The lessons of Shirdi Sai Baba

This month we publish an article about Shirdi Sai Baba and how one of our GKS members practices Baba’s teachings in his daily life:

Article by Satrughna (Koen van Velzen)

As some of you may know, about five years ago I went on a voyage of dis-covery to Shirdi Sai Baba, instigated by a remark of Swamiji about a marble statue of Shirdi Sai Baba he wanted to be made.
This voyage ultimately led me to translate the Shri Sai Satcharita and lots of other stories of Shirdi Baba’s life into Dutch. While doing this seva, it became clear to me that this writing was definitely not without con-sequences.

For every story of Baba’s life has a lesson embedded, thus forcing me continuously to check how I implement these lessons into my own life. A number of these lessons touched my heart especially, and I have been given the opportunity to present these lessons to you in some of the newsletters.

In this first instalment you can read about my experiences with Baba’s teach-ing: ‘See God in every living being.’ First I will lay before you the stories themselves and then tell you my experience by trying to implement them in my own life.

The beauty of Baba in every being
Once, Mrs. Tarkhad was staying in a house in Shirdi. At noon, meals were ready and dishes were being served, when a hungry dog turned up and began to cry. Mrs. Tarkhad got up and threw a piece of bread, which the dog gulped with great relish. Little later a pig, laden with muck all over its body, came. Normally, looking at such an ugly creature, one would not be able to gulp food down once throat, but Mrs. Tarkhad was a very kind hearted and God-fearing person. She offered a piece of chapatti to that ugly pig also. The pig ate the piece and went away.

In the afternoon, when she went to the Masjid and sat at some distance, Sai Baba said to her, ‘Mother, you have fed Me sumptuously up to my throat, My afflicted pranas (life-forces) have been satisfied. Always act like this, and this will stand you in good stead. Sitting in this Masjid I shall never, never speak untruth. Take pity on Me like this. First give bread to the hungry, and then eat yourself. Take note of this well.’

At first she couldn’t understand the meaning of Baba’s words. So she re-plied, ‘Baba, how could I have fed You? I never gave you food in Shirdi since I don’t cook any food over here. In fact, I myself eat the food in one of the restaurants, run by Mr. Saguna over here, and pay for it.’
Then Baba replied, ‘Eating that lovely bread I am heartily contended and I am still belching. Oh mother this afternoon when you were taking your lunch, did you not offer food to a dog and later to an ugly looking pig? That food has reached me. The dog, to which you gave the piece of bread, is one with Me, so also other creatures (cats, pigs, flies, cows etc.) are one with Me. I am roaming in their forms. He, who sees Me in all these creatures, is dear to Me. So abandon the sense of duality and distinction and serve Me, as you did today.’

Drinking these nectar-like words, she was moved to tears, her throat was choked and her joy was overwhelming. She said, ‘Baba this means you test your devotees by merging into the form of creatures.’ Baba then told her ‘Mother, please continue to be kind to these creatures and God will continue to bless you. God will see to it that there is never dearth of food in your house.’

Baba further said, ‘Unless there is some relationship or connection, nobody goes anywhere. If any man or creature comes to you, do not discourteously drive them away, but receive them well and treat them with due respect. Shri Hari (God) will certainly be pleased, if you give water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked and your veranda to strangers for sitting and resting. If anybody wants any money from you, and you are not inclined to give, do not give, but do not bark at him, like a dog. Let anybody speak hundreds of things against you, do not resent by giving any bitter re-ply. If you always tolerate such things, you will certainly be happy. Let the world go topsy-turvy, you remain where you are. Standing or staying in your own place, calmly look at the show of all things passing before you. Demol-ish the wall that separates you from Me and then the road for our meeting will be clear and open.

The sense of separation, as I and thou, is the barrier that keeps the disciple away from his Master, and unless that is destroyed the state of union or atonement is not possible. It is on account of Rinanubandh (former relation-ship) that we have come together, let us love and serve each other and be happy. He, who attains the supreme goal of life, is immortal and happy; all others merely exist, merely live for as long as they breathe.’

The other as a mirror
With His words, Baba asks us to see God in every being. I used to think that it was meant as a promise for the future, that it was a description of the consciousness of man who realised total unity with God. ‘Such a man sees God everywhere, sees the divine in everything and finds beauty in all of na-ture, animals and birds’ I thought, and left it at that because I obviously had-n’t come that far yet, didn’t I?

But from this story and other remarks of Baba I learnt that it is an task to see and treat your fellow man as God. In many cultures the practice of treating the guest as God is known. Thus I could imagine being able to consider casual by-passers as God, for that is rather easy and without much consequence.

But Baba asks us to look upon EVERYONE and EVERY BEING as God, and that was a lot harder to me.
For instance, I used to have a lot of trouble in accepting my boss’s whims when he was tense. Also with other people I occasionally had clashes with. To consider them divine, to see them as God? It seemed impossible.

It took me a while before I realised that in this theatre – this play of life we all play a role in – my boss’s role was to bring into the limelight an exagger-ated version of my own crooked traits. Why did I get annoyed with some people? Only if I had those traits myself, I could get annoyed with that in others! Things I don’t have myself, will not irritate me at all in others, I no-ticed. I realised that I could see the other as a teacher or a mirror, reflect-ing my own imperfections.

From that moment on I decided to consider the remarks of my boss as direc-tions from God, and to ‘go in training’ with him, taking advantage of the les-sons being taught. Sometimes it took a while before I understood what ex-actly had to be learnt, but soon I noticed that I didn’t put up my defences anymore when criticised, and that appreciation came in its place. The num-ber of collisions lessened, so now I can say that the old situation of annoy-ances, reproach and defence doesn’t exist anymore. I do sometimes get re-marks about the quality of my work or the way things are done, but now it feels as a constructive criticism and I don’t feel attacked anymore. From his side as well, the communications are running smoother and with more ap-preciation, since he doesn’t have to be afraid of my short fuse. I found that the best lessons are hidden in the most difficult situations.

Since then I have tried to implement this lesson in all other contacts as well. I particularly found it difficult to see God in those closest to me, like my family, because it is just there that I find it hardest to let go of old patterns. But I am convinced that ultimately it will work there as well.

These lessons, I came to experience, are to be found everywhere in daily life and very obviously directed from within, by Baba, or by the Atma, which – as they say – are actually One and the same. I also noticed that this very wise guide from within never gives me more than I can handle, that the les-sons keep going smoother and that it even can become a play.
Jai Sai Ram!