The saint whose life and philosophy I am about to share with you, is one of the most popular Indian saints in the 20th Century. He is someone whose fame has grown exponentially since his death in 1918. Hingori Sutras presents the life and philosophy of Sai Baba of Shirdi.
The Paagal Fakir
We begin Sai Baba’s story in the 19th Century. In 1854 to be precise, in a small village called Shirdi, in what was then known as Bombay State. Sometimes, during that year, a fair, tall, 16 years old, wondering fakir came to the village and made a neem tree on its outskirts his home. No one knew his name, where he had come from, or why he had come to Shirdi.
The villagers observed him practicing tough yogic asanas, or sitting under the shade of the tree in deep meditation. He never left the tree. He ate whatever food some of the villagers gave him. One villager described the young ecstatic with the words “By day he associated with no one, by night he was afraid of nobody. He was the embodiment of dispassion and an enigma to all”.
In fact, so enigmatic was he that some villagers began to call him “The Paagal Fakir” or the crazy fakir, and to be honest Sai did nothing to change that perception. He barely spoke a word, his expressions never changed. In fact, he did not react even when the children of the village hurled stones at him.
He meditated under the neem tree for 3 to 4 months and then left Shirdi. There is no concrete evidence of what he did in the years before he returned in 1858. There is some speculation though, some say he spent those years with holy men in the hills around Aurangabad. Some claimed he worked as a weaver for a while, and one researcher even claims that Sai Baba fought in the battle of Jhansi in 1857. None of these stories can be collaborated as fact. What we know for sure is that he returned to Shirdi after 4 years sometime in 1858, and lived there till his death 60 years later.
Sai Baba’s Childhood
Sai Baba’s life before he arrived in Shirdi in 1854 is cloaked mystery. We have no information about his name, who his parents were, or what they did. The few nuggets of information we have to share are by Sai Baba himself, years after he became famous. This is what we know.
He was born to Hindu brahmin parents in the village Patri in 1838. Then few years later, for reasons unknown, his parents handed him to a Muslim fakir and his wife.
We can assume that Sai’s introduction to Sufism happened during this time. However, a few years later, when the fakir was dying, he asked his wife to take the child to a man named Gopal Rao Deshmukh, who was the provincial Governor of the Jintur Province of which Selu was the capital.
He was the man Sai invoked as his spiritual Guru in the years to come.
Sai Baba’s Spiritual Guru
Although, we don’t have much information about Gopal Rao Deshmukh. Das Ganu, a disciple of Sai Baba researched him and put his findings in what are called the Selu manuscripts.
He describes Gopal Rao Deshmukh as a deeply spiritual man, who is devoted to Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati. He was therefore known as Venkusa of Selu. He’s believed to have been very pious, very righteous, very virtuous, and someone who had acquired many, many Siddhis.
He ran an ashram at Selu, where he mentored young men in the spiritual way. In fact Sai’s deep knowledge of the vedas, and the Advaita Vedanta philosophy was probably due to Venkusa’s training.
Venkusa’s fondness for Sai led to a lot of envy on the part of Venkusa’s other disciples. So one day, while Sai was pressing his Guru’s feet in the garden, some of Venkusa’s other disciples hurled bricks at Sai, with the intent of causing him bodily harm.
One of the bricks was stopped mid-air by Venkusa. But another brick struck Venkusa’s head, and as it struck, the boy who had hurled the brick fell to the ground and died. When Venkusa was bandaging his bleeding forehead, he suddenly said to Sai, I shall be leaving this body tomorrow at 4 pm. But before that I will rest my powers in you.
For this he instructed Sai to bring milk from a black cow. According to Ayurveda, since a black cow absorbs the rays of sun differently than a white cow. Its milk and urine are believed to be far more potent.
When Sai found a black cow with great difficulty, the herdsmen informed him that since the cow was barren, it could not give milk. However, Sai brought this cow to his Guru. Venkusa touched this cow from head to tail and then asked the herdsmen to milk it. He drew out plenty of milk.
Venkusa is believed to have blessed this milk and given it to Sai, transferring his powers to his young disciple.
Sai Baba’s First Miracle
The boys who had hurled the bricks begged Venkusa to bring their dead friend back to life. The Guru said that since all his powers were now vested in Sai, they would have to ask him. They did and the young Sai brought the boy back to life.
