People of all faiths, revere Sai Baba of Shirdi, who uplifted the masses without judgement and healed without discrimination. It is believed that he was a Muslim fakir who arrived in Shirdi at the age of 16 and lived there as a mendicant for three years, meditating under a tree, unmindful of the heat or cold. He then disappeared for a year and when he returned, he made Shirdi his home.

 Questioning his religious affiliations annoyed him because he said that all beings are created by the One Power and he refused to identify with any one religion.

This Sufi fakir was a yogi, a healer, and is considered a saint and an ocean of strength who transmits positivity to millions.

Sai Baba led a simple life. In his early years, he would meditate under a neem tree for days.

After almost five years of sitting under the tree, he was persuaded to shift to a dilapidated mosque where he met with Hindu and Muslim visitors. He imparted spiritual messages and interpreted both Hindu and Muslim religious texts.

Shilpy Ahuja

His teachings drew elements from both traditions and he practised rituals from both.

He burnt the holy fire, the Dhuni, as seen in Hindu tradition and used the ashes or the Udi to heal people. Through His teachings, he explained Advaita Vedanta. His spiritual message embraced practices from Gyan yoga, Bhakti yoga and Karma yoga.

He was also proficient in Dhauti Kriya and Khanda yoga.

Baba would also recite Al Fatiha in the masjid and often listen to qawwalis sung to the accompaniment of instruments like the sarangi and tabla. He would also eat non-vegetarian food with the fakirs and did not resent stray animals or birds, even if they touched his food.

Babaji gave the message that shraddha (faith) and saburi (patience) are two important virtues that should be acquired by all spiritual aspirants if they were seeking to progress on the spiritual path. Sai Baba never prescribed any practice of yogic asanas, breath controlling techniques or any mantras to his followers.

He said that the human mind can’t stop thinking and that it can easily understand sense or manifested objects projecting qualities (sagun). So if thoughts become focused only on the Guru (as sagun), instead of on other sense objects in the world, then unwanted thoughts are reduced and the ego is subdued. With this, non-attachment trickles in that helps the aspirant to progress on the spiritual path.

He also emphasized that one must seek and then remain in the company of holy men and endeavour to listen to spiritual stories. This contributes to spiritual growth.

This picture believed to be from 1911 shows Sai Baba with his devotees (courtesy Wikipedia)

His own beliefs were reflected in his simple daily practices.

Almost every day, he would grind wheat on a stone slab.. Philosophically, the two stones between which wheat is ground are considered karma and bhakti. Bhakti here is the upper stone and karma, the lower one. The handle which is used to rotate the mill is Dhyan.

Baba believed that self-realization is not possible until all the Ego, mainly our impulses, desires, and the three gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas are minimized and removed.

Regular grinding of wheat, metaphorically symbolizes grinding or removing of the ego. This is a consistent process, and efforts to reduce the ego have to practised and acted upon every moment, every day.

Of the many selfless deeds that Sai Baba performed during his life, is one in which he converted a barren piece of land near the small rivulet of Lendi into a verdant garden where flowers bloomed, and birds and insects prospered. Lendi Baug now features prominently on every pilgrim’s visit to Shirdi.

He planted two sacred trees there, and it was on a spot between this neem and peepal that he would sit twice, daily, lost in deep meditation.

Every day, Sai Baba would water the plants, carrying the water in unbaked pots on His shoulders.

He would then place the unbaked pots under the neem tree and the pots would crack as they were unbaked. Next day, new unbaked pots were brought for watering.

The story has a beautiful metaphor also found in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Parmahansa. He had said that when the unbaked clay pot breaks, the raw clay can once again be reused by the potter to be remoulded into a pot, something that could not be done if the pot was baked. Similarly, the Divine Lord keeps putting our body that is made of gross elements in the wheel of birth and death until we have attained knowledge and realized the Supreme.

With realization, there is no more attachment with the body or to the world. Finally, liberation is attained.

Once the knowledge of this realization sets in, then like baked clay, the Lord does not recast us in the wheel of birth and death.

Babaji’s daily practices tell us that certain activities in one’s life are important affirmations, through which one retains focus on the chosen path and moves ahead, to achieve the final goal.

When the whole world is dominated by ego especially with “I, me, mine”, Sai Baba reminds us of the spiritual Oneness of all human beings and that we all are expressions of the same consciousness.

His teachings are congruent with the philosophies of Advaitism, Sufism, and Bhakti teachings, which state that there is One God and His Light exists in each of His creations.

It is believed that when you remember him with a pure and loving heart, he sends you a sign, a blessing. Only He knows his ways and his leela continues to guide and support his devotees.

Shilpy Ahuja is a poet, writer and painter. She considers spirituality and family as the most important dimensions of her life. Shilpy is a bachelor of science from Delhi University, and pursued business studies. She is self-employed.

Photos from Wikipedia and also by Santoshi bhandare – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,