Vivekananda Has Come Again, Says Sai Baba. But Has He?
by Barry Pittard - April 6, 2007
“Vivekananda has come again; he is growing up in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He will come to Me and join in My task.”
(Sathya Sai Baba quoted in Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram, Part II, p. 130. 1960-61. by Professor N. Kasturi, official biographer)
On Wednesday April 13,1998, I flew from South India to Sri Lanka. Among other matters, I wished to locate the young man, Nalin Sedera. According to major Sai Baba-approved writers N.Kasturi and Howard Murphet, Sai Baba had told Sedera he was Swami Vivekananda in his last life. I had encountered personally (and India is the place of all places to encounter them!) similar stories, sometimes in relation to Sai Baba but also cases where, much to their surprise, individuals from various countries had found their names cited in one or more of the palm leaf traditions in India, supposedly written or dictated by ancient Indian rishis (seer, sages, spiritual masters) called Nadis. In common with devotees from many countries, I had heard various reliable reports that Sai Baba had informed certain individuals of who they were in some past life. For example, disclosing their identity when (as he claims) he ‘came’ as God manifest in Rama, Krishna, and Shirdi Sai Baba (circa 1838-1918).
Many devotees relate that Sai Baba has said that Paramahansa Yogananda(1893-1952), another earlier Indian swami who went to the West and became famous worldwide, was now a child growing up in a Greek family of Sai Baba devotees. I wondered what would be the case if Nalin were to undergo one of these readings (nadis, naadis, granthas, granthams) scattered about India in which I had taken an interest - e.g., Brighu (in North India), Agasthya (Agasthiar),Suka,Sukha, Siva, etc., (South India).
What was this mention of a “task” in the Professor Kasturi quotation? Sai Baba has many times stated that he will bring, before he dies (not that he uses the word ‘dies’) the entire world into an era of truth, right conduct, peace, love and non-violence, before leaving the planet, aged 95 or 96? (The one year differential depends on which calendar one uses, Gregorian or Indian). Many years ago, Sathya Sai Baba said that Ramakrishna, Vivekananda’s illustrious guru, had but one Vivekananda and one Brahmananda, whereas he, Sai Baba had hundreds of great yogic souls among his devotees through whom he will perform global transformations on a scale never witnessed in mankind’s history. Could it, I (then) thought, be possible to locate some of these great souls; and might they, sensing the seriousness of my nadi study, grant permission to submit a thumbprint or any other initial information required by nadi custodians by which to gradually reticulate to an individual’s given reading? If I located Nalin, would he in any way resemble Swami Vivekananda? Would any reading for him in any of the nadis confirm what Sai Baba had foretold?
As I waited in the queue awaiting to see Sai Baba at Kodai Kanal, a gorgeous hill station in the Nilgiris of the state of Tamil Nadu where Sai Baba has a villa, two gentlemen asked me about my work - at that time, editing a Sai Baba related magazine, Spiritual Impressions, and books by some devotees of Sathya Sai Baba. I noticed a man intently listening in, and welcomed him into the conversation. He soon said he was from Sri Lanka. More than that, he and his family personally knew Nalin. After the darshan (viewing of a person deemed holy), he gave me contact details. In that morning’s darshan of Sai Baba, I found myself against considerable odds in a second row. Sai Baba came right up. I handed him a small card on which I had written the name: Nalin. He moved the card little by little several times gently along the palm of my hand towards Him. This was in a similar manner to which he had stroked my hand in the darshan of morning before. Then, as though to create an emphasis, Sai Baba snapped the card deftly towards his chest. He then put the card among the letters in his left hand, and moved a few paces towards the centre of the pathway, turning to the rows of men sitting opposite. Unexpectedly, he turned right round and, looking towards me with what I took to be great love, made a deep bowing movement with his head. Keeping the steady heart-melting gaze all the while, he smiled very sweetly, then raised His hand in blessing me for quite some moments. From my then devotee perspective, not without various extraordinary experiences I had had, thinking him to have omniscience, I felt very strongly that he was bowing to, and blessing, the intention that had formed in my mind: to seek out Nalin.
