Called a saint by some and a scoundrel by others, Sathya Sai Baba enjoyed an enormous funeral last week after his death April 24. The Sathya Sai Organization reports that there are an estimated 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centers in 114 countries and the guru was listed as one of the 100 most influential spiritual leaders in the world. Whether saint or sinner, he certainly cast a bright light.
In the spiritual endeavor department, bright lights are sought out -- those who hold the banner individuals are willing to follow. Sometimes there are throngs. Sometimes not. But where people set their sights on the world of the spirit, there too are the bright lights.
Yesterday, I was reading an internet bulletin board on which someone was castigating Sai Baba as a deceitful and manipulative con artist. There seems to be plenty of evidence to back up the claim. High profile con artists are easier to see than ... than what? Than those who may find themselves in the low-profile limelight of our minds, perhaps. Followers may point out that the kind exercises of their school or teacher or sect should not be subjected to comparison with the scoundrels of the realm. And it's probably true ... everyone needs a bright light to kick-start spiritual endeavor.
But gently and gently, I recall the Zen Buddhist admonition, "If you see the Buddha on the way, kill him!" Such words may be a jolt. They may be taken as a metaphor. The mind can come up with a lot of excuses and explanations for such apparently-harsh words. Buddha is nice. Buddha is serene. Buddha is compassionate. Buddha is peaceful. Who'd want to kill such a person or dream or bright light?
But reading the internet excoriation of Sai Baba, it crossed my mind that deceit is integral to spiritual endeavor. That there simply is no spiritual endeavor that does not indulge in the false promises of bright lights. It just goes with the territory, the Buddha territory. And if this is so, then perhaps the only question is, which deceit is anyone willing to investigate right down to the ground? Some deceits are too painful. Others are not. But it is a matter of choice and determination -- to pick a bright light, to pick a deceit, and then let nothing stand in the way.
False gods are our business. The only question is who will relinquish their grasp on the deceits and kindnesses and clarities of this false god ... and actualize the truth?