Swami’s entourage landed at the Venice Airport on the afternoon of Friday, April 15 and were received by the host Mr Ampilio, who hails from Padova, an hour’s drive from the airport. This was the first leg of the eight day Italian tour, across three cities – Padova, Cisternino and Rome.
Padova has been one of the oldest cities in Italy, older than even Rome. Located in Northern Italy’s Venetian region, the city boasts of the first medical university in Europe established way back in 1222. The Basilica of San Antonio built in 13th century in the Byzantine style, is the main attraction for the tourists.
Mr Ampilio and family live in their home which was christened as Sri Sathya Sai Anandam, last year when Swami visited Padova. During the 90th Birthday celebrations of the Lord, they played their part in setting up of a western kitchen in Sathya Sai Grama and bringing materials, machines and men to serve all the western devotees for more than 10 days during the celebrations. They are the same couple who were instrumental in setting up of the western canteen in Prasanthi Nilayam! During an interview when they asked Swami when would He visit them again, Swami said, same time as last year. And Swami’s entourage are in Padova, on the same date as last year, in their home with Swami!
After a late afternoon lunch, the team tired of the night long journey, rested well only to wake up just in time for dinner. Dinner was served to Swami in His beautifully decorated room.
Swami looking at the dinner which was partly Western and partly South Indian, and remarked, “Oh! When did you change from Western canteen and join the South Indian canteen?” The family said, “Swami some of us have prepared a few items of your liking.” Swami said I don’t consume the food, but the love with which it has been prepared. Different people of different lands eat different cuisines, but the aim is to satisfy one’s hunger. Similarly, different people worship God in different ways, with the aim to satisfy the hunger of happiness in them.” Swami does not leave a single opportunity to teach a lesson!
Divine Visit – Padova, Italy – April 16, 2016
Everyone woke up to a cold morning, the next day. A flurry of activities were in progress in the Italian household, as Indian breakfast was being prepared for Bhagawan and His entourage. During breakfast, Swami commented, “It does not matter which kind of plate you eat from; food alone can satisfy your hunger. Likewise, it does not matter whom you learn from; wisdom alone matter.” Looking at a couple of idols of gods and goddesses kept in the altar and the books from various Gurus placed in the shelves, Swami said, “All these idols and books are like the food served on a plate. But by merely looking at the food, hunger will not be satiated. Likewise, merely collecting books and idols won’t help you, you must eat and digest the knowledge in them through practice.”
Living with God is true education, and every single moment spent with Him, is a acquiring precious gems of wisdom! He will find a way to teach a spiritual lesson, using the most mundane examples!
The morning of day one was spent in visiting Venice, a city built on water. When Mr Ampilio went to invite Swami for the city tour, He said, “You go for the tour along with the guests, and I will come there directly.”
After an hour’s drive, the entourage reached the dockyard and took a water taxi (a motor boat) to go to Venice through the Grand Canal (the water high way). Everyone alighted at the Saint Mary’s Basilica, which was built as a prayer seeking her protection from plague, and therefore called, Basilica of Saint Mary of Health or Santa Maria della Salute. The energy inside was Divine, there was certainly something about this place! As everyone were soaking in the beauty of the Basicila, and walking around, Brother Madhusudan revealed that while praying at the altar, he heard Swami’s voice ring in his ears, “Turn around and see!”, He told him in Telugu. When he turned around, he saw Swami standing right under the central dome, with Mother Mary on one side and little playful baby Jesus on the other side, tugging Swami’s hand! As promised, Swami was indeed there with His entourage and devout Italian devotees, Mr Ampilio, Mr Salvatore Iozzia and a couple of others.
After walking around and visiting other key places in Venice, all returned back to the Ampilio residence for lunch and rest, before the afternoon youth satsang.
In the afternoon, the satsang was organised at the ‘Pietro D’Abano’ auditorium. Unlike the previous year, where the satsang was organised at the residence itself; purely because of the large number of devotees who were seeking to experience their Lord in their very own country, and ofcouse Swami had already told them last year about this year’s visit! For the entourage who travel with Swami to all these countries, it is simply an overwhelming sight to see the devotion and pure love for their Master. And only sentence of Lord Jesus seems to ring in the mind, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed!”
About 250 people were seated in the auditorium. Vedic chants and bhajans greeted Swami, who glided trough the aisles, as Brother Madhusudan beautifully described later, blessing a few, taking letters from the others and enquiring about their well-being. As Swami took His seat on the stage, bhajans made way for a musical performance on violin by a young female artist. Ms Silvia Vedela welcomed the gathering, offered her gratitude to Bhagawan for having blessed the land yet again with His presence, and introduced the young artist who offered some soulful renditions at His Lotus Feet. Mr Salvatore Iozza, the Emcee and translator for the evening, introduced the first speaker, Mr Isaac Tigrett, who spoke about his extraordinary journey traveling with Swami during the current phase of His mission. He said that there has been no difference between the days when Swami was in the physical and even now, in the way people who came to ‘experience’ Swami, questioned who He really was! Mr Tigrett explained that it is all about faith, which emanates from the heart.
