Buddha Poornima – ACT Region

The Sathya Sai Organisation of Australia and PNG in the ACT Region commemorated Buddha Poornima with a visit to the Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara (i.e., temple) in Canberra on Sunday, 26 May 2018.

This temple is situated on a quiet street in the suburb of Kambah, which is located about 20 kms south of the Canberra City. The temple serves the needs of the Sri Lankan Buddhist communities and other Buddhists living in Canberra and the surrounding regions.

The visit to the Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara during Buddha Poornima has become an annual event since 2016. The hour-long program began with 15 Sai devotees from different faiths assembling at the temple.

First, the Sai devotees brought offerings of candles and flowers. The flowers were arranged on trays and vases and then brought to the prayer room of the temple. Before the floral offerings were placed in front of the Lord Buddha’s statue, all devotees that were present touched the flowers and candles and participated in the offerings and prayer session. The offerings represent certain aspects of Buddhist teachings. For example, the flowers are symbols of impermanence and saṃsāra (the cycle of birth, death and rebirth), due to their short life span, and the candles symbolise enlightenment. After the offerings were placed in front of the Lord Buddha, all the attendees bowed by lowering their heads in a gesture of homage and reverence to the Lord Buddha statue.

Next, Dr Liyanage from the temple management welcomed all to the Program. Dr Liyanage said the Buddhist teachings were based on investigating the mind, finding out the causes of suffering and following the steps or methods for removal of suffering. Desire is the leading cause of suffering and the initial step for the removal of suffering is following the five precepts of Buddhism. These five precepts forbid killing of living beings, taking what is not given (or stealing), lust, false speech, and use of intoxicating drink or drugs.

It should be noted that on the personal level, the precepts help one to lead a moral life and to advance further on the spiritual path. On the social level, observing the five precepts helps to promote peaceful coexistence, mutual trust, a cooperative spirit, and general peace and harmony in society.

Dr Lyn Liyanage invited all to listen to the talk by the resident monk from the temple. The monk gave an talk on Buddhist teachings. He told all those assembled that life was divided into four stages: childhood, youth, middle age and old age and explained how each of these stages are impermanent. The monk explained that we cling to these impermanent states and things and expect happiness from them which are impermanent. The monk further explained that this is the reason we cannot attain real happiness and thus live in Dukkha (suffering). The monk gave a few practical strategies to escape Dukkha such as taking a self-audit of our thoughts prior to finishing up for the day, taking steps on how one can move away from unwholesome thoughts and learning to live like a Lotus Flower within the community. The monk then explained the lotus flower analogy – this is a widely used analogy in Buddhism. He explained that the lotus flower grows in muddy water but it symbolizes the purity of enlightened mind and represents nonattachment as it is rooted in mud (attachment and desire) but its flowers blossom on long stalks unsullied by the mud below.

Next, Indrani Sandanam, a Sai devotee from the Buddhist faith gave a talk on the similarities between the teachings of Lord Buddha and Sathya Sai Baba. She said there were numerous similarities between the teachings of these two great spiritual masters. She stated that Lord Buddha in his teachings has given the following rules or precepts:
1. abstain from taking life
2. abstain from taking what is not given
3. abstain from sensuous misconduct
4. abstain from false speech
5. abstain from intoxicants tending to cloud the mind

She further added that these precepts were rules or guidelines which help a person to develop the mind and character and to make progress on the path of enlightenment. She explained that these were very similar to the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba who taught us to help ever hurt never, and love all serve all.

Indrani focused on one aspect of their teachings that is very similar. Lord Buddha and Sathya Sai Baba both emphasised the need for contentment and peace within oneself. Lord Buddha said ‘The mind is like the water. When it is turbulent, it is difficult to see. When it’s calm, everything is clear’. Indrani said during Lord Buddha’s first sermon in Varanasi in India, he said that suffering in life is caused by desire and grasping and that there is a way out of suffering to find mental peace and contentment. She narrated the following short story to illustrate this further:

