April 26, 2011

Was Sai Baba Really a Saint?

Not sure who Sai Baba is?  You know, the Indian saint, the one who looks like an elder member of the Jackson 5 wearing long, orange robes.  Don’t confuse him with Shirdi Sai Baba- that’s the bald guy with the do-rag that sits with one of his legs crossed.  Sai Baba claimed to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Baba.

This Sai Baba passed away yesterday.  Or as we say in the yoga world, he “left his physical body.”

Today I have been inundated in my Facebook newsfeed by pictures of Sai Baba and people writing things like “Long Live Sai Baba.”  And it’s REALLY bugging me.

Sai Baba was famous for making dust into gold, going around with real jaguars (yes the wild animal) and then having quite a few Jaguars- the British sports car.  A miracle maker.  He had siddhis- “manifesting powers”.  People from all over the world, including his native India itself,  have made pilgrimages to South India by the millions to see him make miracles and be touched by the “juice.”  That being the “look,” the energy transmission, the irrefutable surge of spritiual awakening that can happen in the presence of a great being.

Millions of people have been touched, inspired and moved by Sai Baba’s presence.

Though I lived in an ashram in South India, I never visited Sai Baba. The thing about saints is that you are usually drawn to them. While it sounds a little woo-woo, usually you see a picture and have some resonance with it.  It could be as simple as when you look up yoga teachers’ pictures online when looking for a class and like the look of someone. You are drawn to them. I was never drawn to Sai Baba. (I was drawn to Shirdi Sai Baba- that’s another story)

What I am about to say is really going to piss some people off who ARE drawn to him.

Usually when we are drawn to a saint or teacher, we are willing to overlook any evidence that might contradict our total devotion and dedication to that person. It is part of transference (like the first part of a romantic relationship).  We see all the great qualities, and we minimize anything that does not corroborate with our initial desired image. Or we decide that the gains are so great, we are willing to endure whatever fallout from the shortcomings.

Most of the great male teachers of our age have had some major weakness in the area of power- sex or money.  Sai Baba was no exception.

Sai Baba surrounded himself with young boys as his “assistants”.  He did have genuine siddhis, but he was also using slight-of-hand run-of-the-mill magic tricks some of the time.  There are whole documentaries about both the sexual abuse of those who “worked” for him and private interviews with sadhakas, spiritual aspirants, that turned into abuse, and the magic trick-as-miracles phenomenon.  None of the allegations have been proven.  He refused the offer to perform the manifestations in a scientific environment.

My question is does his fallibility on the human level detract from the inspiration, love and devotion that he has inspired in so many?  He has started schools, opened hospitals and provided thousands with jobs.

Is spiritual growth that is not integrated on other levels- emotional, sexual, spiritual- useful? Are we right to elevate spirituality to a higher plane and treat it as more important than the above mentioned levels?  Even if it blinds us to the realities of what is going on.

With a politician, we might say we don’t care about their personal life, we DO care about how they are fulfilling their duty to our country.  Or we might be willing to separate out the personal life of an entertainer from their work? For instance, I have no idea if Michael Jackson was guilty of allegations of child molestations, but I still love his music.

Is the same true of a spiritual figure? Is Sai Baba’s personal life none of our business?

As humans, we are fascinated by extra-normal activity.  Hundreds of thousands of people travel to Brazil to meet John of God- a man who channels spirits who are doctors and gives psychic surgery.  I have known more than my fair share of people who have done Tony Robbin’s firewalking. (Then again, I am from California.)  Millions of people traveled across the globe to see Sai Baba in the flesh.

We seem to need allegories, but better yet, real-life humans to show us that there is something possible beyond what we thought possible- to crack the limits of our thinking and our perception. I totally get it.  I guess it is not as basic a need as food, water or shelter but it’s pretty close.

That being said, I still don’t want to see Sai Baba’s picture in my newsfeed every hour.  It offends me.

Sometimes it’s a little too easy to overlook pedophilia and false magic, because it’s exotic.  He’s Indian; it’s different, and it’s “spiritual.”

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