Professor Pawan, who had the unique opportunity to study at Baba’s university, shared valuable insights into the transformative teachings of his beloved Guru. Reflecting on Baba’s emphasis on love, service, and harmony, Professor Pawan highlighted the practical aspects of implementing these teachings in daily life. As he recounted personal experiences and the profound impact of Baba’s guidance, we gained deeper insights into the spiritual journey of a student fortunate enough to be under the guidance of the Divine Master.

THE AWAKENING TIMES (TAT): To begin, could you please share some personal interactions or moments that hold special significance for you with Sai Baba? These could be joyful experiences or specific moments that have had a profound impact on your life.

DR. JAGANNADHA PAWAN (JP): Sai Baba is everything to me. Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba is my center, having profoundly shaped my life. I express gratitude for this conversation and appreciate Dirk’s initiative in connecting us.

Swami’s kindness in orchestrating this conversation on such a special day—the convocation day of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning—adds to the significance. This annual event, held on the 22nd of November, a day preceding Baba’s birthday, marks a momentous occasion for me. It’s been 23 years since I received my first degree and 21 years since my second degree from Baba’s University. This day holds immense importance for all Sai students. I am grateful for this conversation on an auspicious day and the eve of Baba’s birthday.

As I mentioned earlier, Baba is everything to me. He has scripted every second of my life and shaped not just me but legions of individuals passing through the portals of the university and colleges He established in Prashanti Nilayam and elsewhere.

These institutions have moulded men and women of impeccable character, emphasizing their role in serving society and doing good. I feel extremely fortunate to have been chosen by Baba to study at His feet. My experiences, while too numerous to detail, broadly reflect the profound impact He has had on my life.

My grandmother, a devotee since the 1970s, shared miraculous experiences of Baba guiding her through life’s challenges. She transmitted her love for Baba to our entire family, including my mother, myself, my brother, sister, and even my father’s family.

Studying at Bhagwan’s University in 1997 was a blessing. Baba’s discourses, numbering 150 to 170 in the five years I stayed at Prashant Nilayam, left an indelible mark on my young mind. His teachings emphasized the inherent divinity of humanity, the importance of respecting all life, and the need to love, serve, and be useful in society.

Baba’s message became the guiding force that defined not only my life but also how we, as a family, live and manage our day-to-day lives. The gratitude I feel towards Baba is immeasurable, and His message continues to shape and guide me.

In 2002, upon graduating from Swami’s university, seeking guidance on the next steps, Baba simply replied, “I will see.” This blessing has been a constant in my life, guiding every aspect, from studies to personal decisions. My journey with Baba is one of surrender, gratitude, and love for the force that has made life worth living.

TAT: Impressive! Could you delve a bit deeper into your university days and the experience of studying under Baba? This is quite unique, as we haven’t had the opportunity to hear from another student who underwent a similar experience with Baba.

JP: Certainly, I’m very happy to. You asked me about how it was as a student of Swami. I’d say He’s the love of a mother. He’s the strictness of a father. He is the wisdom of a guru. It is all of these combined together. And it’s a very dear friendship with God. All of these, if you put together how it was, that’s how Swami is for me. He is very loving, very doting.

As a mother, I still remember my first birthday in Baba’s presence, and normally, we all take a tray for blessings and power blessings that day. And on my first birthday in Prashanti Nilayam as a student, in 1998, Swami came and blessed me.

His interview room opened, and He got apples distributed to everyone in the crowd. Now, that could just be a coincidence. He probably wanted to give apples anyway, but for me, it felt like a mother celebrating the birthday of her child. Just giving big apples that day to everyone. He is loving as a mother, very loving as a mother.

And I’ll give you another example. I was escorting Swami on a bike from near the super speciality hospital when He on His way back from Bangalore. I was going on the bike before Baba’s car. And it so happened that my bike stopped. I overtook Swami’s car, because I was the pilot and I thought I had to be in the front. I overtook the car, and I think Swami turned around and said, “Hey, what is this fellow doing?” I went to the front. I had a siren with me. I had to go to the front. And when He came into the Kulwant Hall, I got on my knees and I said, “Swami, are you happy?” He said, “Sit down.” He didn’t say, “I’m very pleased with what you did.” He just said, “Sit down.” So, there is strictness of a father.

He was so kind, so generous, so compassionate in what he taught us. Everything, every story had a moral embedded in it and every value of ethics that He taught us defined us as human beings.

