Although I hesitate to use the word devotee (as it is subject to much misinterpretation), I became a deeply committed follower of Sathya Sai Baba from 2000. Although no-one but God can truly judge the nature of our hearts, there was no reason for me to feel anything other than Sai Baba being my present and future path. Because of a great affinity with music, namas-maranam (chanting the name of God) was my natural journey. I subsequently even had the so-called 'big' experience when, in 2004, I developed an exhilarating love for God and the universe as well as a maturing of my union with humanity, the planet and everything above and beyond. I can honestly say that absolutely nothing can equal the fulfillment of any genuine level of spiritual love and would strongly recommend people to seek this experience. However I equally stress 'caution' though for anyone who may be looking for a definitive path for a high experience.
I attributed everything that I was spiritually experiencing including visions, prophetic-type dreams, past-life connections, profound insights and intuition to Sathya Sai Baba's guidance as both God and Guru. However in the last year or so I have been seriously contemplating on the concept of Sai Baba as 'guru'. When looking back to the traditional roles of gurus over the ages, they have acted as both parents and teachers. In the case of spiritual gurus, they have taken full responsibility for their deciples or students and have provided unstinting guidance, grace and protection. Furthermore for spiritual gurus, they are known to have only accepted deciples if the potential students could meet the demands of the path that the guru advocated. So the problem lies in the notion of what it means to have Sai Baba as a Guru.The following points should be very carefully considered:1) Accessibility
Very few people have had any direct contact with Sai Baba. Although 20 years ago or more this was less of an issue, currently it is virtually impossible to have any direct contact with him. This aspect of physical accessibility is without a doubt the most important factor in destroying the notion of him acting as a genuine guru. If you have any pressing questions that need an answer, if you require help or if you would like to be able to receive the grace of physical contact with him as a guru, this amounts to wishful thinking for the overwhelming majority of followers. Infact even close physical proximity to him has become almost impossible unless you are fortunate enough to have favour with the sevadals in the ashram. To be fair, Whitefield has a slightly different set-up and closer accessibility to Baba is possible.
2) Unstinting protection
The concept of protection should be reflected upon - real protection is ultimately a state of being where one's level of securities enables the notion of protetion to become a non-issue. Even among followers of Sai Baba, this is not the case. In fact the few devotees who appear to have received his real and perhaps direct grace are sought after as sources of inspiration from a great many followers.
One example of the issues regarding protection by Sathya Sai Baba is the observation of the number of people who follow him suffering psychic attacks when they move to a more spiritual path. There is a surprising number of people who go through this since the early stages of a spiritual journey usually starts to stir the psychic centres in one's system. Unfortunately we live in a world that still consists of too much unhealthy energy. Even though the collective consciousness of humanity is evolving spiritually, this is still a process that is fraught with a lot of challenges. People entering a spiritual path often meet these challenges head on (which at a deeper level is signifying the individual ego). I also know many Sai followers who have suffered psychic attacks who have not received any direct help - for some people, no help at all for long periods. Eventually most people do come across a spiritual healer who is able to assist or even cure, but the reality is that if Sai Baba is a traditional guru then he should be the one directly providing the full assistance, awareness and cure to all these committed followers. The general understanding is that a guru is completely responsible for his deciple (or in this case, devotee) and this responsibility usually extends in some genuine way to the family and loved ones as well.
There are instances of inconsistencies in his discourses and recorded conversations with devotees. If one is following a guru, then one needs both consistency as part of a group as well as individual attention - again few people have this level of attention by Sai Baba.
Going back to the example of those suffering pychic attacks - although there is great reference to the 'ego' in his teachings, my observation of Sai Baba is that he gives no direct 'guru' guidance on how to meet the numerous challenges in his discourses or conversations with devotees. One of things that Sai Baba discourages is pursuing Kundalini power - a big part of me does accept this as I am aware that pursuing any power that few people have enough knowledge should definitely be avoided. My experience though is that the Kundalini automatically awakened for me and I subsequently realised that I had not received the kind of guidance and help from Sai Baba when going through a period of significant stress that I would normally have expected. Nonetheless, I chose to learn from the experience and have since become knowledgeable in this area - this knowledge may be attributed to Sathya Sai's benevolence and guideance as a Sath-Guru however as well as a willingness on my part to gain the deep understanding, insight and perspective. As with everything in life, the moment a perspective is gained, peace, love and wisdom are on the increase - so for the great majority of us it really is a case of gaining perspective on one's life whoever may or may not be leading us. This seems most likely on how Sai Baba is subtly guiding followers.
