Who Is Sai Baba?


The 'Short' Version

"Who is Sai Baba?" I have been asked this question many times. My only answer has been, "There is no way I, or anyone else, can answer that. It can never be truly known and expressed by the mind. The mind simply cannot reach there. If we want to know who Sai Baba is, not in terms of physical aspect of his manifestation, in other words not the superficial level of low-hanging fruit but at the deep level of a buried diamond, who he 'really is'..... we will have to find a way to go deep beyond the mind. The mind has been our primary instrument for the myriad of functions that serve us and define us, including its many remarkable talents of 'thinking', 'analyzing', 'discovering', 'comprehending', 'intuiting', 'organizing', 'remembering', 'communicating', ‘imagining’, and a vast host of other powerful mind functions, without which, we believe we could not even exist. Yet for the purpose of finding out who Sai Baba is, the mind has proven to be unreliable. It has no idea how to truly answer that question. It will come up with many descriptive answers focusing on the two great spiritual teachers in India who went by that name, and one who is yet to come. But ultimately, none of the answers the mind can come up with will satisfy, for answers processed by the mind will not catch the undying eternal essence that points to both who Sai Baba really is and who 'we' really are.

As we’ll see in the discussion that follows, the mind invariably looks for the answer in the wrong place. All its futile attempts at trying to identify Sai Baba definitively, appear to be in vain. And yet these attempts are not totally lost. The question "Who is Sai Baba?", as it ruminates deeper and deeper, appears to be like a grain of sand that finds its way into an oyster. There, it becomes the irritant that leads the oyster, surprisingly, not to try to expel it, and not to somehow digest it and use it for its own purposes, but instead, this bit of sand encourages the oyster to leave oystering behind and turn this common, ordinary grain of sand into a brilliantly beautiful shiny pearl. In this metaphor, the irritant grain of sand is the question "Who is Sai Baba?", the mind is the oyster, and the emerging pearl into which it is transformed, is the true answer, "I am". The answer then to the question, "Who is Sai Baba?" is "I am!"

Why? Because this pearl of "I am" is the highest Truth that can ever be known by the mind. Not "You are". Not "He is". Not "She is". Not "They are". None of these are real. Only "I am". That alone is real. It is the one answer that fully encompasses everything that is eternal and never changes. This I of the "I am", has nothing to do with the separate individual calling itself 'I', when speaking about itself, its body, its mind, and its history. Nor is it the ‘I’ we use to contrast ourselves with others who we call 'you' or 'he' or 'she' or 'they'. The perception of separate individuals, is never true. They are part of the greater delusion that all humanity has universally engaged in for millennia. As we dig deeper, we come to the realization that all these seemingly separate individuals are non-existent entities that only appear to live in this world; but the world itself they appear in, is a fantasy, an illusion. And all these seemingly separate individuals make their false (but convincing) appearance only in the confused perceptions of the mind.

The great awakened masters throughout the millenia, have denied the truth of these commonly-held separation beliefs. Sai Baba and other great beings have appeared among us in our worldly lives to put the lie to these beliefs and all the distinctions and individuations that go with them. These beliefs have nothing at all to do with Truth. None of the seemingly separate beings, have ever existed or exist even now. There are no separate beings or different kinds of beings, however many unique, distinguishable attributes and different characteristics they exhibit in this illusory world. There is only one being. That is all there ever is. So, when we speak of "I am", this term clearly does not refer to these phantoms. The "I am" refers only to the One Atma. It goes by many names, including Sai Baba and "I am". It is who 'we' really are. (Although, truly speaking, I cannot really say who 'we' are, because I can never really know of a 'we', or of any 'other'. I can only say that the One, who is Sai Baba, is the same as I am. And all the seemingly separate beings in the world are fully included in that "I am".)