This was the first miracle that Sai ever performed. Then a day later Sai’s Guru handed him the brick stained with his blood and asked him to head westward along the Godavari river. As soon as his Guru left his body, Sai left the ashram with the brick, his chillum, and his satka or a small stick tied in a cloth, and proceeded in the direction his Guru had pointed towards.
Many years later while describing the value of the brick in his life. Sai said, “This brick is more valuable than the whole world to me. If it breaks, my life will depart this body. My Guru’s feet have touched this brick, that is why I have made it my pillow. He who keeps his head on the lotus feet of his Guru, his shadow is also holy.“
In fact Mhalsapati and Kashiram Shimpi, two of Sai’s disciples used to give this brick a bath every day, and at night it would be wrapped in a clean cloth, so that Baba could use it as a pillow. Sai called this brick his lifelong companion.
It is believed that after leaving Selu, Sai moved from place to place along the Godavari river, before arriving at Shirdi in 1854.
Sai Baba: From a Student to a Holy Fakir
Interestingly, years later, whenever somebody asked Sai about his antecedents, he would discourage any conversation centered around his origins. He felt that such identification was an impediment on the spiritual path.
In fact, there were times he became so irate that he would use his satka to shut the questionner up. However, he made two notable comments on the subject.
The first was, when a devotee asked him, Baba, where had you come from? He replied, “I am attributeless, absolute, nirgun, I have no name, and no residence”. He answered the other devotees in a more dualistic point of view when he said, “I got embroiled by Karma and came into a body. So I got a name and a body. Brahman is my father and Maya my mother. As they interlocked, I got this body.”
Before we move to the period after 1858, I would like to answer a possible question that some of you may have. Why Shirdi?
It wasn’t a very populous town. Nor was it a spiritual centre, yet Sai Baba made this place his home.
He answered this question when he told a disciple that he had lived in Shirdi some 8000 years ago, and that the tomb of one of his Guru’s from a past birth was at the base of a neem tree, where he had meditated when he first arrived at Shirdi. Sure enough, when the disciple dug under the tree, he found a tomb there.
Sai… a Muslim Fakir
Sai returned to Shirdi in 1858. But he was dressed differently now. He wore a white kafni or tunic, and had a white cloth tied around his head. The villagers of Shirdi immediately identified him as a Muslim fakir.
On his arrival, he headed to the Khandoba temple, on the outskirts of the village, hoping to make it his home. Since no one knew his name, Mhalsapati, the priest of the Khandoba temple, and a future disciple, welcomed the young nameless fakir, with the words Aao Sai.
That is how the nameless fakir was given a name that stuck.
However, since there was a fair degree of hostility between the Muslims and the Hindus of Shirdi. Mhalsapati refused to allow somebody he viewed as a Muslim ascetic from taking up residence in a Hindu temple.
So Sai Baba returned to the neem tree, and lived under it for a few more weeks. Then one day, while wandering in Shirdi, Sai Baba came across a dilapidated mosque, and decided to make it his home. He called the mosque Dwarkamai. He kept the dhuni or a sacred fire burning here, and it was here that he eventually held Darbars, where he would meet people, and attend to their needs.
Sai kept a few earthen lamps burning at night, in different places around the mosque. He would beg for oil from a few shopkeepers in town in order to light them. One day the shopkeepers decided to have some fun at Sai expense. So when Sai showed up to ask for oil, they refused to give him any.
The old herd instinct of baiting the outsider was at work. So Sai quietly turned back, without beseeching, and walked back to Dwarkamai, with a few of the shopkeepers following him quietly.
When they reached Dwarkamai, they were in for a shock of their lives. Sai had filled the lamps with water, and they burned as if with oil.
There was no more talk of Sai being the crazy fakir after this. They now knew he was a man of power, leading to a perceptible change in how the villagers viewed him. Gradually, Sai Baba’s fame grew. A few people like Mhalsapati, priest of the Khandoba temple and some others became his disciples.
People came to him for healing and he would prescribe some concoctions with herbs, plants and mishri. However, he stopped doing this after a while, and used the Udi or the ash from the Dhuni, as a means of healing. But his fame was still restricted to pockets in and around Shirdi.
