26-BAL NATU (Chintamani Vishnu Bal Natu)
Bal Natu, one of Meher Baba's close disciples, first saw Baba in 1933, when Baba entered the railway compartment that 14 year-old Bal and his family were travelling in. Only later did Bal come to know that it was Meher Baba he had been travelling with. Bal wrote, "This occurrence was instrumental in kindling the desire to know more about Him."
As a teenager Bal Natu suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis and when his father died suddenly, Bal began to look to spirituality for relief. Bal Natu first began corresponding with Baba in 1943. In response to Bal's first postcard, Baba wrote that he could ask Him whatever he wanted. Instead of asking Him questions, Bal wrote back, "I wholeheartedly wish to learn the alphabet of spirituality at Your holy feet."
Bal next set eyes on Baba on the Nagpur railway platform before a darshan program in 1944. There, as Bal gazed adoringly at Baba's brilliant figure, a pickpocket stole his wallet and train ticket. "So when I met Baba I instantly became penniless and 'directionless,”
For Bal Natu, 25, this was his first opportunity to see Baba. He had been looking forward to having Baba's darshan for a year. Although his constitution was weak from tuberculosis, he had come to Nagpur from Kurduwadi just to be in Baba's proximity. Bal's love had brought him and he was rewarded.
Although Bal had traveled from Manmad in the same train as Baba, Bal's seat was in a different compartment. On the platform of the Nagpur railway station, when he saw how beautiful and splendid Baba looked, he totally "lost" himself. He felt as if enchanted. Observing him in this state, a thief picked his pocket, stealing his wallet and train ticket. When Baba left and Bal Natu came to his senses, he discovered his loss. He saw the ticket collector gathering tickets and wondered what he should do now. He was puzzling over the situation when someone patted him on the shoulder. Turning around he saw it was the ticket collector, but to his relief recognized the man as an old friend of his.
So, the first time Bal Natu had Baba's darshan, he lost not only himself but his belongings as well! He left the station after explaining the situation to his friend and stayed at Thakur's bungalow with the others.
During the journey in the train, those accompanying Baba told jokes; some sang songs and some recited stories to entertain him. Bal Natu, who was traveling with Baba again, this time with everyone else, had the sudden thought: "Why not sing a song for Baba?" At that very moment, Baba gestured to him to sing. Bal did, and thus obtained a firsthand experience of the Master's omniscience.
Once, Deshmukh and Bal Natu were also present that day. At one point Baba asked them to solve a riddle: "Even though I am all-knowing and I am in everything, there is one thing that I do not know. What is it?"
Deshmukh said, "When you, the Omnipotent, Omniscient One, do not know it, how can we human beings possibly know what it is?"
Baba gave this answer: "I do not know where I am not."
To join New Life, Bal Natu, the schoolteacher from Kurduwadi, was one who wrote "Yes." Bal had decided to give up his job to accompany Baba, but he had suffered from tuberculosis and, from a health standpoint, was not physically fit for such a life of hardships and privations. He was therefore freed from his decision.
Once, Bal Natu had brought a sadhu called Mauni Bua, who had taken a vow of silence and spent his time wandering about on pilgrimages. During his interview, Baba asked him: "Do you have lustful thoughts?" Writing on his chalkboard, Mauni Baba admitted that he did.
"Do you get angry?"
"Yes, very much so."
"Have you performed any lustful action?"
"Before I adopted silence, but not now."
"What do you want? God?"
"No, your grace."
"Will you do as I tell you?"
"Yes, I will."
"Think carefully before you promise."
"I will do so."
"Listen carefully. Eat meat twice a day and once a day drink a bottle of liquor."
"I haven't the [financial] provision."
"I will make the provision for you."
Mauni Baba hesitated and then wrote, "No, it will not be possible for me."
Baba explained, "Then you are not fit. Better to continue your pilgrimages for one year. Don't touch money. Eat only by begging. If you don't get anything, go without food. After a year, ask yourself whether you are prepared to obey Baba. If you are ready, come back to me. Otherwise, continue doing as you have been doing until you are prepared to obey Me, and then come."
On 4th April Baba was in Madras for Dussehra Program. He called Bal Natu and abruptly told him, “You will have liberation (Mukti) who was aware to get this benediction.