To repeat then, in Truth, the One Atma, the one inclusive Being that is the essential Truth of all there is, and is all there ever can be without exception, is what Sai Baba is. To reveal that Truth is the purpose for which Sai Baba incarnated twice in the past two centuries, each time appearing as a familiar human form and as a celebrated world teacher and Avatar of God in this illusory world, so that he can be directly approached. His mission was to give the illusory 'I' a fore-taste of who the real I truly is, as opposed to the separate individual that the 'I' previously thought it was. Sai Baba teaches us that what he is, is what everything in Truth really is. Clearly, this does not refer to the names and forms and the particular life stories that are playing out as separate individuals in the illusion. Nor does it refer to all the marvelous attributes of the seeming individual who goes by the name of Sai Baba.

Both Shirdi Sai Baba and Sathya Sai Baba appeared in this world as the one eternal, immortal divine being, posing as special human beings with a divine mission and a unique life history. But in Reality Sai Baba is not an incarnation appearing in human form. And nor are 'we' human beings with unique histories. No one is ever special, except in the illusion. Despite their different worldly assignments, all are in essence exactly alike, whether king or commoner, God or devotee, human or animal, sentient or insentient. There is ever only the One. In this, any idea of special or specialness can have no meaning when there is only the One.

To get a deeper sense of this, consider for a moment the separate lives and characteristics that are assigned to each character in a dream, wherein each seemingly separate player appears to be different. But when we look a little deeper we realize that all these seemingly individual parts are but manifestations of the one consciousness of the dreamer, who is dreaming the dream and assigning the parts. From his vantagepoint, the dreamer can rightfully say that everything that appears to be happening in the dream, is just a modification of the one unchanging consciousness who is the dreamer, and that the dream stories that appear to be playing are just momentary perturbations that come and go on that one consciousness.

This consciousness, which also serves as the blank screen on which the play is playing, is not in any way affected by what's going on on its screen. It remains ever the same, unchanged, no matter what appears to be playing, who appears to be playing, or if nothing at all is playing and the surface is calm and unperturbed. The perturbations are not real. What ever changes cannot be real. But the consciousness on which the dream stuff appears and disappears, is real and unchanging.

Similarly, in this dream of life, all the seeming individual players, all those temporary phantoms that appear as characters in the ongoing story that's playing on the screen of consciousness, can either continue in the conviction that 'they' exist as individuals with particular names and forms and life stories that are appearing in the dream that's playing, unreal and ephemoral as 'they' are, or 'they' can engage in deep inner inquiry that will lead 'them' to the revelation that 'they' are the one consciousness of which everything is made, and which can take on any name and form but always remains the same unchanging eternal Consciousness?

If 'they' pursue this latter path, they will realize that 'they' are not the transitory, unreal, illusory characters that 'they' previously seemed to be, but the One Atma, which alone is real, no matter how special and different the individuals appeared within the illusion. They discover that they are the unborn Reality in which this puppet show has arisen. And they are the one Consciousness which alone is ever real, instead of the temporarily appearing characters and their stories, which are never real. So, the answer to the question “Who is Sai Baba?” is "I am", the One Atma, that One who I am in Truth”. When this is fully realized, then this is the answer that will permanently satisfy, for that will take us home. This is the wisdom path.

There is another path. It is slower but also a powerful way of reaching Truth from within the illusion. It recognizes the limitations of the mind. On the question that was posed here, 'we' give up trying to 'understand' through the mind who Sai Baba is (and who 'we' really are). Instead 'we' open our hearts to see Sai Baba as pure unlimited and all-inclusive Love, and Love alone. The mind is not able to fathom what that unbounded and unlimited Love really means. But on faith, the mind can hold the thought that unqualified, universal Love is what the Atma is and, therefore, what Sai Baba is. When 'we' hold that conviction and accept the guru's word that this all-encompassing Love is what 'we' also truly are, then the illusion of world, of multiplicity and of differences begins to dissolve and disappear. As that happens the real I begins to throw off its illusory projections and reveals itself to be the unchanging Truth, which has always been 'our' Reality. In this way, however long it takes, holding on to Love and Love alone through every challenge, takes us home.