Sai Baba – From a Fakir to a Saint
Another interesting episode which took place in 1886, served as one disciple described as the launch of the masters mission.
In 1886, Sai Baba had a severe asthmatic attack. Unable to get better, he decided to go into Mahasamadhi. He told his disciple Mhalsapati to protect his body for three days. If he did not return in 72 hours, he was to be buried in a particular piece of land with two flags, fixed on it as a mark.
Saying this, Sai fell to the ground. His breathing stopped, as did his pulse. Soon enough the villagers wanted Sai to be buried, but Mhalsapati held on to Sai’s lifeless body.
Then three days later, Sai’s body showed signs of movement and he came back to life. Sai, never spoke of what had transpired in the 72 hours he was out of his body. But he came back healed, and post this, his fame grew exponentially.
Now after this incident, Sai performed miracle after miracle with an almost careless abandon. But there was a method to his madness. He once told a disciple, “I give people what they want in the hope they will begin to want what I want to give them.”
So clearly for Sai, the miracles were a means to attract people, so that he could uplift them spiritually. As his fame grew, he held darbar’s at Dwarkamai, where people would come to seek his help and blessings, and it was during this time that he enunciated his philosophy as Upadeshes.
Sai Baba – a Strange and Enigmatic Figure
Despite all the fame, Sai remained a strange, enigmatic figure, and someone who was very moody. He would get angry one minute and kind and gentle the other. When he was upset with people, he often hit them with his satka.
In fact, there were times he would hurl stones at unsuspecting visitors to Dwarkamai, commanding them to leave immediately.
There are many other strange habits that he had which we will discuss a little later. Sai Baba was an ascetic who would beg for food. However he only begged for food from 5 houses at Shirdi. He would collect the food, return to Dwarkamai, offer some food to the Dhuni, and then place the food outside for animals, the untouchables, and the poor from the village.
If the food was leftover, he would consume a few morsels. I guess by doing so, he became an instrument for those who gave him food, to serve others. His habits were satvik, he was a vegetarian, but he was not dogmatic. There is a story of how he made a strict vegetarian devotee eat non-vegetarian food. So that this man could overcome the limitations of his mind.
He never asked anyone to fast and was against excesses of any kind. He always preached moderation. In the early 1900, he began cooking food for distribution at Dwarkamai. Whenever he cooked food, he put his hand in the utensil to stir the boiling ingredients, but nothing happened to his hand. In fact, he would also cook non-vegetarian food for some of his Muslim devotees.
Sai Baba and His Love for Flowers and Dogs
Another aspect I would like to highlight was Sai’s love for horticulture. For many years, he planted flowers and other plants in a waste land near Dwarkamai. He would water these plants daily, and in some years, the waste land turned into a beautiful garden he called ‘Lendi Bagh’.
He used to donate the flowers grown here to the temples in and around Shirdi. In fact many great and powerful saints like Guru Dev, Guru Nanak Dev, have all farmed at some point in their life. So if these saints saw importance in this act, you can imagine how karmically beneficial greening places can be.
While Sai cared for all living things, his deep love for dogs often led to people seeing him as an avatar of Dattatreya, another saint revered in Maharashtra. In fact, dogs are worshipped in temples of Lord Dattatreya.
There is an interesting story that I want to share with you, of a female devotee, who requested Sai Baba to collect food from her house, when he was out to collect alms. The next day, she waited for Sai Baba to show up at her door. After sometime a black dog came and licked the vegetable in one of the vessels.
Seeing this, the lady threw a stone at it, shooing it away. The next day, when she arrived at Dwarkamai, Sai said, “First they invite you, and then when you show up, they hurled stones at you”, leaving her dumbstruck.
Just as Dattatreya, Sai is often shown as surrounded by dogs in iconography. There are many incidents of Sai taking on the body of an animal, especially a dog. But since time is short and I have a lot more to say, I won’t delve into his many miracles in this presentation.
The Death of Sai
Now let’s move on to the last few years of Sai Baba’s life. Sometime in 1914, Sai Baba told a few disciples, that the time for him to leave the earthly realm was near.
Then in 1917, he summoned a few of his closest disciples to Dwarkamai and asked them – who are you? They replied, we are your shishyas. On hearing this he got angry and said, nonsense, don’t use that term. I have no disciples in this world, I only have devotees.
