It is very interesting to observe and analyze the oriental concept of the Guru, and the relationship he bears to his chosen disciples. This relationship is in sharp contrast to the mere external and casual link that exists between the teachers and the taught in western countries. According to the occidental idea, the master serves as the medium for imparting knowledge or truth which is the final goal. As Aristotle said, “Dear is Plato, but dearer still is the truth.” But in India truth and the Guru are completely identified. There is no truth apart from the Guru, and to know and serve the latter with whole-hearted devotion is also to serve the cause of the truth. In India, in particular, the Guru has almost become the accepted axiom of spiritual progress, and as such, the relationship he bears to those whom he guides is unique. Random would seem the road to heaven until the Guru’s grace paves the way for the mortals to follow. Nor need we be denied this grace if our quest is sincere. We have certain assurance that even as we strive we shall rise and arrive.

The problem of human relationship is a very acute one. There is not a single relationship on the human level which does not at some time or the other strike a reflective man as a being based on egoism and mutual exploitation of those that are related; a mother’s love for her child is perhaps in some rare cases the nearest approach to the ideal, but even that is not perfect. A relationship without a flaw -- is that possible? This is what is sought to be embodied and has indeed been successfully concretized in the beautiful bond which is established between the Guru and his devotees. The beauty and the wisdom of India’s spiritual literature is enhanced by the tribute that is paid in poetry and prose to this unique fusion of the guru and bhakta. Innately mystical as the Indian temperament is, it is no wonder that the goal is always to achieve a direct union with God. The Sage of Shirdi recognized this and felt that the very ethos of the nation could be found in this enduring and supreme association of the guru with his followers. A firm and unfaltering faith in the guru, according to Sai Baba, is the highest sadhana. “Trust in the guru fully”, he reiterated, “this is the only sadhana.” Baba averred that the secret of a successful approach was to give himself, the more power to receive does a sadhaka develop, and in the measure in which the surrender to the master is complete, in that measure shall the initiate reap the fruits of the spirit.

Human relationship, as stated before, is always based on an instinct of possession or appropriation. But the disciple’s attitude is one of voluntary giving of himself unspoiled by any demands, untainted by any spirit of barter. In return the guru’s grace is just as spontaneous as unstinted, in that, the guru takes up the entire being of the disciple to prepare him in the way he thinks best for a life of fulfillment and perfection. Baba himself once poetized this idea by likening the disciple to a lump of plastic clay from which the master potter fashions fascinating pieces of poetry. In this remoulding of the aspirant, the guru as it were fulfills himself too; and in some subtle way his strength seems to be made perfect in weakness.

However, despite the great emphasis he laid on the need of a guru, Baba did not deny the possibility of attainment without one. He even allowed that since to know oneself is the essence of spiritual growth from within and not necessarily through the guru’s intervention. This, however, he said, was very rare. For the majority of the sadhakas the guru was a paramount necessity, and he believed that with the guru’s radiant guidance the way could be made, not only easier, but more inspiring. To a question once asked by a simple devotee at Shirdi, Baba’s reply was as characteristically simple and direct -- for it may be mentioned here that Baba suited his teachings to the needs and capacity of the seeker; he never confused an unsophisticated mind with unnecessary flights of metaphysical subtleties. The devotee wanted to know how far a Guru was needed to show the way. “The way is rugged”, was Baba’s response, “there are tigers and bears on the route, but if one has a guide with him, there is no difficulty. Then the tigers and the bears move aside. If there is no guide (Guru), there is the danger of falling into a deep yawning pit”, he said. And then again, “if one makes the Guru the sole object of one’s thoughts and aims, one attains Paramatma.” Close contact with the supreme master ensures a protection which seems to envelope the disciple like an aura, helping and guiding him, and although the Guru may not necessarily throw aside all sufferings and stumblings, he invariably carries the seeker safely across all obstacles; that is what Baba meant when he said, “If one devotes his entire life to me, he need fear nothing for body or soul.”

It is the Guru who guides the faltering step and forces the wavering will and the straying gaze to find their impassioned focus on the face and form of the radiant master, until the devotee looks -- not to look away, but looks on with unabated ardour. Then indeed does the disciple’s mind becomes completely silent and can be likened unto a flame protected from the wind, burning steadily without either being ruffled or extinguished. This is concentration of the highest sort, and Baba spoke of it as being conductive to meditation and Samadhi which in turn lead to complete freedom.

Baba often, and without any reserve, spoke of his own Guru. Indeed it is amazing to read and hear of the simplicity and utter lack of reticence which Baba displayed in talking of his own highest experiences. Before him sat a mass of mediocre humanity, most of them immature and full of faults and shortcomings, all of them mere Sadhakas groping for the Light -- and he the peerless Siddha spoke to them as if they were his equals. “My master told me to give bounteously to all that seek and ask”, was one of his illuminating charters, so he gave bounteously of material benefits, as well as spiritual gifts to his children. His treasury was indeed always open.

