“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Mathew 5:17).
So said Jesus Christ. But he was looked upon by the Pharisees, Sadducees and the Scribes as the violator of the Law. For some of his actions seemed, to their narrow vision, to contradict the injunctions of the Law. His apparent flouting of law is only to enable to people to
realize the spirit of it and not convert it into a dead ritual with no relevance to their spiritual purification. In fact, every God-man or perfect one appears amidst mankind as the son of Man only to correct the race in its understanding of the spirit of the Law. So to those of little understanding he looks a heretic and is ‘persecuted for righteousness sake’; he resisted not evil (5:39). Indeed he prayed for those who persecuted and crucified him: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” So was Mohammed persecuted and so was the Buddha. And so did each of them lovingly teach the mankind that hated them, the message of love and devotion.
Sai Baba of Shirdi was also looked down by the orthodox among the Hindus and Moslems alike. The Hindus accused him of being in a Mosque, of being a moslem, of not observing Hindu rituals, of tolerating Moslem ways of worship. But some had the ‘eyes to see’ and ‘ears to hear’ the truth of Sai Baba’s mission and Baba taught them the same lesson which a Christ or Buddha did, that the spirit of the law was to purify man’s spirit and the letter of it without the spirit, when observed as a convention, was wasteful. But an acceptance of such a teaching presupposed immense faith on the part of his devotees that Baba knew better. Sometimes Baba deliberately put their faith to test.
One day, a poor brahmin approached Baba for money. Baba handed him a packet of mutton and said to him, “Go and eat it at home with your children; but don’t open it on the way”. The brahmin did not know what the packet contained. After taking leave of Baba he could not check his curiosity. So he sat near a stream and opened it and was shocked to find mutton in it. In disgust he threw it in the stream. But he was surprised to see that when it touched the water, it turned into gold and sank into its depth. The piece of mutton is symbolic of Baba's teaching: it is precious, though to the orthodox, it looks unworthy.
Similarly on one Ekadasi day (eleventh day after the full or new moon, auspicious to the Hindus) a devotee by name Jog asked Baba as to what dish should be prepared as holy offering to him. Baba said, “Prepare onion kichadi.” Onion is a prohibited item of food, especially for a Brahmin. Yet Jog, obeyed Baba’s order and offered him the same. Baba laughed, tasted a little of it and gave it back saying. “It is good, distribute it to all and you too eat it.” Though Jog always fasted on Ekadasi, he obeyed Baba’s command.
However, such eye-opening pranks were not directed by Baba at the Hindu devotees only. Once a moslem vowed to Baba that if, by his grace, they had a child, they would visit Shirdi and distribute sweets to all in his name. Shortly after, they had a child and so the family visited Shirdi to fulfill their vow. Baba asked them to distribute peda (milk cake) in the Maruthi temple opposite the mosque. The moslem devotee was taken aback and said, “As moslems how can we go to a Hindu temple to fulfill our vow.?” Baba good humouredly said, “There was a fight between Allah and Maruthi; Maruthi defeated Allah (so the former deserves to be honoured)”. The moslem couple was very averse to his command. So he flared up, rushed to beat the moslem saying, “What a moslem (i.e., the faithful) you are! Go and distribute it there”! The moslem realized what Baba meant, and distributed the sweet in the temple.
The significance of Baba’s words would become evident if we understand the utterly unreasonable attitude of the devotee. On the one hand he resorted to Baba for a child, as his last refuge and he did get one. Can such a powerful saint err in asking him not to be too obsessed with religious differences? The interruption of their earlier faith by the latter doubt is ruinous to any faithful ones.
This idea of Baba is more clearly expressed in another curious incident. One day a party of moslems arrived at the mosque for a namaz and at the same time a group of Hindus also arrived for bhajan (devotional chanting). Each party complained against the other. Baba patiently heard them both and remarked, “Neither your bhajan, nor their namaz is worth the name, get out!”
Tatya, one of the intimate devotees of Baba, was very orthodox and regularly observed fast on ekadasi days. But once he came into contact with Baba, the latter invariably gave him something to eat on the days of fasting so that he was obliged to stop fasting. We have to realize that Baba was not propagating heresy. Even the books of Law, like Manu Dharmasastra says that if sastras contradict the words of a perfect sage, the latter have to be preferred.
