Concluding the three-part series. This follows: Sathya Sai Baba’s Death Falsifies Vivekananda ‘Reincarnation’ Story (Part 2)
To refresh on our theme. Here are quotations for two of the most respected of all Sai devotee writers on Sathya Sai Baba.
Professor N. Kasturi, Sathya Sai Baba’s official biographer, wrote:
“Vivekananda has come again; he is growing up in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He will come to Me and join in My task.” Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram, by Professor P.N. Kasturi. Part II, p. 130. 1960-61.
And Howard Murphet, the Australian journalist and theosophist, who also interviewed various witnesses, including a young Sri Lankan Nalin Sedera, stated that in an interview in the late 60′s, Sai Baba told him and his wife, Iris:
“Vivekananda has been reborn in Sri Lanka. When his education and training are complete, he will help me with my mission. “ ‘Sai Inner Views and Insight’, Chapter 10: The Rebirth of Vivekananda by Howard Murphet, Faber, VA, Leela Press, 1996, pp. 60-66
On Sunday April 19th, 1998, I had planned for a quiet evening in my room at the Ramakrishna Mission in Columbo, the capital of Sri Lanka. I had arranged with Nalin Sedera’s brother, Ajitha, to go to their home on the Monday. He told me that Nalin had been spending a few days meditating in a temple at the southern tip of his country – at Karthirkamagiri, long a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus.
At 6.15 p.m., as I made my way up Ramakrishna Road for a quiet cup of Horlicks, a fairly tall, slender, striking young Singhalese man around thirty years called across to me, “Are you the Australian gentleman staying at the Ramakrishna Mission?”
(Photo: Swami Vivekananda)
It was Nalin accompanied by his brother, Ajitha. He explained that they thought they would find me more easily than I them. A few minutes later, as we sat ourselves down at the table of the crowded vegetarian restaurant, I sat facing a lithe, well-built young man, clean-shaven, dressed very neatly, wearing denim, his dark red shirt smart. He blended in with middle class Sri Lankans. His face had a fine-boned, sculptured look, and a bright, golden brown that had an inner lustre. His voice was rich and resonant, as though coming from a cavern. Among my stray thoughts, I wondered – quaintly enough: Was there anything about his physical appearance which resembled Vivekananda? Yes, I thought, in a way – the lips: delicate, fine-etched, contoured. I sensed strong character. His gaze had an honest directness, and he displayed spontaneous, sincere good manners. There appeared to me to be a controlled but passionate intensity about the issues, as our discussion unfolded, that clearly mattered to him. Even before we sat down, I had asked him whether the attention he had received had affected his life. That is to say, the wide-spread belief that Sai Baba had said that Nalin was the great Swami Vivekananda reborn, who would eventually take over the running of Puttaparthi when Sai Baba died.
“They are trying to take my life”
That was sudden. Was there a paranoia? Or was this part of his spontaneity, a cutting-to-the-chase, that I had already begun to notice. There struck me a warmth, a humanity about him. When he referred to the way in which people mobbed him, I saw his palpable distaste for such excesses.
I asked Nalin, “do you mean that your life is actually in danger from anyone?” As if looking inward at some quarry he had in mind and with burning intensity, and a mix of smile and leer that reminded me of Humphrey Bogart, he replied, “They would be writing their last will and testament if they tried!”
I did not sense a Vivekananda-like commitment to ahimsa (non-violence). Nalin’s occasional intense flashes remain one of my abiding impressions of him.
As we took our seats, he referred to crowds that gathered round him after word travelled bushfire-like that Sathya Sai Baba had said that Nalin, in his previous life, was Swami Vivekananda. He said:
“My mind didn’t go. But I lost a lot – my liberty, my freedom.”
I checked with him, just to be sure I understood his exact meaning. By “my life”, he meant: a broad leeway to be himself.
I asked Nalin if he related to books? Again, the intensity.
“I want to have experience. It is all that matters. Not read about anyone else’s. Books are a waste of time.”
I mentioned the book by the Australian writer Howard Murphet’s book. Nalin said that he felt very let down by the people who had informed the author of his story (he referred to them as Tamilians – i.e., belonging to or originating from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu).
“I had asked them to allow nothing to be published without my permission. They went ahead without consulting me”.
As he began to unfold his experiences, he said:
“I’ve had a lot of troubles. I am a normal person, whatever people may think. Whatever may have been the case in my last life, I am living in this life! I have no idea what happened in my last life. When Swami made the revelation – or call it a pronouncement – I had no idea of who Swami Vivekananda was. This is this life. It’s all I’m interested in. Now, as a result of all the attention, I’ve lost what is most precious to me – my liberty, my freedom. At the ashram after Swami had spoken, there were hundreds of people milling all round me. And hundreds of people here in Sri Lanka.”
