Sathya Sai Baba (1926 - 2011) became known in the West: 1971
Sathya Sai Baba's first major publicity in the West came from the book "Sai Baba, Man Of Miracles" by Howard Murphet. Murphett used Madame Blavatasky as a respected source of information about miracles but surely even Madame B. would have cringed at the cheap magician's tricks that made Sathya Sai Baba the most successful and powerful guru in India. Sai Baba's success in the West has not matched that in India. One hopes that is because of the vulgarity and tawdriness of his shtick but it's probably because he has never left India and he does not fit in with the mainstream Hindu/Buddhist "boys club" gurus that have achieved international success. Sai Baba was not part of this club because he claimed to be above all other gurus and Masters. He was the Great Avatar.
… there are degrees of "avatarhood", and many of the great spiritual teachers of India are believed to have embodied rays of the divine radiance and to have been partial or minor avatars. The few, the Teachers of teachers, those who have brought about a great forward movement in man's spiritual evolution, are called the major avatars. - Sai Baba, Man Of Miracles - Howard Murphet
Satyanarayana Raju was born on 23rd of November 1926 in Puttaparthi, a small village in the Andra Pradesh region, in the Central-South of India. On October 29, 1940, at the age of 14 he declared himself as Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba the reincarnation of a famous Indian guru, Shirdi Sai Baba. He is very short, portly, dark skinned, dresses in orange and has a frizzy mane of black hair. An ashram, called Prasanthi Nilayam (the Abode of Divine Peace) was built on November 23, 1950 and has grown extensively as Sai Baba has become more famous. More than one million people, including the President and Prime Minister of India, assembled in Prasanthi Nilayam for Sathya Sai Baba's 70th birthday celebrations.
While he was well-known in India and amongst the spiritual cognoscenti Sai Baba achieved wide spread fame in the West due to claims he was a homosexual paedophile and a common conjurer. These claims were documented in 2 television documentaries in which his fraudulent magic tricks were easily seen due to the magic of slow motion. The real mystery of Sai Baba's success is how otherwise intelligent and sophisticated people could believe that God would incarnate in the world and prove his divinity with low-grade magic tricks.
The Sathya Sai Organisation claims to have millions of followers with over 1,200 Centers in 137 countries throughout the world. The members have a common bond --love of Sathya Sai Baba -- and a common goal --spiritual growth. They study his teachings and the sacred literature of all religions, have group devotional singing, spiritual meditation, and practise selfless service to the community, society, the world, and the environment. There are no membership fees, members are never required to purchase books or materials and donations are never solicited. There is an extensive number of hospitals (photo below right) and educational institutions in India constructed and financed by his devotees. Center members are expected to do their best to practice a Nine-Point Code of Conduct.
Many gurus and their followers are reluctant to publicly proclaim the group's beliefs about their guru but Sai Baba's followers are not. Sai Baba is the avatar of the age, the incarnation of God, omniscient (including complete telepathic knowledge of all his devotees' thoughts and actions), omnipotent, able to raise the dead and perform miracles. The major focus of the group is the intense love, devotion and worship of the guru. Devotees (including Murphett, Hislop & Sandweiss) have written numerous books about their relationship with Sai Baba and if you've read one you've read them all. They display a disarming openess about their emotions, experiences and thoughts in relation to him with no apparent attempt to hide their intense unhappiness, disappointments, desperate wishes to be acknowledged by him and to be in his close physical presence. Detachment or indifference to emotions are not attitudes displayed by his followers nor does their intense experiences of his divine qualities limit their social fears or still their longing for further close peronsal contact with him. Obvious 'mistakes' about them made by Sai Baba when talking to them are not edited out of the books nor are his historical errors.
It is ordinarily very difficult to prove or disprove claims of individual miracles, resurrections, telepathy, etc performed at various times and places but Sai Baba regularly performs three types of miracles. He frequently materializes numerous small objects - jewellery, rings, pendants, etc. for his followers ie creates them out of nothing in public and presents them to the people with him. He continually "materializes vibhuti", ash from his palms, and ash in amazingly large quantities from an "empty" urn - Vibhuti Abheshekham - and annually at the Mahashivarathri festival until 1976 where he "gave birth" through his oesophagus to 'lingams' (photo below right).
"Some say the lingam is formed out of unconditional love in the region of Baba's spiritual heart.
