Who is Sri Sathya Sai Baba?

To a spiritual aspirant, He is the divine master par excellence; to a rationalist, He is the greatest humanitarian on earth; to thousands of modern youth, He is the leader with a dynamic vision and a colossus of inspiration; to a devotee, He is simply divinity in human form; and to everyone who has had the opportunity to behold Him, He is Pure Love Walking on Two Feet. 

Ask Bhagavan Baba, “Are you God?” And He says: “Yes, I am God and so are you.  The only difference between you and I is that while I am aware of this fact, you are not.”

The Intent of His Advent

In His own words:

“I have come not to disturb or destroy any faith, but to confirm each in his own faith, so that the Christian becomes a better Christian; the Muslim, a better Muslim; and the Hindu, a better Hindu.”

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Sri Sathya Sai Baba – His Story

November 23, 1926, is a red-lettered day in the history of mankind. On that day was born in the (then) obscure village of Puttaparthi, a charming baby boy in the Ratnakara family. None realised then, and indeed for a long time thereafter, that Divinity had incarnated in human form as Ratnakara Venkata Satyanarayana Raju, grandson of Mr. Kondama Raju, and son of Pedda Venkama Raju and Easwaramma.

 

The birth of ordinary mortals is the direct consequence of earlier lives. The karma or the track-record of earlier births, i.e., the nature of deeds performed, both good and bad, determine the future janmas or births. In short, human birth is a karma janma (birth that is the consequence of earlier births). However, when the Lord comes down in human form, it is a different story altogether.

He incarnates as a part of His unfathomable Cosmic Drama, to play as it were, a cameo role. He decides the time and the place of His incarnation, the parents, and also how His life would unfold. Thus, the Lord's birth as a human is a part of His Divine Sport or Leela; in other words, His life is a Leela Janma.

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In the Sathya Sai Incarnation, the Lord chose the Ratnakara family on account of the purity, piety, and the devotion of its members. Prior to the incarnation, Pedda Venkama Raju and Easwaramma had been blessed with one son and two daughters, Seshama Raju, Venkamma, and Parvathamma, in that order.

Some years passed and Mother Easwaramma longed for another son. She observed all the prescribed austerities, and soon her prayers were answered - she was to become a mother again. Even before its birth, Easwaramma knew that the child to be born would be unusual. There was a definite reason for such a belief.

Sometime prior to the birth of this new boy, Lakshmamma, the mother-in-law was engaged in the worship of Lord Sathyanarayana. The Lord then appeared in her dream and blessed her, indicating that He would be born in her family. Promptly, Lakshmamma alerted Easwaramma that the latter might have strange experiences, but ought not to worry about them. Shortly thereafter, Easwaramma had precisely one such experience.

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One day as she was drawing water from the well, Easwaramma was startled by the sight of a big blue ball of light. The ball came directly towards her and entered her; Easwaramma fainted and fell. The Lord had entered her womb for the mandatory stay prior to physical birth as Sathyanarayana Raju. Thus, the Lord was not begotten, but immaculately conceived, even as His Son (Jesus) had been, two thousand years ago.

One day as she was drawing water from the well, Easwaramma was startled by the sight of a big blue ball of light. The ball came directly towards her and entered her; Easwaramma fainted and fell. The Lord had entered her womb for the mandatory stay prior to physical birth as Sathyanarayana Raju. Thus, the Lord was not begotten, but immaculately conceived, even as His Son (Jesus) had been, two thousand years ago.

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Sathya was born in the early hours of November 23, 1926. There were any number of unusual incidents accompanying His birth, as also in His childhood (as in the case of Lord Krishna). Though they all gave strong hints of His Divinity, few realised until much later that Sathya was the Lord Himself. But all unfailingly recognised that Sathya was most unusual, extra-ordinarily intelligent, precocious, and above all, always full of Love and compassion.

In Primary School, Sathya helped His classmates in diverse ways. Though from a poor family, He did not hesitate to give away His clothes to needy classmates. More importantly, He never lost an opportunity to turn the minds of His friends towards God. Among other things, He formed a bhajan group for this purpose, which later became very popular.

It was time to move on to Higher Secondary School, but such a school was available only in Bukkapatnam, several kilometers to the north of Puttaparthi.

