SB and Christianity. Some Observations.
Brian Steel September 2002
Copyright Brian Steel 2002
SB's Mission had already been developing for almost thirty years before he introduced the Jesus Christ theme into his Mission (Christmas 1970). This is half of the short paragraph attributed to SB by his editors: "This Day marks the beginning of the Christian Era, the year of Christ. Christ sacrificed his life for the sake of those who put their faith in him. He propagated the truth that service is God, that sacrifice is God." (Sathya Sai Speaks, X, 39:264) In themselves, the remarks seem unimportant, but in fact they were a novelty for SB and his listeners, and they were to herald an important development. In the previous twenty seven years of SB's mission, there had been no indication, as far as I am aware, of a particular interest in Jesus. The only references I have found to Jesus, or Christ, in the first 10 volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks (apart from that Christmas 1970 paragraph at the end of Vol. X) are:
a) a mention of the name of Jesus in a list of names of the Lord (Vol III, 18:105);
b) this strongly critical comment (often voiced by Hindus in India) regarding the presence and activities of foreign Christian missionaries in India, and elsewhere (in November 1965): "We see missionaries inspired by Christ moving thousands of miles away from their homes into lands with alien cultures, strange habits of food, drink, and dress, speaking unfamiliar languages, and starting schools and hospitals to propagate their Dharma. They come to this country too, from far off lands. But children of this ancient Dharma ignore, neglect and discard it, losing the valuable heritage left to us by the sages." (Sathya Sai Speaks, V, 58:314-315) SB then derides the "Baa baa black sheep! Have you any wool?" chant taught in Indian schools, "in sheep-like imitation of English children. They are denied the chance to recite the sthothras (prayers) which the village schools of old encouraged children to sing." (p. 315)
c) this remark in April 1967: after a brief description of the three "different but not divergent paths to the goal of liberation" in Hindu spiritual traditions: Advaita, Visishtadvaita, and Dvaita, SB simply adds as a further analogy, " 'I am the Son,', 'God is My Father,' 'I and My Father are one' - these declarations of Christ are significant in this context." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VII, 19:105) (It is interesting to note that a similar descriptive didactic sequence was favoured by Swami Vivekananda, as the disciple of Ramakrishna Parmahansa, in his preaching to overseas audiences. The threefold sequence is also similar, as we shall shortly see, to the one which SB will later repeat in many Christmas Discourses about Jesus.)
Some brief background reminders may be useful before developing this topic. During the late 1960s, foreign interest in India, and in SB, had been growing and the recently created SSO, under the leadership of Indulal Shah, had begun to function very vigorously. "Western" visitors to the ashram were mainly Christian, Jewish, and/or New Age and the first western books on SB were shortly to be published (H.Murphet, Man of Miracles , and A. Schulman, Baba, both in 1971- but with very different receptions; S. Sandweiss, Sai Baba. The HOLY MAN ... and the Psychiatrist , 1975) Such books highlighted not only SB's miracles but also his similarities to Jesus Christ. In the early 1970s, the first SB centres in USA and Europe were formed. It was the beginning of a period of very rapid expansion in the numbers of foreign devotees. The rest is history.
One vital reference point to this new development, or new direction for SB, is in the Discourse given on 23 December 1971 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 35:239). Here SB comments on the Fifth All-India Conference of Sathya Sai Samithis (in Madras), explaining in detail the nature and importance of some of the Conference decisions. Towards the end of the Discourse, SB mentions the example of Jesus realising the three stages of his true identity and Mission: as Messenger, then as the Son and finally, 'I and My Father are One'. (He adds that the Quran propounds "similar ideas".) SB then gives us a brief glimpse of the discussion which has led up to what is visibly a proposed new ecumenical emphasis for the SB Mission: "The Sathya Sai Organisation has to seek out chances of studying and substantiating these basic similarities and promote love and mutual cooperation." Phraseology like that seems to point strongly to a bureaucratic origin of this important (perhaps crucial) Mission initiative to give prominence to common ground shared by Jesus Christ and SB. On Christmas Day of the following year (1972), SB was to deliver a long and detailed reference to Jesus Christ, the first of many. A further point, en passant, is that at roughly the same time, SB's references to his hitherto favourite spiritual icon (and claimed avataric predecessor), Shirdi Sai Baba, dried up for a period of 20 years.
