"Look up!" said the same Angelic Voice
"Look at what ?" I asked in my ignorance
"Look at the prawn, a witness to its Glory!"
The scene on my mental screen changed. The setting changed. This time it was the bank of Bengawan Solo - The Blessed River.
I saw my father praying by the bank of the river : "Malik, Thou, The Sole Owner of Creation, bless me with a son."
He reminded The One he called Malik or Sole Owner of Creation of a similar favor granted to his forefather : "By the witness of that blessed prawn, fulfill this desire of mine. I need a son to continue the family line."
In Sindhi tradition, a girl is "given away" in marriage. She adopts her husband's family name. So would her offspring. Therefore a son is always needed to continue the family line.
Lying on the hospital bed, I wondered why was a son so important ? Why was the family line, family name so important ? But the scenes on my mental screen were fast changing and my questions remained unanswered. Perhaps they were not important. I was traveling through time and covered the distance of few centuries in no time.
My father had just moved this business and home to a new property in the centre of town, Jalan Coyudan. He named the shop Toko Krishna, Krishna Stores. To him, God was Krishna, The Attractive One. One who attract you to itself. One who frees you from the illusion of "I", "You", "We", "They" and leads you to the eternity of limitless self.
My mother was once again pregnant. After two earlier miscarriages, she was very tense this time. Her blood pressure often rose to alarming levels. My father kept reminding her, "We have no reason to worry this time. Don't you remember our meeting with Ibu Sri ?"
Sri - then a young lady living in quiet quarters outside Surakarta Palace, the Keraton - was indeed Ibu or mother to everyone, especially to her disciples, friends and sympathizers. She belonged to the royal family and had her living quarters inside the Keraton. But she chose to live outside as an ordinary resident of Surakarta. She was "gifted" - something of a mystic. She seldom spoke. But whenever she did, she spoke with authority, as if some higher were speaking through her. Just before my mother got pregnant, father had a chance of meeting her. She asked him then, "What brings you here, tuan (Mister)?"
My father replied "I just wanted to meet you, to see you. To seek your blessing."
"Yes, yes, yes... blessings, blessings. You want a child, a son. God will give you. Don't worry. Wait for a while." So saying she entered her private chamber.
"I did not have to wait long," my father had related to me, "before one of her disciples came out and gave me an apple. It was for your mother. I was also told to feed the fishes in Bengawan Solo with Nasi Kuning, Javanese yellow rice."
"Don't you remember with Ibu Sri's promise ? We will have a son. This time you will give birth to a son." Father had so much confidence in what Ibu Sri said.
My mother remembered how sweet was the apple given to her. In those days, apples were not popular in Indonesia. They grew apples in East Java, but not the sweet ones. They tasted sour. Father's reminder seemed to work. My mother regained her self-confidence. Yes, she was going to give birth. This time the child would be born in time and healthy.
Later she was to meet my grandfather, my father's father in her dream. The dream was so clear, and the meeting so real. He had told her, "I am coming to your house. I did come earlier, but had to leave early since I still had some unfinished work here. But this time I come to stay, to live with you."
My mother told my father about her dream. My grandmother, wife of the "man" who promised to come and live in the house, was still alive. She commented, "Your first son... That was his earlier visit. At that time I had strong feeling that he was reborn in the family. I did not tell anybody then."
To the surprise of everyone, that same night, thousands of miles away, my father's elder sister in the city of Ajmer in India had a similar dream. Her father was coming to her brother's house in Indonesia. Her letter to my father and my father's letter to her crossed each other. Both carried the same news.
Ibu Sri and her apple.... My mother, my aunt and their dreams.... And then, there was a certain widow who lost her husband and one son in a car accident. The lady was left alone with six little mouths to feed, very little means, and debtors making their life miserable. My father offered a helping hand. I could see the lady in tears, "Brother, I don't know how to pay for your kindness, I have nothing to offer... Nothing but prayer.. May God amply reward your kindness... I have been praying for you and I am sure soon a son will born in the family. He will bear a mark on his back. Mark of my Shiva, the Lord of Universe, The Source of All Auspiciousness." She was a devotee of Shiva, The One and Only Source of All Auspiciousness - all that is good.
Suddenly, I could feel my "presence" - an experience hard to explain, difficult to express with words. I was both inside and outside my mother's womb... I could see my father, my mother, my grandmother, my sister and another lady - a Javanese Lady who was to raise me, Ibu Naniek Padmosoebroto. At the same time, I was also floating inside my mother's womb. And I recognized her womb as womb. It was not a new experience, I thought. I had been through it before.
