REFLECTIONS ON THE SAI MOVEMENT THEN AND NOW
In Tulsidas’ Ramayana we read the following chowpaee:
Blessed is the wealth that is dispensed in charity! Blessed and ripe is the intellect that devotes itself to works of piety! Blessed the hour spent in communion with the saints! Blessed the life unceasingly devoted to the righteous people!
Whenever I read this verse from Ramayan I am reminded of the essential teachings of Bhagavan Sri Satya Sai Baba. Essentially Baba teaches the importance of charity in all its forms, of using the intellect to engage in activities that promote goodness and eschews wickedness, of utilizing time in one’s spiritual self development through satsangh, and of being in service to righteous people.
The advent of the Satya Sai Baba movement in Trinidad in the early 1970’s marked an important phase in the spiritual development of Hindus and non-Hindus alike. Sri Satya Sai Baba Satsanghs in Trinidad came into sharp focus in the mid 1970’s, a period following the Black Power marches of 1970, and a time when cultural consciousness was high. It was a period also, when Hinduism was being promoted by the Society for the Propagation of Indian Culture at the University of The West Indies, the recognized seat of secular learning. It was a period also when the late Swami Satchitananda had launched the Divine Life Society and was going around the country conducting Satsangs, teaching mantras, sandhyas and bhajans. At that time also, a wave of intellectualism began to spread throughout Trinidad with the visit of Swamis from India. Amongst them was Sant Keshvardas who introduced Hari Kirtan which intensified the interest of Hindus in Kirtan. Sri Bhattacharya was teaching the Puranas and other texts to wide audiences. In addition, numerous satsangh, bhajan and kirtan groups had sprung forth across the country. The Maha Sabha Pundits led by Pundit Krishna of Caroni continued to conduct Yagnas and poojas . Pundit Ramdath Vyaas had entered the scene and was bringing a fresh perspective to Hinduism. Later in the 1970’s Professor Ananatanand Rambachan launched a series of lectures on Vedanta throughout the country. It is amidst this charged spiritual atmosphere and religious fervor that the Sri Satya Sai Baba movement was born and began to flourish. The Saraswati Kirtan Mandali from Siparia Old Road, Avocat Fyzabad was creating a stir in the Hindu community through the singing of Kirtan.
Initially, people were drawn to Baba by the expectation of miracles in their lives. Baba himself has described his miracles as his calling card. People did experience miracles as they have testified in the books compiled by Sai devotee Loknath Dube. However, it was the combination of exhilarating Kirtan and the teachings of Baba which simplified the Hindu message as a message for all mankind that attracted thousands to the Satsanghs. Baba’s unraveling of the message of the Hindu tradition through the interpretation of the symbols in which our Rishis wrote the various texts brought about an understanding of the tradition and gave meaning to followers of Hinduism. It allowed Hindus to speak with a greater level of assurance about the religion and what they believed in as a Hindu. The attractiveness of the Sai movement was also due to the environment of equality that was practiced, an environment which was scrubbed of caste and status differentials. Everyone seated for Satsangh on the ground emphasized the lack of distinction between people. The simplicity of the Satsangh, the involvement of everyone, the love and family atmosphere left everyone feeling good about themselves when they came to worship. Thursday became a day for fasting, and through it a day for self reflection, for practicing the maxim, “Be Good, See Good and Do Good.”
The consciousness about Sri Satya Sai Baba arrived in Trinidad at a time when Hindus and Hinduism needed a boost. In one of his earliest messages Baba himself refers to the Bhagavad Gita, quoting Sri Krishna’s promise that “whenever, whenever there is a decline in righteousness and a rise in unrighteousness, the Lord manifests himself for the protection of the good, the destruction of evil doers and the re-establishment of dharma, righteous conduct.” There is no doubt that the satsanghs have helped to transform many lives and to redirect the minds of devotees to living the best human values, enshrined in the four words, Satya, Dharma, Shanti and Prema. We have seen persons transformed from living lives that reflected self denigration to lives that became exemplars of the highest virtues. We have seen people develop a more balanced approach to living between the material and the spiritual, all as a result of the teachings of Baba. We have seen the growth of selfless seva activities as a result of hearts being softened by Sai.
The names Mr and Mrs Chilo Rooplasingh, Dr Krishna Prayag, Ganesh Bahadoorsingh, Pundit Poornima Ganga Persad, Rama Maharaj, Tajmool Hosein, the Mohips of Gasparillo, the Parshurams of Felicity, the Rampauls of Rio Claro, the Praimsingh’s of las Lomas, as well as bhajan singers and musicians like Balroop Roopchan, Karo Persad, Rana Mohip, Gyanie Ramlochan, Robbie Rooplalsingh, Tej Ramlogan, Randhir and Drupatee Maharaj of Chaguanas, Lakhs and Enol of the Marabella Sai Center, Pundit Sharma of Arouca, Loaknath Dube and his group and Pat Mathura, amongst numerous others, would remain indelibly written into the history of the Sai movement in Trinidad.
In the early days of Satsangh, Baba’s message of his advent used to be played as a discourse. Later on films on Baba were shown at the end of satsanghs through a projector. As the Satsanghs developed messages were prepared by devotees and delivered at the satsanghs. This created a level of involvement and participation that had the valuable output of learning about the tradition and sharing it. The films helped to increase interest in Baba and in particular the miracles he performed. The availability of books on Baba, especially the Satya Sai Speaks volumes at ridiculously low prices, assisted in promoting greater understanding and knowledge of Vedanta and in so doing brought about a consciousness and awareness of what it meant to be first, a human being, and secondly, a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian. What appealed to the wide cross section of persons who became devotees of Baba was his encouraging statement that one need not change his way of worship, or give up his tradition to be a devotee. Simply put, Baba asked us to be better human beings by focusing on truthfulness, righteousness, love and peace.
In the early period of the Sai satsanghs, there was a lot of criticism leveled at devotees of Sai Baba and at the movement. Some saw it as a rejection of tradition, others saw it as a new religion. This was unfortunate since the critics did not realize that people wanted to relate to something they understood and which was dignified in its presentation. In addition, people wanted a form of Hinduism which could stand side by side with the other faiths being practiced in the country. The Sai Satsanghs provide this dignity. In addition, being a Sai devotee never meant that people gave up their poojas and rituals. In fact, people became more religious conscious because of the satsanghs which also became classrooms. People began to read more about Hinduism. Hindu consciousness was growing. The SAI Satsanghs created a revival that was necessary at a time when Hinduism was under attack from the “conversion movements’ and when Hinduism was being portrayed as a religion of rituals that few understood. It is interesting for me that today, devotees of Baba are more prone to perform havans and observe rituals and religious festivals according to the strictest vedic injunctions.
Perhaps though, one of the greatest and most significant achievements of the Sai movement is the involvement of youths and the Bal Vikas program, which prior to the advent of the Sai movement did not exist in an organized fashion. Today, one can safely say that Hinduism of the future will be assured because youths are being groomed to be ambassadors of the traditions in a modern environment.
May the devotees of Sai Baba prosper.