And when it comes to a friend, I think until I passed out of Prashanti Nilayam, it was that I was very young and I saw Baba as mother, father, and guru. But, after I left the university, I saw what a friend He was, a bit like my own father. Until about the time I got to university, he was very strict as a dad. But after that, my father also became like a friend, and I think the same with Swami.

I experienced that He just became a friend with whom I can converse frankly. I can express my hope. I can express my despair. I can talk to Him. I can talk about my ambition. I can talk about my love. I can talk about my, you know, everything.

And there is a sense of a comforting presence in life that, “Well, look, I’m there with you like a friend.” And I think that is how this relationship has been.

He is Mata, Pita, Guru Daivam (Mother, Father, Teacher, God), he is also Sakha (Friend). He’s all of it bundled together.

When we were students, we had a very strict routine, we had to get up in the morning at 5:00. Discipline was paramount. We had to go to bed by about 10:30. There was play, there was study. We used to go for Baba’s Darshan every day. And a lot of it involved celebration. Swami made it very clear was that life should be a celebration. Life with God is a celebration. We are children of God. If you think about the child of a king or a queen,  he is not worried about anything in principle, at least from how we look at it. He’s having everything, and his life is a celebration. Now if we think about a king or a queen, or an earthly king or a queen’s children having a sense of confidence, a sense of courage, a sense of comfort… We are children of God. The king and the queen of the universe are our mother and father.

That means we should celebrate life, even more than anyone else, because we are children of God. It became very clear because of the number of festivals we celebrated in Prasanthi Nilayam, the number of people who came, the number of colours we saw, the amount of love we felt. With Baba as a center, we live a life of celebration, and that became an integral part of my life. Wherein we see life as a journey with God. One wherein we celebrate. There are ups and downs, of course. There are times when you get a top mark in the class. There are times when you’re the last ranker in that class, and you don’t want to show your face to anyone. These things happen. There are ups, and there are downs. Nobody denies. But the fact is that we are living with God. We are children of God. He treats us as His own children because we are His children.

And when we have such a powerful mother and father, why should we do anything other than be extremely confident about ourselves, our lives, and our future notwithstanding anything? Anything that happens in it, whether we think at that moment that is taking us up or that is taking us down, never forgetting that we are His own children, the children of the Divine Mother. We should reassert our own identity; we should be convinced of it.

And then we should live like how a mother or father would want to see their own children. I have children and, as a father, I don’t want my children to be troubled. I want to give them whatever they want so that they’re comforted. If an earthly father can think like this, if an earthly mother, like my wife, can think about giving them food on time,  and what not. Would not the divine Mother and Father who are a thousand times more, have more motherly love, a thousand times fatherly concern, would He not take care of us? This is a key aspect of that relationship.

TAT: How are Baba’s birthdays typically celebrated? We heard that He loved celebrations, and interesting programs.

JP: This is the dynamism of Baba. While having love and respect for traditions, He was always willing to allow experiments, always willing to let the people express themselves. Baba loves celebration, but He organized none of it. The celebrations were organized for the people, by the people. The students, the staff, the people around him, his devotees, they all organized celebrations, and He let them happen. He didn’t ask for them. He wouldn’t say, “Look, put these lights on or put this show up.” He would enjoy the fact that we are enjoying it, just like how a mother and father would. If I see my kids having a good time, I have a good time because I know they’re having a good time. I think that’s a spirit that I saw so many times when I saw my friends playing jazz drums, or when they were using saxophones to make Western music.

When I saw Donna Gillespie coming and singing, “Oh Shakti,” in a very Western way, imagine all these people in the stadium, coming from Anantapur and nearby districts and, of course, people from all over the world. But imagine this Western singer coming on this most important day of the year, which is His birthday, and then singing in a very Western way, and everybody is enjoying it. I think He just enjoyed watching us. For Him, as He used to say many times, “Be happy, be happy.”

For a long time, I didn’t understand why He was strongly saying, “Be happy.”

Now as a father, I know. When I look at my kids, I say, “fellows, you be happy. That’s what I want. Am I asking something from you? Do I want you to go and do something for me? Am I expecting you to build some great castle for me? No.  All I want is for you to be happy.”