Young Sathya now had to trudge back and forth every day, no matter what the weather, the muddy path through fields, walking on bunds, and wading through water, as required. In the Bukkapatnam School too, He was a model student, ever helpful to others.

Making students God-conscious remained His prime occupation, and to hold the attention of His mates, He would often materialise prasadam (gift-articles or vibhuti), much to their amazement.

Sathya was an automatic choice for the class-leader (monitor), but this brought its share of problems. Once, His teacher asked Sathya to slap all the boys in the class for an infringement of discipline. Instead of slapping hard as he was expected to, Sathya merely patted the cheeks of the errant pupils. This greatly angered the teacher, who then directed all his wrath on the class-leader. Sathya bore the punishment in stoic silence; for Him, it was all a part of the Drama scripted by Him, and this particular scene was being enacted to impart some lessons to humanity.

On another occasion, the teacher handling a particular class-hour (period) noticed that Sathya was not writing down what was being dictated, while all other students did. When questioned, Sathya replied that He was not taking down because He already knew the lesson. Interpreting this response as gross impertinence, the teacher asked Sathya to stand up on the bench, a form of punishment popular in those days. Sathya obediently did.

After a while the School bell rang, signalling the end of the period in progress, and the commencement of a new period. It was time for the teacher to leave the room and make way for another one who was to handle the next period. Mr. Mahboob Khan, this other teacher, entered the classroom and to his utter surprise saw Sathya standing upon the bench. Khan loved Sathya very much, and to him it was inconceivable that Sathya would have done anything to deserve a punishment. He also noticed that the teacher who had handled the previous period was not vacating the chair.

To his astonishment he then discovered that this teacher was not getting up from the chair because he was stuck or glued to it - whenever the teacher tried to get up, the chair also lifted! In a flash, Khan understood the problem. He asked Sathya to get down from the bench and the stuck teacher promptly got his release! Years later Swami disclosed that this drama was staged not to inflict humiliation on the teacher concerned but to make people conscious of His Divine powers. Humiliation is something that does not exist in Swami's dictionary.

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Around this time, Mr. Seshama Raju, Sathya’s older brother, went to Kamalapuram to stay with his in-laws, and also qualify there as a teacher. Kamalapuram boasted of a good school and Seshama Raju thought that this was the school where Sathya ought to study - the entire family pinned its hope on Sathya, and dreamt that one day He would go to college and eventually end up as a big officer in the Government. And so, to Kamalpuram, Sathya went.

Seshma Raju's in-laws, being relatively well heeled, looked down upon Sathya since He was quite poor. As a result, He was not only ill-treated but also called upon to perform arduous house-hold duties. He had, for example, to fetch drinking water everyday from a far-off well. Such chores left scars, which remain to this day.

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In the Kamalapuram School, Sathya was a great favourite of the Drill Master who doubled also as the Scout Master. Once, there was to be a grand General Fair and Cattle Show in the neighbouring village of Pushpagiri.

The Scout Master wanted his troop to go Pushpagiri and render service of the type scouts were expected to. A subscription of ten rupees was collected from each boy for meeting the various expenses connected with the trip, including the bus fare.

Not having the required amount, Sathya excused Himself from joining the group but assured the Scout Master that He would somehow or the other be in Pushpagiri at the appointed time for duty. While His friends went by bus, Sathya walked the entire distance, with little to eat on the way.

When He finally reached Pushpagiri, He was very tired but did not flinch from discharging His duties. Just before returning, He thoughtfully bought a few small gifts for folks back home. When He returned, what greeted Him was not appreciation for the gifts but a severe punishment because His absence had created problems with the supply of drinking water.

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Much later, Swami revealed that He deliberately created such painful situations for Himself in order to teach the lesson of forbearance and equanimity.

Despite the harsh treatment constantly administered, Swami has never ever criticised either His older brother or His sister-in-law, maintaining always that they were but mere instruments in His Drama, with specific roles to play.

His teacher's training concluded, Seshama Raju moved from Kamalapuram to Uravakonda to take appointment as a Telugu teacher in a school there. Sathya went along and joined that school. Once again He excelled in everything, and became the cynosure of all eyes. But once He was back at home, it was the same painful routine; no let-up at all.