The next speaker was Sri C Sreenivas who spoke about how there is nothing, which man cannot achieve through his capacities and powers. He narrated an experience from his childhood when he went to Shirdi with his family. When he learnt that there was a man who had seen Shirdi Baba, there was a certain calling he experienced in his heart, and he certainly wanted to meet him. He said, “There is a mystical calling that comes from within the heart. There is no reason, or logical explanation to this. These can be experienced with the heart. This pursuit and search for the divine is evident and has always existed. And how do we manifest the divine in our lives? While we can see things and believe, it more profound to believe things, without seeing them!” He also shared a very profound statement from a letter, written by Swami to him, almost 40 years ago – “Youth is a flame that burns bright, to reach the heights of perfection.”
Sri B N Narasimha Murthy addressed the gathering next, and narrated the experience of Brother Madhusudan that morning at the Basilica of Mary. He vividly described the scene that morning at the Basilica, where many were seated in front of the altar with closed eyes, praying to Mother Mary. He said, “Definitely they did not believe that Mary was the body. They never identified Jesus with the 32-year-old body when He was crucified. Their hearts were connecting with the ‘true Mary’ and ‘true Jesus’, who are not the body. Their faith and connection made them feel the presence of Mary and Jesus.”
Swami began His discourse with the emphasis on knowing the true nature of one’s reality. Though this untruth that we are just the temporary bodies and transient minds, has been told to us a million times, yet the fact that ‘You are Divine’ cannot become the untruth.
Swami substantiated this with a story from the Upanishads, where a lion cub gets lost during birth. He strays away to a herd of sheep and behaves like one as he grows up, until the day he encounters a lion, who shows him his reality in the reflection of the river water. The truth dawned upon the cub, and he was free from all the fear. Similarly, Swami explained that we all are living a life of fear, thinking we are impermanent bodies. But, a Guru comes to teach the truth that we are Divine beings, and this truth liberates from the fear of birth and death. Swami also advised the youth that they must believe in their true identity which is Divine, and be free from the attachment to the body and senses, fluctuations of the fickle mind and find peace in their Divine self.
Swami answered a few questions after the discourse for the audience in His inimitable style of explaining profound truths, with simple examples laced with Sai Humour. One question asked by a lady was as to why Avatars don’t come down as women. In a very humourous way, Swami said, “Men need men to teach and guide them, because they don’t listen to women. Women understand the selfless in the act of creation and sustenance, since they also create. Hence, women are naturally more selfless than men.”
“Since the Sathya Yuga has started, when will all the fights and unrest end?” Was another question asked. Swami said, “Yes, you are right, Kali Yuga has ended, and Sathya Yuga has commenced. The sun rises at a particular time in India, and few hours later in the Middle East, and much later in Europe and America. While the Indians are basking in the sunlight, there is still some parts of the world which is still sleeping. Likewise, Sathya Yuga has begun in India and slowly spreading to the rest of the world. It is slowly shining ‘divinity’ in the sleeping minds of the people, and people are slowly waking up. It will happen gradually, and it is happening. This is the good news.
However, as seasons pass, some plants stay and some die. Those plants which change with season, continue to survive and those which refuse to adapt, die. Similarly, those who are selfless and divine, continue to stay in the Sathya Yuga. And those who continue to live with self interest and selfishness, they will have to perish!”
Since there was limited time to take more questions, Swami urged everyone to look within. He said, ” The treasure is buried right inside you. Don’t be like the rich man who forgets where he buried his treasure. Everything is right inside you!”
Finally after Arathi and prasadam, Swami started back for the home of Mr Ampilio. Brother Madhusudan later shared with everyone, the conversation between Swami and Mr Ampilio in the car, which was again profound, and certainly had a take-away! He said, “Swami looked around and finding it still bright remarked, ‘It’s past 8 pm. Yet the sun has not set, what time does the sun rise in Padova? The host replied that the sun usually rises around 5:45 am.
Swami then remarked, ‘Oh! the Sun in Italy works harder than the Sun in India. Long hours.’ He continued asking, ‘Do Italians also work hard?’ Mr Ampilio replied, ‘Most of them do, especially the ones from Northern Italy.’
Mr Salvatore was also in the car and he commented, ‘I am from the South, so the host is trying to tell that Southern Italians are lazy!’ Swami said, ‘Well, you are in the North now and so you too are working hard. It’s not by birth, but by your company that you become what you are. This is like the story from the Upanishads, where the lost lion cub mistook itself for a sheep, as it lived and grew up with a herd, till it met the real lion who showed its reflection in water and taught the truth of its reality of being a lion. Though by birth it was a lion cub, but due to the company of sheep it lived like a sheep. Tell me your company and I shall tell you what you are!’ Swami never leaves a single opportunity or an instance to drive home a point”, said Brother Madhusudan.
After dinner, everyone retired for the day.