A recent trip to Shirdi made me realise how far removed we truly are from Sai Baba’s core philosophy. I saw hordes of people jostling to get a darshan, mostly poor, standing in the scorching sun to get a glimpse of the statue of a simple, humble fakir who has been glorified into something he would have never approved of – a God. Of course, the ones who walked right in were those with VIP passes, who’ve made considerable donations to the shrine of a man who, ironically, never made distinctions between the rich and the poor. In fact, he frequently treated the poor first and made the rich wait, knowing well that the former needed his help more. Fast forward years later and the roles have reversed. It’s now the wealthy who get first access to him, while the poor are heckled, shouted at, and basically treated like uninvited nuisance.
Inside the sanctum too it’s no different. The security staff are seen constantly shouting at devotees, telling them to make way for some politician or richie rich who’s come for blessings. Sadly, it’s not blessings that these wealthy folks need but a better upbringing and an education that teaches them a sense of equality – something that Baba himself would have recommended to such people instead of a darshan.
Equally disturbing to witness was the over-the-top, hedonistic adornment of Sai Baba’s murti, replete with flashy attire and a golden crown studded with diamonds. Baba lived in a humble hut and wore a kafni, langot and head-cloth. Today, I’ m sure he is alive in spirit, and feels a sense of deep disappointment of what has been made of him. I can speak of Sai Baba with credible authority – I’ve done a thesis on him, and while it’s important to know who he was, it’s equally important to know who he wasn’t. His teachings have been forgotten and he has been turned into a miracle man who will blindly grant you everything you desire. Strange, since his core teaching implies taking responsibility for one’s life and accepting the setbacks as part of your karma, instead of looking heavenwards for inspiration. This essential message has been completely ignored by the millions who throng to his shrine, in expectations of a quick fix to all of life’s problems. That’s not who he was, and that’s not what he wants us to be.
Sai’s core teaching was two-fold. His first quote, Sabka Malik Ek taught us that everyone has just one master. While he referred to god, many of his followers and certainly his temple staff believe that everyone’s sole master is money.
His second quote, Shraddha and Saburi enlightened us on the virtues of faith and patience. Sadly, today, at his very shrine, the unruly staff, and many equally unruly, entitled so-called devotees, display neither real faith nor any patience.
Perhaps Sai’s greatest teaching is what he said to me when I closed my eyes during the aarti, deeply disappointed at everything I had just witnessed: “Don’t ever come here for me again. I’m not in Shirdi. I’m in your heart.” I, for one, will follow that teaching to the T. This was my first and only trip to Shirdi, which I went on the insistence of a relative. But I’m glad I made the trip. It reaffirmed my already long-held belief that God is within. I don’t need to go anywhere to be with him. Sai too is firmly in my heart, and I believe that’s where he’d rather be too.
Om Sai Ram.