Lord Buddha was once walking from one town to another town with a few of his followers. While they were traveling, they happened to pass a lake. They stopped there and Lord Buddha told one of his disciples, “I am thirsty. Do get me some water from that lake there.” The disciple walked up to the lake. When he reached it, he noticed that right at that moment, a bullock cart started crossing through the lake. As a result, the water became very muddy, very turbid. The disciple thought, “How can I offer this muddy water to Lord Buddha to drink!” So he came back and told Lord Buddha, “The water in there is very muddy. I don’t think it is fit to drink.” After about half an hour, again Lord Buddha asked the same disciple to go back to the lake and get him some water to drink. The disciple obediently went back to the lake. This time too he found that the lake was muddy. He returned and informed Lord Buddha that the water was still muddy. After some time had passed, again Lord Buddha asked the same disciple to go back. The disciple reached the lake to find the lake absolutely clean and clear with pure water in it. The mud had settled down and the water above it looked fit to drink. So he collected some water in a pot and brought it back and offered the water to Lord Buddha.

Lord Buddha looked at the water, and then he looked up at the disciple and said,” See what you did to make the water clean. You let it be…. and the mud settled down on its own – and you got clear water. Your mind is also like that! When it is disturbed, just let it be. Give it a little time. It will settle down on its own. You don’t have to put in any effort to calm it down. It will happen. It is effortless.”

What did Lord Buddha emphasise here? He said that when one’s mind is agitated, it has to be left to settle down. It simply needs some time to calm down on its own. This story also highlights that it was only the disciple’s perception of whether the water was muddy or not that influenced his actions. The water always stayed the same but it was in how the disciple looked at it (that is how the disciple perceived the situation). Therefore, even in our own lives, it is not our circumstances but how we perceive these circumstances and respond to it that matters. If we find our mind disturbed, we need to give it some time to settle back without reacting.

Indrani explained that similarly, Sathya Sai Baba has also consistently emphasised the importance of maintaining one’s inner peace. Sathya Sai Baba has said “Be like the tortoise that can live in water or on land”. That is to say, cultivate the inner calm that helps you remain with the thought of God, whether you are alone or in a crowd. True inner solitude is when you are not aware of the crowd around you. When you are able to remain undisturbed by others, then you have perfect inner peace.

Indrani spoke of an interesting story narrated by Sathya Sai Baba as follows: Once, a disciple approached his Guru saying, “Master, please enlighten me with some knowledge!” The Guru was seated outside a cave. He said “Child, it is getting dark outside. I shall teach you inside the cave dwelling. Please go inside and light the small lamp lying inside.” The disciple entered the cave with a matchbox in hand, located the lamp and tried to light it. He struck many matches but the lamp would not be lit. He emptied the matchbox but remained unsuccessful in his attempts. He reported to the Guru, “Master, this lamp is not lighting.” The Guru asked the Disciple, “Why it is so? Let me have a look at the lamp.” The lamp was brought to him and he asked the disciple to check if it was filled with oil or something else. The disciple then discovered that it was water that was in the lamp and not oil. And as the wick was soaked in water, it would not burn. The Guru instructed him, “First, throw the water out and squeeze water out of the wick; next, pour some oil and also soak the wick in the oil. Then light it. It will surely burn brightly.” The disciple followed the instructions and was successful in lighting the lamp. Once the lamp was lit, the Guru turned silent. The disciple waited a while and asked, “Master, you said you would enlighten me with knowledge. When will you do that?” The Guru replied, “I have been doing that all the while. Didn’t you understand?” The disciple was confused. The Guru then explained, “How can the flame of knowledge be kindled if the lamp of your heart is filled with the water of worldly and materialistic impressions. And importantly your mind, the wick, is soaked in materialistic and worldly ideas? First, remove from your heart and mind all attachment to the outside world. Fill yourself with God’s love. Then I will kindle the flame by initiating you with God’s name. That itself will be the flame of knowledge which will enlighten you and lead you on your spiritual path.”

Through this story, Sathya Sai Baba has highlighted the importance of cleansing oneself of attachments to the material world to maintain a state of inner peace. He has said that this is a critical step on one’s spiritual journey. In this manner, both Lord Buddha and Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings are focused on one’s inner state and both these great spiritual teachers emphasised the importance of mental peace and how it can be achieved through right understanding and effort.

Indrani concluded her talk by noting that through the teachings of Lord Buddha and Sathya Sai Baba we all strive to maintain a sense of inner peace and effectively respond to all circumstances.