And I think a lot of this understanding came after I became a father myself, as to how Swami, a lot of times, directly expressed that same principle of divine fatherhood. He just wanted to see us enjoy it. You are happy; He’s happy. I am happy; He’s happy. If I am sad for some reason, He’s saying, “What do you want? How do I solve your problem?” And there was a discourse I vividly remember He said, “You guys tell me you are serving me or doing this and that for me. But sorry, it is I who is always there, waiting for your orders, waiting for your command, standing at the door saying, ‘What does this fellow want? What can I do for him or her? It is me who is serving you rather than you thinking that you’re serving some great thing for me.”

And I think it is very hard to summarize in words these very fine sentiments, these very fine emotions, which, of course, in a very nice way, Swami uses the word love to kind of summarize all these sentiments which are there. It is this divine love — not just love for few but His connection is with a billion people, billions of human beings, billions of creatures on the planet.

His love is manifesting through all these things. And that word “love” summarizes all those ennobling sentiments and all the wonderful gifts of life that we experience because of that love. Love as a solution, love as the means, love as the mechanism, love as a way of life, love as a way to God, love.

This is a profound blessing because even in our history, when we go back to some of our ancient Indian mythological stories and all that, there are stories of good fighting evil and killing, but with Swami, did we ever see that? It was always transformation through love. You get the greatest of sinners and transform them just by the power of His love, by accepting that person, advising that person not to follow a wrong path, and correcting them. Love was very central to His entire message and to His being.

TAT: How was the experience of living with Baba for so many years, and what was it like for a student in terms of daily routines and activities?

JP: We would wake up at 5:00, and by 5:30, we performed the morning prayer with 21 times Omkaram, and then Suprabhatam. Around 6:15, we went to the playground for morning activities, including yoga, running, or playing football. Afterwards, we quickly got ready, and between 7:15 and 8:00, we had time to prepare and finish our breakfast.

At 8:00, we went to the institute for a 15 minutes morning prayer session, sometimes including a talk or a couple of bhajans, and then classes started. Classes continued until the afternoon when we returned to the hostel for lunch around 12:00. Afterward, around 1:00, we went back to the college for one or two more classes, returning to the hostel and then going to the mandir by around 2:30pm.

During Mandir time, Baba would arrive, and students often rushed to get a front-row seat, eager to be close to Him. Baba would give darshan and sometimes go into the interview room. After the first round of interviews, he would come out and stand in the portico, talking to students and staff sitting there.

These moments were crucial as Baba was the center of our thoughts throughout the day. From morning to evening, the aim was to make Him happy. The prospect of Him knowing everything added an element of mystery. The central idea was to do good things to make Baba happy and avoid any wrongdoings that He might catch us for—He knew everything! This sense of making Baba happy was the overriding criteria in our minds, influencing our actions and behaviors throughout the day.

In the evening, Baba would speak with students and staff, and there was an eager anticipation of what might happen, whether he would give a gift, reveal something new or share guidance and advice – it all added an air of excitement to the interactions with him.

TAT: Didi Baba ever scold you?

JP: Well, He did scold me once, and I’ll share that with you. As I mentioned, he could be as strict as a father while he was caring and motherly. He would inquire about mundane things like the food we ate, asking if we received enough idlis, dosas, or milk.

Let me tell you about the time I got scolded. It was during my very first year at Prashant Nilayam. Before joining, I was so desperate to touch his beautiful lotus feet that, on a previous occasion in Brindavan, I missed the chance but touched the sand where his feet had been.

In my first year, I was in a room on the first floor of the hostel. A devout roommate shared a story of how, during gatherings in the Trayee Brindavan in Bangalore, some students would sit in the front row of the swing and, Baba would allow them to press his feet. Hearing this, I was eager to have a similar experience and decided to attempt it.

One day, when Baba was standing in the corridor near VIP seating, I seized what I thought was an opportunity. In this formal setting, I touched Baba’s feet and attempted to go into his orange robe and press his feet. However, Baba immediately looked at me with big eyes and said, “Hey boy, don’t do that.” I was taken aback and scared, realizing it wasn’t the appropriate time for such actions. It was likely the only time I felt scolded, a gentle reminder from Baba about the importance of timing and appropriateness.

TAT: Thank you, that really brought a smile to my face. Were there any other challenges you faced?

JP: Certainly. When I was at the university, there were around 500 to 600 students studying with me in various classes. Every individual mattered, and this realization hit me during my first year in 1997. I questioned whether Swami truly cared about me, seeking a sign or indication.

I thought, “If Swami cares, let him allow me to touch His feet today or at least walk past me.” In the midst of thousands, I silently prayed for this sign. However, Swami didn’t come to my side during Darshan or afterward, leaving me disappointed.