The 'Long' Version

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Typically, In this section we'll take one more look at what to many must be a surprising answer, namely, the one that was given above to the question "Who is Sai Baba?"; the answer given being "I am". Usually, when devotees are asked the question “Who is Sai Baba?" most have a ready answer. Many will say, "He is God." Others will prefer, "He is Love". Still others will say, "He is the Avatar.... God incarnate." And still others may say, "He is the Satguru, the world teacher who has come to lead us home." And there may be some who say, "He's the Savior who protects us and saves us from environmental or nuclear catastrophe". But then there will also be a few critics and disgruntled ex-devotees that will angrily say, "He's a charlatan and a pervert, a clever magician who pulled the wool over our eyes". When we look at these pronouncements by devotees we see that most reflect the deepest adoration and a few reflect the deepest animosity. But even within such a wide polarization, their answers to the question of "Who is Sai Baba?" have a number of things in common.

First, most will be speaking of Sathya Sai Baba, the popular Indian teacher who died two years ago at the age of 86, who lived in his ashrams in the south of India, who in his life demonstrated many remarkable super-human powers of omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, healings and manifestation, and who taught many millions of followers directly and indirectly through darshans, personal interviews, dreams, and subtle visitations, the highest spiritual truths. But then there will also be rumors and allegations about the personal life conduct of this teacher. This focus on the embodied personality and attributes of Sai Baba, is one common element in all these answers. For some, immediately the question will arise, do these statements really identify him? Since here in this discussion we are primarily interested in the perspective from the point of view of Truth, free of all illusion, we might ask, “Was he really an embodied being having a name and form, and living in an ashram in India and describable by the attributes that have been associated with him?” We'll examine that here.

The second common element that we'll highlight is that generally the answers given above are profoundly held personal beliefs, that are believed to be easily understood and need no further elaboration. In other words, they are pronouncements that are assumed to state a conclusion that requires no deeper investigation and questioning. They are all rooted in the understandings of minds and hearts of individuals that have been raised and educated in this world, and have come up with conclusions related to this particular inimitable person, who for a time inhabited this world and left his indelible mark on it. But, what is the real view from Truth? Do these answers to the question "Who is Sai Baba?" really contain comprehensible meanings that enlighten us, immersed as we are in the relative world? Do they help to free us of delusion and put our doubts to rest?

As I've already indicated, in this writing I would like to examine the question "Who is Sai Baba?' from the point of view of eternal Truth, as opposed to focusing on temporal understandings held by individuals, and see if the answers given by them are of any help in discovering the truth of who Sai Baba really is. I will start with what alone is real and what never changes. We call that Truth. We can also call it God, or the Absolute, or Brahman, or Atma, or pure Consciousness, or the Almighty.  I prefer Truth.

Well then, what more can be said about Truth? We know from the highest teachings that Truth is pure Being. Or simply, Truth is. It is not about being a something. Nor is it ever about becoming something else, transforming from one state to another. Truth doesn't recognize any 'other'. It is pure Being, unmodified and unadorned. Or, we could say, it is pure Existence existing. We could also say it is pure, universal Love, or it is pure Consciousness, unmodified, fully equivalent to Being. As already mentioned, another term for Truth is also Atma, the One, the universal Self. As the one Self it can be referred to as the ‘I am’, the pure subjective, devoid of any idea of objective.

When we examine this deeply we discover that ‘I am’ is the only incontrovertible true thing we can ever know. It is the expression of pure Being that can be directly sensed here and now, in any here and in any now. “I am” is the one and only affirmation of Truth that can be known by the mind. That is not true for the statement ‘you are”. Nor is it true for the statement, “he is”. In Being, (or Truth, or Reality), there is no concept of ‘other’ and therefore there is no ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘we’, ‘they’, ‘it’, etc. With no possibility of there ever being ‘another’, any seeming 'other' must be the product of a non-existent, made-up duality.

It follows there can never be an objective to complement the subjective that we identify ourselves as. Therefore, none of the pronouns we habitually use, except ‘I’ are ever true. These 'others' come into manifestation, appear very real to us in our dream life (including what we think of as our present life), and then, as the dream finishes or ends, they disappear again. They are mere concepts that have come for a time and left. And so, we cannot say with any surety, "you are" because we cannot with any surety know there ever is a 'you', which has neither come nor ever goes; we can only say “I am”, which being equivalent to eternal Being. has never come and will never go. It is the only constant which is ever there, although we might refer to it by many seemingly different names.

