The Year 2000: Major New Evidence about Sathya Sai Baba from 4 Sources:
The Findings, Love is My Form, the PREMSAI literal Discourse Translations, and the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum in Puttaparthi
Brian Steel May 2005
Copyright © 2005 Brian Steel
1. The Findings
The strong reactions caused in SSB devotee circles by the publication of a sensational report by ex-devotees David and Faye Bailey (The Findings) in early 2000 are well known, as are the subsequent four years of intense Internet activity by disillusioned devotees (already shocked in 1993 by the inadequately investigated ashram killings), together with sporadic activity by devotee apologists of the guru. The year 2000 therefore already marks something of a turning point in the long history of this famous guru. The Baileys, a prominent devotee couple, highly favoured by SSB, had suddenly left the Sathya Sai Baba Organisation in early 1999, giving rise to much gossip and speculation. Almost 18 months later they made public not only their reasons for leaving the ashram but the roughly assembled results of their further investigations into highly disturbing allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment and of faked materialisations.
The Baileys' report far exceeded what had been the subject of ashram gossip and speculation since David Bailey's departure. The strong allegations turned many overseas devotees into ex-devotees and some into active critics of SSB and the SSO. The most outspoken and indefatigable of the post-2000 critics of SSB is the former SSO office-holder, Robert Priddy. Other critical pieces appear regularly on www.exbaba.com and www.saiguru.net.
(Those needing basic information about the nature and impact of The Findings and some further useful background, should consult two papers published by Alexandra Nagel on www.exbaba.com in August 2001:
'A Guru Accused' and 'For and Against Sathya Sai Baba on the Internet'.)
While taking into account and acknowledging the sporadic but important earlier counter-evidence against SSB's Divine claims (which goes back several decades), and the overwhelming impact of The Findings, future researchers are also likely to single out 2000 as pivotal because it witnessed three other unrelated sources of insights and evidence - all providentially supplied by unquestioning devotees - pointing to flaws in the Divine image, so clearly and forcefully projected by SSB himself since 1943, and discrepancies in the official biography of SSB.
These new devotee-provided research aids were:
2. Love is My Form, Volume 1
3. The PREMSAI Literal Discourse Translations
4. The Chaitanya Jyoti Museum
1. The Findings
Current status: Reverberating around the Internet
Of the four data sources, this is the most polemical, and the most famous (at least on the Internet). The major allegations contained in the Baileys' document involved sexual misconduct and abuse and the faking of some materialisation miracles. The sensational nature of the sexual allegations prompted the almost immediate resignation of several officials of the SSO in USA, Europe, Canada and Australia and would later lead to more resignations or defections of other devotees, particularly in those countries. It also led to an intensive campaign by ex-devotees and others to have the allegations heard in public (and the hearing on the 1993 ashram killings re-opened). Since 2000, major media articles and 2 major TV documentaries have also dealt with some aspects of the criticisms and allegations about SSB and the SSO, thus keeping the growing controversies surrounding his name in the international limelight. The question marks surrounding some of SSB's alleged paranormal materialisations, notably the materialising of vibuthi and, on Mahasivaratri Day, lingams, have grown in size following recent revelations. (See www.exbaba.com and www.saiguru.net for the years 2003-.)
After almost 60 years of a preponderance of glowing and unquestioning reports about the SSB Mission and a serene belief in his self-proclaimed Divinity, a small number of devotees began to dredge up and reconsider the submerged doubts in their minds regarding some of the more extravagant of the claims surrounding SSB as well as other discrepant snippets of information heard or read over the years. Critical examination of the huge SSB literature gave rise to Internet postings about the allegations and the new discoveries on several newly launched websites; these critical analyses and activities are continuing to appear four years later.
2. Love is My Form, Vol 1
Current Status: Series Discontinued by the publisher
(For a detailed analysis, see Dossier 4: Discrepancies in the Official Sathya Sai Baba Story: The Early Years)
Late in 2000, the ambitious first volume of a projected definitive 7-volume biography of SSB was published in Puttaparthi by the major unofficial (but distinctly pro-SSB) publishing house, Sai Towers. Research was ongoing and further volumes were to take place over several years. Attractive discounts were offered for pre-publication orders.
