Sai Baba, a personification of spiritual perfection and an epitome of compassion, lived in the little village of Shirdi in the state of Maharashtra (India) for sixty years. Like most of the perfect saints he left no authentic record of his birth and early life before arriving at Shirdi. In fact, in the face of his spiritual brilliance such queries do not have much relevance.
He reached Shirdi as a nameless entity. One of the persons who first came in contact with him at Shirdi addressed him spontaneously as ‘Sai’ which means Savior, Master or Saint. ‘Baba’ means father as an expression of reverence. In the Divine play it was designed as such, that He subtly inspired this person to call Him by this name, which was most appropriate for His self-allotted mission.
All that we definitely know of Sai Baba is that his arrival at Shirdi was anonymous. He was first noticed in the outskirts of the village Shirdi, seated under a ‘neem’ (margosa) tree, about the year 1854. However, even this date is not definitely noted. Sai Baba of these younger days remained a stranger staying under the neem tree for some time and then suddenly he left Shirdi to come back again sometime in 1858, and stayed on there till he left his gross body in the year 1918.
The second advent of Baba at Shirdi, around 1858 was interestingly quite different from the first. This time he accompanied a wedding procession as guest of honor. On the arrival at Shirdi, he was immediately recognized by someone as the same anonymous saintly personality who used to be seated under the neem tree a few years earlier and, greeted Him as “Ya Sai” – Welcome Sai.
In the early days of his stay at Shirdi he spent his time either wandering in the outskirts of village and neighboring thorny jungles or sitting under the neem tree totally self absorbed. The first set of villagers who regarded this saintly figure were Mhalsapati, Tatya Kote, Bayyaji Bai and few others. Bayyaji Bai felt deeply motivated by this Divine Saint, and with her motherly instinct she used to walk miles on end into the jungles in search of him, carrying food in a basket on her head. Often she found Sai Baba sitting under some tree in deep meditation, calm and motionless. She would boldly approach him, serve the meal and return home.
After sometime as though out of compassion for her, Sai Baba ceased wandering and moved into a dilapidated mosque in the outskirts of the village. He referred to this mosque, where He resided till the end, as ‘Dwarkamai’ (Dwarka was the place where Lord Shri Krishna stayed to fulfill His divine Advent). This mosque ‘Dwarkamai’ – abode of Sai Baba became Mother of Mercy for all the time to come.
He had a body of athlete built and in his earlier days he was fond of wrestling. Another aspect of Sai Baba’s personality was his love for song and dance. In those early years of his life he used to go to ‘Takia’, the public night shelter for moslem visitors to the village. There in the company of sojourning devotees and fakirs, he used to dance and sing in divine bliss, with small tinkles tied around his ankles. The songs he sang were mostly in Persian or Arabic. Sometimes he sang some popular songs of Kabir.
He donned a long shirt – ‘Kafni’ and tied a cloth around his head, and twisted it into a flowing plait like manner behind his left ear. He used a piece of sackcloth for his seat and slept on it with a brick as his pillow. He always declared that Fakiri (Holy poverty) was far superior to worldly richness. He was no ordinary fakir but an ‘Avatar ’ (incarnation) of a very high order. But His external appearance was of simple, illiterate, moody, emphatic – at times fiery and abusive and at times full of compassion and love. In the moments of towering rage people with him thought it was ungovernable rage. But his anger never prevented his compassion dealing with the devotees. His anger was evidently directed at unseen forces. He enacted all these simple traits only to hide His real identity as the God incarnate. Under the cover of simplicity He silently worked for the spiritual transformation and liberation of innumerable souls – human beings and animals alike, who were drawn to Him, by an unseen forces.
He begged for alms and shared what he got with his devotees and all the creatures around him. He never kept any food in reserve for the next meal. He maintained the ‘Dhuni’ – the perpetual sacred fire and distributed its ash – ‘Udi’ as token of His divine grace to all who came to Him for help.
Baba would ask for ‘Dakshina’ (money offered with reverence to the ‘Guru’ or the master) from some of those who came to see him. This was not because he needed their money but for deeper significance, which the devotees realized at, an appropriate time.
Baba used to freely distribute all the money that was received in the form of Dakshina to the destitute, poor, sick and needy the very same day. This was one of Baba’s methods for testing out the devotees attachments to worthy things and willingness to surrender.
