Sathya Sai Baba Satsang

Doctrines Sathya Sai Baba teaches a fairly traditional monist (advaita) form of Hinduism. However, he is best known as a 'miracle worker' or 'magician' who regularly 'materializes' vibhuti (sacred ash) and other objects such as gold watches for his devotees. This is the main source of his appeal and authority as a guru. His miracles have been disputed by many people as professional conjuring or chicanery, but are in line with Hindu bhakti beliefs about the relations between the divine and phenomenal worlds, including the power of the self-realized person or avatar to intervene in natural processes. As the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, he was believed to possess the 15 marks that distinguish a liberated soul from ordinary men and women, and the sixteenth mark (the triple powers of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence) that signifies divine powers. Even his later claim to be the universal god can be found within the traditional Hindu framework. He teaches that God is everything, but for his devotees he himself is God and his charisma is indisputable.

History Sathya Sai Baba (b. 1926) was born in Andhra Pradesh, India, and at the age of 14 claimed to be the reincarnation of the nineteenth-century Indo-Muslim saint Shirdi Sai Baba. From the beginning he was renowned for his psychic and miraculous powers, which led to the rapid growth of his movement. He succeeded in convincing curious visitors, pilgrims, and even many scientists of the truth of his claims and abilities, and by 1950 had built and moved into his own village, Prasanthi Nilayam, the Abode of Highest Peace. This has now become a centre of pilgrimage for millions of visitors from all over the world. His schedule is now organized by the Sri Sai Central Trust, controlled by a Council of Central Management with representatives from various other trusts and organizations. The movement spread to Britain via the indigenous Indian community, and in 1975 was organized into the Sai Council of Great Britain. There are now Sai centres throughout the world. His many disciples and admirers often claim to have witnessed and experienced miracles and other psychic phenomena associated with him.

Symbols The main religious practices are devotion and service, and in this respect the movement adheres to bhakti yoga. Meetings are held in the Sai centres at which bhajans (devotional hymns) are sung to Sai Baba for an hour and a half, and his 108 (an esoteric number) names are recited. The singing and recitation are believed to draw the divine presence into the devotee, dispelling the ubiquitous dangers of materialism and secularism. These rituals are also believed to benefit the whole centre and the surrounding neighbourhood. His portrait or photograph is placed at the centre of the shrine. To the right is an empty chair symbolizing his presence, and below it is a footstool with a photograph of his feet; the feet of the guru are a highly sacred symbol in Hinduism. The ceremony ends with the offering of the arathi (sacred flame) to Sai Baba's empty chair or 'throne', thus transmitting his light into the devotees.

Adherents The movement claims 10 million devotees worldwide, the majority in India but with 100,000 in Britain (Taylor 1987, 119).

Main centres
 Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, India.