And so, no matter what period of time we are talking about, whether a few seconds, or an eternity, the ‘I am’ can never not be. It is forever real and directly known by us, even when we are immersed in illusion and have no idea who we really are. Still that unchanging subjective 'I' follows us through every dream and every seeming life, whether longitudinally in time through every consecutive generation, or across time in all the different individuals that appear to have manifested across the world. And whether totally ignorant or highly spiritually developed, they all know 'I am'.

When the ‘I am’ is declared by individuals believing themselves to be unique and different from billions of others, then that 'I' being spoken is a false ‘I’, one that believes itself to be alive as a separate individual in a delusory world of countless others. Such is the only ‘I’ most of us know, and think exists. In an attempt to bridge the chasm between the oneness of the non-dualistic mind and the separative beliefs of the dualistic mind, we have to be able to reach 'individuals' for whom the ideas of time and space and difference and specialness are believed to be real, by using the languages that have been developed over millenia to delineate variations and differences, to now instead, describe the all-encompassing non-dual unity. That can become awkward and difficult, at times. For that reason, in the discussion that follows, whose purpose is to point to Truth from within the illusory dream, we may continue to speak of a ‘you’ and a ‘we’ and an 'us', etc., even when we know that in Truth no such things really exist. But to be coherent, we must use the communication medium we have to give a sense of where we're heading.

To continue our earlier discussion, in 'I am' there is no idea of 'now'. When every conceivable moment is exactly like any other moment just as it is happening, then everything is going on 'now'. There will never be a 'not now'? Then, what possible import can the meaning of the word 'now' convey, when all there ever is, is always 'now'? Or for that matter, what meaning can the concepts of 'past' or 'future' convey when there is no time, and all ideas of time are shown to be meaningless? So it is, also, with the concept of space. When all of space, without exception is fully contained in every other, then there meaningfully can be no 'not here'; and so, it follows that the word 'here' becomes meaningless, for there is no part of space that is in way different from any other.

From the forgoing we can assert that in Truth there is no time, no space, no form. etc.; further, it follows, that these assertions are meaningless, for what meaning or understanding can be gained when there is nothing that can be differentiated from anything else. And, what could the mind possibly do with a permanence that contains no meaning, no understanding, no names, no forms, ie., nothing whatsoever that is in any way distinguishable from any other? In such, what would there be to understand for the mind to get its teeth into? There's not even an idea of 'all' that has any meaning, since there is no distinguishable exception to it, and so no 'not all'. In other words, once we get the message that there is no existence in which everything is not perfectly the same as everything else, what other possible knowledge can there be, yet to be known.  

Going still further, what meaning can even such words as 'perfectly the same' convey when it is a given that there is never anything that is 'not perfectly the same'? We could keep on with this progression through infinitely further cycles, but however deep we go, we will never be able to use our minds to reach an ultimate conclusion or understanding about Truth.

Of course the mind won't give up so easily trying to understand. When it gets frustrated it can always distract itself by making up stuff, as it does in dreams at night, or letting imagination run freely. But as we know from dreams and, for that matter, from movies and stories, they are all time limited, and therefore, finite. They have a beginning and an end, and so, they don't last and are not real. Although the stories being told might be quite entertaining and distracting for a time, nevertheless we find that eventually they prove to be unsatisfying. Why is that? Because contained in the human spirit there is a compelling drive to seek that which is permanent, beyond all stories. We yearn to come home. There is a negro spiritual that says it, "Some fine morning when my work is over, I'm gonna fly away home". Nothing less will satisfy. Deep within, the mind has a nagging, uncontrollable, but unreachable, itch to come home. But what really is home? The mind cannot truly answer that, for what is based on unreality cannot know Reality.

