The following conversation between a devotee and Sai Baba took place in Prasanthi Nilayam many years ago and was first published in an early issue of the Sanathana Sarathi, the official ashram magazine.
Devotee: Swami! The world is very cruel to me.
Sai Baba: That is its nature. The purpose of the world is frustration; it has to engender need. When the need is strong enough, the individual seeks fulfilment.
Devotee: And fails!
Sai Baba: Only when he seeks fulfilment without! Within him, he can get it. The within is accessible always; it is ever responsible. There is pain only so long as attachment for outer forms remains. Ultimate relief from pain can come only with the loss of ego, the neutralisation of that which reacts to something as pain and something else as pleasure, whose memory, whose conditioning, helps to recognise the dualities of joy and grief.
Devotee: But the world, Swami?
Sai Baba: The world is pain. Expect nothing from the world but that. I willed the totality of your conditioned existence to be pain, in order to draw you to me.
Devotee: Which I can, at best, only hope to attain.
Sai Baba: God asks for neither hope nor despair. They are subject to relativity. Universal Being is beyond both hope and despair, both certainty and doubt. It knows no lingering in its conclusions. It is ever flowing, in all directions, and in none of them.
Devotee: What then shall be my direction?
Sai Baba: Take what works today for today. What works tomorrow for tomorrow. One day at a time, each day for itself, each moment for itself, without a past, without memory, without conclusions.
Sai Baba: Yes. Conclusions bind; they press on the mind. The newborn baby is not confined to conclusions. All conclusions enslave. Most men are slaves to the conclusions into which they have fallen.
Devotee: Does that mean I have to give up my practice of concentration?
Sai Baba: The question that bothers you is one of fixity. You tried to fix your thought and attention on a word and later on a form, but you discovered that nothing lasts, that everything has to change. But I tell you; awareness can remain, even when form subsides, even when the word melts away.
Devotee: I find it difficult to hold my attention on form or word.
Sai Baba: Because when you try to meditate, the very trial invites the success-failure conflict onto the scene. You say to yourself, it is good to meditate on this and not that, or to meditate on that is wrong or foolish. Practise choicelessness; no objective, no intention. Be yourself. Choose no particular form, for all are equally His. Choose no particular word or sound, for all are His.
Devotee: I am often tossed between contradictory beliefs.
Sai Baba: Contradictions are inevitable. It is the very nature of this world and of the mind. But you can choose, either to be buffeted endlessly by the apparent contradictions or to remain in the calm centre of the cyclone. This is the problem of all problems, the problem of peripheral or central being.
Devotee: The circumference or the centre, the rim or the hub of the wheel?
Sai Baba: Yes. The hub is calm, steady, unmoved. But the mind will be drawn along the spokes, the objective desires, to revolve over mud and stone, sand and thorns. It will not believe that it can get bliss from the centre, rather than from the circumference, without undergoing a rough journey over turbulent terrain.
Devotee: Ultimately, it means the conquest of the mind?
Sai Baba: Learn to let all the conflicts spawned by the mind play themselves out, and cancel each other out. Be the witness to the holocaust. The ultimate solution to the conflict is not decision or even choice, but passive being. Dare to remain inconclusive. See the endless quandaries of the mind as a divine leela, God's sport, as the natural function of the bundle of desires called mind. Do not believe in mind; do not rally to its assertions and appetites. Watch the mind from a distance; do not get involved in its tumblings and turnings. Then everything becomes insignificant. When everything recedes into meaninglessness, you are in the hub, in equanimity.
Devotee: Swami, you are the hub, the spokes and the rim.
Sai Baba: Do not be concerned with who I am! Concern yourself with who you are and how you can be ever aware of that truth. Do not be a willing captive of the endless stratagems of the mind. Abstain from all that draws you into its web. I will lead you, if you rely on me. The alternatives of the world will not bring you happiness, for the mind, which revels in alternatives, is but a will-of-the-wisp, flitting before your vision. I do not judge you for what is never yours, really. Your imperfection is no obstacle for me.
Devotee: I confess that I have not always observed the rules of conduct of the Sathya Sai Organisation.
Sai Baba: Your mind keeps asking for rules. But when you get the rules, you find you cannot keep them. Rules engender rigidity, they force. They do not bloom out of love or spread love. There is always a way of doing a thing without the strain of a rule. See how unperturbed I am with your restlessness! I live thus, so that I may afford a lesson for you to learn.
Devotee: I am restless, Swami, because I yearn for rest and do not get it.
Sai Baba: It is your reaction to restlessness that is bad, not the restlessness itself. Restlessness is only the rise and fall of a wave on the ocean that you are. Nothing matters, so long as the depths are secure. Success is not important: failure does not matter. The river of eternity is flowing ever into the ocean of the Supreme Will.
Devotee: How long am I to be torn apart from that Supreme Will?
