“…this Swami cannot be understood through books”

This Swami cannot be understood through books, revealed Bhagawan to Prof Kasturi in a ‘circumstantial context’ where in the Professor was summoned by Bhagawan. The incident could be marked as an intentional Divine Drama that sowed the seed for the first publication, after Sanathana Sarathi, from Prasanthi Nilayam, Sathyam Sivam Sundaram, narrating His Story. How Bhagawan orchestrated the entire episode, subtly guiding the writer to pick up an apt title for the book, while revealing the profundity concealed in those three sacred words, beginning with the letter S. An extract from ‘Loving God’, the autobiographical by Prof. N. Kasturi.

One afternoon, when I was standing, not alone but in active conversation with myself, on the verandah of the Press, a gentleman who was passing by stopped to ask me, “Are there any books on Swami available here?” I said, “No, we print only a monthly magazine”. He walked on, rather disappointed. The verandah could be seen from the first floor of the Mandir. Baba had noticed the dialogue. He sent for me and I hurried to the Presence. “What did that person ask you?” “He asked whether there are any books on Swami” I answered. “And what did you tell him?” was the next question. “I told him there were no books,” I replied. “That is not the right answer; you should have told him that this Swami cannot be understood through books,” He said and permitted me to leave. I came down the steps, wiser as a result of the glimpse He gave me of His inscrutability and sadder, at the prospect of no book being published on Swami, not even the one by me. Baba was looking down on me when I slowly wended my way back to the Press. When I was half-way through, I looked up through the wet film. I then knew that He had read my mind, for, He waved the reassuring palm to calm the surging sadness.

Consolation was conferred pretty soon. Baba was among devotees at Madras and Venkatagiri for a few days. At Puttaparthi we were hoping He would return by the weekend. But, His car negotiated a newly-laid macadam road and pulled up, quite surprisingly on Thursday itself. He sent for me. My heart went pit-a-pat. What was I in for? Had I done anything reprehensible? Talking ill of others or even thinking ill? My mother who realised that I was summoned into the Presence started praying that I may be pardoned for any blunder into which I had stumbled. I presented myself before Him. He smiled at my situation, eyed me from head to foot and said, “At Madras and Venkatagiri, people are asking, “Any literature on Swami?”, and you are sitting quiet here.”

Eleven years after that first meeting at Bangalore, Baba had decided that the time was ripe, the world had developed the appetite, and that the book can be served to the hungry. When the typescript was nearly ready, I struggled long to discover a title worthy of the Avatar. Baba had the letter S S S repeated on the parapet on the first floor of Prasanthi Nilayam. He referred to Himself as S S S often, in such statements as, “Unless I say S S S, how could it come through?” or “Sai Ki Sarvamoo yes yes yes” (For Sai, always, it is S S S). I decided therefore that the “Life” must have three words in its title each beginning with an S. It must also be redolent with Divine Vibrations and convey the glory of God whose Leela the book was presuming to narrate. I roamed over Vedic, Upanishadic and Epic pastures but could not hit on any better phrase than ‘Sathyam Jnanam Anantham’ expressive of God or Brahman. S S S is Sri Sathya Sai, Sathyam has to be in the title, but, what are the other two S’s to be? Santham, Sundaram, Sivam, Santhosham, Sukham? I posed my problem before many. At last one night while waiting for a train on the platform at far-off Davangere, I decided that “Sathyam Sivam Sundaram” sounded appropriate and authentic.

Baba blessed it the instant I consulted Him at Nandanavanam, Whitefield. He went into the room behind and brought out an album of photographs. He showed me three photographs of Himself when seated on the same chair at Nandanavanam taken within a few moments of each other by Matthews (now Saidas), saying, “You can have these three together, side by side on the cover. See! This is a little serious Sathyam. Here you find me with the bud of a smile, as Sivam, and this is a full smile, Sundaram. Sathyam, Sivam Sundaram is good”, He said with a pat on my shoulder.

“Sathyam Sivam Sudaram” has a distinctly Upanishadic touch, although the source is not readily traceable said K.Guru Dutt, when he heard the title. The words mean “Truth, Goodness and Beauty’ and since Baba is the most harmonious synthesis of all three, it has made readers and devotees gladly acquiesce in its propriety. Two years after the biography was published, on Maha Sivarathri Day, Baba blessed me and Brahmasri Doopaali Thirumalachari (whose rendering of the Book into Telugu was offered to Bhagawan that day). He placed round our shoulders, shawls with brocade borders. He told the huge assembly of devotees that day, “Some of you might have wondered why I liked the publication of this Book on My life! Well! I responded to the prayers of devotees and allowed them to write it. ‘Ramayathi ithi Rama’. (He who pleases is Rama). The joy of the devotee gives joy to the Lord, the joy of the Lord is the reward for the devotee.”

