Misleading Remarks Accepted as Truth
Brian Steel March 2004
Copyright © Brian Steel 2004
During last month's revealing Mahasivaratri drama, SSB was instantly incapacitated and carried offstage following the public televised ordeal of the (woefully unconvincing) lingam 'materialisation'. Shortly afterwards, back onstage (with another two lingams to his credit, according to his major spokesperson - who has a dubious track record for convincing stories about his guru), SSB reassured the afflicted devotee listeners that he was fine. Devotees (both present and witnessing the proceedings on radio and TV) should stop worrying (and defecting?). He indicated that his weakness was simply due to an inability to eat over the past couple of months (and even, according to the first Internet (literal) reports, to a ludicrously massive weight loss from his perennial slim body). This disruption in the food intake of a guru about whom it was alleged for decades (mainly because of his own boasts) that he did not need food (or sleep) was apparently caused by his incapacitating hip fracture some months ago. To the consternation of devotees all over the world (who constantly need to know that SSB is personally accessible to them), this same injury (quite serious for a septuagenarian) has made SSB resort to a mechanised buggy to traverse the darshan area briefly every day.
In his first (much briefer than usual) Mahasivaratri Discourse in 2004, SSB gave devotees assurances that he was now OK, that his body was indestructible, and that he would henceforth be able to walk as normal. Let us hope that this will indeed be so. However, judging by SSB's past record of unfulfilled predictions and dubious off-the-cuff remarks (subsequently propagated by the SSO and accepted by devotees as 'Gospel' - and so eagerly passed on), there may still be some justification for worried devotees and the SSO hierarchy to fret about SSB's present and future state of fitness.
One of SSB's characteristics, as is evident to anyone who has carefully and impartially read his Discourses, is to indulge in excited, boastful, or jubilant statements in relation to facts, claims, events and achievements. (See also my articles on SSB as story teller:
(These boasts are evident in the carefully packaged versions of SSB's translated Discourses but they are so much more transparent and alarming in the literal translations, where available).
SSB has followed this custom of self-promotion throughout his Mission, which has benefitted from it enormously; it is an integral part of his style. When he has something genuine to boast about, this would seem a reasonable human reaction. making further comment superfluous. However, some of the facts, achievements, and predictions that SSB mentions turn out (as we now know, after closer and more impartial inspection) to be exaggerated. Other SSB extempore remarks, it must be firmly pointed out (and is being pointed out on the Internet almost on a weekly basis), are simply untrue.
To my knowledge, the SSO never intervenes to deny such assertions by SSB (or by his spokespersons or devotees). It must therefore bear a share of the responsibility for their propagation and re-quoting as evidence of SSB's Divine status.
A few preliminary examples of SSB's questionable assertions:
"In Argentina bhajans are being held in every home [cheers]."(Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIII, 29:255 - 20-10-1990, on the alleged 50th anniversary of SSB's 'Declaration').
"I work twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year."(R. Selby. My Trip, in an interview, p. 143)
"Just think, Puttaparthi, a mere hamlet of a population of 106 people has already grown to the size of a city housing several lakhs of people." (Discourse, 19 October 1999) [A lakh equals 100,000]
Compare with: India Today, 4 December 2000, p. 39: "Puttaparthi, a town that usually houses 20,000 people ..."
Also, on his birthday in 1982, SSB boasted that "Millions will rush to this place and gather here. This will happen soon." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XV, 55:313) If, as seems likely, he meant all at one time, this does not yet appear to have taken place, despite some of the grossly inflated estimates of crowd attendances at SSB's birthdays. (See Robert Priddy's website for information on ashram life and sociology in Puttaparthi and on the workings of the SSO.)
To show that the above are not merely extempore slips, consider the following more substantial examples:
Following SSB's excited name-dropping boast about the visit of a certain Dr Michael Nobel in his 18 November 2001 Discourse (as conveyed in the Premsai literal translation - surprise, surprise!, there appears to be no online official translation!), a predictable wave of equally triumphant devotee rumours (and even some Indian newspaper reports) trumpeted a forthcoming Nobel Peace Prize for SSB. The story swept the ashram and devotee Internet chat groups for a while. Unfortunately for the SSO and for rumour-loving devotees, the whole story fizzled quite quickly (but probably not quickly enough for it not to stick in some devotees' minds for future proselytising use). Alas, it immediately became quite clear (for those with unblinkered eyes) that SSB's suggestions about Dr Nobel's presence in Puttaparthi for the Birthday celebrations had no basis in fact, and could be classified as unjustified - even reprehensible - hype.
This is what SSB asserted, according to the Premsai literal account: (Note the language style.)
