The Mystery Of Vibhuti
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” With these words of the funeral service, the human body is committed to its final formless form. In some denominations of the Christian church, ash is blessed by the priesthood, becomes known as Holy Ash and is used as a symbol of penitence, reminding man that his time on earth is short and that he should use his time to seek the true eternal values. Back in the timeless mythology of the Hindu religion, ash was used by Lord Siva as a symbol or flag of victory. After his victorious battle with the god Kama, the god of desire, Siva reduced his enemy’s body to ashes and smeared his own body with those ashes, so then it was a victory over desire. But, as we all know, Kama, like Phoenix, rose from his own ashes and is very much alive and active within each one of us, where he is known as the kama rupa, or body of desire. Indeed, as I have heard my late friend Dr V K Gokak say, “He lives our lives for us.” Only one who has reached the state of enlightened self-realisation could, as Siva did, adorn himself with holy ash as a sign of victory over desire. So why do we smear our foreheads or swallow quantities of this symbol of victory and purity which Sathya Sai Baba has named vibhuti? And why does He call it vibhuti?
This is part of the great, the important, mystery on which I would like to invite your consideration.
Looking into the Sanskrit dictionaries for the meaning of the word ‘vibhuti’, one finds such definitions as ‘manifestations of divine power’ or ‘opulence by which God controls the whole universe.’ Other words used to define the meaning of vibhuti are divine glory and splendour and magnificence. In some translations of the Bhagavad Gita, we find the title of Chapter Ten is, “The Yoga of Vibhuti” while in others it is called “Manifestations of the Power and Glory of God”. And we so learn that the union with the divine which we seek is aided or perhaps accomplished by the power, glory, splendour and munificence of God and this is called vibhuti.
Nowhere in the great Scriptures of the nations have I personally read of or heard of a Godman or saint who produced holy ash from unseen dimension by the wave of his hand or by any other means.
Interestingly, during the near-half century that Sai Baba spent at Shirdi, He used ash, from the fire He kept burning, to help people with their health and other problems. This ash He called ‘udi’ which must bear some relationship to the word vibhuti. So why did Sri Sathya Sai Baba name the ash that He manifests many times a day by circling His hand by the title vibhuti? Surely He must mean us to understand that this wonderful material which comes in various shades of colour, perfume and taste, carries with it the divine power, glory and splendour that lie in the meaning of the word itself. And surely this is something of which we should be fully aware when we use vibhuti either externally or internally.
We should not be like I was when He said to me on the first day of our meeting in a room in Madras, “Would you like some vibhuti?” I said “Yes,” because I wanted to see Him manifest it out of nowhere. I had no idea what to do with it, nor of its power. But I discovered its power of healing on the following day when He manifested vibhuti for my wife and cured her of hepatitis on the spot. It is strange that Sathya Sai Baba, not always, but frequently, manifests His divine power and compassion through material things, such as the leaves and flowers of plants, water, lingams and nectar but certainly most often through holy ash.
I have heard people say that the power of vibhuti lies in its placebo effect, its effect on the mind of the patient, thus creating greater faith and expectation. But I know of cases in which the recipient of vibhuti had no expectation at all, no expectation of a cure, that is. My wife, Iris, was one of these in the case just related, but the most striking in my experience was the cure of the parachute jumper, Squadron Leader A. Chakravarthy and his absent wife, which I describe in detail in my book “Sai Baba, Invitation to Glory”, I will repeat the main facts here.
Chakravarthy, along with two scientists with whom he had arrived at the ashram, was called for an interview during his first evening there. Sathya Sai Baba manifested several things for two of his friends and then told Chakravarthy to join his two palms together in the form of a bowl. Then Sathya Sai Baba waved His down-turned hand in small circles above the bowl thus formed. Vibhuti poured from His hand until Chakravarthy’s two joined palms were full. Then He told the parachute jumper to eat the vibhuti. The Squadron Leader, who was also head of the parachute jumping school in the Indian Air Force, had no idea why he should eat the vibhuti but he came from a spiritual family and had the feeling that he was in the presence of a Godman, so he did as he was ordered. He consumed every morsel of this double handful of vibhuti. “The flavour was quite pleasant and I thought I was getting some spiritual benefit from it,” he told me.
He had an interview on the following morning and the same thing happened. Again the Squadron leader did as ordered and ate all the vibhuti, having no idea what the specific benefit might be. He and his friends returned to Bangalore after spending the one night at the ashram. He was amazed and of course, overjoyed to discover in the next few days that he had been completely cured of a disease that the medical doctors had told him was incurable. He was even more astounded to find that his wife was cured of the same incurable disease. They had both been told by several doctors that the disease they shared was not only incurable but would prevent them having children. Now, as if to confirm the cure, Sathya Sai Baba told them that they would have a son to be born on Sathya Sai Baba’s own birthday that year. This duly took place. No placebo effect could have played any part in this unexpected healing of two people by two double handfuls of vibhuti given to one of them.