In 1948, Bal had received a letter from Adi K. Irani, in which Baba conveyed, "So far Baba's darshan contact is concerned, you have your contact directly established and, as Eruch, you have been given liberty to come for darshan anytime you like." Bal took full advantage of this, staying with Baba for extended periods in 1953 (travelling with Baba to Chennai and from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh and back), and twice travelling with Baba through Andhra in 1953 and '54. He visited Meherabad, Meherazad and, later, Guru Prasad whenever he could. During his summer stays, Baba directed Bal to take notes of the happenings at Guru Prasad.
Baba considered three men among the Yeswalas were not to go with Baba. Minoo Kharas, Pandora' and Bal Natu. Bal Natu was not keeping good health. Baba said, He should follow His old life. He sent him back, but considering his past history, he is in the category of Yeswalas."
Baba also called Bal Natu, and ordered him to repeat 1,400 times every 24 hours, from 3 to 12 November 1952, "O God! Baba asks You to give him strength in his Fiery Life!"
In the New Life, Baba was to go to Manjri Mafi from Benares, and was to contact many sadhus in Rishikesh. But for His own reasons, Baba did not wish to see Mauni Bua, and so Bal Natu was asked to go to Rishikesh and tell Mauni Bua to leave the area. Bal did so accordingly, informing Mauni Bua of Baba's wish.
Then Bal Natu saw Swami Shivananda, from whom he came to know about damage in transit to a parcel containing liquor bottles in 1942 and, coincidentally, Baba's supposed hurried departure from the place. Bal's faith in Baba remained unshaken and Shivananda could only attribute such faith and devotion to "black magic on Baba's part which had mesmerized" Bal. This false rumor spread in the whole of Rishikesh. In the land of the ancient rishis, such was the treatment given to the Avatar!
Bal Natu narrated the event to the ashram inmates in Baba's presence, and after he had finished Baba remarked to the secretary: "Up to now I have not come across a single true disciple in the whole world. Had I found one, he would have understood My divinity. In the whole world I am the only real disciple and all are My Masters. All my gurus are sitting here, even though I am the Ancient One."
He then addressed the ashram inmates: "I advise you to hold fast to Shivananda and carry out his instructions 100 percent. You have accepted him as your Master and so you should stick to him wholeheartedly."
Baba asked Shivananda if he recognized Bal Natu, with whom he had talked one night in 1949 and to whom he had repeated the rumor. Bal spoke about the meeting and Shivananda remembered the painful incident. Again with folded hands he told Baba, "Baba, I don't speak ill about anyone or anything — from an ant to an elephant — but I regret that my tongue slipped in making that remark."
Standing up, Baba motioned to the secretary to take him to Shivananda. Baba entered Shivananda's room with Eruch and Bal Natu. Shivananda was suffering from lumbago and could not rise from his bed. As asked by Baba, Eruch explained to him everything that had been said before the ashramites. Eruch then read this message from Baba: "Whether you have personally and directly or indirectly spread the false rumor, or whether others have done so in your name, I bow down to you with My love for your having been an instrument of help in My Universal spiritual work."
Baba laid His head on the Shivananda's feet and then, sitting down on his bed, began pressing his legs. Baba gestured to Eruch to repeat the message delivered in the hall, and it was read out again. Baba assured Shivananda, "Don't worry about anything."
With folded hands, Shivananda replied, "When I came to Rishikesh, people, including the sadhus of this place, began to spread nasty stories about me, too. Let us be unmindful of such groundless rumors."
In 1955, Baba showed His displeasure when Bal Natu asked him about some previous orders given to Mauni Bua. As punishment, Baba ordered Natu to sell 50 copies of Baba's childhood photo with his high school cricket team. He also asked Bal Natu to inform Mauni Bua to continue his silence until the end of July 1955. Baba later reduced the number of photographs to be sold by Natu to five.
Once, Baba entered the Meherabad Hall. He greeted everyone present, stating, "Those whom I did not embrace yesterday should now come forward to be embraced." Among those who lined up were Dr. Deshmukh and Bal Natu, who hoped for a second embrace. Baba embraced the former after pointing out to him that he had already been embraced the previous morning and refused to embrace the latter for the second time, remarking, "That way I will have to embrace one and all once again."
