Postscript to Sai Baba. Who or what was he anyway?

Twenty years after filming for US television the 50th birthday celebrations of Sri Sathya Sai Baba which took place at his ashram in Southern India, I was living in a tiny village tucked away among the South Downs, in the county of West Sussex, UK. One day, idling some time away in the small town of Petersfield, about ten miles from where I lived, I came across one of those holistic shops where they sell all sorts of ‘spiritual’ things – incense, books on the Tarot, CD’s of New Age music and a variety of what might be called ‘spiritual’ artefacts, including books by anybody from Aleistair Crowley to the Maharishi Mahesh.

The window display contained a number of books of this sort, among them two concerning Sai Baba. I can’t recall their titles, but I’d seen and read parts of both books while I was in India, and indeed during that time I’d actually met and talked with a number of the contributors to those books. There seemed, on the face of it, little reason for me to go into the shop and investigate further.

Curiously however, I did. I thumbed through both books. And there they were – those familiar anecdotes related by those same contributors. So quite why I then walked to the checkout with one of the books, paid for it and took it home with me, I really wasn’t sure. I remember taking it into my study, putting it down on the table, looking at it and wondering, “Why?” But a tiny grain of caution, born of my experiences in India of the odd things that had a habit of happening within the orbit of Baba, made me wary of seeing my purchase as being simply random. I went to bed that night thinking that something may well be in the air.

It was. The following morning I got a phone call. An actor friend of mine – a very well known TV and theatre personality whom I’ll refer to as John – rang me up from the Midland city where he was appearing in a stage play. One of the cast members, a young actress I’ll name Gill, had been telling him about the serious psychological problems she’d been experiencing up until quite recently. They had been causing her considerable distress and therapy had been of little help.

She had begun to despair of finding a way out her problems when someone chanced to mention a ‘holy man’ in southern India – a man  named Sai Baba. He, it was said, had a reputation for being able to help the troubled and the oppressed – among whose numbers she surely counted herself. She had researched him, liked what she discovered, joined a local South London Sai Baba group and had become immersed in his teachings to the point where, by the time of her conversation with John, she accounted herself a devotee. This man, she told him, had changed her life. John himself told me he wasn’t quite sure how the guy had managed that at a distance of six thousand miles but he was in no doubt that something in her had changed fundamentally and for the better.

Gill, not unnaturally,  was fascinated not just by Baba’s teachings but by the man himself. She was desperately keen to go out to India and actually get a glimpse of him. When John told her that a friend of his had actually made a film of Sai Baba at his ashram in Puttaparthi, she couldn’t wait to meet up with me.

Some days later, the three of us met in a pub in West London. I related some of the events I have covered in the earlier parts of this blog. Gill sat and listened as though mesmerized. And what, I then asked her, was it about Baba which, without any direct contact, had brought about a change where therapy and all the advice from friends and relatives had failed?

Her answer contained stuff with which I was by now very familiar – nothing concrete, nothing that could be effectively expressed in terms that would make much sense in a discussion around a dinner table. It was a feeling, gained by being around and with people who had met him and who had been devotees, some of them for a very long time and who seemed perhaps to pass on from him some aura of goodness, tolerance and love; a feeling gained by reading about him and hearing just some of his reported sayings – ‘There is only one religion – the religion of love’: ‘My miracles are the mosquito on the back of the elephant; I give you what you want so that you may come to want what I have come to give’. And the one which she felt spoke directly to her, ‘Shed just one tear and I will wipe away a hundred from your eyes’: – and so on and so on. From all this she had built up a very powerful sense of a presence not limited perhaps by space or time which carried about it – I’m reluctant to reduce Baba to ‘him’ or ‘her’ – a massive, all-enveloping charge of something totally positive, limitlessly good and completely reassuring; a knowledge that – to employ the words of a famous medieval English mystic – ‘all will be well’. And that is irresistible.

We spent perhaps a couple of hours further discussing Baba, his effect on people, the so-called ‘miracles’ and all the rumours – good and bad – that abound. We broke up and I returned to West Sussex. So, I thought, as I got back to my study and looked again at the cover of that book – that’s what it was about, was it?