On Sunday April 19th, 1998, I had planned for a quiet evening in my room at the Ramakrishna Mission in Columbo, the capital of Sri Lanka. I had arranged with Nalin’s brother, Ajitha, to go to their home on the Monday. He told me that Nalin had been spending a few days meditating in a temple at the southern tip of his country - at Karthirkamagiri, long a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus alike. Until a month before, I had never heard of it. However, it was mentioned in a Chapter (Kandam) in one of my Agasthya nadis at Vaithishwarankoil in Tamil Nadu (where it stated that I was associated with this place in a former life as a doctor).
At 6.15 p.m., as I made my way up Ramakrishna Road for a quiet cup of Horlicks, a tall, slender, striking young Singhalese man around thirty years called across to me, “Are you the Australian gentleman staying at the Ramakrishna Mission?” It was Nalin accompanied by his brother, Ajitha. He explained that they thought they would find me more easily than I them. A few minutes later, as we sat ourselves down at the table of the crowded vegetarian restaurant, I sat facing a tall, lithe, well built young man, clean shaven, dressed very neatly, wearing denim, his dark red shirt smart. He blended in with middle class Sri Lankans. His face had a fine-boned, sculptured look, and a bright, golden brown that had an inner lustre. His voice was rich and resonant, as though coming from a cavern. Was there anything about his physical appearance which resembled Vivekananda? Yes, I thought - the lips: delicate, fine-etched, contoured. I sensed strong character, and he he displayed spontaneous, sincere good manners. He was direct, with a controlled but passionate intensity about things that mattered to him.
“They are trying to take my life”
Even before we sat down, I had asked him whether the attention he had received had affected his life. His distaste for those who mobbed him was immediate, unmistakable. “They are trying to take my life.” It was an odd sentence. I asked Nalin, “When you say,’They are trying to take my life,’ do you mean that your life is actually in danger from anyone?” With burning intensity, and a mix of smile and leer that reminded me of Humphrey Bogart, he replied, “They would be writing their last will and testament if they tried!” Here, I did not sense a Vivekananda-like commitment to ahimsa (non-violence). Nalin’s occasional intensities became one of my abiding impressions of him. As we sat down, he referred to crowds that gathered round him after word travelled bushfire-like that Sathya Sai Baba had said that Nalin, in his previous life, was Swami Vivekananda.
He said: “My mind didn’t go. But I lost a lot - my liberty, my freedom.” I checked with him, just to be sure I understood his exact meaning. By “my life”, he meant a broad leeway to be himself. I asked Nalin if he related to books? Again, the intensity. “I want to have experience. It is all that matters. Not read about anyone else’s. Books are a waste of time.” I mentioned the book by the Australian writer Howard Murphet’s book. Nalin said that he felt very let down by the people who had informed the author of his story (he referred to them as Tamilians - i.e., belonging to or originating from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu). “I had asked them to allow nothing to be published without my permission. They went ahead without consulting me”. As he began to unfold his experiences, he said: ”I’ve had a lot of troubles. I am a normal person, whatever people may think. Whatever may have been the case in my last life, I am living in this life! I have no idea what happened in my last life. When Swami made the revelation - or call it a pronouncement - I had no idea of who Swami Vivekananda was. This is this life. It’s all I’m interested in. Now, as a result of all the attention, I’ve lost what is most precious to me - my liberty, my freedom. At the ashram after Swami had spoken, there were hundreds of people milling all round me. And hundreds of people here in Sri Lanka.”
What did the mobs ask?
“They asked funny questions. Do I remember my previous birth? They regard me as some kind of alien. Some of them say I should be wearing a robe like a sadhu (ed., spiritual renunciate). Why should I do that? I want to wear my denims. Some have even said that, at a certain time, I’ll get up in darshan and take over Puttaparthi.” Typically, after reflection, usually following a question of mine, he would return with a perfectly crystalised reply, like a pearl slipping out of the oyster shell when, after inner effort, it opens at last. His voice struck flint; a small spark lit his eye. “I don’t like that!” The tone was very emphatic. Again the spurt of intensity. I sensed a deep indignity, a smouldering anguish from which he had somewhat distanced himself. Embers still glowed hot. He spoke of his anger at the time of Sai Baba’s ‘revelation’ or ‘pronouncement.’ The interview in which this was made occurred, he said, at Puttaparthi, March 23, 1987.