If the mind realizes its limitations and its unknowingness, then doubt breaks out and the mind will seek answers to questions it finds puzzling. Its inquiries will go deeper and deeper and eventually will pose truly existential queries like, "Who am I? What really is this world? How did I get here? Is there any purpose in my existence here? Is there something beyond, some unknown place where I belong and where my heart will soar?" The mind will be sincere in wanting to know answers to these questions, but the answers that come will not satisfy, at least not for long. Clear understanding eludes the mind, because clear understanding of what truly is cannot be known by the mind. Why is that? Well, how can the mind ever make sense of absolute uniformity in which there are no objects, no modulations of consciousness, no degrees of existence?

The view is quite different when seen from the perspective of the illusionary individual, immersed in an illusionary world of separation. In such a world, which of course is the world we believe we're in. the mind can function quite well, separating things out, naming them, and classifying and assigning separate meanings to them. In that world, seemingly filled with innumerable objects, sentient and insentient, and different in various degrees from each other, we, as illusory individuals, each appear to have a separate mind. And these minds are programmed to give meaning to all the varieties of things living and nonliving that minds perceive. And so, the mind seeks out and tries to understand the relationships between the various objects of the world. From the relative world of dualistic consciousness, a particular mind will analyze what it sees and discuss its conclusions with other minds, and internally incorporate certain conceptual understandings that make sense to it. And it will for a time view these as truth. But when the mind comes face to face with the real Truth, such as in deep meditation or samadhi, or in supernatural or unexpected miraculous happenings, it becomes helpless and it temporarily chooses to disappear.

In Reality there can be no multiplicity, no variety, no separation, no objects. When that is what is true, how can a mind steeped in multiplicity and designed to distinguish individual elements, be in any way useful in cognizing the infinitely uniform Reality, in which there is no multiplicity? Then, does that mean the mind is totally useless when we pursue the spiritual urge to return to Truth? No. The mind can be very effective in exposing false existence, which is constantly evident to it through its perception of multiplicity.

Multiplicity is an ego fabrication whose one purpose is to deny the oneness of Truth. The only sadhana (spiritual practice) that cuts through this denial is one that denies this denial. In other words, the mind can't know, and therefore affirm what really is, but it can use all its power and be absolutely ruthless in exposing that which is not, and insist on giving no further energy or support to false ideas. In this we would start by denying the existence of the false self, the ego, which is responsible for separation consciousness and the perception of 'others', leading to a false world of multiplicity. Unfortunately, this obfuscation of the mind is true for just about everything that enters into the mind's perception.

The process for countering this is well within the mind's capability to do. It would internally greet everything that enters the mind's awareness with 'Netti netti', "No, not this, not this. Nothing that I perceive with my mind through the use of my senses is ever real. I am not this body. I am not this person. I am not this mind. I am not this individual answering to this name. I am not and never have been an individual of any kind. I was never born, I will never die. I am not of this family, I have no separate mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, pets, friends, foes, teachers, students, neighbors, gurus, ancestors, or any other somethings that are in any way distinguishable from me. There is no house, no clothes, no car, no belongings, no trees, no water, no land, no air, no anything that is in any way distinguishable from me. There is no knowledge, no facts, no language; there is no higher and lower 'me', there is no superficial and deeper 'me', there is no divine and there is no limited human aspect of 'me'; netti. netti, none of these are true." The only Truth I can proclaim with certainty is "I am". Everything else is netti, netti.'

But this doesn't necessarily mean I have to give up playing at being an individual in the false world of separation.... I can continue hanging out in illusion and appear as a regular human being, as long as I don't again get caught believing it to be real. For I know then that whatever part I might continue to play as a separate person, it will have no effect on the 'I am'. And so I can no longer be fooled into believing that the 'I' I believe I am in my ongoing make-belief story, is in any way real, or has anything at all to do with the real I. That real I is the Atma, which alone makes up the 'I am' that I truly am. Therefore, much as in a lucid dream, I can play at being a character in my make-belief life, experiencing all kinds of adventures and happenings that make up the story playing out in the dream. From the standpoint of the dreamed character playing the part of the subjective 'I' person in the dream, the dream happenings may be terrifying, hopeless, horrendous, gruesome or they may be wonderful, miraculous, paradisical, joyful, or they may be any of the vast range of emotional happenings in between. One thing remains absolutely sure whatever the dream, it can never touch or threaten who I really am.