And then, came the prophetic declaration...

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The Defining Declaration

March 1940 marked a turning point. Sathya was allegedly stung one day by a scorpion, found in plenty in Uravakonda. His health became impaired and the village medics were consulted, but it did not help. Sathya's behaviour also appeared to undergo a change, and He became an enigma to all. Convinced that Sathya had come under the spell of evil spirits, all sorts of quack remedies were tried but they were of no avail.

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An exorciser was summoned but before he could get started, he heard a mysterious voice warning him; obeying the warning he promptly withdrew. Meanwhile, a frantic message was sent to Sathya's parents in Puttaparthi, and they both rushed to Uravakonda consumed with anxiety.

Everyone was puzzled since Sathya was no longer the ideal and model school boy of the standard type. He was remote, withdrawn, and indifferent to worldly matters. If He spoke, which was rarely, it was always on spiritual matters.

At times He would burst into non-stop recitation of Vedic hymns He had never learnt. On matters philosophical and spiritual, He dared even to correct elders, acknowledged experts and scholars – all this was something He was never known to do before.

Sathya was then taken to other places like Bellary and Dharmavaram for treatment but there was no improvement. One more attempt was made and this time He was taken to an exorciser in Kadri, a mean and cruel person. Here, young Sathya was put through incredible physical torture, unimaginable even in the proverbial Hell. The witch-doctor was verily an agent of death, and when his atrocities mounted, Sathya was whisked away back to home in Puttaparthi.

Days and weeks passed, and Sathya continued to be "abnormal". Came May 23, 1940, and with it a revelation. That morning Sathya was in a good mood, materialising flowers and sugar candy in plenty, and distributing them to all those who called on Him. Father Venkama Raju heard about this but was neither pleased nor amused.

Suspecting trickery, he armed himself with a big stick, approached Sathya, and asked, "Who are You? Are You God, ghost, or devil?" The big moment had arrived and Sathya calmly replied,

"I am Sai."

The stick slowly slipped out of Venkama Raju's hand but he still remained puzzled. And so he asked: "What are we to do with You?" Sathya replied,

"Worship Me."

The father's next question was, "When?" Came the answer,

"Every Thursday."

That was when the worship of Sathya Sai first commenced.

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One Thursday, someone challenged: "If You are Sai Baba, show us some proof." Sathya then asked for some flowers. A bunch of jasmine flowers were given to Him. He threw them on the floor; instead of falling randomly, they got neatly arranged to form the words “SAI BABA” in Telugu. Such revelations not withstanding, Sathya was forced to return to Uravakonda and resume school.

Looking back, one can see that starting from the very beginning and particularly from March 1940, Sathya had been gradually setting the stage for what was soon to follow. Right from the time He was a little boy, He had, constantly and consistently, displayed the Divine qualities of compassion, sacrifice, forbearance, and selfless Love.

Occasionally, He performed miracles to drop hints that He was indeed far beyond the normal. Repeatedly He demonstrated His ability to absorb enormous cruelty and physical punishment without any trace of hatred or rancour towards those ill-treating Him. And last but not the least, He constantly diverted the attention of one and all from the mundane to the Divine.

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Came finally the day to snap all worldly ties and launch the Mission He had incarnated for. October 20, 1940 was that day. On that morning, Sathya left for school as usual but within minutes He was back home. Standing on the doorstep, He flung aside the bag containing books and in ringing tones declared,

"I am no longer your Sathya. I am Sai. I don't belong to you. I have My work. My devotees are calling Me. I am going. I can no longer stay here."

Walking up to a neighbour's house, He sat on a rock in the middle of the garden there while people flocked, bringing flowers. And then, most lovingly and compassionately Sri Sathya Sai Baba led the congregation in a bhajan that has now become very familiar to us. He sang:

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Manasa bhajare Gurucharanam,
Dustara bhavasagara tharanam

O mind! Meditate on the Lotus Feet of the Lord!
That alone will help you to sail across the turbulent sea called life.

The Avatar had finally revealed Himself. Physically, Sai was still a fourteen-year old. Yet, such was His magnetism, and such was the faith of the devotees who flocked to Him that they had no reservation in accepting Him as a Divine Incarnation.