Volume 1 of Love is My Form (LIMF), unlike all previous biographies and accounts of SSB's life, was a thoroughly researched and detailed account of the first 24 years of SSB's life (1926-1950). It was a large format tome containing 600 pages and many photographs and documents. Although still heavily dependent on Kasturi's biography and other published devotee accounts of that remote period (in a remote southern Indian village), the research team had spent a great deal of time interviewing surviving devotees and assembling much other unpublished material, documents, and a wealth of photographs of the first years of the Mission.
Following this publishing event in October 2000, the mainly favourable reception was accompanied by some instant murmurs of disapproval and displeasure (on devotee Bulletin Boards and, presumably, in the ashram itself) by veteran ashram-resident devotees. These unconditional devotees expressed concern at the volume's "shortcomings". Gradually, the reasons for this displeasure from members of the 'old guard' were to become obvious. The recent crude attempt by a malicious propagandist to discredit LIMF on the grounds that it was a commercial publication and not officially "approved" is an echo of the early displeasure in the SSB camp. In fact, there can be no doubt about the proud commitment of the research team and the publisher of LIMF to dignify and honour their guru by presenting a favourable but balanced picture of him to the world - a welcome replacement for the overly partisan studies that had been churned out for decades (starting with the doyen of SSB hagiographers, SSB's longtime trusty associate - and early mentor, Professor N. Kasturi).
The wider-ranging and more painstaking research of this team of researchers assembled by Mr. Padmanaban (formerly SSB's official photographer and more recently CEO of the Sai Towers company) had uncovered a few hitherto unknown or unpublicised facts and clues, some of which, by implication, contradicted or cast doubt on the officially sponsored and accepted version of SSB's early life and the beginning of his Mission. For example, photostats of the school registers showed that the official date of 1940 for SSB's Declaration of Mission could not be correct; 1943 was the suggested and plausible date. This, in turn, raised questions over SSB's age at the time of the Declaration (16 instead of 13) and even, possibly, over his date of birth (although it should be noted that some critics have been too categorical in their assertions on this subject, which remains not proven and in need of further evidence. Newly revealed details about Sathya Narayana's school career also clashed with accepted official fact and, intriguingly, contradicted some of the details in SSB's own characteristically boastful stories about his schooldays. (Following close examination, SSB's storytelling has also emerged as a relevant character facet.)
Some of the profuse photographic evidence in LIMF also offered new insights - and counter-evidence to previous assertions by SSB and his associates. For example, the careful dating of the photographs of SSB adds extra corroboration to the fact that 1943 was the year of Sathya's Declarations, not 1940. The reason is that all the early prominent devotees and sponsors (mentioned in other biographies as well) appear with SSB in photographs dated 1944 and 1945, with a few from 1943 (his crucial year in Uravakonda). There are no photographs of SSB and his devotees for 1940, 1941 or 1942, which, according to his official biography, were his first years as guru (and reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba).
LIMF even provided previously unknown details about the crucial link with Shirdi Sai Baba, leading to further careful scrutiny of the available information and new conclusions and hypotheses. One of these was that SSB had erroneously claimed that Shirdi Sai was unknown in the Puttaparthi region at the time of his Declaration of Mission. In fact, LIMF shows that two of Sathya's uncles were Shirdi devotees and that Sathya himself wore a small picture of Shirdi on his tunic (though it had disappeared from the photograph when published in LIMF).
As a result of the publication of volume 1 of LIMF, the official biographical details of the1940-1945 period, and of his school years in general, need to be carefully revised and amended. The publication of LIMF encouraged a much more careful examination of relevant volumes of the vast SSB literature, not least the first 30 volumes of SSB's long rambling Discourses (1954-1997). As a result, much other counter-evidence has been revealed, notably about SSB's Divine claims (endorsed and propagated by the SSO) to be the Avatar of the Age (God on Earth). This evidence is easily available on the Internet and is attracting a widening readership.