Baba’s attitude to tradition can best be seen in his answers to the questions put on to him by Madhavarao alias Shama. Once Madhav Rao asked Baba whether it was true that there were fifty crores of yadawas in Dwaraka as mentioned in the puranas. “Baba, Prof. Narke says that the account given by the puranas is false.” But Baba replied: “No, It is all true. Even Rama and Krishna did really exist.”
On another occasion Shama asked Baba, “Baba, is it true that one crore of vanara army assembled at the time of Rama’s war against the demon king Ravana? How could so many assemble in one place?”
Baba replied that it was true that so many of them had assembled and that he personally saw them gathering one above the other, as ants do.
Shama said “How could you witness what happened so long ago? If you were there then how were you?”
Baba : Innumerable births went by for you and for me. You don’t know them but I do. I was as I am now.
On yet another occasion Shama asked: “Are Vishnu-and Brahma-lokas real? If they are, you must show me those. For, they say that when compared with those worlds, this one of ours is trivial.”
Baba : “Don’t worry about them; for when compared with God they are still more trivial. For those worlds are also of the same nature as our world (i.e., transcient).
Shama : But you must enable me to realize the truth of what you say!
Then Baba asked him to close his eyes. Immediately on closing his eyes Shama could see those subtle other worlds. As he went on seeing them Baba proceeded to point out Brahma in the Brahmaloka and told him that it was Satya loka. Next, Baba showed him Vishnu loka and pointed out Vishnu seated therein, and Kailasa with Siva in it. Finally, Baba ended the vision and told Shama, “These realms of existence are not to be desired by us. What we want is different and still higher”.
S.B. Nachne records two interesting incidents which reveals Baba’s shrewdness in combating orthodox intolerance:-
“In May 1915, I went to Shirdi accompanied by my mother-in-law and others. We were put up at Sathe’s wada and Dada Kelkar was living in a part of the same premises. When my mother-in-law was cutting onions for our meal, Dada Kelkar, on orthodox brahmin who abhored onions, got enraged and berated her severely. She took his abuse very much to heart. A few hours later, Dada’s grand daughter was crying on account of severe pain in her eyes and he went to Baba for relief. Baba then told him to foment her eyes with onion. Dada asked, “Where am I to get onion?” Baba always kept some onions with him and perhaps Dada hoped to get one from him. But he told Dada to get it from my mother-in-law. She told Baba that Dada had been abusing her that very morning for using onions in her meal, and that she would not care to give him anything – but if it was Baba’s order she would do so. Baba ordered the gift and she had her grand revenge of doing good to one who had so recently lacerated her feelings.”
“When people were assembling for arti at the musjid, I was among them. Baba asked me to go and take my meal. I said it was ekadasi (the day of fasting). Usually I did not fast on ekadasi days; but my two friends did and I had to conform to their ways. But Baba did not want me to fast. He said (referring to my companions), ‘These people are mad. You had better go to the wada and eat’. The man at the wada grumbled that I should be clamouring for food on an ekadasi day and would not give me food till arti was over. So I came to the mosque along with him to attend the arti. Baba again asked me if I had messed but I said it was time for arti and so the meal might be deferred till the completion of the same. Baba said, ‘The arti will begin after you finish your meal’. The cook had to yield and he gave me food. Then I went to the mosque for the arti. At that time a lady generally known as Mavusi brought beda (i.e., betel and nut) to Baba. Baba gave me some and asked me to eat. As it is customary to avoid chewing betel and nut on ekadasi days I hesitated. Baba said again, ‘eat it’. I obeyed and chewed the beda”
Not only did Baba reject the dead traditions and accept the traditions which are good but he also interpreted them afresh even as Christ had done to the ancient Jewish Law in his Sermon on the Mount. These God-men came ‘not to destroy’ but ‘to fulfil’ the scriptures, fulfilling in both the senses of the word namely in reestablishing their infallibility and also supplementing and ‘completing’ them wherever they are inadequate or incomplete. For instance, one of Baba’s Hindu devotees complained that though he tried his best to fulfill the ancient injunction that one should feed an athithi (guest who arrives by chance); some times even after waiting or searching for one, he had not often been able to find anyone. Baba said, “Nana, the sastras (sacred laws) are not at fault, nor are the mantras wrong; you have got into your head some worthless interpretation and then stand and wait for guests. (So) they will not turn up. Does the term athithi denote only a man, 3 ½ cubits high, and of the brahmin caste only ? Athithi is whatever creature which is hungry and comes to you at that time. All these seek food. The real athithi that you get, you do not regard as such. At kakabali time, take plenty of cooked rice outside the house and leave it there. Do not shout or call any creature nor drive any away. Do not mind whatever the creature that comes to eat, thereby you get the merit of feeding lakhs of guests.”