Baba now decided to return to Puttaparthi and make it the base for His Mission. The residents of Uravakonda gave Him a ceremonial and tearful send-off, and Baba was carried in procession. En route, He was joyfully welcomed and worshipped in all the villages that He passed through. Back in Puttaparthi He stayed with His parents for a few days and then shifted to the house of a pious lady named Subbamma, who always had abiding faith in the Divinity of Sathya Sai. Soon, Subbamma's unostentatious abode became a pilgrim centre.

They came in large numbers to worship Sai, and patiently and tirelessly, Subbamma played hostess to them all. The crowds kept growing bigger and bigger, and a new residence had to be found for Sai. In 1944, Baba moved to a thatched hut in a vacant plot of land nearby. The plot was gifted to Swami by Subbamma. Later the hut was replaced by a tin shed with verandas on either side - this is the famous Paatha Mandiram (Old Mandir) of Puttaparthi folklore.

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Baba stayed in the shed while devotees occupied the veranda. There was a total absence of creature comforts and indeed even elementary conveniences that one takes for granted. Yet, for those devotees, sharing the same roof with Bhagavan Baba, was veritable heaven.

History repeated and Paatha Mandiram also began to overflow - Baba clearly needed a much bigger place to receive His devotees. Plans were made and in 1950, and what is now known as the Mandir (in Prasanti Nilayam), came into existence, in bare-bones form of course.

Once Baba moved to Prasanti Nilayam, the tin shed previously occupied by Him was replaced by a brick and mortar structure - the Paatha Mandiram of yore had now become the Pedda Venkama Raju Kalyana Mandapam (marriage hall); to this day, marriages are celebrated in this hall.

Every Avatar has a Mission. In 1958, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba revealed that His Mission would unfold itself in stages. The first sixteen years would be dominated by contact with individuals. Following this, attention would be given to groups. In the next phase, spiritual exhortation would be the dominant feature, after which service to humanity at large would become the principal focus.

Baba moves, lives, and acts like ordinary mortals do but His extra-ordinary Love (Prema), if noticed, would immediately reveal that He is nothing short of Divinity personified.

The Avatar on Himself

An Avatar is an Incarnation of God. In a broad sense, everything in the Universe is a manifestation of God. Yet, the term Avatar is reserved for those Incarnations wherein the Lord deliberately assumes a specific form for a specific purpose.

About the meaning of the word Avatar, Swami says,

 

The word Avatar means descent. It is not coming down from the peak of a mountain or the top storey of a tall building. It is a descent from the state of the Atma to the level of the body.

There is nothing infra-dig about the descent, as Bhagavan points out. He says,

No blemish attaches to the Divine as a result of the descent. There is no diminution in Divine power either. Let us say there is a child playing on the ground. If the mother feels it is beneath her dignity to bend, and tells the child to leap into her arms, the child cannot do so.

The mother does not ask the child to do such an impossible thing. Instead, full of love, the mother stoops and lovingly picks up the child. Likewise, the Lord incarnates assuming a human form to bless and rescue those who cannot rise to the level of the Divine. Incarnation is an act of benediction.

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What about the name ‘Sai Baba’ of the present Poorna Avatar? Swami has this to say:

The name ‘Sai Baba’ means ‘Divine Mother and Divine Father’. Like a mother, I will be tender and soft and give you happiness, and like a father, I will punish you when needed. Through these methods I shall take you to a high level.

Why does God incarnate? No doubt Krishna has already outlined the reasons, but Swami goes deeper into the subject. He says,

To elevate man to the level of Supreme Consciousness, God has to incarnate as man. God has to speak to man in his own style and language. He has to teach mankind the methods that it can adopt and practice. Birds and beasts need no Divine incarnation to guide them for they have no inclination to stray away from their respective duties. Man alone forgets the goal of life.

In other words, God comes to play the role of a teacher and a Guru. As Swami elaborates,

The essential quality of an Avatar is to teach you to make good and proper use of your thought, word and deed. Depending on the conditions and the environment in the country, the Avatar will teach and show the right use of the Divine faculties gifted to man.