What did the mobs ask?
“They asked funny questions. Do I remember my previous birth? They regard me as some kind of alien. Some of them say I should be wearing a robe like a sadhu (ed., spiritual renunciate). Why should I do that? I want to wear my denims. Some have even said that, at a certain time, I’ll get up in darshan and take over Puttaparthi.”
Typically, here, after reflection, usually following a question of mine, he would return with a perfectly crystallised reply, like a pearl slipping out of the oyster shell when, after inner effort, it opens at last. His voice struck flint; a small spark lit his eye. “I don’t like that!” The tone was very emphatic. Again the spurt of intensity. I sensed a deep indignity, a smouldering anguish from which he had only somewhat distanced himself. Embers still glowed hot.
He spoke of his anger at the time of Sai Baba’s ‘revelation’ or ‘pronouncement.’ The interview in which this was made occurred, he said, at Puttaparthi, March 23, 1987. Two more interviews followed – on the 24th and 26th. He was then nineteen years. He said that the Sri Lankan group of which Nalin was a member was led by Mrs Ganhewa. He was baffled to know how the news got out. “Swami took me into a private room next to the interview room. I cannot see how others in the interview could have heard what Swami said. I certainly didn’t say anything about it.”
I have since asked a number of others their opinion as to the audibility or otherwise of what is said, from the standpoint of someone in the outer room. Some say speech inside is too muffled to be understood. Others say that sometimes one can hear what is being said. In an interview on July 24,1998, I noted this: a curtain separates the two rooms, as it has long done. I was in a group of seven Australians. However, a Canadian husband and wife briefly preceded us into the inner room. Later, Sai Baba also saw the three ladies in our group separately to the men. In both cases, a few drifting words of speech could be understood; but much could not be, because he and the Canadians and, separately, he and the Australian women spoke quite quietly.
Nalin told me that he returned to Puttaparthi in August 1987. Sai Baba called him and his group for interview. He said that Sai Baba asked the group leader, referring to Nalin’s parents, “Are his parents happy?” Nalin relates that she replied yes, they were very happy when they heard the news, but
“Swami replied, ‘No, no, no, they are not happy but they are worried about that boy. Look at him, he’s just a boy. Just leave him alone and don’t disturb him, because if anything happens, you must be responsible for that”‘.
“Swami turned to me and said, ‘A lot of people are angry with you and jealous of you, here and there. Don’t go to any bhajan places. You just stay at your home, and do your work’”
I asked Nalin what work did he do?
“Not ordinary work. A friend of my age and I have been working among the poorer classes. At one time, we got involved in an eye camp.”
(These were organised clinics designed to bring medical aid to the poor. For example, combating eye diseases such as glaucoma).
“Swami then said, ‘You are angry with me. Why are you angry with me?’ I said, ‘You know why I am angry with you.’ Baba said, ‘Yes, I know.’”
Nalin related that it was only on his return home that he discovered from his parents that they had been in fact worried at the extraordinary revelation about their son. Not wanting to trouble their family, they had kept their concern to themselves.
He said that, in two or three months, he would like to visit Sai Baba wherever he was stationed at the time. A lot would depend on how Nalin’s father managed with a shortly upcoming by-pass operation in Chennai. He wondered whether it would be possible to get Sri Lankan Sai devotees to leave him alone – perhaps via a note printed in Sanathana Sarathi, the official magazine of the Sathya Sai Central Trust. Considering the essential purpose of the publication (to publish Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s Discourses, a small few articles by contributors, Sathya Sai Organization news), I rather doubted his chances, but suggested he call on the Editor, V.K. Narasimhan, whom I regarded as a good, decent man and a warm friend. With distinction and courage, V.K.N. had formerly edited major Indian newspapers – the Indian Express, Hindustan Times and Deccan Herald– and he and I had a warm friendship and were in fairly regular contact. From V.K.N. I soon after found that Nalin had, while I was absent, called on him, a visit I had already told V.K.N that Nalin may make. When we later spoke, V.K.N smiled wryly and admitted defeat in observing any similarities to Swami Vivekananda.
Since so many of Sathya Sai Baba’s predictions large and small have proved false, one may fail to see how the one about Nalin could come true. Trustfully, given the fickleness of the madding crowd, Nalin’s botherers will have long given up their bothering of him.
This concludes the 3-part series: