If we have many lifetimes on earth, and I feel sure we have hundreds, when does our conscious homeward journey begin? When do we realise for certain that we are homeward bound?
I think that for many, many lifetimes we are like the prodigal son in the parable, so engrossed in earthly pleasures, so seduced by the fleshpots of the world, that we forget altogether who we are and where we came from and hear no call from our heavenly home. The poet Wordsworth talks about heaven lying about us in our infancy, but he was writing about his own experience and I think he was on his last or his near last incarnation. Yet, inevitably, after centuries no doubt of the tough life on earth, every human soul begins to have dim memories, vague intimations, of that faraway, happy, Beulah Land where it had its beginnings before it became, for some mysterious reason, enmeshed in the long earthly adventure.
Something brings back to consciousness but very sweet memories of where we came from and where we really belong. As the memories grow stronger, perhaps after many more lifetimes, as prodigal son, we turn our faces and our footsteps towards our true home. We feel that the true joys are there, there is no suffering, and in that home is our own loving Father. In this homeward journey there are many obstacles, many diversions that may turn our feet in other directions and we may become lost again in the temptations of the world's fleshpots and we may fail to reach our home in that lifetime. Even great Yogis who are very near home, sometimes fall into temptations and are born again on the earth like the beautiful "vibhuti baby" that I saw one year at Prashanti Nilayam. Swami told us that this baby, who was oozing vibhuti from his skin, was, in fact, a fallen Yogi, but he was born near to the ashram of the Avatar and I understand that such advanced souls, who fall from grace in the last lap of their journey home, are always born into fortunate circumstances. (I tell the story of the "vibhuti baby" in one of my earlier books about Sai Baba.)
One sign that I believe shows that you are consciously homeward bound is when in your life no temptations can assail you and divert you because they all have a hollow ring; there is really one desire, one pull, and that is the glory that awaits you in the heavenly home. Some great teachers say that even when you reach the gates of your heavenly home, it is only by the grace of God that you, the returning prodigal, can enter its sacred portals. Perhaps this is indicated by the fact that in the fable the loving father goes out to meet and welcome his long-lost son, embracing him and leading him to the doorway of the home. Perhaps the truth, the need in grace at journey's end is also shown symbolically in Homer's Odyssey where the goddess Athena appears to Odysseus on the shores of his island home and affords him the great help without which he could never have entered his palace.
Only the great love and compassion of the divine Father can help us complete the journey. But, even though no temptation, no Calypso, no Circe has the power to divert us from our goal, there is always the chance that Poseidon may raise a great storm that will drive our homeward bound ship right off its course. The only thing we can do then is to keep a firm grip on the tiller and a clear eye on the compass and so guide the ship back on course where we will see again the Lights of Home shining over our bows and know we are heading for the home port. Remain steadfast and faithful and leave the rest to the grace of God.
It seems to me that in the lifetime that will lead to that homeward bound stretch, where we see the home port ahead, we can, in review, recognise the pattern of events that lead to the journey home. From childhood through to old age we can trace the rainbow through the rain of life, so to speak. That is why I start this book with some memoirs of early years.