In earlier incarnations, the Lord physically annihilated the evil. What about this time? Swami has the answer:

In this Kali Age, the wicked have to be reformed and reconstructed through Love and Compassion. That is why this Avatar has come unarmed. The Avatar has come with the Message of Love.

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Swami continues:

My objective is to establish unity in mankind, to reveal the aspect of the Divinity latent in man, and that God must be the only goal in life. It is also My duty to make you realize the kind of relationship that should exist between fellow human beings.

This is something very important, and all of us would do well to remember it. The first item on the agenda of this Avatar is to make each and every one of us realise our intrinsic Divine nature. Swami goes on to add,

There is considerable change in human outlook that I have to bring about. No one can stop Me or deter Me from fulfilling these tasks for which I have come, namely the establishment of the one unchanging Truth. In this task, you have a part to play.

You must take a path by which you can see deep in My heart, and experience the various Divine aspects of Mine. You must understand the all-knowing power in Me. Do not be led away by people who always talk of having got a locket or a watch or a ring from Me. These things have no deep meaning.

Swami is Love - in fact, Pure Love. No surprise, since God is Love and Love is God. Swami adds that all Incarnations are embodiments of Pure Love, as indeed man also is. He says,

Divine Love is associated with Immortality. It is to teach mankind the truth about this Divine Love that Love itself incarnates on earth in human form.

It is to drive home the point that we all are sparks of the Divine, that Swami invariably begins His Divine Discourses with the words: “Embodiments Of Divine Love” Or “Embodiments Of The Divine Atma”.

Because the Avatar has a human form, man thinks (mistakenly of course) that the Avatar too is just another human being. In this context, Swami points out that,

When Narayana (Supreme God) takes the form of a man and wants to help humanity, He will act like a man. Just because God comes in human form, it is no excuse for man to be indifferent. He must realise that all the Poorna Avatars are incarnations of the same Formless, Eternal, Supreme Consciousness and the Cosmic, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and Omniscient God.

Swami conveys this idea in the following manner. He says:

Rama, Krishna, and Sai Baba appear different because of the dress donned, but it is the selfsame Entity!

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Playing a role in Swami's global Mission calls for a proper attitude and frame of mind. Many people are carried away by Baba's miracles, but that is not correct, as Swami warns. He says:

It has always happened that many people around the Avatar knew that the Avatar was God in human form; yet, they often forgot that fact. Why? Swami explains:

When the Avatar appears in human form, we find that He exhibits human consciousness along with Divine Consciousness. Ordinary people cannot grasp the Divine Consciousness of the Avatar.

God appears to be an ordinary human being to the limited intelligence of lay people because of the co-existence of the Divine and the human aspects of the Consciousness exhibited by Him. Man's perception is limited to the level of human consciousness.

Therefore, human comprehension is restricted by the limits of human consciousness. But the sages of yore were able to cognise the Formless God in the visible Form because they had imbued themselves with Divine Consciousness. Thus, according to their levels, different people regard an Avatar as a mere human being or the Cosmic Reality.

All the above are quotes of Swami's pronouncements about Avatars in general. Let us now look at what Swami has said about the current Sathya Sai Avatar. He once observed:

Because I am like an ordinary individual when I am talking with you and playing with you, many people do not understand My true nature. Even people with great strength of mind cannot recognize the true nature of Sai, and the difference between the external appearance and the internal aspect. Sai knows everything. That people are in doubt is due to the maya (illusion) of the Avatar.

There is no use telling people who refuse to know. For people who know, there is no need to tell. But for people who know and yet do not know, it becomes necessary to present what I call My ‘visiting card’. Therefore, if today I have chosen to tell you about Myself, it is with a view to present you with My visiting card. In the whole of our spiritual history, we find that only Krishna had proclaimed His Divinity in this manner.

Miracles, no doubt, have a powerful effect on all those who witness them. Since miracles are considered super-natural, miracles alone are regarded as a sign of Divinity. Swami emphatically declares that miracles alone are not the signature of Divinity. He says in this context,

To talk of the Vibhuti that I give or to talk of the things that I materialize and the miracles I perform is not correct. Sometimes, I feel like laughing at the ignorance of people when they attach such importance to My miracles. People talk only of such things and forget the much bigger aspect in Me.

