Aravind Balasubramanya has spent more than 2 decades with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He has studied under Baba and been His photographer.
The detractors say that ‘sleight of hand’ and ‘magic tricks’ won him followers who were gullible and naïve. The devotees say that ‘physical manifestations’ earned him die-hard critics who were so blind and hard-hearted that they refused to see the millions of lives he positively affected. The life and history of Sri Sathya Sai Baba seems to remind one of the proverbial tree laden with fruit - it always receives stones. While some stones were cast to enjoy and relish the sweet fruits, some were cast because it seems so tempting to just do it!
Of course, he cannot be accepted as a prophet. What religion did he establish? He just brought together humanity under the principles of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of god. In a world that stands on the brink of religious disaster due to self-centered zealots, he exhorted a Hindu to be a better Hindu, a Muslim to be a better Muslim and a Christian to be a better Christian. The symbol that he designed to represent the organisation had representations from all the major religions of the world.
Everyone from the Tibetan Monks to the Islamic scholars, Hindu yogis to Christian fathers, Sikh gurus to Buddhist preachers visited him and were received warmly with love by his followers. They were amazed with his deep understanding of their religion and often admired the insights he provided. The ‘Vahini’ series of books that he authored convey the greatest spiritual Truths in easy and practical terms - all one has to do is to pick one and read it! But still, how can he be a prophet when he did not start a new religion?
Spirit behind the ritual - the Spiritual!
The world credits him for his massive social welfare projects - drinking water schemes, super specialty hospitals and free higher education. The critics also acknowledge that fact while the followers parade it as proof of his divinity. And in that, both seem to miss the point. Sathya Sai Baba never believed in a few buildings (however big or grand) making the world a better place as he believed in a few ideas.
The schools and university were a result of the idea that Education is a process of bringing out from within what is already latent in an individual. And that latent treasure is love, truth, right conduct, peace, understanding and compassion which he exhorted every student to make patent. The Sathya Sai Grama seva or village service, where every student spends a week going to villages distributing food and clothes, was instituted not so much to serve the poor but to imbibe the idea, spirit and joy of service in the student. As the chancellor of the University, he always advised the students to get a good name for themselves, their parents and their Alma Mater. He told them that they had received good education without a fee because education is everyone’s birthright and they need not feel grateful about it. But the gratitude, however, became a part of every student’s life as he/she went about perpetuating this service.
The hospitals and water projects arose because he felt that water and medical care were people’s right. They should not be a costly purchase. Much has been written about these projects but very little has been said about how he wanted people to imbibe the spirit of service and love. “When a thorn pricks the foot, the hand automatically goes to remove it without feeling that it is helping the foot. That is how service has to be rendered.”
And yet, they say that he surrounded himself with the rich, the popular and the elite! Such talk only shows that people indulging in it have not bothered to visit him even once. If his interactions with the poor, the suffering and the helpless are not known, it is only because attention has not been drawn to them. Sachin Tendulkar’s visit to pay homage to him was splashed across media in every form but we see no mention of the massive housing project that he made for the flood victims of Orissa or the Village Integrated programmes he charted for the tribal regions of East and West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh.
Detractor and devotee; theory and experience
And when it came to the question, “Who are you? Are you God?”, his reply always was,
“Find out who you are. You will realize that you too are God.”
Godhood is not donned, it has to be accepted by people. Let us be honest and fair. If any of us claim godhood by ascending a pulpit, how many followers will we have in, say, 80 years from now? Starting as a poor boy in a drought-prone village that had not heard the sounds of a motor vehicle, having millions of followers world-wide is some achievement. He threw away his history books one day and today, he has entered history books. But when it came to Godhood, he always thrust back Godhood on the people saying,
“You are all God. you just are not aware of it."
That is reminiscent of “God you think, God you are; Dust you think, dust you are” isn't it?
“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”, was what Albert Einstein said of Mahatma Gandhi. The amazing stories of grace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba are such that even when he walked upon the earth, people found it hard to believe. Many came, saw with their own eyes, experienced in their own beings and accepted him as their Lord. Some however chose to stay in their own little coops, happy to heap scathing criticism.
“Why explore something that is impossible?” seems to be the theorem. “When something is impossible, even if millions speak in glowing terms about it, it must be false and everyone must be crazy” is the automatic corollary!
There is no difference between the detractor and devotee when it comes to his/her passion, intensity and belief.There is one major difference however. While the former quotes reports, newspapers, articles and written accounts to emphasize the criticism, the latter only speaks of deep conviction born from personal experience! And that shows why one seems to blare louder to make a point while the other seems to melt into silence when confronted. The rationale of the head never seems to gather enough momentum to overpower the conviction of the heart!
