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Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba: Jagadguru & Sadguru

Guru Poornima is celebrated by spiritual seekers to offer love and gratitude to their Guru. The tradition started as “Vyasa Poornima” to express gratitude to sage Veda Vyasa since he codified the Vedas, wrote the 18 Puranas and the epic Mahabharatha (containing jewels like the Bhagavad Gita, the Vishnu Sahasranamam and the Sanatsujatiyam) which sanctify lives and show the way to liberation.

This tradition still continues, and spiritual seekers pay their homage and offer their adoration to their Gurus. Swami says that the best way to express gratitude is to follow the commands and teachings of the Guru immediately, implicitly, and completely. Swami says that it is the mother who shows the father to the child. Then, the father leads the child to the Guru or the preceptor, who guides the way to God. We are supremely blessed to receive divine grace wherein our Guru and God are one and the same!

God, who is beyond name, form, attributes, time, space, and causation, has taken the beautiful form and name of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, whose nectarous teachings show us the way to self-realization! So, we consider him as the Parama Guru (Supreme Divine Teacher), Sadguru (True Teacher), Jagadguru (Universal Teacher), and Gurunam Guru (Teacher of Teachers). He is the embodiment of the trinity–Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara–the creator, preserver, and destroyer.

Who is a Guru, and the Types of Gurus

Swami says that the Guru shows the Guri (aim or goal or target) of life. The goal of life is Self-realization. There are 8 billion people on planet Earth, and most of them spend their time and energy pursuing wealth, progeny, and sense enjoyment. Only the Sadguru shows the way out of these entanglements and leads human beings on the right path. In general, there are two kinds of Gurus.

  • Bodha Guru–Teachers who teach the highest Truth and show the way to God.
  • Badha Guru–Teachers who cause pain to the students by taking them along the wrong path. They utter mantras in their ears and collect money, making it a business.

The real Guru is the one who removes the darkness of ignorance. Gu stands for darkness, while Ru stands for removal. During His Guru Poornima discourse on July 21, 1986, Swami described eight types of Gurus:

  1. Bodha Guru–teaches the Shastras and encourages pupils to follow scriptural injunctions.
  2. Veda Guru–reveals the inner meaning of the Vedas and turns the minds of pupils toward God.
  3. Nishiddha Guru–imparts knowledge about rites and duties and shows how one’s welfare here and hereafter can be ensured.
  4. Kamya Guru–makes pupils engage in meritorious deeds to secure happiness here and hereafter.
  5. Vachaka Guru–imparts knowledge of Yoga and prepares the disciple for spiritual life.
  6. Suchaka Guru–teaches how the senses must be controlled through various types of discipline.
  7. Karana Guru–teaches the unity of the Jivi (embodied being) and the Atma (Self).
  8. Vihita Guru–clears all doubts, purifies the mind, and shows how Self-realization can be attained.

Of these eight Gurus, Swami says that the Karana Guru is the foremost because he helps the individual to progress from the human to the divine. Only God can act as such a teacher. So, we are blessed to have God as our Guru, taking us from the human level to divinity.

The Ultimate Mantra

Being the divine Guru, during the same Guru Poornima discourse, Swami blessed us with a powerful five-letter mantra (Panchakshari Mantra) in Telugu, “De-Vu-Du-Nna-Du, Devudunnadu,” which translates in English to the five-letter mantra, G-O-D-I-S, ‘God Is.’ Swami exhorted us to make this mantra the sheet anchor for life.

He advised, “Consider this mantra as the message for this Guru Poornima and proclaim it in all circumstances and at all places with all the conviction and strength you can command. The world can be turned into an earthly paradise if you strengthen your faith in God and demonstrate it in your actions. You must have the courage and determination to face all kinds of problems and difficulties. By propagating this mantra, you can promote the love of God and fear of sin among the people. The ultimate mantra ‘God Is’ can be more powerful than any mantra based on a particular deity’s name.”

Swami instructed us to have this five-letter mantra as our constant companion and strengthen our faith in God. He assured us that it would ultimately lead us to God-realization.