“Trust in the Guru fully -- Guru is all the gods” -- is, therefore, Baba’s favourite text, and he would have us base our seeking on this great and simple foundation. His references to his own Guru are replete with tenderness.

Baba once told his disciples how he met his Guru -- whether this reference was to some immediate past or a remote one belonging to some other incarnation is not clear; nor it is certain whether the experiences which Baba described were symbolical or literal. It was enough that the utterances of this Yogi were like some deep prophetic reverberations that gave a powerful impetus and richness to the thoughts and lives of all those who came within the orbit of his radiance. Baba described how he once roamed about in a forest seeking for truth with three young men. They discussed amongst themselves the right way of reaching their goal. One of them said self-reliance was the way; another favoured self-control of the mind to free it from the thoughts of desires; and the third man cast his vote in favour of always doing vichara, distinguishing between the Nitya and Anitya (the changing and the changeless). But Baba was content even at that stage to feel that surrender of the body and soul to the Guru was the best way. Debating thus, the young men lost their way, for they disdained to take a guide who has offered to help him. It was then that the Guru came! In order to arrive at some version of the transforming and profound allegiance that the master expected of a Sadhaka one cannot do better than quote here Shri Sai Baba’s words as rendered by Narasimha Swamiji.

“How can I describe his (Guru’s) love for me? When he was Dyanastha (i.e. in love trance) I sat and gazed at him. We were both filled with bliss. I cared not to turn my eyes upon anything else. Night and day I poured upon his face with an ardour of love that banished hunger and thirst. The Guru’s absence even for a second made me restless. I meditated on nothing but the Guru, and had no goal or object other than the Guru! Unceasingly fixed upon him was my mind. Wonderful indeed the art of my Guru! I wanted nothing but the Guru and he wanted nothing but this intense love from me. Apparently inactive he never neglected me, but always protected me by his glance. That Guru never blew any Mantra into my ear. By his grace, I attained to me present state. The four Sadhanas and six Shastras are not necessary. Trusting in the Guru fully is enough.”...

So under the cool shade of the neem tree where Baba first came and sat like a Fakir gradually drawing unto himself thousands of disciples by the dazzling immensity of his personality, no less than by the brilliant miracles he performed, today there stands a epitaph consecrated to the memory of his Guru. For in this spot, according to some of his devotees, lies the Samadhi of Baba’s Guru, and they maintain that Sai Baba himself pointed out the spot saying his Guru lay buried therein. But there are others who strongly repudiate this story and deny any reference by Baba to his Guru’s Samadhi. We need not, however, let this controversy worry us or make us lose sight of the basic truth. The important thing is that Baba did create an idealization of what a Guru should be, and it is enough if we remain loyal to that creation. Shri Krishna and Christ are none the less real and inspiring for all the controversy which centers round the authenticity of their existence, and it is enough too that we would know that our perfect master, so consummate in his sainthood, so accomplished in philosophy, revered by the age wherein he lived, his name and memory preserved with increasing veneration by the present age, is daily resurrected in the lives and the visions of those who place their entire faith in him.

There was a living tender beauty in Baba’s personality which made all those who met him feel the urge to surrender to him. Sai Baba was in the deepest sense of the phrase a Guru incarnate. He naturally attracted people, and they were willing and anxious to surrender to him. “Why should anyone fear, when I am near”, he said, “Cast all your burdens on me and I will bear them”. Who can resist such a compassionate invitation to be protected! The master’s ways are natural, homely and human. He never advised anyone to leave the world and retire to the forest. He called this a shirking of one’s duties and responsibilities. According to him, not by running away from life and its problems but by facing them with courage and fortitude does man reach the true understanding of his Creator. But Sai Baba did often stress the importance of retiring into the sanctuary, the secret place of one’s own being within, where in solitude dwells the Self. “Religion is what the individual does with his solitariness”, said the philosopher Whitehead. It is indeed a passage from the alone to the alone.

Sri Sainath believed that each individual soul is eternally and essentially perfect and all bondage is super-imposed; he, therefore, repeatedly warned seekers against a vain preoccupation with the future. Very often he said “Watch the present, and the future will take care of itself. Contemplate on and invoke the ‘I’ within you in the ever insistent NOW, and you will be able to open the gateway to salvation.” Here, like Shri Krishna and Ramana Maharishi, Sai Baba lays open to our awareness the scintillating path of Gnan and self-inquiry. But Sai Baba also knew and realized that in this struggle to transcend the veil that clouds the sheer I-consciousness, much time, nay, even many lives would be lost. His way, therefore, was the way of trust in the compassionate Guru whose silent shafts of spiritual grace would melt away those dark veils of ignorance to usher genuine seekers into the realms of spiritual awareness. Once this vista is thrown open to man, he witnesses a supreme harmony that reveals to him everything in its right place; all love and no hatred becomes the creed. For, as Baba was always fond of pointing out, “Since the real self is eternally the same in all of you, who is to hate whom?” But these revelations come to us in their virginity and beauty through the gracious intervention of the Guru’s silent grace. Sai Baba did not expect the majority of the seekers to ferret out the significance of the knowledge of the Self; he knew that very few were intellectually equipped for such rigorous self-analysis.

