A Perfect Disciple: The story of Dr. John S. Hislop
July 2nd is the holy festival of Guru Purnima. A day when homage is paid to the Guru. A day on which all of us across the world express gratitude to Bhagavan, the Universal teacher, for guiding us on the path to lasting peace. Yes, that is a good thing-to be grateful to one’s Guru. But what does Bhagavan himself want? Praises , we know, mean nothing to Him. What really matters to Him is how much we walk along the path shown by Him. That He says is the greatest way to pay Him a tribute. A Teacher is known by His students, a painter by His art, and a sculptor by his sculptures. A Guru is known by His disciples and an Avatar by his devotees. The perfect devotee who surrenders to the Lord, the Guru, and practises His teachings is the one in whom the Glory of the Lord is reflected most. He becomes a cause, an instrument in bringing several others into the orbit of the Transforming Love of God. He is the one who pays real homage to His Guru. One such devotee of Bhagwan was John S Hislop.
Dr. John S Hislop was one of the fine instruments used by Bhagavan Baba to spread His Message across the continents. Hislop to Swami came via the Theosophy/Meditation route. It all started when as a young man of eighteen he had gone to Taihiti in the Pacific in search of adventure. There he met a priest who told him about Theosophy. As soon as Hislop returned to Los Angeles, he joined the Theosophical Society because he wanted to serve humanity. Soon he became actively involved with the establishment set up in Ojai, California, by Dr. Annie Besant, a pillar of the Theosophy movement.
It was in Ojai that Hislop came into contact with J.Krishnamurthi [from India] who was being projected by Annie Besant as a ‘World Teacher’. About this experience, Hislop says, “Krishnamurthi and Besant were giant figures who filled the horizon, and it seemed to me that they and only they had found the truth of life. I feel eternally grateful to Dr. Besant and Krishnamurthi for their great kindness and great patience with an undisciplined man. But wisdom was not born in me as a follower of Krishnamurthi.”
In between, Hislop went through higher education, finally receiving his doctorate in the School of Education in the University of California, Los Angeles Campus [UCLA]. Thereafter he taught for a while and later switched to business, where he was quite successful. He also got married to Victoria, who shared his passion for philosophical enlightenment. Together, Hislop and Victoria drifted from one Guru to another, ending up in the fifties with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who by then had hit the headlines in the West. Twenty five years of search for that ‘something’ had passed but that ‘something’ was still not in sight.
The year is 1958. Hislop comes to India to help Mahesh Yogi in setting up an Academy for Meditation in the Himalayas. Being an American, he is at first mistaken to be a CIA agent (!) but later allowed to do his work. At this stage Hislop takes a break and goes to Burma to learn Vipassana Meditation practised by Buddhists. Hislop finds that the Buddhist style of meditation is fascinating and wonderful but, in his words,
The Buddhist way was a way of the intellect and the mind. And despite my great appreciation and gratitude for having found the discipline, I felt that my heart was dry; it was a Western heart with very little love left in it. We [Hislop and his wife] had begun to realise that the Vipassana discipline could be dangerous for a life in the world and that to pursue it properly one should become a monk…..
Around this time, Burma had begun to look inwards, closing its borders to foreigners. So, it did not seem possible to stay back in Burma and become a monk. Yet, Hislop clung to Vipassana, lacking an alternative. A few more years passed, and then….
My wife and I first heard of Baba in 1968 through a description of Him given to a friend of mine by a lady who had visited India. She had brought back some sacred ash [Vibhuti], a beautiful ring as a gift to her from the miraculous nature of Baba, and she had many fascinating stories to tell. One special remark struck fire. The lady said that she felt a change in her character while with Baba, and the change persisted even after she returned home. This statement had a strong impact on my mind. Could there be a man, was there a man living today whose being was so subtle, so powerful, so mysterious, so Divine, that He could change a human Heart?
If it were indeed true that such a man lived in today’s world, then nothing else in my life could equal the urgency of seeking Him out. I prayed that through His Grace and kindness, He might touch my dry Heart and make it alive and vibrant.
My wife and I heard the story of Baba on a Monday, and the same week we were aboard a plane to India. ….