In 1958, on one occasion, Baba asked Bal Natu, "Are you taking notes of the proceedings, and if not, what are you doing?" Bal said that Pendu had utilized his services for something else. Baba gestured, "It is impossible to introduce one and all. All are true loving workers."
In 1959, Bal Natu, a schoolteacher, was also a resident at Guruprasad for several weeks during his summer vacation.
Baba would often ask Bal Natu to recite some well-known Sanskrit shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita such as "Ramaya Ramabhadrai," ("Salutations to Lord Ram") and as Krishna declared, "Yeda Yedahi Dharmasye" ("When the wick of righteousness burns low I descend") and "Shivohum, Shivohum!" ("I am Shiva!").
Once Baba was sitting in Guruprasad with the mandali. Also present were a few lovers from the Poona Center. Bal Natu had delivered a speech on Baba at the center, which all were praising. Baba commented, "Bal Natu is a gem, and see these two [pointing to Vishnu and Bhau], they are coal!"
In 1961, once, Bal Natu felt guilty for not literally obeying Baba's instructions and said, "Baba, permit me not to come from tomorrow." Baba replied, "Why? If you commit a theft even once, you are a thief. If you steal ten different times, you are still the same thief. So continue to come."
One afternoon, Bal Natu began laughing at Bhau, saying they did not like the words of the prayer he had composed. "Which prayer?" he asked, puzzled, and they told him."What sort of prayer is this?" Bal Natu taunted. "Could you not have chosen better examples than mosquitoes, bugs and gnats when describing God's sublime attributes?" They did not know that Baba himself had composed these lines, and Bhau said nothing in reply.
Disturbed when he met with Baba, Bhau asked whether he should change the prayer and use other words, explaining that people were laughing at it, mocking the choice of words. "Don't change a single word," Baba replied. "It is all right. You have no idea, no idea about the importance of this prayer. In the future, this prayer will be sung in homes throughout the world.
God Speaks contains many Sufi and Vedantic terms. In 1965, at Guruprasad, Baba was checking and correcting a glossary of God Speaks, which Lud Dimpfl had prepared. Bal Natu would read out every word and its meaning and, when required, Baba would correct a point. The glossary had been compiled with Baba's approval to aid the reader in distinguishing the terms.
During the 1960's, while Bal was visiting Meherazad, Baba called Bal into the Mandali Hall. Baba pointed to Bal and made the sign for "cracked," saying that he was "mad". Bal said, "Yes, Baba whatever you say." Baba then called in a few of the mandali and gestured again that Bal was "cracked" and He then added, "But there is a place for you here." In later years, Bal often told people, "Baba left me as an example that He is for the most ordinary of people." And then he often added, "And the mad too!" Bal summed it up by saying, "I am neither an aspirant, nor a follower, a lover, or a disciple - I am one of His children. And of one thing I am sure, He has accepted me."
Bal's days were filled with writing projects, keeping up with correspondence, Trust Office visits, greeting and sharing with pilgrims in the Mandali Hall or Record Room, preparing cards and books for free distribution, reading aloud, and so on. Throughout the day, Bal was with Baba and took different things, such as the watch beep or the bell's clang, as reminders of Baba's presence. At the sound, Bal would raise his index finger, "Right!" and sometimes that was the deciding factor if we were editing a passage of Conversations, for example, and had to choose between two ideas.
Bal Natu told of his life, it struck how many varied phases he passed through during his 84 years. For example, he had grown up as a devout Brahmin, but broke with tradition to follow a "Zoroastrian Master," and though a villager at heart, he ended up giving up the use of dhoti (traditional Maharashtrian wrap-around pants) and donned instead his own signature style of clothing. Bal also had a habit of wearing multiple layers of clothes. About this habit, his long-time maintenance-free friend, Steve Klein, (who helped Bal in his writing of the Glimpses and all his subsequent books), recounts: "When asked about his layered-look, Bal explained that it wasn't so much to keep him warm, but to make him look bigger because otherwise people would worry when they realized how thin he actually was." Bal taught himself English by reading Baba's books. He was the first to incorporate the use of computers at Meherazad, and his conversations were a very innovative way of sharing with readers his inner relationship with God. Bal took a great interest in anything that was creative, inspired, and intuitive, and encouraged many people to pursue their heart's calling.