But who was this "I"?
Who am I?
My mother was making all kinds of promises : "Once my son is born, I will take him to Makam Wali in Cirebon." That was the tomb of a Muslim Saint, Sunan Gunung Jati, in West Java. Another time, it was a haircut in Buddhist Shrine at Borobudur and the Hindu Temple Complex of Prambanan that she promised. I was also to be blessed by a Christian Priest in the church close to the house. "Wake up, wake up your destiny.... wake up to your conscience, to the Consciousness...," The Angelic Voice reminded me.
"I am dying!" I replied
"But birth and death are just waves in the river of Life. Life goes on. Waking up to your destiny, to your conscience and to The Consciousness has got nothing to do with birth and death."
"What do you mean?"
And I saw my father feeding the fishes with yellow rice. I was floating inside my mother's womb. I was also by the banks of Bengawan Solo with my father. I was about to be born. But I was also dying. Dying of leukemia. What was the truth? What is truth? my birth, my death, my life, or what ? "Birth and Death are just like waves of the Great Oceanic River of life - The Sindhu of Existence."
"So this River of Life is the Truth, this very Existence is the Truth."
"Not 'the truth', but truth. The River of Life is true. So is this existence. But not 'the' Truth."
"So, what is 'the' Truth."
"You , You are the Truth ... I am the Truth.... But why bother about Truth and 'the' Truth? In dying, death is the truth. In being born, birth is the truth. In living, life is the truth. Truth is everywhere. In everything. Within and without. Inside and outside. Above and below. Do not bother about it, but wake up to it.... Wake up, wake up to the Truth!"
"Truth looks like a long way to go. I don't know how to wake up to the Truth. Tell me, are you real?" I was trying to settle down to lesser level. Reality must be more rational, something that I could grasp - so I thought.
"Yes, as real as you are."
"But am I real? Now living, now dying. My existence seems so unreal. I am unreal."
"Then I too am as unreal as you are."
"You confuse me."
"Is your confusion real?"
"I guess it is."
"Then the one confused must be real too."
"I don't know. I am not sure."
"Is your not knowing real?"
"As I said, I don't know. Perhaps...."
"Perhaps..., so you are living between reality and unreality. Reality is real. But unreality is real too. Unreality is real as 'unreality'. Can't you see that actually nothing is 'unreal' and 'nothing' is real?"
"What about the hospital bed? What about my inevitable death?"
|As a Baby with My Parents and Grandmother|
That afternoon death seemed like the only reality to me. Every other reality was covered by it. I was trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the other side of reality. Finally I caught it... The river of life flowed on and I was very much flowing with it.
The doctor who helped me make a smooth transition from one state of consciousness to another, from my mother's womb to what we call the world looked so concerned. Reason - I was not crying. I wanted to tell him that there was no need to get concerned. The delivery was smooth and that I was alright. But my lips were sealed. Words in different languages appeared in my mind but I could not speak them out. I was unable to express myself. It took me a while to realize that such has been the case from life to life. Human body and its mechanism required some warming-up period. The only thing I could do was to cry. And when the doctor tapped my bottom, I did cry. Not out of pain... I just wanted to tell him that I was alright and very much alive in his medical sense.
As I cried, people around me rejoiced. Someone shouted, "Baby Boy..." My father came running. I tried to smile. It was hard and I knew nobody would take notice of it. But to my surprise, someone did - my father. He told my mother, "Look, look, he is smiling."
So, I was there even before my birth. Birth was not my beginning. And therefore death could not end me. It was like remembering some old lesson. Birth was myth. I was born and yet not born. When was I born?
I was still walking backwards in the time tunnel as I heard my father whispering into my tiny ears: "Uho hi Raam Uho hi Rahim." That is Ram, and That is Rahim. Both were names of God, of One and the Same Reality. Ram in Hindu tradition meant The Inner Dweller. And Rahim in Muslim Tradition glorified the Loving One. The Loving One dwelt within. That day, Saturday the first of September 1956, I started my journey on earth with the message of love, of unity.
| Wiyh,My sister|
I had a whitish birthmark on my back. To my parents "Hindu friends including the lady who had predicted some divine sign, it was a mark of Shiva's Trident, a symbol of Its Mastery over the past, present and future.
To the Muslim friends it was clearly the Crescent and Star; the Crescent of Love and Faith, and Star of wisdom and awareness.
It was a proof of Allah's mercy, grace and kindness. To my parents it did not matter at all, for them Allah was no different from Shiva. Just like two different ways of calling one and same person.