But there was more. Early the next morning I had an urgent phone call from Gill herself. On the Sunday of the weekend coming up, there was to be a big Sai Baba gathering of the Woolwich (in South London) Sai Baba group. At these events which took place annually at Woolwich Town Hall, it was the custom to have four speakers – one of whom would always be a Westerner. This year’s Westerner, it turned out, had very suddenly and unexpectedly had to pull out. They were a Westerner short – and would I be willing to take his place?

I put together a twenty-minute talk. On the day, a huge and wonderfully multi-racial audience had assembled, filling the Woolwich Town Hall auditorium both upstairs and down. Speaking about something of which I felt myself not much more than a fascinated observer, I confess to being pretty nervous. But it went down extremely well. So much so that I was invited to give a similar talk to another group in North London a few weeks later.

And then, subsequently, there were more. I was asked to give the same talk in four further locations around the UK, the last and furthest from London being Bradford in West Yorkshire, home to one of the country’s largest Indian communities. But then, after Bradford, quite suddenly, it all stopped. There were no more nor has there ever been. It was as though there had been a very specific task to perform. Once performed, I the performer was dismissed.

It was impossible not to be tempted to relate in some indefinable way my buying of a book with whose contents I was already familiar and the way things had eventually turned out. Had there been just an isolated instance of this sort of thing in my experience of Sai Baba, one might have said it was just a very strange, drawn-out string of coincidences. But it wasn’t isolated – there had been many other similar instances. (See my other posts on the subject of Sai Baba) This was merely the latest, and presumably, now he is no longer with us, the last. Though I wouldn’t want to bet on that. I had been witness many times while he was here to a level of power and influence over people and physical reality which, as far as I could possibly judge, went way beyond that of any normal human being. That alone makes me very wary about assuming that that power and influence ceased upon his death.

A lot of people have asked me who or what I thought Sai Baba was. The only honest answer is that I have no answer. I saw what I saw, I felt what I felt. I’ve seen others go through the same experience and the same subsequent intellectual and emotional turmoil. And that is as much and as little as I can say. Where would I – where would any of us – find the resources appropriate to making an assessment of a being so way beyond our understanding? It would be a bit like using the beam of a torch in order to try and locate the torch.

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About besonian

Writer, photographer, film director
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31 Responses to Postscript to Sai Baba. Who or what was he anyway?

  1. Thankyou for helping out, wonderful information.

    • besonian says:

      Thank you for commenting. There’s a lot of what, from my personal experience, I see as disinformation about Baba on the net. Inevitable I suppose. After all, they pinned JC up on a cross. But if it helps in any way, then that’s part of what it’s about.

  2. Gopal says:

    Thank you for the fascinating series on Sai Baba. I really enjoyed every bit.

    • besonian says:

      Thank you Gopal for your comment. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.It was, as you must have gathered, one of the most extraordinary series of events of my life.

  3. dsskspace says:

    “I saw what I saw, I felt what I felt” – is think true for any one. Thanks for sharing…

  4. Manoj says:

    “‘It would be a bit like using the beam of a torch in order to try and locate the torch.” – Well, no better way to express atempts made by millions to understand HIM. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • besonian says:

      You’re very welcome. I think it was in the last post about Baba that I said that even now I doubt somehow it’s the end of the saga. And there are suddenly so many comments like yours coming in that I think this may be the continuation of my relationship with him that I felt might happen. What next is to come, I wonder? I’m glad it touched you in this way.

  5. songdivineDebarshi says:

    I am going through a difficult time, and in the midst of it, the eight parts of your blog has been like a whiff of cool comforting and caressing breeze, reassuring my faith, and more importantly reminding me of my own personal encounters with the phenomenon called Sathya Sai Baba. Thank you very much indeed.

    • besonian says:

      You’re most welcome. I understand what you may be going through. I was going through serious personal problems when I went out to Puttaparthi. I can’t say Baba cured the problems there and then – not that he ever claimed to. But being that close to him for three weeks, talking with him and observing him was certainly what kick-started me on a path which has now virtually dissolved those problems. I’m very glad the blog has been so good for you.

