Sri Sathya Sai Baba 1926 - 2011
The detractors say that ‘sleight of hand’ and ‘magic tricks’ won him followers who were gullible and naïve. The devotees say that ‘physical manifestations’ earned him die-hard critics who were so blind and hard-hearted that they refused to see the millions of lives he positively affected. The life and history of Sri Sathya Sai Baba seems to remind one of the proverbial tree laden with fruit - it always receives stones. While some stones were cast to enjoy and relish the sweet fruits, some were cast because it seems so tempting to just do it!
Of course, he cannot be accepted as a prophet. What religion did he establish? He just brought together humanity under the principles of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of god. In a world that stands on the brink of religious disaster due to self-centered zealots, he exhorted a Hindu to be a better Hindu, a Muslim to be a better Muslim and a Christian to be a better Christian. The symbol that he designed to represent the organisation had representations from all the major religions of the world.
Everyone from the Tibetan Monks to the Islamic scholars, Hindu yogis to Christian fathers, Sikh gurus to Buddhist preachers visited him and were received warmly with love by his followers. They were amazed with his deep understanding of their religion and often admired the insights he provided. The ‘Vahini’ series of books that he authored convey the greatest spiritual Truths in easy and practical terms - all one has to do is to pick one and read it! But still, how can he be a prophet when he did not start a new religion?
Spirit behind the ritual - the Spiritual!
The world credits him for his massive social welfare projects - drinking water schemes, super specialty hospitals and free higher education. The critics also acknowledge that fact while the followers parade it as proof of his divinity. And in that, both seem to miss the point. Sathya Sai Baba never believed in a few buildings (however big or grand) making the world a better place as he believed in a few ideas.
The schools and university were a result of the idea that Education is a process of bringing out from within what is already latent in an individual. And that latent treasure is love, truth, right conduct, peace, understanding and compassion which he exhorted every student to make patent. The Sathya Sai Grama seva or village service, where every student spends a week going to villages distributing food and clothes, was instituted not so much to serve the poor but to imbibe the idea, spirit and joy of service in the student. As the chancellor of the University, he always advised the students to get a good name for themselves, their parents and their Alma Mater. He told them that they had received good education without a fee because education is everyone’s birthright and they need not feel grateful about it. But the gratitude, however, became a part of every student’s life as he/she went about perpetuating this service.
The hospitals and water projects arose because he felt that water and medical care were people’s right. They should not be a costly purchase. Much has been written about these projects but very little has been said about how he wanted people to imbibe the spirit of service and love. “When a thorn pricks the foot, the hand automatically goes to remove it without feeling that it is helping the foot. That is how service has to be rendered.”
And yet, they say that he surrounded himself with the rich, the popular and the elite! Such talk only shows that people indulging in it have not bothered to visit him even once. If his interactions with the poor, the suffering and the helpless are not known, it is only because attention has not been drawn to them. Sachin Tendulkar’s visit to pay homage to him was splashed across media in every form but we see no mention of the massive housing project that he made for the flood victims of Orissa or the Village Integrated programmes he charted for the tribal regions of East and West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh.
Detractor and devotee; theory and experience
And when it came to the question, “Who are you? Are you God?”, his reply always was,
“Find out who you are. You will realize that you too are God.”
Godhood is not donned, it has to be accepted by people. Let us be honest and fair. If any of us claim godhood by ascending a pulpit, how many followers will we have in, say, 80 years from now? Starting as a poor boy in a drought-prone village that had not heard the sounds of a motor vehicle, having millions of followers world-wide is some achievement. He threw away his history books one day and today, he has entered history books. But when it came to Godhood, he always thrust back Godhood on the people saying,
“You are all God. you just are not aware of it."
That is reminiscent of “God you think, God you are; Dust you think, dust you are” isn't it?
“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”, was what Albert Einstein said of Mahatma Gandhi. The amazing stories of grace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba are such that even when he walked upon the earth, people found it hard to believe. Many came, saw with their own eyes, experienced in their own beings and accepted him as their Lord. Some however chose to stay in their own little coops, happy to heap scathing criticism.
“Why explore something that is impossible?” seems to be the theorem. “When something is impossible, even if millions speak in glowing terms about it, it must be false and everyone must be crazy” is the automatic corollary!
There is no difference between the detractor and devotee when it comes to his/her passion, intensity and belief.There is one major difference however. While the former quotes reports, newspapers, articles and written accounts to emphasize the criticism, the latter only speaks of deep conviction born from personal experience! And that shows why one seems to blare louder to make a point while the other seems to melt into silence when confronted. The rationale of the head never seems to gather enough momentum to overpower the conviction of the heart!
And that is why, those that have experienced him in their hearts refuse to accept that he has ‘died’. For them, he lives on forever and they receive guidance and help whenever they need. They have no doubts in that and they see no need to convince anyone else about it. That is the power of what one has observed and experienced. Reminds one of Albert Einstein when he was scoffed at his proposal of the photoelectric effect. When science had evolved over a century to prove that light was a wave and not a particle, here was someone considered a genius who based his effect on the premise that light was a particle! The photoelectric effect which he gave in 1905 won the Nobel prize in 1921.
When theory and experiment seem to clash with observation and experience, should we not go with the experience?
© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya