Last updated on 14th June 2015
[This post is from a comment of mine in this FB post, https://www.facebook.com/groups/813523495355493/903603373014171]
In my humble opinion, the essence of Sai's teachings, as I have DIRECTLY heard Sai say so many times, is LOVE (Prema). I have been a teacher/mentor both in a university and in the software industry. So I know the value of repetition to drive home the point to most students (only a few that I would teach would be so bright and so concentrated on my lecture that they would fully grasp a point and later remember it, even if the point is said only once). We are all Swami's students (at least I certainly consider myself to be Swami's student). Swami used to repeatedly drive home Prema, Prema, Prema to us in Sai Kulwant Hall. Again and again and again. Therefore, to this student of Swami, there is no doubt whatsoever that the essence of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's teachings was Prema/Love. Typically this love would get expressed as service of some sort, to people one comes across, and sometimes this love could take the form of some corrective tough love.
About the path of self-inquiry: Sure, Swami would talk about that too, in public discourses, and on many occasions. But it was not as frequent as His driving home His teaching of Prema/Love.
The path of loving service to fellow human being (fellow animals/fellow existence too) was something that Sai devotees and people at large could (and can today, and in future) understand and attempt to practise, quite easily.
The self-inquiry path is something that, it seems to me, is suitable for/jells with only a few. And, very importantly, in India at least, there are lots of theory-heroes and book-knowledge-heroes, especially on topics like Advaita and Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, who have quite a bloated ego and look down upon other people who do not have this theory knowledge as inferior beings. That is one of the biggest traps of the self-inquiry path. Of course, not all people of such paths fall in the trap, but, in India at least, many do. [I had become like one of them :-( , :-) due to some heady successes in life (not very bloated ego, but not really humble either) till life banged me so hard that I was forced to realize my limitations and become humble.] [BTW Swami used the term bookish knowledge very often to indicate people who knew the theory but did not REALLY KNOW it as they were poor in practice.]
So which is the more superior path among these two: the path of simply Prema expressed as loving service to others but without Advaita type self-inquiry OR somebody focusing on Advaita self-inquiry? [Of course, there would be some who would be doing both Advaita self-inquiry and loving service - that becomes a third category. I do not want to get into this category as of now.]
My understanding of Swami's teachings about these various paths to God is that they are just different paths to the same Godhead. So does that mean that a person who only does loving service and is ignorant about any Advaita or Bhagavad Gita, can achieve the same Godhead, that the Advaita self-inquiry person achieves? My understanding of Swami's teachings, in this regard, is a resounding YES. Is that really possible? How can somebody who does not know Advaita self-inquiry merge with Godhead and "become"/experience himself/herself as the same (essence) as God? I don't know how that happens. That is beyond my current knowledge. But my teacher, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, has clearly and unambiguously said, on many, many occasions, that just Prema is enough to reach God. I have never heard Him say that if you don't do Advaita self-inquiry you cannot reach God. That is, my understanding of Swami's teachings is that Advaita self-inquiry is NOT NECESSARY for achieving MERGER WITH GOD/SAI. [I wrote "become" in quotes, in a sentence earlier, as Advaita teaching is that we are all God but have been deluded to think that we are the limited human mind-and-body. Therefore it is not really "becoming" God but is removal of the ignorant delusion of our mind, to reveal our ever-existent truth as being God/part of God/essence of God.]
An update on 14th June 2015
I have given below selected comment exchanges (slightly edited) from the FB post which has the above post contents as a comment.
[I have presumed brother Sai Das will not mind his comments being put up on this post as it is free for interested readers without any financial profit motive whatsoever.]
Sai Das commented (mainly in response to the above):
Ravi S. Iyer As far as what Swami's essential or ultimate message is, we are really talking about the same thing. Swami says that love is the path to God and that love is God. The very nature of Self/Atma is sat-chit-ananda. Ananada is the bliss derived from love. One a more elementary level, love has to be developed or cultivated but on a higher level of understanding, as Swami Himself says, everything is love already, it is the nature of existence. Who is it that loves what? If there is a subject/object then it is not divine love as Swami says. If we think we have to practice or develop love then we are firmly in duality.