He ploughed up the village common land and raised a flower garden thereon, he watered the plants, carrying pots full of water on his shoulders. In the later years he spent a few hours in this Lendi garden which he himself had laid out in the early days.
He was every moment exercising a double consciousness, one actively utilizing the apparent Ego called ‘Sai Baba’ dealing with other egos in temporal and spiritual affairs, and the other – entirely superceding all egos as the Universal Ego or Over soul.
He was the common man’s God. He lived with them, he slept and ate with them. Baba had a keen sense of humour. He shared a ‘chillum’ (clay pipe for smoking) indiscriminately with them to write off the cast superiority and orthodoxy in their minds. He had no pretensions of any kind .He was always very playful in the presence of children. Baba used to feed the fakirs and devotees and even cook for them.
Sai Baba’s perfect purity, benevolence, non-attachment, compassion and other virtues evoked deep reverence in the villagers around him. His divinity could not conceal itself for long. Initially when people wanted to worship him formally, Baba protested and dissuaded them. But gradually he allowed it with the prescience that it would become the means for temporal and spiritual benefits to millions of individuals for all time to come.
The Dwarkamai of Sai Baba was open to all, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. As the days passed devotees from all walks of life started streaming into Shirdi. The village Shirdi was fast assuming prominence. As the gifts and presentations flowed in, the pomp and grandeur of Sai worship also increased. But Baba’s life of a fakir remained calm, undisturbed, unaltered and there is the Saint’s spiritual glory.
He lived His divine mission through His pure self in a human embodiment. The immense energy that was manifest in the body of Sai was moving in a mysterious way, creating and recreating itself every where beyond the comprehension of time and space.
This fountainhead of unsurpassed spiritual glory shed His gross body on 15th October 1918. Every limb, every bone and pore of his body was permeated with divine essence. Baba claimed that though one day his physical body will not exist his remains will communicate with all those who seek him with inner yearnings. His self-allotted labour of love in His physical body was perhaps over. Today He continues to work ever vigorously as the ‘Sai Spirit’.
Sai Baba of Shirdi did not write any books. All that is available to us is records of a number of conversations between him and his devotees preserved in various biographical accounts. The following is a conversation which a devotee, Nana Govind Chandorkar, a Deputy Collector who was a traditionally well read orthodox person, had with Shirdi Sai Baba.
Nana: Baba, I am fed up with this samsara. It is only nissara (thast without content). Please help me cut the bonds which bind me to it. What appears as pleasant in the beginning ends in misery. Fate tosses us hither and thither. I don’t see an iota of happiness in this samsara.
Baba: Nana, you are prattling like a mad man. What you say is only partially true. You have misunderstood the truth. The samsara will exist as long as the body exists. No one can escape from it. How can you? Even I am under its clutches. The samsara is varied and different. It is the work of Desire and Anger. All the vagaries of the mind and the body constitute samsara. By running away and hiding yourself in a forest you cannot escape it. What you are now has been brought on you by yourself. You are only experiencing the fruits of your actions done by you in your previous lives. It is by that cause the effect of the appearance of this body has taken place. This is called deha–prarabdha. The soul gets a body just to experience the consequences of actions of its own previous lives. Without experiencing the consequences of prarabdha karma one cannot leave this world. Why do people look different? Why, in fact, do various living beings look different? It is all because of the karma of previous lives. A rich man’s dog rolls in joy on a cushioned sofa. A poor man’s dog rots at the street corner. The difference is because of prarabdha.
Nana: Since pleasure and pain do any way alternate in this samsara, one feels like hating it and renouncing it. Is it not good to renounce?
Baba: Pleasure and pain are both maya. What appears as pleasant is not really a pleasure. People in the clutches of samsara take the appearance of plesure as real pleasure and are drawn towards it. As a result of prarabdha karma one fellow gets tasty, dainty and rich food while another felllow has onoly stale bread to eat. The former thinks that he has no wants and the latter thinks he is a failure. Think well. Whatever you may eat, the result is the same. Appeasement of one’s hunger. One fellow covers his body with costly cloth with zari and all. Another does the same with a torn old rag. Both serve the same purpose. Pleasure and pain depend on the attitude of your mind. This is the effect of maya. Do not give place in your mind to thoughts of pleasure and pain.
