For the countless millions of devotees who have come into his fold, Sai Baba is the avatar of this age. He is revered as the incarnation of the full power of divinity. Such an auspicious advent has not occurred since ancient days when the divinity came into human form 5000 years ago, in another major age of mankind. Then he came as Krishna, to enact the role of avatar of that particular age. Now, the divinity has come again in the role of world teacher, to guide and uplift mankind at this present critical time in human history.
Just as sweetness cannot be understood through words alone, but must be experienced directly through the taste, so also the Sai phenomenon cannot be understood by merely reading about him or studying his words or even experiencing him first-hand. His truth can be known only by fully living his teachings and practicing them in every thought, word and action of daily life. By transforming our lives in this way, we discover our own truth. This is the rarest of all jewels that this avatar has come to bestow on us. It is the deeper message of the mission for which he has incarnated, namely, that the divinity appears among us in order to remind us of our divinity. "I know who I am," he says. "I have come to help you to realize who you are." In essence, we are no less than he. We are God incarnate. That is the principal teaching of his Gita. He has come as the guide to help us realize our truth and return mankind to its divine source.
Like Allah of the Muslims, or Jahweh of the Jews, or Divine Father of the Christians, or the Buddha Nature of the Buddhists, or Ahura Mazda of the Parses, or the Supreme Self of the Vedantins, or the Great Spirit of the native Americans, Sai Baba is a name for the omnipresent, supreme reality, which in most religions is known as God. The one divinity takes on countless names and manifests itself in countless forms. It has chosen a 250 year period beginning in the early 19th century to manifest successively in three human forms as avatar for this kali age, to restore righteousness to floundering humanity. All three of these incarnations are called Sai Baba, which means divine mother-father.
The present Sai Baba, born in 1926, is the second in a succession of three incarnations of the Sai avatar. He is known as Sathya Sai Baba. The first incarnation was Shirdi Sai Baba, who left his mortal body eight years earlier in 1918. Shirdi Sai Baba lived his life exemplifying the unity of God and the brotherhood of man, by ministering to both the Hindu and Muslim communities of central India, each of which claimed him as their own. For many years, he would spend alternate days living in a Hindu temple and in a Muslim mosque.
The Sai avatar will remain in the present Sathya Sai form until his mid 90's, well into the 21st century. Then, shortly after leaving his physical body, he will be born again in the south of India, appearing as the third and final incarnation. At that time he will be known as Prema Sai Baba and will complete the mission of the Sai avatar to end this kali age and usher in the golden age for mankind.
Sathya Sai Baba took birth in the little out-of-the-way hamlet of Puttaparthi in the south of India, near Bangalore. Now, a modern township has sprung up there, called Prashanti Nilayam, the abode of ultimate peace, which is his main ashram. It provides accommodations for thousands of pilgrims from all over India and from all parts of the globe, who come to experience Sai Baba's daily public contacts with the devotees and private interviews for those who are fortunate to be chosen.
The ashram houses a comprehensive educational complex where students come from all parts of India and abroad to live and study together. Small children can come into the residential program starting at the age of five in the primary school, then go on to the high school, college and university levels, and finally on to the postgraduate and doctoral levels, to complete their education twenty years later. The Sai educational system, with campuses in various states of India, is wholly non-denominational and completely cost-free. All the educational costs for thousands of students are borne directly by the Sathya Sai Baba Trust.
Also at Prashanti Nilayam is the central headquarters for the worldwide network of Sai service organizations, engaged in a wide range of community service projects and in bringing education in human values into government and private school systems throughout the world. Recently, the largest specialty hospital in Asia was inaugurated at the ashram. Here patients, no matter how poor, can come from all over the globe for open heart surgery. They stay at the hospital with no charge for doctors, medicine, hospital services, food or room.
The hub of all this activity is Sai Baba, who from his earliest days has attracted large numbers of people to him through his unique personal presence. He can only be described as the personification of pure, selfless love, the embodiment of perfect peace and bliss, the essence of all goodness. He manifests every noble human quality that mankind admires and he incorporates every divine quality that is characteristic of the avatar. He has the full power of nature in his hand. He has all knowledge at his command. He knows the past, present and future of everyone who comes to him. He manifests himself in many parts of the world for the sake of his devotees. These characteristics, namely omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, are the mark of a full incarnation of the divinity.
In his teachings he befriends all faiths and emphasizes the unity of all religions in the oneness of divinity. In his personal manner, Sai Baba displays a majestic grace, and at the same time, an exquisite joyfulness. In the midst of a splendorous temple and ashram, he lives in a small, simple room, and maintains an austere life style, completely committing his time from early morning to late at night to ministering to the needs of those who come to him.
Not being limited to the physical plane, Sai Baba works in all dimensions, gross and subtle, appearing through visions and dreams and inner experiences, as well as in his physical form. As the divine teacher guiding the spiritual unfoldment of his devotees, he inspires from within and directs from without. He illuminates the heart and transforms the mind and reveals the greatest of all treasures, the immortal atma, the universal self abiding in every heart.
These two and a half centuries encompassing the Sai advent are a unique time of great spiritual significance in the history of the world. During this period, many saints and sages are also appearing on the earth in order to advance the divine mission of revitalizing spiritual values and reversing the present downward trend of moral degeneration which is engulfing the world. In the millenia to come, generations will look back with great awe at those of us who lived during this sacred time, much as we might look back at those fortunate ones in other ages, who were the contemporaries of Rama or Krishna, or of Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed or Zoroaster, and who had the unique chance to experience their sacred presence directly.
Very rarely in the long span of human existence, has the divinity taken a human form on earth and allowed itself to be widely recognized by many. And even more rarely has the divinity come in all its fullness and glory as avatar of the age, as is true today in the form of Sai Baba. Now, the full power of God can be directly approached and experienced by all, and his teachings, which have the authority of the source of all wisdom, can be understood by everyone, for he speaks to us in the language and the idiom of our present time.