“When a devotee meets his Sadguru, he should not ‘think’, he should only ‘do’ without the thought of being the doer. The intellectual faculty of that devotee should vanish and be replaced with surrender, so that Sadguru can work with him.”
On May 25th, 1993 I saw His Holiness Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji for the first time in the physical form in Trinidad, the country of my birth, under strange circumstances. He had shown like a beacon light for lost souls. A sense of filial love radiated resplendently. To me He looked like mother-father-child; all in one.
Being brought up in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic background, I was awed by seeing the devotees fully prostrating before Him on the bare ground. I just stared and look. He was standing about five feet away when I saw His eyes on me and I offered my pranams while bending my head in reverence. When I raised my head He was still looking at me, He smiled and shook His head to the right as though He was confirming my presence. Immediately I remembered the Paramahamsa Yogananda incident of meeting with His guru, Sri Yukteshwara.
It must be borne here, that at that time Gurus and Holy men were not part of my psyche; those whom I met had encouraged lots of doubts about Hinduism and spirituality, and showed a penchant for obtaining financial endowment. Somehow I remained absolute in my faith notwithstanding my recalcitrance and radicalism.
On the Sunday before His arrival to Trinidad, I attended the temple services for the first time, although the temple was close to where I lived. After the services I unconsciously started to help with construction services for the preparation of His arrival. The following day, Monday, He will arrive at about 10.00 pm. However, at 4.30 pm on that day the kitchen/dinning area, that was being prepared, caught fire and was about seventy five percent gutted.
Devotees were running helter-skelter and grown men were crying and wailing. Strangely, blame for the fire was attested to no one. During the commotion, I started to feel a morbid sense of guilt, for during the Sunday work along, I complained to the kitchen manager, that I was disappointed in the way the construction was done. The faith and love that was being expressed for the Guru was in no way reflected in this construction. So to vindicate myself, I volunteered to reconstruct the structure properly. By His Grace, the devotees’ faith, and some other miracles, the structure was completed before HH placed His Lotus Feet on the Ashram grounds.
In retrospect, the sighting that summer was not the first, albeit not in the form. In 1970, at the age of eighteen, I had the darshan of The Lord Jesus. No words were spoken, but his smile and look was so encouraging. I thought that I would soon die and join Him in Heaven. I thought that this was the purpose.
After this incident, I got involved with a group that performed Hari Katha, which read and expound the Ramayana in programs throughout the island. Here I learnt the tenets of Hinduism, the religion of my forefathers who were indentured to Trinidad from Bihar, AP and Tamil Nadu. In 1973 I got initiated into Hinduism, became a vegetarian and a teetotaler. I was searching for spirituality, but religion kept stepping in the way.
In 1979, I left Trinidad to study architecture and building construction at Auburn University in the USA. I graduated in 1984 and took a job with a large construction company there. During this period I drank alcohol socially and eat meat lavishly. I was confused about God, so without acting out I simply recoiled inside. Then on the 26th April 1986, everything started to change.
I attended a wedding reception at a friend’s house in Fort Benning, Georgia where I was the chief organizer. It was a gorgeous spring day, with deep blue skies. It was perfect; not a stand of cloud to obstruct one’s view. I sat to the front of the house with a bottle of rum and a bottle of beer. I would drink the rum and use the beer as a chaser. Sitting on a chair, I poured rum into my glass and was about to put it to mouth. With my head raised towards the heavens, I saw a group of cloud directly in my line of vision. I was stunned for a moment as a second ago there were no clouds; where did these come from? With the glass still at my head, I distinctly saw a finger protruding from the clouds pointing towards me, and a distinct voice saying, “That is your last drink, that is your last drink”. That was my last drink. To this day that has been my last drink. I neither miss nor yearn for it.
