The Sai Cure For Stage Fright

No Stage Fright For Sathya Sai Baba

No Stage Fright For Sathya Sai Baba

The Sai Cure For Stage Fright

One bright sunny morning in the year 1966, as I sat at my desk in Leadbeater Chambers in the Theosophical Society’s Headquarters estate, two Indian gentlemen appeared in my doorway. As I knew and respected them both as followers of Sathya Sai Baba, I called to them to come in and jumped up from my desk to greet them. Their faces and eyes were shining as if they were bringers of good news. But the news they brought was more alarming than good from my point of view. One of them, Sri Venkatamuni, at whose home Sathya Sai Baba usually stayed when in Madras in those days, said to me, “Sathya Sai Baba would like you to give a short talk, one of two talks to precede his discourse tomorrow evening at Osborne House. We trust you will agree.” He smiled. When I had regained my powers of speech after this startling announcement, I asked one or two questions. “Where was the discourse to take place? For how long did Sathya Sai Baba want me to speak? And who was the other person giving a preliminary talk?” I was thinking that after I had obtained the relevant details I could perhaps find some way to refuse politely. “It will be at Osborne House in the city,” Venkatamuni answered, and went on, “He would like you to speak for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. The other speaker will be Dr T M Mahadevan, who is the Head of the Department of Higher Philosophy at Madras University.” He seemed to expect me to be pleased by this but, in fact, I was even more alarmed. Further conversation indicated that the talks would be given in the large grounds of Osborne House and about twenty thousand people were expected. The men waited silently to hear a delighted acceptance from me.

But though I had lectured and taught to adults and children for years in Australia and given talks to Theosophical members at the Headquarters hall at Adyar, never might I say, without some nervousness, this request was quite different. If I agreed, I would find myself speaking before the great Avatar, to say nothing of the Head of the Department of Higher Philosophy at Madras University and the audience would be not a few hundred or a few dozen as of yore but twenty thousand or more. My first impulse, a very strong one, was to find some way in which I could say no. But I was to find then, for the first time, that when Sathya Sai Baba makes a request, one can never say no. So I found myself agreeing to their request. Their faces brightened even more but I felt that my own face was rather stiff.

My other visitor, who had not spoken yet, was Major Rama Rayaningar. My wife Iris and I, in the time we had been in India, had had some pleasant associations with Rama and his wife Mathara. Now he spoke. “I will send my car and driver to pick you up, you and your wife, tomorrow evening in good time to take you to Osborne House.” I thanked him very much because I had no idea where Osborne House was in the great city of Madras. Now the two ambassadors from Sathya Sai Baba took their leave and I was left alone with a very important task before me.

I put aside the work I had been doing before they came and sat down at my desk to think of a subject for my speech and to make some notes. I had about a day and a half to prepare a twenty minute speech so that part of it should not be difficult. I thought of a subject. It would be about one of Sathya Sai Baba’s greatest miracles, that is how he changes the nature of people. As the old alchemists strove to change lead into gold, Sathya Sai Baba not only tried, but succeeded in turning the base metal of human nature into the gold of human divine nature. So I would call the talk “Lead into Gold.” I began to make some notes. Then it occurred to me that as I would probably be in a state of platform panic, standing near Sathya Sai Baba and facing the huge audience, I should really write the whole speech out. In my past experience in giving radio talks, I had cultivated the art of reading a radio talk just as if I was speaking it without the written text. This was something I knew now that I could do with confidence. I wrote out the whole talk, timing it to be no more than twenty minutes, and felt rather satisfied.

But my self-satisfaction received a blow the next evening when we drove through the gates of Osborne House and saw the very large grounds, with a big crowd already sitting on the grass under trees and under the stars above. It all looked rather gala with lights in the trees and a well-lit platform near the big house itself. Some friends conducted me to the platform where Sathya Sai Baba was already sitting with Dr Mahadevan on the other side of him. Iris was taken to a reserved place in the front row of the audience. Everyone was treating us as honoured guests but I felt more like a lamb being led to the slaughter. As I climbed onto the platform, Sathya Sai Baba greeted me with a loving smile of welcome. I realised afterwards that I should have knelt and touched his feet but all I did was to put my hands together and give a stiff bow. He gestured me to a seat on his right. For a few moments I looked at the faces in front of me. They seemed to stretch onto eternity. Sathya Sai Baba asked the philosopher to speak first. I was both glad and sorry, glad that I would have about twenty minutes respite and sorry that I was too busy with my fears and my own thoughts to listen properly to what the philosopher was saying. I felt sure it would be of interest but my mind was too agitated to follow it.