Finally, Murali, Devotional Coordinator of the ACT Region’s Sathya Sai Organization of Australia and PNG thanked all by acknowledging the temple committee, the monks, speakers and participants for all the assistance with the visit to the temple and concluded his talk by saying that he had found the tips and strategies provided by the monk useful, and invited all to have the light refreshments lovingly made by the Sai families from the Buddhist faith. The light refreshments in fact were in fact were a sumptuous lunch comprising of many of the Sri Lankan delights such as Milk rice and lunumiris (a Sri Lankan sambal paste), coconut roti, boiled mung beans, stir fried chick peas and a soya preparation.

Healthy Ageing Workshop, Newcastle, NSW Region East

In December 2018, an opportunity arose for a community engagement focused event to take place in Newcastle. Members from the Sai Organisation in Newcastle were keen on collaborating Sai members with the local community and different faith groups, to put forward an activity that could be catered to a wide group of people. Accordingly, a Healthy Ageing Workshop was organised and took place on Sunday 30 June, 2019 at the Vedic Samadhi Temple in Cardiff, Newcastle.

This day was organised in collaboration with the Community Engagement team, Newcastle Sai group, the Sai Medical Unit as well as key NSW East Office Bearers. This workshop was presented by a range of medical professionals from Sydney and Newcastle. The topics included Dental, Optical, Geriatrics, Physiotherapy, Dietitian, Cardiology, ENT and ageing with meditation and yoga. The audience was highly engaged with all the presenters and asked many questions to maximise their understanding. As a majority of the crowd were of people aged over 50, this workshop was highly valuable with many lessons they could take back and apply easily in their daily lives.

Participants included approximately 65 people, with 15% of this group from outside the Sai Organisation. As this workshop took place at the Vedic temple, members of this temple also sat in the workshop and were extremely thrilled and pleased with the quality of presenters and information shared. They are keen for the Sai Organisation to continue using their venue for future activities and would like to collaborate on future workshops as well.

The day was received very positively by everyone involved and the collaborative spirit of organisers resulted in this success.

SSE Camp, WA

The SSE Children of WA were treated to an SSE Camp in the scenic Bickley Valley during a near-perfect Autumn weekend in April this year. The camp was held from Friday evening 12th till Sunday afternoon 14ht April 2019, and in sharing the theme, Boomerang Back to the Source, the camp was a precursor to the National Conference that was being held in Sydney the following weekend. The WA SSE camp is held biennially and this year was the first time children had the option to camp out under the stars. One of the aims of the camp was to allow children to embrace Mother Nature and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The proceedings started off on Friday evening with devotional singing under the stars followed by a sumptuous dinner. Teary-eyed parents begrudgingly let go of their children, many of whom were camping for the first time. Their apprehensions and their children’s fears vanished within minutes when, before they could leave, they witnessed their children laughing with joy as they chased each other up and down the grassy amphitheatre, not allowing the dinner to digest for one moment and making new friends almost instantly. The ice was broken with a rousing Icebreaker that had children twisted in human knots before they were finally settled with a bedtime story taken from Sai Baba’s childhood.

Children arose on Saturday morning before the crack of dawn and assembled for morning prayers at 6am. Nagarsankirtan followed and children spread positive vibrations to the Bickley campsite with their songs carrying Sai Baba’s blessing to all corners of the grounds. The program commenced with Walking Meditation followed by Yoga Therapy to awake the tired bodies and rejuvenate the minds. Everyone was then divided into four streams for the different SSE groups and the Parent Volunteers. Facilitators challenged participants to Boomerang back to Sai through age-specific workshops and activities which also continued after lunch. To break things up, children participated in a series of nature-bases activities that got their competitive juices pumping and encouraged them to boldly face their fears. Vertical climbing challenges, flying fox over the river, team building and hut building were some of the activities on offer.

After lunch, one of the children shared with the group his experiences with past SSE camps and how it transformed his life. When he learnt about the harmful effects of meat-eating at the tender age of 5, he decided to become a vegetarian overnight and converted his whole family in the process. Four years on and he is still a vegetarian. Sports was always high on the agenda for children and they certainly had their fill. Volleyball, basketball and soccer games were a hit with the older ones, whilst younger children competed to see who could pitch and pack a tent the fastest – a handy life skill to possess. Outdoor bhajans followed a warm shower and dinner where a few children bravely sang their very first songs. The Saturday night entertainment session closed a full day of activities with fun and laughter and an early night’s rest to prepare for Hindu New Year the following day.

