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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Satya Sai Baba, “Miracle Man of Bangalore” Dead at 85: Reflections on Bliss

Satya Sai Baba, perhaps India’s most popular guru died the other day at 85 years of age. Read more from the Washington Post >>

I first became acquainted with the orange-clad and afro-sporting guru from hearing Ram Dass speak of him. Fantastical stories of materializing objects and such. In one of these stories, Sai Baba’s assistant confessed that Sai Baba did not actually materialize the objects out of thin air, he just moved them with his mind to the desired location! (I don’t think that claim was ever empirically validated).

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Sai Baba was so popular that he would give darshon in a helicopter. Darshon is the tradition of bowing before the guru to get blessings.

When I traveled in India, I did not go to Sai Baba’s ashram in Bangalore. After being in an intimate setting with my guru at the time, the prospect of blessings from a helicopter left something to be desired. Still, I’m sure I missed a wild show.

As with many gurus, his life and work was marked by a mixture of philanthropy, controversy, and scandal, including sexual accusations of pedophilia later in his life (for more on sexual scandals in spiritual teachers, check out my blog entry on Scott Edelman’s Sex and the Spiritual Teacher).

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I’m not taking sides here on the legacy of Sai Baba. To read more, you can google “Sai Baba” and “scandal.”

What I’d like to talk about is the distinction between the mystical Hindu traditions of bhakti (devotional) yoga and mindfulness, especially in regard to bliss.

In bhakti practices bliss is aimed for directly and often hit. Chanting with hundreds or even thousands of people can be ecstatic. Opening your heart to a loving guru facilitate bliss. However, this bliss is like a drug, and devotees keep going back for another hit of that bliss. I’ve seen this happen, participated it in myself in the 1980s.

In the Buddha’s approach, bliss is not aimed for directly. Instead, the target is what is here right now. Paradioxically, when we can give our full attention to what is happening now, no matter what that happening is, bliss may not be far behind. Bliss, is a by-product of present moment awareness and was not unknown to the Buddha. He spoke of the bliss body — sambhogakaya.

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If we aim for the bliss body we might miss it. If we manipulate our experience through chanting, visualization, and so forth that bliss will be short-lived. That bliss is always present, we don’t create it. Rather, by directing awareness we reveal it as it is — there shining all of the time. The metaphor of the clouds obscuring the sun is often employed to make this distinction. The sun is always shining, even if we can’t see it in this particular moment.

What I’ve concluded that getting high on spiritual bliss feels great and it is not the same as wisdom — seeing things more clearly as they are and being able to distinguish between the skillful and the unskillful.

Sai Baba got countless people high on bliss. Now what for them that their guru is gone?

With mindfulness we become our own guru and are therefore never far from bliss.

  • http://louellabryant.com Ellie

    Blissings to you, Dr. K.

  • http://Baba Odin

    The BBC did an excellent documentary on Baba: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BVEJDPrGpM

    Great post. I wonder what Ram Dass is saying about this. A master of spiritual materialism indeed. You have to admit he had great hair though.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Abambagibus

    Great hair, orange shirt, and a way with the many, he was having some fun, for he knew (and maybe still knows) that life, as we know it by way of our perceptions and conceptions thereunder, is intrinsically a game, and this despite the work of it especially. It is the weave of illusion, the truth in distortion, as woven by Maya, … Maya to be understood of necessity as nothing but Maya and the games thereof, which are ultimately nothing at all. I wish that I could be as spiritually confident as Sai Baba. Or do you think that, in spite of all our knowledge insisting that we’re wise in spite of ourselves, he might have been playing us for fools? Forsan ab Ambagibus.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Abambagibus

    Great hair, orange shirt, and a way with the many, he was having fun, for he knew (and maybe still knows) that life, as we as know it by way of our perceptions and conceptions thereunder, is intrinsically a game, and this despite the work of it especially. It is the weave of illusion, the truth in distortion, as woven Maya, … Maya to be understood of necessity as nothing but Maya and the games thereof, which are ultimately nothing at all. I wish that I could be as spiritually confident as Sai Baba. Or do you think that, in spite of all our knowledge insisting that we’re wise in spite of ourselves, he might have been playing us for fools? Forsan ab Ambagibus.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Devotee

    I am a devotee. I grew up in Andhra Pradesh, and my grandparents were extremely skeptical and cynical about the Sai baba. I then moved to he Us and married an American. 23 years ago my baby was premie and i had several miscarriages. My sort of liberal atheitic US in laws had gone to Japan and brought back children’s grave stones. One day at their house in Haverford, I was feeling quesy about these grave stones and hoping that they wouldn’t affect my son. That night the Sai baba, large as life stood by my bed with his hand in a blessing gesture telling me my son would be allright. since then I have been a devotee, though I have wondered how that happened to me– when I was not particularly even remotely interested in him. Then more recently, when my husband lost his job I went all the way to Puttuparthi to get an audience. He got a wonderful job, but as wew ere moving i got a second cancer. We had a disastrous move to Hawaii where a Chinese woman got a hold of my husband while I was in my chemo fog and is forcing him to divorce me. I wonder now why I didn’t ask the Sai baba for good things for me. I now ask his spirit to stop the divorce, get my husband back and to re-ignite family harmony. I know the Sai Baba can and will accomplish this. I have under gone several surgeries, carrying his ash or vibhuti. I was planning on going to see him as soon as my troubles were over– I know they soon will be. I hate to see him made fun of or accused. Om Shri Satya Sai– I am also a devotee of the Shridhi Sai baba!

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