Upon meeting Baba, I knew at once, without doubt, that for me, here was the true source of Wisdom. …….It is difficult and probably impossible to express in words the effect upon myself of that first meeting with Baba. My entire being was profoundly affected and changed. Immediately, Baba became the centre of my life, and has remained so. In His presence at that first meeting, the world fell away from me, my entire consciousness was drawn inward and, at a most subtle level of awareness, Baba appeared in my Heart as Love. Love was unmistakable and that Baba was this Love was equally unmistakable. It seemed to me that only God Himself could enter my Heart as Love and, since then, this feeling of Divine Presence has never changed. ……I found to my great surprise that although I had always used an intellectual approach to spiritual life, the devotional path became very natural to me as soon as I encountered Baba.
Swami gave Hislop innumerable experiences so that the latter could get a feel for all aspects of Divinity. Baba also granted Hislop any number of Interviews, answered his questions in detail, came to his rescue during illness, saved him from disaster, created unusual objects for him and once even blessed him with a vision of Krishna. A sample now of a few these, in Hislop’s own words. We start with the famous episode dealing with the creation by Baba of a crucifix for Hislop. Interestingly, the crucifix was created on Mahasivarathri Day in the year 1973, deep in the forest! This holy festival was celebrated by Baba in the company of a small group almost in privacy, and not before massive crowds as normally happens. Let us hear Hislop recall the event:
The crucifix was created by Baba on a most auspicious day, Mahasivarathri. ……The evening before, we were told to be ready in the early morning for a trip; and that when the cars were loaded and ready we would know the destination. Swami had decided that only a handful of people would be with Him….
Our destination was the Bandipur Game Sanctuary in Bandipur Forest, several hours away from the city of Mysore. We arrived at the Forest rest-house in the early afternoon. Later we took various winding roads hoping to come upon one of the Forest’s wild elephant herds. ….. the elephants remained in their secret places and not even one was seen. But the drive through the hills had another and more important objective……
As we crossed a bridge above a sandy, dry riverbed, Baba indicated that this would be the place. … The cars halted at the side of the road, and we started to climb down the bank to the sandy river bottom. I was beside Baba. As we passed a bush, Swami broke off two twigs, placed them together and asked me, “What is this, Hislop?”
“Well Swami, it is a cross,” I answered. Baba then closed His fingers over the twigs and directed three somewhat slow breaths into His fist, betw
een thumb and forefinger. Then He opened His hand to reveal a Christ figure on a Cross, and He gave it to me.
“This shows Christ as he really was at the time he left his body, not as artists have imagined him. His stomach is pulled in and his ribs are all showing. He had no food for eight days.”
I looked at th
e crucifix but found no words. Baba then continued: “The cross is made of wood from the actual cross on which Christ was crucified. To find some of the wood after 2000 years took a little time! The image is of Christ after he died. It is a dead face.”
I noticed something odd and asked, “Swami, what is that hole at the top of the cross?” Baba replied that the cross had been originally hung from a standard.
A little while after the materialisation of the cross, Sivarathri was celebrated on the sandy river bed with devotees singing Bhajan and Baba bringing out a Lingam to mark the holy day and the significance of Creation – quite a change from the normal circumstances under which Sivarathri is celebrated.
A couple of years later, some American devotees asked Swami about the cross materialised for Hislop. Baba replied:
Yes, I made it for him. When I went to look for the wood, every particle of the cross had disintegrated and returned to the elements. I reached out to the elements and reconstituted sufficient material for a small cross. Very seldom does Swami interfere with Nature, but occasionally, for a devotee, it will be done.”
The story of the cross does not quite end with its physical materialisation. Hislop had a strange experience a few months later, when the cross was being shown to a few friends. This is what he says:
Within a few weeks we were back in our home in Mexico and were soon to witness an amazing series of events in relation to the crucifix. ….. [One day] the time was about 5 P.M. On this afternoon, the sky along the Mexican coast was clear and peaceful. But suddenly without warning, there was a loud crash of thunder and as our eyes turned towards the windows, lightning flashed from a dark cloud where a moment before there had been only clear sky. A violent wind rushed through the house, causing windows and doors to open and shut with such force that the glass was in danger of shattering. The curtains were flying in all directions. We were much startled by this turn of events, but my wife at once said, “It is 5 P.M., the time Christ died on the cross, and what is now happening is described in the Bible.” She later brought a Bible and we looked though until we found the pertinent paragraph, which said that at the moment Christ gave up His life, a violent storm arose with lightning and thunder, and winds rent the curtains of the temple. We concluded that we had witnessed a wonder totally beyond our power of imagination. Before our eyes had occurred nothing less than a recapitulation of events related to crucifixion. The following day, newspapers in San Diego carried a brief story commenting on the sudden and mysterious storm that had arisen without warning on the Mexican coast, near Ensenada. ….A year or so alter, I sent a description of the event to Dr. Eruch B. Fanibanda for his book, Vision of the Divine. He showed the memo to Baba. After reading the memo, Baba said that the event had occurred as described and that the significance attributed to it was correct.
