In September Dato. J. Jagadeesan came to North America from his home in Malaysia to give talks in several cities in both the USA and Canada. After his talk in Vancouver on September 4th 2001 we were happy to invite him to our home in Langley for a day of rest before his next speaking engagement and during that time he very kindly consented to be interviewed.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JAGADEESAN
David: What was the nature of your spiritual background before you came in contact with Sathya Sai Baba?
Jagadeesan: Spiritual background, I cannot really say, because what is spiritual, but my religious background, I can tell you, was nil. Sai Baba, in my second interview, told the people sitting there that I was an agnostic. I thought that I was an atheist, so I went back home and checked the dictionary. I realised that he may have been more accurate than me! The dictionary defines an atheist as someone who does not believe in God and an agnostic as someone who thinks something may be there, but he is not really concerned about it. So I probably was an agnostic. Actually I wasn’t a bad fellow, I kept a very strict code of conduct for myself. My father died when I was about seven years old and as a teenager I used to go out with a pretty wild crowd. My relations told my mother that I was going to get totally out of line, but my mother told them “I trust my son” and I never betrayed that trust. I never smoked and I never drank, even though I was mixing with a crowd of the biggest smokers and drinkers. So I did believe in God, but not in the God of any one particular spiritual path.
When I was thirty two I first came into contact with Sai Baba. I thought he was a fraud and I attacked him viciously. I used to make fun of him. I would say “Well, if God is imagination, then the Avatar is double imagination!” and “Did God create Man? No, Man created God because, being weak-minded, he needed a crutch. So God is an invention of Man!” I used to meet Sai Baba devotees, who told me that he could materialise things with a wave of his hand, to which I would reply “And that is why he wears long sleeves, to hide all the stuff that he brings out.” Devotees also told me that vibhuti would often appear on his pictures. I used to make a joke out of this by going to devotees homes and removing any dust that was on them saying “See, this is vibhuti. If you don’t clean your house for a whole week, you will get a lot of vibhuti!” I told them that they were being naïve, believing in all this vibhuti nonsense. It was just not possible, it was unscientific. Anyway that was my state of mind, so to speak.
David: Tell us a little bit about your conversion. It must have been quite a shock.
Jagadeesan: The conversion was very dramatic. I can even specify the exact time when I became a Sai Baba devotee! It was 10.30 PM on June 8th 1976. I was in my home in Malaysia and there of was a gentleman from Sri Lanka, called Mr Rajah, many Sri Lankans know him because he was a famous singer, staying in my aunt’s house across the road. He was a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba and was talking about him all the time and so I wanted to make fun of this man. I used to go to my aunt’s house every evening. On the evening of June 8th 1976 I went across to the house as usual, and it was a surreal evening. The moment I stepped into the house Sai Baba took over. I saw this book on the table with Sai Baba’s picture on it. I looked at it, and in my mind I said “Avatar? I don’t think so”. I felt very arrogant in my mind. I curiously flipped the pages open and came across a picture of an old man. I asked my aunt who it was and she said that it was Shirdi Sai Baba. I asked “Who is that?” She replied “A previous incarnation of Sathya Sai Baba”. I said “Oh my God, you mean these guys come in series!” My comment started the argument again and we argued from eight o clock to ten thirty. It was a two and a half hours debate, with my aunt and Mr Rajah defending Sai Baba and me attacking him. At ten thirty, at the height of my arrogance, I mentally challenged Sai Baba, saying “If you are who they say you are, give me a sign” and almost immediately vibhuti began to appear on the picture. Now at that time none of us had ever seen any vibhuti, none of us had ever seen any manifestations like that. The funny thing was that at the end of the evening everybody in the house started accusing me of putting the vibhuti on the picture as a joke, and I was the only one who knew that I hadn’t done it! This was the ultimate proof for me, because if someone had called me to the house and shown me the vibhuti I would never have believed them. I would have thought that they had put it there. I now had to protest my innocence, and no-one would believe me! It was a very strange phenomenon. So this was the actual moment of my transformation. For the first time in my life I realised that there was a power beyond science, and that this power was not a blind, unhearing power. This power could hear me and could respond to me. For me, the most important thing was that this power could come into my physical world in the form of holy ash. Whether this power was in heaven or in space didn’t bother me, but if this power could come into my world, I thought to myself, then, why am I wasting my time. This was my first yearning to seek the source of this power.
