Posted tagged ‘Sathya Sai Baba’

Erlendur Haraldsson’s Latest Book

6 October 2013

A message for the minority of my readers who are still interested in reading about Sathya Sai Baba.

I have just published a 4,000 word commentary on Haraldsson’s latest update to his 25 year old Miracles book:
‘Erlendur Haraldsson Breaks his Silence on Sathya Sai Baba’s Final Decade’

Now, back to Hindi, which is infinitely more interesting and worthwhile.

Cheers,
Brian

Wolf Messing – a Lesson for Wikipediacrats

31 December 2012

Like most others, I make frequent use of English Wikipedia for quick reliable information. I am grateful for that and have chipped in my $10 to prevent the organisation from downsizing. Like many other websurfers, however, I also feel very disappointed (or unhappy) with some of my wikisearches.

The flaws or inadequacies of Wikipedia’s small but significant collection of unreliable articles can usually be traced back to one or both of the following causes: the counterproductive inflexibility of Wikipedia’s definition of and (luddite) blanket ban on “research”, and in the case of controversial topics, the ingenious and exhausting use of Wikipedia’s arcane laws by “interested parties” to suppress or remove unpalatable facts from the controversial page.  (A rarer third cause is the ignorance of contributors, while an undeclared contributing factor is Wikipedia’s casual attitude to printed sources, especially books and bibliographies.)

The current English Wikipedia page for Wolf Messing is a depressing example of the first and third causes listed above, as I shall endeavour to prove.

*

In the West, since at least 1970, we have been informed about Messing’s life and exploits by BOOKS like Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Shroeder’s sensational 1970 bestseller dealing with hitherto secret Soviet research, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain and in 1989 an English translation of Tatiana Lungin’s 1982 biography, as well as in articles and Encyclopedias like the Harper Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience (1991). (See Reference List.) From 1980 on, the controversial “omniscient” guru, Sathya Sai Baba brought Wolf Messing (d.1974) to the attention of his many devotees and to wider New Age circles by making three public reminiscences about their three alleged meetings. For non-devotees, the strange reminiscences have zero credibility.

Such works have told us over and over again, often citing the same sensational sources, that Wolf Messing (1899-1974) was a phenomenally successful Polish-born Russian stage performer of “mentalism” and hypnotism, accredited with quite extraordinary feats, involving Freud, Einstein, Gandhi, and Hitler, as well as Stalin and Beria, and other less well known people).

Note:

Wolf Messing’s very impressive and lucrative stage performances over several decades are similar to the sort of theatrical activities that Derren Brown is currently demonstrating and “explaining” to massive TV audiences and full theatres. Derren professes no supernatural powers, just special skills. In fairness to Messing, it has to be said that he is also on record as saying in 1961 in an interview with P. Oreshkin that he was not a ‘mind-reader’ but a ‘muscle reader’ (a play on words in the original Russian: mysl vs. muskl). However, it must also be borne in mind that charismatic Messing’s special success onstage was founded on a series of well-publicised sensational claims, which suggest to his fans that he must have supernatural gifts. From that factor above all, Messing derives his current superstar fame as one of the most important psychics of all time.

*

Thirty two years after the publication of Ostrander and Shroeder’s bestseller, on 9 March 2002, the recently minted English Wikipedia article on Messing stood as follows:

“Wolf Messing (b. 1899) is one of the most talented mind readers of the world. Born to a Jewish family, Messing fled from Germany to Russia before World War II. He was sentenced to death by Hitler after declaring his prophecy about Germany’s defeat during attempted invasion of Russia. After world war, he worked for long years as a stage artist and he is suggested to be one of Stalin’s advisors.”

“Wolf messing also led to the three little pigs having to be temporarily re-housed due to the sudden and sequential loss of their self-built, ecologically-sound, detached houses.”

A mere stub of a stub, plus that irrelevant and cheeky addendum, which was promptly, and correctly, removed. Ten years later, on 24 December 2012, the English Wikipedia Messing article has failed to keep up with available information on the subject in print and on the Internet. It is still not much more than a stub (albeit a page long). The current stub includes two weak sources for its brief claims of some of Messing’s expertise, and a bare reference to a (vital) scholarly article in Dutch, which no Wikipedia contributor appears to have investigated in the past 8 years.

In 2004, that same Dutch scholar, Alexandra Nagel, completed an M.A. thesis about Wolf Messing and in 2005. This was published in a Dutch Journal. Here is the reference, as printed, at the end of the English Wikipedia article, and elsewhere.

Alexandra Nagel: Een mysterieuze ontmoeting…: Sai Baba en mentalist Wolf Messing / A mysterious meeting…: Sai Baba and mentalist Wolf Messing. In: Tijdschrift voor Parapsychologie/Journal for Parapsychology 368, Bd. 72 Nr. 4, Dez. 2005, S. 14-17.

However, Nagel also prepared a 25-page English version of her thesis and published it on www.exbaba.com on 10 November 2004. It should still be there. It has also been on the Internet, more or less ignored, for the past 7 years at this rather secluded URL.

Those interested in investigating Messing (including wikipedians and Wikipedia readers) who have not had access to a translation of Nagel’s Dutch thesis or to this English version will have missed a fascinating mine of information and questions for further investigation presented in this ground-breaking academic study of Messing’s life and work.

Basic contents of Nagel’s thesis:

A detailed description of the life and work of Wolf Messing, gleaned from very wide reading, beginning with the 1970 chapter by Ostrander and Shroeder, and the biography by Messing’s friend and confidante Tatiana Lungin, and digging even deeper to examine the important German study by Topsy Küppers and references to Soviet studies by Varlen Strongin, Ludmila Svinka-Zielinski and a few others. (Nagel acknowledges the help of Russian researcher Serguei Badaev with some of these texts.)

A critical examination of this valuable material leads Nagel to the conclusion that it reveals “myth-making” on a large scale (i.e. the constant repetition of Messing’s own stories as told by Ostrander et al). Nagel emphasises the almost total lack of corroborating evidence of Messing’s most famous (alleged) exploits, and she adds a list of other unresolved loose ends (mainly due to the lack of translations of Russian material).

Nagel’s hypothetical conclusion is that not all the famous Messing episodes are true:

“Aspects of Messing’s life are in need of further research”

“One may tentatively deduce that Messing’s narrative must for a large part be an invented life history. Probably unaware and unintended, Ostrander & Schroeder have played a role in spreading – probably false – stories. They should have cross referenced their material more thoroughly. For instance, they could have looked into the 200,000 mark put on Messing’s head in 1937 by Hitler, or the protest the German Embassy in the Soviet Union lodged when Messing in 1940 predicted the end of the German hegemony, or the ‘psychic bank robbery’ Stalin assigned him to perform. Lungin and Küppers (I cannot judge for Strongin) should have done so as well. The fact of the matter is, they did not, so one wonders whether this was due to laziness, accident or was purposive falsification.”

This thesis is worthy of further public attention – as the following new information, mainly from Russia, will underline.

Since 2005, the Messing success story (myth?) has featured in many articles and a few books and, since a sumptuous 16-part Russian TV series on his life in 2009, he is now worshipped even more widely, as a cult figure, thanks to a large number of You Tube videos (mostly without subtitles), many of 45 minute duration. His fame has reached a peak. He has his own fan club in Russia. And perhaps on Facebook?