Bhagavan Baba has saved innumerable devotees from danger and imminent disaster, when they appealed to Him. Swami saved Hislop also, but Hislop’s experience was one with a big difference.
One evening in 1973, we left Brindavan at about 8 P.M. to return to Bangalore. There were five of us in the taxi, plus the driver. The Bangalore road is only two lanes. Some miles from Brindavan, we overtook a bus. Although the driver of our taxi saw some lights ahead, he estimated that there was plenty of time to pass the bus. He could not have been more mistaken – the lights ahead were that of a car moving at a very high speed towards us. ……
In this particular area, the layout of the road was also deadly. The road was under repair, and there was a high bank of dirt and rocks covering the side of the road. Thus, there was no possibility of the oncoming car beingable to swerve off the road. We, too, could not take evasive action, for the bus was on our left and the road-repair material on the right, and by this time the oncoming car was directly in front of us. A foolish driver in that car and an equally foolish driver in our taxi! …. The lights of the oncoming car now struck directly into the windscreen of our taxi. The cars could not have been more than a second or so apart. We were stunned. Not one of us remembered Baba or called out to Him. We felt we were as good as dead, and we instinctively tensed for the crash. But at that very moment something happened that was without any rational explanation. At one moment the two cars were upon each other, about to be smashed in a fatal head-on collision. The very next moment, the oncoming car was behind us, and we were continuing to pass the bus with a clear road ahead. Looking back, we could see the red tail-lamp of the other car. There was no crash. ….
The next day we drove out to Brindavan as usual at 8 A.M. so as to be waiting near the veranda for Baba to appear for morning Darshan. As soon as He came into the room, I touched the Lotus feet and said, “We want to thank Baba for saving our lives last night.”
Baba smiled and said, “Yes, that was a close one. You were so shocked that not even one of you called out for Swami! But Swami saved you anyway.” Then He turned to a group of men and in Telugu told them the entire story of the incident.
I then said, “Swami, You must have altered time and space in order to save us.” Baba just smiled and did not answer.
From time to time, Swami has orchestrated situations wherein devotees have been blessed to see Him in some of the other forms He is worshipped in. Hislop was among the lucky few to get a glimpse of Baba as Sri Krishna. That story follows, in Hislop’s own words:
A number of years ago I was in Baba’s car. He was in the rear seat with two other persons. I was in the front seat with the driver. We were on our way to Puttaparthi. Driving in the car with Baba is a fascinating experience ………
At some point in the journey, perhaps about half-way, Baba was talking and I turned to look. My breathing stopped and was transfixed. I could not credit my eyes. ….
What transfixed my movement and stopped my breathing now, was His face …..The Baba I knew was not there! Instead, there was a face of the most extra-ordinary beauty – quite different in shape and cast from the features of our beloved Sai. The charm was so great, so poignant, that my heart seemed to twist, almost as though it were in pain. Never in my life, not in photos, nor in paintings by great artists have I seen a face of such exquisite beauty. It was beyond imagination and concept, totally beyond experience.
And His colour was blue. Not just blue, not the blue with which artists paint Sri Krishna, but a deep blue like the velvet blue that can sometimes be seen in a dark sky, like a blue that I have, at times, seen from the deck of a ship thousands of miles from the shores of the Pacific Ocean. I do not know how else to describe it.
I could not take my eyes from Baba’s face. …. The two men sitting with Baba were beginning to look at me with somewhat puzzled expressions….
After a few miles, Sri Vittal Rao (on Baba’s left) asked me, “Hislop, why were you staring at Swami like that?”
Instead of answering, I directed a question to Baba, “Swami, what was that blue colour?”
He replied, “Oh! That? Whenever there is something of unfathomable depth, it appears deep blue.”
That was the end of the conversation about the incident. Naturally, the thought had come to mind that maybe this was Lord Krishna, but neither then, nor at any time in connection with this experience, did I ever mention Krishna to Baba.
There the matter rested until November, 1975. ….