Several friends have told me how they have cured diseases in animals, mainly pet dogs and cats, by the application of vibhuti and this seems to indicate that the healing power exists in the vibhuti without any help from mental expectation or even faith.
The quantity of vibhuti required and time taken for healing are also part of the divine mystery. In Chakravarthy’s case, two double handfuls of vibhuti healed two people almost immediately. In the case of Mayan Waynberg, (given in my book “Sai Baba, Invitation to Glory”) another example of vibhuti healing an incurable disease (that is, incurable by ordinary medical means), the patient was instructed by Sathya Sai Baba to take a pinch of vibhuti in water daily, but it took nearly two years for the complete cure. Different diseases, different methods and only the Divine Healer Himself knows the reason. All we can know is that this sacred substance that we have learned to call vibhuti is imbued with the divine power, glory and opulence to work great miracles.
Then there is the amazing worldwide phenomenon of the appearance of vibhuti on articles, mainly on holy pictures, under the glass when they are mounted in frames with a glass front. Such things are happening to Sai followers from Russia to Malaysia and Australia. Why and how is this done, may be asked.
Well, I would say, it certainly builds faith and even takes people to Sai Baba. My famous friend, Jegathesan, of Malaysia told me that when he heard people talking about Sathya Sai Baba, his reaction was negative but when vibhuti began to appear on the pictures of Sathya Sai Baba and other holy figures in the home of one of his relatives in Malaysia, faith was born in his heart and he immediately went to see “The Living God in India.” Well, we all know the fine work that Jegathesan has carried out in the Sai mission to the world.
As to the ‘how’ of the operation, I have heard more than one person say that the job is done by other beings and not by Sathya Sai Baba. But psychic science has proved beyond question that, in general, discarnate spirits do not possess the psychokinetic power to move even a featherweight physical object.
An exception to this rule is the stone-throwing poltergeist and it’s not the nature of the poltergeist to smear holy ash on holy objects in order to increase man’s faith in God.
We know that Sathya Sai Baba Himself can travel in a flash to any spot on the globe and, when there, use His divine psychokinetic power to carry out any physical work He likes. We know, too, that He has helpers, multitudes of helpers, on the subtle planes as well as on the earth plane. He could endow any of these helpers, be they discarnate, angelic or devic, with the power to spread vibhuti on the glass or under the glass of holy pictures, inside books, on the cover of books when they are lying underneath other volumes, on the hands of saintly dying people (as once happened to a dying Sai devotee in Melbourne, Australia). So, whether He does the work Himself or delegates it to some of His numberless subtle helping hands, it is not possible to know, and I do not feel that it matters, since all the divine work is done by God.
Remember the story of the man who, sitting on the roof of his house during a rising flood, refused all help from men in boats and helicopters who tried to rescue him, saying, “Don’t bother, I have prayed to God to save me.” When in due course, he was drowned, and his soul stood in the presence of God, he said to the Almighty, “I prayed to You to save me, but You did not.” God replied “I sent rescuing boats and a helicopter to take you off your roof and save your life but you had forgotten that all helping hands are My hands.”
Another mystery is why does vibhuti appear in some homes and not in others? By what criteria does God select the homes? Are the people blessed by vibhuti, more spiritual than those who are not? From my observations, I do not think so.
I have noted that the ash recipients in India seem to be more humble, more egoless than usual. I first saw the phenomenon, for example, in a Brahmin home in Coimbatore. It seemed to have covered practically everything in the shrine room and while I sat watching, it was pouring from a small statue of Shirdi Sai Baba.
Many years ago on my arrival at Prashanti Nilayam, I met a young man in the village outside the wall. He told me the story of his aunt who lived in a humble dwelling within the village. He told me that while Sathya Sai Baba was away on tour, vibhuti and amrit began appearing on the pictures in his aunt’s home. It was not long before crowds of people filled her courtyard to see the phenomenon and receive gifts of vibhuti and amrit, there being plenty for everybody. Attending to the growing crowds became too much for the poor lady who was a widow. She became overwrought and unable to carry on.
Then suddenly Sathya Sai Baba, who was still on tour bodily, appeared to her in His subtle form and said “I am stopping this now. Lock your gates and let nobody in.” From that moment no more vibhuti or amrit appeared. My first book on Sathya Sai Baba had been published and the young man knew my name, so very kindly he took me round to meet his aunt. All was quiet there. Though her pictures were no longer producing ash or amrit, she had stocks of it kept in jars and kindly gave me some. She belonged to the class of the meek, the humble, the surrendered to God, the lovers of the good. Sathya Sai Baba had both blessed her and protected her.
But in other countries of the world and also in other parts of India, I have found vibhuti appearing in the homes of people whom I could not class as humble and surrendered. In fact, they seemed to have as much ego as the average searcher in the domain. So the mystery remains and I feel that only God Himself knows the answer.
Reference:: “The Lights of Home” by Howard Murphet
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