MAYA manifests itself as the six enemies of Man: Lust, Anger, Greed, Delusion, Pride and Envy. They make non-real things appear as real. A poor man, seeing the rich man wearing a gold ornament, wishes to have one like that for himself. This is greed. The others are similar to this. Conquer all six of these foes of Man. No desire will then rise in the mind. Otherwise you will become a slave of these six rogues. Use your discretion and kill them. You will not be affected by pleasure and pain caused by maya.
Let me tell you how you should go about in this samsara. A wise person will be content with whatever he has, knowing full well that it is his prarabdha. If you have riches, be humble. A tree with more fruits in it will bend. But do not bend before all. One should certainly be firm and stern with wicked people. But with sadhus and the devout, you should show humility and modesty.
Spend your wealth in charity and dharma. But do not be extravagant. This body is certainly impermanent but so long as it is there, wealth is necessary to a certain extent. Even bile is necessary for the health of the body. But do not become greedy as money is the be-all and end-all of life. Be charitable. But do not do wasteful expenditure.
Observe happily all the goings-on in the world. Do not forget God. Remember always: ‘This samsara is not mine, it is God’s.’ Show your sympathy with the poor and the down-trodden. Do not hurt them by showing hate or disgust. Keep a constant mental analysis of the question: ‘Who am I?’
Nana: Baba, Who is God? How will He look? Where is He? How can we see Him?
Baba: Those who toil in samsara neither understand what is right and wrong nor do they comprehend the nature of God. Pure thoughts are absent in them. Constantly being immersed in the ocean of samsara they do not have faith in devotion or in the scriptures. They don’t reach God. They go towards hell.
On the other hand those who are eager to rise higher towards salvation, discard this state of bondage and begin to enquire with discretion and intelligence. They are always itching to see God. They develop bhakti towards Him and observe the laws of the scriptures. They adopt nama-japa and dhyana and become a sadhaka (an aspirant to reach God). They continuously move with the devout. When they reach a mature stage in their japa and dhyana they become saintly. In that stage God and Man are alike. Praise and blame are one and the same for them. Desires have left them. The thought of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’ are not any more there. They begin to see that their own Atma and God are the same. They realize ‘I am Brahman“.
Observe how each one of them has reached God. You will yourself then understand that God permeates all animate and inanimate objects in the world.
God is everywhere. There is no place where He is not. What prevents us from seeing Him is the power of maya. Me, you, this world, all are part of Isvara. Therefore no one should hate another. Never forget that the Lord is everywhere. That will generate Love in you. When love overflows, everything is obtained.
One of the most beautiful persons of this past century was Sai Baba of Shirdi. He had a friend and a follower. No one knows whether he was a Mohammedan or a Hindu, but he lived in a mosque, so it was believed he was a Mohammedan. And a Hindu follower was there, who loved, respected, has much faith in Sai Baba. Every day he would come for his darshan, and without seeing him he would not go. Sometimes it would happen that for the whole day he would have to wait, but without seeing he would not go, and he would not take food unless he has seen Sai Baba.
Once it happened the whole day passed, there was much gathering and much crowd – he couldn’t enter. When everybody has gone, just in the night he touched the feet.
Sai Baba said to him,
Why you unnecessarily wait? There is no need to see me here, I can come there. And drop this from tomorrow. Now I will do. Before you take your food you will see me every day.”
The disciple was very happy. So next day he was waiting and waiting; nothing happened. Many things happened really, but nothing happened according to his conception. By the evening he was very angry. He has not taken the food, and Sai Baba has not appeared so he went again. He said, “You promise and you don’t fulfill?”
Sai Baba said,
But I appeared thrice, not even once. First time I came, I was a beggar and you said to me, ‘Move away! Don’t come here!’ Second time I came I was an old woman, and you just won’t look at me; you closed your eyes-because the disciple had the habit of not seeing women; he was practicing not seeing women, so he closed the eyes.
I had come, but what do you expect? Should I enter your eyes, closed eyes? I was standing there, but you closed the eyes. The moment you saw me, you closed the eyes. Then third time I reached as a dog, and you won’t allow me in. With a stick you were standing in the door.
And these three things had happened. And these things have been happening to whole humanity. The divine comes in many forms, but you have a prejudice; you have a pre-formulated conception; you cannot see. He must appear according to you, and he never appears according to you. And he will never appear according to you. You cannot be the rule for him and you cannot put any conditions.