Sai Baba: You are a fraction of that Supreme Will. That is why you are afflicted with the hunger to seek It and to merge in It and to find fulfilment and bliss thereby. Turning to the world for solace and sustenance to appease that hunger has been tried by countless generations, including your own, but the hunger is gnawing still.
Devotee: What then is the proper reaction to the attractions of the world?
Sai Baba: Let go. Don't cling. Be still. Establish yourself in the homelessness of the mind; physical homelessness will not earn the victory. There are many spiritual aspirants still caught in the coils of greed, envy, pride and power seeking. They have not escaped from their homes. They have built prisons around themselves. I describe homelessness of the mind as mind abiding nowhere.
Devotee: And wandering everywhere?
Sai Baba: Do not exclude anything. Be the witness of everything. The exclusive cannot endure. God is all. Your restlessness came from exclusion, the pressure exerted by the excluded into the area from which it was excluded. All is God; how can you push God out of His Domain? Your mind concludes that the cause for the restlessness is whatever concerns it at the time. The actual cause is not that. You limit God by your assumptions, hence the restlessness. For you too are divine, and your reality protests against that limitation.
Devotee: Swami! Sometimes I feel so sad that I am so strange, so different in habits from the rest of those that come to you for succour.
Sai Baba: If your path contrasts entirely with those around you, believe that it is my will for you. Every way is my way and ways seemingly indirect may be the most direct for some spiritual seekers. For me there are no impossible cases, no incorrigible cases. Practise choicelessness as hitherto prescribed. Choicelessness is constant contentment.
Questioner: Swami, I am addicted to tea drinking, which hurts me. How can I stop this practice?
Sai Baba: Heaven is not refused to those who drink tea! A rajasic person is rendered hyperactive by tea, but to an invalid it is a welcome lift. But do not adore tea as the only reality. Now with regard to these habits that have gripped you, there are two methods by which you can discard them. The first is deprivation, denial. This can yield only temporary success. When one's determination relaxes, the habit reasserts itself and it becomes difficult to resist. The second method is to become so absorbed in something far more pleasing that the habit falls off by itself. Remember, what is transient is not important. What is important is eternal. My prescriptions are varied; they differ from person to person, from stage to stage, even in the case of the same person. All prescriptions work. Let people come to me through Bhajan, through Japa, through Meditation, through Mantras, through Tantra or Seva as I ordain. Every one will come to me; everyone has to come to me. There are no exceptions.
Devotee: We rely on your grace Swami, we yearn for it. Make us aware of it.
Sai Baba: I never asked you to earn me. I want only that you should need me. Your path is not one of merit. Bring the recurring desires of your mind to me, every time they emerge. They cannot shock me, for I willed them! Bring me your confusion, your fear, your craving, your anxiety, your inability to love the world, your hesitation to serve, your jealousy, all the deficiencies that defy your spiritual disciplines.
Devotee: How are we to do seva if we feel the urge to do so? What if the urge is absent?
Sai Baba: There are many ways to serve the world. You can serve, if not actively, at least by your serenity. Everyone need not do all things. Your Western heritage reveres active work. But if your being tends towards serenity and solitude, take it as the best. Do not be sorry for it. Only a small minority can delight in serenity and remain still. God has willed it so, otherwise, how could the world function? If stillness is your destiny, dare to be so. If you are a recluse, be a recluse, but a recluse with me. You may not be a saint, but you can peacefully be nothing. Let each be as he is, remembering, however, his source and his reality. None is as he is but for me.
Devotee: I have yet much to learn.
Sai Baba: You wish to learn from me. Well, if you are preoccupied by the body's needs, by the arrangements for its travelling, its accommodation and the food it demands, time will fly. That student learns best and fastest who does not spend his time constantly shifting from one classroom to the next. You will learn everything worth knowing in my classroom. I will expose you to all states of being, so that you may learn to rest in me in all of them. There are no insurmountable obstacles to me; there are no pre-requisites for me. I am unconditional.
Devotee: But you are absent so often and away for so long at your headquarters.
Sai Baba: Always, at every time, at every place, I am where you need me. All things without are subject to the limitation of time and space, to the material laws of Nature. My outer form is no exception! If you would perceive my physical form, it must come within the range of your gaze, so position yourself so that you can see it. And even then, it may not gaze at you. But, I am omnipresent! The limitations of the body and the outer senses do not hold for the inner vision. Therein, you can see me at any time and any place and receive darshan. The outer vision is purposely insufficient, instantaneous, transitory, casual, so that you may crave for and accomplish the inner darshan. If I have separated you from my physical image off and on, it was only to bring you to me and to establish my presence within you. That alone will replenish you and refresh you, I know. None of my absences was a rejection or rebuke. So far as you are concerned, I intended them all. And, always, I willed that you return to me.