Three months later, as fate would have it, I returned to Trinidad to take up a teaching appointment at a Technical college. We got a home in suburb of Chaguanas, about three miles from the Trinidad Ashrama. We hired a live-in house help, who was a devotee of Sri Sri Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji. Revati would sing bhajans; and although they were different, they were soothing. She kept insisting that I must come to the temple. Out of frustration one night I went, primarily to take her there. There I saw a life size photograph of His Holiness; whom she introduced as her Guru. In the crowd I saw a student from one of my classes.
Vishnu and Capil Ramdath were students in classes that I taught. They were both devotees of Sri Sri Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji. They would tell me of His power and miracles. I had no interest in their lamentations. One evening during class, I engaged in a conversation with Vishnu. He kept insisting that his Guru was the only force he needed and that all actions were just extensions of the Guru. I abjectly insulted him, to the point that he missed two weeks of class time. On his return to the class he iterated that he prayed to his Guru and begged Him; that if He can change one person, it should be Mr. Edward Bharath. Now I can say, “thank you Vishnu for His prayers”.
After that first meeting with HH, I remembered telling my family and friends that “I have seen God”. Confusion reigned as I was now juxtaposed between the past and the future standing at the junction of the present. I became a convert from the past, and now, is this the spirituality for which I was searching?
What was the purpose of this life? Who were the contesters of the faith? Why were there all these identities of the same person, grandson, son, father, husband, brother, etc? Why do we need all these identifications? Isn’t it just “I?”
If I can surmise, everything that happened till then was the work of some cosmic relativity. Those answer then, is it GOD? But who is this God? All these questions led to the realization that all physical things emerges, stay for awhile and then go away. But the thought that controls them are forever there. This thought or cosmic realization is the primordial gift to existence. Is this realization the Sadguru? And so my thoughts were running wild.
Without knowing, the next few days became the mirror of a lifetime. I saw purpose. This was not blind faith; it was like a new romance for a young boy. He was guiding, is guiding, and will always guide me. That year was 1993; many years have come and gone. Many souls have come and gone, yet that beacon still shines on. Forever will that light shine on the pathway for those who have the Faith in Him. For me, He is the beginning, the end and everything in between. He is the ABSOLUTE.
My great grand-father, Ali-Meah Sahib, came to Trinidad, in the early eighteen hundreds, from the Uttarpradesh area of India. He came as a Muslim convert to work as an indentured laborer in the cocoa estates. Although he was a Muslim, he still practiced Hinduism by reading Ramayana in the barracks building, with fellow indentured servants. He had one son whom he named Bharath Ram, my grand-father. My grand-father was supposed to carry on the religion of his fore-fathers, but as fate would have it, he met and married a missionary lady from Venezuela and converted to Roman Catholicism. My father and his siblings followed in that order.
In 1972, I had the darsan of the Lord Jesus Christ where for the first time I saw spirituality instead of religion. I searched for that spirituality and that drew me to Hinduism, which was devoid of religion. Later that year, I got initiated into Hinduism with the permission of my father. Although he was versed in Hindi and Hinduism ideologues, he never practiced the religion. Anyhow, he did support his children in their religious endeavors, with their marriage and in my case, my initiation. He even named us at birth with a Hindu scriptural name; mine being Ramsamooj.
In 1976, Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji made His inaugural trip to Trinidad, but only after seventeen years, in 1993, I would I have the fortune of having His darsan. That first meeting was so magnetic that till today, I am still anchored at His Lotus Feet. I know what His features look like and I can identify them, but I try to keep my eyes riveted to those sublime and divine Feet.
My first major impact with Him happened in late May, 1993. During a discourse He said, “When a devotee meets his Sadguru, he should not ‘think’, he should only ‘do’ without the thought of being the doer. The intellectual faculty of that devotee should vanish and be replaced with surrender, so that Sadguru can work with him.” He further went on to say, “A devotee should place his problems at the Feet of Sadguru and leave it there; if and when the time comes, Sadguru will take care of if.”