Such corrective interpretation was extended by Baba even to sacred texts. Thereby not only did he give a better interpretation of them than were given by earlier savants, but he put down, too, the pride of learning of the devotee.
Nana Saheb Chandorkar had studied The Bhagavadgita with commentaries and was proud of that. Baba, one day, pricked the bubble. Those were days before crowds flocked to Baba.
Baba : Nana, what are you mumbling to yourself?
Nana : I am reciting a verse in Sanskrit from the Bhagavadgita.
Baba : Recite it aloud and explain it to me. Nana then recited verse 34 of chapter IV of the Bhagavadgita and said,
“Making sashtanga namaskara, or prostration, asking the guru for the teaching, serving him, learn what this jnana (wisdom of the self) is. Then, those (jnanis) that have attained to real knowledge of the Sad Vastu (Reality or Brahman) will give you upadesh of jnana.”
Baba : Nana, is it enough to merely prostrate before the guru?
Nana : I do not know of any other meaning for the words ‘pranipata’ than this.
Baba : If ‘pari prasna’ means putting questions, what does prasna mean?
Nana : The same.
Baba : If pari Prasna means the same as prasna (question), why did sage Vyasa add the prefix pari? Was Vyasa off his head?
Nana : I do not know.
Baba : By seva what sort of seva (service) is meant?
Nana : Just of the kind we have been rendering you.
Baba : Is it enough to render such service?
Nana : I do not know what more is meant.
Baba : Leave it aside. In the next phrase upadekshyanti te jnanam can you read any other word in lieu to jnanam (without violence to the metre of the verse)?
Nana : Yes, one can read it as ajnanam (i.e., ignorance or nescience). But Sri Sankaracharya’s commentary gives no such construction of the verse.
Baba : Never mind it. Is there any objection to using the word ajnanam if it gives a better sense?
Nana : No. But I do not understand how to construct the stanza by substituting the phrase ajnanam for jnanam.
Baba : Again, tell me, why does Krishna direct Arjuna to jnanis or tatwadarsis when he himself is a jnani in fact?
Nana : Yes. He was. But, I cannot make out why he directed Arjuna to other jnanis.
Nana’s pride of learning was knocked out. Then Baba began to explain the various aspects of the verse thus:
1. It is not enough merely to prostrate before jnanis (enlightened Masters). We must make sarvasya saranagati (total surrender) to the Sadguru
2. Mere questioning is not enough. The attitude is important. The question must not be prompted by any improper motive or attitude viz., to trap the guru and to find fault with his wisdom, or simply out of idle curiosity. The attitude must be sincere and serious, and inspired by a desire to achieve moksha or spiritual perfection.
Seva is not rendering service while still retaining the feeling that one is free to offer or refuse service to the Master. One must feel that he is not the master of his body, that the body is the guru’s and exists merely to serve him. If this is done, the sadguru will show you what the jnana referred to in the previous stanza, is.