The birth itself is very physical as well as ethereal. The lingam is brought up the esophagus and delivered through the mouth in a divine paroxysm- much like the birth spasm
accompanying a corporeal birth. I don't know why I should be sad, because this sacrifice is so glorious serving to make the devotee more firmly resolved to surrender more and more
of himself to God. Nevertheless, to see Baba in this state was uncomfortable for me. He rocked back and forth, then swallowed some water. Suddenly, in a convulsive burst, a
glistening, crystal-clear lingam, perfectly spherical and almost three inches in diameter, erupted from his mouth into his hand. In this supremely holy moment, the Lord allowed
his devotees to witness the mystery of the creation of the universe."
quote from 'Spirit and Mind' - Samuel Sandweiss, page 170.
Whether these are 'miracles' or magic tricks are the most controversial aspects of Sai Baba's public career. Opponents of Sai Baba's claims have shown that these 'miracles' are easily duplicated by others and are part of the stock in trade of Indian magicians. I have seen a video which appears to show Sai Baba scratching at the inside of an urn duplicating the methods of these magicians. Cameras are no longer allowed in Sai Baba's compound. The argument is also made that Sai Baba has only to materialise something unique to incontrovertibly prove his miraculous powers instead of articles and methods that are easily 'materialised' by magicians and charlatans. He has only to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show with James Randi in attendance and materialise a large pumpkin to reveal himself to the world.
This dispute ignores the question of what sort of omniscient, omnipotent Incarnation of God would use such trifles to prove himself. I find it very difficult to accept that God could be so vulgar but to a devotee that just shows my giant ego (that I think I should know how the creator of the universe should manifest in human form and display his awesome power) and self-deluded reductionist materialism. Although much is made of Sai Baba not requesting donations, nevertheless his followers obviously give large sums of money else the Indian hospitals and schools would not be built. He also claims not to want to change his followers' prior religious beliefs, however belief in Sai Baba is incompatible with orthodox Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
Many claims have been made that Sai Baba is a homosexual with a predilection for young men and regularly fondles their genitals in private interviews. These accusations have been explained by some devotees as being a normal ritual that he has been performing for over thirty years! There are also accusations that some close disciples were murdered after allowing Sai Baba to be caught out on video in a sleight of hand with a necklace. It is probably impossible to prove any such accusations though the normal public niceness of his devotees can certainly turn rather nasty when arguing these claims. Devotees claim that whatever doubters see in Sai Baba is dependent upon them and his divine teaching so if they see him fumble a sleight of hand materialisation it is part of Sai Baba's teaching process. They also claim it is impossible to judge his actions or claim an avatar should act in a certain way if you are not "awakened" or "realised" yourself. Unfortunately it is impossible to determine 'truth' within this closed conceptual framework.
As very few of his devotees will ever be exposed to this possible behaviour (no accusations have been made by females, older men and pre-pubescent boys) it must be admitted the
life of the overwhelming number of his devotees will not be affected negatively. As members of a large world-wide community of followers dedicated to spiritual upliftment and
charitable works with a common set of beliefs they should find their lives greatly enhanced if they can afford regular trips to India and are not too upset with longing for the
guru's physical presence. The devotee meetings contain strict sex segregation, group "hymn" singing, quiet meditation periods, study groups, lectures by guest speakers
"experienced in the Teaching or Presence of Sathya Sai Baba" and the opportunity for public spontaneous recounting of personal experiences of Swami and his Teaching.
"At a Sai meeting, all faiths (including atheists) are welcomed, and no faith or viewpoint is sleighted." This quote from the Los Angeles Sathya Sai Baba Center is either a very funny ironical pun or a very funny unconscious Freudian slip.
Despite teaching a full repertoire of Hindu yoga and meditation techniques for over 50 years to followers numbered in the millions, the results of meditation amongst his followers is hardly mentioned by the Organisation. Those interested in Sai Baba should examine the lives of long-time followers to ascertain if any spiritual benefits have accompanied the social and religious benefits of Sai Baba in their lives.
There is an official Sathya Sai Baba Organisation home page. There are numerous other pages of followers who obviously find their guru's physical form divinely beautiful and inspiring.
For the opposite perspective see (amongst others) Sathya Sai Baba Deceptions Exposed
- Baba - Arnold Schulman 1971
- Sai Baba, Man Of Miracles - Howard Murphet 1971
- Sai Baba, The Holy Man And The Psychiatrist - Dr Samuel H. Sandweiss 1975
- Sai Baba Avatar A New Journey Into Power And Glory - Howard Murphet 1977
- My Baba And I - Dr. John Hislop 1985
- Spirit And Mind - Dr. Samuel H. Sandweiss 1986
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