“The title given to the Book is full of meaning” said Baba. “It speaks of Me, as immanent in every one of you! Remember Sathyam is the basic Reality of you all. That is the reason why you resent being called a liar. The real ‘you’ is innocent of falsehood. The real ‘you’ will not accept the imputation. The real ‘You’ is Goodness, Joy, Happiness, Auspiciousness, Sivam. It is not Savam (a dead despicable thing). It is Subham, Nithyam, Anandam. How then can you tolerate being proclaimed as ‘Bad’ instead of being acclaimed as ‘Good?’ The real ‘You’ is Beauty, Sundaram. You resent being denigrated as ugly. You are the Atma and you resent when the deformities and defects of the physical vehicle are attributed to you.” So, it was Baba who directed me to the decision, which I dared claim as my own; Dr. S. Bhagawantham drew my attention a few years ago to a Telugu Book of translations of Swami Vivekananda’s Talks on Bhakti Yoga delivered in America. The translator had used the words “Sathyam Sivam and Sundaram’ in that order. I sought the original English talk and lo! Vivekananda was talking about the arrival of the Avatar of the “Lord of Truth” (Sathya Sai). The Swami had announced that ‘He’ would reveal the most wonderful things regarding Truth, Goodness and Beauty! So, the title, I felt, was transmitted to me by Guru Maharaj through Vivekananda.

A few months ago, another fact came to my notice which deflated the last vestige of ego and assured me beyond doubt that when I clinched the S S S combination it was He who revealed to me the title of the biography. When my eyes fell recently on the opening of Rama-CharithaManasa of Goswami Tulsi Das, (Gita Press, Gorakhpur). I saw the self-same three words at the very top of the facing page. Sathyam Shivam Sundaram! The ‘Nivedam’ made clear why those words were there. There was, it seems a controversy among the pandits of Banaras about the reverence due to a version of the holy Ramayana in the vernacular. They decided at last to place the manuscript in the inner shrine of the famous Siva-Temple before the Visweswara Lingam, with a prayer that He, the foremost devotee of the “Rama Principle”, in His infinite Wisdom, evaluate the work and write on it His verdict on its acceptability. The shrine door was locked and the pundits withdrew, hoping that it would be condemned as the spurious, sacrilegious work of a commoner. When morning broke and the bundle of palm leaves was brought out of the altar, they found to their astonishment, the words, ‘Sathyam Sivam Sundaram’ written with His hand (apne Haath se, as the Nivedam says) and a Lingam drawn underneath as the Divine Signature. What a miraculous coincidence this! That my search for three words, each starting with S, should have led me to the commendatory title with which Lord Siva had welcomed the immortal biography of another Avatar of God, baffle me with the magnitude of Divine Benediction.

The title of the book was accepted by Baba as a Name by which He too can be recognised. When He rose to address a vast gathering of people standing in pouring rain, under a canopy of umbrellas on the crest and sides of a hill named Sri Sailam, (by Rabindranath Tagore, when he stayed there) in Kerala after laying the foundation stone for a Sathya Sai Vidyapeeth on that eminence, Baba willed to reveal to the thousands yearning to glimpse the mystery. Therefore, a Sankrit verse
emerged as a four-forked lightning flash.

Sarva Naama Dharam, Saantham
Sarva Roopa Dharam, Sivam
Satchindaanada Roopam Adwaitham
Sathyam Sivam Sundaram

I assume all Names, the Peace;
I assume all forms, the Good;
I Being, Awareness, Bliss, the One;
Truth, Goodness, Beauty.

In the Book, I elaborated the ‘Three words’, delving into their implications with the help of occasional glimpses afforded by Baba. He is the Substratum, the Substance, the Separate and the Sum, the Sath, the Being the Sathyam. He is the Awareness, the Activity, the Consciousness, the Feeling, the Willing and the Doing – the Chith, the Sivam. He is the Light, the Splendour, the Harmony, the Bliss, the Melody—the Ananda, the Sundaram”.

II Samasta Lokah Sukhino Bhavantu II