David: Tell us about your first visit to see Sathya Sai Baba. What happened on it?
Jagadeesan: My first visit was very interesting. At the time I was working for the Ministry of Industry and we used to go to Europe and America and Japan for conferences four or five times a year. I was actually due to go to Paris for a conference and so I decided to take four days leave and on the way there to go and visit Sai Baba. I must tell you a little side story here. Before I left on the trip my mother said to me that if I was going to India for only four days perhaps it would be prudent to make an appointment to see Sai Baba. So I called a friend who worked for an Indian company in Malaysia, and who owed me a favour, and I asked him to make an appointment. He assured me there would be no problem. He would contact his headquarters in Bangalore and they would make the appointment to see Sai Baba. This man did not know much about Sai Baba! He called back one week later and said “Sir, my headquarters tells me that they can fix a meeting for you with any minister in India, but with Sai Baba it is impossible!” I was actually very pleased about this in a way. Anyway I went to India and a lot of miracles happened to me on the way but eventually I ended up in Puttaparthi sitting in darshan and on the third day Swami spoke to me.
I was sitting in this huge crowd at darshan and, of course, being of the Indian race, I merged with the ocean of faces that was there since I looked like any other Indian. I have to say here that visiting India was a big culture shock to me and I was sitting there feeling very lonely. Sai Baba walked through the crowd and he came straight up to me and he looked at me and said “Hi, Malaysia”. I was so amazed that all I could say was “Yes, Sir”. Then he called me for an interview and what was wonderful about this was that on this particular day I was the only one that he called. In the interview room he started speaking to me like a father. Now my father passed away when I was only seven years old. At the age of 32 years old I found my father again. It was Sai Baba. He treated me like a little child. He hugged me, he pinched my cheek, he patted my head and he showered me with so much love. Now we all think that love is an emotion, but standing in front of Sai Baba I realised that love is not an emotion, it is an energy. His energy was just enfolding me and standing in front of him I felt this incredible love flowing all over me. A feeling of great humility welled up inside me and I said to myself “My God, feeling this divine energy of love, how could I ever have opposed him? I had better apologise to him”. Now I could not bring myself to tell him that I had been actively opposed to him, so I thought I would put it mildly and I said “Swami, please forgive me, because only four months ago I was a disbeliever”. Sai Baba replied “Not only a disbeliever, but strong opposition, strong opposition”. My knees gave way and I just collapsed on the floor crying, not silent tears but like a child, really loudly. Sai Baba said “Ssshhh, people outside will hear. Don’t cry, don’t cry, Swami knows everything” and he raised me back on my feet again.
Now my mother tongue was Tamil, but for most of my life I never spoke Tamil because I used English. My wife and I spoke English. My Tamil is very bad but, nevertheless, on the night of the incident that I have described, when vibuthi appeared on the photograph, I went back home and I composed my first song to Sai Baba in Tamil. This was the start of an ongoing process. To date 950 songs have come out of me and I have produced many tapes in both English and Tamil. At the time that I first went to see Sai Baba I had produced 32 songs and I had written them down in a little booklet. I handed this over to him and I said “Swami, thank you for the songs” because, for me, there was no question but that he was the composer. Swami held me by my shoulders and said “Don’t worry, you are my instrument. Spread it, spread it”. At the time I did not understand the meaning of this but now I see that I am indeed playing a small role in his mission. “Swami” I said “In Malaysia I am singing to your picture, can I sing one song directly to you now”. He said “Oh, no. You come this evening and you bring the other Malaysians with you.” Now I did not know that any Malaysians were there at that time, so I said “Swami, I came alone, I don’t know any other Malaysians.” Sai Baba replied “There are 32 Malaysians in the ashram, come this evening.” Now what is strange about this is that normally Sai Baba is always asking “How many in your group?” but this was the first and the only time that he told me how many people were there. This is the game that he plays with us. It is the curtain of Maya that he keeps throwing in front of us, confusing us and deluding us. We must realise that Sai Baba is not here to prove every minute that he is God, he is here to make us understand that we are divine. He is not here to prove his divinity but, if we are lucky, he may, just for a minute, open the curtain of Maya and let us glimpse his divinity. Then he will close the curtain again and once more we will get caught up in the drama. This is the thing that people fail to understand. Sai Baba is not here to prove that he is God. A father does not have to prove to his children that he is their father. You expect the father to give his children gifts and, of course, on occasions, to scold or to punish them. Swami is just like that.