The later 6 planned volumes of LIMF might have provided new clues about SSB's remote past, especially for the years 1951-1970, which were crucial in the development of the SSB Mission and for which the official biography of SSB is unsatisfactory and incomplete. Unfortunately for researchers, Volume 2, scheduled for publication in 2002, and Volume 3, due according to the original pre-order form in November 2003 were not published at all. The whole LIMF project appears to have been abandoned. Last year (2004), after a discount sale of books (including LIMF Vol. 1), Sai Towers ceased to offer new books (or its well known SSB magazine) on its website.
(The announcement from the SSO in 2004 of a planned continuation of the 4-volume Kasturi biography of SSB for the years 1980 to the present day is also to be noted, as is the non-appearance in November 2004 of the first of these planned hagiographical volumes.)
3. The PREMSAI Literal Discourse Translations
Current Status: Withdrawn from the Internet
(Detailed Evidence for the viewpoint expressed in this synopsis is to be found in Dossier 3. The Packaging of SSB's Telugu Discourses. A Stronger Case)
Note: the 35 volumes of edited translations of SSB's Telugu speeches (Discourses) are printed and sold by the SSO. They are now also online on the official websites, especially at www.sathyasai.org and, since mid-2004, www.sssbpt.org, the publications department of SSB's Organisation: Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust.
In the year 2000 another devotee act of seva came to light. It had begun with a few translations of Discourses into foreign languages at the end of 1999 and was to continue on a much wider scale, including vital English translations, through 2000, 2001 and half of 2002. Here is the interesting story.
SSB has made frequent public Discourses over the past 50 years, and will presumably continue to deliver them until his death, which devotees have been led to expect will take place around the year 2020. These official printed versions (in many languages) are taken by most devotees to be SSB's own words, and as such are widely and reverently pondered, discussed and quoted.
As recently published studies indicate, the principal problem for researchers is that most of what SSB has said in his Discourses is in his native Telugu language, a minority language spoken in southern India. So, for fifty years, the official transmission of this Telugu message by the SSO and SSSBPT to SSB's worldwide devotees has been indirect: via officially edited translations into English and many other languages.
A secondary though incomplete impression of what SSB says (in his simple but rambling extemporaneous style) is available to those speakers of Telugu or English who witness the Discourses in the ashram or hear a recorded version. The Telugu performance is usually accompanied by brief on the spot interpretations into English by an associate of SSB (currently Anil Kumar). Some of these rough on the spot translations are reported (or used to be when devotee communications were less secretive) on Internet Bulletin Boards and Discussion Groups. (Copies of these versions may still be available to diligent searchers of the Internet, or from ex-devotees.)
For many years the SSO has made audiocassettes of the Discourses, on which the subsequent official edited translations are based. Other persons have occasionally made and commercially marketed old videotapes of some Discourses. Since 2002, with the launching of the official Radio Sai station to promote the SSB Mission to a wider public (especially in Asia), audio recordings of original past Discourses are available to those able to pick up the broadcasts in India and overseas.
Barring accidents, therefore, researchers will one day be able to study the official audiotapes of SSB's Telugu Discourses and to make their own literal translations from the original Telugu to compare with the subsequently published official translations. The comparative studies and materials posted on the Internet has revealed that the originals undergo extensive editing in addition to translation. Strong evidence that the style, expression and content of SSB's Telugu Discourses is significantly polished and, at times, vetted, before it is printed for devotees was contained in this series of web-posted LITERAL translations (into several European languages) by ashram-based devotees (2000-2002). Their precise and expressed reason for spending so much effort on preparing the literal translations was that they preferred SSB's undeniably simple style to the more sophisticated later printed edited versions. Or, as they explained at the beginning of each translation posted on their website:
"The following discourse has been translated into English from Bhagavan's Telugu speech as heard on this festival's ashram audiocassette. It is a complete, literal translation made with the objective of preserving Bhagavan's precious original poetic style as much as possible. The words spoken by Bhagavan in English are highlighted in bold black."
This statement by the devotees is, in itself, prima facie evidence of a significant observable difference between the Telugu Discourses and the officially produced edited translations.
