down in the hotel reception. He was too weak to be taken to his allocated room upstairs. I received a frantic call from the hotel people who were with Babaji, requesting me to come to the Hotel as Babaji wanted to meet me immediately. I was in the midst of filming at that time.
I immediately rushed to meet Babaji, along with a few people who were with me at that time. As I climbed the stairs leading to the reception, I could see him lying on the sofa, with his head towards the entrance. As I approached the entrance, even though he could not see me from that angle, he called “Welcome Mohanji”. I went up to him and said, “Babaji, I am Mohanji.” He greeted me with a weak smile and lots of love. And he tried to get up. I held him down and sat next to him, holding his hand. His feeble voice indicated that he had been looking forward to meet me. He was unwell. But as we continued to talk, he seemed to be rapidly gaining energy. He sat up and spoke to us. He told me that he was waiting to see me for more than three years, as Baba had asked him to meet me. He asked Baba “How will I find him?”
Baba said “He will come to you at the right time.”
Ever since, he was on a quest to meet ‘Mohanji’. He did not know where, how or who will introduce Mohanji to him. Sai Baba clarified to him that the right ‘Mohanji’ would seek him out and so it happened.
He further explained in brief how he wanted to leave his body at Shirdi, in the lap of Baba whom he loves more than his life. But, Baba asked him to go to Chennai and take his Maha Samadhi there. We spent a good two hours with him and then left him to get some rest.
Before leaving, I touched his feet and so did everyone else who were with me – my disciples, wife and daughter. I came to know later he does not let anyone touch his feet, but Sai Baba had apparently told him that Mohanji and the followers of Mohanji could be allowed to touch his feet. When I heard this, I was overwhelmed with gratitude towards Sai Baba and Ganeshananda Giri (whom I lovingly started calling Babaji) who was in front of us. This was indeed a big honor for all of us.
During my stay in Shirdi, I met him frequently. We also filmed his anecdotes about Baba and about himself for the documentary. He willingly obliged us despite his nagging ailment.
It was such an overwhelming feeling to be with him. A powerful master, He was unshakable in his devotion. He was a living example of how deep our devotion should be. My conversations with him indicated he was upset about the commercialization of temples, the insensitivity at places of worship, greed for money and the hoarding of possessions; the prevalence of these very things were alienating people from the path of God and God realization. With single focus he ventured out to carry out what Baba had asked him to do – spreading his message, keeping the sanctity of temples and places of worship, seeking support to construct temples without a commercial angle to it, purely as service to His Guru and the world. This was no easy task. There was doubt and suspicion amongst people and the society. The hardships on his path were many but his faith in His Guru Sai Baba remained strong and led him on. Baba spoke to him and guided him. Baba not only made him a very beautiful instrument but also gave him unfailing bhakti (devotion) for the world to watch and emulate.
Babaji came to the shelter of Sai Baba at a very young age, when he was just three or four years old. He was born on December 19, 1911 according to his passport. Sai Baba attained Maha Samadhi at Shirdi on October 15, 1918, as we all know. Both Sai Baba and Babaji were very close to Shama (Madhavrao Deshpande). Babaji used to live with Shama as well as Baba. Shama also made clothes for him when he bought for himself and family and treated Babaji as a member of his own family.
One day apparently Baba brought some sweets and he distributed candies to the children around him and he gave none to Babaji, then of course a small boy. Babaji was upset about that. The small boy decided that he must have some candies for himself. And he knew that there were more candies in Sai Baba’s bag. So when Baba wasn’t looking, he took out a candy and ate it. Unfortunately for him, Sai Baba saw that and slapped him, as a warning that he shouldn’t steal! Little boy Ganeshananda Giri ran away and hid himself at Shama’s house, saying he would not go back to Dwarkamai anymore because the old man was beating him.
So after a couple of days Baba asked Shama “There was a boy here, a South Indian boy. Where is he?”
Shama said “That boy is in my house and refusing to come here. He is saying “Budda maarte hain” (the old man is beating me). Baba laughed and said “If he steals, I will beat him again but tell him to come here. I want to give him something.” So Shama brought him back to Dwarkamai. Sai Baba gave him candies and the boy Ganeshananda spent time with Baba forgetting the gentle slap from “the old man”. On the famous chavadi procession picture from Shirdi you can see Babaji as a small boy wearing a good dress. This was the dress that was apparently gifted to him by Shama when Shama was shopping for himself. Babaji himself told me this.
After Sai Baba left his body, like all those who were deeply connected to him, Babaji was very disappointed. He was lost and did not know what to do. Reaching out to Sai Baba, he said, “Baba, everyone says you are very powerful, you cannot leave like this. You are in the tomb but you can still fulfill our wishes.” He took a flower from the Samadhi and took it home. In his prayers, he asked for a lot of money, a big car, good house, servants and all sorts of facilities, so that he could do something to spread the mission further and he expected Baba to fulfill them. But nothing happened. He was soon disappointed as this did not seem to be working.
One day, when Babaji was walking through the streets of Shirdi, he saw Sai Baba walking ahead of him. Baba turned and looked at him. “You think I am dead but I am right here. What do you want? You want a car and a bungalow, money and all that? OK, your body is your home, the whole world is your bungalow, money is your brain. I am with you and you should be spreading my love and kindness in the world with your own life. You do my service. Everything will be provided for at the right time. If there are hardships, they are to test your resolution, strengthen your will power and also ease the burden of your karma. Everywhere you will feel my hand and support and I will always be with you”.
If you notice closely, we can clearly see Sai Baba like a shadow behind Babaji on this picture. Thus Baba actually proved the point that He is wherever Babaji is.
Babaji started his nomadic existence, wandering to Himachal Pradesh, setting up temples at various places, spreading Baba’s message. Finally he decided it was time to leave his body and Shirdi was his choice. But Sai Baba had other plans for him. Sai Baba wanted him to leave his body, not in Shirdi, but in Chennai. “Leave your body there, make a temple there and establish my teachings in that land,” was the message he received. That was the time when I first met him, when he was preparing for his ultimate journey to and from Chennai. It was a great privilege to be able to help him fulfill this mission. We had done our best to support the temple by raising donations and procuring materials for the temple construction. Babaji was very happy about this.
The last time I saw Babaji was during the Pratistha, the foundation stone laying ceremony of the temple in Chennai. Babaji’s excitement was boundless and almost child-like. People from all walks of life, from different parts of the world, celebrities and people from the neighborhood, all came to see Babaji. He insisted that I sit next to him throughout the function. When they garlanded him, he put the garland around my neck. He made me participate in several of the poojas along with him. Overall, the function was very well organized and all worked like a big family.
I actually can’t believe that we knew each other only from Mid December 2015 till April 2016 when he left his body - just about 5 months, but it feels like eternity. In this brief period I, and the people associated with me, got deeply involved in His mission.
I would like to conclude with one message. “Just be. Just be available. Just be there.” Remember these words, and then if you want to serve Sai Baba, be Shirdi baba. Go deep into the consciousness of Shirdi baba. Be 100% selfless. Don’t think about yourself, think about the world outside – what else can I, as an individual, do for the world? Likewise, be Babaji. Get into the atoms of the Master. Get into the consciousness of the Master. Do not think about yourself – you do not matter. What else can I do for the world? That is the only thing that matters. If we focus completely on this, liberation is guaranteed while living, and definitely while leaving.
I surrender my thoughts, words and actions at the feet of these Masters. Every word I speak, I take them as flowers and offer at their feet. I prostrate at their feet. Let them merge into me, let them merge into all of you, so that the world may become a better place.
Thank you very much. Om Sai Ram.