One path is not superior to the other because they both result in the same thing..the removal of sense of a separate self. The Jnani realizes all is Pure Consciousness and the Bhakta all is God and God is Pure Consciousness and vice versa.
Baba teaches us to merge with God and not just remain in a Ishta Deva/chela relationship, no? If this is so, then duality must be removed ultimately. Of course bhakti yoga is easier for most people for obvious reasons but why do you see a necessary difference between the two? Having said that, with all the many Sai devotees you've known over the many years who've heard Swami talk about love, how many people do you know that are Enlightened let alone Liberated?
"That is, my understanding of Swami's teachings is that Advaita self-inquiry is NOT NECESSARY for achieving MERGER WITH GOD/SAI." ---snip--- It (Advaita Vedanta) is not a path, it is not a practice of self Inquiry. Advaita means non-dual as you know. Swami says God and man are one and elaborated on this in the orginal posting. Merging means becoming one with and that is the very definition of Advaita is it not?
I started off my describing my path now more as Sai Advaita or Sai Jnana and not just Advaita or Jnana. As a "Sai Jnani" I have not reliquinshed my belief in Baba. What I have done is reliquinshed my limited conception and definition of Him and expanded that into infinity.
Ravi S. Iyer responded:
Let me clarify some points raised in your response, brother Sai Das.
1) I have not had an experience of Advaita Oneness i.e. experience of me being in all, and all being in me. So, I am clearly at the duality level, in terms of experience. And, I think that is the case with a majority of Sathya Sai devotees. However, I have deep faith that all is ONE. It is a matter of faith/belief for me, and not a matter of experience.
2) You wrote, "Baba teaches us to merge with God and not just remain in a Ishta Deva/chela relationship, no? If this is so, then duality must be removed ultimately." I would put it more as Ishta Devata/Bhakta (favourite God/Devotee) relationship. Well, my understanding of Swami's teaching is that eventually duality gets removed automatically as the devotee deepens his/her love and worship of his/her beloved name-and-form God (Ishta Devata). My understanding of Swami's teaching is that self-enquiry (vichara) like Who am I, is not necessary for this duality to disappear as the Bhakta deepens his/her love & feeling of identification/being one with the Divine. You may have a different understanding of Swami's teaching on this, and you may be right. But, as of now, I believe my understanding of Baba's teaching on this, is correct.
3) You wrote: '"That is, my understanding of Swami's teachings is that Advaita self-inquiry is NOT NECESSARY for achieving MERGER WITH GOD/SAI." ---snip---' Well, I believe the common understanding of the term Advaita self-inquiry, is the Koham-Soham (Who am I-I am He) OR Who am I - I am not the body, I am not the mind ... type of question-answer inquiry process about one's existential reality. You may have a different understanding of the term Advaita Self-inquiry. ---snip---
Sai Das wrote:
Ravi S. Iyer ---snip---
2) I have the same understanding.
3) ---snip--- I meant limited understanding of Advaita in the sense of your personal experience of it that you mentioned and when seen just in terms of being a practice. I meant Advaita as just meaning non-dual. I mean this the same as I would real Bhakti yoga meaning not being limited to the "ring and swing practice" of rituals, etc. I am not advocating Advaita over Bhakti because I am both.
Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Sai Das. I appreciate your thoughtful words in the first para of your response, brother. Thanks for the same - it completely resolves the slight disturbance that I had in my mind with regards to your earlier response.
I think there are two terms involved in our discussion: a) Advaita self-inquiry b) Advaita.