"Aerodrome has come. Super Speciality Hospital has come. These things are not even in big towns. More, more, more, more will come. To show this to the whole world, it (Sai Global Harmony Channel, a satellite digital radio channel set up to broadcast Swami's discourses, bhajans, etc) begins within this month. To bring about these changes, numerous people will be involved. I am also telling you a few names."
"They are giving the Nobel Prize to many people. The man who gives the Nobel Prize (Chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee) is coming here on the 22nd November. The ones who will show this to the whole world, TV people, are all coming here on the 22nd.
"Who called them? Who invited them? If all things like these are seen, all sorts are coming here. No one has invited them at all. No one is giving them a (special) welcome. Yet they themselves are coming. What is the reason? That Chaitanya Jyothi (meaning Swami Himself) is here and It (He) is pulling them!" (Applause)
[In fairness to SSB, and for the reader's benefit, it should be pointed out that, even though the SSO does not (as far as I am aware) signpost this simple editing procedure in the printed Discourses, the pieces in parentheses ( ) are explanations added by the editors, NOT helpful additions by SSB. Normal editing practice is to use square brackets [ ] for such external interpolations.]
As anyone who had wished to know could have immediately found out, these remarks by SSB can only be described as irresponsible. Dr Nobel turned out to be an executive of a foreign company contracted by the SSO to set up the 'Sai Global Harmony' satellite radio station (the latest of the SSO's expensive post-1999 innovations to spread the word of SSB and the SSO cause in Asia and beyond). So the Nobel Prize for Prasanthi Nilayam that year was never on the cards! But try telling that to diehard unconditional devotees!
As for the typically rhetorical and self-congratulatory "Who called them? Who invited them?", well, presumably the SSO did, by contracting Worldspace, a company specialising in direct satellite digital and multimedia services (of which Dr Nobel is a Director), to set up the service in the first place, and then by inviting Dr Nobel, as a Director of that company, to attend the inauguration of Sai Digital Radio during those same triumphalist November days. Dr Nobel, far from being Chairman of the illustrious Norwegian Nobel Institute Committee ("the man who gives the Nobel Prize", according to SSB), does not even appear on the list of Nobel Committee members. He was simply a businessman with an illustrious name doing business with the SSO. (Although, as has been pointed out to me by vigilant SSB devotee, "Hans H.", I was wrong in stating originally that Dr Nobel was not related to the benefactor Alfred Nobel (he is, as I now learn, the great grandnephew), Worldspace director Dr Nobel is also Chairman of the Nobel Family Society (philanthropic, no doubt) and of the 'Appeal of the Nobel Peace Laureates Foundation'. The Norwegian Nobel Institute, which, for the Nobel Peace Prize, has the last word in accepting or rejecting the candidate selected by the Nobel Committee, is an entity independent of the Nobel family.)
Then in April 2002 came a similar exultant but unsubstantiated announcement from SSB of World Bank promises of limitless funds to SSB and the SSO for a proposed Madras drinking water project.
According to the official edited translation of his Yugadi Discourse on 13 April 2002, SSB made the following statements, some of them excited and jubilant (See: www.sathyasai.org)
"Tomorrow is the New Year Day for Tamilians. ... At present, the people of Madras are suffering due to scarcity of drinking water. The rich can afford to buy water and quench their thirst. But what about the poor? They are drinking impure water and spoiling their health. Hence, I have decided to provide them pure drinking water so that they can lead happy and healthy lives and develop it further for the generations to come. In this connection, Chakravarthy (the Secretary of the Central Trust), Srinivasan from Madras (President, All India Sri Sathya Sai Organisations), and Indulal Shah from Bombay (Chairman of Sri Sathya Sai World Council) have approached the World Bank authorities and explained to them about the selfless service activities that we have undertaken. They told the World Bank authorities that all our activities are purely service-oriented and that we do not expect anything in return. They just repeated like parrots whatever Swami had told them to convey."
"The World Bank people were very much impressed. They said that they had never heard about or seen such stupendous service activities undertaken by a charitable organisation anywhere else in the world. They were happy that Sathya Sai Baba was providing drinking water to a distant place like Madras. They have agreed to bear the expenditure involved in this project. On this sacred day of Ugadi before I came out to give Darshan, we received a telephone call at about 7 a.m. conveying this message. If the feelings are sacred, the result is bound to be sacred. They told us, "You don't need to be concerned about the funds, and you don't need to come to us again. We are prepared to give any number of crores to meet the expenditure." With broad-mindedness, they have come forward to extend their help."
