Shirdi Sai Baba (ca. 1835–1918)
Five Perfect Masters played a role in unveiling Meher Baba’s divine state as the Avatar of the Age. According to Meher Baba, one of these Masters, Sai Baba of Shirdi, was the head of the entire spiritual hierarchy of the time. This brief account of Sai Baba by Kendra Crossen Burroughs is excerpted from Spiritual Innovators: Seventy-Five Extraordinary People Who Changed the World in the Past Century © 2002 SkyLight Paths Publishing. Permission granted by SkyLight Paths Publishing,
Shirdi Sai Baba’s life demonstrated that great spiritual personalities transcend traditional concepts of how saints and gurus accomplish their work. Known for his eccentric behavior, he appeared mad to some but was widely recognized as a master of the highest caliber. His emphasis on the unity of all religions was an early model for today’s ideal of religious tolerance and universalism.
His personal history is unknown, but it is thought that Sai Baba was born a Hindu of the Brahmin caste in a
His magnetic presence and luminous eyes attracted devotees from both the Hindu and Muslim communities. Combining traits of the two faiths, he dressed in Muslim fashion while wearing Hindu caste marks on his forehead and burned a continuous sacred fire (dhuni) in the mosque, a practice associated more with Hinduism (and Zoroastrianism) than with Islam.
Instead of giving conventional teachings, Sai Baba bestowed his grace and help symbolically through cryptic actions, stories, and parables. He employed shock tactics, such as displaying a fiery temper or ordering a strict vegetarian to eat meat. He would demand money from visitors but then give it away or use it in mysterious rituals intended to aid the spiritual advancement of devotees. He gained renown as a wonder-worker and for his supernatural powers. On one occasion, he used his arm to stir a boiling pot without injury; on another, he deliberately burned his hand in the dhuni fire, explaining that he did this to save a baby who had fallen into flames in a distant village. But though his healings and miracles (such as granting progeny to childless couples) were flamboyant, he discouraged devotees from seeking powers and visions. He trained his followers to attract the grace of God through devotion and obedience to the guru, and encouraged normal family life rather than renunciation and asceticism. His other characteristics included a delight in music and dance, the habitual smoking of a clay pipe, and a love for dogs.
Shirdi Sai Baba named no successor, but among his well-known disciples were Meher Baba and Upasni Maharaj, who became masters in their own right. Many accept the contemporary teacher Sathya Sai Baba as his reincarnation, while others believe that Shirdi Sai hims
He often spoke symbolically…. Once Deshpande, a devotee …, was bitten by a snake and, in his terror, rushed straight to the mosque. When he reached the steps, however, Baba shouted: “Don't come up, Brahmin! Go back! Get down!” Even in his fear of death, he did not dare disobey Sai Baba but stood there in mute supplication. A moment later Baba spoke again, this time in a gentle, kindly voice: “Come up now. The Fakir is gracious to you. You will recover.”
“The Fakir”… was Sai Baba's way of referring to God. Deshpande now found that in the command not to come up Baba had been speaking not to him but to the poison which was entering his bloodstream.
He would sometimes speak in parables, leaving his devotees to work out the answer.
“Some robbers came and took away my money. I said nothing but quietly followed them and killed them and so recovered my money.” The money is the faculties natural to man in his pure state, to Primordial Man or Adam before the Fall; the robbers are the desires; killing them and recovering the wealth is destroying desires and realizing the S
—Arthur Osborne, The Incredible Sai Baba, pp. 80-81.