And that is why, those that have experienced him in their hearts refuse to accept that he has ‘died’. For them, he lives on forever and they receive guidance and help whenever they need. They have no doubts in that and they see no need to convince anyone else about it. That is the power of what one has observed and experienced. Reminds one of Albert Einstein when he was scoffed at his proposal of the photoelectric effect. When science had evolved over a century to prove that light was a wave and not a particle, here was someone considered a genius who based his effect on the premise that light was a particle! The photoelectric effect which he gave in 1905 won the Nobel prize in 1921.
When theory and experiment seem to clash with observation and experience, should we not go with the experience?
© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya
sIMA JAYANTILAL, FROM PORTUGAL- LISBON on July 12, 2014:
I LOVE SAIBABA HE IS MY GOD FATHER I ALWAYS PRAY TO HIM HE IS THE GREAT
sumedha habbu on February 26, 2014:
Lovely article. You've been doing such a lovely job. And you were perfect in mentioning different categories of people when it came to swami. I read it for my better half who doesn't believe him as god. Thanks for the post. It doesn't matter whether people take to Him or not , let's pray for being His devotees for all times to come. Sairam. It's rightly said, that not a blade of grass moves without HIS WILL.
Gonam on December 06, 2013:
Aum Sai Ram.........may all the beings in all the worlds be happy........that is my wish and prayer
Sai Dav on October 06, 2013:
OM SAI RAM
Sri Sathya Sai Baba 1926 - 2011 - incorrect
SRI SATHYA SAI BABA 1926 - ....... (2022) WE AWAIT HIS RETURN AS PROMISED
JAI SAI RAM
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on June 09, 2013:
@Corsicor - Thank you!
@Yarisha - Beautiful thoughts wonderfully put! :) Experience is everything...
@Manjula Prasad - Hmmm... I received those complaints too. Am trying out writing on Blogger. Please send me a mail via this page.
corsicor on June 08, 2013:
God bless all of us... Thank you dear brother! OM JEY SAI RAM.
Manjula Prasad on June 06, 2013:
I very much enjoy reading your articles, and always look forward to having them. Since recently, after this article, I have been unable to read any one of your new ones, because, as you have changed the system, I have been unable to open it. See if you can do something. Thanks
Yarisha on June 01, 2013:
Today I faced a similar situation. My uncle warned me about being attracted to materializations and the like. He does not like Swami and more so he does not like my family's dedication to a man showing of 'powers anyone can harness'. I always feel like defending Swami just a bit but I never do - Who can defend God? An answer that closed the discussion - 'I have always been attracted to God's LOVE, my experience, my faith and the will to live, are all based only on his LOVE' :-)
Lakshmi Gopal on May 31, 2013:
Fantastically brilliant article. U have put it so beautifully. Thank u Arvind .
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on May 31, 2013:
@ Hari -
Swami has himself stated the reason for such 'hatred'. He says, disappointment, anger and then, hatred, arise from the non-fulfillment of desires. As long as God grants all that is asked, He is praised and worshipped. The minute there is non-fulfillment, it turns into criticism. Both the 'westerners' you mention have had their disappointment in this manner and if you know what are the things they have done in the organization, you will feel nauseated. :)
The Bhagwad Gita reveals that when we engage in actions with mind on their fruit, it gives rise to attachment, that in turn gives rise to desire, desire leads to anger, anger to delusion, delusion to confusion of memory and confusion of memory leads to loss of intellect. When the intellect is lost, we perish.
That is the case here... :)
Thank you for the comment.
Hari on May 31, 2013:
Sai Ram Aravind,
This is one thing I have been thinking about very deep this week. I have a theory about some of the prominent Sai bashers, especially 2 notable former Western devotees on wordpress.com.
I have been reading a lot of Sai literature lately, and I thoroughly enjoy reading them (including your hubpages :) ) Sometimes though, I do get overwhelmed as the deep mystical world with Karmic laws, Dharmic duties, where truth alone is, etc seem so entirely different from the objective world which we currently live in and the people we interact with.
Sometimes I do wonder if the people who actively bash Swami online with false stories and untruths, do so not because they hate Swami, but because their minds simply could not handle the magnitude of change we need to make within ourselves to win Swami's grace. Because of this, they might actively go around bashing the truth, to hopefully submerge these feelings and convince themselves that Swami is such and such.
