"In all religions there are universal human values . . . the importance of prayer, the need for worship, the principle of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, and the cultivation of love for all beings. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews each have their own mode of prayer, but what all are seeking is the Grace of God." Sathya Sai Baba
Among friends he moves very slowly and gracefully, like an Akido master, or the most relaxed and attentive person in the world. (In fact he looks more like a man in his forties than the 72 years he carries.) He always dresses in the robes of renunciation common to India, ever spotless in appearance, walking with such balance as if floating across the ground. He is quite unusual looking in one respect, however- sometimes in photos his black hair looks densely compact, like an African warrior, and other times like a wild and woolly hippie... About that hair, well, yes sometimes it does look like something out of the sixties in American cities, and is unlike any other modern Indian's hairstyle. Sai Baba has an `Afro'. Many have mocked him for that hairstyle, but few know the Afro conceals the criss-cross of deep surgical scars over his entire scalp, inflicted by a village `healer' when he was 13, which resulted in patches of hair falling out from nerve damage, never to regrow. He says that if a guest saw those scars on first meeting him, they might be repulsed, or weep, and so he hides the scars with that mop of hair. There is another reason for that hairstyle, but more of that later.
Hilda Charlton, who was a disciple of Nityananda until He sent her to Sai, lived at the ashram in the 60's. She once teased Swami that his hair was way too bizarre, and he asked her to fetch scissors and cut it to look `proper'. She got the scissors, and saw those scars. Being polite she did not mention them, but instead went on to cut his hair, only to find pair after pair of scissors repeatedly breaking in her hands. His hair was just too strong
Sri Sathya Sai Baba lives in the village he was born in, far from any major city. At his birth it was a tiny village like one which folks might think of as Gandhi's `India'... no running water, no electricity, no phones, everyone knows everyone else. I was a big city boy, and so had no desire to ever visit such a place. Anyway, when I first heard of him in 1980, I looked up that village on the map, and could not find it. Thus I thought Sathya Sai Baba was just a fable, perhaps like Lobsang Rampa.
Still, although that village has now been visited by tens of millions of people from around the world, many well-read spiritual people have never even heard Swami's name, much less the name of that small village in India.
Even Mother Teresa had associates working to raise funds for her mission. But Swami, as Sai is respectfully called, neither asks for, nor in any way encourages, contributions or press coverage of any kind. Maybe that is one reason so few folks have heard of him. Oh certainly from time to time the press mentions him, but not by his request, and besides, usually the reports are second or third hand. (When celebrities or high government persons visit him, they are usually mentioned while Sai is just secondary.) So too, while there are more than a hundred videos about him, for the most part those favoring him are more like home-movies, made by guests for their own purposes, not by Swami's request-- or are professional films or journalistic reports made by carpers who insist he must be a sham, as if no one could possibly be as kind or as able as swami is reported to be.
Many seek him out and find daily crowds around him numbered in the hundreds. Some came to examine, others to make a deal, still others to simply see him. Now on any given day the crowds number in the tens of thousands. On special days, like his birthday or a festival day, there may be literally millions of people in that little out of the way village. On such occasions, he often multiplies whatever food is at hand, feeding and housing all guests free of charge.
Miracles like that get attention, right? No. After a few such encounters with Swami, it is the common experience of his students that one focuses more on the teaching than any miracle. In fact the real marvel is that because there are so many marvels around Sai Baba, one no longer marvels at miracles.
If so, then how is it so few folks have heard of him? After all anyone purported to perform miracles would get publicity worldwide, right? One would think so, and yet Sai has been actively performing what countless witnesses affirm are genuine miracles, and he has been doing so in public and private for more than 57 years, yet for the most part he is unknown to the majority of the world's populace. Apparently he likes it that way, since he shows no interest whatsoever in the media nor in those who are interested only in miracles, but instead asks well-wishers to not so much as speak of him to those who have no interest in the spiritual life he examples.
Devotees who have found him usually refer to Sathya Sai Baba as either Swami (which means Master, meaning one who has mastered his own nature) or as Baba, which is a term of respect in India and implies one holds him as a loving father. (In India, it is a custom for a child to bow to his or her parents, and touch their feet. Many do this with a holy person, and Sai sometimes permits a devotee to do so).
Swami's birthname is Sathyanarayana Raju, and his family is of the Kshatriya caste, the warrior class (-although many Brahmin devotees are now mouthing it about he was `really' born into a Brahmin family). As is common around all unusual personalities, rumors abound, good and bad, hyperboles for and against rise up and are spread by well wisher and critic alike... so while it is hard to confirm all those stories due to the sheer number and variety, it is easy to ignore them. Swami often advises exactly that: just ignore unconfirmed second-hand stories, good or bad.
Sometimes however doubters as well as admirers do regard Sai not so much as an advisor or an ideal, but as an idol and some superstitious folks do talk about him as if he is a god, such as Siva or Dattatreya. Some intelligent people even worship Sai – as - The Lord God Almighty. Frankly that kind of personal worship put me off at first, but I have since found that the word GOD means different things in different cultures to different people, and so I now try to not judge any other person's devotion, as long as it harms no one. (That `harms no one' part is key).
Westerners raised in Islam, Christianity or Judaism are well aware of the danger in idol worship, and often express alarm at any sign of it. Yet I find that even deeply religious folks are by and large unaware of the purpose of sacraments, statues, symbols and ritual within any religious context, including their own. I see how folks seem to be worshiping a person or an object they call GOD, yet I sense they mean something deeper than mere appearances.