He went on to say anyone can be a devotee. But a disciple is one who implicitly carries out the Guru’s command. Have you done that? Only the one who follows me like a shadow, can claim to be my disciple.
Sai’s belief in complete surrender to the Guru paying a prerequisite to claiming disciple hood is evident through this conversation. We will discuss his philosophy in detail a little later.
In 1918, the brick given to him by his Guru, broke into two. Sai wept uncontrollably when this happened and said, “I will not survive the breaking of this brick”. A few weeks before leaving his body, Sai sent word to another Muslim fakir he was close to and said “the light that Allah lit, he is taking away.”
He gave his disciples money to feed fakirs in the days preceding his death, and asked them to chant prayers and read the Quran. He also asked another disciple to read the story of Lord Rama to him.
Then on October 15th of that year, he collapsed in the afternoon, and left his body for the afterlife. He was 80 years old at the time of his passing. Sai Baba was buried in Shirdi, with the broken brick given to him by his Guru.
Sai Baba – a Strange and Enigmatic Figure (cont.)
All through his life, Sai remained a strange and enigmatic figure, and his strangeness was most apparent in some of his habits and practices.
Let’s look at how he slept for one. For a large part of his life he slept on the plank 5 feet long and 1 ½ feet wide. His bed was suspended from the roof by flimsy ropes made of cloth. It was 6 feet above the ground, and there were lit earthen lamps placed on all four corners.
Now, levitation must have been necessary to get on the top of his bed, and sleep would not have been normal sleep.
In fact, out of curiosity, the people of Shirdi gathered outside Dwarkamai to unlock the secret of how Sai mounted this plank. But Sai got so upset seeing this ‘tamasha’, he broke the plank into pieces.
Thereafter, Sai slept on the hard ground at Dwarkamai. Sometime later, a devotee offered to make a cot for him to sleep on. But Baba refused the request with the words “Am I to lie on a cot, leaving Mhalsapati on the floor? Far better it would be that I should be on the floor, and he should sleep higher.”
Through these words, not only was Sai displaying his humility, he was also informing his devotee of the quality of the atma, by not making distinction between himself and his disciples. In fact, he placed Mhalsapati on a higher pedestal than himself in this conversation.
His disciple Das Ganu remembers many strange practices that Sai engaged in during the afternoon at the mosque. He said Sai would take out a purse with coins of different denominations. He would then rub these coins between his fingertips. The surfaces of the coins were flattened due to this.
He would sometimes say this is Nana’s, this is Kaka’s, this is Mhalsapati’s. But if anyone approached him during this time, he would angrily gather the coins, put them back in the purse, and hide the purse.
Obviously, the coins symbolised disciples or devotees on whom he was working spiritually, transmitting his Kripa, uplifting, and supporting them.
A Muslim devotee who was a personal attendant described another strange rite. He said, and I quote, “Baba used to sit behind a pillar, in which a lamp was kept burning permanently. I never saw him gazing at the lamp. I used to fill pots with water and placed them near him. He would sit with two on either side, and keep on pouring out water in different directions. I can’t say, why he did it or whether he uttered mantras while doing it”.
Once again this action may have been symbolic of the outpouring of this grace.
Sai Baba… Hindu or Muslim?
Now let’s look at Sai’s spiritual influences. His spiritual influences were an amalgamation of many different influences.
He was well versed in the Sufi way. He knew the Quran and had a lot of knowledge of the Vedas and the Shastras. The Muslims of Shirdi saw him as one of their own. On the other hand, his other practices led the Hindus to believe that despite the attire, he was one of them.
Now this confluence of his ideologies is understandable. Remember, he spent his early years under a Muslim fakir, and a Hindu Guru. In fact, all through his life, Sai preached tolerance and brotherhood between members of the Hindus and Muslim community, and he was strictly against conversions.
Sai Baba – a reincarnation of Kabir?
In fact, one of the strongest spiritual influences in his life was saint Kabir, the 15th century poet saint, who also preached community harmony. Kabir was someone Sai Baba identified with deeply. He would dance and go into a trance while hearing, and singing Kabir’s verses. There have been many utterances attributed to Baba in which he connects or sometimes identifies himself with Kabir.
In fact, he once said, “I was Kabir and I used to spin yarn”, referring to Kabir’s profession as a weaver. In his book The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi, Antonio Rigopoulos mentions a curious story found in a Deshmukh family paper.