  6. Aravind B says:

    Another analogy comes to my mind as I conclude reading about your breathtaking experience-

    A salt doll went out to understand and measure the ocean. It just became one with it. Experience is the best understanding and you have so honestly and beautifully penned down your experience. My gratitude to you for the same. 🙂

  7. naresh says:

    Dear Besonian, can’t thank you enough for writing these notes on your visit to Swami’s 50th birthday. Thank you for your honest views. I have read many people write about Him and its refreshing and amazing to read about Him from so many different perspectives. I hope you know you are blessed.

    • besonian says:

      Thank you naresh. I am indeed well aware of just how privileged I was back in those days to be sitting three feet across a table from Baba and actually talking to him. Then being allowed carte blanche to film wherever I wanted in the ashram. But just as much I’m aware of how privileged I am to have been able to bring this narrative to you and to so many others out there. Best wishes to you.

  8. Saraswathi says:

    Your blog on SaiBaba is now reaching thousands of people….this is only the beginning.People are ever thirsty to know more and more about Sai Baba, and when it is from people like you who are first hand recipients of that experience, it is surely something very interesting to know.Thank You for the series on SaiBaba.

    • besonian says:

      When Naseem my Producer on that film asked Baba if many people would see the film once it was completed, he told her that perhaps not as many as she had hoped, at least at first. But then, later, a very great many would. She was somewhat puzzled! But I suspect that the ‘thousands’ you now speak of is the ‘great many’ that Baba spoke to her about. I’m pleased it has all meant so much to you.

  9. Rao says:

    How fascinating to read an account from events that occurred more than 35 years ago! I read all the seven blogs in one sitting. Never came across this series before until I saw a reference on Facebook. It is fascinating that you should write that this is not the end of Swami’s power. Perhaps you have come across this book: http://www.saikingdom.com (The e-book is called “Sai Thy Kingdom Come”. You will find it interesting. Thanks again for this glimpse into history. Sairam.

    • besonian says:

      Rao – I’m really pleased the blog has meant so much to you. I was indeed very privileged to have been given the opportunity to be so close to Baba all those years ago. I don’t know that book, but I will check your link. Thank you and best wishes to you.

  10. Mark says:

    Your wonderfully written account made me laugh so much, with all its drily told anecdotes.
    Thanks for putting a big smile on my face!

    • besonian says:

      Thank you, Mark. That’s a different take on it! You’re the only one – out of a great many now – who’s commented on the humour in it. As I’m sure you’re aware, I ended up taking Sai Baba completely seriously. But I’m glad you picked up the humour. Baba himself turned out to have quite a dry sense of it himself.

  11. Hatta says:

    Could the above video include clips from your video recording? The helicopter scene starts at around 4.56 min.

    • besonian says:

      Hatta – I’ve looked at this video now on YouTube. The helicopter was indeed shot by myself – or at least myself, my cameraman and sound assistant. Where the rest of the footage is from I’m not sure. Some may be my own out-takes – remember this was shot on 16mm film. But as for its editing and any sense of purpose it’s a dreadful mish-mash. And the actual picture quality is so poor it’s clearly a many generations removed transfer, probably via videotape. Thank you for your interest anyway.

  12. Shanti says:

    I could relive and feel the stillness ,or possibly a complete cessation of thoughts of quarter of a million people when Swami comes out to give darshan.
    It is really beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Shanti

    • besonian says:

      Shanti – that particular scene remains one of the most impressive and moving things I’ve ever witnessed. That was power – real power, benign and compassionate. I’m pleased it meant so much to you.