Not because they didn't like Swami, but because the "inconvenient truth" of life was too much to handle.
Mark Aspa from Berlin, Germany on August 09, 2012:
a tour de force, making just the right points, in the space allowed.
surbi mandale on August 09, 2012:
swami' s leela can't be expressed in words but i must bhaiya has got special blessing from baba to do so...sairam!!
Udhayakumar G K on July 27, 2012:
Udhayakumar G K
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on April 08, 2012:
Thank you Andrea, Pravin Patel and Impressed Reader for sharing such beautiful things. The comments column has simply enriched the article with the episodes and feelings that you have expressed.
An Impressed Reader on April 08, 2012:
Brilliant piece brother ..
Reminds me of something that I saw in a news channel last year .. The anchor was talking to a trust member and was trying his level best to disturb his composure and get an angry outburst but failed miserably!!!
The trust member kept his composure throughout and answered in the politest of tones to all the insolent questions ..
That moment is enough to prove that our swami is undoubtedly successful in his mission .. It placed his highest achievement of transforming people in broad daylight for people to see ..
May we all prove to be worthy of his love and make our lives his message ..
Pravin Patel on March 26, 2012:
Sai Ram. Beautiful article Aravind. When Swami left His physical body I was sad for a few days, and then Amrit appeared on His photo and He appeared in my dream that night and said " Are you still missing Me".
And this happened in England. Swami is still with us, he has never left any of us. Sai Ram
Mohan R Suratkal on March 24, 2012:
Sathya Sai Baba is Omnipresent Lord to his true devotees. Critics may say anything about him.
Sai Jahnavi on January 31, 2012:
“When a thorn pricks the foot, the hand automatically goes to remove it without feeling that it is helping the foot. That is how service has to be rendered.”
This says it all, God and I are the same!
Thanks Aravind for this beautiful piece of work. Thanks to our beloved Swami for writing through you!
Andrea on January 30, 2012:
Thank you so much for your beautiful article!! Through Swami`s form I discovered Divine Love- which actually is my own true nature, and I am so grateful to Him. So people can say what they want, but unless they dive deep into the ocean they`ll never "get" the pearls...
Gonam Moodley on January 30, 2012:
I keep feeling HIS love in me, over and over again......and I think many others feel it too...Swami will ALWAYS be with us
saikrupasagar from Puttaparthi/ Visakhapatnam on January 29, 2012:
Dear All, As it is often said by Bhagwan that "Some people are happy praising me, and some people are happy abusing me. I want every one to be happy ", it is true that some people are just interested in gaining negative popularity by accusing or abusing the people who are in limelight. Now let us not give any attention to such people. They don't look into facts, and if they do then we won't find such comments
One more thing, I would request such wayward commentators " if you want money, fame and links to your pages then, go somewhere else, don't disturb us".
God has given us discrimination power to decide what is right or wrong. Gentlemen please utilize it, otherwise there is no difference between an animal and a human being.
Raghu on January 28, 2012:
@Ravishankar, I am not sure how fair it is to judge some one by nature of devotees. Can we say God is a beggar just because one among crores of devotees is a beggar? I had my father operated in Sathya Sai Superspeciality hospital, a bypass surgery done free of cost. So rather than hearing some biased reports and coming to conclusions, no matter I am exposed to thousands of such talks, I wont give a damn to it! Because my conviction is based on what I personally went through. Agreed every one may not have a chance to go through certain things, but you certainly have opportunity to go and see for yourself and judge rather than criticizing just because there is freedom of speech. As far as donations are concerned, let me tell you that nothing is accepted hard cash and donations are through cheques and when I deposited a thousand rupees cheque to the trust account, I received a receipt mentioning it is tax exempt under section 80G with a photo and Vibhuti prasad of Baba. So, I hope people verify facts before commenting. No offense intended. God bless you.
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on January 27, 2012:
@ Ravishankar - There is a waiting queue of 5 years for each of the hospitals. Of course there is priority for VIPs. The 'VIPs' in question here are the staff of His institutions, the students in the school and university, devotees who are engaged in service always etc.
These are people who have dedicated everything to Him and they of course get priority. You were right about VIPs but wrong in whom you thought they were!