Bal was very caring, thoughtful and humble. He was also very sensitive and attuned to the environment around him. If he read some particularly disturbing piece of news in the paper, he might go to the Samadhi and offer a garland for that person. One of his friends wrote: "Balaji was a walking Heart, a generous fountain of Baba's smiling love."
Bal was often suffering from some physical ailment or another and would openly call on Baba to relieve him. Because Bal trusted that Baba's plan for him was perfect, he ever remained resigned to His will despite his challenging condition. He shared with others this favorite quote, "No one suffers because of a neglectful God. One builds one's own body by one's past and present thoughts and deeds. Creation contains no accident or injustice. That which appears as physical misfortune is but the love of God operating in a concealed manner, providing special experience needed by the afflicted. When that particular experience had served its purpose, the appearance of misfortune will be no more...." (From Blessed Among Women) In the same light he liked to share this rhyming poem of his:
Bal Natu was very funny. His sense of humor may not have been a trademark quality, but those who knew him could not miss his quirky ways of looking at life. His poker-faced witticism often had us laughing. Bal was expert at sharing stories where he starred as the fool, but Baba's humor was always center-stage. Which one should we tell? The one where Bal cheated at marbles and thought the All-Knowing One wouldn't catch him; or when Bal offered Baba a gift of a dried leaf to test whether He was for all, even the poor; or the one where Bal, while trying to carry out Baba's order, goes through many adventures including swallowing tea leaves because he didn't know how to strain them out; or the time when Baba ordered Bal to use a book He had given him as a pillow because Bal wouldn't stop questioning Baba on the matter. While telling any of these tales, Bal would wholeheartedly join in the fun, tickled by his own silliness.
One of Bal's other habits that made for a lot of fun, was his delight in seeing the synchronicity in happenings and attributing worth to all meetings of chance, small "lucky" incidents and the like. He called these Baba coincidences (a word that has 3 C's in it) "CCCs," or he might simply say, "See, See, See!" whenever such a "happening" occurred.
Bal authored the Glimpses of the God-Man, Vol. I-VI and the Conversations with The Awakener series, as well as, The Samadhi, Star of Infinity. He also compiled four books of others' Baba stories entitled, Our Constant Companion, When He Takes Over, Showers of Grace, and Tales of Meher Baba's Love. These books have touched the hearts of Baba lovers the world over.
Being involved with Bal's writing projects was a delight because Bal included all the opinions of those helping in a very loving way. He made us feel that what we thought was of great value and he gave worth to everyone's thoughts about Baba. He was able to clearly stick to what he wanted expressed without hurting the feelings of others. Bal had an uncanny attention to accuracy and gave importance to even the smallest of details. At times when we were working on a particular piece of writing, we might find Bal ready when we arrived in the morning with an intricate note of his thoughts on a certain section that he had mulled over through the night, coming up with the perfect solution. Even after giving it so much thought he would still entertain others' input and would accept small changes if he thought it improved the concept or delivery.
What an amazing gift Bal gave the world by sharing his heart's conversations with his Beloved, the Awakener. Bal wrote that the source of his Conversations with The Awakener was the One residing in each one's being -- unconditional Love. In this way, by not mentioning Meher Baba's name, Bal's writing about his relationship with God became accessible to a wide range of people of different faiths. (Bal explained that his CONVERSATIONS were his play with the Awakener's presence and not strictly biographical
About his writing, Bal said with characteristic modesty and humor, "I myself even marvel at the number of works that the 'Bal pen' has written. And though the ink ran out of the original ball [point] pen that Baba gave me in 1967, the 'creative ink' that Baba inwardly gave me is still flowing." The creative ink really was still flowing in Bal right up to his last days. Even a week before his death he finalized one of his last Conversations and put the finishing touches on a number of accounts of his time with Baba at Guru Prasad, where he spent his summer months over the span of a decade.
Baba also gave Bal a pen in a dream he had in 1979. (About his dreams Bal wrote: "Beloved Baba has been guiding me through dreams since 1944.") Bal wrote: "On March 9, 1979, at Meherazad in Room No. 3, I had a dream about Baba. In the dream, He asked me for a copy of Glimpses, and also a pen. Baba was sitting on a cot. He made me sit near Him. I handed Him Glimpses and while giving Him a pen I said, 'Baba, this is the best pen, "Paper-Mate."' Baba smiled and signed MSI before the title Glimpses. At that time I was using a blue 'Paper-Mate' pen. After the dream, I continued to use it and preserved it as Baba's gift. To me it's a sign, that He approved my writing of Glimpses."