For many years my wife, Ruth, wanted a divorce. After meeting Him, I placed everything at His Feet and engrossed myself in His service. In 1996, He gave me permission to divorce her and return to the United States. I moved to Florida and stayed there with our three children, Ruard, Del and Edward Junior. Much later, the other two, Vanessa mand Ria would join me. In 1999, through my meditation He informed me that I will meet a person in December whom I should marry. On December 13th 1999, I met Pearl, a devotee of Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the following year we got married. Two years later, He gave her a gift, Sathya Datta. We were informed that when the boy turned eight, he should be brought to Him.
On July 11th 2009, when the boy turned eight, we took him to his Guru, during the Guru Purnima celebrations in Dallas, Texas. He advised us that we should bring the boy to the Mysore ashrama in December. We did as we were told and Sri Swamiji had his upanayam performed on Datta Jayanti day. He started some classes at the ashrama and later Sri Swamiji said that he should have some more western education and he must return when he is twelve to be part of the Veda Patashala.
During that period, in a discussion with Sri Swamiji, I mentioned that there were so many devotees walking in the ashrama compound and most did not know each other. I said, “Appaji, why don’t we meet these persons, collect their stories on video and chronicle them in a book?” He stopped for a moment and then He smiled and began talking with Prasadanna. Prasadanna looked at me and said that Sri Swamiji was very happy about that. Then Sri Appaji spoke to me saying, “Go to them and tell them that they have His permission to give their stories.” I was so happy, I started the mission immediately.
Earlier, before coming to Mysore, we went to the Bangalore Ashrama to have His darsan, after He returned from Haridwar. He asked me about my schedule and how long I was staying. Thereafter we traveled to Mysore. When we arrived there, Swami Manasa Datta Pada Renu was on the main concourse. When he saw me he said, “Bharath, Sri Swamiji has asked for you all to come to Mekedatu, should I confirm.” I said, “Yes Swami,” and he quickly organized the trip. Twenty-four people left for Mekedatu that evening.
Sri Swamiji arrived about 9.00 pm and He came straight into the Temple. There He told us about His coming down to earth at the Brahma Kunda. He said that when Sri Swamji took His form, for more than two hours the baby was swirling in the waters playing with other Gods, while the Mother was in meditation. He also told us, that the present location on the Lingam in the temple is the actual place where the baby was placed on the earth for the first time.
The next day, He took us to the small temple, at the Sangama where His mother, as a child, would decorate and pray each day. He said that the government has given it to Him and we must maintain it as shrine to Mata Jayalakshmi. Later He took us to Sogala, the birthplace of Mata Jayalakshmi, and then to the Brindavan of His ancestor, who was the doctor to the ‘Maharaj of Mysore’. Later, I realized that those excursions were the beginning of a journey that would change my life forever.
I was advised that the devotees should not write their stories, but they should say it, on camera. He said that when they write; it comes from their brains, but when they speak; it comes from their heart. It was also indicated that all the stories must reflect real situations about their association with Him. I wanted to know who the devotees whom I should visit were. Prasadanna gave me a few names and told me to go, I will meet them.
Who were them? I didn’t know, but I started anyway. I collected a computer, cameras, audio recorded and notepads and started this journey on November 29th 2009. With the help of hundreds of devotees, all over the globe, I was able to travel on the Footprints He made throughout His journeys. Wherever the project took me, the enthusiasms shared by His devotees were the same; they all wanted to be part of this project.
On the first trip out of Mysore, a Trinidadian, Paras Chokolingam, living in India, came to assist me. He came with a beat-up old ‘Fiat Uno’ car that I thought belonged to the junk yard. He insisted that the car was in good shape, but he will make whatsoever adjustments I ask him to do. I ask him to have a paint job done, put four new tires, get the air-condition working and fix the muffler. I gave him ten thousand rupees, and to my surprise, within a few days he completed all the work. Our first trip was to the Cochin Ashrama in Kerala.
Paras is the eldest son of the Chokolingo family, a popular media and newspaper giant in Trinidad. He is retired and living his life in India doing tirat. He thought that it would be easier for us to travel to Cochin by way of Guruvayoor, instead of the Coimbatore route. We followed his route and when we got into the mountain area, we saw signs that said, ‘If your vehicle breaks down, don’t try to spend the night in the forest fixing it, get a ride out and return the next day.’