I can only say that you should be scientific. Come, see for yourself and form your own opinions.
ravisankar siddamsetty on January 27, 2012:
in spite of all the things like sleight of hand, cheap magic to woo the naïve people etc that he is criticised of (i am a critic too), surely there is something beyond normal in him. i guess it is like a fruit that has a peel outside or a stone in side. it is up to us to enjoy the sweetness of the fruit discarding the peel and the fruit. i am not sure if it is true but i have heard people say that unless you are somebody big, there is always a long line before you get operated for your heart ailment or any other serious problems in his hospitals. similarly the special treatments for the (VIPs) people in power that are not available to the ordinary. and i have seen most selfish pseudos in many of his ardent devotees. i tend to believe many of his followers are like that due to my own experiences. however some of the benefits bestowed on the villages and towns like drinking water and similar facilities are worth a praise even though the money is from questionable sources.
Anitha on January 27, 2012:
Thank You so so much for the article dear Aravind! I could relate this article so much to my feelings about what and how our Dear Swami has tranformed me. Swami has blessed you with such wonderful skills of expressing with what/how you feel.
saikrupasagar from Puttaparthi/ Visakhapatnam on January 27, 2012:
Sairam Dear Brother,
I cannot express my feelings for such a wonderful service you r doing. Though you have a tight schedule, you still are doing such a great service. I really apreciate your efforts..Not to mention that Our Dear Lord is always with you..
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on January 26, 2012:
Thank you everyone. I really feel so blessed and happy. It sometimes makes me feel as though I wrote it!! Please pray that I remember always that He is the one that does everything and am only an instrument.
@Chax could you get in touch with me on mail @ firstname.lastname@example.org?
saisarannaga from Chennai in Tamilnadu, India. on January 26, 2012:
The need of this article is greatly felt. People will never understand an Avatar, especially the media. They need only scoop news, sensational one. This will take time to seep in the minds of the readers. Those who profess themselves as devotees, they never understood Swami till now! A thought provoking article! Thank you for penning it in your own style!
raviks from Hyderabad, India on January 26, 2012:
I read like a hungry man who can't eat fast enough...loved it. Thanks.
Chax on January 26, 2012:
Very good one, as usual, brother. Sairam.
I've also read through the article series on Swami's visit to north. Thanks for those too. I'm sure it will make a good read for a book (multiple languages). I'm ready to translate to telugu. Please think about it as a request. Not every devotee is internet savvy.
Onkar on January 26, 2012:
Boy you have written too Good. Swami's master plan no one understand. Be his Channel always and keep writing.
lataswamy on January 26, 2012:
Very well said Arvind. Very nicely written. May Swami Bless us all with many more such articles from you! Sai Ram
rishudeeps from pune on January 26, 2012:
great going...keep it up
Nikhil Subbanna on January 26, 2012:
Dear Aravind brother, hats off to you!
Haven't read a better article on Swami than this one! perfect job! Would love to read more and more articles on Sawmi from you. Keep them coming please.
Jai Sai Ram
poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on January 26, 2012:
You have a mission Aravind! Swami is so perfect to have chosen you to do the right job! Now read my fan mail message! I can't believe ..now you are officially a journalist!Way to go ! way to go!
Purnima on January 26, 2012:
Great job Aravind, very well articulated..
Vaishnavi on January 25, 2012:
anna like before even now i keep feeling swami's presence in my life every minute! he makes me realise that HE is with me! thanks for this post anna! sairam
Aarthi on January 25, 2012:
Again, another masterpiece! Loved it!
There are 2 points that I completely agree with.
"There is no difference between the detractor and devotee when it comes to his/her passion, intensity and belief." - Absolutely! Nobody will understand even if I try to explain to them what Swami means to me. A Sai devotee might understand, but only to a certain extent. He/she might not be able to feel the intensity that I have.
"They have no doubts in that and they see no need to convince anyone else about it." - Ditto! I really see no need to talk to anyone else about my faith in Him and how I feel His presence in so many ways.
Great post, bro!
Teekay63 on January 25, 2012:
Swami has started a silent (Sai-lent?) revolution. I feel there is no need for anyone to get emotional or upset when the critics and detractors start barking as they have been for years. Swami Himself demonstrated how they were to be dealt with - be at peace because at least they remember Him and chant His name; that is His compassion because all are His, whomsoever we may label, in our ignorance, as "good" or "bad". I think most important is for us (who call ourselves His devotees) to hold Him close and never let Him go (of course He never lets us go whether we hold on to Him or not!), and never be shaken no matter what happens. We just need to steady our minds & live in love.
A truly beautiful piece of writing, brother! How stunningly Swami shines through you! :)
nagendra on January 25, 2012:
very subtly u brought every aspect of swami's teachings brother. The article was awesome.
Naresh on January 25, 2012:
You have our gratitude for writing this Aravind.. May Swami 's light ever flow through you!