Once when Gopal Rao Deshmukh, Sai’s Guru was in Ahmedabad, he approached the tomb of a celebrated Muslim saint named Suhaag Shah.
A voice that came out from the tomb is said to have informed him that he was the famous Ramananda of Kashi in his previous birth, and that his former disciple Kabir would be visiting him soon.
In fact, it was apparently after this revelation, that the young Sai was brought to Selu by the fakir’s wife. Venkusa is said to have immediately identified him as his former student Kabir, and accepted him as his shishya.
Sai’s identification with the Kabir Panthi tradition is evident during an interesting conversation that happened between a local magistrate and Sai Baba.
When the Sai was being interrogated about a theft in which the thief claimed that the stolen item was given to him by Sai Baba. The conversation went as follows:
The magistrate asked, what is your name? Sai Baba said, “They call me Sai Baba”. Magistrate said, what’s your father’s name? Sai Baba said, well, “It’s also Sai Baba”.
The magistrate said, what’s your Guru’s name? Sai Baba responded, “it is Venkusa”. The magistrate went on to ask, what’s your creed or religion? Sai Baba responded, “It’s Kabir”.
The magistrate asked, tell me your caste or race. Sai Baba said, “Parvardigar”. Finally, the flustered magistrate asked, what is your age? Sai Baba responded saying “Lakhs of years”.
It is evident from this conversation that Sai saw himself not as a body, but as an atma that had lived for lakhs of years. In fact, it was due to Sai Baba’s very strong link with Kabir, that many researchers have connected him to the vast pan Indian movement of the Nath yogis of Gurskshana.
Sai Baba and his sacred fire Dhuni
Sai Baba kept a sacred fire or Dhuni burning constantly at Dwarkamai. He would spend hours in front of the Dhuni, lost in reciting sacred phrases, generally, Arabic or Persian, or in silent contemplation.
It is at this Dhuni, that he would intercede on behalf of his disciples and devotees, offering ash or Udi drawn from its fire, as a tangible size of his grace.
Gorakshnath, one of the leading Naths, is believed to have started this practice by lighting the first Dhuni.
So, what is the significance of a Dhuni in the Nath panti tradition? If you look at a Dhuni tradition closely, it is generally a cleft in the ground, which resembles a female vulva. Hence, a dhuni is considered a representation of Shakti.
A unique feature of the dhuni is that it is the actual sight itself which is considered sacred, not just the fire that kindles within it. So I guess, it could not be far fetched to assume that the worship of the Dhuni that Sai engaged in, was the worship of Shakti.
Sai would give the ash or the Udi from the Dhuni as the tangible sign of his grace. While Sai Baba used the Udi as the means of healing people of physical and mental suffering, it also served a deeper, more spiritual purpose. He would often smear the forehands of disciples and devotees with this ash, and ask them to drink it with water daily.
So the question is what is the significance of the Udi? Shankar, a manifestation of Shiv, is shown smeared with ash in iconography. In fact, the other name from Shankar is Vibhuti Bhushan. This practice of smearing the body with ash dates back to the Vedic period.
The belief being that substances burned by fire are returned to their pure and primeval condition. Hence many followers of Purakshna, as well as many, many Agoris smear their body with ashes from a Dhuni. This ash signifies death to the temporal world.
So, on a philosophical level, Sai encouraged his disciples to oblate their ego and desires to the Dhuni, so that it could make ash of all these, cleansing them, and facilitating their spiritual evolution.
Sai Baba and Khanda Manda Yoga
Besides this, like most advanced Nathpantis and some very adepth yogis, Sai was an expert practitioner of Khanda Manda yoga.
Now, Khanda Manda yoga is one of the most difficult forms of yoga. In which the yogi’s cuts off his own arms and legs with a sharp cleaver, and then throws these limbs into the Dhuni. It is believed that after some time, these limbs reattach to the yogi’s body.
In fact, once in the early years, a man came to Dwarkamai to see Baba. He was shocked to find an arm and a leg thrown near the staircase where Baba generally sat.
Fearing the worst, the man ran away. Unable to confide in anyone, for fear of being assumed the murderer, he kept quiet. He returned to Dwarkamai gingerly after a few hours to see that Sai Baba was alive, with his arms and legs intact. The man heaved a sigh of relief!