I remembered my childhood. I remembered my father singing the Sufi Kalaams, devotional songs of Sindhi Mystic Shah Abdul Latief. The Great Sufi whom he admired saw no different between one path and another, for all path lead to One and same Goal, one and the same Reality.
I was only three when Ibu Naniek, affectionately called Guru, started buying me picture books and comics. Guru means Teacher. She got this title because once taught Indonesian to my mother and sister. Later everyone started calling her Guru. Not just our family but also our friends and their families. She truly was a Guru, a teacher to me. Like an angel sent from above, she took upon herself the task of reminding me of all the lessons learned earlier, in other lifetimes.
One day it would be comics of Javanese legends inspired by Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Another day it would be a Bible Picture book. There were at that time not too many children's book about muslim prophets and saints, so she would go to the pains of drawing figures for me, to introdue me to those saints.
And then those comic character came alive. When I was four or five, I started meeting them, especially the monkey warrior king Hanuman from Ramayana and Jesus of the Bible.
They were real, as real as my father and mother. Whenever I was alone upstairs they came and played with me. And I started spending more and more time upstairs. I thought my parents knew about their visits. For how could my visitors climb the stairs unnoticed by my parents, sister, grandmother, Guru and others downstairs?
Curious, one day my mother asked what was I doing upstairs "all alone". I replied, "No, I was not alone. First Hanuman was there. Then Jesus came. I was playing with them."
To my illiterate but very spiritual-minded mother, perhaps, it was a blessing, or just a child's imagination. At first there was no reaction. But when I stopped playing with friends and started to spend still more time upstairs, she got worried.
I could see her confiding in my father, "I don't know what to make of it. Those are visions, a child's imagination or what.... God forbid, but some negative force may be at work."
And I remember them taking me to holy men, to dukuns or the medicine men. They tried all kind of things, ritual to rid me of negative influences. But the influences remained. I was still meeting them. Indeed meeting more and more of them, prophets, messengers, saints, Buddhas and avatars.
One day, I told Guru : "They think I am lying."
"No, no, it's not like that... I believe in what you say."
I wanted her to meet them. But whenever she was with me upstairs, they would never come. And I complained to them : "Why, why don't you come when Guru is here?" They just laughed. I was irritated.
I told Guru that I was sorry. I could not arrange "the meeting." She took it very lightly, "That is okay. They just want to play with children. And I am a grown up. So they refuse to meet me. Don't worry."
Gradually, those meetings became less and less frequent. And finally stopped. I was sad. But then there was the excitement of going to school. I don't remember anybody telling me, but I had an impression that Jesus would be teaching in the school.
My parents' house was full of religious symbols and icons. There was a Christian cross, Muslim calligraphy, and statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities. They taught me to respect all of them. They were all divine.
"As you too are divine, this very existence is divine. Life is divine. The world is divine. Birth and death are divine. The Angel told me.
But I was still a five year old then. My definition of Divinity was those pictures, symbols, icons and statues. My definition of divinity was those meetings with Hanuman and Jesus and ... and ... and ... when I saw no pictures, no calligraphy, no statue and just plain cross in the school, I revolted. "No," I said, "I am not going to the school."
It was a Christian Protestant School. I never knew the difference between Catholic and Protestant. To me they were one and the same. I did not understand why their cross was just a "piece of wood". But what disheartened me more was the absence of Jesus. He was nowhere to be found. Not in the playground, not in the principal's office, not in the classroom. Where was he? Why should I learn anything under anybody but him? Why should I learn anything under anybody but him? And his friend, the monkey king Hanuman, was missing too. None of those people I had met upstairs was there. What a school! And I saw myself throwing my school bag.
I screamed, "No, I am not going to school. Baba, mau apa!" It was indeed very rude of me, very rude for a five years old. I challenged my father, Baba, as both my sister and I called him : "Mau apa?" Very bad indonesian : "What can you do ?"
I saw Baba's face change color. He was quiet and then drew me close to his bosom : "Have you seen those coolies in Setasiun Solo Balapan, the railway station?"
Sure, I had. I nodded my head in affirmation.
"Do you want to be like them?" He asked.
"No....," I replied.
"Then you must go to school. You must study. Those coolies at the station are illiterate. They cannot read, they cannot write. They cannot do any other work. That's why they become coolies."
My little mind accepted the idea. I had to study if I did not want to become a coolie. And I went to school.
