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“There is a wall of separation between oneself and others and between you and me. Destroy this wall!” These are the words of Sai Baba of Shirdi, a famous sage, fakir and yogi who was born in small town in India. The details of his birth including the place and time are unknown. All accounts of his birth are unsubstantiated, though there are some colorful stories. In some versions he was born to Brahmins and later adopted by a Sufi saint. In another account he was found on the bank of the Bhagirathi River. Sai Baba is greatly revered by Muslims and Hindus and is believed to be a saint — specifically the incarnation of Kabir, a past poet saint of India. It was Sai Baba’s wish to break down the walls between people, and his life was great evidence of this.Sai Baba imparted a great opus of information about compassion and love. His philosophical tradition is based on the Advaita Vedanta. This is an offshoot of the school of the Vedas. This is the tradition which sees the self, or Atman as a part of the Self, or the Paramatman or Whole, called Brahman. This school relies on the wisdom of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras written before the 7th century BCE. Although Sri Sai Baba practiced his austerities in the Hindu and Muslim traditions, his teachings were universal. He was also an ascetic, but encouraged his followers to reach samadhi via the path of the householder, or ordinary family member. He stood for religious tolerance and treated all people equally whether they were Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. Sri Sai Baba encouraged humanism and universal brotherhood. Bhakti, Karma and Jnana yoga were often preached by Sri Sai Baba. He believed love and compassion could conquer the ego, and, like Buddha, that simplicity of life and the growth of human virtue were tools to lead humankind to peace.In an attempt to relinquish the ego and break down walls, Indian tradition offers the idea of a Guru. Guru simply means teacher. The guru helps to take on some of the karmic impressions of a follower’s past so that he or she may raise the level of his consciousness to that of his spiritual advisor. Sai Baba offered his teachings to many in order that they might find peace and relinquish their ego-based natures. He stated, “Be wherever you like, do whatever you choose, remember this well that all what you do is known to Me. I am the Inner Ruler of all and seated in their hearts. I envelope all the creatures, the movable and immovable world. I am the Controller – the wire-puller of the show of this Universe. I am the mother – origin of all beings – the Harmony of three Gunas, the propeller of all senses, the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. Nothing will harm him, who turns his attention towards Me, but Maya will lash or whip him who forgets Me. All the insects, ants, the visible, movable and immovable world, is My Body or Form…”
The walls that we build are meant to keep the ego pinned up inside, a defense mechanism, literally, to higher consciousness. Through teachings such as giving, compassion and tolerance, Sri Sai Baba allowed us to begin to take a hammer to the concrete, slowly chipping away a piece at a time, of our rock-solid mental habits. When a guru takes on a student it is not a small thing. The guru must be one hundred percent committed to the disciple and will not take on a person who he cannot fulfill this promise to or who he believes will be unable to maintain the spiritual path. Sai Baba promises his aspirants, “If you look to me, I will look after you.” The guru’s relationship to a devotee is much like that of a child to a parent. The free will of the aspirant is never ignored, but a firm hand is ever present to guide you. Each guru receives grace from one which precedes him, much like the American India tradition of passing on wisdom. Sai Baba had complete reverence for his guru and asked that of his followers also, “Be my bhakta and the inheritor of all that I have to give you – blessings, bliss and benediction. Shirdi is holy. My guru stayed here; my friends stayed here; and now you visit here. May God’s abundant grace be upon you all.”
Although it is quite a foreign concept to many Westerners to conceive of giving another person such faith and reverence, it is a staple belief in India as well as in parts of China and Japan. In monotheistic religions, we would never consider giving the same reverence we give to “God” the big man in the sky, to a mere mortal, with the exception, maybe of Jesus. Gurus like Sai Baba, however, taught that we are all deserving of this reverence, because we are all the same One. He said that, “I live in one and all. I live in Shirdi, but I also live in the heart of each and every devotee who worships me and pays obeisance to me.” So while, Sai Baba is requesting obeisance, he is really requesting the relinquishment of your ego. When a mother gives birth to a child, is often the first time she can ever truly conceive of loving something or someone more than herself. This is the level of love we must have for all of humankind in order to reach Infinite Peace. When we offer that kind of love to a guru, we are beginning to love something outside ourselves, or more importantly, we are beginning to be self-less. This is the kind of love needed to overcome all obstacles. Sai Baba embodied this intense humanism. It is a lesson we can all stand to learn from.