I thought that this sign was hilarious, because everyone should know better. We got to the top of the mountain, where we saw a ranger station, and as if by luck, the car broke down there. Paras asked me, “Can you talk to your Guru and ask for some help to repair the car?” I told him that I don’t normally ask for anything. After about thirty minutes, and even with help from the rangers, we could not locate the problem. Calmly, Paras again asked, “Did you talk to Sri Swamiji? If you ask Him He will definitely help.” Seeing his determination, I retorted, “Yes! I already asked Him.” Immediately, with enthusiasm he said, “Look, I have found the problem!”
He repaired the car and we started again, except this time I was driving. After going for about one hundred kilometers through the forest, we came into a village and the car became difficult to control; it kept pulling towards the left side. We stopped at a tire shop, thinking that they can help. They called a mechanic who looked over the car and found nothing wrong, so we continued. We went for another sixty kilometers, but this time I felt the presence of someone sitting in the back seat.
When we got to the other village, the car pulled itself to the left side and perfectly stopped on the side. The engine was running but the car would not move. It was about 10.30 pm and this was the only place that we saw some people on the roadway; venders selling fruits and Pani Puri. Within ten minutes a jeep with five policemen arrived and asked us what the problem was. Soon afterwards two other jeeps came. They wanted to know what our purpose in Kerala was. I told them that I was collecting information for book for my Guru, Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji. Some knew Him and some knew of Him.
However, that was the magic word; they took me to a hotel and made arrangements for my travel to the Cochin Ashrama, the next day. They also made arrangements for a tow-truck and mechanic to repair the car. The mechanic was stunned, when he learnt that we had driven the car, all the way there, without the front stabilizer bar. He said that the front wheels should have spread as there was nothing holding them together. He repaired the car and later, Paras joined me and we continued.
A few days later, we went to the Bangalore Airport to pick-up Pearl and Sathya Datta, who were going to Puttaparthi to have the darsan of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. We dropped them off and continued to Jayalakshmipuran to meet the devotees there. We got lost multiple times, so we were driving for the whole night. I decided to take a nap and Paras said that would drive. After some time I experienced a loud thud and I was awaken from my sleep. I saw Paras sweating and he profusely started to apologize. He said, “I am sorry, I fell asleep and the car ran off the road.” But, the car was on the road, I was confused. I made him stop, took the car and I started driving.
I got into the Bommeparti Ashrama and as soon as I parked in front of the building, the right front wheel collapsed; there was a wooden spike protruding from the side of the tire. We got some help to repair the wheel, but when the people returned the right rear tire was collapsed with the same problem. When we got there, without even having a shower, I went into the temple and prayed before the picture of Mata Jayalakshmi. I said to Her, “Amma, I don’t know you, I have never seen you, all I have seen is a photo of your bust, which everyone has. I would like to see you; to know you.”
We were then given breakfast and comfortable rooms for our stay. I took my shower and thought that I would take a nap, because I was so tired. Paras was asleep as I could hear his snores in the next room. I lay down and I was thinking about all the incidents that were happening, knowing that Sri Swamiji was with us all the way. Then the place became very calm and I saw a figure dressed in white with very young features, fair skinned and the white sari covering her head. She bent her head stooped by the bed and said, “Don’t worry, they will all come and give their stories, they will all give their stories.”
Thinking that this was a figment of my imagination, I fell asleep. When I awoke later, I didn’t think about it, but it stayed in my consciousness. The journey took us to Anantapur, Produttur, Kurnool, Hyderabad and then on to Vijayawada. Each step of the way volunteers were there to assist in every way possible. We stayed in places ranging from five-star hotels to open porches, with a mosquito net. We had sixteen course meals to eating a single Dosa, at times. We used bathroom with gold fixtures to simple outhouses. Devotees were happy that we came. We were taping stories in every place imaginary, including under trees.