The Defects that Prevent Us from God-Realization

The Guru has come to remind us and show us our true nature that we are embodiments of Atma, Divinity, and Love. Why, then, are we not able to experience this? Swami says this is because of three types of defects of the mind. They are mala, vikshepa, and avarana. These prevent us from seeing the reality, leading us to identify with the body, mind, and intellect. Swami gives the example of a mirror in which we wish to see our true reflection (reality). Three types of defects may prevent us from seeing our reflection in the mirror.

Mala (impurities): This is the dust that settles on the mirror. Man commits many offenses, knowingly or unknowingly, in this life and in previous lives. These actions are imprinted on the Chitta (memory), life after life, like dust accumulating on the surface of a mirror day after day, preventing us from seeing reality. Just like wiping the mirror clean, the best way to get rid of mala is following the path of selfless service (karma yoga), which Swami always emphasizes. That is why Lord Krishna says, “Chittasya Shuddhaye Karma” (selfless action purifies the mind). By engaging in selfless activities, one gets rid of all impurities.

These impurities are of two types–external and internal. Internal purity is the most important–a lot of effort is needed for it. That is where selfless service comes in. External purity involves keeping our environment, body, attire, etc., clean and can be done quite easily. However, the purity of food is also important because, as is the food, so is the mind (Jaise Ann Vaise Mann). So, we must have sathwic food, taking care of how the food is obtained, cleanliness of the vessels, and who prepares, cooks, and serves the food. To get rid of other impurities that are beyond our control, it is best to offer the food to God (Brahmarpanam) and partake as God’s prasad (sanctified food).

Vikshepa (vacillation): This occurs due to the constant wavering of the mind and can be compared to the movements of the reflected image in an unsteady or shaking mirror. It prevents us from seeing our image clearly. The best ways to control the wavering mind are Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (detachment). To control this waywardness of the mind, one should undertake various spiritual practices like meditation, prayer, and the nine modes of devotion (bhakti yoga) mentioned in the scriptures:

  1. Sravanam (listening to the Lord’s stories, leelas, and mahimas),
  2. Kirtanam (singing His glories)
  3. Smaranam (remembrance)
  4. Padasevanam (service to the Lotus Feet)
  5. Archanam (worship),
  6. Vandanam (salutation)
  7. Dasyam (master-servant relationship)
  8. Sakhyam (friendship)
  9. Atma nivedanam (offering oneself to the Lord i.e., Self-surrender)

Swami gave His assurance in His letter dated May 25, 1947, that anybody who has steadfastness, regularity, and discipline in spiritual practices will be protected and will advance toward the goal.

Avarana (blockage): This may be likened to a thick cloth covering the mirror of man’s mind, completely blocking any reflection of the image of the Self. Thus, while mala does not enable us to have a clear and correct image of the Self, and vikshepa results in seeing an incorrect and shaky image of the Self, avarana altogether hides the Reality (Self) and makes us identify ourselves wrongly with the body, mind, and intellect. Self-enquiry helps us to recognize who we really are, namely the Atma.

Swami says that the thick cloth is made up of the arishad-varga–the band of six internal enemies of man viz. kama (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), mada (pride), and matsarya (jealousy, envy). Out of the six, pride may be considered the worst enemy. Pride can be of eight kinds: pride of money, learning, caste/lineage, affluence, beauty, youth, position/authority, and tapas (spiritual pride, which is the most dangerous). One needs to eliminate these six enemies, including any of the eight forms of pride. The solution to getting rid of these enemies, Swami says, is to develop love for God and see God in all (jnana yoga). Love is the only bond that can unite all and make us realize the One Reality behind all the apparent diversity.

Guru Reveals the Highest Spiritual Meaning

Another meaning of the Guru is ‘Gu,’ which stands for Gunateeta (beyond all attributes), and ‘Ru,’ which stands for Rupavarjita (beyond all forms). Worshipping the name and form intensely, one transcends to the formless and attributeless Absolute Truth. The Guru reveals the innermost secrets of the scriptures. In the same 1947 letter, Swami declares that the Avataric mission for which He came is also to show the hidden secrets and meanings of the scriptures. The scriptures have a literal meaning (vachyartham), an inner meaning (antarartham), and the highest spiritual meaning (paramartham). The Lord comes to reveal the highest spiritual meaning.