Sai Baba also practiced a very unusual form of Dhauti, a yogic technique of cleansing the digestive tract.
Whenever he would go to the river to bathe, he would vomit out his intestines, leave them out to dry, and then swallow them back in. Many people have seen Sai Baba do this. Clearly, he was adept at yogic practices.
Sai Baba and Exorcisms
Before I move on, I would like to mention that Sai Baba would perform exorcisms. He believed in the presence of evil deities. He once told the villagers of Shirdi that by grinding wheat and pouring flour along the boundaries of Shirdi, he kept it’s residents safe from the Goddess of cholera and plague. So, he personified these diseases as female deities.
In fact there is a very interesting incident that happened sometime in 1917, a year before Baba passed on. A young woman and her son came to Shirdi, to seek Baba blessings. When the lady sought permission to leave, Baba said don’t leave now, and asked her young son to massage his legs till he asked him to stop.
An hour later, a terrible looking female form appeared, and moved like a dog on all fours towards this young boy. The form screeched and said, I want this person. Sai refused to let the child go, and hit the form with the stick. The form screeched and ran away. Sai later told this lady that the form was goddess cholerae, who had come to devour her son.
Sai Baba and his symbolism of Money
We have touched upon many aspects of Sai symbolism previously. Now, we have other symbolic gestures that he engaged in. He would scold a disease to rid a patient of it. He would give coconuts or mangoes as a blessing to childless couples. But the most important facet of this symbolism was evident in how he treated money.
Now holy men don’t normally ask for money. In fact many spiritual greats have been given powers by their Gurus under the express condition that they will not take any money for rendering help. But Sai Baba was very, very different in this context.
He not only accepted money, he often asked for it. Sometimes his demand for dakshina was the first thing he uttered to those who came to seek his help. Often, he specified the exact amount he needed.
It was not that he needed money, he never kept any of it. In fact he gave all the money away to the needy. I suppose he regarded money like everything else symbolically, and said that those who gave him money were laying out a better future for themselves.
There are many cases where he refused to accept any money. He once said, “I only ask those whom the fakir points out, and in exchange I have to give them ten times as much.”
By taking people’s money, he probably manipulated the creation of a debt, to justify doing their work for them. Let me give you an example or two of how this symbolism worked. He would often ask the money earned through improper means.
There is a story of a loyal devotee of his named S.P. Dhumar, who was paid 300 rupees by another devotee for some odd work that needed to be done.
Now, owing to Sai’s grace or Kripa, the work got sorted, and S.P. Dhumar didn’t have to move a finger. But he pocketed the money instead of returning it. When he went to Shirdi next, Sai asked him for a dakshina of exactly 300 rupees.
Sai frequently took all the money somebody had. It was not a matter of guessing. He knew exactly what he was doing.
Once a visitor came to visit Sai with 20 rupees in his pocket. Before entering Dwarkamai, he gave his friend 18 out of the 20 rupees. When Sai asked him for a dakshina, he gave him 2 rupees. When Sai said give me 18 more, then the visitor said he didn’t have the money. Sai pointed to his friend with his satka and said, take it back from him.
So Sai would read and influence minds, and use money as a test. There are many, many examples of him doing so.
In fact the payment of the first fruit was also a common demand. Once two brahmin visitors came to Shirdi. Sai asked them for rupees 15 each. When one offered rupees 35, Sai said, I don’t need 35, just give me 15.
On further investigation it turned out that one of the men, who was earning a salary of 700 rupees, had promised 15 rupees of his first salary at a temple, but had forgotten to give it. That was the money Sai was asking for.
So this money became a means to test his disciples, to help reduce their karmic debt, and get their work done.
There is another story of a devotee of Sai Baba’s called S. Nimonkar. Sai asked him for rupees 10, and 6 months later Nimonkar’s monthly salary was increased by the exact same amount.
Sai Baba and his Siddhis
Sai told his disciples that utilising one’s siddhis for the materialisation of worldly objects, or for impressing people was a distraction that drew one’s mind away from Allah. He always said, use your siddhis to help people, and not impress people.
However, Baba’s siddhis were never an encumbrance. They were but a part of his spiritual equipment.
