Because I am often asked if I know about Sai Baba or have met him, it might save me some time if I wrote about my experience of him. Although I’ve not actually met him, I have seen him at his place, at the end of 1987. What I have to tell of him, however, took place ten years earlier, in the following manner:

One evening, in mid-1977, while I was strolling up and down in front of a temple where I used to stay in Singapore, an Indian woman and her teenage daughter came up to me and asked where she could find a certain Thai monk who was staying there and who was well-known for fortune-telling, palmistry, and so on. I directed her to his quarters and continued my stroll. A few minutes later, she came back and said: "He’s sick and cannot help me. Can you help me?" I said, "What’s the matter?" She then told me that her husband had gone off with a young woman, and she—the wife—thought that the woman must have charmed him away from her (the vanity of the thought!), and she wanted him back. When she said this, I heard alarm-bells ringing and thought: "Beware; this is not your thing!" But as I could see that she was genuinely upset, I said to her: "What I can and will do for you, if you like, is go with you to your home and bless it". "Oh, would you?" she said, "I would like that very much. Thank you".

I asked someone from the temple to accompany me and we set off down the road to find a taxi. On the way, she said: "I am a devotee of Sai Baba". "Oh", I replied, "I was at his place in India just a few weeks ago, but he was away at the time, so I didn’t get to see him". "Really!?" she said, "that’s interesting, because before I came here just now, I was in touch with him, mind-to-mind, and he told me to come to this temple where I would meet a monk who would go with me to my home and explain everything to me. But I didn’t think he would be European!"

When we arrived, she showed me her shrine-room where she kept pictures of Sai Baba, and all over the walls, the ceiling and the floor, in great quantities, was ash—vibhuti—the materialization of which Sai Baba is famous for; it was as if someone had taken handsful of wet ash from a dead campfire and thrown it around. "I don’t know where it came from or how", she said. "One day there wasn’t any, and the next day it was everywhere, just as you see it now". She then told me about her husband—who was her second husband, and much younger than she—how he was very lazy and never worked and just lived off her. When she couldn’t or wouldn’t give him money, he would take her things, like camera or cassette-player, and sell them. I thought to myself: "She’s better off without this fellow; why is she worrying and wanting him back?" But I didn’t voice my thoughts; instead, I asked her for a photo of him that I might take back with me and meditate over. She gave me one, I blessed the house, and went back to the temple. That evening, I meditated over the photo and tried to tune-in to the person thereof.

The next day, when I was in downtown Singapore for something or other, about to cross a busy street, I found myself standing next to the man in the photo! "Should I say something to him?" I thought, but decided not to. When I got back to the temple, I called her, but she said: "I can’t talk to you now; would you call me back later?" When I did so, she explained: "I couldn’t talk to you before as my husband was here; he had come to collect his things and told me that he would not be staying with me anymore but would visit me from time to time. And when you called before", she said, "he asked me who it was, and I told him it was a European monk I had met. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘does he wear glasses and look like ..... ?’ ‘Yes’, I said, ‘how do you know?’ ‘Oh, I saw him on the street today’".

A few days later, when I was passing nearby, I went to see her again, and she said to me: "After you came the first time, I contacted Baba again, and he told me: ‘Yes, that’s the monk I meant’". This time, I told her, indirectly, "Look, better let this fellow go; he’s not worth bothering about".

Does this mean that Sai Baba knew me, even though I’d never seen him before? I really cannot say; however, it seems beyond doubt that he does have powers that most of us would consider ‘miraculous’ but which have been spoken of in India for thousands of years. India is a special country in this way; strange things go on there. Can we say it is all a hoax just because we—in our sophistication—do not understand the principles behind it, or do not even know of the possibility of such powers? That would be to display our ignorance and dogmatism, would it not? There is just too much evidence and too many reliable witnesses for us to take such a stand. All we can say, if we don’t know, is simply that: "I don’t know. Maybe".

Now, I am not a follower of Sai Baba, but I will not knock or decry him as his teachings are eclectic and not narrow; moreover, he has given many people a sense of direction in life that they didn’t have before; surely, he is to be commended for this, not denounced, as someone in Malaysia once requested me to do. Knowing that I was quite close to some of Sai Baba’s devotees, and thinking that they might listen to me, this person wanted me to denounce him as a charlatan and ‘magician’ who was not worth consideration. I refused to do this on the grounds just given: that he has helped lots of people find a sense of purpose in life when they were otherwise lost.

I was at Puttaparthi again in December 1987, but it was so crowded, with Westerners forming about half of the 4,000 people there, and many of them had clearly come in hope of cures of their various ailments, so I didn’t even bother asking for an audience; I thought that others needed his time more than I did, and that if he wanted to see me, he would send for me. I guess this was a kind of test of him on my part. He didn’t call me, and after a few days I left and went on my way.

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