Sai Baba is the only one of these Avatars I have actually seen in person. I spent three weeks at his ashram in 1990, along with about 20,000 others, down from the two million who had just been present for Baba's sixty-fifth birthday celebration. His method of granting darshan (spiritual audience) to the gathered millions had been to fly over the crowd in a helicopter and wave. (So if it's personal intimacy you're after, He's not the Messiah for you.)    
       
  Roughly thirty million people worship Sai Baba as God. And they will tell you miracle story upon miracle story, from vibhuti appearing on their photographs of Baba to tales of raising the dead. Perhaps the most outlandish I heard is that he has twelve disciples living far up in a Himalayan cave with only a magical crockpot for sustenance, which Baba fills from afar with their daily meals, and He occasionally materializes before them to deliver further instructions. Now that's Messiah material, if you ask me.    
       
 
   
 

Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

published in Quest magazine, winter 1998
also included in The 99th Monkey

I was once in a human potential seminar in which the leader asked, "How many of you have ever believed yourself to be Christ?" He meant it in the specific, incarnational form of Jesus returned, rather than the more generic "Christ within each of us." Eleven of the sixteen people in the room, including the leader, raised their hands. Our hands, I should say: count me in.

In the Jewish Renewal Movement, there is talk of the Messiah coming not as a person at all, but as a collective rising up to "Messianic consciousness" — a state of loving, enlightened awareness that we all must aspire to in order to usher in the Messianic times. But for those who would still prefer God to show up in person — that is, in some other person, besides themselves, here is a look at some of the current contestants for the position of World Savior:

Messiah #1: Maitreya

Maitreya is said to be a dark-skinned man who is already among us, presumably living as "an apparently ordinary man" in the Pakistani community of London — you'd think that shouldn't be so hard to track — awaiting "an invitation from humanity to enter into full public life." His way has been prepared and announced by a sixtyish British gent named Benjamin Creme. Some twenty-five years ago Creme was convinced that his man was about to reveal Himself to the whole world at once via simulcast satellite television, speaking to everyone in their own languages. So confident was Creme that his organization shelled out a zillion zimoleans to take out full-page ads in nearly every major newspaper of the world, specifying an actual date and time for the Greatest Show on Earth. Needless to say, Maitreya pulled a no-show, got bumped from primetime.

Creme is still lecturing and touring, still promising that Maitreya will make his grand appearance to humanity any day now, along with a group of fellow Master Souls, together guiding the world to an age of peaceful, harmonious and balanced living for all. Creme's literature describes Maitreya as "The head of the Spiritual Hierarchy, Who is known to esotericists as the World Teacher. Expected by the world's major religions as the Christ, the Messiah, Krishna, Imam Mahdi, and Maitreya Buddha… (who) returned to the everyday world in July 1977."

A monthly newsletter reports recent appearances by Maitreya in Salt Lake City, Cairo, Kracow, villages in Argentina, Venezuela and many others, often followed by the phrase, "Water was charged in the area." Exact locations are never given. Their monthly news analysis also reveals the uncanny accuracy of the Maitreya's many predictions. For example, He once said, "You will see me on TV," and sure enough, the newsletter points out, TV Guide recently devoted "an amazing 20 pages" to reviewing shows that had a spiritual orientation. (Perhaps a sign of something; not necessarily the presence of Our Lord on Earth in human form.)

Another example offered of this sort is the story of a fourteen-year-old Muslim girl in England who cut open a tomato to find that the veins of the fruit spelled out the messages "Mohammed is the messenger" and "There is only one God," in perfect Arabic letters. Sure enough, in 1988 Maitreya said, "I will flood the world with such happenings that the mind can never comprehend it." (If only He had said, "And I will speak to you inside of tomatoes." Now that would have been impressive.) And so on: Maitreya is pointed to as the source of any and all phenomena in the news, from the mundane to the supernatural: A woman writes that "a strange man appeared out of nowhere and changed my flat tire." Maitreya responds: "Yeah, that was me."

How does a Messiah spend his time in London while waiting around to save the world? Perhaps He hangs out in singles bars:
"What do you do?"

"I'm a World Savior — but I'm not working right now. Can I materialize you a drink?"

Does He apply for temp work in the meantime? (Job skills: saving planets; transforming souls; typing.) In any event, since He is said to be awaiting an invitation from humanity — though you'd think the Messiah wouldn't stand on ceremony — I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of humanity to extend a warm invitation to Maitreya to begin His public work.