I was referring to a), Advaita self-inquiry, and I was going by my understanding of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and Ramana Maharishi's teachings of this question, chintan (contemplation/thinking) and then answer, process. [Who am I? Am I this body? Am I this mind? ....chintan on it..... And then the answer being realized that No, I am not these. I am something different from them. I am the changeless awareness which is at the core of my being/existence and which is there even when I don't have any association/identification with my body or my mind.] I think my understanding of this Advaita self-inquiry process is quite good. I mean, my view is that my understanding of it cannot be characterised as "limited".
In your previous comment you were referring to b), Advaita, which covers a far bigger area than just the Advaita self-inquiry process. Now, my understanding of Advaita, can certainly be characterised as not only "limited" but "very limited". I am not trying to be over modest here. I think it is the truth. One of the great blessings of my life has been experiences with Swami where He showed me unmistakably that he knew everything I did. Further, I have seen how He, at the mind-body level, would suffer when some devotee of His is really down. These are matters that I have seen directly, even if I was never a physically close attendant/servitor of Swami. But in the small and very tight-knit family kind of environment of Prasanthi Nilayam ashram staff while Swami was in physical body, every notable change in visible aspect of Swami would be studied and discussed! So, if He appears down during a Darshan, inquiries would be made and then sometimes one would get to know about some pretty sad incident involving some people near-and-dear to Swami which had pulled Him down. Of course, He would recover very fast. But He did demonstrate the same human 'feeling bad' kind of thing that we normal humans experience.
I think it is well established by experiences of various devotees (including my small experiences) that Swami would just know about such matters without anybody telling Him. From where did this knowledge come? In this context, if you have not had a look at "Sathya Sai Baba's Advaita Teachings By John Hislop Ph.D. - Edited Transcript of Video", http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2013/11/sathya-sai-babas-advaita-teachings-by.html, you may want to do so. IMHO, it is a superb lecture by Dr. Hislop on Swami's Advaita teachings. An extract from it is relevant here (Hislop's words): "By the way, when I was talking to Swami - this will tell you the story - I finally said to Him, Swami, how is it that you know everything that I say and everything that was in the minds of the people in these meetings we had? How are you there? Are you there as Easwara? How are you there, Swami? How do you know that? This room has walls and only a window. You can't see through those walls. Who can see through those walls? How are you in that meeting, Swami? So He said Hislop, I was there as universal consciousness. He is universal consciousness - that consciousness which informs every thing of creation."
So, Swami, I am deeply convinced, had his paranormal knowledge and paranormal experiences of feelings of others, as Swami was in the FULL BLOWN EXPERIENCE of Advaita. I mean, Swami, at His physical mind-body level, EXPERIENCED that He was in others (all, I guess) and that others (all, I guess) were in Him.
Now, I have had ZERO experience of paranormally knowing (as against an educated guess) what goes on in anybody's mind or paranormally experiencing what somebody else is experiencing (as against normal human empathy when one interacts with others). So my Advaita experience certainly is "very limited".
Another point is that there was a stage when I was hungry for such a spiritual experience where I can feel what others are feeling and know what others are knowing, and made some really stupid mistakes in my spiritual sadhana to get such experiences. By Bhagavan's Grace (as all this was when Swami was in physical form and I was having regular Darshans of Swami in Prasanthi Nilayam), Swami helped me enormously to come back to the SAFE & STEADY spiritual path.
Today I know I am not ready for such experiences and do not even desire to have such experiences. I mean Shirdi Sai Baba felt the hunger of a dog and was happy when that dog's hunger was appeased by His devotee. Sathya Sai Baba, in physical form, had taken on heart-attacks and other serious diseases of His devotees, onto His own body, suffered it for a little while (far lesser than what the devotee would have), and then was back to normal (or at least, seemingly normal). Now, frankly, I have enough problems facing some health issues of my own, and so I am NOT interested in feeling hunger pains and other pains of other humans and living beings. I am in no position to handle such stuff. I am not in that major league of spiritual masters and am in some minor league of spiritual sadhakas/devotees/aspirants :-) . Again, I am not being over modest here - it is just the plain and simple truth of the matter.