Since then the celebration of Christmas (with detailed references to Jesus Christ in SB's Christmas Discourses) has become a well-attended annual event in Prashanthi Nilayam. SB's allusions to Jesus Christ basically reinforce SB's own projected Christ-like qualities in the eyes of his Christian listeners and they also function as indirect associative reminders of the qualities and teachings that he too wishes to project. The Christmas Discourses will be examined in more detail later in this essay.
The new foreign devotees were quick to spot and appreciate the simple parallels between the two teachers, notably their emphasis on love for others. They were also attracted to SB's stated ecumenical approach to spirituality: the equality of all religions. In addition to the 'pioneer' SB writers mentioned above, many devotees (both foreign and Indian) have noted, in more or less detail, the parallels between Jesus and SB. Many bestow on the latter the venerable initial capitals accorded to references to Jesus and Divinity (He, His, Him - a custom rigorously adhered to by the SSO in its books about SB and in their editions of his Discourses: My, Me, as well as He, etc.). The Italian Roman Catholic priest and SB devotee-writer, Mario Mazzoleni, was so captivated by SB that he struggled hard to persuade his church superiors to pay attention to and acknowledge SB's teachings and Divine nature, but he was excommunicated for his efforts and became a sort of spiritual martyr for the pro-SB cause.
Another Christian writer, the New Zealander Peter Phipps, was so convinced of SB's Divinity that he later wrote two highly enthusiastic books about him as the Messiah (Sathya Sai Baba and Jesus Christ. A Gospel for the Golden Age, 1994, and Greater than You Know. Sathya Sai Baba, Jesus Christ and Christianity, 1997). In them Phipps urges the Christian Churches, and Christians, to wake up to the presence of God on Earth (the "Advent of the Cosmic Christ"). He concentrates at great length on describing the similarities between SB and Jesus Christ. He informs his readers, "We have the unprecedented advantage in our own time to obtain authoritative teaching on the issues around Jesus directly from the Father who sent Him ..." (1994, p. 69) This sort of study is understandably exciting for SB devotees, and further strengthens the SB myth.
In his two SB books, Phipps repeats many of the unsubstantiated legends about SB (for example the Mehdi Moud "prophecies" and the well-travelled photograph of Jesus aged 29 allegedly materialised by SB - p.71). Phipps also rejoices especially in the annual Christmas Discourses about Jesus because "many facts about Jesus which had been lost are revived in these discourses." (1994, p. 60) In spite of his intense comparative study, he makes no mention of the frequent discrepancies and confusion revealed in some of these 'facts'. In advance of the proposed Christmas Discourses examination, we may note that Phipps has no doubts at all - to the extent that, like other devotees, he jubilantly repeats this (alleged) unrealistic boast by SB: "There is a modern hospital ... designed to set the standard for medicine in India for the next thousand years." - p. 22) Indeed, Phipps' absolutely total conviction leads him to make very powerful statements like:
"In His presence one becomes aware that here is a Being who knows literally whenever the wind blows through a blade of grass, who knows our every thought. word and action. He is also involved constantly in keeping the whole Universe functioning, at every level from the smallest atomic particle to the most vast constellation of stars." (1994, p. 54)
With such conviction, it is scarcely surprising that this author concludes, "It is only a matter of time before the churches will have to accept that the Lord has come again." (p.10) "By the end of this decade I expect the churches, beginning perhaps with the Church of Rome in concert with the Orthodox tradition, to announce that they acknowledge that the Christ is with us now ..." (p. 11). And so on.