4) Women versus men
If Sai Baba is a guru, is he a guru for both men and women, or more specifically for men? This goes back to the accessibility issue where women have no access to him unless by some rare grace one is invited for an interview. Although one can accept Hindu customs, is it really necessary for women to be barred from close proximity to him more so than the men. To my awareness, it is only in Sai Baba's ashrams that this male/female segregation is practiced to such an extreme extent where women cannot hope to have access to even the guru himself.
5) Cultural differences
I will begin this by referring to a discourse by Sai Baba highlighting a certain standard for women to follow in terms of code of conduct - it was detailed enough to look at mannerisms as expected by traditional Indian women. I read this during my time when seeing Baba as a 'guru' and decided that it was time to re-think my exceptionally 'chilled out' western approach to lifestyle, mannerisms and dress sense. By some act of fortune, the document thankfully was deleted from my pc. I immediately took my cue from the Universe and decided that this had not been for my ears (this may have been Sai Baba's cue to me if he is my Guru). Obviously this incident highlights the overwhelming cultural differences between the traditional east and the contemporary west. If Sai Baba is the 'guru' surely there would be more reference to these kind of issues. The real dilemma is for the countless younger 'Indians' who have been brought up in the West. They appear to be the most marginalised within the Sai group as they are the ones who most have to make their own decisions between Sai Baba's expectations, their more conservative parents expectations and their normal lives in western society. This is probably the reason why many of them seek answers elsewhere. My personal expectation of Sai Baba as a traditional 'guru' is that these conflicting issues would have to be addressed.
6) Differences in spiritual expectations between younger and older
Without wishing to insult any age-group or give reference to age, there are very obvious differences in what the more youthful are hoping for at a spiritual level compared to their parent's generation. This also relates to cultural differences but going deeper most people under the age of '40' have very high expectations of fulfilment in life and this also transcends to spirituality when this path is explored. In the developed West, this attitude can extend to people of any age as well. So where does Sai Baba as a 'guru' fit in? The same applies as in the point on cultural differences. His discourses and teachings are too generic too be applied to all groups. Among those of Indian origins, people of more advanced years tend to look to his religious feedback on Hinduism. This is not a criticism as I draw inspiration from Hindu philosophy as well but their are other areas which can be equally fulfilling especially for young minds who usually appreciate a lot of stimulation. All young people now function in a world that is filled with massive levels of stimuli - countless options exist for just about anything. Hence most youth are well informed and require much more than the old traditions for spiritual evolution. Regarding Sai Baba, there has been no evident role of guru or even a guide when looking at these complexities.
7) Sai devotees
For any spiritual organisation, the greater public can only assess the credibility of the respective guru through the practices of the deciples or devotees who follow. Although there is a standard code of conduct for Sai followers and there are many highly sincere followers of Baba, there are numerous cases where the principles put forth are not consistently practiced and the experiences of many who visit Prashanti are conflicting - rules there are extremely rigid but conspicuously Sai Baba's primary teaching of 'love' is sometimes absent. Maybe this is a cultural thing prevalent in India which may appear as 'impolite' to visitors but the principles of love are extremely basic. In any and every traditional culture, courtesy and respect are given a greal of importance. Love is the most common language hence everyone involved in the runnings of Sai Baba's ashrams and organisation should be expressing this as the rule rather than the exception. From a more personal observation it was the young students that displayed the most amount of courtesy. There were also the few sevadals in Prashanti (one young woman in particular whose behviour was really touching to me) that made up for the more dismissive attitudes of others. Again the sevadals in Whitefield more consistently displayed courtesy.
The more deeper problem is the rigidity of views among a number of Sai devotees themselves. If they come across anyone with a problem that they are unable to give sound advice to or perhaps is in conflict with some of Baba's obvious teachings, judgement and self-righteousness often emerges. Rather than admitting to not having the answers and advising to seek alternative solutions, the usual defensive comments arise (please feel free to add!!):
"It's all his will."
"It's in his own time."
"One has to learn to be patient."
"He's probably accelerating your karma."
"He knows what he's doing."
"You must surrender totally then you will get help."
"Just leave it to him - he will sort it out."
"There must be a reason for this."
"You probably need to learn some lesson."
No doubt life itself is a lesson but try telling this to a person who is suffering! Amazing how numerous 'Sai' followers assume the position of spokeperson (or 'guru' under the 'Guru') for any inexplicable problem or inexplicable behaviour by Baba!
I am happy to put my hand up though and say that I also bought into the above comments for quite a while and may still do on occasion. However I definitely did stop short at passing the buck if any one was going through a difficult situation - my old rules still applied; if someone needed help and I sincerely had the capacity to help as relevant, then it was done without hesitation. Of course if capacity to help did not exist, then the person would have to be redirected elsewhere. But if Sai devotees are not consistently making a great impression on the public at large, how will the 'guru' be judged?
