Sathya Sai Baba
Literal meaning: “Sathya” means “truth.””Sai Baba” means “divine mother/father of all.”
Founder: Sathya Sai Baba
Date of Birth: November 23, 1926
Birth Place: Puttaparthi, South India
Year Founded: Sathya Sai Baba declared his religious mission on October, 29, 1940.
Sacred or Revered Texts: Sai Baba and his followers quote and study the Koran, the Muslim religious text, but more importantly, they follow texts from the Vedas. The Vedas are ancient scriptures comprised of four stories written by great seers. (Murphet, 1978: 288) The Upanishads, religious stories in the Vedas, and the Puranas, supplements to the Vedas, along with many other writings influence the teachings of Sai Baba. These texts incorporate a variety of themes from religious endeavors, mythology of the Gods, philosophy, history, political treatises, entertaining religious folk tales, and other stories stressing devotion to the Gods. (Rigopoulos, 1993: 261-263)
Size of Group: In 1993, Rigopoulos reported that there were close to ten million devotees. (p. 377) Today, there are 1,200 Sai Baba Centers for promoting the religion in 137 different countries. Another source says that there are over 6500 Sai Baba Centers in different countries. A few gurus such as Narayana Baba made several trips to Europe and the United States to spread the mission of Sai Baba. Though it did not reach high popularity in the U.S., the gurus were still able to teach many of the religious concepts. (Rigopoulos, 1993: 375)
More recently, in 1967, lectures on Sai Baba were given at the University of California and interest in this group began. During the 1970s, the pace of the movement grew and Melton reports a growing number of groups in North America, especially the United States. In addition, Sai Baba’s group formed a S.A.I. foundation in California and they also publish a Sathya Sai Newsletter there. (Melton, 1996: 868)
Shirdi Sai Baba’s family were believers of the Hindu tradition; his original name was Sathya Narayan Raju. Shortly after he was born, legend says that strange things began to happen in his house such as musical instruments playing by themselves and a cobra snake appearing next to the infant, doing him no harm.
When he became fourteen, Sathya Narayan Raju proclaimed that he was the incarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi village and from then, he went by that name. This first Sai Baba, a holy man and miracle worker, laid the foundation for the Muslim-Hindu unity and was influenced to teach the Hindu traditions and emphasize certain parts of the text. Before his death in 1918, he had proclaimed that he would be reborn eight years later; the second Sai Baba was born exactly eight years later. Thus, the present Sai Baba had to continue his mission of turning people toward God and urging them to lead moral lives as well as build a world community based on peace (Robinson, 1976: 4-9).
Sathya Sai Baba believes he is a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, who passed away eight years before Sathya Sai Baba was born and who predicted Sathya Sai Baba’s birth. He believes strongly in the one God and encourages others to do so through devotion. Most of his ideas are based on the Hindu tradition but he takes a more practical approach; he expands the context to include doing pious works and helping the world. Thus, he and many of his followers do volunteer service in India and other countries. Below are more details of his beliefs.
Dedication to the Guru and God
In the Sai Baba tradition, there is only one true God although he is called by many names: Allah by the Muslims, Krishna or Vishnu by the Hindus, or Lord by the Christians. It does not matter what people call him as long as they believe in him because only an unreligious person is wrong. Thus, Sai Baba welcomes all religions and encourages unity although he mainly takes his ideas from Hinduism.
Guru is a Sanskrit (ancient Indian language) word meaning teacher. In this case, Sai Baba is the teacher who leads his followers on the path of God. Followers must be devoted and hold trust in the Guru. They must also offer puja, religious offerings such as food, to God. There is a spiritual progress, or a bond of the guru and disciple, in the process of Bhakti; Bhakti is when God communicates to the devotee and the devotee participates in the love by offering himself only to God. Sai Baba is a divine incarnation, as we all are, (not God himself) destined to be the intermediary in this process. Devotion to God is foremost important and it can come in many forms. The forms are:
Repeating God’s name, or mantras, many times.
2) Reading holy texts or listening to religious talks.
3) Singing God’s hymns while talking about his exploits.
4) Deep contemplation or meditation called dhyana.
5) Murmuring passages from the Scriptures.
6) Sitting quietly and clearing the mind to attain moksha.