In fairness to Peter Phipps, one could take many other devotee-writers to task - including myself in the past - for similar excesses induced by unconditional faith. For example, I once spent about two weeks on and off doing research on Particle Physics, the Hubble Telescope, and other related issues in a serious attempt to produce a hypothesis of how the Divine Sai Baba operates on multiple dimensions. (And, of course, like Phipps, I eventually produced a reasonable hypothesis which fitted the "facts" as I then saw them!) I also recall wondering more than once WHY an intelligent man like the Pope hadn't realised the true identity of SB and made some sort of friendly overtures to him. (Steel, 1998, 118-122)
To further indulge myself but also to demonstrate a serious point, I would like to illustrate my own erstwhile unconditional faith as well as submitting to a little public penance and self-exorcism for my extreme gullibility, by quoting my statement on the Dedication page of that under-critical1998 book:
"In offering this personal seva at Swami's Divine Lotus Feet, I ask for His guidance and help at all times to allow me to see clearly and truthfully and not to detract in any way in my writing from His Mission and Teachings. AUM SAI RAM." Like other writers and devotees, I imagine, I was attempting to do my utmost to attract SB's special attention to me, me, me! (Note the initial capital letters! I have now observed with some chagrin that some of the 'better' SB writers did not succumb to that.)
However, as is becoming more and more apparent with successive recent revelations and closer objective reappraisals of the truth about SB, this long and fruitful Christian connection is now becoming a cause of embarrassment for both SB and the SSO. An objective reading of SB's many pronouncements about Jesus and on Christian, Jewish, and historical themes reveals much evidence of SB's ignorance of basic realities (even in his own specialised 'field' and his confused way of 'discoursing' as well as his inconvenient habit of inventing stories and details, and contradicting himself in later Discourses. (See my Chapter 5 for more details.)
Before giving examples of these embarrassing aspects, an initial inconsistency in the following much-quoted statement by SB needs to be highlighted. It was made at the 1st World Conference of Sathya Sai Seva Organisations in Bombay in May 1968. There, SB made this slightly reassuring claim to non-Hindus:
"I have not come to set afoot a new cult, I do not want people to be misled on this point. I affirm that the Sai form is the form of all the various names that man uses for the adoration of the Divine. So, I am teaching that no distinction should be made between the names Rama, Krishna, Ishwara, Sai - for they are all My names." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19:95-96) Over the years, he has repeated this disarming statement in different forms and it is frequently quoted by devotees and writers as one of his basic and very specially attractive and laudable teachings.
However, as a few objective observers have commented, this has always been a paradox: SB's devotees, and in particular those active in the SSO, view themselves as HIS devotees (even if they still somehow maintain their connections with other religions). He is the centre of their unconditional worship. (To claim otherwise is to be in denial, a state which most devotees seem to prefer.) The scholar C.S.J. White observed in 1981:
"It would appear that for his followers, Satya Sai Baba assumes the combined role of deity, guru, and saint not bound by the Hindu tradition alone. Worship focused upon his portrait or idol is the practice of Satya Sai Baba groups scattered around the world." On a few occasions, SB himself (through his omnipresent editors and 'minders') contradicts his 1968 assurances by admitting that he has become (or has made himself) the centre and focus of worship and adoration for so many people:
"That is the Sai religion, the religion that feeds and fosters all religions and emphasises their common Greatness. Take up this religion, boldly and joyfully." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIII, 23:148)
"It is also laid down strictly that those who are in our Organisation should not have any connection with other Organisations of spiritual or religious character." (Sathya Sai Speaks, X, 33:208)
Such statements are rare. Much more common are the instances of major embarrassments which affect SB's credibility. Some important examples will now be presented.
1. Christianity and Judaism
On more than one occasion and over many years, SB has demonstrated to his many Jewish devotees that he believes that Judaism and Christianity come under the same religious umbrella and even SHARE the worship of Jesus and the symbol of the Cross. He does not seem to have changed that opinion, in spite of advice from John Hislop and others.
In SB's Sarva Dharma Emblem, there are five symbols for five religions. Noticeably missing is the Star of David, which symbolises the Jewish Faith. It was only because of the persistence of the American Jews and in particular questions from John Hislop that SB eventually gave permission for Overseas centres and Organisations to add the Jewish Emblem to the Sarva Dharma Symbol, if they wished. To this day, the Star of David does not appear on the Indian Sarva Dharma (nor, interestingly, on that of some Western nations).
