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Sai Baba of Shirdi, also known as Shirdi Sai Baba was an Indian spiritual master who is regarded by his devotees as an incarnation of God (avatar), saint, fakir, and satguru, according to their individual proclivities and beliefs. He was revered by both his Hindu and Muslim devotees, and during, as well as after, his life it remained uncertain if he was a Muslim or a Hindu. This, however, was of no consequence to Sai Baba. He stressed the importance of surrender to the true Satguru, who, having trod the path to divine consciousness, will lead the disciple through the jungle of spiritual training.
Sai Baba is known by people around the world. According to accounts from his life, he preached the importance of realization of the self, and criticized love for perishable things. His teachings concentrate on a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to God and guru. Sai Baba also condemned distinction based on religion or caste. Sai Baba's teaching combined elements of Hinduism and Islam: he gave the Hindu name Dwarakamayi to the mosque in which he lived, practised both Hindu and Muslim rituals, taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions, and took samadhi in Shirdi. One of his well-known epigrams, "Allah Malik" ("God is King") and "Sabka Malik Ek" ("One God governs all"), is associated with Hinduism and Islam He is also known to have said, "Listen to me and your prayer shall be answered".
When asked about his past, he often gave elusive responses. The name "Sai" was given to him when he arrived at Shirdi, a town now in the west Indian state of Maharashtra. The word "Sai" refers to a religious mendicant but can also mean "God". In several Indian and Middle Eastern languages the term "Baba" is an honorific signifying grandfather, father, old man or sir. Thus Sai Baba denotes holy father, saintly father or (venerable) poor old man.
Sai Baba opposed all persecution based on religion or caste. He was an opponent of religious orthodoxy ó Christian, Hindu and Muslim.
Sai Baba encouraged his devotees to pray, chant God's name, and read holy scriptures. He told Muslims to study the Qur'an and Hindus to study texts such as the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Vasistha. He was impressed by the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita and encouraged people to follow it in their own lives. He advised his devotees and followers to lead a moral life, help others, love every living being without any discrimination, and develop two important features of character: devotion to the Guru (Sraddha) and waiting cheerfully with patience and love (Saburi). He criticised atheism.
In his teachings, Sai Baba emphasised the importance of performing one's duties without attachment to earthly matters and of being content regardless of the situation. In his personal practice, Sai Baba observed worship procedures belonging to Islam; he shunned any kind of regular rituals but allowed the practice of Salah, chanting of Al-Fatiha, and Qur'an readings at Muslim festival times. Occasionally reciting the Al-Fatiha, Baba enjoyed listening to mawlid and qawwali accompanied with the tabla and sarangi twice daily.
Sai Baba interpreted the religious texts of both Islam and Hinduism. He explained the meaning of the Hindu scriptures in the spirit of Advaita Vedanta. His philosophy also had numerous elements of bhakti. The three main Hindu spiritual paths ó Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Karma Yoga ó influenced his teachings.
Sai Baba encouraged charity and stressed the importance of sharing. He said: "Unless there is some relationship or connection, nobody goes anywhere. If any men or creatures come to you, do not discourteously drive them away, but receive them well and treat them with due respect. Shri Hari (God) will certainly be pleased if you give water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and your verandah to strangers for sitting and resting. If anybody wants any money from you and you are not inclined to give, do not give, but do not bark at him like a dog."
During Sai Baba's lifetime, the Hindu saint Anandanath of Yewala declared Sai Baba to be a "spiritual diamond." Another saint, Gangagir, also called him a "jewel." Sri Beedkar Maharaj greatly revered Sai Baba, and in 1873, when he met him he bestowed the title Jagad guru upon him. Sai Baba was also greatly respected by Vasudevananda Saraswati (known as Tembye Swami). He was also revered by a group of Shaivic yogis, known as the Nath-Panchayat. He is considered an avatar of the Supreme Reality (Brahman or God), a satguru, or saint, depending on individual proclivities. This is not uncommon in Hinduism where there is no central doctrine or cosmology but a basis in individual faith and spirituality.
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