Sai Baba’s Linguistic Leelas
In his numerous discourses Sai Baba often uses etymological analysis to show a deeper meaning of well-known words. However, it is not always clear if we are witness to a linguistic approach or if it is a case of ascribing a new or unexpected meaning to a word to illustrate a point, without any reference to linguistic accuracy. The last may look like a linguistic approach but in fact it is nothing but a word game.
Below there are some examples that show how far that word game in Sai Baba’s discourses can go and to what confusions it may lead.
(1) Jesus advised one of his foremost disciples, Peter to live in love, for Love is God. <...> When Peter listened to such exhortations from the Master, he found a new joy welling up within him and a new meaning in the word joy. ‘J’ meant Jesus and the letter directed him to love Jesus first. ‘O’ meant others who must be loved next. ‘Y’ meant yourself who ought to be loved only last. (25.12.1986. Sathya Sai Speaks XIX, p.221)
Any unprejudiced reader can easily understand that the meaning of the word “joy” as an abbreviation is completely arbitrary from linguistic point of view and can be conceived only by an English speaking person. Obviously, it was not the case of Peter, who was an ancient Galilean.
(2) Jesus’ original name was Isa which, when repeated, is Sai. Isa and Sai, both mean Ishwara (God), the Eternal Absolute, the Sath-Chith-Aanandha (Being-Awareness-Bliss).(25.12.1978. Sathya Sai Speaks XIV, p.110)
An original name should be apparently understood as the name given by parents in an original language. It is well known that the English name “Jesus” comes from a Greek variant of an original name which in Jewish tradition is written like “Jeshua”. The Jewish variant might sound closer to the Aramaic language of Jesus’ parents. The name “Isa” corresponds to Islamic tradition for Jesus’ name. For example, in the Russian translation of the Quran, the name “Isa” is used for Jesus and the name “Mariam” is used for Mary. The fact, that through repetition the word “Isa” sounds like “Sai” has nothing to do with the meaning of these words or their origin. The meaning of the word “Sai” as “Ishwara (God)” does not correspond to the interpretation given by Sai Baba in his discourse on 19th June 1974 (“Sa” means “Divine”; “ai” or “ayi” means “mother”... Sathya Sai Speaks v.XII, p.229).
(3) The Lamb is merely a symbol, a sign. It stands for the Voice - Ba-Ba; the announcement was the Advent of Baba.(24.12.1972. Bangalore. Sathya Sai Speaks, v.XI, p.346)
Sounds produced by animals often have different expressions in different languages. For example, the horse’s sound in English is “neigh” but in Russian it is “ee-go-go”; the cock’s sound in English is “cock-a doodle-do” but in Russian it is “koo-kar-re-koo”. The lamb’s sound which in English is “ba-ba” in Russian has a vowel sound like in the English word “bed”, that is “be[d]-be[d]”. It is very confusing to think that Galilean disciples of Jesus could hear an English transcription “ba-ba” in a lamb’s sounds and could connect it somehow with the future advent of Sathya Sai Baba in India in about 19 centuries.
These word games are not innocent jokes even though they may look like this. Lack of critical thinking may lead some of Sai Baba’s followers to accept those examples without seeing any contradictions in them. Those followers who can see contradictions have to rationalise them using such concepts as “testing devotees” or “divine leelas” (inexplicable divine sports). Anyway, some word games or sports as in examples 2 and 3 are used to prove very fundamental claims of Sai Baba: spiritual succession and even superiority to Jesus Christ and prediction of his advent by other spiritual traditions. From this point of view the linguistic leelas exemplified above amount to deliberate deceit.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Robert Priddy for valuable comments and English corrections.
Also see: "Sathya Sai Baba: God or Guru?" by Brian Steel
Chapter 2 - Sai Baba's Language and its Perception by Devotees