  13. Sarala Jagannathan says:

    Thank you for the series on Sai Baba…you sound as if you haven’t understood Him and His reality..yet I feel you have been given an opportunity to do just that…maybe you’ll realize it sometime very soon with His grace..thanks again for the series…

    Sarala Jagannathan

    • Sarala Jagannathan says:

      Sairam…let me begin by saying that I thank you from the depths of my heart for this series on Baba….it meant a lot to me..I’ve shared it with some of my friends and they found it awesome…now coming to your query…I want to quote your own words from the last part of the series..’The most impressive thing to me was the fact that in his presence reality around me went through a fundamental change and took me back to something I had lost – hence my tears.’ …’What did I want? Eventually I hit on some sort of answer – what I wanted was to be me. Me. Whatever and whoever that was – for I had little idea who that person really was. So could Sai Baba give me ‘me’? Could he give me myself?…This is exactly why you were called by Him…you were in search of your Self… .the very ‘me’ you wanted from Him….is essentially Him..the day we realize our Self, that day we realize Him..till then none can claim to have totally understood Him…and that includes me for sure…..till then I too would call myself ignorant..ignorant of His Divinity..I would also want to add that only when we experience that the same Divinity exists in each one of us..and essentially we are all one…limbs of the same Divinity…and all the outward differences we see are nothing but an illusion ,will we be able know our own Self and Baba as well…Our limited minds will never be able to comprehend Him…Only experience will make this possible, with His Grace of course…In fact He always said that we are Divine…we do not know it and He knows it….He called us His own Reflections…you understood that in your own way…your tears stand testimony to that…you have been blessed in a very special way and I’m very happy for you…and for the blessings you have got from Him…Thank you and..Sairam..

      Sarala

      • besonian says:

        Sarala – firstly I appreciate very much the sincerity of your comments. What you have perhaps misunderstood slightly is that in writing the blog I was very careful not to air in it my own present views, feelings, intuition regarding such matters. I attempted to set down simply what I saw and felt at the time. As to me in the present – I am where you are. I however follow no particular guru. I am equally at home with Baba, with Ramana Maharshi, the Buddha, Jiddu Krishnamurti, the writer of the Tao Te Ching, Eckhart Tolle and one or two others – for they all say the same thing. There is, after all, only one thing, in the end, to be said. The universe is an undivided and indivisible whole to which you and I and all the other billions of people are integral, and experiencing a temporary individuality. I know well that my going to Puttparthi was no random event – I was called. I had, over the few years prior to that, been drawn quite deeply into Eastern religious thinking. My time with Baba was a direct outcome of that. And I am indeed aware that in that I was especially blessed. Thank you once again for your thoughts. My best wishes to you.

    • besonian says:

      Thank you, Sarala. No, I haven’t ‘understood’ him. I think he is beyond mere ‘understanding’. But I’m very pleased the series has meant so much to you.

  14. Bishu says:

    I read your first post on Baba (thanks to an email by a friend) and just could not stop reading all the other six. Your experience is simply fascinating and your narration is so honest and gripping! How I wish I could meet you someday? I stay in Prasanthi Nilayam now and want to tell you that your final comments – ‘I had been witness many times while he was here to a level of power and influence over people and physical reality which, as far as I could possibly judge, went way beyond that of any normal human being. That alone makes me very wary about assuming that that power and influence ceased upon his death’ is so true! So many people even today come to this hamlet and you should listen to what they experience just by being here – this place is so charged with His presence even now. If only you have a chance to come to India again, do come here and feel this for yourself. We will be very happy to meet you and listen to you in person and also if possible record your experiences on camera too.

    Really grateful to you for posting this series.

    • besonian says:

      Thank you Bishu. That’s very gratifying. I’m pleased the series has meant so much to you and to so many others. I’ve often toyed with the idea of coming to Puttaparthi again. But not long after I returned from India my life went into free-fall. I’m sure it was no coincidence either. I lost everything I had, including my house and all my money.. I rebuilt myself and now have a life which is much fuller, wider, more generous and more fulfilling than ever it was before. The only thing I have little of is money! However, if Baba should decide I need to go to Puttaparthi, I’m sure the money will appear! My best wishes to you.

  15. SAI SHANKAR PRATHAP says:

    Dear Besonian, Sairam. We are indeed blessed by our beloved Swami (Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) to read your posts related to Him. He had blessed you with wonderful experiences and made you share them with the readers. May He shower His choicest blessings on all of us – as He has been doing – for now and for ever. Thank you, best wishes and SAIRAM

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