Messiah #2: ADI DA

Next candidate is Adi Da Samraj, the "Ruchira Buddha," formerly known as Da Avabhasa, Da Kalki, Da Love Ananda, Da Free John, Bubba Free John, and Franklin Jones, originally of Jamaica, Queens, who commutes between his secluded hermitage in Fiji and his community in northern California. In addition to changing his name every few years, Da also has a penchant for publishing huge white tomes of what are clearly intended to be contemporary scripture containing the word of God, e.g.: The Dawn Horse Testament. I picked up several such Da works in Barnes & Noble recently and found that nearly every word is capitalized for sacred emphasis. An example chosen at random:

"The Self-Existing and Self-Radiant Transcendental Divine Being Resides in the Speech and in every Body Part of the True Heart-Master. Therefore, devotees Awaken to the Great One via the True Heart-Master's Word, and Silence, and Thought, and Glance, and Touch, and Deeds. One should meditate on the True Heart-Master's Bodily (Human) Form, His Spiritual (and Always Blessing) Presence, and His Very (and Inherently Perfect) State at all times."

If there's any doubt about Who He Is, He lays it to rest elsewhere when he states,

"I do not simply recommend or turn men and women to Truth. I AM Truth. I Draw men and women to my Self. I am the Present God."

Adi Da is said to have been born as "the Bright" — that is, already enlightened, the avatar (direct incarnation of God) of our age. Although horror stories of abuse, manipulation, sexploitation, harems and drug use have been alleged over the years, he has managed to come through it all with his kingdom relatively intact. I followed his guru career carefully from the beginning, reading all of his early written works until he stopped using small letters, and I could no longer handle the sheer weightiness of his scriptural proclamations.

Unlike many modern gurus who thrive on public adulation and sheer quantity of followers, Da has made it nearly impossible for the merely curious to get near him. An elaborate, tiered structure surrounds his teachings, and only those demonstrating a significant degree of commitment to His Way are permitted to actually meet him, for only the True Devotee that is in Right Relationship to The Heart-Master can benefit from His Divine Company. The rest of us slobs can only speculate from a distance. For a self-proclaimed World-Teacher, this is a bit limiting, though perhaps preferable to collecting devotees indiscriminately.

Adi Da has actually garnered the respect of various religious thinkers over the years, among them Alan Watts and Ken Wilber. And this is because his core message is actually theologically sophisticated and spiritually sound: that the human ego falsely presumes itself to be imprisoned, separate from God, and seeks a way out. This search for freedom, predicated on a false assumption, is itself the problem, and effectively prevents the experience of present freedom. In truth, one is "always-already free," Da says, and any effort to become free is borne of and perpetuates the illusion of a separate, suffering, independent ego. He compares this self-centered, contracted seeker to the mythological figure of Narcissus, who dies looking at his own reflection. In Adi Da’s “Way of the Heart,” the way to remember and cultivate one's True Identity is through contemplation of, and surrender to, "Such a One" as Adi Da, in the traditional guru-disciple relationship. As a Messiah, however, Da is apt to be a huge disappointment: He promises no mass salvation, no golden age of peace, and nothing special in this new Millennium, apart from the ongoing horror show in which we presently find ourselves.

Messiah #3: Sathya Sai Baba

At the other end of the spectrum in the devotee department is Sathya Sai Baba of Puttiparthy, India, who boasts of some thirty million followers, or more, worldwide. So if it ever comes down to a vote, he's a shoe-in. Baba is famous for his wild frizzy hair, orange robe, and the fact that he can wave his hand around and make vibhuti — holy ash — materialize and pour from his fingertips. He'll occasionally pop for a ring, necklace or trinket manifestation in this manner as well. Ram Dass once said that he was informed by a close devotee of Sai Baba’s that "Baba doesn't create these things; he simply transports them from his warehouse." Ram Dass also reported that Baba, knowing he was dealing with a skeptic, rolled up his sleeves and placed his open palm right under Ram Dass's eyes, who then witnessed a blue shimmering light suddenly congeal into a little trinket. But just consider that warehouse for a moment, piled floor to ceiling with rings and trinkets that Baba probably gets wholesale.

Sai Baba is the only one of these Avatars I have actually seen in person. I spent three weeks at his ashram in 1990, along with about 20,000 others, down from the two million who had just been present for Baba's sixty-fifth birthday celebration. His method of granting darshan (spiritual audience) to the gathered millions had been to fly over the crowd in a helicopter and wave. (So if it's personal intimacy you're after, He's not the Messiah for you.)