Meanwhile, important new counter-evidence has been presented by a new and highly reputable source which supports in great detail Alexandra Nagel’s hypotheses about a) myth-making (i.e. that Messing invented many of the major incidents, precisely those that set him apart from other stage performers) and b) the authorship of his 1965 “autobiography”.

The major new source of information is Nikolai Nikolaevich Kitaev (N. N. Kitaev – Н.Н. Китаев), a distinguished Russian jurist and legal researcher, with a specialty in hypnosis. (One of his written works is titled ‘Hypnosis and Crime’.) Kitaev has been researching Messing’s life and work for 30 years (along with his many other projects) and, because of his professional rank and prestige, and especially because of the liberating effects of the break-up of the USSR, he has had free access to an impressive number of National and regional archives in Russia, Belarus and Poland and some access to German archives. From this huge trawl, Kitaev has produced an important booklet of about 100 pages, first published in 2006:

“Криминалистический экстрасенс. Вольф Мессинг. Правда и вымысел”

Forensic psychic: Wolf Messing. Truth and Fantasy.

(Links to a download of the 2010 version of the Russian book of the same name is included in the Reference list at the end of this article.)

Kitaev sets out evidence to refute the most spectacular episodes in Messing’s career, those which have given him his wide fame, far beyond that accorded to other stage hypnotists and mentalists. Forensically, he offers biographical evidence to suggest why the meeting with Freud and Einstein could not have taken place. The Gandhi meeting claim, always the weakest link in the chain, is easily dismissed and Kitaev also demonstrates at length that there is no archival evidence for Messing’s major claims of a relationship with Stalin.

Kitaev concentrates on the available biographical evidence about Messing and demonstrates (as Alexandra Nagel had suggested) that the only evidence we have of Messing’s major claims is in Messing’s own writings (and those of his close associate, Lungin). Other commentators (as we have seen above with Ostrander and Shroeder) have been content merely to repeat or paraphrase these same words over and over again. There are no eye-witnesses, no corroborating details supplied by other persons.

Another of Kitaev’s documented claims is that the somewhat shadowy 1965 memoirs in Nauka i Religiya (Science and Religion), published in a journal (with two different titles: About Myself and I am a Telepath) were not even written by Messing but by a very prominent Russian journalist and nonfiction writer, Mikhail Vasilievich Khvastunov (pseudonym, M. Vasiliev). Kitaev further suggests that it was Khvastunov who “beefed up” the Messing story for maximum effect, and sales. A ghost writer, in fact.  (Others, including Nagel, have suggested, that the Polish-born Messing would have needed help to express himself vividly in Russian.) And indeed, in the Russian Wikipedia page for Khvastunov, long since dead, the following appear in a list of his written works, both presumably posthumous re-editions of the 1965 work or works.

Вольф Мессинг «Я — телепат», литературная запись М.Васильева, СП «Интеркиноцентр» Рекламно-издательское агентство «Юго-запад», 1990.

Wolf Messing, I am a telepath, literary version, M. Vasiliev.  [M.Vasiliev, was Khvastunov’s pseudonym.]

«Феномен Д и другие». «Вольф Мессинг. О самом себе». Литературная запись М.Васильева. Москва, Издательство политической литературы, 1991.

Phenomen D and Other Matters. Wolf Messing. About Myself, literary version M. Vasiliev.

A substantial half-page reference to N. N. Kitaev’s lengthy investigation is included in the 6-page Russian Wikipedia entry on ‘Volf Messing’. The paragraphs, which refer to Messing’s writings and Khvastunov’s alleged part in them and to Kitaev’s broader work on Messing, are titled ‘Source of legends’ and ‘Participation in exposing crime’. Several very useful bibliographical references are also given.

Well done, Russian Wikipedia! 

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Observation:

Comment on a forum, by “paddylandau”:

“Derren Brown successfully repeated Wolf Messing’s trick with paper for money. Of course, as Brown himself makes clear, what he did was all smoke and mirrors (well, misdirection and trickery), and nothing whatsoever to do with psi powers, hypnosis or NLP.”

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/hypnosis-hypnotherapy-UK/message/12701

References

Russian Wikipedia: ‘Volf Messing’. (This includes a link to Kitaev’s book and many other interesting articles.)

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Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, ed. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p 367-8.

Kitaev, N. N.

(There is an English reference to the Kitaev revelations (July 2009) here.

Китаев Н.Н. “Криминалистический экстрасенс” Вольф Мессинг. Правда и вымысел

Forensic psychic: Wolf Messing. Truth and Fantasy

A copy of the 2010 edition of his book in Russian is available here:

The 2006 version from can be seen here.

A detailed list of Kitaev’s law writings, including Gipnoz i prestuplenie (Hypnosis and Crime), is available here.

Lungin Tatiana, Volf Messing. Chelovek. Zagadka, (W.M., The Man. The Enigma), 1982. (It is available online here.

Lungin, Tatiana, Wolf Messing: The True Story of Russia’s Greatest Psychic (edited by D. Scott Rogo and translated from the Russian by Cynthia Rosenberger and John Glad), New York: Paragon House, 1989. (Contains material from the 1965 publication and more information from W. M.)

Ostrander, Sheila and Schroeder, Lynn, PSI. Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, London, Abacus, 1973 (1970). (See especially ‘Wolf Messing, the Psychic that Joseph Stalin Tested, pp. 58-73.) (This was soon followed by an equally successful book by the same authors, which contains the same chapter and title (pp. 38-52):

Ostrander, Sheila and Schroeder, Lynn, Psychic Discoveries. The Iron Curtain Lifted, London: Souvenir Press, 1997 (1970) [Introduced by Uri Geller]

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Favourites on this Blog – for Holiday Reading

27 December 2011

Of the one hundred and eleven blogs posted here since 2008, these are the 16 that have attracted most attention. Unlike other more ephemeral blogs, the subject matter seems to remain of interest.

With my good wishes for the New Year.

General
1.
New Hope for Disempowered Women

2.
‘The Fragmentation of Information in Wikipedia’

3.
‘Please dress up the Em dash’

4.
‘Global warming debate. 1’

5.
‘Global warming debate. 2’
‘Global Warming Controversy. Part 2. Global Warming Scepticism: Some Basic Data & Chronological Notes’

6.
‘Julia Owen and bee stings in Bromley’

7.
‘Julia Owen, Retinitis Pigmentosa, and the Media. Part 1’
(Part 2 will follow in the New Year.)

Languages

1.
Of 33 offerings on Translation and Interpreting topics, this item has captured most attention:
‘Translation 8. Fluency in foreign languages. The case of Dr Condoleezza Rice’
(See also ‘Translation. 30’.)

2.
‘Translation 32. David Bellos’s Revealing Book on Translation and the Meaning of Everything’

3.
‘Spanish Pronunciation in the Media’

Spain

1.
‘The European Union’s verdict on the Franco Régime in Spain (1939-1975)’

2.
‘Justo Gallego – the lone twentieth century Cathedral Builder’

India

1.
‘Contemporary India. 1. Basic Sources of Information’

2.
‘A Visit to Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram in October 2008’

3.
‘Sathya Sai Baba: Questionable Stories and Claims. Part 1’

4.
‘Fuzzy Dates in the Official Biography of Sathya Sai Baba. A Re-examination’

Global Warming Controversy. Part 3. The Wikipedia Labyrinth

6 April 2010

Introduction

Notwithstanding Wikipedia’s superb usefulness as a source of instant factual information, the collective treatment of the articles on global warming and climate change by Wikipedians offers a very good example of two fundamental (congenital) shortcomings of Wikipedia as a reliable source of information:
1. its unbalanced treatment of many controversial subjects, especially those involving beliefs (religious, spiritual and political).
2. Wikipedia’s anti-encyclopedic encouragement of short articles (i.e. those occupying 32 KB of Hard Drive space – i.e. about 1,000 words, or 3 printed pages).