The most sacred quality in Me is Prema (Love). This Prema is immeasurable!

I am Love, Love and Love. I am always Love! Love is everything but people do not understand Love!

Yes, God is Love and Love is God. Thus, Love is the true form of God, and it would benefit us to always see Bhagavan Baba as nothing but the embodiment of Purest Love.

Lets us get back to the aspect of maya confusing the devotees. Warning devotees not to be deluded by His finite form, Baba cautions,

Since you see me in close proximity, you are not able to assess Me properly. Familiarity has deceived you to the point of delusion. Swami's form is Big, Vast and Infinite!

One of the reasons why all of us fall into the trap of maya is that most of the time, Swami acts just like an ordinary human being - there are no miracles. People then tend to forget the Infinite Divine Power latent in Him. About this, Swami says,

The attributes and the power of the Avatar remain unaltered in their pristine amplitude. The Divine manifests His powers according to the needs, the circumstances, and the conditions prevailing at a particular time or place.

Take, for example, the case of a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He has the power to both, protect or punish. These powers can be exercised only when he is sitting in the judicial chair. The same Chief Justice, when he is at home, confers joy on his grandson by letting him ride on his back. By allowing the grandchild to play in this manner, does the Chief Justice forfeit his judicial powers? Similarly, the Avatar does not forgo any of His Supreme Powers merely because He lives and moves amongst human beings as a man.

An Avatar is capable of all things at all times. Yet, the Avatar will not undertake to demonstrate His powers all the time. The Avatar will exercise such powers only when exceptional circumstances demand it, and will shed Grace on a deserving person alone.

There is no limitation to My Power. There is no reason to limit or confine My Power and My Grace to any one place. Infinite Power and Infinite Grace are present in My hands. To state these things with regard to Myself becomes necessary at times.

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People are sometimes confused. Why are there at times, setbacks in the life of an Avatar? Actually, there are never any setbacks. There cannot be. What seems to us as a set back is all a part of the Divine Drama.

 

Sometimes we may understand the mystery but most of the time we do not. About this business of so-called apparent impediments to the Mission of the Avatar, Swami has this to say:

In an Avatar, there never will be a situation in which you can find fault with Him. The individual who accuses an Avatar will be hurting himself in his eye with his own finger.

Here is a quote from a remarkable discourse given by Bhagavan during the Summer Course in 1974. This Discourse appears as Chapter 16 of Part II of the Proceedings and is entitled: WHO IS SAI BABA? In this, Bhagavan says:

Inherent beauty and attractiveness are obvious in His playing and in His singing. These are the aspects of Shiva Shakti that is immanent in Him. How is it possible for anyone to understand Sathya Sai merely from His external Form?

One very important characteristic of an Avatar is that He is totally selfless. Divinity knows no selfishness. God is ever compassionate, ever ready to sacrifice, and is totally free from desires. As Baba puts it,

There is no desire in Sai. Where is the space for desire in Sai? Everything is already Mine! Sai does not think. My will is instantly realized. Whatever it may be, it immediately appears.

To put it all simply, no one can understand the Avatar and His actions. As Baba once declared,

If Balarama (the brother of Krishna) himself could not understand Me, how can you?!
 

Indeed. So it is a futile exercise to try to understand Bhagavan and analyse His actions. Instead, one must concentrate on His teachings, absorb them, and follow them. We must appreciate that God has come on earth as man for an exalted purpose. We must not, even if it be unknowingly, trivialise the Divine Mission by asking Swami for trinkets. Swami of course does not mind. He gives us all that we ask for, even if they are useless. Why does He do so? Swami Himself has given the answer. He says,

I readily give you what you want, so that one day you may want what I have come to give you.

And what is it that He is so eager to give us? The very same thing that He gave to Arjuna five thousand and odd years ago on the battle field - the Knowledge of the Universal Self or Atmavidya. That is what the Avatar has come to give us and that really is what we must seek earnestly from Him. And once we have that, our lives too, just like the Avatar’s, will transform into a saga of perennial bliss

Sri Sathya Sai Comic Series

Sri Sathya Sai Baba Comic Series

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