So when considering all of this, the problem lies more with people who blindly follow Sai Baba rather than with any problem regarding him as a the traditional guru. With continuing misinformed acceptance by Sai followers, how would this permeate into society when rumours abound that do require answers. Take a look at the enormous amount of information on the internet dedicated to bringing to light Sai Baba's inconsistencies. What about the rumours of misconduct!? I have no doubt that some of these rumours are the result of those looking to discredit him - there has been enough negativity present for this to be happening just about everywhere. However, it is rash to dismiss all the reports of possible misconduct - because of the growing number of reports there must be elements of truth in many of them, if not being completely plausible accounts. I certainly see Sathya Sai Baba as an Avatar and is Satguru or Supreme Guru overall hence his methods of teaching may be unpredicatable. The reality is that anyone who denies all inconsistencies and inexplicable behaviour without further reflection is giving in to some of the old fears again - greater karma, punishment, denial of grace by him - the list goes on.
I read somewhere that Baba stated that all gurus and the like should be questioned, including him - no-one should be taken at face value. Basically that has been an invitation from Sathya Sai himself for people to challenge him. Very reassuring are the numerous websites and pages that are on the increase examining Gurus including Sai Baba, which probably has been long overdue. I can hear Sai devotees all over the world again rushing to Sai's defense but if he is truly God then he does not need anyone to defend him - the reality is that people are only defending their own images of him in themselves. Accepting a conflicting point of view would seek to challenge one’s own beliefs.
Ideals by Sathya Sai Baba are simple to understand; we often make it more complicated but nonetheless each individual is complex. This is a double-edged sword and problems invariably will arise if we rigidly hold on to a notion that Baba is acting as a Guru unless we have had direct message from him through interviews, dreams or meditation. Of course all ideals incorporating and surrounding love need to be followed but most of us know this anyway - if this is the case, do we really require him as a traditional guru. As referred to before most Sai followers are getting their guidance through the variety of grapevines from other Sai followers and obviously this will be subject to a huge amount of misinterpretation. Another serious problem that unfortunately prevails in all religious spheres, is the age-old failings of envy and competition. The same is true for followers of Sai Baba - if one person has a particularly good experience, others are also hoping for the same. Comparisons and attempts to measure up to another's person's apparent blessings or level of evolving are constantly evident. Sometimes the reverse occurs where certain devotees are put on pedestals by others as being very close to Baba or being blessed in some remarkable way that sets them apart. Again one wonders who the real guru is?
Sai Baba's path is both simultaneously simple but complex. Even though I accept his divinity and his role as Sat-Guru because of my own personal experiences, I would avoid any scenario that seeks to confuse or add to fears and insecurities. I also believe that each one of us has everything we need within us to be successful, loving, peaceful, wise, powerful, joyful and content. If you are seeking liberation from him, it is worth noting that a path of love, righteous character, respect for God, unity and harmonious balance is very likely to get you there whatever your spiritual or religious faith. My observation is that Baba's messages may sometimes be unclear unless he has spoken to you directly or through meditation or dream . The path of leading individuals to reaching one's true potential which seems to be necessary to achieve a good measure of inner freedom as the prelude for liberation from the cycle of birth and death comes with certain inconsistencies as mention about. Unless you have had a profound personal experience, as a 'guru' Sai Baba may appear too remote, essentially leaving it to the individual to make the decisions.
In conclusion, I would say that my opinion of Sathya Sai Baba is an Avatar who is stirring the cauldron of life...or certainly the cauldrons of life for those who continue to doggedly follow him without reflecting on his more subtle messages. I believe that he has a direct hand in breaking norms, shifting long-entrenched beliefs, rocking everyone's boat, destroying stereo-types and forcing people out of their rigidly controlled worlds. Is this a good thing - very likely so, in the long-run! I do applaud the few Sai devotees that I’ve come across every now and then who accept this as a fact. Then what about the prospects of following a guru who is so unpredictable? It would be quite foolhardy to assume that he is playing the traditional 'guru'. Be warned that if you are a staunch follower of him, just when you think you have your life figured out, a storm may start to threaten. He is an Avatar but it is still not safe to adopt him as a guru without his demonstrated ability to guide and protect you as an individual. If you see predominently as Satguru or Supreme Guru, this is a much safer route. We need to return to our original concepts of God as being the epitome of love, wisdom, justice and mercy - with or without a guru this is the God we should be following in our hearts and this should be the reflection that Sai Baba or an incarnation of God should be displaying to every sincere follower. The far easier and rewarding path is to develop the voice of love and wisdom within our own hearts which will always prove to be the faithful inner guru - most of my blogs are dedicated to exploring our potential to make great strides in spiritual growth but also thought it necessary to properly clarify my perspective of Sai Baba's guru role as opposed to his currently discreet role on the planet.For open-ended spiritual discussions, please go to my 'spiritual eye' page.
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