Posted at 12:38 PM ET, 04/21/2011

Sai Baba ‘godman’ in critical condition: How will he be remembered?


Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee walks with Hindu holy man Sathya Sai Baba (right) after a meeting in Bangalore in 2004. (AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Guru and “godman” Sathya Sai Baba is in critical condition.

Doctors say they are making last-ditch efforts to save the 84-year-old spiritual leader, who is suffering from a heart problem.

Meanwhile, prominent devotees urged people not to believe “rumors” about Sai Baba’s health and said he will recover from his illness and live till the 96 years of age he predicted he would.

Wildly popular but equally divisive, Sai Baba claims to be the reincarnation of the great spiritual guru Sai Baba of Shirdi, who died in 1918 and is worshipped as a saint by Hindus, Muslims, and Christians to this day.

Sai Baba’s skeptics, however, point to charges and accusations leveled at Sai Baba of fraud, sexual abuse, and murder.

The living Sai Baba, easily recognizable with his orange gown, rounded face, and shock of frizzy hair, has followers that number between 20 million and 50 million worldwide. He presides over the largest ashram in the world with 50,000 visitors each day, where he holds “darshan,” or “a visit with God,” at the ashram twice daily. His devotees call him a “godman” and the “Second Coming of Christ” and believe he can make objects materialize and perform other miracles.

His skeptics say he uses sleight of hand tricks to make objects materialize. However, that’s the least of the crimes Sai Baba of which he has been accused.

The U.S. State Department earlier issued a warning against possible pedophilic activities by Sai Baba toward young male devotees. Critics also make mention of Sai Baba’s incredible wealth of more than $9 billion.

If Sai Baba dies, many wonder what the response will be in India, and internationally, and if the reaction of his followers or his critics will speak louder.

It is unlikely followers will question why Sai Baba died at 84 instead of 96, as Indian gurus are seldom questioned by devotees after their death.

Instead, Sai Baba’s followers will likely remember his teachings, the educational institutions and hospitals he founded, his charitable works around the world, and the miracles he performed.

Many followers are already tweeting their concern:

satya sai baba is real hero please.... pray for themless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

But one Indian blogger wrote that he wonders if anyone will care at all. “He is not the only Dharam Guru left on Earth especially in India. He is not the only person who claims to be God’s incarnation,” he writes.

Sai Baba, though, predicted his influence would continue even after his death::

My glory will go on increasing day by day. It will never diminish even a bit if they were to publicize their false allegations in the whole world in bold letters. Some devotees seem to be perturbed over these false statements. They are not true devotees at all. Having known the mighty power of Sai, why should they be afraid of the “cawing of crows?”


Sai Baba is an unknown figure to many Americans but has pockets of followers around the country. If you are familiar with Sai Baba, do you believe he is a great spiritual teacher, or a fraud?

By  |  12:38 PM ET, 04/21/2011

 
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