(Rigoplouso, 1993: 270-285)
The Knowledge to attain Enlightenment
Enlightenment is what most Sai Baba (and Hindu) followers strive to achieve. Enlightenment is a spiritual process in which the devotee is “one with God” and will have eternal life when he dies. To gain Enlightenment, the follower must have pious faith and resignation toward the Guru; direct all his thoughts, feelings, and actions toward God; he can no longer think of himself as an individual or think of material rewards; act like he is totally vulnerable at the grace of God; and surrender all material things and live in near poverty. Sai Baba himself begs for food sometimes and lives in old huts around India.
Knowledge of God or religion is the most important value that a person can have. One cannot become smart by knowing material subjects such as the sciences but he can only become smart by reading the scriptures and following it. Knowing Enlightenment and devotion to God is the ultimate knowledge. People’s flesh and bodies are nothing; it is their eternal conscience which matters and if they direct it toward God, their thoughts and actions will be noble. In fact, Sai Baba encourages people to help others more than just sitting and praying. Sai Baba strongly encourages people to follow moral and good behavior each day and follow the values of truth, proper conduct, peace, selflessness, nonviolence, and morality. Therefore, the followers of Sai Baba strongly believe in doing good deeds. (Rigoplouso, 1993: 285-290)
Sai Baba’s Beliefs through Action
Sai Baba believes that good action and helping people is more important than sitting down and simply praising God. All followers should act with love, care, and selflessness and dedicate themselves to helping people. Sai Baba strongly encourages helping the helpless and needy around the world. He mostly concentrates his work in India but he has traveled to Africa to do work. He has opened schools, hospitals, and helped to transport food and water to the needy in India. He has also completed several other innumerable works and several community projects for India in education, health, and teaching people the Sai Baba religion. He also has an ashram, a complex for promoting religious studies and education. He does not believe in getting merit or praise for his work. His bigger goals are to create a spiritual change in each man in the whole world to believe in God. He wants to build a world community based on peace and love where people help each other by working together. God will be the being who binds all the people of the world in one “family.” (Robinson, 1976: 138) Today, all the centers in the 137 countries work to promote the religion and do good deeds.
Sai Baba’s Miracles
Since Sai Baba claims that he is a reincarnation, he also can perform certain feats to prove his divinity. He can raise the dead, produce gold things from his hand, recover from serious illnesses and poisonous bites, and cure extremely ill people. Religious witnesses claim other specific instances such as him converting water into oil, sleeping on a plank held by threads hung to the ceiling, and making coins smooth out by simply speaking. Sai Baba states that the soul of the original Sai Baba is helping him perform these feats; these ideas and feats were always part of the original Hindi tradition. (Narasimhaswamiji, 1966: 48)
Therefore, Sai Baba’s group is not only a religious sect but they benefit the world through their charitable works. It is an outgoing and sharing sect based on devotion, belief, and love. Their dedication to God motivates them to serve. As Sathya Sai Baba says, “there is only one religion, the religion of love. There is only one language, the language of the heart. There is only one race, the race of humanity. There is only one God, and He is omnipresent.”
There have been several reports indicating that Sai Baba’s claim to be able to perform magical tricks is false. Committees for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal videotaped his performances conclude that they are plain magic tricks.
Hardgrove, Anne. 1994. “The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba or Shirdi.” The Journal of Asian Studies. Nov. p. 1306.
Kamath, M.V., and V.B. Kher. 1991. Sai Baba of Shirdi: a Unique Saint. Bombay: Jaico Publishing House.
Kirkland , R. 1997. “Religions of India in practice.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 65 pp. 230-234.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1996. Encyclopedia of American Religions. Detroit: Gale. p. 868.
Murphet, Howard. 1978. Sai Baba Avatar. India: Macmillan Company of India Limited.
Myers, Helen. 1994. “Singing with Sai Baba: The Politics of Revitalization in Trinidad.” American Ethnologist. Nov. p. 1099.
Narasimhaswamiji, H. H. 1966. Devotees’ Experiences of Sri Sai Baba. Mylapore: All India Sai Samaj.
Rigopoulos, Antonio. 1993. The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi. New York: State University of New York.
Ruhela, S.P., and Duane Robinson. 1976. Sai Baba and his Message. Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt Ltd.
Contact Information :
14849 Lull Street
Van Nuys , California 91405
Created by Flora Ng
Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Fall Term, 1997
University of Virginia
Last modified: 07/24/01