by Thilak S. Fernando

³ Love all, Serve all, RESPECT all religions and faiths, for they are all different paths to the SAME GOAL. You do not need to change your faith to follow me. Follow the truths of your religion and be a better Buddhist, a better Christian, a better Muslim or whatever² - SAI BABA

It is said that according to a prophesy, quoted in one of the oldest Sanskrit scriptures in the world ŒUpanishads¹, that a world teacher (Avatar) would come on earth during this age of Kali Yuga, to drag back the human being who has Œgone beyond animal behaviour¹ to Œhuman level¹. This theory is being focussed by millions of people in the world today and many attach this description to Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who has become the latest legend on earth in the 21st Century.

On 23 November 2000, Sri Sathya Sai Baba completes 74 years of his service to humankind on earth. Born on 23 November 1926 in a remote village in India, only a stone¹s throw away from civilisation, he was called Sathya Narayana by his parents, meaning Œ the upholder of truth. Thousands of books written today in many languages reveal that His advent was heralded by Divine music and numerous other favourable omens, which indicated a ŒDivine¹ Birth. As early as 7 years of age, He has been displaying his manifested exceptional qualities of wisdom by composing hymns, writing religious songs, lyrics and scripts for religious drama. He was vegetarian from birth, and had refused to eat meat or fish. Few years later his miraculous powers were seen through materialisation of objects, sweets, fruits, flowers etc., out of thin air, by the mere wave of his hand. At the age of ten, he expounded the Vedas to learned pundits much to their surprise.

At the age of 14, he announced to his parents and villagers about his Divine Mission on earth by stating that: ³ I am no longer your Sathya. I am Sathya Sai Baba (ŒHoly Mother & Holy Father¹). My Mission is to make man aware of the Divinity within himself. My people are calling me. I must go.² His full power and glory then began to blossom out where he was able to transcend the dimensions of space and time to bless the spiritual seekers and sufferers in far off places, even across the seas.

According to the Upanishads, when God incarnated in human form as Lord Vishnu some 5600 years ago, he had prophesied that, He would take a human body once again (referring to the present Age) and it would take him 250 years, through three incarnations (Shirdi, Sai and Prema Baba) to guide the present day man towards the right path. Research into how three incarnations work reveals that at the beginning, the first of the Triple Incarnation was headed by Shirdi Sai, who lived from 1835 to 1918. Shirdi Avatar¹s function was to reveal his Divinity. He was sleeping one night inside a church hall and the next night inside a mosque; he was engaged in uniting the Moslems and Christians together. He told his close disciples the exact day he would be Œ taking -off¹ from his human body in the year 1918 and would take birth after 8 years, again in India as Sai Baba.

True to his words, exactly after 8 years of his passing away, Sai Baba was born on 23 November 1926 as the second incarnation to fulfil the prophesy of the triple incarnation. The final incarnation to complete this prophesy, according to Sai Baba, is going to be the birth of Prem Sai, when he completes 98 years on this earth - i.e. in 2024. Prem Sai, is supposed to give the Œ final touch¹ on man to bring his awakened innate Divinity to its ultimate fruition. Giving a prophetic view to his next incarnation (Prem Baba), Sai has already materialised a ring to American devotee, Dr. Hislop with the portrait of Prem Sai.

What is an Avatar? In Hindu scriptures it is defined as Œan incarnation of Divinity in human form or the descend of God on earth¹. This is more so prominently explained in the ŒBhagavat Gita¹ where it states that Œwhenever there is decline in Dharma (righteousness) an Avatar¹s mission is to appear in the world of man to eradicate evil and establish Dharma¹. It is, therefore, believed that Sri Sathya Sai Baba¹s manifestation now, is purely to restore dharma through the revival of the powerful forces of truth and love.

Sai Baba¹s miracles and acts have not been able to explain by the laws of science so far. His frequent materialisation of sacred ash ( vibhuti) at the tip of his fingers is used as a healing aid of many ailments. To the many who flock to see him and be physically near him, Baba is quoted as saying, ³ there is no need to follow me around to receive my Grace, for I reside in your heart. I expect you to follow my teachings.²

His basic teachings are simple to sustain but extremely hard to put into practice. The Love which is the basic thread that runs through all his teachings is sometimes simplified & arranged into four sentences viz : ³ Start the day with Love, spend the day with Love, end the day with Love and that is the way to God .²

Sai Baba¹s message to man is to ³ Love all, serve all, respect all religions and faiths for they are all different paths to the same goal ­ God.² He emphatically states that one does not need to change one¹s faith to follow Him, but to follow the truths of one¹s religion and be a better Buddhist, a better Christian, a better Muslim or whatever, and practice harmony in thought, word and Deed. His greatest advice to man is to give up self-centredness and render selfless service to those in need. ³Service to man is service to God. Get rid of your enemies such as ego, anger, pride, hatred, lust and jealousy and live the life of love. This is the Kingdom of God within man.²

To humankind to achieve its goal Sai Baba has established extensive educational programmes based on five human values, particularly to grind the young from their kindergarten to university level & to groom them to be proper physical, intellectual and spiritual citizens of the future.

Sathya Sai Education Trust has built and staffed numerous primary schools, residential schools, colleges, and a University at Prasanthi Nilayam (Baba¹s Ashram). As part of his programme of service to mankind Sai Baba has built a Super Speciality Hospital in Prasanthi Gram about five miles away from the Ashram. It provides highly specialised treatment for the needy, free of charge. Since its opening in 1991, thousands of heart operations have been carried out in its Cardiac Unit. The Kidney Centre, which was opened in November 1992, has treated thousands of patients so far. The specialists who work in this hospital go from all over India and from abroad to give their expertise, service, and time completely free of charge - out of Love. The completion of this hospital within one year (out of which 3 months were spent on designing) by a team of British Architects and the installation of the most modern, up-to-date equipment in record time are seen as typical examples of how Sri Sathya Sai Baba¹s Divine Will translates thoughts into Deeds. The new project of Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust for Super speciality hospital at Bangalore aims to Œ harness state ­of ­the art medical science for serving all sections of the population (anywhere in the world) including the very indignant². It is designed to provide all modern services from diagnostic, operative to post operative care free of charge.

In 1947, when Sai Baba was barely 21 years old, he declared: ³ I have a task to foster all mankind and ensure for all of them life full of bliss. I have a vow to lead all who stray away from the straight path back to the fold.... You can see the full glory of it in the coming years.²

Over the last 74 years, there has been no precedent in living memory of a single individual achieving so much in his lifetime like Sri Sathya Sai Baba has achieved. Yet the human nature is such, with all the evidence right in the forefront, criticism is bound to exist. To summarise it all in Sai Baba¹s own words it would be appropriate to say that, ³ No one, even God or Avatar, can ever escape criticism and blame. But they do not bend. They hold on to truth and Truth will not yield to threats².