“I have come into this world to divert your thoughts from materialism toward spiritualism, and establish truth, righteousness, peace and love in you, and through you to the entire mankind, and bless them with peace and happiness.”
These words of Shirdi Sai Baba, a great Sufi of India, reflect the way he lived his life, and continues to influence the lives of his many devotees all over the world. There are countless stories of blessings and miracles granted by his grace, and indeed, I, myself have witnessed many. Every five hundred years, God comes on earth in human form, like Jesus, Krishna, Mahavira, Mohammad, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Shankaracharya, Neem Karoli Baba and Shirdi Sai Baba. They are real messengers of God, who come to give a new direction to our lives, to remind us of the power of Divine Love. Before I share a little of Sai Baba’s life, I would like to share a personal story of one of my many experiences of him that happened over twenty-five years ago.
I was sitting one day with a senior civil servant who asked me if he would ever become Chief Secretary of a particular State. I got a message that he had hurt a devotee of Sai Baba in the past, and this was blocking him from making the progress he had expected in his career. He was shocked and puzzled, but after a while remembered that years earlier, in 1964, a schoolteacher had approached him for support in publishing a book he had written about Shirdi Sai Baba. He had dismissed the book as rubbish and refused to help. This man was deeply sorry for his past behaviour and asked me what I felt he should do. I advised him to visit the Sai Baba Temple in Shirdi, and ask for forgiveness, which he did.
A few days later the Prime Minister of India was visiting this man’s State, and he met him at the airport. During a meeting, the Prime Minister offered him the post he had long wished for, Chief Secretary. He had cleared his karma by visiting Shirdi and doing as I suggested. I always advise people experiencing career difficulties to pray to Sai Baba for his blessing.
I say he was a great Sufi, but he purposefully lived his life following both Muslim and Hindu practices and rituals. One of his well-known sayings is: “Sabka Malik Ek.” (One God governs all). He dressed like a Muslim fakir and for sixty years he lived in a rundown mosque in Shirdi that he called Dwarakamai — Dwaraka is the sacred city built by Lord Krishna, Mai is mother. Within the mosque he kept a sacred fire lighting in the Hindu tradition and used the ash (Udi) to heal people. He also had a Tulsi plant, sacred to Hindus, at the left front side of the mosque. He celebrated the major festivals of both traditions. Once, a local Muslim, offended that Sai Baba had a fire lighting in the mosque, set out to kill him with a stick. Sai Baba focused his eyes on him, and the stick fell from his hands. He then raised his palms, and his attacker was shocked to see imprinted on them the Quran and Mecca Medina.
He used to say: “Rama who is worshipped by the Hindus, and Rahim by the Muslims are one and the same. There is no difference between them………. Do not harm anyone because he has harmed you. Whatever good is possible, you go on doing for others.”
Sai Baba had arrived in Shirdi sometime around 1854, when he was sixteen years old, sitting in deep meditation under a neem tree. While many local people were impressed by the depth of the young man’s devotion, others thought he was crazy and would throw stones at him. He disappeared for a year, returning in 1858, to take up his spot under the neem tree. By now people realised he was a Divine soul and would come for help. Soon, so much of his time was taken up doing healings and performing miracles that he would disappear deep into the forests for days at a time. Years later he compared the journey of life to a journey through the deep forest, saying jealousy, selfishness, hatred, and greed are the wild animals of life, and you never know when they will strike.
He was persuaded to move into the old mosque, and he lived there until he left his body in 1918. Over the course of those years, he devoted all his time in the service of others, burning the karmas of those who came in the sacred fire, applying Udi on the sick to cure them, delivering profound spiritual teachings form both the Vedas and the Quran. Nobody was ever turned away. In his words: “If you look to me, I look to you. If you come one step toward me, I will come ten steps toward you. I shall give you help or advice the moment you ask for it.”
Some of the miracles he performed show he had control of the five elements — earth, water, fire, air and ether. On one occasion a local farmer came running. A fire in a haystack was out of control and there was fear it would spread to the other fields and the village. Sai Baba went with a small pot of water which he sprinkled around the base of the haystack and asked the fire not to spread beyond that base. The fire obeyed. During a time of drought when the local well ran dry, he threw flowers into the well, which immediately filled with water.
Even as he was dying and very weak, he continued to help those who sought him out. Just before he left his body in the afternoon of 15th October 1918, he took nine rupees from his shirt pocket. He gave them to one of his devotees, explaining that the nine coins represented the nine qualities needed by a devotee: absence of ego; absence of jealousy; untiring service; absence of worldly desires; complete faith in your Guru; a peaceful nature; a desire to know the truth; absence of envy; absence of self-boasting and finding fault in others.