Throughout his life with Baba, as a way of concentrating on Him, Bal used to read each and every book by and about Baba. At the same time, he prepared an annotated, chronological log of the events of Meher Baba's life and His messages given for the year with meticulous source citation. This hobby of collecting material related to Beloved Baba was the foundation for many of his later writing works. This also made Bal the amazing resource that he was, many referred to him as a Baba encyclopedia.
After Bal retired from teaching in 1977, he moved to Meherazad and was one of the first to take a very keen interest in documenting the "new" Baba lovers' tales of coming to Baba after January 31st, 1969. He kept records of hundreds of people's narratives, compiled four books of such stories, and would recount these tales in the Mandali Hall. He called these "B (for Baba) vitamins," saying that hearing such stories renewed his body, mind, and heart. Bal was especially touched by the "marvelous ways that Baba awakened their hearts." He told us that he believed everyone's story and experience of Baba; and being with Bal, we too believed.
On Meherazad days and off hours, Bal was a wonderful host to the pilgrims who would come from all over India and foreign lands to visit Baba's home. For many years Bal was affectionately known as the "verandah man" and would sit for hours with pilgrims who may have been too shy or unfamiliar with Meherazad to venture elsewhere.
On Meherazad days, Bal was especially attuned to the language needs of Indian Baba lovers and was very conscientious to make them feel welcome when talks or programs were in English. Bal had long been a Marathi liaison, and when with Baba, he often read out the Marathi correspondence to Him and sent Baba's replies. His command and breadth of knowledge of Marathi was profound, and throughout the years he served to further many people's understanding of the language. Not only was Bal an incredible source of knowledge of Marathi, but he also had an immense understanding of Sanskrit, especially complex, esoteric vocabulary. Bal also encouraged and took great interest in having Baba literature, as well as his own writings, translated into various languages. At the same time, Bal would share how Baba conveyed, "God does not listen to the language of the tongue, nor the language of the mind, He responds to the language of the heart."
When the pilgrims came in most recent years, even when Bal was feeling quite low, he would go out to meet and greet his old and new friends in Baba. He took particular interest in and care for those who were coming for the first time to "Meher Town." He might call them into the Record Room and have a semi-private chat with them, sharing stories that always seemed to put people at ease, often saying, "Don't get influenced by anyone, even me. It is Meher Baba who has brought you here. He will guide you. Follow the promptings of your heart." Bal's gentle charm and soft manner helped many to feel at home in Baba's Home. "He so intuitively picked up on first-time pilgrims' feelings, putting into words exactly what they were feeling at the exact moment they were feeling it," wrote one friend.
When answering questions Bal would sometimes tease the questioner by saying, "As soon as you ask, I will already have the answer." Astounded, the person might ask, "How is that?" thinking perhaps that Bal was psychic. "Simple," Bal would say, "My answer is 'I don't know.'" In a similar way, Bal would never get too personal with his many friends, saying, "I am a friend to many, but intimate with only One." He would tell all about his "PPP" guideline that referred to topics he preferred not to discuss. That is, things personal, matters of penny (money) and policy. He explained to us that Baba had instructed him not to get involved in the personal matters of others. Even though Bal didn't know the personal details of his friends' lives (and maybe even because of this!), he was one of the most caring and accepting friends we will ever know.
Bal liked to say that Baba had blessed him this life with many friends. Bal's "attitude of gratitude" for his many friends and helpers was one of the reasons his charm was so magnetic. He had a loyal fan club that he affectionately called the "Bal team," of which he was also a member. There are too many members of the team to list here, but we can't fail to mention the support he appreciated over the years from his dear friends Steve Klein, Mark Keller, and Pat Sumner.
Bal became a Trustee in 1975 and would travel in the car with Eruch, Mani, and Rano to the Office a number of times a week. As a Trustee, a few of the areas under Bal's supervision were scholarship allocation for poor students, Marathi correspondence, and helping organize different aspects of Amartithi, such as putting out the circular, having it translated and published in the different periodicals, contacting foreign pilgrims, and organizing Amartithi volunteers. During Amartithi days, Bal would travel from site to site checking that all was running smoothly and in particular enjoyed the company of his Indian friends, his dear brothers, and his extended family. During the silence on January 31st he could always be found sitting underneath the tree to the left of the Samadhi - one of his favorite quiet spots.