When we arrived in Vijayawada, the place was beginning to get crowded and everyone was busy. We were advised that Sri Datta Vijayananda Teertha Swami was due within one hour. I sat and waited for some time and had the darsan of Sri Bala Swamiji, staying all the way in the back. After awhile, Sri Swamiji left, the curtains on the stage was closed and the crowd started to disperse. I stood there thinking how fortunate we were to have Sri Swamiji’s darsan in Vijayawada, and that too on the day we arrived.
Suddenly, I saw the curtain opened up and Sri Bala Swamiji walked out searching the crowd. He called for me and I ran and prostrated to His Feet. He asked me how the project was coming along and was the response of the devotees. I told Him that everything was going fine and that I was very encouraged. Later, I met with Him and asked for His blessings to continue the project. With a big glorious smile He said, “Bharath, Sri Swamiji has given you this project, that’s all the blessings you need, go and do it with a full heart.”
In Vijayawada a devotee, Vijayabhaskara Sitaram Chitrapu, offered to help. He called the senior devotees, made all the arrangements, took us and sat for the tapings. He would come early in the morning to our room and sit for awhile. One day, during a casual conversation, he said, “Once, Sri Swamiji was giving a discourse on His Mother in Pithapuram, and He said, “When my mother and father got married, she was about thirteen to fourteen years old; she was slim, tall and very fair skinned.” Immediately, my consciousness awoke and I remembered the vision in Bommeparti. Amma had indeed given me Her darsan. I felt that what a wonderful opportunity I have received; three generations of divinity have blessed me to do His work.
We got to Chennai and I wanted to go to Malaysia. There is a new immigration rule that was instituted in 2010 in India; non-Indians cannot return to India in less than sixty days after their last departure. I would be in Malaysia for ten days and I should leave for the US through the Bangalore Airport. Throwing all caution, I approached the Chennai Airport Immigration Counter. I was asked about my business in India and why I was going to Malaysia. I told then that I was doing my Guru’s work and He has sent me. I was allowed to leave with a few words of caution.
In Malaysia I enjoyed my stay there, especially with the priest, Gurukul. I thought he had an amazing life. It is believed that Sri Swamiji was walking in the streets of Kuala Lumpur in the 1930s, before He took form in Mekedatu. When I returned to Chennai, the immigration officer there told me that I had to go and see the Chief Immigration Officer because of my circumstance. I went and met a smiling, beautiful young lady behind a big desk. I told her of my dilemma and she inquired about my reason for coming back to India so soon. She listened and enquired about my Guru. She seemed to know Him, but I wasn’t sure that she was a devotee. I sat with her for awhile talking about Sri Swamiji, then she stamped my passport and I left. As the journey progressed, I became more and more cognizant that He was doing everything and I was only His instrument.
In the period allotted for the project, through His grace only, I visited and met the senior devotees at all the major ashrama in India, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Trinidad, United States, Europe and Canada. I also met devotees from Germany, Denmark, Holland, Russia, Switzerland, Surinam, Africa and New Zealand. I interview those who knew His Mother and Him, as a child, and those who He brought to earth. There were those that died, almost died and some that wanted to die. He kept then all so that they can benefit from His seva.
Many senior devotees gave their stories with such passion, that the listeners’ eyes were flooded. Many passed away just a few days after giving their stories. Some still see Him as someone they need to protect and others cannot suppress their love when they are near to Him. Almost all those whom I met became emotional when they spoke or thought about Him.
It is said that we shouldn’t thank Him for any endowment that He bestows on us as they are that which He deems as merits. He gives to each devotee enough to fit their capacity. He gives it knowing that it will get done, because He is in control. He self-embodies that spirit that guides, protects, and controls the actions that results in production of pure thoughts and selfless service.
To this primordial Guru, my Sadgurudeva, Parama Pujya Nada Brahma Sri Sri Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji, I offer my pranams as I prostrate with ‘The Bhakta Mala.’ Jaya Guru Datta