As Bhajans started, I almost lost hope, feeling that Swami didn’t care. In that moment of despair, something incredible happened. Swami unexpectedly got up from His chair during Bhajans, walked next to me, all the way to the lion’s statue, glanced around, and returned to His seat.

This incident profoundly affected me, reaffirming Swami’s caring, considerate, compassionate, and benevolent nature. It emphasized that each person is precious to Him, and he is always attuned to our feelings, eager to bring joy and comfort.

TAT: Now, let’s delve a bit into the topic of Seva.

JP: Baba emphasizes greatly that social service is like a remedy for mankind. Seva is very dear to Swami, and we often heard stories of how he appreciated and showered his grace on those engaged in service, whether within the hostel or beyond. Every time a Seva unit from any part of the world came to serve in Prashanti Nilayam, after their term concluded, Baba would personally come and give them Padanamaskar (an attitude of surrender to the Guru’s instructions and guidance), a gesture he consistently extended.

Swami used to say that Seva and truth, truth and service, are the two wings that can make us reach the destination swiftly. He encouraged using these two wings to reach life’s destination.

Seva takes different forms for different individuals, depending on their context. It can be making artifacts during a sports meet to please Swami, performing stunts, or illuminating the ashram on his birthday. Serving in the canteen, assisting the homeless, or engaging in any act that benefits fellow human beings all constitute Seva.

The essence of Seva lies in recognizing the divinity in others and contemplating what one can do to reach out to the God within them, who is also present within oneself. It encompasses a spirit of kinship and a willingness to be of use beyond one’s self-interest, transcending mental limitations. By being useful without expecting anything in return, individuals can experience an expansive form of love.

Baba’s message on Seva is powerful, practical, and deeply embedded in his teachings. It is a transformative way of experiencing love by being of service to others. There is no one uniform way to engage in Seva, and the efforts of individuals, whether on a grand scale or in everyday moments, collectively contribute to making a positive impact on the world. The key lies in praying for guidance, acting in the best possible way within one’s context, and continuously expanding one’s sense of identity and connection with the rest of the universe.

TAT: As we conclude, could you reflect on a key teaching of Baba that has significantly impacted your life? Share something profound that has left a lasting influence on your journey.

JB: Baba’s teachings have profoundly influenced me. His command to “talk less” made me practice restraint in speech. Yet, the most impactful aspect is encapsulated in two simple phrases: “Love all, serve all; Help ever, hurt never.” These concise statements embody the essence of his broader teachings on universal truths, God’s presence in everyone, and our shared brotherhood and sisterhood. Practicing these principles guides my daily life, emphasizing the importance of love, service, and avoiding harm to others.

TAT: Do you believe that young people today face challenges in connecting with Baba, given his physical absence? In the age of mobile-centric generations, do you think it’s effortless for them to establish a connection with Baba’s teachings?

JP: It’s an excellent question, and it all depends on how our frequency is tuned, like a radio station. If tuned in, a connection will happen. Tuning is about starting with simple actions – following Baba’s teachings like abstaining from alcohol, being vegetarian, avoiding smoking. To connect, youngsters must ask, who benefits? If tuned to the frequency of love and compassion, connecting to any divine figure, be it Shirdi Sai Baba, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Mohanji, or Amma, is possible. Bhagwan Sri Satya Sai Baba is the source, always present. Like tuning a radio, effort is needed. The closer the tuning, the more the blessing and joy in connecting to the divine melody.

TAT: How does Swami’s teachings address the issues of gossiping and criticizing others, considering their prevalence and the tendency for people to engage in such behavior?

JP: It’s a great way to detune ourselves from the higher frequency. Swami always disapproved of gossiping. When I heard that, I stopped talking behind anyone’s back. If there’s a need to tell the truth, and it involves some hard facts, that’s different. But talking about others and their faults doesn’t align with Swami’s teachings. Everyone is an instrument of God, even those we may perceive as doing wrong. Talking about people’s good or bad doesn’t contribute positively. Let’s focus on achieving harmony and connecting with God. Mohanji’s teachings about living in harmony resonate with this message. Our capabilities as humans, logical, analytical, intuitive, emotional, should be centered around our connection with God. This life is an opportunity to spend time with God, so why use it for anything else? Let’s engage in activities that Swami loves, keeping the spirit of friendship by avoiding controversies he dislikes. Our true regard, gratitude, and love for the friendship with God are demonstrated by aligning ourselves with His teachings.

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