The twenty minutes respite seemed to go by in a few seconds and the moment came when it was my turn to stand and deliver. Sathya Sai Baba gave me a loving smile, like a kind mother, as he gestured to me to go forward and give my talk. I know now, as I did not know then, that he is the witness within us and knew then the turmoil that was taking place in me. Before I began, he lifted his hand beside me, palm upward, as if he was raising the petals of my aura. This had the amazing effect of calming me considerably. The crowd seemed to merge and I felt as if I was talking to one and so I began to read my speech with confidence. At intervals I saw Sathya Sai Baba’s hand making the same gesture of upliftment which kept the panic at bay. Still I was very glad when it was over and I was able to resume my seat. Now Sathya Sai Baba stood up and went to the front of the platform. A deep hush fell over the large congregation. With joy they waited to hear the words of God. There was utter silence except when Sathya Sai Baba made some joke. Frequently a ripple of laughter went through the crowd. I felt very relieved that my own trial was over and I could relax and listen. Sathya Sai Baba spoke in Telegu so I couldn’t understand what he said but it was a joy to sit there near him and hear his golden voice and study the reactions of the crowd. I hoped I had, myself, performed to his satisfaction but how would I ever know? Iris would probably say I had done alright but then she was a little prejudiced and very kind-hearted.

When I came down from the platform and was walking towards the house, I met the Rajkamara, or Crown Prince of Venkatagiri. I had had a few good talks with him on past occasions and I admired his knowledge of the Sanathana Dharma and Vedanta. Now he looked at me and said, “That was a good speech. You should have it printed.” I knew he was not flattering so I felt happy that, in spite of the platform panic, I had not failed. The speech was some months later printed in an edition of the “Sanathana Sarathi”, Sai Baba’s ashram magazine.

Sathya Sai Baba’s cure for the disease of platform panic, which is with a sweet smile and gentle hand, to push you in at the deep end of the swimming pool and if necessary to help you to swim, did not cure me entirely that night at Osborne House but it went some distance towards it. Sathya Sai Baba, however, persisted. Whenever he found me near the deep end of the pool, so to speak, he tumbled me in. On many occasions, when the opportunity presented itself, he would ask me to speak impromptu to a group of students or adults. On one evening, for example, he had all his students of the Whitefield College gathered together in the dining room of their hostel at Brindavan ashram, he saw me at the back of the group trying to make myself inconspicuous. He sent one of the students to call me to him. When I got there he said with a sweet smile, “Give these students some good advice, will you? Only about ten minutes.” Then he vanished and I was left standing in front of them. I did not know what to say. Then suddenly I thought of something Dr Bhagavantam had been talking to me about that day. So I told them how very fortunate they were to be at a University college under Sathya Sai Baba’s guidance and protection. The abuse of drugs by students had reached India from the west and other Indian Universities had become affected by this great peril. I managed to fill in ten minutes talking about this and the other great advantages they had under the influence of the Avatar. They were a good audience, as Indians usually are. I could see their eyes shining with joy. When Sathya Sai Baba returned and took over, he remarked, “That was good advice you gave them.” Then he talked to them for about an hour while their eager faces remained rapt in joy. Later I asked my friend, Narender, who was the Principal of the College, what Sathya Sai Baba had talked about. “Oh,” he said, “He was mainly scolding several of them for undisciplined behaviour.” “They were listening with such rapt attention,” I protested. He replied, “They listen with joy to Sathya Sai Baba whether he is scolding them or whatever he is saying.”

And so my lessons went on and my old stage fright passed away to a large extent. Along the way I discovered that I was not the only one going through this curative treatment for platform panic. Dr Sam Sandweiss of the USA, a psychiatrist and author of two good books about Sathya Sai Baba, once confided to me that when Sathya Sai Baba took him on a tour of the ashram passing by groups of students or perhaps adults, he in his own words, “walked in terror” because he knew that at any time Sathya Sai Baba might stop and suddenly ask him to speak impromptu to a group. He knew from experience Sathya Sai Baba might suddenly say, “Say a few words to these people or these students, Sandweiss,” and it often happened. Like me, he said he had been born with an inborn fear of speaking to a group of people in public. The cure seemed to have worked on him when both he and I had to give talks from the platform in Rome at the International Sai Conference in 1983. But he confessed to me that underneath he still had a degree of the old panic. I suppose that I had a degree of it too, thought nobody seemed to think so.

Of couse, as the years passed by and I found that part of my work for the Avatar was platform speaking, for which he had been training me, of course, and training my friend, Sam Sandweiss, the old panic had evaporated and all I felt was a kind of tension when I first went onto the stage. Some of the great actors, who spent years on the stage, tell me that when they first go on the stage to play their parts, they always feel this tension, this initial stage fright, but they consider it a good thing as it inspires them to put on their best performance. I was happy to see Dr Sam Sandweiss as guest speaker from America at a Sai National Conference held in South Australia. He had much platform work to do there and I said to him, “I doubt if Disraeli or Gladstone or any other great orator could have held his audience in such rapt attention, drawing both laughter and tears from them, as you have done here. You must have thrown off every scrap of your old stage fright.” “Not quite,” he replied, “I still have a little of it every time I go onto the platform to speak.” Perhaps, I thought, even the greatest of orators had that same thing at the beginning of their great speeches, yet it no doubt vanished after the first few opening sentences. And they spoke for maybe hours, bringing pleasure to their audience. If there is any inspiring speaker who does not feel any initial tension, it must be Sai Baba himself.

Reference:: “The Lights of Home” by Howard Murphet

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