Sri Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 14 (1978 - 80)
The Kerala Onam

IT is the bounden duty of bhakthas (devotees) to preserve and protect the rich culture and heritage of this country which has been the birth place of many great spiritual leaders, and whose past is resplendent with the glory of prowess in music, arts and science. Alas, this glorious land of Bharath (Mother India) is now bedevilled with problems which are mostly the result of ego, jealousy, hatred and selfishness. Only by removing such traits can the glorious past of this great land again be brought back to life. The story of the festival Onam, is that of Bali Chakravarthi, who was an embodiment of thyaga (sacrifice), but who suffered from traces of ahamkara (egoism). However due to the predominance of other virtues, Bali was even able to overcome the ill-effects of ahamkara and bury it deep in hell through the grace of Lord Vishnu, who appeared before him in the form of a vatu (Brahmin ascetic) named Vamana.
Bali proved himself far superior to Indhra
Bali was dedicated to rule his subjects by the observance of and strict adherence to the principles of dharma. He was the son of Virochana and the grandson of Prahladha. So it is not surprising that Bali possessed rich traditional qualities of bhakthi. Once after obtaining the permission of his Guru Shukracharya, Bali wanted to perform a great yaga (sacrifice) called Vishwajith. Vishwam means the totality of pancha bhuuthas (five elements), pancha indhriyas (five senses) and pancha koshas (five regions or sheaths) of the human body). It is the victory over such a vishwam which the word Vishwajith symbolizes. Indhra is so called because he is ruler of the indhriyas (senses), and the ruler of the indhriyas in man is the manas (mind). The nature of the interplay of indhriyas is such that it is possible to gain as well as to lose through it. Indhra wanted to rule Heaven, but Bali wanted nothing of the sort. Indhra used to propitiate and beg Vishnu in order to achieve what he desired, but Vishnu Himself descended in the form of Vamana to beg from Bali. Thus Bali proved himself to be far superior to Indhra.
Vamana belonged to the famous Sidhashram which was founded by Kashyapa (representing purusha or man) and Adhithi (representing the feminine Prakrithi or Nature). It is through the union of this Purusha and Prakrithi that the progeny known as Siddhi (in the form of Vatu), the embodiment of Vishnu thathwa, was born. The Sidhashram was located on the banks of a sacred river called Pavithra, which represents life. Siddhi will always be found on the banks of flowing life whenever the bhava shuddhi (purity of mind) and chiththa shuddhi (purity of heart) predominate in man. It is due to the fact that all sankalpas (resolutions) could be realised at this sacred ashram that it has come to be known as Sidhashram. Vishwamithra, after the successful completion of his yaga with the help of Rama and Lakshmana, brought them to reside at this ashram for some time. It was at this ashram, too, that Bali attained moksha (liberation).
The spreading of Vishnu thathwam (nature of Vishnu) is known as Thrivikrama thathwam (nature of Vishnu expanding to the three worlds). The aspect of Trivikrama thathwam is represented by the Gayathri manthra: 'Bhur Bhuvaha.' The Bhuuloka Bhuvarloka and Suvarloka constitute the Thrivikrama thathwam. It is wrong to conceive of these three lokas (worlds) as existing one on top of the other and thus capable of being reached by climbing a ladder, as it were. In fact the three lokas are intertwined with each other and one exists within the other.
Real meaning of the 'three worlds'
The real meaning of this kind of geometrical configuration of the three lokas is that the pancha indhriya, pancha bhuuthas and pancha koshas (five senses, elements and sheaths) aspects of man's dheha (body), is Bhuuloka; the aspect of prana shakthi or manas thathwam is Bhuvarloka; and the microscopic state of Anandham (bliss) represents Suvarloka. So it can be said that the three worlds, Bhuuloka, Bhuvarloka and Suvarloka, are nothing but the dheha thathwa, manas thathwa and Anandha thathwa (essential nature of body, mind and bliss) respectively and the totality of these three represents the Thrivikrama thathwa. Again, these three aspects of Thrivikrama thathwa can be understood in terms of the three states of an individual, viz., the one you think you are, the one others think you are and the one you really are. Hence only by proper sadhana can one transcend from Bhuuloka through Bhuvarloka to Suvarloka. The attainment of Suvarloka is known as moksha (liberation), and it represents the stage of complete mergence with the Lord. Since it is a state where the aspect of moha (attachment) is made to disintegrate, it is known as moksha (moha+kshyam, mokshyam).