Two more interviews followed - on the 24th and 26th. He was then nineteen years. He said that the Sri Lankan group of which Nalin was a member was led by Mrs Ganhewa. He was baffled to know how the news got out. “Swami took me into a private room next to the interview room. I cannot see how others in the interview could have heard what Swami said. I certainly didn’t say anything about it.” I have since asked a number of others their opinion as to the audibility or otherwise of what is said, from the standpoint of someone in the outer room. Some say the speech is too muffled to be understood. Others say that sometimes one can hear what is being said. In an interview on July 24,1998, I noted this: a curtain separates the two rooms, as it has long done. I was in a group of seven Australians. However, a Canadian husband and wife briefly preceded us into the inner room. Later, Sai Baba also saw the three ladies in our group separately to the men. In both cases, a few drift words of speech could be understood; much could not be, because he and the Canadians and, separately, he and the Australian women spoke quite quietly. Nalin told me that he returned to Puttaparthi in August 1987. Sai Baba called him and his group for interview. He said that Sai Baba asked the group leader, referring to Nalin’s parents, “Are his parents happy?” Nalin relates that she replied yes, they were very happy when they heard the news, but “Swami replied, ‘No, no, no, they are not happy but they are worried about that boy. Look at him, he’s just a boy. Just leave him alone and don’t disturb him, because if anything happens, you must be responsible for that”‘. Nalin says “Swami turned to me and said, ‘A lot of people are angry with you and jealous of you, here and there. Don’t go to any bhajan places. You just stay at your home, and do your work’” I asked Nalin what work did he do? “Not ordinary work. A friend of my age and I have been working among the poorer classes. At one time, we got involved in an eye camp.” (These were organised clinics designed to bring medical aid to the poor. For example, combating eye diseases such as glaucoma). Nalin continued, “Swami then said, ‘You are angry with me. Why are you angry with me?’ I said, ‘You know why I am angry with you.’ Baba said, ‘Yes, I know.’”
Nalin relates that it was only on his return home that he discovered from his parents that they had been in fact worried at the extraordinary revelation about their son. Not wanting to trouble their family, they had kept their concern to themselves. He said that, in two or three months, he would like to visit Sai Baba wherever he was stationed at the time. A lot would depend on how Nalin’s father managed with a shortly upcoming by-pass operation in Chennai. He wondered whether it would be possible to get Sri Lankan Sai devotees to leave him alone - perhaps via a note printed in Sanathana Sarathi, the official magazine of the Sathya Sai Central Trust. Considering the essential purpose of the publication (to publish Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s Discourses, a small few articles by contributors, Sathya Sai Organization news), I rather doubted his chances, but suggested he call on the Editor, Sri V.K. Narasimhan, whom I regarded as a good, decent man and a warm friend. With distinction and courage, V.K.N. had formerly edited major Indian newspapers - the Indian Express, Hindustan Times and Deccan Herald- and he and I had a warm friendship and were in fairly regular contact. From V.K.N. I soon after found that Nalin had, while I was absent, called on him, a visit I had already told V.K.N that Nalin may make. When we later spoke, V.K.N smiled wryly and admitted defeat in observing any similarities to Swami Vivekananda. Since so many of Sathya Sai Baba’s predictions large and small have proved false, one may fail to see how the one about Nalin could come true. Trustfully, given the fickleness of the madding crowd, Nalin’s botherers will have long given up their bothering of him. If Nalin ever takes over Puttaparthi, I shall personally ‘come again’. Reborn there as a service volunteer. And eat my hat!
NOTE: Events since this article was written have borne out that Nalin never thereafter went to Puttaparthi or 'took over' the place. It was Sathya Sai Baba's nephew, Ratnakara, who managed to get the upper hand ober his family and Baba's favouriteand onlt fully trusted servitor who ha had said should run Prashanthi after his death. (commented by Robert Priddy)