It was like reading my own book of life backwards. I saw the first president of India, Shri Rajendra Prasad, visiting Solo. My mother was busy in the kitchen, for she had prepare an Indian Vegetarian meal for the whole group.
It was afternoon. Just after the official lunch, the president was scheduled to meet with the local Indian community. People from other cities like Yogyakarta and Semarang also came for the meeting. I remember my father, who was the Secretary General of the Indian Association in Central Java, taking me to the honorable guest, "Your Excellency, this is my son."
His Excellency looked very old to me, or perhaps ancient. At the point, I could somehow differentiate between old and ancient. He was not old like other old people. He was an "old wise man". He was different. I remember him patting my back. I had a white cap on my head - symbol of the Indian National Movement, as a similar black cap, or Peci as it is called in Hindi. Then he gave me a packet of biscuits, Indian cream biskuits.
I saluted him in a very Indian manner as taught by parent and thanked him for the biscuits. Still in the same hall, he saw me opening the packet and sharing the biscuits with other children there.
I heard him telling my father, "Mr. Tolaram, your child is destined for a great future. He will be a great man."
Great Man? What is Greatness? Is life great? or perhaps death is greater than life?
I was dying, and the greatest thought at that time was about death!
Death, death, death.... I saw my grandmother dying. She was old and sick. For days she refused to eat or even get down from the bed. Our family friends from Yogya, Semarang and as far away as Jombang in East Java, were by her bedside. They came especially for her. They knew she was dying. The doctor had told my parents, "Be prepared for the final transition. She is leaving us." Dr. Oen, a very famous doctor in Solo and our family friend, called her Amma, Sindhi for mother, as we all called her. He never charged us his fee. The only gift he would accept from my father was come white fabric for his dress. He always wore white.
Amma, my grandmother was also a very gifted lady. She had a pair of healing hands. Many Solo residents still remember how she would cure them with just a touch. My mother had asked her once, "How did you get this power?" She replied that once she had seen a darvish, a sufi mystic, in her dream. He had touched her and ever since people were healed by her mere touch, "It is not even my touch. It is his touch. He is touching people through me."
And therefore she never ever expected even a word of thanks from anyone. If someone thanked her, she would immediately stop him or her, "No, don't thank me. I may forget that the touch is not mine. The touch is my Murshid'
s, my Guru's. I may get egoistic and may even lose contact with him. Don't you ever thank me again."
She never told anybody who her Murshid was. Who was the darvish that came in her dream. But I had this gut feeling that she knew who he was.
My mother often joked : "To whom will you pass on this healing ability? Why not me? I am your daughter-in-law. Touch me with the intention to pass on this ability to me."
She refused, "No, not you."
The evening prior to her death, she got up from her bed. She asked for food. Something she had not done for days. She also asked for help to give her a bath. And then she told my mother : "I met with my brother, Fatoo, in my dream." She was referring to the same Uncle Fatehchand who had helped my father move to Indonesia. He had died a year or so earlier.
"I will soon join him." She knew that she was dying.
The next morning, as the muezzin in the nearby mosque reminded the faithful to pray, she left her body. She died.
"She died, as I would die too," I thought. And then I remember her cremation on the banks of Bengawan Solo. The river, which the source of life, witnessed death by its very rank. But it did not stop. It flowed on, sharing and giving life. Death did not change its course.
Assisted by my father I lit the funeral pyre. My father had invited a Buddhist monk and a Muslim friend to day prayers. There was no one to object to the multi religious farewell ceremony. There were additional prayers said following the Sindhi tradition.
I was sad but not afraid. It was my first encounter with death in this life, but there was nothing new. I saw many people dying after that. I lost my mother in 1985. I feared death less and less... but it was still there. I realized that on my hospital bed. There was a deep rooted fear of the unknown, "What is going to happen?"
"What are you going to do?"
"What am I to do ?"
"Therapy, go for therapy. You will be alright...."
Yes, therapy. But not medical therapy. I remembered my Guru, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I must go and see him. I must leave the hospital.
The doctor warned me that within one week I must be hospitalized again. The therapy must start immediately. There was no time to waste. The situation was bad. I was given a blood transfusion, which helped me for 3-4 days only. Before leaving the hospital, I had to be given two more packs of blood. My hemoglobin level was critical at 2.7 when I was hospitalized.
I got myself discharged from the hospital. I thanked my Angel for the guidance. And a couple of days later I was on my way to India. To a small town of Prasanthi Nilayam in the southern part of India. To meet with my Guru, my Guide, my inspiration - Sri Sathya Sai Baba.