Universal Teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba
When people begin their quest for God, they are often unsure of their path because of the existence of many religions and their various practices. Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings have enormous appeal, and are of universal application. His teachings are simple, yet profound. He puts across His teachings in a matter-of-fact, easily comprehensible manner.
The presentation may be new but the teachings are eternal and ancient. They resonate with the heart of the seeker. He knows that He is hearing truth.
Swami left us with a priceless legacy of His teachings in the form of the many discourses. He had given over the years, the books He wrote and the voluminous Sai literature by devotees who spoke of the invaluable lessons they learnt from their personal experiences with Him. Swami’s teachings cover every aspect of spiritual life and more, and will undoubtedly be the subject of serious study for generations to come by scholars and devotees alike, and above all, by serious searchers in quest of truth and reality.
The significance and implications of His teachings are profound and broad, and have impact on every aspect of our lives, both worldly and spiritual. This article deals briefly with His central teachings.
Love Is the Fundamental Basis of All Religions
Swami has always been very direct, and made it simple for us to understand his teaching. He said that there is only one religion— the religion of love. His statement goes to the very core and substance of religion— love. Love for God, and love for our fellowmen. This love is the fundamental basis of all religions.
Swami explained that all religions are different paths leading to the one and same destination. He said:
The basic truth in all religions…is one and the same. The philosophical ideas or practices and methods of approach may vary but the final objective and goal is only one. All religions proclaim the Oneness of Divinity and preach the cultivation of Universal Love without regard to caste, creed, country or colour.
In a discourse given in Nairobi, Kenya on 4th July 1968, Swami stated:
I have come to light the lamp of love in your hearts, to see that it shines day by day with added lustre. I have come to tell you of this universal, unitary faith, this spiritual principle, this path of love, this duty of love, this obligation to love...
This is borne out by the teachings of various spiritual traditions. Consider, for instance, the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef (c. 50-c. 135 CE) was a great Jewish sage of the late 1st century and early 2nd century. He was the “head of all sages”, and considered by tradition as one of the earliest founders of Rabbinic Judaism. Rabbi Akiva regarded Judaism as a religion of love. From the Torah he drew on two verses to support his assertion. The first is from Deuteronomy 6:5;
You shall love your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.
and the second from Leviticus 19:18:
Love your neighbour as yourself.
The Talmud (the primary source of Jewish religious law) tells a story of Rabbi Hillel, a famous Jewish leader, scholar and sage, and one of the most important figures in Jewish history, who lived around the time of Jesus. A pagan came to him saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. The Torah, which forms part of the Hebrew Bible, comprises the Five Books of Moses.
Rabbi Hillel replied:
What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellowman. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.
This reminds us of the “golden rule." But this idea was a fundamental part of Judaism long before Hillel or Jesus. It is a common-sense application of the Torah commandment to love your neighbour as yourself (Lev. 19:18), which Rabbi Akiva described as the essence of the Torah.
A lawyer once asked Jesus which commandment was the great commandment in the law. This lawyer was a Pharisee, a member of an ancient Jewish sect that emphasised strict interpretation and observance of Jewish law in both its oral and written form. When it came to compliance with the law, the Pharisees were sticklers. They were an extremely proud and fastidious people who wanted to make sure that they avoided the violation of even one of the commandments. They not only knew the Ten Commandments but also all the laws in the Torah, which by traditional count, came to 613.
According to the Gospel of Matthew 22:35-40:
Then one of them, who was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
William C. Chittick, Professor of Religious Studies, State University of New York, a leading translator and interpreter of classical Islamic philosophical and mystical texts, has written extensively on the school of Islamic philosophy. In his article “Islam: A Religion of Love” he placed great emphasis on the vast literature in Islam exploring and elucidating the nature of love that forms part of Islam’s intellectual heritage.
He quoted Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a famous 14th century theologian from Baghdad, who said that the root of Islam is “love for God, intimacy with Him, and yearning to encounter Him”, and “The revealed books of God, from the first to the last, revolve around the commandment to love.”
Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), an eminent Sufi mystic and philosopher, said:
I follow the Way of Love, and where Love’s caravan takes its path, there is my religion, my faith.
We are One—Cultivate the Attitude of Oneness
Swami declared that there is only one God, and He is omnipresent. God is both formless and with numberless forms. All names and forms are his. We should therefore not discriminate between one form (or name) and another, but see all forms and names as the one and same God who is worshipped everywhere.
The true dwelling place of God is the heart of man, and the same God dwells in all beings.” All the beings in the universe are the creation of God, and there is nothing in this world that is not divine. All are One. When people observe differences between one and another, these differences arise from our feelings of “mine and yours”. Everything we see in this world is an aspect of divinity. There is nothing else other than this. Only One exists in this world and there is no second.
This sense of separateness, the feeling that we are individuals separate and distinct from every other individual, is not ultimately real. This dream of a mere physical and separate existence is an illusion. Oneness is the underlying reality of all life and everything in the universe because, at its deepest level, creation is indivisible.
We are exhorted to cultivate the attitude of oneness between men of all creeds, all countries and all continents. Swami would remind us, in his inimitable way, that life is a journey from “I” to “We”.
Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, a prolific writer of Catholic books and one of 20th century’s great mystics, had a vision of oneness with all people. He described his epiphany in this manner:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… The sense of liberation from illusory difference was such a relief to me that I almost laughed out loud… My happiness could have taken the form of the words,
Thank God I am like other men, that I am only a man among other men… It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race...’ There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all of the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…
This sense of Oneness is not unknown to scientists. Albert Einstein said:
A human being is part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of Nature in its beauty… We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
The American quantum physicist David Bohm, widely regarded as one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century, wrote:
One is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical idea of analysability of the world into separate and independently existing parts...
We have reversed the usual classical notion that the independent “elementary parts” of the world are the fundamental reality, and that the various systems are merely particular contingent forms and arrangements of these parts. Rather, we say that inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe is the fundamental reality, and that relatively independent behaving parts are merely particular and contingent forms within this whole.
God Is Love, Live in Love
Swami asserted that God is love and that He is moved only through the cultivation and practice of love. Love is the very nature of life, and without it nothing in this world can exist. For man, love is life and love is everything. We are urged to love all beings as manifestations of the same divinity that is the very core of oneself. The best way of doing this is through selfless service.
Swami’s injunction to us is, “Start the day with love. Fill the day with love. End the day with love.” We should make love the dominant force in our lives by actively and continuously opening our hearts to love. This is the way to God.
The prominent 20th century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said:
The true meaning of love of one’s neighbour is not that it is a command from God which we are to fulfil, but that through it and in it we meet God. Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love and if you do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself…
For the Christian, 1 John 4:8 states:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
According to the book Essential Sufism by James Fadiman and Robert Frager:
For many, Sufism is the path of love. To love others, to love the beauty of this world, develops the capacity for love. The more we can love, the more we can love God. To love God is to know God.
The illustrious 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, popularly known as Rumi, said that to love is to reach God. He wrote:
Gamble everything for love,
if you’re a true human being.
If not, leave this gathering.
Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty.
You set out to find God,
but then you keep stopping
at mean-spirited, roadhouses…
Lord Buddha taught loving kindness and compassion. He declared:
Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world: spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths; outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Swami’s famous sayings “Love All, Serve All” and “Help Ever, Hurt Never” epitomise his teaching on the importance of living in love. These simple and beautiful messages powerfully communicate the language of the heart.