Some people took notice when Sachin Tendulkar, who remains, admirably reined in on the cricket turf, got visibly overwhelmed at Sri Sathya Sai Baba's Samadhi in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh. Some woke up to eminent writers and columnists running amok with their pens and their social responsibilities. But, millions, in India and abroad, Indians and Indians-at-heart have been praying, hoping and grieving for almost a month now.
To them--this is a huge loss. A mortal blow. Mortality--in this case Sathya Sai Baba's mortality--has made a tribe of detractors (like me) some of them, plainly vituperative, negate and ridicule his spiritual stature. The question though, is not whether he was an incarnation of God or just Godly. Surely, one can argue that being Godly-in-deed is actually being an incarnation of God. Universally, in fact, creeds extol the existence of God in man. Established religious systems, as well as those derived from them.
Likewise, a large majority of religions endorse the presence of spiritual Gurus. Guides, saints or pirs who are canonized as navigators in our spiritual journey, exist as part of our common religio-social legacy. The real loss therefore, is that an extraordinary man, who was successful in shepherding so many people by one simple message--service to all. In action too--schools, universities and hospitals were built and have sustained. The multiplier effect of "service" is beyond that, though. In a land where we constantly grapple with sectarian divisions and religious divides and prejudices, people like Sathya Sai Baba foster a creed of universal humanity--or a religion without barriers. It is extremely significant for a country that has been a cradle to some of the greatest religions of the world. It is also significant for a country that has nurtured, imbibed and accepted so many variant religions, with open arms. That is our Truth--or Sathya.
For a rationalist like me, he was always awful and for the believer, he was nothing less than an incarnation of God. The tribe of people belonging to the former will always dismiss him by saying he was simply a magician or a miracle man. For most of his believers of Sathya Sai Baba, he was the faith-healer. He treated them or their kin of incurable diseases where the medical sciences failed.
The most compelling reason for the rationalist to be a Sathya Sai bater has been the holy man's miracle-making process. Didn't Lord Krishna show his omnipresence to the doubting Pandava prince Arjuna when He revealed the "brahmaand" (the universe), by opening up His mouth. The rationalist may dismiss this also as a gimmick. And the rationalist is entitled to his opinion. In my case, I don't dismiss the case as a gimmick. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why Hinduism is considered more as a philosophy than as a religion. Therein lies its beauty.
A rationalist to the core, Narendra became the great Swami Vivekananda only after he met his philosopher-guide Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and his wife Smt. Sarada Devi. But he never ceased to explore beyond the realm of existence and abhorred blind faith and bigotry. But, why do the powerful men and women such as prime ministers, presidents, including the men of letters and those with a scientific bent of mind, let alone hoi polloi bow before spiritual entities? Perhaps, it is somewhere the fear of losing what one loves the most, argues the rationalist.
Now, more than ever, we have to hold on to that thought. Those of us that are following a different belief system--and happy being limited to it--shouldn't be limited by it. Lack of empathy, scepticism, criticism can all find place within the parameters of dignity. How we relate to those in harmony with us, says something about us. How we harmonize with those who we cannot relate to, says everything about us.