Evidence of the first flaw is to be seen in Wikipedia articles on Climate Change and Global Warming as well as in other hotly contested subjects like, for example, Scientology, Sun Myung Moon, Prem Rawat (aka in the 1970s as the divine Maharaji / Guru Mahara Ji), and Sathya Sai Baba. All of these Wikipedia articles are fiercely “protected” by determined devotees and followers who are willing to spend endless hours on their mission of excluding and deleting any inconvenient facts about the subject of their adoration.

The second flaw takes the shape of fragmentation of important topics over several or many different articles (which are not always adequately cross-referenced). This systematic fragmentation makes if difficult for readers to get a detailed and balanced view of the Wikipedia topics where it occurs. The preference for short articles also gives the small number of partisans and activists for sectarian points of view a golden opportunity to “hive off” potentially awkward aspects like Criticism of XYZ into separate articles. (Wikipedia even recommends this procedure!) Even basic (as opposed to Full) Bibliographies may be shunted off from their topic, which is especially attractive to activists and zealots if inconvenient books and articles are on such lists. Even when a direct link is offered to these separated segments of a Wikipedia topic, there is a high risk that net surfers will lazily avoid making that further vital click to balance the knowledge they are gleaning from the ‘cleansed’ version of the topic.
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Global Warming, etc.

To deal with the wide ramifications and ongoing reverberations of (Anthropogenic) Global Warming and Climate Change, this Wikipedia facilitation of fragmentation has now spawned over 50 articles (including, in recent years, articles on the orthodox and sceptical protagonists and some of their book titles). For reader interest, a list is provided at the end of this article – a list not available on Wikipedia.)

For years now, as Lawrence Solomon, and other sceptics, have recently pointed out, here and here, many of the above Wikipedia articles
on global warming, etc. have been zealously patrolled and protected by indefatigable defenders of orthodox global warming science and of the IPCC. The most notable (and, for the past few years, notorious) of these Wiki-guardians is William M. Connolley, a founding member of the 2004 RealClimate website (see Part 2 of this blog series). “Connolley turned Wikipedia into the missionary wing of the global warming movement” (L. Solomon). Solomon’s articles also narrate part of his personal experiences as a Wikipedian contributor (User) – facts he contributed were banished from the articles by the ever-vigilant “ warmist” activists, Connolley and his allies.

The Wikipedia article about this IPCC paladin gives succinct information on Connolley’s activities:
“Connolley was a member of the RealClimate website until 2007,[8][9] and he operates a website and blog that discuss climate issues.[10][11][12] […]”
“ His editing was also the subject of hearings by Wikipedia’s arbitration committee after a complaint was filed that he was pushing his own point of view in an article by removing material representing opposing viewpoints. A “one-revert-a-day” editing restriction was imposed on him, but later revoked. He told The New Yorker that Wikipedia “gives no privilege to those who know what they’re talking about.”[15] Connolley served as a Wikipedia sysop, a form of website administrator, until his status was removed by the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee in September 2009.[16][17][18]”
(from Wikipedia: William M. Connolley)

(Note: Connolley’s Wikipedia contributions have averaged over 6,000 per year since 2003. However, unlike the vast majority of Wikipedia registered Users, Connolley uses his real name, for which, whatever his reasons, he is to be commended.)

The extremes to which such Wikipedia zealots have gone on these topics will not come as a surprise to anyone who has also seen (or suffered from) the strenuous edit warring and filibustering that goes on, month after month and year after year, in other similarly controversial Wikipedia sites, where total editing time seems immaterial and where less determined contributors find their contributions deleted. (“Since I first tried to correct the distortions on this [Wikipedia] page, it has changed 28 times,” L.Solomon).

If you have not read his work before, I recommend to you Solomon’s excellent detective work on Connolley and other Wikipedia activists referenced above (plus this earlier one on the Wikipedia problem: 8 July 2008, Wikipropaganda. Anthony Watts’ recent contribution and readers’ comments on this topic are also of interest to all who value truth and balance in debate.

Appendix
List of relevant Wikipedia articles (April 2010)

Climate change
Global warming
Global warming controversy
(Climate change controversy – directed to Global Warming Controversy)

and all of the following:

Action on climate change
Attribution of recent climate change
Avoiding dangerous climate change
Business action on climate change
Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy
Climate change consensus
Climate change response
(“Climategate” is directed to “Climatic Research Unit emails controversy”)
Climatic Research Unit
Climatic Research Unit documents
Climatic Research Unit emails controversy
Description of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age in IPCC reports
Economics of climate change
Economics of global warming
Effects of global warming
Global warming conspiracy theory
Glossary of climate change
History of climate change science
Hockey stick controversy
Index of climate change articles
Individual and political action on climate change
Individual and political action on climate changeLow-carbon economy
List of authors from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis [= IPCC 2007]
List of climate scientists
List of scientists opposing the manistream scientific assessment of global warming
Mitigation of global warming
Politics of global warming
Religious action on climate change
Renewable energy commercialization
Scientific opinion on climate change
The Clean Tech Revolution
The Cool War

And central topics like:
IPCC
Criticism of the IPCC AR4
Garnaut climate change review
Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

Plus many individual biographical sketches of scientists and other protagonists like:
Michael E. Mann, Stephen McIntyre, Anthony Watts, William M. Connolley, Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, Al Gore, Rajendra Pachauri, etc. And even separate articles on books dealing with scientific aspects or controversial topics:
The Real Global Warming Disaster
Heaven and Earth
The Hockey Stick Illusion

Other Wikipedia references to this vast area of knowledge are offered in the following Wikipedia CATEGORIES listed at the foot of each article (each giving multiple topic links).
Climate change assessment and attributions
Climate change: feedback and causes
Global warming (as a CATEGORY)
Economics and climate change
Energy economics
Environmental controversies
Environmental skepticism

The Mixed Blessings of Spiritual Tourism. Rishikesh, 1999

14 May 2009

The distance from Delhi to Rishikesh is about 200 kilometres.

One of the disadvantages of unplanned travel in India is that, although there is probably a train service to the place you wish to visit, an advance booking is essential. So my hard-earned advice is that if you propose to make this particular trip, book a first class ticket on an air-conditioned train rather than travelling by popular bus services, unless you are lucky enough to find a first class air-conditioned vehicle. A hired taxi would also be a very worthwhile investment.

The character-building experience was preceded by a purgatorial one-hour auto-rickshaw ride through the least attractive suburbs of Delhi in morning rush hour traffic because my Indian friend and guide (S) was too parsimonious by nature and necessity to allow me to ‘waste’ money on a decent taxi. Ironically or karmically – more probably bureaucratically – half of the 20 kilometre rickshaw trip turned out to be quite unnecessary because the bus service did not actually depart from the advertised station but from another one 10 km away.