How is jnana upadesh (i.e., imparting of realization) to be effected by the guru? Destroying ignorance is jnana (wisdom). Saint Jnaneswar in chapter 18 in the Jnaneshwari says, ‘Removal of ignorance is like this : O Arjuna, if dream and sleep disappear, you are yourself. It is like that,’ He also says : ‘Is there anything different or independent in jnana besides the destruction of ignorance? Expelling darkness means light. Destroying duality (dwaita) menas nonduality (adwaita). The disciple, like the sadguru, is really the embodiment of jnana. The different between the two lies in the attitude, in the high realization, marvelous super – human Sattha (Beings) and unrivalled capacity and aiswarya (i.e., divine powers). The Sadguru is Nirguna Satchit Ananda (Attributeless Existence- Consciousness – Bliss). He has indeed taken human form to elevate mankind and raise the world. But his real nirguna (attributeless) nature is not destroyed thereby even a bit. His beingness (or reality), divine power and wisdom remain undiminished. The disciple also is in fact of the same Swarupa (original nature). But, it is overlaid by the effects of the samskaras (tendencies) of innumerable births in the shape of ignorance which hides from his view that he is Suddha Chaitanya (Pure Consciousness). As stated therein, he gets the impression, “I am jiva, a creature, humble and poor.” The guru has to root out these off-shoots of ignorance and has to give an upadesh or instruction. To the disciple held spell-bound for endless generations by the ideas of his being a creature, humble and poor, the guru imparts in hundreds of births, the teaching, “You are God, you are mighty and opulent.” Then, he realises a bit that he is God really. That he is the body, that he is a creature (jiva) or ego, that God (Paramatma) and the world are different from him, is an error inherited by the disciple from innumerable past births. From action based on it, he has
derived his joy, sorrow and mixture of both. To remove this delusion, this error, this root-ignorance, he must start the inquiry, “How did the ignorance arise? Where is it?” And showing him this is called the guru’s upadesh. The following are the instances of ajnana:-
‘I am jiva, creature.’
‘Body is the soul’ (I am the body).
God, world and jiva are different.’
‘I am not God’.
Not knowing that body is not the soul.
Not knowing that God, world and jiva are one.
Unless these errors are exposed the disciple cannot learn what are God, jiva world and body and how they are interrelated, whether they are different from each other or are one and the same. To teach him these and destroy
the ignorance is this instruction in jnana or ajnana. Why should jnana be imparted to the jiva (who is) a jnanamurthi or an embodiment of knowledge? Upadesh is merely to show him his error and destroy his ignorance.
Baba added : ‘Pranipata implies surrender of body, mind and wealth. Then why should Krishna refer Arjuna to other jnanies?”
“The sadbhakta (true devotee) takes everything to be Vasudeva (the Lord of existence) says the Bhagavadgita (ch. VII v. 19) i.e., any guru will be Krishna to the devotee and guru takes the disciple to be Vasudeva, and Krishna treats both as his prana (Sprit or Life), and atma (or Self). As Sri Krishna knows that there are such bhaktas (devotees) and gurus, he refers Arjuna to them so that their greatness may be known to all.”
Bhishma was a widower who lived in Nagpur. Though he was drawn to Baba he did not overcome his notion that Baba was a moslem. As a result he could not take, as many others did, the padateertha of Baba (i.e., water that was consecrated by being used to wash Baba’s feet). He could not accept, too, the smoking pipe (chilim) that Baba offered to devotees.
On a full moon day, Bhishma had a dream in which he saw a man with tripundra (or the vaishnava mark on his forehead) and performed puja (or worship) to the holy man’s wooden sandal (paduka). The holy one showed him a paper on which a mantra was written. It was “Satchidananda”. As soon as he read it, the mantra disappeared from the paper and Bhishma woke up from his dream. When he asked a sadhu about his dream and the mantra he had seen, the latter told him that it is the name of the guru he had seen in his dream and that the name of a perfect guru is also a mantra.
After some days Bhishma came to Shirdi. On seeing him Sai Baba smiled and said! “Jai Satchidananda” Bhishma immediately realized Baba’s omniscience and his transcendence over the narrow barriers of caste and creed. As soon as this realization flashed in Bhishma’s mind, Sai immediately nodded and said, ‘We are moving all over. There’s Ram (or the Spirit of Lord Sri Ram) everywhere”. Henceforth Bhishma also started accepting such favours from Baba as the chilim from which he smoked.