The morning was welcomed with a Unity of Faiths Program before dawn. All major faiths were honoured with songs, prayers, reading of quotes and flags to represent their symbols. Whilst the children sang devotional songs to conclude the program, the milk boiling ceremony was set up in front of everyone with the beautiful Kolam (rice design) that was designed by parents the night before. As the milk began to bubble, children stood around the pot and tried to guess which direction the milk would spill out first. Each direction is sacred and contained a meaning that was symbolic for the new year. The following weekend was also Easter so to commemorate, younger children participated in an Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt whilst the older children explored the true meaning of selfless service.

The final session was the main event before home time. Parents and children were all welcomed to participate in Brazilian Capoeira, a unique high-flying martial arts form shrouded in dance and song. We learn about the history of this inclusive art form and explored the meditative power of the Brazilian musical instruments. We were also all impressed by its inclusivity as the rule is that all must be involved, either as the Capoeiristas practising against each other or as observers playing the instruments. The final meal was a delicious traditional South Indian Banana Leaf lunch.

Feedback for the camp was overall very positive and there was even interest to have it yearly. Appreciation goes to all the parent and teacher volunteers who worked tirelessly in the background to make it a success. We thank our beloved Sai Baba for bringing joy to children and parents alike and making everything possible.

My Sai and I

The eleventh session of the “My Sai and I” series in Canberra and 13th session within the “My Sai and I” series nationally was held in Canberra on 15 June 2019. The venue for this event was the Tamil Senior Citizens’ Centre in Isaacs and the guest for this event was Dr. Prabhu Sivabalan. Approximately, 25 Sai followers attended this event.

Prabhu travelled from Sydney to speak at this event and recollected his Sai Journey including his interactions with Sathya Sai Baba during his visits to Prasanthi Nilayam in India as a Young Adult.

Prabhu said that he was involved in the Sai Organisation from a very young age and can recall attending the Sai spiritual education classes and devotional singing sessions in Petaling Jaya and Bangsar in Malaysia. This journey with Sathya Sai Baba continued even after his family moved to Minto, a suburb of Sydney when he was 13 years old, for Prabhu recalled how a family friend used to pick him and his siblings up at 5 am in Minto so that they could be on time for devotional singing sessions at Strathfield. He spoke of the sudden loss of his father in 1995 at the age of 48 years while he was still in year 12, and recounted how his mother became the sole breadwinner for four boys under the age of 18 years. It was the Sai Family and the Minto Shiva temple family who rallied around his family, and their support and assistance enabled Prabhu and his family to continue on their spiritual journey.

Prabhu recounted the many trips to Puttaparthi as a Sai Young Adult and the opportunity to participate in a drama offering. In particular, Prabhu recollected an interview with Sai Baba where He had told him not to worry too much about the negative thoughts as they were from the ether, and was very resolute on insisting that a person must continue practicing love even if at times people may try to take advantage of one’s loving nature.

Prabhu also related a humorous incident where three of the Australian Young Adults including Prabhu had used the bathroom in Sathya Sai Baba’s residence, showing that boys would be boys despite being spiritual aspirants.

Prabhu spoke in length about a fortuitous opportunity that he received to sing in Sathya Sai Baba’s presence at his residence in Puttaparthi, India despite being a very average singer, and also how Sathya Sai Baba fulfilled his long-held desire to have a photo with him.

Prabhu concluded the talk by listing some of the lessons that he had learned in his journey with Sathya Sai Baba. These lessons are listed below:

  • striving for transformation and better version of oneself
  • letting go of any feelings of guilt and not worrying about bad thoughts
  • stablishing a direct heart-to-heart connection with Sathya Sai Baba and
  • having faith that Sathya Sai always loves you
  • Prabhu thanked ACT Region’s Committee and Sai followers for the opportunity to talk to them, and that he viewed his road trip from Sydney to Canberra as an opportunity given by Sathya Sai Baba to connect with him.

    The program concluded with the serving of light refreshments to all present that day.

    Murwillumbah Nursing Home Visit

    Members of the Murwillumbah Sai Centre went to Greenhills Lodge in South Murwillumbah to sing songs with the residents on the 23rd of June. The SSIO members sang classic songs such as Happy Days are Here Again, Morningtown Ride, Que Sera and Waltzing Matilda. They enjoyed watching the faces of the residents light up as they heard songs from the days of their own youth. Many residents sang along enthusiastically and expressed their excitement at seeing us again soon for more music.