The tediously slow five hour ordeal on wooden slatted seats was bone-jarring and, given the conditions and driving habits prevailing on India’s overcrowded and lethal roads, hair-raising as well. Nevertheless, we eventually reached the extremely venerable city of Hardwar, situated on the Ganges. Here my companion of meagre means and needs insisted that we stay in his favourite cheap hotel despite my readiness to ‘splurge’ a few Rupees more, a gesture which was rejected as an inappropriate and self-indulgent luxury, especially in this hallowed place of pilgrimage. My small room was spartan, with a bloody mattress (literally), a battalion of mosquitoes and a squat toilet which induced instant constipation. But at least the night’s rest was more or less recuperative. Up at 6 a.m. to explore the sacred bathing ghats.

14 February – not only the festival of Mahasivaratri in 1999 but also St Valentine’s for cross-cultural adepts. What a nice ecumenical occasion. Down to the ghats beside the sacred river. Still dark and cold, but crowded. S. dutifully bathed while I declined the purgative experience but gingerly christened myself with a small handful of Ganga water. Then, for a tiny fee, a priest gave us a blessing with marigolds and a two-tone mark over the Third Eye. Actually, S. paid Rs10 and magnanimously suggested 500 rupees would be appropriate for me to offer; fortunately, 50 turned out to be all the priest required. A very quick breakfast in an unsavoury ghat-side café before two more street blessings from venerable itinerant saffron-robed Danda-Swamis toting their characteristic long Staffs. Where else can you get three blessings plus an updated christening in one hour! Things looked promising. Was I now a Hindu? Would the Pope, or the Dalai Lama, be upset about this? Would I be a better person?

Another bone-rearranging rickshaw ride for 30 km from Haridwar to the city of Rishikesh via the little hamlet where S’s – and now temporarily my – Swami protégé lodges (free of charge) with a family of Dalits in a tiny thatched hut. These dirt poor people are Swami R’s converts to Sathya Sai Baba, so it is their duty to feed and shelter him. Drawing aside a thin curtain, they wake the Swami him up to greet us and we sit under the pale early sunlight in the handkerchief-sized backyard, enjoying their very generous bananas and biscuits as prasad (blessed food). In a tree towering over the hovel stands a large sign announcing the Swami’s Mission:
Kali Age Incarnation, Hardwar Rd, opp. J.G.Glass Factory
Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Learning Centre
.

We exchange greetings and Swami R proudly informs us that he has been befriended by Baba Ram, who is the president of the local village’s Bharatiya Grib Chesna Parishad (Organisation for the Awakening of Poor [Grib] Indians). So he has a sound base for his Mission.

The self-appointed Swami’s self-appointed task is to go from village to village giving out thin proselytising leaflets about Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings, and to sing bhajans, etc. But in our conversation that morning he constantly harped on the lack of cooperation and, as he implied darkly, worse obstacles, from the local Sathya Sai Baba Centre in Rishikesh. In spite of all the alleged obstacles to his success, Swami R maintains (quite unrealistically to the independent observer) that this area will soon be the biggest Sathya Sai Baba Centre outside the Organisation’s HQ, the thriving township of Prasanthi Nilayam in far distant southern Andhra Pradesh. And, he confides, he needs Rs 5,000 to buy a neighbouring plot as a proper Centre. (Oh dear! What are his expectations from today’s visit? A quick calculation reveals that this is not an unattainable sum, since it is the equivalent of $US100, so I can give a modest but useful donation.)

Swami’s story: originally a teacher of economics and a lawyer, he lived in the main Sathya Sai Baba ashram in distant South India for several years. He has also lived for short periods in several Rishikesh ashrams since 1991. He says he is very dedicated to his important spiritual task but his constant carping and whining seem so, well, Unspiritual. He has nothing good to say of the officials at Sathya Sai Baba’s Centre in Rishikesh – but he may just be echoing his benefactor, my friend S (also a Sathya Sai Baba devotee), who has confided several reasons for complaint about his treatment by the Sathya Sai Organisation down south.

Swami R also appears overly fond of Sathya Sai Baba’s widely propagated disaster predictions to students during the mid-1980s. Although admitting they are only rumours, he is convinced that many people will be consumed by fire this year and that 8 May and 24 October are dates not to leave one’s home; certainly not to travel. (Later, I forgot to notice if anything happened on those specific days, so I imagine it didn’t, as usual with Doomsday predictions – so far, touch wood.)

What am I to make of all this negative stuff in the positive world of spirituality? Is its purpose to show me that the real India is not my cuppa chai? But is this the real India? Maybe it was, once.

Swami R takes us on a spiritual tour of the centre of Rishikesh and across the famously flimsy-looking Lakshmana Bridge. I treat my companions to a frugal vegetarian lunch in the Chotiwala Restaurant and finally hand over to Swami R my rather paltry donation of Rs 500, as previously commanded by S, who has also given him some money from time to time, like many other Indians, mainly elderly Hindus, who are merely doing their time-honoured spiritual duty (dharma).

The morning has heated up, so the river and mountain breezes are welcome. There is much activity and many western spiritual tourists are visible in the town and in the ashrams. The river and Himalayan foothills panorama is inspiring and distractingly photogenic. I can appreciate the strong attraction this setting has for Germans and other Europeans but what central Rishikesh really seems to offer is basic consumer spirituality on the cheap – except in the one or two expensive ashrams with their comfortable consumer flatlets. Up in the wilds of those overhanging Himalayan foothills, perhaps the smaller ashrams are different, more authentic.

The bookstalls in Rishikesh are full of books on the main Hindu saints and especially on tantric topics, which (like a number of Indian gurus since 1960) seem to exert a strong appeal for many foreign seekers. The gamut of literature on offer in the streets ranges from ‘Sex to Superconsciousness’, etc., plus books on Shirdi and Sathya (both of them are Sai Babas), and, for a few homesick British travellers, ‘The Day that Diana Died’.

We try to enter the old ashram where the famed Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught the Beatles for a while in the 1960s, but we find entry is not allowed and an attendant at the main gate mutters something about the Maharishi being forced to flee after murders in the ashram committed by westerners – surely not a good career move, karmically. (In Sonepat, Haryana, much closer to Delhi, but still distant from Andhra Pradesh, another self-appointed guru, Siddheshwar Baba (aka Professor Bhim Sen Goel, a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba) set up his own ashram specialising in Kundalini Yoga, which for many years until his death in 1998 was much frequented by those ubiquitous and indefatigable ‘one-pointed’ German seekers of exotic spirituality, and other westerners.)

The return journey to Delhi by bus was equally horrendous but more bearable because, when I confided in S that I had stupidly left my pyjamas behind in the Hardwar hotel, he had informed me that that is in fact a blessing – because someone else will benefit from finding them, and even a double blessing because the loss and the find take place in such a holy site. Apparently you can leave behind a problem or an ailment here, paid for with such a ‘blessing’ for someone else to discover. What a lovely religion! In fact, my pyjama deficit was to bring a third blessing, thanks to S’s solicitous local inquiries: in spite of a couple of missed opportunities on my visit to India the following year, I was finally reunited with my pyjamas two years later (probably washed in Ganges water), by airmail post.

More research results on Sathya Sai Baba’s divine claims

6 February 2009

For the tiny minority of readers and visitors who are interested in my esoteric research into the divine claims of Sathya Sai Baba, two further analyses are available for consideration.

