National Devotion Activities during the Pandemic
With the world afflicted by the Coronavirus pandemic and everyone isolated in their homes, all devotional activities in Sathya Sai Centers across the USA moved to a virtual setting in March 2020. At the National level, under the Devotion wing, two activities were implemented: daily chanting of the Sai Gayatri and the presentation of an online inspirational series, Unite and Uplift.
Leading up to the 40 days before Aradhana Day, the Sai Gayatri chanting was held each day from 8 –12 PM EDT. This activity, by phone, allowed individuals to listen to and recite the sacred chant from their homes. Numerous people from around the country joined this effort, regularly sharing in the benefits of collective prayer for the entire world.
The Unite and Uplift online series also provided comfort and solace to people who may have felt constrained by days of sheltering in place. The forum had different speakers, panels and inspirational sessions aimed to help listeners connect with Sai’s message and uplift everyone’s spirit. The sessions featured eminent speakers well-known to the Sai family, amongst them Dr. Sunder Iyer, Mr. Sai Surendranath, Dr. Hymon Johnson and Dr. Narendranath Reddy. They gave advice on how to stay positive and find strength when the media was flooded with harrowing stories about the increased number of COVID-19 cases. Each shared several personal anecdotes from their time spent in Sathya Sai Baba's physical presence.
A panel consisting of medical professionals shared their personal journey in the Sathya Sai International Organization (SSIO) through service in the field of medicine, and addressed questions and concerns on the current pandemic. Another panel comprising mental health professionals gave some timely guidance on how to deal with the stress of isolation and maintain one’s mental health.
One of the weeks featured an energetic panel of Young Adults who shared how they are using the current social distancing to focus on working on their internal selves. Another week, YAs discussed Envirocare and their deep commitment to several go-green initiatives.
There were also a few panels made up of alumni of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning who delighted the audience with their music or their experiences with Sathya Sai Baba. Audiences came away uplifted by these sessions, reminiscent of the rejuvenation one feels after attending a Sai retreat. For recordings of the session, please click here.
Around the country, people adapted to the online sessions through either participating in devotional singing sessions, Study-Circle sessions or listening to inspiring speakers online. The Study-Circle sessions saw novel technology tools employed such as slides, videos and online polls. They also allowed various Sathya Sai Centers around the country to share Study-Circle facilitators. Many Centers experienced an increase in attendance as the online sessions allowed some devotees to participate who otherwise might not have been able to attend in-person meetings.
Finally, regions that normally hold their annual retreat in May jointly hosted a Virtual Retreat on May 23-24, 2020, allowing them to share resources and an expanded pool of speakers to create a very uplifting event. Virtual programming enabled the retreat to reach a wider audience and engage prominent international speakers from around the globe, amongst them Leonardo Gutter (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and Dr. Suma Rao (Anantapur, India). To view the proceedings of the multi-region retreat , please click here.
Even though the pandemic led to several changes in the lives of many externally, it blessed SSIO members with opportunities to enrich their spiritual lives internally. Through spending time as a family, contemplating on the messages of Sathya Sai Baba, SSIO members prevailed by becoming more inspired individuals with an increased willingness to serve the needs of their community. Srikanth Vaidyanathan, the U.S. National Devotion Coordinator, noted that despite the pandemic, “Swami blessed us all to come together, with His grace, during His 95th birth year. It was beautiful to be able to hear so many inspiring talks without any physical commute. We all felt truly uplifted.”