It was during the following 1978 discussion between Hislop and SB that a surprising fact came to light: SB did not know that Jews and Christians did not form a homogeneous group.
Hislop: "Swami, some questions arise in the American Centers for which I do not have the answer. Many people of Jewish faith do not understand why the symbol of the Jewish faith is not included in the Sai symbol of all religions, since the Jewish people exceed in numbers some of the other religions represented in the Sai symbol."
Sai: "It is not through any intention that the Jewish Symbol is excluded [from the Sai emblem]. In India, there is not a general awareness that the Jewish symbol is substantially different. Does the Cross fail to symbolize the Jewish faith to a substantial degree?"
MG: "Yes, Swami. There is a substantial difference." [=Michael Goldstein?]
Sai: "Then let the Jewish people make a proposal to us and we will give consideration to it." (J. Hislop, My Baba and I, 1985:186-187; Oct 25, 1978)
SB finally gave a group interview to Jewish devotees at Puttaparthi in 1980. Hislop was present at this meeting and quotes SB as explaining to them: "The Sai symbol of five religions represents the five major religions found in India. For the West, the Jewish Star may be added as a sixth representation on the Sai symbol." (J. Hislop, 1985:191; Dec. 1, 1980)
(It is to be assumed that Hislop, the close devotee and confidant of SB, reported this astonishing and inconvenient revelation about SB's knowledge in the most favorable way. For the record, Hislop (who managed to fill a book with SB's verbatim conversations with him) states rather unconvincingly in connection with this meeting with Jewish devotees, "I was unable to keep up with the rapid exchange of questions and answers and could not remember afterwards, largely, I think, because of my unfamiliarity with the subject matter." p. 191)
2. Christmas 1996
What follows is a series of short extracts from the simultaneous English translation of the Christmas Discourse, 1996, as captured on the James Redmond Video (See Bibliography).
These and other extracts were transcribed and sent to me by a friend, Dhyani Jo, in whom I have complete trust. It is a sad fact that the extracts now fit in very convincingly with the pattern of my previous revelations (and of others which will follow if other people can now be persuaded to take a close look at the evidence available).
Here, then, are my excerpts from the longer text sent by Dhyani Jo, to whom I am also grateful for some expert editing advice:
a) "Three hundred and fifty years B.C., before Christ, Jews lived. However, among Jews, there were religions such as Islam and Christianity. People of that land, they are all Jews. That land is the birthplace of both the religions, Islam and Christianity. The Hebrew language was very prominent. This Hebrew language is more or less equal to our Sanskrit. ..."
b) "Christianity is not just 2,000 years in its origin. It was there even before Christ, 350 years. There the divinity is explained very clearly."
c) "The name and the fame of Jesus Christ have spread far and wide. Here, at this moment, there are two schools of thought. The first group of thought - Roman Catholics. There is another group that fought with this group. This group is called Protestants. As they protested, they are Protestants. So among Jews there are these two groups: Catholics and Protestants. The difference of opinion has increased day by day. This led to Jesus, whose life was in danger. Jews there in Jerusalem did not permit Jesus to go there. Like this, religious conflict and fighting was ever on the rise. There were 250 schools of thought, divisions there. They also monopolized certain countries."
"Because of so many groups there, they all attempted even to harm Jesus. Romans on one side. Catholics on the other side. Luther on another side. There were so many groups that went on changing. All these differences are based on violence, and that led to madness. Because of this attachment to group affiliations, naturally there was conflict and fighting."
"Religious affiliation leads to ego. This led to confusion among them as to what Jesus said right or wrong."
It may not come as a surprise to ex-devotees to learn that NONE of this astonishingly confused information was finally printed in the official version in Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIX, but in a note on page 393 we learn that:
"[Bhagavan gave a brief account of the Jewish concept of the creation of the cosmos and referred to the birth of Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph.]" Doubtless, the SSO editors saw that SB had had a 'bad day', but readers of their version (which is the ONLY printed version of SB's Discourses - in several languages) will never know that.
