Like a COLOSSUS Shri Sai Baba, the Saint of Shirdi, appeared on the Indian soil round about the year 1856. The word “appeared” is significantly used to indicate that this mighty ‘Avatar’s’ birth, percentage and early life were enshrouded in mystery and contradictions. As we have already mentioned in the chapter -- “ Sai Baba comes to Shirdi” -- Shri Sai Baba is one of those rare saints of whose birth and family there is no authentic record. Shri Sai Baba’s appearance was an affirmation of the Immaculate Conception. While asserting this, one is not of course unconscious of another not too authentic a version of Sai Baba’s origin, of which we feel there is neither any historical evidence nor affirmation from the saint himself. In any case, we feel it a waste of time to enter into a controversy which does not in any way negate our attempt to present the radiant personality of a spiritual Master whose teachings, powers and supreme wisdom and inspiration have rarely been duplicated in the annals of spiritual history.

The fascinating life and “leelas” of Shri Krishna Bhagwan are often taken with a pinch of salt by those who are skeptics. Once when Godavari Mataji, who was accepted by Shri Sai Baba as her “param Guru”, was asked whether she believed in Shri Krishna to be a historical figure or just a poetized creation of what a saint should be, the Mother’s reply was characteristic. “Supernatural Beings”, said Mother, “ can well afford to transcend the ordinary presentations of historical research for the ’sadhak’. The life of Shri Krishna, as depicted in the immortal poems of the ‘puranas’, is sufficient reality”. Similarly, we feel that whether Shri Sai Baba was born in the ordinary way or whether he was a supreme Manifestation does not in any way interfere with our presentation of his extraordinary life and way of life, his unusual ‘leelas’ and supreme knowledge of metaphysical subtleties as embodied in the ‘Purusha’, and his equally supreme understanding of the frailties and the infinite potentialities of the manifested ‘Prakriti’ make one feel that Baba was the modern prototype of the ancient ‘Vedic Rishis’.

Consequently, the writer strongly feels that by diving into the past traditions of Bharat, by describing the ancient Glory of this vast continent which is our motherland, one can add considerable stature to this, the revised edition which comes out now as the fourth edition of the “Saint of Shirdi”.

As a matter of fact, history has not given due importance to Bharat’s early periods which according to Shri Aurobindo were the most brilliant and creative, inspired as they were by the intuitive vision of Bharat’s early seers and sages. The early civilization was unique and people were happy because spiritual values formed the very basis of national life, art, literature and philosophy.

In those early days, politics too was infused with sound ethical principles. The rulers of the states were expected to discharge their duties while preserving the ‘Dharma’, so that the laws of the state were regarded in those days as the expression of the best and the highest I the individual.

Since man is considered by all spiritual Masters to be the supreme creation of God, God sees to it that ultimately man reaches his true nature. As a matter of fact, the spark of divinity that is already implanted in the human soul is like a restless urge smouldering within him. The fulfillment of material desires does not bring lasting happiness. Frustrations and misery remain intact. Slowly but surely man stumbles to the truth that the fulfillment of material cravings bring only fleeting pleasures. What man needs is an enduring happiness. The compassion of the spiritual Masters of the past lay in their effort to turn men away from futile longings of the flesh and so raise them to a higher level of fulfillment. One cannot but recall Shri Sai Baba’s wistful cravings to find souls who had come to him for the real treasures of life. Baba’s own poignant words make us realize the depth of his longings. He often said: “I give bounteously to all that ask; but, alas no one asks with wisdom. My treasury is open, but no one brings carts to carry away the real treasures. I say: dig and search but no one wants to take any pains. be the true sons of the Divine Mother and fully stock yourselves. What is to become of us? This body will return to earth and the air we breath will melt into nothingness. This opportunity will not return.” That Mahatama of Shri Sai Baba’s caliber should have been compelled to say this could well give us an inkling of the power of the evil wielded by the ‘Kali Yuga’. Though today the manifestation of misery, wickedness and suffering in all the countries of the world is alarming, they are not fatal; they are not fatal because man in the ultimate analysis is potentially divine, and, therefore, sooner or later Goodness and Godliness are bound to assert themselves to destroy darkness and evil. This indeed is our staunch faith.

To revert to our text regarding the splendour of our ancient tradition, we can confidently say that Hinduism, being several thousand years old, has now been recognized to be more ancient than any other religion of the world. It is difficult to understand and estimate Bharat’s closely woven mysticism. The unfoldment of Bharat’s ancient culture is a source of reverie which fuses together infinite complexities of man’s dreams, fears and longings into some sort of unity. But in trying to evaluate this vast continent with its manifold strands of culture, beliefs, races, creeds, languages, art and religions, one has to take cognizance of the powerful impact which India’s spiritual sages have had on its ancient civilization. Bharat’s unbroken tradition of more than 5000 years can be favorably compared with the ancient civilization of Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia, each of which has been swept away ultimately with the winds of Time. The survival of Bharat’s hoary wisdom through strange vicissitudes of good and bad fortunes is indeed a miracle, or a manifestation of Divine Grace.