These 50-plus literal translations of Discourses (into several European languages) were posted during 2000, 2001 and half of 2002 on a website called www.internety.com/PREMSAI. However, six months after a few investigators, including myself, began to point out the glaring differences between the careful literal translation (close to what SSB actually said in Telugu) and the officially edited and authorised one (the SSO's version of what the 'Divine Omniscient Avatar' said), the enthusiastic devotee translators abruptly announced their decision to stop carrying out their labour of love because of copyright reasons. Within a week or two the WHOLE PREMSAI SITE (along with the precious evidence) disappeared from the Internet. (Vestiges may still be available on the Internet to the diligent surfer but the point is that the literal translations EXISTED and many people - devotees and others - read them and downloaded them, so the literal versions (in several languages) are not completely hidden from researchers and others who value the truth.)
Devotees and observers are surely entitled to ask SSO officials and spokespersons the reason for this apparent reluctance to allow people see a close approximation to the words and personal preaching style of one whom devotees have been encouraged to consider the omniscient Avatar of the Age? Why were the literal translations of the words of the alleged Avatar never printed, or published on the official websites, to allow devotees to experience and evaluate SSB's natural speaking style? Why have the literal versions disappeared? In the light of the clear evidence produced by the PREMSAI team of translators (although this was not their aim), and given the accumulated evidence of important discrepancies (with more still to be extracted by patient researchers), it is an insult to the intelligence of devotees and other observers for SSO officials and polemicists with a 'damage control agenda' to simply mutter in dismissive reply to the WHOLE Discourse controversy that
"SSB adds a few words during the editing"; or "Any discrepancies are due to translation errors".
It is to be noted that official and unofficial denialists NEVER refer to, quote, or directly refute the many published examples of the official packaging of the Discourses which make clear the extent of the discrepancies between the original literal translation of the Telugu Discourses and the packaged product issued to (and naively quoted and discussed as 'gospel' by) devotees. Readers will draw their conclusions after viewing the abundant evidence now available. The conclusions of the SSO's projected study of the quality of translation in Sanathana Sarathi - due in July 2005 - will be revealing, one way or the other.
In other equally simplistic (and crudely authoritarian) dismissals of revelations about the contents of the Discourses, unofficial spokespersons have stated or written that no one who does not understand Telugu can give an opinion, or valid evidence, about SSB's Discourses. Those who assert this are deliberately and maliciously denying the existence of the basic devotee-produced evidence of the PREMSAI literal translations into several languages. They are also implying that the official edited versions of the Discourses should never be questioned. Unfortunately for these professional and amateur spin doctors, there is substantial evidence in the published Discourses (and, hopefully, more to come from future researchers) to show that the unswerving priority of the SSO editors, like that of the SSO itself, is to promote the Divinity (claimed by SSB since the beginning of his Mission) as well as the teachings of its guru. How otherwise can one explain the many examples of stylistic polishing and tidying up, or omission, of muddled or erroneous words, sentences, paragraphs and thoughts by an allegedly Omniscient Divine Being? Interestingly, however, not even this degree of editing has prevented the publication of a significant number of extraordinary spontaneous discrepancies which SSB has uttered in his Discourses nor the multiple flaws and contradictions in some of his anecdotes.
(See Sathya Sai Baba as Storyteller)
The Wider Question
When SSB's future biographers objectively examine the Discourses they will gain many insights into the SSB Mission including the following three aspects closely related to his unique Divine Claims and to his devotees' steadfast perceptions of him as God on Earth.
1. The difference between the simple, rambling style of the originals and the more sophisticated edited translations conceals important information about SSB's personality and intellect which would be more obvious if he were not speaking through the veil of a language which is foreign to most of his devotees. (His limited public use of English, frequently verified by devotees' proud reports of their interview exchanges, sheds further light on this aspect and on public perceptions of SSB. It is the subject of a previous article of mine: Sathya Sai Baba's Language and Its Perception by Devotees.