(And on 24 November 1998, SB still maintains that: "In the beginning even Romans were Jews, not Christians.")
When one recovers from one's amazement, a little reflexion on the above evidence should be sufficient to convince us that the person capable of making such astonishingly inaccurate and clumsily expressed pronouncements can in no way be seen as 'omniscient'. The whole passage sounds uncannily like a parody of a young school pupil's muddled history essay.
The video of the 1996 Discourse and the other astonishing information in the preceding paragraphs, were relatively rare pieces of solid evidence of the fragility of SB's claim of Divine omniscience (and, in any case, were unnoticed, totally ignored, or indulgently dismissed as SB's leelas by devotees). In the last 3 years, much more evidence of the reality of what he says has become available to us (ironically) because of the total devotion of a group of SB devotees, so enamoured of his simple "poetic" style (and presumably disappointed that the Discourses reach the public in a heavily edited form - see my Chapter 2) LINK that they have been producing voluntary literal translations of selected Discourses in several languages and making them available on a website (www.internety.com/premsai) which they claim is unofficial. Since there are several other websites where the official edited translations are available (as well as the subsequent printed forms in Sanathana Sarathi and Sathya Sai Speaks), revealing comparisons can easily be made by any mildly inquisitive 'surfer'.
For example, take the two versions of the lengthy Christmas 2001 Discourse. Throughout the speech, in the 'traditional' mass-marketed version, SB's editors deal with his rambling, meandering style by consolidating his thoughts into longer, sophisticated paragraphs, and cutting out a lot of unnecessary bits and some doubtful remarks. But, as we shall soon see with other Christmas discourses, SB's capricious and vivid imagination and his seemingly weak grasp of the historical and theological realities of the Jesus era pose the greatest problems for his editors. Consider this example of an 'original' translated section of PREMSAI:
"The three Arabian kings came together when Jesus was born. They came to have darshan of him. One said: "The one you think you are." He said that, "He seems to be a Divine man." The second one said: "The one others think you are." It means this is a nature which pertains to society. This is not an individual; it is the form of society. The third king taught: "The One you really are." He said, "He is one who has that Divine nature."
Due to each man having a different head and brain, their thoughts are also different. But we should not give any chance at all for these different thoughts. Regarding that, due to today's influences of Kali Yuga, man is aspiring for duality, but he doesn't relish unity at all. He is fragmenting unity into diversity, but the ancient ones had faith that there was unity in diversity."
This comes out in the carefully edited official public version as:
"When Jesus was born, three Arabian kings visited him to pay their respects. One of them felt that the child would be a lover of God. The second one said that he would be the beloved of God and the third one felt that he was verily God. Opinions vary from person to person as each is different from the other. Our ancients visualised unity in diversity, whereas the modern man, due to the impact of Kali Age, fragments unity into diversity."
There is much more of interest in that same Discourse.(See the Premsai website or my Chapter 2.)
It is now time to consider the series of Christmas Discourses referred to at the beginning of this study. They contain new undocumented and sometimes contradictory revelations about Jesus Christ (in connection with whom SB claims intimate omniscient knowledge and avataric superior rank) in SB's annual Christmas Day Discourses, particularly for "Western" devotees, who flock to the ashram for this event. SB's apparently compulsive tendency to reveal 'unknown' or 'different' knowledge about Jesus appears to have strengthened in the past ten years.
As stated at the beginning of this article, the first fleeting mention of Jesus in the Discourses does not occur until Christmas 1970. SB was already aged 44. This was a crucial time in the development of the Organisation when Western interest was accelerating considerably. Subsequent more detailed mentions of Jesus by SB came at Christmas 1971, 1972, 1976, 1978, and almost annually to date as more and more Westerners flocked to Puttaparthi for Christmas. The Christmas celebrations in Puttaparthi, with carol singing concerts, have become a major feature alongside the otherwise predominantly Hindu festivals.