Here are some of the siddhis he possessed. I am sure there are many more but I have enumerated a few based on the miracles I have read of.
Sai Baba had a siddhi called ‘Isatava siddhi’, which is the power of transforming one element into another. Now this siddhi was evident in how he turned water into oil.
He also had ‘Punar Jeevan siddhi’, which is the power to bring a newly deceased back to life. If we rewind, Sai’s first miracle involved bringing a dead boy back to life.
Sai had ‘Manno siddhi Citta siddhi’, which is the power to read and influence thoughts. He had the ‘Traikalika gyan’, which is the knowledge of the past, present and the future. He had the ‘Bhava tavya gyan’, which is the precognition of the exact time, place and circumstance of one’s own death. He was a bit of a shape shifter and had ‘Kamarupa siddhi’, which is the ability to manifest as other forms.
Sai could bi-locate. There were many, many stories where people have seen Sai Baba in places as far as Bombay, when he was seated at Dwarkamai giving Upanishads. Some other people claimed that Sai would repeat the verbatim conversations that took place in their homes, and the next siddhi called ‘Dura Sravana Darsanam’, is this ability to see and hear things at very great distances.
Lastly, Sai Baba had a siddhi called ‘Sthambana’. Now, Sthambana is the ability to control elements in nature. So, Sai Baba could control a fire, the rain and the wind.
Sai Baba’s Philosophy
Now, let’s discuss Sai Baba’s philosophy. Sai Baba packaged his philosophy in a very simple box, so that people from all walks of life could comprehend it with ease.
I am going to highlight the most important aspects of it, using Sai’s own words to explain each.
Sai Baba believed in the supreme consciousness being formless and attributeless. He also referred to the supreme consciousness as Allah. In fact, one of his favourite epigrams was “Allah Malik Hai”. He believed that god was within not without. Sometimes while performing a miracle, he would say, “Allah Accha Karega”.
He would also refer to Allah as ‘the fakir’, and while refusing a request he would say, “I can only do what my fakir orders me to do”. Another favourite saying was “Sabka Malik Ek”.
I guess this was his way of conveying the complete sovereignty of the supreme consciousness, of which he believed everyone was a part. He always said, find the divine in everything.
In fact, he was a proponent of the Sufi ideal of Wahdat-ul-Wujood, or the unity of all beings. Another saying that he often repeated was “Fakiri mein amiri hai”.
So what does this phrase mean? When I read this phrase for the first time, my mind immediately went back to something my spiritual mentor says repeatedly “Luxury is an expense in spiritualism”.
Let’s look at Gurudev for example, he chose to live a life of simplicity. His entire life is dotted with examples of simple living and high thinking. For those of you who have not read his story, please go to Gurudevonline.com and be inspired by how he led his life.
Like Gurudev, Sai Baba always said, “Live a life of simplicity rooted in moderation”.
The role of a Guru according to Sai Baba
The Guru was the base on which Sai Baba built his philosophy. Sai believed the presence of a Siddh Guru, along with the disciple’s Nishta, which is steadfast faith, backed by intent, and Saburi of patience, was sufficient to pray at the circumstances for liberation or Mukti to happen.
Sai believed that the path of evolution lay in complete surrender to the Guru. About the Guru, he said, if you make the Guru a sole object of your thoughts and aims, you will attain paramatma, or the supreme goal.
In fact, the marg or the path that he proposed for spiritual evolution involved complete faith in a Guru, and complete surrender to the Guru’s will. He said, as long as you did this, no special effort was needed to evolve. In fact, he was against reading spiritual books.
However, there were times, he asked some of his disciples to read particular texts, or on the whole he warned against the dangers of intellectualism. Emphasising surrender of mind to the Guru’s will.
Sai Baba on Mukti, Seva, and Maya
Sai Baba made three points on the subject of mukti. He believed that the end goal of spiritual evolution is mukti, which is located high up. He was probably referring to a higher dimension when he used this term. He said that there are many roads that led to mukti, and one of them originated at Shirdi.
But a Guru’s guidance was necessary to reach there. He said, without a Siddh Guru, mukti was not possible.
The quote on your screen is one of the best that I have read on seva. Sai Baba said, “Seva is not an ordinary message. You must surrender tan (body), mann (mind) and dhan (wealth). You must not feel that you are rendering service to the master. Your body that has already surrendered is the master’s property, and you must feel there is no merit in me. I am merely making the body which is already yours to serve you. That is seva”.