As was already mentioned, there is a stratagem the mind pursues when faced with Truth. It temporarily disappears itself when it encounters Truth. This is the very story that happens every night, when we fall asleep and dream. Even if we don't remember the details of our dreams after we wake up, nevertheless we generally remember afterwards that dreaming had happened while we were asleep. But then, what about those hours of dreamless sleep, in which there is apparently nothing.... no mind, no world, no body, no separate individual consciousness? When we wake up from sleep, those periods of deep sleep get totally snipped out, as if the person lying asleep in bed has had a lobotomy. Nothing of those periods of quiet emptiness and absence of mind are remembered afterwards. (Something comparable also happens under general anesthesia or in a coma.)

In those very periods of peaceful deep sleep that we do not remember afterwards, our native energy is recovered. Previous to going to sleep we were exhausted and devoid of working energy, having previously spent our available energy during the day, fabricating untruths. Maintaining illusion and untruth takes a lot of energy. We get exhausted and need to lie down. But then, even after lying down, we further use up our available energy to spin out dreams of the night, projecting a false ego and a nonexistent world. All this is very enervating. But then in the deep sleep that follows, wherein the mind is inactive, we recover our energy, and wake up refreshed, compensating for the burden of those enervating falsehoods that came before.

Now let us return to the question "Who is Sai Baba?". From the above, we see that the question "Who is Baba?" is inseparably linked to its sister question "Who am I?"  Neither can be answered by the mind through conceptual ideas. For these, as we have already seen, cannot hold any real directions for taking us home. Yet, as we also saw above, those very questions can be used to probe the limitations of the mind and counter the ego's view of reality. When we expose the ego and its secretive machinations to the light, it slinks away and disappears. What remains will be the uncontroversial truth that I, the Self, am all that is; that I am the Atma, one with Brahman; that I am Truth itself; that I am God. And in this, Sai Baba is the face greeting me in the mirror, reminding me of my true Reality. And so, whenever I look at that lovely Sai image, I realize that is who I really am.

I am God

I want to close by pointing out the immense power embedded in the mantra Sai Baba gave us: "I am God, I am God, I am in no way different from God. I am the Infinite Supreme, the One Reality. Fear or Grief can never touch me." This one declaration sets asideand nullifies everything that we and nearly one hundred percent of the world population has come to believe to be true. Even including the vast majority of devotees and spiritual teachers. It denies the existence of a separate person and all elements of our identity as individuals and members of families, tribes, countries, mankind in general, living or nonliving, gender, or any other identifying attributes. It sets aside everything we know of the world and the universe beyond it, including all the grand discoveries of Science, and it sets aside all religious dogmas and persuasions and ideas about divinity. And it sets aside all the natural order we believe prevails and on which our human laws are formulated. And as it fits the discussion of Truth we have had here, it sets aside any real meaning given to identifying any thing that is perceived to be outside of us and that doesn't perfectly apply in totality to our Reality.

For this to be true, the 'I' we use in our daily life would have to be nonexistent and meaningless, and the I we truly are would have to be inclusive of everything that is. In other words, we must be the one Atma, totally equivalent to Brahman, totally one with Sai Baba who we previously thought of as a great being who was different from us, and way beyond us. We discover that in Truth, Sai Baba is the I that I am, and has always been that, indistinguishable from my true Reality and ever existent as the one Atma. That Atma alone has always been our Reality. Nothing at all exists outside of us, outside of that One. All this is included in that most powerful mantra Baba gave us. We also find it in the ancient Vedic Mahavakya (non-dual great saying), 'Aham Brahmasmi' (I am God), which declares our Reality as one with Baba, one with God. That is what is meant by home. That one Atma alone is what is real, and alone is what Sai Baba is, and that I am.

Good luck in recognizing That, for there never has been any other place in beingness than that. So, coming home is coming home to God, coming home to Sai Baba, which is coming home to the real I that I am, and always have been.


Om Tat Sat


Al Drucker, Wisconsin Dells, WI, July 2013