1. ‘Sathya Sai Baba’s Credibility Gap: Contributions by John Hislop’

2. ‘Sathya Sai Baba’s Public Use of English and its Perception by Devotees. Insights into his Charismatic Influence’
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Sathya Sai Baba Discourse Evidence Disappears from Public View. The Latest Case

9 December 2008

Recent blogs by Robert Priddy and Barry Pittard highlight the amazingly unomniscient prediction by Sathya Sai Baba about “No bombs for India” and, within days, the removal by the Sathya Sai Organisation and its satellite websites of the embarrassing remark from the recent Convocation discourse of 22 November 2008. (See the relevant postings at http://robertpriddy.wordpress.com and http://barrypittard.wordpress.com.)

The constant disappearance of embarrassing or incorrect utterances by Sathya Sai Baba is a well documented phenomenon, as seasoned observers of the Puttaparthi and Prasanthi Nilayam scenes are aware. Others may be unaware of this highly revealing custom and of its relevance to the Sathya Sai Baba story. Apart from revelations of the heavy editing often applied to SSB’s Telugu discourses before they are printed (of which more below), consider the following major disappearances within the past six years.

The new biographical information revealed in the first volume of the Sai Towers edition of Love is My Form (LIMF – October 2000) produced a barrage of critical comment. Within a year of the first comments on this well researched and illustrated devotee account of the years 1926-1950, the remaining 5 or 6 planned, advertised and partly researched volumes of Love is My Form were cancelled by the Sai Towers Publishing company, unexpectedly and without explanation. A year or two later, the Sathya Sai Organisation officially announced its own biographical project: to continue the series of four well known bestselling volumes written by SSB’s main hagiographer, N. Kasturi (Satyam, Sivam Sundaram). Two of these bland hagiographies have already been published by the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust, as I have recently commented in another article on my SSB web page.

Shortly after this LIMF shock, following further critical observations based on close comparisons between a series of devotee literal translations of SSB’s discourses (into several languages) and the heavily edited official translations, this two year voluntary Internet seva (community service) by a polyglot devotee group called PREMSAI suddenly ceased (in mid-2002) and the precious evidence contained in the two year backlog of 60 literal translations was soon withdrawn from the Internet. Note, 2013: After many temporary Internet homes, copies have recently been made available here, with fresh evidence provided by Eileen Weed, via Robert Priddy’s website

As a reminder of the history of official control over some of the surprising statements and stories in SSB’s discourses, and more especially as a contribution for researchers, I enclose the first few paragraphs of my 2005 ‘Dossier on the Packaging of Sathya Sai Baba’s Discourses’. The full (lengthy) version is available at ‘Packaging’. htm

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A critical reading of the first 30 volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks in 1998-1999 turned up a small collection of irregularities in the editing of some of Sathya Sai Baba’s Discourses. After closer study of these anomalies (and others concerning SSB), I included a chapter and an Appendix on ‘packaging’ in the e-book published on this website in November 2001 (Sathya Sai Baba: God or Guru?). My strong hypothesis at that time was that in the examples selected for study, the form of SSB’s original Telugu Discourses seemed to be significantly different from the versions ultimately published by the Sathya Sai Organisation, and read, studied, and widely quoted as ‘Gospel’ by hundreds of thousands of non-Telugu-speaking devotees all over the world. In the intervening two years, a great deal of further direct evidence (for comparison) has not only confirmed the hypothesis but raised questions concerning the perceived public image of SSB. (See the Historical Note at the end of this article.)

For my initial 2001 study of what I came to see as a packaging process, it was not easy to come across printed versions of the original Discourses (in English translation), but there were enough scattered about in the vast literature about SSB (much of which I had read in research for my two previous pro-SSB books in 1994-1998) to form very strong impressions. I was also able to examine a new form of evidence which had begun to trickle in during the late 1990s: preliminary reports of Discourses (in literal translation) posted on the rapidly expanding Internet for avid overseas devotees to access as soon after their delivery as possible (and before the edited printed version was released). (Such is the effort expended by the SSO on its information network since 1999 that the edited form of a Discourse can now be posted on its official websites within a few days of delivery, although eager local devotees in India still occasionally used to offer snatches of welcome literal translations on SSB open chat groups.)

Thanks to immediate feedback at the end of 2001 from two ex-devotees, I was able to gain access to a much better and more extensive source of direct Internet evidence of the literal translations into English (and into several other languages). These translations had begun to be published in two or three languages by devotees anxious to preserve the poetic quality of SSB’s Telugu talks (a reference to his simple spontaneous speaking style) in late 1999. Other language translations (including English) were added in 2000. Their unofficial but highly professional-looking website was named http://www.internety.com/premsai. This source (of which I had been completely unaware while laboriously searching the SSB literature for my initial examples) already offered two years of examples (2000 and 2001) to compare with the official versions in the printed Sanathana Sarathi and Sathya Sai Speaks. The Premsai website was a researcher’s treasure trove because it offered clear proof, from devotees, of the extent of the official editing applied to the Telugu “Discourses” before their publication in many languages.

On the basis of comparisons made during the following months I was able to publish more convincing evidence of the packaging procedure. A few other researchers added their own contributions, which caused further public interest in this process. Dramatically and only a few months after these important Internet revelations had focussed the spotlight on SSB’s real speaking style, the flourishing devotee “Premsai” multilingual website totally disappeared from the Internet. This abrupt disappearance of such primary material (in the second half of 2002) provoked the reasonable suspicion that such ‘inside’ evidence of the packaging of the words of ‘God’ was deeply embarrassing to the SSO and harmful to SSB’s divine image. The new insights into the Discourses also raised important questions outside devotee circles about the official image of SSB as projected for so many years by the SSO.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of why an alleged Avatar’s words and style need to be packaged at all, a major result of a comparison of the literal translations (where available) and the final edited form is that they show more clearly than before that SSB’s impromptu public preaching in Telugu is rambling, not very well structured, and sometimes contains unclear or muddled statements, discrepancies and errors. For this reason, evidence of the ‘packaging’ issue is also of particular relevance when considering the claim of omniscience advanced by Sathya Sai Baba and promoted by the Sathya Sai Organisation. (See also my article on ‘Omniscience and Truth’ and articles at http://www.exbaba.com: two on SSB and atoms (Robert Priddy, 11 and 17 September 2002: ‘The ‘Omniscient’ SSB’s massive ignorance of physics exposed’, I and II, and Jorge Reyesvera,7 May 2003, titled ‘Sai Baba’s ‘magnetism’.)

…..

[The above paragraphs are followed by many pages of intriguing comparisons of selected extracts from the official and PREMSAI versions of SSB’s discourses.]

A Visit to Sathya Sai Baba’s Commemorative Museum in Puttaparthi

13 November 2008

(Puttaparthi October 2008 visit, Part 2)

The striking edifice of the Chaitanya Jyoti (“Flame of Consciousness”) Museum, the building inaugurated by Sathya Sai Baba in November 2000 to commemorate and promote his life and Mission, is on the Vidyagiri Hillside in Puttaparthi, almost hidden at the end of a narrow unpaved lane and behind a rather worn football and cricket pitch. I queued, hatless, for 15 minutes in the hot sun to tour the museum with a group of about 30 Indians and an elderly European in immaculate white shirt and trousers. At the official opening time, we were finally allowed in, slowly, in single file, ladies first. I tried to smuggle my camera in but was sent back to the cloakroom by the diligent Sathya Sai Organisation volunteer attendants. We climbed up the long staircase of this very imposing Asian façade, past the large water feature and its sleek fish.

