Spiritual leader & vegetarian advocate Sathya Sai Baba dies at 84

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2011:
PUTTAPARTHI–Sathya Sai Baba, 84, died on April 23, 2011
after three weeks in critical condition due to cardio-respiratory
Called by the London Daily Telegraph “India’s most famous and
most controversial holy man, and one of the most enigmatic and
remarkable religious figures of the last century,” Sai Baba was
“thought to have been born,” the Telegraph said, “as Sathya
Narayana Raju, on November 23, 1926, into a poor farming family in
Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh. According to legend, as a child he
would avoid places where animals were slaughtered and bring beggars
home to be fed.”

Sai Baba recalled in 2003 that he was “totally averse to
non-vegetarian food,” and “would not even visit the houses where
non-vegetarian food was cooked.”
After suffering an apparent scorpion bite at age 14, Sai
Baba “began to display signs of delirium and hallucinations,” the
Telegraph recounted. “Shortly afterward, he declared himself to be a
reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, one of southern India’s most
revered saints, who died in 1918. Leaving his family, he travelled
throughout southern India, gathering followers around him, and in
1950 he inaugurated his first ashram in Puttaparthi.”
At his death Sai Baba claimed a following of more than three
million devotees, who operated ashrams in 126 nations. Many of the
purported miracles he performed had been debunked as variants of
basic parlor magic, his financial affairs were “mysterious,” as the
Telegraph put it, and he had been accused of sexually molesting
devotees, but none of the allegations appeared to lastingly impair
his popularity.
Vegetarianism was central to Sai Baba’s teachings, presented
as a moral choice that each individual must make voluntarily in order
to spiritually advance. In dialogs posted at his web site Sai Baba
would typically concede a reason to eat meat, for example to
preserve domestic harmony if one marries a meat-eater, and would
then rebut it. “Let secular people eat meat,” he recommended in
the example of marrying a meat-eater. “But if you walk the spiritual
path,” he continued, “then the ethical aspect of nutrition has to
be observed impeccably!”
Sai Baba argued that all beings capable of suffering are
divine messengers, and made a point of including fish in his
prescription against eating meat. “All the fish whom we kill and eat
are reborn as human beings,” he contended.
Recalled Citizens for Animal Rights founder Rishi Dev, of
New Delhi, “Sai Baba used to collect dogs from his neighbourhood and
let them eat from his plate, while he himself ate from the same
plate. When someone asked him why he allowed the dogs to eat from
his plate, he said that he himself was residing in that dog,” as an
incarnation of divinity, “so it didn’t make a difference, and he
could not let those dogs go hungry and himself eat.”
Many other Sai Baba devotees developed animal rescue
projects, including Clementien Pauws, founder of the Karuna Society
in Enumulapalli, a Puttaparthi suburb; Poornima Harish, a longtime
volunteer for the Animal Rights Fund in Bangalore, before founding
the Humane Awareness School near the Sai Baba Temple in Vasanthapura;
Viji, who used only one name, who operated the Parasparam orphanage
and animal shelter in Chennai until her death in 2007; and the
founders of the Sathya Sai Sanctuary Trust for Nature in Sligo,
Ireland, opened in 1991, which at latest report housed 26 donkeys
and 14 other equines.

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