One of the greatest examples is when Swami, in His previous form as Shirdi Baba, revealed the inner meaning of the verse (sloka) from the Bhagavad Gita,

Tad viddhi pranipatena
Pariprasnena sevaya
Upadeksyanti te jnanam
Jnaninas tattva-darshinah

(Bhagavad Gita, 4:34)

(Learn the Truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him with reverence and render service unto him. Such an enlightened Saint can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the Truth.)

Many commentators (including the greatest one–Adi Shankara) have translated it as the Guru will give you jnana when you practice self-enquiry and devotion, and serve the Guru selflessly. Shirdi Baba, however, gives the actual meaning. He says that the Guru does not teach jnana but shows what is ajnana! A beautiful example is that of the Sun, whose effulgence is hidden by clouds. The minute the clouds are blown away, the Sun is revealed, shining brightly. The Guru, thus, does not have to teach the Truth, which is luminous like the Sun. He reveals what is ignorance, the clouds–once these are blown away, the effulgent Self (Atma) is revealed. For this realization, prostration to the Guru (bhakti yoga), self-enquiry (jnana yoga), and selfless service (karma yoga) are necessary. This comprehensive and all-encompassing explanation with such profound clarity could only be provided by our beloved Guru and God!

Swami has also given us many beautiful meanings of the scriptures. For instance, Lord Sri Krishna says:

Karmanye vadhikaraste
Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma
Te Sangostvakarmani

(Bhagavad Gita, 2:47)

(You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action or the outcome of your deeds. Let not the results or the outcomes be the motivation; you should never be attached to the outcomes, nor should you be attracted to inaction.)

Most commentators say that you have an obligation to work, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Swami corrected this by adding a subtle yet critical point. Swami said that it is the law of karma that when there is an action, you are entitled to the fruits. But if one does not want to be entangled in the consequences of bondage due to karma, the best thing is to offer the fruits of the action willingly and sincerely to the Lord. So, you are entitled to the fruits of the action, but you choose to offer it to God willingly! That is the real meaning of this Sloka.

Swami gives another beautiful explanation for the famous Sloka:

Ananyas chintayanto mam
Ye janah paryupasate
Tesham nityabhiyuktanam
Yoga-kshemam vahamyaham

(Bhagavad Gita, 9:22)

(There are those who always think of Me and are exclusively devoted to Me. To them, whose minds are always absorbed in Me, I provide what they lack and preserve what they already possess.)


The usual meaning is that if you think of the Lord all the time, then the Lord will take care of all your needs and welfare and carry your burdens. But Swami says it is not about thinking of God always but having the thought of ‘no other,’ that nothing is separate from the Divine. That is Ananya Bhakti–all you see is Oneness, only God, and nothing else.

Another common maxim in the Advaita (non-dual) philosophy is ‘nethi, nethi’ (commonly referred to as ‘not this, not this’). In this context, God is that which remains after all else has been negated. But Swami gave a profound interpretation explaining that the true meaning of ‘nethi, nethi’ is ‘not only this, not only this,’ which is inclusive rather than negative. This means that instead of saying, “God is not this, not this,” we say, “God is not only this, not only this.” Thus, God is that all-encompassing, all-pervading One who is realized after everything has been accepted as divine! Finally, we realize that all that we tried to deny as non-Self is, in reality, a part of the Self! Swami shows that this non-dual philosophy is not one of exclusion but of all-inclusion, the corollary to the concept of ‘Ananya’ or ‘no other.’

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there is the famous dilemma–“to be or not to be.” Swami beautifully says that the secret of life is–to be and yet not to be, or to be in the world and yet not be of the world. That is to live fully but with detachment.

When we practice the divine teachings of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who is our Guru and God, we will get rid of all our obstacles–mala, vikshepa, and avarana–and come face to face with our real Self and realize that we are divine.

We will be able to attain the goal stated in the famous Vedic prayer:

Asatoma Sadgamaya
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya
Mrityorma Amritangamaya
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi

(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

(Lord! Lead me from untruth to Truth, from darkness to Light, and from death to Immortality. Om, peace, peace, peace.)

Once we live abiding by the divine teachings, we live in Truth, we live in Light, and we become Immortal. The scriptures proclaim loudly,

Shrunvantu Vishwe Amrutasya Putraha

(Shvetashvatara Upanishad)

(Listen! Ye Children of Immortality!)

The Lord has proclaimed that we are immortal, and we need to realize this in this very lifetime.

Jai Sai Ram.