Bharat has been blessed with ‘shastras’ like the immortal ‘bhagwad geeta’. The inspiration of ‘Geeta’ extends beyond time and space to that which is perennial. Aldous Huxley has declared: “The ‘Gita’ is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the perennial philosophy ever to have been made. Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind”. Like Sri Aurobindo and many other saints, Shri Sai Baba too gave great importance to this ancient treatise which according to him shows to mankind a way out of bondage. Shri Sai Baba had complete mastery of this ancient text, and he could quote from chapter and verse to illustrate and emphasize his arguments often putting into shade the so-called scholarship of many learned pundits.

But, today, though the march of science has increased the scope of luxurious living, there is a danger of man forgetting his higher self to the detriment of his spiritual destiny. In India, however, the danger of complete spiritual stagnation is constantly warded off by the reappearance of sages and 'avatars’ who see to it that ‘Bharatvasis’ are ever kept on the path of spiritual awareness.

The age-long assertion of man’s potential divinity initiated by the ancient ‘shastras’ of Bharat gave a new dimension to the human personality -- a dimension beyond the reach of such human beings who like animals are content to live at the lowest sensual level. Actually, however, no human being remains always in this primitive stage. Everyone receives at some time or the other in his life, “intimations of immorality” as the poet Wordsworth expressed it.

The virtues of India’s wise and ancient civilization are blessed with divine sanction. The vastness and the depth enshrined in Bharat’s scriptures and the precepts and ‘shrutis’ revealed by the mighty Rishies of old are unique features of this great land of ours which are irresistible to those who have come under their spell. The Vedas not only declared that every human being is divine, but also asserted that every liberated person becomes an infinite source of strength and inspiration. Moreover, the hallmark of Bharat’s spiritual teachings has been completely devoid of intolerance and bigotry. This quality gives to the ancient religion a stamp of universal appeal.

The early ‘Vedic’ scriptures have emphasized that the truth or God can be found by going inwards through a subjective experience of regeneration and not by projecting oneself outward in a thought process. Truth being deeply subjective, one’s intuitive faculties must be developed and employed to discover it. Such reflection leads one in time to accept the role of Faith which is a spontaneous turning of the individual to God as an indwelling presence. In such a pattern of thinking, the doubter or the skeptic cannot prevail. The very declaration -- “I exist” -- is in itself an inexorable assertion of faith. For, obviously, though I may doubt everything, I have to accept the existence of “I” the doubter. Faith such as this is not a bequest from one generation to another. It is a conquest. Thus, one has to renew one’s vision silently to mysticism. For, the faith that emerges from man’s intuitive faculty assumes the stature of a ‘shruti’. It is of this quality of faith that Sri Aurobindo said that faith is not dependent on reason but is prior to Reason.

According to the sage of Pondicherry: “Faith is the soul’s witness to something not yet manifested, achieved or realized, but yet the knower within us, even in the absence of all indications, feels to be true or supremely worth following”. Thus, Sri Aurobindo makes explicit the unflickering wisdom of the ancient tradition of religious background in Bharat which has inspired thinkers in many parts of the world.

One of the most alluring of Bharat’s theistic concepts is the concept of Divine Grace, and this ideology has its roots in certain basic emotional and intellectual assumptions, which can be called ‘shrutis’ or revelations of spiritual premises handed down to us by the mighty rishis of ancient Bharat. In this sense these assumptions are neither rational nor irrational -- they are irreparable -- they are rooted in eternity and as such are beyond the scope of the mind and its faculties, lying deeply embedded in the very structure of the human soul.

In Bharat it has been an age long tradition to accept certain revelations which are further nourished by our immortal scriptures. The descent of God as the ‘Avatar’ and the ascent of man to the structure of Bharat’s ancient wisdom rests on these mighty ‘shrutis’ which cannot be challenged.

The integral and harmonious realization where the seeker rises to higher and higher level of consciousness is the ultimate goal of the ‘Vedic’ and the ‘Upanishad’ teachings. This fact can well be summed up by quoting the beautiful words of Dr. Radhakrishnan, one of India’s most enlightened philosophers -- “Liberation is not the isolation of the immortal spirit from the mortal human life; man’s life, body and mind are not dissolved but are rendered pure and made the means and mould of the divine light and Man becomes his own masterpiece”. Thus, the genius of Dr. Radhakrishnan has condensed into a few exquisite lines the wisdom of ancient Bharat.

Of the many original theological axioms of Bharat, the concept of the ‘Avatar’ is the most fascinating. The ‘Avatar’ can be defined as manifested God who out of infinite compassion assumes a human form. This descent of God is indeed a supreme sacrifice, for the Divine accepts voluntarily the limitations and suffering of the human body in order to fulfill the role of a Saviour. Each ‘Avatar’ has his own unique mission and role. Shri Sai Baba whose heart was full of tenderness appeared in 1856 to assuage the suffering of humanity. The rest of the book is devoted to this supreme Manifestation of Love and Compassion.