One day, shortly before Birthday, Swami called a family for Interview. Hislop also was called. Swami spent some time talking to the family ad then turned to Hislop. Over now to Hislop for that part of the story:
After a while, Baba said to me, “Hislop, tell them about your experiences.”
I complied and, after mentioning some incidents, I told them the same story [about seeing a deep blue face]. … The man was deeply impressed and words broke from his lips, “Oh! That had to be Lord Krishna!”
Baba smiled and said, “Yes, that was Krishna; not the Krishna pictured by artists and imagined by writers. I showed Hislop the REAL KRISHNA.”
Hislop was clearly a specially chosen one for he had many wonderful experiences like few have been blessed to have. Here is Hislop’s description of one of them that helped him to eventually see Swami everywhere.
After I had been going to Prasanti Nilayam for about three years, coming back to America, as I got off the plane, I felt that Swami’s head and shoulders were superimposed on mine. I felt that way. I was aware of the hair. So I said, “Well, welcome to America, Swami!” That feeling lasted for three years. Every place I would go, there would be Swami standing in the room. When I would talk to people at the Centre, Swami would be standing behind every person in that room! Behind every person would be Swami’s head. When I look at the wall there would be a row of Swamis standing along the wall. That vision finally came to an end, and I told Swami, “Swami, that phenomenon has come to an end now.” Swami said, “Hislop, don’t you know that all phenomena come to an end?” He added, “You have had that vision of Swami without any effort on your part whatsoever. Now you have to deliberately see Swami wherever you look!” So I do that.
Here is another of those unique Hislop-experiences:
One time, Swami went to Madras and arrived unexpectedly at the house of His hostess. You know, when the Avatar come to visit your house, I am sure you would want to have something with which to greet Him – some flowers or a tray of food or something to the welcome the Lord to your house. That was the case with this hostess too.
Swami came to the door and knocked. The hostess answered, saw Swami standing there, and exclaimed, Oh Swami, Swami, I am so happy to see You. But Swami, You didn’t tell me that you were coming, and I don’t have anything to welcome you with. I don’t have flowers or fruit. I don’t have anything.” The poor lady was quite distraught. So Swami said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” Then He turned around and beckoned at the car.
Out of the car came two angels with wings, carrying a big silver tray, loaded with fruit and flowers and everything the hostess would need to welcome Swami. The angels brought this tray up to the house and gave it to the hostess. Then Swami turned to the angels and waved them back to the car. They floated back to the car, folded their wings, got into the car, and disappeared!
Later on, as the years went by, Swami acquired another vehicle. He had a bus, and He would take the students for excursions in the bus. One time. He took them on an excursion to Madras.
First, He went to the house of the hostess, where He would be staying; the students would be staying someplace else. When the hostess came to the door and saw the busload of students, she went back inside her house and brought out the silver tray. It was still there, and she told the students the story of the angels with wings …..
After many years of wandering and unfulfilled yearning, Swami finally drew Hislop to Himself, granting him the blessing of Divine proximity. Hislop, for his part, took full advantage of the opportunity given, not for himself but for the sake of humanity. He became a roving ambassador, and through his talks as well his books [widely known justifiably], Hislop did yeoman service in spreading Sai’s Message far and wide. Even when afflicted by cancer, he did not hesitate to travel and speak about the Lord he had discovered. He says:
In this modern society, a dry and joyless life is the general experience. Witness the frantic search for distraction and pleasure the world over. An almost universal prayer springs up from adult persons caught up in today’s culture: O Lord, may there be a new season of Spring in my heart. May the river of Love flow deep and strong again in my heart!”
Here, to me, is one of the most wonderful miracles of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The fettered heart, turning to Baba, can break free from all bondage. Seeing Him, being sure that He will never abandon, is a most wonderful feeling. With joy, the heart responds to this trust. With each day, love for Baba grows stronger and stronger. He is the Divine Mother and the Divine Father to His devotee. One may love Him without reserve, without guard, without fear …….
Hislop constantly chanted Baba’s Name, right till the very end. As he gave up the mortal coil, friends gathered around him kept chanting the sacred OM, even as the soul journeyed to its eternal resting-place, the Divine Lotus Feet. Some time later, Swami asked an American devotee on the veranda, “Where is Hislop?” The devotee looked up, as if to signify that Hislop was in heaven. Baba then said, “He has come to Me. Good man; always thinking of and working for Swami.” There cannot be a better eulogy.