The first exhibit room is now completely bare. (I cannot remember what it once contained.) In fact, the interior of the museum is much less imposing than the façade and most of the simple but gaudily painted statues, exhibits, working models and explanatory posters and labels seem to have been prepared for a mainly juvenile audience. The full range of Sathya Sai Baba’s divine claims, with the familiar associations with Shirdi Sai Baba (whose reincarnation he claims to be) and with gods, Avatars and other famous names, are boldly reasserted. Other familiar mythical assertions and alleged miracle stories are prominently displayed. “The Creation explained by the Creator” is one of the typically immodest signs in one of the first rooms.

On what was formerly a triumphal staircase showing the “Prophecies Fulfilled”, I noted that the misleading images of the Persian book and the spurious translation from Persian (as shown in the original Museum Guide and reported by me in 2005) have been removed but the characteristics of a divine Sathya Sai Baba allegedly foretold in a “Discourse of Mohammed” (quoting from the guide) remain defiantly displayed, in spite of the patent impossibility (and potential offensiveness to a large section of humanity) of this prediction. (“His hair will be profuse … His clothing will be like a flame… He will live 95 years …”, etc.) The alleged palm leaf predictions of Sathya Sai Baba’s Coming, the quotations from the Book of Revelations and the alleged predictions by Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce are also unconvincingly on display.

(It should be noted that most of these implausible predictions, much-repeated items in the Sathya Sai Baba literature and on the devotee grapevine, have originated from Sathya Sai Baba’s over-zealous devotees and associates, rather than from his own bold assertions and boasts. The uncontrolled nature of such zealotry has distinguished SSB’s associates and devotees for decades but the storytelling guru named Sathya (“Truth”) must also carry his share of the responsibility, particularly when such stories are broadcast beyond India’s frontiers on the Internet and the radio as well as in books.)

In the nearby area on avatars, not only is Sathya Sai Baba’s alleged remote kinsman, Bharadwaj, given a prominent position but his involvement in the process of the three alleged incarnations is reported exactly as SSB described it in his astonishing 6 July1963 Guru Purnima discourse, one of four discourses to which the Sathya Sai Organisation has always given special prominence.

Moving on to the many exhibits depicting and describing the detailed popular mythology of Sathya Sai Baba’s birth, the widely circulated devotee anecdote about Sri Aurobindo’s acknowledgement of the “descent of the Overmind” as “proof” of his acknowledgement of Sathya Sai’s divine birth is not only included but made more emphatic with the additional assertion that the Sage of Pondicherry “realised that his Mission had finished.” Current and former devotees of Aurobindo and the Mother are unlikely to endorse such implausible claims.

There are many more simple exhibits, animations and sound effects to enthral devotees and others but by this stage most non-devotees will probably be feeling in need of fresh air and refreshment. As for Sathya Sai Baba’s alleged judgement that the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum “will be a marvel of the 21st Century”, it seems to be another clear example of his  predilection for self-promoting overstatement.

(For more information – pending the appearance of an amended guidebook – and especially to view the illustrations and all the exhibits which I have not described, see also the original guidebook, Chaitanya Jyoti. Experiencing the Divine, Prasanthi Nilayam, Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, 2001.)

(A longer article about Sathya Sai Baba and Puttaparthi, from which this blog is taken, is available: ‘Puttaparthi on a hot day in October 2008.)

Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram in October 2008

10 November 2008

In mid-October 2008, during a three week visit to India, I made a 5-hour visit to Puttaparthi and Prasanthi Nilayam. My visit was timed to avoid the festivals of Navaratri, Dassera / Vijayadashami, so moving around the township and the ashram would be comfortable. There were many Indians walking up and down the ashram streets, especially small groups arriving and registering for accommodation but in Prasanthi and Puttaparthi I only saw a handful of foreign visitors, mainly middle-aged and post-middle-aged women. I saw no foreigner of either sex under about 40 in the ashram, in the cafés or in the shops. Because of the ban on photography, I saw no point in attending darshan since copious photographic evidence is frequently made available on Sathya Sai Organisation websites, including Radio Sai. These give a far clearer picture of the current altered style of darshan at Prasanthi Nilayam, especially at festivals, than a cramped seat at the back of the mandir.

The mandir was empty and closed. Photographs were forbidden and loitering (even to peer inside the mandir, where ramps for the ailing Sathya Sai Baba’s chair were clearly visible) was discouraged by Seva Dal volunteers posted around the perimeter. The number of items prohibited in the mandir has now reached about 20, including books and pens. (Perhaps such draconian measures will at least encourage more meditation in the long waits for a glimpse of the distant chairbound guru.) From the tall surrounding township buildings, for example the Sai Heritage Hotel just past the ornate main entrance to the ashram, photographs were strictly prohibited, so I consoled myself with a pot of ready mixed chai on the 6 th floor restaurant and looked down on the ashram and toward the surrounding hills.

Sai Towers bookshop offered up a few purchases of typical recent publications but most of the Sai Towers shelves are now stocked with books by other publishers on other gurus and on general spiritual topics. I noted wryly that, although the more or less officially proscribed Love is My Form, Vol 1 (with its frank but unwelcome biographical revelations) is given pride of place in the Sai Towers shop window, which faces the ashram, there were no copies of the ‘heretical’ work on sale inside the bookshop.

Miscellaneous observations on the Puttaparthi scene

The airports at Bangalore and Puttaparthi

As a sign of changed times, and as Robert Priddy has pointed out on his blogsite (link follows below), the airport at Puttaparthi is becoming a white elephant. Apart from its convenience for visiting VIPs with their own jets (especially before elections) and apart from special charters on big festivals like the 23 November birthday and Christmas, it is rarely used, as taxi drivers confirmed. Nevertheless, for the present at least, Sathya Sai Baba’s expensive airport is still featured on the Indian Airlines map of routes in India (see the in-flight magazine Swagat – Welcome).

The massive new airport at Bengaluru (an unpopular politically imposed new name), inaugurated only a few months ago along with its 3,000 acres of land and gardens, will be a blessing (godsend?) for Sathya Sai’s dwindling foreign devotees, especially those from countries in financial turmoil. Since the airport is 40 or 50 kilometres North of Bangalore (just south of Chikballapur), they (or their tour arrangers) can arrange to go straight from the new airport to Puttaparthi in a mere two and a half hours, thus saving at least one hour on the single trip and masses of money which would otherwise go to Bengaluru’s renovated or rebuilt 3-star hotels which now cost $100 or more, a sum which devotees, used to cheap spiritual holidays for decades, may not be able to afford. (They will also save Rs 800 on the taxi trip into – and from – Bangalore.) Just to the north of Chikballapur a new Sathya Sai Baba lookalike has set up his residence. A driver told me he does miracles for Indian visitors and that foreign visitors are beginning to discover him. (History repeating itself?)

The shops of Puttaparthi (How would foreign devotees manage without them?)

