Some years ago, a devotee from Qatar, upon his return journey from Prasanthi Nilayam, had a transit halt for some hours in Dharmakshetra, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai’s Abode in Mumbai. Sharing his Christmas experience at ‘Prasanthi’, the devotee said then, “We had a fabulous Christmas in Bhagawan’s Presence, and the Day started with 21 Omkars.” Yes, Prasanthi Nilayam denotes The Abode Of Supreme Peace, and in this Abode Of Supreme Peace, all that one can expect is an everlasting echo of the message of Unity In Diversity, Oneness. How the Supreme Master walked the earth propagated His message of Oneness in His most inimitable style? Read on an experience of (Late) Sri S Ramakrishnan, Founder Editor of Bhavan’s Journal, the official bimonthly of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Mumbai). The article originally appeared in the Nov 1975 issue of Bhavan’s Journal, devoted to life, literature, and culture. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan was established by Kulapati KM Munshi in the year 1938.

In 1971, a dear and respected elder, a distinguished educationist and philosopher, a former Director of the Bhavan’s Delhi Kendra, and myself went on a pilgrimage to Puttaparthi. We left Bangalore by car about 3 a.m. so as to reach Puttaparthi by 6 a.m.

During the three hour, 100-mile drive, we discussed, among other things, about the advisability or otherwise of accepting a donation offered by a philanthropist for conducting research in Bhavan on Vishishtaadvaita. The Bhavan has always firmly stood against fanning differences – denominational, religious, regional or linguistic. It is pledged to foster harmony, unity.

In view of the unbridled fanatic zeal of some of the overzealous followers of the great messiahs, there was a natural anxiety on our part as to whether the acceptance of the donation was likely to unconsciously carry with it the seed of some futile controversy on some abstract aspects of something or other.

However, long before we reached Prasanthi Nilayam at Puttaparthi, we unanimously came to the conclusion to recommend acceptance of the offer to the Bhavan’s Executive Committee. Thereafter, we discussed many other matters and by the time we reached Puttaparthi, we had forgotten all about the donation offer.

We reached Puttaparthi at about 6 a.m. As usual, there were large crowds of devotees, from far and near.

When our request to have an audience was submitted to Baba, he told the messenger that “they left Bangalore at 3 a.m. They have not even taken water this morning. First give them breakfast and then let them see me.”

When we were duly ushered into Baba’s holy presence, we prostrated before him. He affectionately patted us and bade us to sit. After solicitous enquiries about the Bhavan, with a broad grin, he said, “Some people think that Advaitins and Visishtaadvaitins – followers of Adi Shankara and followers of Ramanuja – cannot work together, isn’t it? This is absolutely wrong.”

We were dazed. How could he have known what we had discussed a few hours ago in the privacy of a speeding car?

Baba added: “The Saivites hail their Ishta Devata, Siva, as Pasupati, while the Visishtaadvaitins hail their Ishta Devata as Gopala. Is there any difference in substance?”

Then with his characteristic smile, Baba asked, “What is the name of your friend?”

“Professor Sankaranarayanan,” I replied.

“Does not his very name proclaim that Sankara and Narayana are one? How can there be any difference between Advaita and Vishishtaadvaita, Saivites and Vaishnavites?

(Advaita – Non-dualism / Vishishtaadvaita- Qualified Non-dualism / Ishta Devata – chosen form of Deity/God/Goddess for worship)

II Samastha Lokah Sukhino Bhavantu II