2. When read without the blinkers of unquestioning faith, the Discourses (including many of the officially edited ones) reveal that the allegedly Omniscient and blissful Avatar is subject to muddled expression or thinking, as well as to boasting, exaggeration, self-contradiction, emotionalism, and even gross errors of fact. Examples are to be found in some of SSB's self-indulgent personal anecdotes, particularly in boastful stories about his life. It is therefore naive, ignorant, tendentious or malicious to dismiss these details as the result of translators' errors. (For copious details, see the article on 'SSB as Story Teller', mentioned earlier.)
3. A careful study of SSB's Discourses for conclusive evidence of his claimed Divinity does little or nothing to enhance the validity of such claims, especially when the examination takes into account the embarrassing evidence of SSB's predilection for impromptu storytelling, which was referred to in section 2 above.(See also Sathya Sai Baba's Claims of Divinity and Divine Powers)
4. The Chaitanya Jyoti Museum
A Pilgrim and Tourist Venue: The Official SSO Public Monument to their assertion of the Avatarhood of SSB and an Audiovisual Hagiographical Record of His Life and Mission.
This fourth and final reason for designating 2000 as a turning point for public knowledge about the Mission has only just come to my attention following a visit to India in February 2005. This time the new evidence is contained not (primarily) in a book but in a huge and striking building constructed by the SSO to present the official record of SSB's Divine life story and achievements to the visiting public from far and near and, in SSB's declining years, to bequeathe this image of him to posterity.
The Museum was inaugurated in Puttaparthi by SSB for his 75th birthday in November 2000 as the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum ('The Flame [or Spirit] of Consciousness').
This expensive spiritual extravanganza (and possible tourist attraction for Indians living in south India) now houses several floors of exhibits which defiantly flaunt the SSO's proud and unequivocal proclamation of SSB's unique Avatarhood on Earth (allegedly superior to all previous Hindu Avatars, and to 'partial' Avatars like Jesus or Muhammad) and his complete Divine Powers. In second place the Museum commemorates the guru's spiritual teachings and his and the SSO's achievements in various fields of service to others, financed largely by donations from devotees.
As far as I can see, this provocative official assertion of such a unique claim has gone virtually unheralded and unnoticed outside India for nearly five years. In retrospect, it is perhaps an irony that while this museum conceived to promote SSB's Divine claims was in the final stages of construction, the other three major revelations of 2000 (The Findings, LIMF, and the PREMSAI Literal translations) were beginning to spread information which would undermine the museum's major theme and principal raison d'être.
In 2001, the SSSO issued an official lavishly illustrated Guide to the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum which allows Indian and overseas devotees to see in great detail the contents of the museum (Chaitanya Jyoti. Experiencing the Divine. The Millennium Museum Depicting the Message and Mission of Sri Sathya Sai Avatar). Everywhere the claims of Divinity are stridently proclaimed but, as the guidebook shows, the quality and nature of much of the assembled evidence and arguments on the subject of SSB's Divinity and Divine powers is far from convincing. Many of the alleged proofs of Divinity officially offered in the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum (in the form of statements, exhibits, models, audiovisual and other displays) vividly remind us of the unconvincing assertions and unsupported evidence often heard in casual devotee gossip (especially on Internet Discussion groups and Bulletin Boards ) - the same sort of dubious material that has appeared time after time over the last thirty years in uncritical books by over-zealous devotees, anxious to offer new evidence as proof of the Divinity they already profess to believe in. That the SSO should have seen fit to enshrine so many controversial stories and myths alongside other more appropriate factual material may surprise many people. The Chaitanya Jyoti Museum in its present configuration is, basically, a monument to the SSB Divine myth.
These four sources of information dating from 2000 are essential for researchers and other seekers of truth who wish to evaluate the full SSB story. It is therefore greatly to be regretted that both the LIMF project and the PREMSAI volunteer translations were discontinued after material from them was quoted as evidence in analytical articles. The 50 PREMSAI literal translations in several languages which disappeared from the Internet in 2002, have now also been withdrawn from the Wayback Machine (at some time before March 2005). But the translations were real and were seen, and probably downloaded, by many devotees and non-devotees. Their existence and the significant differences between them and the official SSO edited versions cannot therefore be denied. Neither can the other factual evidence about SSB and his Mission which differs from the official story.
(Copies have been made available by www.exbaba.com here.)
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