David: What is it about Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings that appeals to you?
Jagadeesan: Somebody once asked me that if the incident of the vibhuti had not happened in my life, would I have ever become a Sai Baba devotee? I honestly don’t know, but having found Swami I know that he has given me direction in my life. He called me twice the first time that I was there. In the second interview, in front of everyone, he said “Jagadeesan, I want you to go back to Malaysia and I want you to be president of the seva dals.” I did not even know what seva dal meant and I thought that he was asking me to be president of the Sai Organisation in Malaysia, so I said “Not me, Swami, I am too young, find somebody older”. He said “No, no, you go and get the devotees to do service.” Now in my life in Malaysia I was a director of investment in the Ministry of Industry, I would get about fifteen invitations to cocktails and dinners every week. I had a very busy lifestyle and so I told Swami that I did not think that I would have enough time to do this. Swami just turned away and asked me to sing. Anyway, when I went back to Malaysia my life changed. I told all my associates not to entertain me after office hours because my time was far too precious. From the time that Swami revealed himself as the Avatar until today he has given an ocean of speeches, but we do not need not drink the whole ocean to know the taste. So when I talk to devotees I simply say that I am going to give you some drops from the ocean of Swami’s teachings so that you can know the taste.
There are five principle drops in the ocean:
- Belief in God. Believe that He exists. This belief should be unshakeable. He is known by many names, by many forms, and the fact that He does not answer your calls sometimes, does not mean that He is not listening. It could be because your question may be wrong or you may not be deserving of an answer.
- Follow your own religion, no matter what religion you follow. If you are a Christian, then become a better Christian, if you are a Hindu, then become a better Hindu, if you are a Buddhist, then become a better Buddhist. Every religion can teach us the path to Godliness and to goodness.
- Respect. Whereas many in the World talk about religious tolerance, Sai devotees are not supposed to have religious tolerance because tolerance implies that you don’t like their religion but you will tolerate it. Sai Baba says that you must respect and revere all religions. All religions teach the one primal truth, namely, that all religions come from the one God and so we should respect and revere all religions.
- Uphold human values. Human values are the essence of all the religions and Sai Baba teaches that there are five great human values – truth, right-conduct, peace, love and non-violence. First uphold these values in your own life and then promote them in society.
- Selfless service to all Mankind. If you truly believe in the brotherhood of Man and the fatherhood of God then go out and serve your brothers and sisters.
Everything that Sai Baba says is based on these five principles. This is what he wants us to do. I have dedicated my life now to service. Whilst doing this service and, in particular, working with the different faiths, my life has been one great adventure, interspersed with amazing miracles. I have tried to bring people together. In Malaysia there are many different religious groups and so I tell them that although we may not be able to pray in the same temples, surely, outside the temples we can all serve God together. So perhaps the greatest thing that Sai Baba has done for me is to free my mind from compartmentalisation. He has freed me from individual distinctions and made me a more universal person.
David: What is the greatest manifestation or miracle you have witnessed with Sathya Sai Baba?