Just as Christians readily accept the parables of Jesus as tools to describe what is essentially a Divine Secret, so too do other cultures readily accept such parables in stone (what some call "idols"). After I studied various differing cultural attitudes to God, I found that the acceptance of idols is not a reduction of the Divine into inert objects or a physical body, just as Christianity or Judaism is not a reduction of Jehovah into curious stories or a piece of wood. Rather, each culture uses a familiar tool as a means of expressing what is essentially the unspeakable Mystery of God.
Many such idolized figures hold keys to wisdom: Mary holding the baby Jesus; the star and crescent moon; Hanuman bowing to Sita Ram; an orange robe, or an empty cross-- all offer clues to the Divine Presence when clarity blossoms. Just as Christ chose to speak plainly in parables to His disciples, so too these Speeches in Stone, these idols, speak loud and clear to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. It is not the outer form- not the story or idol or person that is worshiped; it is the meaning inside that is adored.
All such gentle reminders of this inner awareness is water in the desert to those who seek active, not idle, worship. For those who have experienced that thirst, Sri Sathya Sai Baba offers them genuine and lasting solace. I have seen him advise those who worship Christ to do so in full faith, even as he tells those who worship idols to do so in full faith, since he is aware that God is in the Person of Jesus and in the idol, but GOD is never limited, and so is never limited to only those forms. I think those who do worship Sai Baba, do so because they see their idea of God embodied in him, and by God they mean the Absolute Divine, not a physical body. (He often reminds folks that his body is just like ours, and it will die). I think devotees are alluding to his character rather than his body when they refer to him as GOD.
I have talked to folks who say they see him as Krishna, and others who say he is the Buddha, and others who say he is Satan Incarnate, while others affirm he is the Father of Christ. As all faiths, even atheists, now gather together peacefully around him, I see folks of all faiths say SAI RAM to one another. Today as a visitor you might find a Catholic priest saying Sai Ram to a Buddhist monk, and both smiling as they bow to each other. It is not unusual in the ashram to find an Iranian mullah saying Sai Ram to an Israeli rabbi, or an atheist saying Sai Ram to a nun...
But peace and brotherhood is only the plain vanilla meaning of the phrase - what SAI RAM means to those who employ it without habit is more layered than that. Devotees use it to signify that from one's deepest and sweetest truth, the speaker literally recognizes The Lord GOD in the heart of the greeted, and so offers welcome with Love.
Since the day he announced his identity 57 years ago, Sri Sathya Sai Baba has requested no publicity, has courted no media attention, and yet has established a world-wide organization consisting of many millions of people in more than 147 countries, all of whom have sought him out and are now feeling his profound influence in their daily lives. Through his example and teaching they are inspired to lead a life dedicated to the ONE God as recognised by all the major religions, as well as to practice brotherhood, to provide selfless service to the needy, and to lead constructive and virtuous lives within their own societies, active in their own religions. Sai students do not dress or act in any way unusual, and consider that the best servant is invisible, drawing no undue attention to themselves as they labour in the fields of the Lord.
Born in Southern India on November 23, 1926, Sai announced his mission at age 14, at first demonstrating his knowledge and capabilities among the local people in that isolated region, but as time progressed his fame and reputation grew, drawing people from all over India to his presence. In the 1960's persons from many western countries also started to visit Sathya Sai Baba.
Today, that village of his birth, Puttaparthi, a small hamlet in southern India, is yet his principal place of residence, but is now a thriving beacon of spiritual excellence to which countless numbers of seekers from all races, nationalities, creeds, faiths, languages and backgrounds flock. One may find not only villagers and sadhus, laymen and scholars, but also priests and practitioners from every religion, as well as statesmen from every country, each eager to meet and talk with this Man of Miracles, Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Sathya Sai Baba does not teach an otherworldly "pie in the sky" spirituality, but stresses instead that spiritual life is to be lived in society, among our friends and families. To aid this realization he has established clinics, hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and major universities, all of which provide all services free of charge. He has also inspired the formation of over 5000 centres throughout the world, whose members study and practise his spiritual teachings and engage in a variety of community activities.
He says, "Let the different faiths exist, let them flourish, and let the Glory of God be sung in all languages and in a variety of tunes.That should be the ideal. Respect the differences between the faiths and recognize them as valid as long as they do not extinguish the flame of unity. If each person lives the ideals propounded by the founders of his religion, unaffected by greed or hate, then the world will be a happy and peaceful habitation for man."
The responsibility for bringing about world peace, says Sathya Sai Baba, rests with the individual. His prescription is simple, yet profound:
While acknowledging his mastery over time and space as inborn abilities, Sathya Sai Baba does not promote in his students any to-do over those gifts, and instead stresses faith in God and confidence in oneself as necessary requisites for a happy and successful life. He says "Confidence leads to peace, peace leads to love, love leads to truth, truth leads to bliss."
For the past fifty-seven years Sathya Sai Baba has openly displayed extraordinary abilities and knowledge. Although he dropped out of school when he was 13, he communicates in all languages, knows all scripture by heart, and unlocks problems of any kind. His miracles are daily occurrences, and can be seen by any attentive visitor. However his most heralded characteristic is that he radiates powerful feelings of inner peace and unselfish love. Many of course are at first more attracted to his ability to perform what many persons affirm are genuine miracles of manifestation and healing, but in due course more become attracted to how he lives and to what he teaches, than to the miracles. The real miracle of Sai is that his love transforms people, and abides with them. When that abidance maintains, Sai asks that his well-wishers become living examples of love in the world. None are to depend on the form of Sai, you see, but are to depend on themselves.
Other Links to Sai Baba
Inner Wisdom Promotions
Inner Wisdom Centre
Disillusionment with Sai Baba - The Ugly Side
Who is Sai Baba
Offical Sai Baba Australian Site
Sai Baba Photo Gallery
108 Names of Sathya Sai Baba
Shirdi Sai Baba
SaiNet - Electronic Satsangh
Variety of Sai pages