Remember Bali by practising his ideals
Bali was an embodiment of thyaga (renunciation) and he personified the aspects of dhathru thathwam (principle of charity) and dharma thathwam (righteousness). Since Onam is a festival day to be celebrated in memory of the re-appearance of Bali in his suukshma ruupa (microscopic subtle form), it is imperative for everyone to remember and practise the ideals for which he stood when he was alive. It should be remembered that Bali, as portrayed above, should be visiting us every day and not just once a year. But we forget this because in our daily life we leave ample room for the cultivation of undesirable traits such as greediness, selfishness and egoism, which in present-day man are reaching gigantic proportions. It is precisely due to this kind of a situation that the world periodically gets plunged into wars. Bali's life-message is that the above mentioned traits in man should be eliminated at all costs, thus rendering the heart pure for the Lord to reside in it.
Another important aspect of Bali's life is his demonstration of the fact that the quality of thyaga (selfless sacrifice) should be an integral part of one's karma (actions). All beings perform actions, but only man, if he so desires, can act, making sacrifice an integral component of his actions. Again, the existence of this trait in man is possible because of his ability to think and reflect. Unfortunately man uses these God-given faculties to enunciate theories and to preach, but never to practise what is preached.
Sacrifice everything and attain liberation
Thousands of Onams have come and gone and people have been preaching for years as to what Onam signifies. Yet the heart of man remains impure. Bali practised what he preached, whereas his revered Guru, Shukracharya, did not, as was evident when he intervened to stop Bali from giving away everything that he possessed to Vamana. Preaching and practising are like the two eyes. Since Shukracharya only preached and did not practise, his one eye was symbolically made ineffective. A man with a dual mind is half blind. In our lives we must be Balls and not Shukracharyas. We should realise that in order to get one thing, something else must be sacrificed.
Bali demonstrated through his thyaga swabhava (sacrificing nature) that if one sacrifices everything, one will attain moksha (liberation). The real sacrifice involves two things: First, to realise the cause of our bondage in this life, and second, to sever this bondage. Man mistakenly thinks that wealth, a family etc., are his bondages, and that by severing connections with them he will be able to sacrifice everything and become eligible to attain Moksha. But these are not the real bondage of man. His real bondage is his ignorance in identifying himself with his body. He who cuts off this bondage as Bali did, will attain moksha. For cutting off this bondage a purification of the heart is very necessary. Purification of the body with soap and water and by applying perfume does not result in the purification of the mind. In this Kaliyuga, namasmarana (constant remembrance of God) is the easiest way to purify one's mind; and surrendering to God with a pure mind is the surest way to attain moksha. Bali offered two of his three aspects, namely, adhi bhowthikam (his body) and adhi dhaivikam (his life), for two feet of space demanded by Vamana. As for the third foot of space required by Vamana, Bali offered his adhyathmika (soul) aspect to the Lord, thus surrendering to Him completely. That is why the Lord placed His third step on the heart of Bali and pushed him into Hell, thus completely pushing all trace of Bali's ego into the bottom-most layers of the Universe. Bali was thus delivered from the bondage of birth and death.
The essence of the message of Onam
The word Bali has another meaning, which is, charge for service rendered, or tax. We pay money to the department which supplies water, knowing fully well that it is not responsible for the creation of the water. But what charges are we paying to the Creator of water? Nothing. Yet we wish to get His Grace. How is it possible to get His Grace without giving bali or sulkam (tax)? The tax which the Lord expects is devotion and purity of heart. This is the essence of the message of Onam. Onam is not to be treated as a festival which comes once a year, but as an event, the message of which should become a way of life for everyone. The three events which Onam symbolizes should always be kept clear in one's mind: (i) The Incarnation of Lord Vishnu as the Vatu (ii) The attainment of moksha by Bali and, (iii) The Anthardhanam (mergence) of Bali with the Lord.
Every man is engaged in searching for something lost. Life is the chance afforded to him to recover the peace and the joy that he had lost, when last he was here. If he recovers them now, he need not come again. But, he loses them through ignorance of their value and of the means of retaining them.
If only he would stay. in the consciousness of Shivoham - "I am Shiva; I am immortal, I am the source and spring of Bliss" - he would be supremely content; but, instead of this correct evaluation of himself, this recognition of his innate reality, man goes about weeping at his helplessness, his inadequacy, his poverty, his evanescence.
This is the tragic fate from which man has to be rescued.
– Sathya Sai Baba
Selected Excerpts From This Discourse