    Serve the Planet Cheat Sheet

    With the world beginning to focus more than ever on the importance of serving and saving our earth, here are some easy tips that you can build into your daily life to do your own part towards Mother Earth. Why not add some of these into your regular spiritual discipline, or encourage your whole family to take part?

    Birthing Kit Assembly in Victoria, Region East

    On Saturday the 22nd June, a group of about 40 Sai devotees including children, young adults and adults took part in assembling 600 birthing kits.

    They all braved the very cold Melbourne morning and made it an energetic and fun session, fully concentrating their efforts on the cause, and the kits were assembled well ahead of time. We enjoyed the beautiful company afterwards, finishing with lunch.

    Guru Purnima Message, Dr Narendra Reddy

    With love, gratitude and reverence, I offer my prayers at the Divine Lotus Feet of our dearest, loving, and omnipresent Lord, Sathya Sai Baba.

    Loving Sai Rams to all of you. I wish all of you a happy and holy Guru Poornima filled with love and bliss. On this holy day of Guru Poornima, spiritual seekers all over the world pay homage to their Guru, who shows them the way to God. We, as Sathya Sai devotees, are blessed and fortunate in that we have Sathya Sai Baba, both as our Guru and God.

    On this auspicious occasion, let us express love and gratitude to Sai Baba by re-dedicating our lives to Him and remembering His message regarding Guru Poornima. Sai Baba, our Jagadguru, the Universal teacher, has exhorted that Guru shows us the Guri. Guri means the aim and purpose. The aim and purpose of our lives is to realise our innate divinity and experience the same divinity in everything, everywhere, ever. How to attain this Guri – this ‘goal’? For that also, Sai Baba has shown us the way – we need to have Guri, which also means to have a focus. Focus on Number one – on Sai Baba, His teachings and His divine mission. When we focus on Sai Baba, we focus on Him by chanting His sweet, divine name, meditating on His beautiful, divine form and contemplating on His blissful divine play. Because Sai Baba has assured us if we hold on to His divine lotus feet with absolute faith, we will reach the goal in this very lifetime. He said “Manase Bhajare Guru Charanam.” But He also cautioned us, ABC- ‘Always Be Careful.’ Be careful about the false Gurus, false prophets, and false mediums. His relationship is one to one, heart to heart. So, we need to exercise our discrimination and always hold on to Him and Him alone. This is the Guri (focus) we should have.

    The second Guri we should have is on His divine teachings, which are the essence of all the scriptures, and the quintessence of all His teachings is Prema (divine love). He has said “Love is the source; Love is the path and Love is the goal.” So, let us live in divine love.

    The third Guri, the third focus we should have is on the divine mission. Let us actively participate in the divine mission by participating in the educational institutions, medical institutions, 2 humanitarian relief service projects, and the Sathya Sai Organisation which bears His sacred, divine name. These institutions have been founded and nurtured by Sai Baba Himself and continue to be guided and blessed by Him till today. So let us make the best use of this opportunity to participate in these activities.

    So, when we have this Guri on Him, His teachings, and His divine mission, the next level we go to is Guru. Sai Baba says “Guru – what does He do?” “Gu” stands for ignorance, “Ru” stands for removal of ignorance. What is this ignorance? Ignorance is ahamkara and Mamakara – that is to have the ego that we are this body, mind and intellect complex, and have attachment. By focusing on Sai Baba, His teachings and His mission, this ignorance will be gone and then we live in light – light of love and light of wisdom.

    When we practise this, finally we come to the last stage of what Sai Baba said about Guru. “Gu” stands for Gunathitha – the God who is beyond all attributes, “Ru” stands for Ruparahitha – God beyond all forms. So, when we focus on this, we experience divinity, which is beyond all names, all forms, all attributes, time, space and causation. Then, we experience that every cell, every atom, every moment is permeated by the divine including ourselves. Then, we live in love and bliss.

    Asato Maa Sad Gamaya
    Thamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
    Mrithyor Maa Amritham Gamaya

    Let us pray to our Dearest Lord Sai: Lord, lead us from the unreal to the real From darkness to light
    From death to immortality

    Jai Sai Ram
    Dr. Narendranath Reddy
    Chairman, Prasanthi Council