SB's main emphasis, and his references to Jesus elsewhere, is not on Jesus as a full Avatar, and (N.B.) certainly not on His miracles, but on Jesus as a person doing good in the Name of God and realising a definite spiritual path to realisation of His Divinity, as we all can and should. Part of the simplicity of the message may, as always, be to make an unfamiliar subject accessible to SB's vast HINDU following. However, in the references that follow, there is a bewildering series of discrepancies and inconsistencies regarding the participants at the birth of Jesus, His life and travels, His statements, and His father's death, and even the date. For much of this, as with so many aspects of the Sai Baba story, there is an unfortunate lack of documentary evidence. But the facts themselves are not so important, since even Christian theologians are endlessly arguing about them and there have also been several serious scholarly books which attempt to disprove the physical existence of Jesus Christ. As far as the credibility of the allegedly omniscient Sai Baba is concerned, it is the confusion, the discrepancies and the continual variations on themes which are damaging.
The 1970 mention is very short. In Sathya Sai Speaks, X, for 1970, the 9-page Discourse for 25-12-70 at Dharmakshetra, contains a short penultimate paragraph:
"This Day marks the beginning of the Christian Era, the year of Christ. Christ sacrificed his life for the sake of those who put their faith in him. He propagated the truth that service is God, that sacrifice is God." (X, 39:264)
(The reader will note, incidentally, that at that time neither the translator/editor nor the printer thought Jesus exalted enough to justify the capital letters usually accorded to Divinity: He/ Him/His. Later, this would be rectified and it has become a firm SSO publishing principle.)
The Discourse given on 23 December 1971 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 35:239) at a Madras Conference has already been mentioned. 1972 was also the year of the first Brindavan Summer Course, and perhaps an ecumenical approach had been discussed or advocated by SB or one of his close associates like Kasturi, Gokak or Shah, or his new foreign converts like Murphet and Hislop (who was to be instrumental in the setting up of the US Sai Baba Organisation in 1974), or benefactors like Elsie Cowan (who undertook to set up a Sai Baba Book Centre in USA).
On this occasion (1972: see Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol XI, Chapter 54), there is a detailed 10-page treatment of the Jesus story (especially useful for the majority of SB's listeners who are Hindus). Jesus Christ is acknowledged and claimed as universal by SB. But SB 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 SB himself, not as Jesus's successor, but as God the Father. SB puts into the mouth of Jesus several prophetic references clearly describing SB, including a reference to a lamb and to the word "Ba-Ba", imitating the sound of a lamb. This time we note that the printed version has one or two capital references to 'He' / 'Him' (rather than 'he', 'him').
A brief extract:
"There is one point that I cannot but bring to your special notice today. At the moment when Jesus was merging in the Supreme Principle of Divinity, He communicated some news to his followers, which was interpreted in a variety of ways by commentators and those who relish the piling of writings on writings and meanings upon meanings, until it all swells up into a huge mess." THIS is where SB makes his striking claim referred to above:
"The statement itself has been manipulated and tangled into a conundrum. The statement of Christ is simple: 'he who sent me among you will come again!' and he pointed to a Lamb. The Lamb is merely a symbol, a sign. It stands for the Voice: Ba-Ba; the announcement was the Advent of Sai Baba. 'His Name will be Truth,' Christ declared. Sathya means Truth. 'He will wear a robe of red, a blood-red robe.' [Here Baba pointed to the robe He was wearing.] 'He will be short, with a crown (of hair). The Lamb is the sign and symbol of Love.'
"Christ did not declare that he will come again. He said, 'He who made me will come again.' That Ba-ba is this Baba and Sai, the short, curly-hair-crowned red-robed Baba, is come. He is not only in this Form, but he is in every one of you, as the dweller in the Heart. He is there, short, with a robe of the colour of the blood that fills it." ( Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 54:346)
In 1973-1975, there are no printed Discourses for Christmas Day. For Christmas Day, 1977, there is no Discourse in the Indian or US editions of Sathya Sai Speaks, but according to the American edition, Vol X (Ch 28 for 1-1-78), SB refers to and repeats remarks he made in an alleged Discourse on 25-12-77. One can only wonder why the Organisation in India failed to print this important Discourse in its Revised Edition (unless SB himself or an associate made the decision).
