On October 22nd, while most of America sat on the edges of their seats waiting for President Trump and Vice President Biden to take the debate stage, an intimate group of congregants from houses of worship throughout the USA and Canada gathered in their respective residences, eagerly awaiting to start their visit to the Sathya Sai Baba Center convened by the Interreligious Communities Project of Fairfield County.
For many, this presidential race has been a source of mental and emotional fatigue. During one of the most contestable moments in US history, Sharing Sacred Spaces carved out a parallel time for spiritual nourishment. In doing so, we allowed participants to join us in an alternate reality - one driven by love and not fear, by unity and not dichotomy, by acceptance and not contention.
On this Thursday evening, Vamshi Rokkam, President of the Sai Center, described Sathya Sai Baba, the spiritual master of the group who profoundly touched the lives of the center’s congregants. Sai Baba’s mottos were: “love all serve all” and “discover divinity inside” as performed through service towards society. According to his followers, Sathya Sai’s dedication to these principles was steadfast - he never took a day off.
As further evidence of his philosophy, Sathya Sai Baba built a massive medical center in India. Its pastel colors are calming - pink, blue, and yellow - they symbolize the values of love and peace. Vamshi calls the hospital a “temple of healing” further symbolized by the Dhanvanthari statue, the Divine Physician, gracing the fountain by the hospital’s front entrance. The architecture of the Super Speciality Hospital is elaborate and compelling in and of itself, with many features that could be expounded upon. But Vamshi’s main point is how the architecture is the form through which love and service is expressed. “It is an architecture of love,” he says.
In Puttaparthi, there is an ashram, a sports stadium, and a university in addition to the hospital, all of which constitute the compound developed by Sathya Sai Baba.
Members emphasized that being part of the center requires no specific religious affiliation; the center represents a movement of individuals across faiths that are drawn and enlightened by the teachings of Sai Baba. “It’s like an add-on,” says Al Levy, an early devotee who knew Sai Baba personally, who emphasizes that people can continue to practice their own religion while at the same time benefiting from Sathya Sai’s teachings.
Devotees spoke of their desire for self-improvement as facilitated by the five human values of the movement — truth, peace, love, non-violence, and right action. One devotee adds that the five human values all lead back to love, too, and that love is a oneness with God with the potential to be embodied in all human beings. Love fosters service and gives to those in need, which inspires a further cycle of love. Engaging with Sai Baba and the center allows members to experience the divine within them. They consider their master a refined individual who had pure access to the divine. Sathya Sai Baba was a catalyst for others to discover and reveal the divinity within themselves.
Those in attendance at the event were curious about the movement's relationship to Hinduism. Center members responded that while many members are Hindu and that Hindu chants and traditions are integrated into worship, it is not central because differences of faith are ultimately absorbed into the oneness of love that they believe in. The use of Hindu traditions and readings is linked to Sathya Sai Baba’s Indian context. However, the center uses prayers and songs from many languages and religions in their devotions.
Many were also intrigued by the role that the movement’s leader plays. One devotee, Ramesh, said this can be best encapsulated by Sai Baba’s answer to a question he was often asked: “Are you God?” To which he responded, “I am I.”
Amidst the tumultuous period the USA and the world at large are facing, we took refuge in our drive for learning and shared understanding. May we all find sanctuary with one another in our profound differences and similarities. As the election results show how divided we still are in the political realm, let us even moreso search for our interconnectedness. May we heed and discover the voice of divine love that is within us. This was the message of Sathya Sai Baba that continues through those who follow and promote his teachings with utter devotion.
Full event video can be found HERE