Time at the ashram was organized around two main events daily: each morning we'd rise at five, dress in white, and wait in long lines for hours until being admitted into the temple compound. Lottery determined the order of entry; the first line inside got to sit in the front row and have a better look at Baba when he would finally emerge and slowly perambulate the grounds for all of ten minutes. A similar routine was repeated in the late afternoon. Other than that, there wasn't much to do except sit around and listen to people attribute all of their daily life experiences to Baba's Grace: "I was standing at the corner, and Baba made the light turn green." "I have dysentery — Baba's cleaning me out." And so on.

Like Da and Maitreya, Baba is also considered by his followers to be the Absolute Living Avatar of our age, a direct appearance of God in our midst. He promises massive, apocalyptic Earth changes in the near future, putting many parts of the world under water. I, like countless others, have witnessed his materializations first-hand and swear they are real. Debunkers, on the other hand, claim that slow-motion videos will reveal Sai's masterful sleight-of-hand maneuvers. Most interesting, perhaps, are those, like Ram Dass, who will say that the materializations are real, but completely superfluous when it comes to what's important in spiritual life. And some Christian fundamentalists have identified him as the Anti-Christ.

But roughly thirty million people worship Sai Baba as God. And they will tell you miracle story upon miracle story, from vibhuti appearing on their photographs of Baba to tales of raising the dead. Perhaps the most outlandish I heard is that he has twelve disciples living far up in a Himalayan cave with only a magical crockpot for sustenance, which Baba fills from afar with their daily meals, and He occasionally materializes before them to deliver further instructions. Now that's Messiah material, if you ask me.

Other Contestants

There is a book I never read called The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, which tells of a mental ward in which were housed three patients all believing themselves to be Christ. I don't know if or how they worked things out, but I'd give anything to sit in on a meeting with Maitreya, Adi Da and Sai Baba, or even more entertaining, probably, would be to sit with a group of all their devotees. To make it really interesting, I could add a few Lubavitcher Hasidim, the black-garbed Brooklyn-based Jewish sect who patrol Manhattan in a "Mitzvah Mobile" in search of lost members of the tribe. They believe their late Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, was/is the Messiah. His death several years ago didn't put them off of this notion, and they now await his resurrection. Since it was known that his Messianic reign wouldn't officially commence until he set foot on the Holy Land (Schneerson never made it to Israel), the Lubavitch built him a house in Jerusalem, an exact replica of his Brooklyn home, presumably so He wouldn't be disoriented. His main selling point, I think, is that he looked like Moses.

And I haven't even touched on all the female candidates for the job: there are an abundance of "perfect incarnations of the Divine Mother" walking the streets. These include: Mother Meera, a young Indian woman living in Frankfurt, Germany, made popular by writer/devotee Andrew Harvey in several books, and subsequently denounced and exposed by Harvey as homophobic when she wouldn't support his homosexual marriage; our own Ma Jaya in Florida, a Brooklyn housewife that was doing intense pranayama (breathing exercises) in her bathtub when India's long-deceased Bhagavan Nityananda appeared on the edge of her tub. She was later made famous by Ram Dass's public confession of being sexually seduced by her in the guise of Tantric teachings; and Ma Amritanandamayi in southern India, famous for individually hugging thousands of people in rituals of mass affection/darshan.

And the list goes on and on. I have a friend who serves as my "man in the field." He has traveled the world and literally met every guru, yogi and holy person alive today, and keeps coming up with new ones. He actually said this to me once: "If you want to get in on the ground floor with someone, there's a new guru starting up in L.A. — a nondualist." He's like my spiritual broker, advising me where to invest my karma.

Some would say that these are auspicious times and that we are blessed by the presence of an abundance of teachers and teachings. Others would suggest that we beware of the numerous false prophets in our midst. I say,”Will the real Messiah please stand up?”

(P.S. The Dalai Lama was disqualified from the competition for continuously and adamantly refusing to claim to be anything other than a “simple, Buddhist monk.”)

 

 

     
 

 

In the Jewish Renewal Movement, there is talk of the Messiah coming not as a person at all, but as a collective rising up to "Messianic consciousness" —
a state of loving, enlightened awareness that we all must aspire to in order to usher in the Messianic times.