I was blessed with an interaction with Sai Baba during my first year of MBA studying at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher learning in Prashanti Nilayam. Sai Baba was interacting with a few MBA students who were asking him various questions and when my turn came up to ask a question, I asked, “Baba, how can one pray using the Vedanta dictum ‘So Aham’?” (So Aham means I am that indicating that the individual soul and the universal soul are the same. Sai Baba in various discourses has elucidated this principle of So Aham).
To this question, Sai Baba very lovingly said “serve everyone unconditionally. This is the best way to internalise the phrase ‘So Aham’ and is the best prayer”. That was it. There was no further explanation. Sai Baba has often commented on the importance of the three-step process of listening, meditating and constant reflection, so I started to meditate on this message.
As I reflected on this message, my first impression was that you normally serve someone who is either better than you or is in a position better than you. Sai Baba has said so many times that ‘Service to man is Service to God’. So, when I serve a fellow being, I serve God in that being. The normal extension to that argument is that when I serve I get something in return. When I serve someone who is in need, I may get nothing from that individual except his blessings and gratitude; however would get some spiritual merit from God.
As I reflected further, Sai Baba had said serve everyone unconditionally; if I am expecting spiritual merit as a product of my service, it becomes conditional. Then my second impression of His message was that Service must be performed with the spirit that you are serving yourself. When I satiate my hunger, I have no thought of serving myself. The action is performed without any effort on the mind. Likewise, when I feed the ‘needy’, it must be done without ego and without a feeling of ‘otherness’. It must come as easily as something you do for yourself. I now understand the message as Service should not be performed with a feeling that I am a giver and the person receiving my service is a beneficiary. Sai Baba wanted my service to be effortless on the mind. So Aham in service is understood as ‘that I am’ who I am serving.
Once a student asked Sai Baba if his father could settle down in Puttaparthi. Sai Baba asked why and the student responded that his father wanted to Serve the Master. Baba said all are Masters and the student persisted, saying “but Baba, my father wants to serve God!” Sai Baba replied that all are God. Another simple conversation emphasising the divine self in all.
Spirituality shouldn’t be in the realm of mental gymnastics but must be an expression of our daily experience. Sai Baba in his inimitable way gave me a mantra and a message reflecting how important a simple act of service is to an individual’s spiritual progress. I continue to reflect on this message and pray to Sai Baba for his constant guidance.