Although Bal's last year was marked by serious physical problems, he made great efforts to stay active and healthy, and six months after his January 2003 surgery, he began again to share for fifteen minutes or so in the Mandali Hall once a week. He also regained full use of his right arm and hand (thanks to the treatment, therapy, and care of many loving hands and hearts!) that had been paralyzed by stroke and learned again to sign his name. He then took great care to legibly sign the inscriptions he personally crafted for each recipient of the books he gave in Baba's Love. A few weeks before his last surgery, Bal was even reminding us when it was time for his walks on the verandah, and he started sitting again on his favorite bench in the garden.
Bal felt fortunate to have been able to visit Baba's Samadhi in the days preceding his last surgery. Because of his ill health he had not been well enough to visit in over a year. On this occasion, September 24th 2003, he was also paying his respects in memory of his dear younger brother, Madhav, who had recently passed away. Bal distributed pedha sweets to all and was overjoyed to "place his head at his Beloved's feet" once more. Later we felt amazed at Baba's perfect timing. Bal's special feelings about Baba's final resting place have been immortalized in his book, THE SAMADHI, STAR OF INFINITY. We include here one of his more recent sharing’s about the Samadhi:
Bal went to the hospital in Ahmednagar on the 29th of September for a second surgery due to bowel obstruction. (Bal suffered from intestinal problems for decades.) Though the surgery was a success, post operatively he suffered a heart attack and contracted a respiratory infection. Despite the intense pain he was suffering and his disorientation from anesthesia, Bal remained as thoughtful as ever, reminding his caregivers to take care of themselves and to, "Be happy." Throughout Bal's last week, he spent most of his time repeating Baba's name continuously whenever he was awake.
On October 4th, while still in the hospital, Bal asked his long time caregiver, Shelley Marrich, "Can't we stop all medicines?" Because of Bal's deteriorating condition and his wish to cease treatment, we all felt that it was clearly time to go home to Meherazad. Once this decision was made, Bal's mood changed completely. He was buoyant and laughing with an open smile. Even in his frail state, there was nothing that did not tickle him. Bal seemed overjoyed to be returning to Meherazad, and his happiness thrilled us all. Bal even participated in the packing up of his hospital room by directing us to turn on the lights and to get boxes from the nurses. After we arrived at Meherazad, his relief to once again be in the Record Room in Baba's home was touching, and marked the beginning of his real journey Home.
Bal had expressed many times over the past year of illness, his wish that Baba take him. He wrote, "When I breathe my last breath as destined by Baba, my divine Father and Mother, it will be the happiest moment of my lifetimes." This made it easier for those who loved him to start making the transition toward Bal's departure from the scene.
Throughout October 6th, Bal appeared to be in a deep sleep. What Bal had been longing for with all his heart was finally coming to pass, that his eyes go inward so that, "from now on I can only live to see Him." In the early hours of the 7th, he opened his eyes for the last time with a few friends gathered around him. We felt it was a gift from Baba to feel Bal "with" us once more. It was as if Bal was pouring out love from his eyes, giving us a window into what else he must have been seeing at the time, beyond the room and us in it. Within minutes, at 1:20 a.m., as we were quietly repeating Baba's name, Bal peacefully stopped breathing and passed Home to His Beloved.
We noted the significance of October 5th (the day after Bal returned to Meherazad), since in 1949 Bal had arrived penniless on this very day at Meherabad to join the New Life. Interestingly, Bal was the last of the "Yeswalas" from the New Life. In his own handwritten timeline about what transpired in October 1949, Bal had written for October 7th: "Baba's visit." He meant Baba's visit to Meherabad of course, but for us it held special meaning of Baba visiting Meherazad on that day 54 years later to take Bal Home unto Himself.
After his cremation, Bal's ashes were sprinkled at his favorite places around Meherabad and Meherazad.
In all ways, Bal prepared for his death long before his passing. Perhaps he did this in response to a couplet that Baba dictated for him in 1959:
"If you want to live, live life in such a way that Life itself is completely satisfied, and Die in such a way that you scare Death itself."