The fiasco of the promised “Moon miracle” of late 2007 was instantly and ably reported by Barry Pittard and Robert Priddy on their well-known blogsites (http://robertpriddy.wordpress.com. and http://barrypittard.wordpress.com). For the information of those who have not yet read these reports, one evening in October last year, during bhajans, Sathya Sai Baba apparently instructed his interpreter and close associate Anil Kumar to tell devotees to race off to Puttaparthi airport to see him appear on the moon at 7 p.m.. (Another of his pre-announced miracles.) The news spread over the Internet within hours and devotees flocked by car from Prasanthi to the airport but to their chagrin and embarrassment, no sighting was reported on that cloudy night. However, after much Internet discussion of the phenomenon, some days later reports of sightings of SSB on the moon duly began to appear on chat groups and bulletin boards from devotees in several countries. To reinforce the ‘truth’ of these allegations, unreferenced postcards of “Saibaba on Moon” are now on sale in the roadside shops of Puttaparthi. And in a special glossy 15 Rupee booklet of postcards of Puttaparthi Sightseeing (another local website offers ‘Puttaparthi shopping’), the same card, which shows Sathya Sai Baba’s head superimposed on the Moon is dated as 22 October 2007 and is sourced to Richard Margolin of the Manhattan Sai Baba Center.

The same booklet of coloured postcards shows an impressive range of the main buildings in Puttaparthi and Prasanthi Nilayam, including the new Indoor Sports Stadium, the Music building and the Asian-style Chaitanya Jyoti Museum as well as the towering hillside statues of Hanuman, Jesus et al that are now in place for present and future mass tourism by Indians (who will doubtless flock to this attraction, especially by train, when 83 year-old Sathya Sai Baba dies). So the rural town of Puttaparthi (with its 10,000 residents) seems set to become a huge Sathya Sai Baba Memorial venue, perhaps even on the Tirupati circuit, a rival – or perhaps a sister site – for the famous Temple Complex at distant Shirdi (which, as I shall repeat in a later article, is situated, not in rural Andhra Pradesh but on a major road in north Maharashtra and caters for thousands of Indian visitors every day).

Current darshan style

One of my purchases elsewhere in India was an official DVD issued by the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust of SSB’s 2006 visit to his summer centre, Sai Sruti, in Kodaikanal, with his students and some devotees (including some foreigners): With the LORD in the Mountains. Kodaikanal (www.sssbpt.org, April 2006).

The footage is of research interest because it offers official evidence of the steady physical (and perhaps mental) decline of Sathya Sai Baba in the past four or five years. This has brought about major changes in his former flamboyant darshan style, which now consists mainly of wheelchair-bound appearances with many students constantly hovering in attendance, particularly to support him if he attempts to stands up or move about. His conversation and personal contact with devotees is more limited than in his heyday but the DVD shows that in 2006 he was still able to accept many letters from his chair and exchange some words from his wheelchair. Recent 2008 official website footage (especially from http://www.saicast.org) shows how his physical condition has continued to decline in the past two years and how painful it seems for him to make discourses. His face now remains expressionless for most of the time or seems to display something akin to disorientation.

Sathya Sai Baba: Questionable Stories and Claims. Part 2

22 May 2008

In Part 1 a number of Sathya Sai Baba’s spontaneous Discourse stories were examined. The common thread in them was seen to be inaccurate, misleading or confusing information and blatantly incorrect facts on a variety of subjects including his biography, religion and science, and named individuals. Devotees’ lack of curiosity about the discrepancies as well as the Sathya Sai Organisation’s indulgence of many of his capricious assertions were also mentioned.

Given the existence of so many samples of SSB’s penchant for capricious storytelling (especially about himself) and his carefree capacity for factual inconsistency, confusion and error, there are strong grounds for a critical review of his Avataric and Divine claims, which are taken so literally by devotees). My hypothesis is that these extraordinary claims, although dealing mainly with non-factual matters and beliefs, and therefore not verifiable, may nevertheless have a significant relationship with SSB’s previously described stories, which appear to be the products of his erroneous beliefs or his unfettered imagination. The following claim-story from 1963 is offered as a prime example:

“There was an occasion when Krishna laid His flute aside and declared that

He would not play on it again. It is a long story, not found in books; I alone must tell you about it, for it is only the Person who has experienced it that can describe it.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 19:113)

When the Divine claim-stories contained in the 35 volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks (Revised Indian Edition) are examined in detail, a similar strong thread of self-promotion and self-indulgence, as well as a predilection for boasting become apparent. For example, many of SSB’s statements about Shirdi Sai Baba, Jesus and Siva indicate the self-promotion process at work: the result is invariably an enhancement or reinforcement of his own forthright Divine claims by such intimate (and subjective) association with these three revered spiritual icons.

“Sai Baba”

There are several unique features which set SSB apart from all other gurus (living and dead). One of these is his first very special Claim (Declaration) made as a schoolboy in Uravakonda in May 1943: “I am Sai Baba” (i.e. the reincarnation of the revered Muslim-Hindu saint, Sai Baba of Shirdi, also known as Shirdi Sai Baba (or simply Sai Baba), who died in 1918). This extraordinary claim (often repeated in his early Discourses) was to characterise SSB’s early Mission. In the 1940s and 1950s, the characteristics which appear to have attracted most new devotees to SSB (especially a handful of wealthy local devotees, aristocrats and Royalty) were his identification with Shirdi Sai, stories of healings and exorcisms, as well as the much-publicised materialisations.

Not only is this Sai Baba claim crucial to the credibility of his claims of Divinity and Avatarhood on a level with Rama and Krishna but it is also probably the weakest. For instance, he has taught his devotees that the ‘Sai’ part of the adopted name means ‘Divine Mother’, which is not true. Shirdi scholars agree that the ‘Sai’ element derives from the Persian (Muslim) word for ‘saint’.

Other claims

In later stories, SSB not only claimed that his birth was an Immaculate Conception but that the alleged triple Avatarhood of Shirdi, Sathya and Prema (following Sathya’s predicted passing in 2022 – according to devotees) were the result of a promised boon to an alleged Brahmin ancestor of (non-Brahmin) Sathya, with the purpose of saving the world.

On the curious subject of these alleged reincarnations of Siva, SSB’s learned Hindu associates and devotees have singularly failed to comment on the anomaly referred to in a general way by Pratima Bowes: “Unlike Krishna, Siva has no connected life-story and he is generally not reckoned to have incarnations despite the attempt by some Saiva Puranas to give him some.” (The Hindu Religious Tradition. A Philosophical Approach, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977, p. 242) Vishal Mangalwadi, in his criticism of SSB, also points out that in the Hindu tradition, it is Vishnu who has had reincarations, not Siva. (See my Annotated Bibliography, Part 1: V. Mangalwadi, The World of Gurus)

Jesus Christ

As the SSB Mission prospered in the 1969s and more benefactors and worldly-wise collaborators and advisers endorsed SSB, the Sathya Sai Organisation “took off”, nationally and internationally, with the April 1967 First All-India Conference in Madras and the First World Conference in Bombay in May 1968. Within a few years, not only does his public claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba cease to be made but for almost 20 years there are scarcely any printed public references to Shirdi Sai Baba by Sathya Sai Baba. On the other hand, from about 1970 (after 27 years of his Mission), SSB began to offer Christmas Day Discourses containing many new undocumented and sometimes contradictory revelations about Jesus Christ (in connection with whom SSB claimed both intimate omniscient knowledge and superior avataric rank – see below). For the next 30 years, “Western” devotees, who had begun to flock to the ashram in the 1970s, were impressed by SSB’s apparent ability to reveal ‘unknown’ or ‘different’ knowledge about Jesus (including some popular New Age themes). The slightly self-referential picture presented by SSB over the next two decades shows Jesus as following an exemplary Hindu path of realisation of his essential inner Divinity and as exhibiting the same qualities (particularly Love) and even tribulations as SSB himself (for example, in the Christmas 2000 Discourse in which SSB uttered a long lament about opposition to him and Judas-like betrayal).