Indeed, though Sai Baba himself was a great Gnani, he did not advocate the path of Gnan to those who came to him for guidance. He was too much the saviour of the masses to preach salvation through a medium which could appeal only to a few. He knew that very few sadhakas would be able to follow the path of self-inquiry and introspection and fewer still could assimilate metaphysical subtleties. Sai Baba made the Guru an inexorable facet of the path of devotion. One cannot surrender to God with the same felicity because God is an utter abstraction, and one needs to be a seasoned metaphysician to know what God means. Sai Baba, therefore, maintained that only the Guru’s are able to provide emotional inspiration to sadhakas and help them to a more elevated way of life. “Guru is all the Gods”, he exclaimed. “Trust in the Guru fully. This is the only sadhana.” “If the devotee sees all as his Guru, he will come to me”. These maxims coming from Sai Baba himself leave no doubt that the Saint of Shirdi exalted the ideal guruship and considered it an inevitable concomitant of a successful sadhana.

As a matter of fact, when Sri Sai Baba brought about a powerful revival of the Bhakti Marg, he also resurrected the traditional ideal of reverence for the spiritual Guru. This was inevitable, considering that Baba’s teachings are precmiently concerned with the full exposition of the path of Bhakti in all its traditional commitments. The human mind though initiated in the spiritual path cannot adore an abstract power. Spiritual Mahatamas, like Sai Baba, Shri Ramanuja, Swami Ramdas and many others have advised us to venerate those who lead us to God, and to love these embodiments as Divine manifesting itself in human forms. The Guru’s physical body is just a receptacle of the Divine presence, and as such worthy of our utmost devotion and reverence. The Almighty and its medium of manifestation are identical. Indeed, the path of Bhakti is very much enriched with the development of the Guru-Bhakta relationship which is as fascinating as exacting. The spiritual impulse is certainly latent in every individual heart, but it needs great inspiration and compulsion to bring it to the surface. And this inspiration can come only through inspired contacts with those distinguished seers and saints who have been born among men to fulfill this sacred purpose in their role of the Guru.

The national life of ancient India was admirably conceived and maintained because people then were united through common religious ideals. Only religion in its true essence can act as a cohesive force, uniting men in a practical brotherhood. In ancient Bharat people venerated the four immortal Gs -- the Guru, the Geeta, the Gayatri, the Ganga. The ancient civilization of Bharat was unique, and people were happy because the idealism of the ancient scriptures inspired and guided men and women, and formed the very basis of national life, art and philosophy. Perhaps the moral and cultural sterility in which we find ourselves today would not have been so appalling if this ancient country of ours had not so completely forgotten her past. Importing religion from alien sources is not going to be any solution for our present impoverished life. As Swami Vivekananda has aptly pointed out, “The great seers of ancient India saw so far ahead of their time, that the world has to wait centuries yet to appreciate their wisdom, and it is this very inability, on the part of their own descendants, to appreciate the full scope of this wonderful wisdom that is one of the causes of the degeneration of India.” But we do not have to despair when the soil of Bharat still has the power and the sanskars to draw eternal and radiant Avatars of the Supreme like Shri Sai Baba. These Gurus appear in human form to demonstrate both by precept and example the nature and significance of true bhakti to the benighted and erring mortals below.

Shri Sai Baba’s teachings, extolling the qualities of faith and devotion are true for all times. He maintained that dry intellectualism has no force, no potency, and that all great movements of life are actuated by intensity of feeling. Birth itself which is the greatest event of life is the summum bonum of the intensity in feeling. Shri Sai Baba recognized that for a religion to be a living and effective force, profound enthusiasm is necessary, and, that man is the most enthusiastic who loves the best. Devotion gives a man the power and the inclination to do and to dare. Such transcendental love is the ideal of every religion, but it is an ideal very difficult of attainment for an impersonal or unseen Being. The human soul hankers for something tangible, someone of flesh and blood to whom can be given this unstinted devotion. Shri Sai Baba proved this to be this ideal embodiment of God. The Sai Baba whom his devotees worship is not an ordinary human personality, for it is not possible to worship a human being who is in the same category as ourselves, but then again, he is not the transcendent God beyond human ken, since, as such, he could not have inspired so much love and warmth. The Sai Baba whom thousands of devotees worship is precisely the personified Guru --- the manifested Divine who in his infinite compassion assumes a human form to resuscitate religion.