The salient features contained in the U.S. Edition (and in Sathya Sai Baba. An Eastern View of Jesus Christ. Divine Discourses of Sathya Sai Baba, London, Sai Publications, ?1982, translated by Lee Hewlett and K.Nataraj) are outside the teachings of the orthodox Christian churches but are familiar in New Age circles. Interestingly, the so-called "lost years" (in India, etc.) of Jesus (which SB was to mention on more than one occasion) were the subject of research and a contemporary video by the prominent American devotee, Richard Bock, who also made videos about SB in the early 1970s (Gokak, 1975:284). Bock's original (1970s) video about Jesus, and the research for his wife Janet's book, The Jesus Mystery. Of Lost Years and Unknown Travels (1980) are almost certain to have been shared by them with SB on their ashram visits.
(p.179) "On Christmas Day I mentioned that Christ spent all his life in the service of mankind. He spent twelve years alone promoting the inner vision and realizing God. While engaged in service to the diseased and the downtrodden, he announced himself as the 'Messenger of God'."
(p.180) "Thereafter Christ lived for five years in the Himalayan region of ancient India. He settled in Kashmir and met many exponents and practitioners of the adwaitha system of thought which declares that there is only one God. He realized the Oneness beneath all diversity, and then He spread the Truth that 'I and My Father are One'." (Sathya Sai Speaks, US Vol X, 28:178-180)
At Christmas 1978 (Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 14, Ch. 16 ) SB deals with the three stages again and repeats the story of Christ's sojourn in Kashmir. At Christmas 1979, SB repeats the Jesus as Messenger idea (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIV, 45:286) and adds: "There are various theories about the birth date of Jesus based on the 'bright star that appeared at his birth'." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIV,45:288 )
SB also goes on to say, in an attempt to demystify the "star", "The Star that appeared that day appears only once in 800 years. Its appearance had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. There is no rule that, when Divine Energy or Divine Incarnation descends on Earth, a star has to appear."
The point of this deflationary remark is not at all clear unless it is in line with SB's pronouncement that, unlike SB himself, Jesus isn't a full avatar (as SB has suggested elsewhere in his Discourses), especially at His birth, but a good man who realises his Divinity slowly - as SB expects his own devotees to do. This star reference sounds even more confusing when contrasted with the 1972 reference to "Appearances of splendour and other signs to herald the era that has dawned are natural when incarnations happen on earth." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, p. 344)
In 1984, SB ventures to tell us the words of what are known to Christians as the Three Wise Men. This is a new version of his 3-stages of development (or realisation):
"When Jesus was born, three wise men followed a star to reach his place of birth. Seeing the new-born babe, they bowed to the child in their hearts. Before leaving, each of them spoke about the child as follows to the parents. One sage said to Mary: 'He loveth God.' The second sage said, 'God loveth him.' The third man said, 'He is God'." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XVII, 30:190)
In 1985, SB's Christmas emphasis is on the essential equality of all faiths, but, doubtless for reasons of internal Indian politics, he chooses to repeat a perennial Indian complaint about "a growing tendency among propagators of the Christian faith to cast aspersions on other religions. Money is being spent lavishly to spread Christianity. This type of propaganda does great harm to the personality of Jesus." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXVIII, 30:192)
In subsequent Christmas Discourses there is much more invented dialogue and widely differing details about the wise men (kings, shepherds) and the age at which Joseph died. (See my Chapter 5, or read the relevant Chapters of Sathya Sai Speaks. or the SB websites.)
To sum up this introductory study, in his 30 year pursuit of the Jesus Christ themes, SB has delighted many of his foreign devotees; the perceived connections have enhanced SB's popularity and appeal to certain types of "Westerners". But, as can be seen in the preceding material, his basic insecurity with the facts and his irrepressible habit of embellishing stories are now becoming more widely known. His reputation and his credibility are adversely affected by such knowledge and some devotees may be beginning to feel slightly perplexed and uncomfortable.