On Christmas Eve 1972, SSB offered an astonishingly implausible assertion, which has never been publicly questioned by devotees. On the contrary it was (until relatively recently) prominently cited by the Sathya Sai Organisation in its promotions of SSB’s Divinity as one of the four major statements made by SSB. In Sathya Sai Speaks (Volume XI, Chapter 54), there is a detailed 10-page treatment of the Jesus story (especially useful for the majority of SSB’s listeners who are Hindus). Jesus Christ is acknowledged and claimed as universal by SSB. But SSB uses this Discourse (on 24-12-72, in Bangalore), titled ‘He whom Christ Announced’, not only to comment ambivalently on the miracle of the star of Bethlehem but much more daringly, to make the breathtaking claim that Jesus actually foreshadowed the eventual coming of SSB himself, not as Jesus’s successor, but as God the Father.

The Mahasivaratri lingams

In her memoirs, Karunamba Ramamurthy, an early devotee from the mid 1940s, mentions the thrill of the production by Sathya Sai Baba of a Siva lingam on Mahasivaratri night in 1951. By 1963 it already appears to be an annual spectacle at Prasanthi Nilayam, with each forthcoming miraculous materialisation (pre-announced by a rather showmanlike SSB) creating an air of intense fervour and expectation among Hindu devotees. As SSB explained, this event was unique in the world, since it can only be carried out by Siva.

The Mahasivaratri festival attracted large crowds of Hindus and the fervour and excitement increased on those few occasions when SSB announced that those fortunate persons who had witnessed the sacred event would be granted moksha (liberation from further human birth). Several of these crowded events in the early 1970s have been described by prominent Western SSB chroniclers (e.g. Sandweiss). From 1978 until 1999 no lingams were publicly produced. The unexpected 1999 resumption of the famed annual event coincided with an atmosphere of growing anxiety over pending allegations about SSB. These were finally made public on the Internet in early 2000, in the form of the “Findings”, by David and Faye Bailey.

In subsequent years (until 2006), videos of the highly dramatic event (including some on YouTube) have tended to support the long standing accusation by B. Premanand and other magicians and critics that the lingam production is the result of regurgitation (in the old days) and legerdemain (recently) rather than the claimed Siva powers. On the unfortunate Mahasivatri performances of 2002 and 2004 (in front of the BBC cameras), see Robert Priddy’s illustrated article, Lingam ‘emerges’ at Shivarathri – ‘The Lingodbhava’ (from the Discourse on Mahasivaratri Day, 13 March 2002 – http://home.no.net/anir/Sai/enigma/lingam.htm). See also the specific BBC footage in their 2004 documentary, ‘Secret Swami’.

Those eye-catching instances of SSB’s storytelling claims represent a small fraction of the assertions of divinity and Avatarhood made by the guru during his career. From the beginning of his Mission, SSB assiduously attracted attention to himself and encouraged his devotees to talk about the special features he was promoting: his MIRACLES and his healing ability, his Avatarhood and Divine powers, his relationship with the legendary Hindu Avatars Rama and Krishna and the initial Shirdi Baba reincarnation connection. With such amazing credentials, SSB’s initial Divine reputation was quickly and firmly established decades ago in his native region of southern India. Adoring devotees and, later, faithful spokespersons were only too happy and eager to play their part by passing on this unique message, very often in the form of books (many hundreds of them) about their subjective experiences of SSB’s Mission. From the mid-1960s, SSB’s Organisation, the SSO, took over the main task of propagation of this Divine image of SSB, especially in print. That image has spread widely around the world and has come to be accepted unquestioningly not only by devotees but by many non-devotees who have heard or read about him.

It is true that there are other important aspects of SSB’s Mission (his teachings, his personal charisma, his siddhis, the charitable work carried out by his SSO with voluntary devotee donations). It is equally true that the alleged Divine characteristics (Avatar, Omnipotence, Omniscience, etc.) are what many (probably most) devotees tend to hold uppermost in their minds when talking or writing about their guru.

The impression that Sathya Sai Baba is believed to be an Avathaar (etc.) is widely diffused in works of reference and by many academic researchers. It may also be the general impression held by the majority of India’s 800 million Hindus (who are not devotees of SSB). SSB’s general celebrity as a miracle godman is widespread in India but it is unlikely that non-devotee Hindus have any detailed knowledge of his Discourses or of assertions like the stories in Part 1 and the claims in this part. Even in a country where godmen’s general claims of divine powers and connections are commonplace, SSB’s very extensive and insistent claims over several decades are unique. In spite of their tolerant spiritual traditions, therefore, non-devotee Hindus would probably be astonished, shocked (or even amused) by the extent and frequency of claims such as those listed below, particularly where these involve references to the revered Hindu gods Rama and Krishna, claimed by SSB as his partners and predecessors. (For example, his confident self-referential assertion in 1960 that: “… this Avathaar is different and unique […] I am not inclined to punish; I am the goldsmith who repairs and re-shapes broken ornaments. Raama came as the embodiment of Sathya, Dharma and Shaanthi (truth, virtue and peace); Krishna came as the personification of Prema (Love); now, the Embodiment of all the Four is needed …” (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 22:113)

Apart from the substantial amount of stories and proselytising information offered publicly by SSB in his Discourses there is a great deal of other relevant information passed on more privately to his associates, the “verandah men”, spokespersons and college boys as well as to apologist writers and individual devotees (often in interviews). This “evidence” is eagerly passed on by the recipients, verbally or in their writing. Indeed, for most of his Mission, SSB has been content to rely on such willing proxies, especially in propagating his Telugu message in English and other languages.

Conclusion

In addition to the types of claims outlined above, SSB has made many other contentious claims, for example about:

his ‘human body’ (its fortitude – including a lack of need of sleep –, his self-guaranteed lifelong health (contradicted by the facts, especially in recent years), his predicted passing at the age of 92 (or 96), and his eventual reincarnation as Prema Sai;

his mental capacity and powers (divine omniscience, including his alleged knowledge of languages) and his other avataric powers (omnipotence, miracles – including resurrections).

There is ample material for further investigation of these unique claims but the Internet is already well stocked with abundant reports and analyses. The cumulative evidence indicates that Sathya Sai Baba is not the Omniscient Divine Being and Avatar whom he, his Organisation, and his followers have believed and claimed him to be for the past 60 years. Although the matter of motivation must necessarily be left open, the simple truth, for those who are willing to read and digest the stories presented in his Discourses (even in their translated and edited state), is that the story of Sathya Sai Baba is that of a charismatic and energetic guru who offers eclectic (Hindu-based) spiritual teachings and promotes universal harmony and charitable works achieved by devotees’ efforts or donations.

Note: The fully documented version of both parts of this research (23 pages) is available elsewhere, as Sathya Sai Baba’s Questionable Stories and Claims”.