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BE DESIRELESS


My father, who is now 76, became a follower of the holy personage Sathya Sai Baba in his early 30s. As a young lad, dad used to have intensely philosophical discussions with a schoolmate of his, a man by the name of Michael. Michael is also my father's name. Sitting around in their back yards gazing up at the twinkling firmament, they pondered the nature of existence, discussed their readings of metaphysical texts, and finally agreed that the purpose of life was to find God. That is, if God existed; if not, at least undertake the search.

My father's friend resolved to make the God-quest his primary mission, and to get started immediately; my father was a bit more skeptical. God may not exist, he posited (you can see the budding atheist in him even as a boy of 13). But he knew that if he worked hard he could achieve worldly success. So he would devote himself to his career, and thenceforth become spiritual.

Cut to years later. My father, a successful attorney and night-club owner, has a client, a Greek woman by the name of Jenny, who tells him about Sai Baba. Impelled by irresistible curiosity coupled with some latent urge, he reads some books, and then visits the ashram in India where he meets the holy man face-to-face, and his life is changed. He becomes a vegetarian, gives up much of his high-powered practice, and preaches the sacred word, which can be patly summarized in the adages: "Love all, serve all." And, "Help ever, hurt never." Finally, my favorite: "You and I are God. The difference between you and me is that I know it."

By this time my father's friend of the same name was a disenchanted medical doctor who was self-prescribing pills. His spiritual search having proven futile, he resolved to attain nirvana via modern medicine. Specifically by injecting liquid morphine into his femoral vein. While he recovered in a hospital, my father visited him and gifted him a book about Sai Baba's life. Michael experienced an instant conversion, miraculously improved, gave up drugs, and went on to become Swami's right-hand man. In the four decades that followed leading up to Sai Baba's exit from his body, Michael probably visited the ashram 100 times. More than perhaps any other Westerner, his visits were filled with first-hand encounters with the guru. Even my father was not so fortunate. On dad's last trip, Sai Baba asked for him, but in the 10 days of his visit, never so much as addressed him by name. Maybe he was no longer the black sheep. Only the squeaky wheel needs grease. Always squeaky, Michael often had the privilege of asking Swami questions that other disciples never got close enough to pose, or if they did, only were able to in the form of written queries. Whether these letters ever received answers I do not know; though the answers may have come indirectly. As Swami said, "Universe is university."

On one occasion, Michael asked Sai Baba: "Swami, my wish is to see the world through your divine eyes."

Sai Baba's response. "If I did," he said. "You would not want your wife, you would not want your career, you would care about your reputation or social standing. You would want nothing."

What exactly did Sai Baba mean by these rather cryptic words? He did not give an interpretation, so it is up to us to speculate. Central to Hinduism is the notion of desirelessnes. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna extols the path of nishkama karma, or dispassionate action. Working without a mind to the results of your labors. Being selfless. Not seeking to gratify yourself through your daily endeavors but rather to improve the lot of others. This is what it means to be detached. For desirelessness, taught Krishna, is the root of all woe, anxiety, strife, sadness. All the things that make up the human condition. Be desireless, let your action be detached, and your work becomes worship, and you are liberated while in life.

Swami was telling Michael that he had no desire. He was speaking as Divinity, as a representative of God in man. Like Christ when Christ said, "I and the Father are one." This is the highest aim that a human can hope to attain.

Imagine a life that has no desire. What freedom! Because our urges and attachments come to rule us. What you own ends up owning you, as they say. Swami had no desires. Devotees would offer him huge sums of money. "I have no need for money," he would say. "But the village needs a hospital. Build one." And it got built. He went around barefoot in a robe. So what if he resided in a splenid edifice (which his disciples built) and was driven around in a Mercedes. He had to get along somehow. Style is no sin. And anyway, his destination was always the place of somebody in need.

This life of desirelessnes is likely why many saints and sages never had spouses or children, never owned homes or drove fancy cars. A worldly existence filled with riches seems to be at odds with the life of the spirit, for you must want fine things to strive to accumulate them. And this speaks to where your attention lies. Being desireless you become like Krishna's flute, an instrument of divinity free of obstruction, and the sweetest of melodies plays through you in the form of unconditional love. This is the highest service.

But even if you adopt the path of desirelessness later in life, once you are one of the "haves," it does not mean you must give it all away to charity, renounce your spouse and live as a hermit. Remember, the renunciate who considers himself a renunciate is not a renunciate. It is the householder who refuses to regard himself as a householder who is the true renunciate. For then you have renounced identification with roles, and free of desires you are not bound by your particular circumstances or station in life. And you can still drive around in your Mercedes.

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