Sai Baba emphasised service to others was an integral component of spiritual life, because he said, “Allah lived in everything”. He encouraged people to involve themselves in acts of charity and service to humanity. But more importantly this quote highlights his belief in the concept of non-worship.
He believed seva should be done, but no ownership should be taken of yours actions. Because every time you take ownership, you create a karma, and further entangle yourself in the cycle of life and death, and this karma will take you further away from mukti, instead of taking you closer to it. So Sai believed, exhaustion of karma was integral to the process of achieving mukti.
Sai Baba believed in Maya, he believed the world was dreams. He said, “When Brahmand united with Maya, Brahmand or the universe was created. He said that it was Maya that made consciousness manifest in different forms, and that Maya ended only when the self was realised”.
Sai Baba on Karma
Sai believed in karma. He said, “Karma cannot be dissolved or removed by others. One has to suffer the results of one’s karma.”
He said, “One has to definitely reap the results of one’s own deeds. One may even become a Chandal based on past deeds. So he believed it’s better to accept your circumstances, rather than complain about them.”
About death he said, “Life and death are the result of past actions”. So, Sai looked at life and death through the prism of karma.
He said, “As long as there is karma to be exhausted, we will be born again and again and again”. Sai Baba believed it is futile to feel for the dead. Human life is temporal, only the atma is eternal. Attachments and affections are related to the body, not the soul.
He often said the world was transient. it was impermanent, and all that was impermanent was the root cause of sorrow.
Sai Baba on Suicide
He had thoughts on suicide, he said, “Suicide won’t help you. You have to take another birth and suffer again. So, instead of killing yourself, suffer for sometimes, and be done with it, once and for all”.
His views on suffering are explained in the words he spoke to one of his most accomplished disciples, Upasani Maharaj. Upasani Maharaj, later recorded those words in the speech he gave in 1924, where he said, when things became intolerable for me at Shirdi, one day I said to Baba, I cannot suffer anymore.
Baba replied that “I should suffer all that I could now, and after that there will be eternal happiness for me”. So Sai Baba saw suffering is cleansing, rather than punishment meted out, and certainly not something to be victimised about.
Sai Baba on Happiness
Sai practiced Vairagya in his life. He believed the happiness of the world was transitory, and that the less you become attached to the world, the more peace of mind you would enjoy. He said, remain indifferent to the sorrow that lurks behind the joy that you would experience.
About emotions Sai Baba said, “Anger, greed, illusion, pride and jealousy are all delusive. They make the unreal appear real. So, one must conquer these five enemies, else they will enslave you.”
Sai Baba on Mantras
Though Sai never gave any specific mantras to his disciples. Insisting on the job, the Guru’s name alone. He understood to the potency of sound as is evidence to the quote on your screen.
Sai Baba said, “Sound is vibration and words are structured vibrations. The utterances of which have corresponding effect on the psyche and the cosmos”.
Sai Baba on Grihastha Ashram (Family Life)
Like Gurudev, Sai Baba was a proponent of the Grihastha Ashram. He said, by staying in the Grihastha Ashram, if you perform your duty and worship god in a proper way, you will be eligible for mukti. In fact, even though Sai lived a life of an ascetic, he advised most of his disciples to live normal family lives.
He discouraged mystical flights, and condemned atheistic excesses. In fact, he encouraged only very few disciples to walk the path of renunciation.
Did Sai Baba Pass on his Powers?
To conclude, Sai Baba never transferred his powers of healing to his disciples. A few weeks before his death, Sai Baba is believed to have told a disciple, my shrine will bless my devotees, and fulfil their needs.
He asked his disciples to meditate upon him and assured them, their work would be done. Today, his fame is so wide spread, that on any given day the Samadhi at Shirdi sees close to 60,000 people, and just like he prophesied, his miracles continue.
Powered by the Nishta or faith of his disciples and devotees, by dreams and visions in which he appears, and through the Udi of the Dhuni that still burns at Dwarkamai.
It is our hope that the story of this spiritual great inspires you to connect with the divine sits within you. Thank you so much for your time, and your patience.
Hingori Sutras salutes Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Image Credit – www.saibabaashram.org