In the light of the above revelations, another of SB=s trademark habits, that of allegedly materialising objects, may also incur further careful scrutiny and loss of credibility when it is pointed out that some of SB's most spectacular 'miracles' are related to Jesus Christ, or Christianity and that they are either dubious or false. For example, he has often been said to produce images of Jesus as mementos for devotees, but he is also recorded in some devotees' books as producing a few PHOTOGRAPHS of Jesus (including one in which devotees say Jesus is aged 29 - see the Peter Phipps books, especially 1994, p. 71). Secondly, since the 1970s, SB has received a great deal of publicity and attention for allegedly materialising for Dr John Hislop, his first American associate, devotee, and mentor, a (very much photographed) small crucifix alleged to have been made from reconstituted fragments of the True Cross. And, finally, during that curious 1996 Christmas Discourse already singled out for mention above, in one of his most insouciant and blatant acts of bravado, in front of cameras, SB 'produced' what quickly became known among delighted devotees as the "small Bible" which he referred to in the following terms (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIX, p.394) "Scholars started investigating the validity of the statements made by Jesus Christ. They collected all knowledge that existed prior to one thousand five hundred and thirty years. All that was compiled in one book in England. Russians made it into a small tiny book." The official report continues: [Svaami produced the little book by a circular wave of His hand and held it before the audience.] "This is the book. You can see the cross on the cover page. The book was designed to demonstrate the common features of all religions. What is contained in this book is not to be found even in the Bible. It contains an entirely new account of the life of Jesus." [Bold type added]
In one of the official edited printed versions devotees are further informed by the editors that this is " book compiled in Britain around 1530 A.D. containing all the information about Jesus gathered during the preceding centuries. The Russians condensed all the material in a small book [in which language?] which they preserved in a place on the Black Sea coast [location not named]."
Apart from SB's unverifiable descriptions of the book's sensational contents, this is a most disturbing performance because on a video of the 'materialisation, SB merely seems to pluck the miniature book (2 and a half centimetres by 3 and a quarter) from below the ledge of the table he is leaning on. Photographs of SB holding up the tiny book were immediately circulated in Puttaparthi. One of these is on the cover of the Spanish edition of the January 1997 issue of Sanathana Sarathi (El Eterno Conductor) for that same month. All very impressive, on the surface, but the truth that I discovered long afterwards was that copies of an identical work, the miniature so-called 'Good News' New Testament, have been on sale in India for many years. I bought one from a Sai Baba Centre in Australia for $2.50. It looks exactly the same as the one held aloft by SB in the ashram photos. (According to a typical ashram rumour, SB eventually 'dispatched' the book back to its exotic Black Sea monastery home!) End of story, and no one seems to have been curious enough to try to find out the detailed contents of such an original-sounding book!
What is very disturbing here, if my very strong suspicion is correct, is the crassness of the would-be deception and the extent of SB's inventiveness. At the time of my unexpected discovery, I was still a devotee and I was left feeling disappointed and annoyed. WHY on earth should SB feel the need to make up such a cock-and-bull story for his listeners, knowing that it (and the photographs) would spread around the world immediately? And why did he assume (although he went unchallenged at the time!) that the story would never be challenged?
This unedifying farrago of ignorance, invention, confusion, and bewildering permutations about the life and times of Jesus (one of SB's putative 'predecessors'), seems to indicate that SB has used the Christ story (albeit with discrepant or unverifiable details) year after year since 1972 as an appealing metaphor for his own mission and message, with scant regard for consistency, clarity, or Christian tradition and theology. Because of the many easily observable inconsistencies, errors, and confusion, the credibility of other non-verifiable 'Divine' revelations which he chooses to offer, both in his Christmas Discourses and elsewhere, is seriously affected. All we are left with in the end is further proof that SB often improvises as he goes along, using his powerful personality and his story-telling techniques to rivet his adoring and uncritical listeners.
Books and articles referred to in this study are listed in the Bibliography.
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