Jagadeesan: I think, for me, the greatest miracle was my conversion, which I have already told you about but, following on from this, I began to see Sai Baba everywhere. It was so funny, and I would not only see him, but I would also see Ganesha, Krishna and Buddha as well. I was seeing Sai Baba along side me on the roadside when I was out jogging, at work, at home, in fact everywhere. It was so strange. I felt that I was going mad. When I was in my second interview with Sai Baba I told him about this phenomenon. He said “You think it is imagination, but it is not. It is a vision. Cultivate, cultivate.” I thought that he was going to call me again for a third interview on the day that I was due to leave, but he didn’t, he ignored me, and that really upset me. As I was leaving Prashanti Nilayam in my taxi I thought to myself “Swami, I am going now, surely you could at least wave goodbye to me”. As we drove down the road away from the ashram I decided to stop to take a film of Sai Gita, Swami’s elephant, with the little 8mm camera that I had. At that time, 1976, Sai Gita was quite small. I had finished taking the film and was walking back to my taxi when my eyes looked up at the hill behind. I saw an incredible sight, huge figures of Sai Baba, Krishna and Lord Subramanyam were all standing there and waving to me! I was stunned, I couldn’t take it in and so I put my head down and walked towards the taxi. I felt tears welling up within me. Once inside the taxi I looked out of the window. I could still see them there, waving to me. I just started crying. I cried and cried and cried and cried, and I dared not lift my head up, because every time I lifted my head up I could see them standing there on the hill waving to me. No one else in the taxi could see them, only me. It took me about an hour before I could calm down. That was a very dramatic manifestation for me. I have, of course, seen him materialise and transform many objects but the thing that is the greatest miracle for me is his transformation of people. I am a classic example, but there have been many others. He has transformed selfish, alcoholic, drug-addicted, materialistic people into incredibly selfless people, who exist only to serve society. For me, personally, that is the greatest miracle of Sai Baba.
David: Would you like to share with us how Sathya Sai Baba interacted with you over the death of your wife?
Jagadeesan: I was in Prashanti Nilayam in November 1996. Whilst there Swami gave me two responsibilities, firstly, to organise the Chinese New Year programme and, secondly, to organise a world-wide Sai conference. I had reached Madras airport on my way home, when I received a telephone call from my daughter telling me that my wife had passed away. Now my wife was the healthiest person in the world, I never knew her to be ill at all, so I was completely stunned by this news. The day before her death she had telephoned many people to arrange a meeting at six o’clock the very next evening, because I was coming back. A big programme was planned. At six o’clock, when everyone had come, she was still in her room and my kids, wondering why she had not come down, found her room locked and there was no reply. They broke the door down and they found her dead, in what is called the padanamaskar position, that means as though she was bending down and touching someone’s feet in front of her. They, of course, tried to resuscitate her and took her to the hospital but it was all to no avail. After her cremation I kept some of her ashes and I decided that as she loved to be in Prashanti Nilayam so much I would take the ashes there. So fifteen days after her death I and my four kids went to Puttaparthi to see Sai Baba. I had left there only a short time before as a happy man and now I was returning as a sorrowing widower.
Swami called us for an interview almost at once. Now I knew all about the things that he had told other people on the death of their spouses, so I was fully prepared for what he was going to say. I knew that he would say “I was there” and “She has come to me” and so on, but as we entered the interview room for the first time after my wife’s death I started to cry. Just like a whiplash Sai Baba said “Jagadeesan, where is your spirituality? Who was your wife before marriage?” Then he turned to my children and said “Who was your mother before birth?” When Swami makes statements like this, all sorts of things begin to explode in your mind. It is not what he is saying verbally that counts, it is what it brings forth from within you. I knew that he was saying to me “Whose wife and whose mother are you crying for now? Let us have no more nonsense about this.” Then, having been sharp with us, he was very kind and he materialised rings for my two sons and pendants for my daughters and a ring for me. He then called us into the inner interview room. There he said to me “Jagadeesan, your wife used to pray to me, saying ‘Swami, I want to merge with you, I want to merge with you’ and now her time has come.” I must tell you here that Sai Baba is on record as saying that the moment that a person is born, so the date of their departure is also fixed, but it is hidden from you. Neither your doctors nor your medical technology can change this date by one minute. God’s grace can intervene, but why should He intervene except for extraordinary reasons. Sai Baba then said “I was there.” I knew that he was going to say that, but I never expected what he was going to say next. He said “I was there and she did this to me” – he then got out of his chair and he bent down and imitated the padanamaskar position in which my children had found my wife – “And she came to me.” This demonstration of his omnipresence and omniscience was, for me, a shattering thing and for my children it was a healing moment.
David: You must be aware of all the scandalous stories that are now circulating about Sathya Sai Baba. How is it affecting Malaysia and how are you personally handling it?
Jagadeesan: I say this to people. Look, on the one side we have one hundred tons of the good deeds of Sai Baba and then on the other side there is one pound of these negative stories. Why do you focus on this one pound? First examine the one hundred tons of his good deeds and then I will talk with you about the one pound. Tell me which spiritual leader in the world from Krishna to Christ has escaped vilification and opposition? Avatars need the opposition to make their light shine brighter. It is difficult to attack Sai Baba because he does so much good, so this is a good opportunity for some people who want to attack him! Attacks on Sai Baba go in waves. About twenty years ago there was a book called Lord of the Air. There was a big fuss at the time, but then it all died down. There have been other waves since then. Recently a negative video about Sai Baba was shown on our TV. As a result, a journalist came to speak to me to get my comments about the video. I said that I didn’t want to see the video and she said “Aren’t you in self-denial?”. I replied “No. I don’t need any proof to know that the sun exists, so why should I watch a video which says that the sun doesn’t exist?” I then showed the journalist the evidence of all the incredible Sai work that we have done in Malaysia, our human values programme, our voluntary service etc. She was so amazed that when her report came out in the newspaper she produced a very positive report. She turned the whole thing around. So in Malaysia people know about the good deeds that Sai Baba has done and they are ignoring all this gossip. Christ said “By your works you will be known.”
It is a fact that no one can avoid negativity. People have attacked me on many occasions but the more they attacked me, the more attention I got from Swami and so I did not mind how much people attacked me! Let me tell you a story. Some years ago there were many independent Sai centres in Malaysia. I was trying to get them to come together, so I went and asked Swami for help. Now there were a lot of people sitting in the interview room at the time when I asked him. I had some questions, typed out on a piece of paper, ready to ask him. I said “Swami, should I form the Sathya Sai Council of Malaysia?” and he said “Yes, go and do.” I replied “But Swami, if I go home and say that, they won’t believe me.” So Swami took my piece of paper and under the questions that I had typed he signed his name to show his approval. Now when I got back to Malaysia a few days later my wife asked me what had happened in the interview room, because people were saying that I had given Swami a piece of paper asking for his authority to form the Sathya Sai Council of Malaysia and that he had torn it up and thrown the pieces of paper in my face! I couldn’t believe it! How can people lie like this and this story must have come from someone who was in the interview room. Here is a classic example of someone who has become negative in his mind and who therefore propagates negative stories.
David: Sathya Sai Baba has talked about a Golden Age that is to come and of the big changes that are soon going to take place. What are your feelings about the future of the planet and of Humanity on it?
Jagadeesan: I cannot predict what is going to happen, but it seems to me that not everyone is going to experience a Golden Age. I believe that we all have to find our own Golden Age. For example, here in British Columbia, today has been a lovely Golden Age day for all of us, but for the poor man living in Somalia life has been full of problems. We must make the Golden Age for ourselves by creating one around us. The Golden Age will not be a time when no problems exist. That may be true of Heaven but not here, though, perhaps, even Heaven has problems! The Golden Age to me means that you are in a state of inner peace and contentment come what may. There may be earthquakes, plagues and droughts etc., there certainly were in the past, but if we all find the Golden Age for ourselves, then, the aggregation of all the individuals who find it will make the Golden Age for society as a whole. I am sure that in twenty years time there will still be people who will never have heard of the Avatar, it was so with Rama and Krishna, it will be the same with Sai Baba. It is up to us to empower ourselves.
David: In the many years of your relationship with Sai Baba has he revealed to you who he is?
Jagadeesan: That is a very interesting question. For me, personally, he is my father, but when people ask me if Sai Baba is God, I am very frank with them. I say “I don’t know, because I have never seen God, I don’t know what He looks like.” If a man was to come from the jungle and I was to show him this microphone and ask him what it is, he will tell me that he doesn’t know. He hasn’t seen one before. However if I tell him that it is a microphone, then, for the rest of his life he will know what is a microphone. We recognise everything from a point of reference, and we have no reference for God. Nevertheless, all the holy scriptures describe God not by His physical form but by His characteristics – omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Now Sai Baba is manifesting to all who come to him many of the attributes ascribed to Divinity. Therefore, to that extent, I say that Sai Baba is a manifestation of a divine principle and note that I say divine principle not God, because every religion has a different concept of God, indeed, if you are a Hindu, then, you have more than one God! The fact that Sai Baba has manifested physically all the energies of Divinity still doesn’t mean that he is God, except in the sense that, as Sai Baba teaches, we are all God, we are all no different from God. This viewpoint is surely acceptable to all who come to him irrespective of the form of God that they choose to accept and worship.