The second paragraph sounds particularly odd. Consultation of the World Bank website (www.worldbank.org) provides the following basic information:
"The World Bank is a lending institution whose aim is to help integrate countries into the wider world economy and promote long-term economic growth that reduces poverty in developing countries. ... It provides loans to member countries ... The World Bank lends only to developing or transition countries..."
So: the World Bank LENDS money to SOVEREIGN GOVERNMENTS, not to non-governmental institutions.
Interestingly, the World Bank also offers to advertise the existence of Charitable Foundations by offering them links from its own site. On its website it advertises a long list of Charitable Foundations which have registered with it. The SSO did not seem to be on that list when I last looked (May 2002).
(Note, for those with stamina.)
The literal translation of the original Discourse for 13 April 2002 contains even more surreal details. (See www.exbaba.com. )
"So in Madras, rich people gave some money and are they are drinking good water. But the poor people and beggars, not having money in hand, are drinking polluted and dirty water, and are succumbing to diseases. I have the desire and have resolved to give pure water to them, to sacredly protect and develop their health, generation after generation, so they can be happy.
"Only yesterday, the three, Secretary, Mr. Chakravarthy, Mr. Srinivas from Madras and Mr. Indulal Shah from Bombay, went together to the authorities of the World Bank. They went and explained our sacred seva. They said that this is not merely our (selfish) service. It is seva (selfless service) that we do. We won't experience any results (benefit personally). We won't aspire for results. It is seva that is done without desiring for the results. I told these three this, and they went to the World Bank authorities and repeated these words parrot-like.
"All the authorities of the World Bank came here. They declared, "We have not heard about and we have not seen, in any place or in any country, this kind of seva. (Applause) Sathya Sai Baba is giving water like this to Madras which is somewhere else (far from Puttaparthi)." Today a phone call came saying that the World Bank authorities had said, "We will give the entire cost of this." (the project to supply drinking water to Madras) (Applause)
"See! On Ugadi day! Sacred results will come when there are sacred feelings.
"The Bank authorities said, "You don't need to think anymore (worry) at all. You don't need to come to us again. We will give help to you. We will give any number of crores." (One crore is ten million rupees.)
"How great it is that such an enthusiastic feeling came! Twelve hours have not yet passed. They came last night at 7PM. The phone call came at 7AM in the morning when I was coming out. Do you see?"
Among the other occasions when unsupported boasts by SSB have been widely taken as true by devotees, merely because they are made by someone they firmly believe to be an omniscient avatar, let us take the vital case (for Indians, especially) of hostilities between India and its equally nuclear Muslim neighbour, Pakistan. On more than one occasion, for what I can only see as a questionable wish for extra kudos, SSB has made strong indirect or direct claims of Divine influence on the ending of hostilities between these two 'brother' countries (1965 and 1971).
Here is his past record (as I understand it) on these hair-raising topics of public anxiety:
There was fighting in Kashmir for three weeks in September 1965, then India invaded and had penetrated to within 4 miles of Lahore, West Pakistan, when a United Nations brokered ceasefire came into effect on September 23.
Three days later, on the 26th of September, at the beginning of the Dasara Festival, SSB announced:
"This country also had to meet the invasion by unrighteous forces and the same Parashaakthi (Dynamic Aspect of Divinity) has saved it from loss and dishonour." (Sathya Sai Speaks, V, 37:207) Kasturi reports a similar statement (K1B, 173)
Fears that Dasara celebrations at the ashram would have to be postponed were groundless because "... in spite of all obstacles, the fighting has stopped and news has come that peace is restored. This is another instance of the grace which Prashanthi Nilayam shows. This is the way Mahima (Divine Glory) works." (p. 210) Kasturi reports, also ambiguously: "It was the Will of the Lord that tilted the balance in time", leaving the reader to assume, as usual, that the Divine agency responsible for the peace was SSB himself.
So, once more we have triumphant unsubstantiated claims of SSB's 'Divine' intervention in the hostilities, to save his country, and to prevent any interference with the Dasara celebrations at Prasanthi Nilayam. (The apostrophe may be slightly annoying to the reader but it DOES serve a legitimate purpose - to cast doubt!)
The eight or nine months of Civil War in East Pakistan (March to mid-December 1971) culminated in the surrender of the Pakistan Army to Indian forces and the granting of Independence by West Pakistan, and, consequently, the birth of Bangladesh. This long drawn out period was marked by another dangerous confrontation between Pakistan and India, and the conclusion of a protective Treaty between India and USSR.
After the victory, on 22 December 1971 (in Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 34:219), SSB justified his alleged previous Birthday declaration that "Bharat will not suffer from any calamity or distress." He then chides his audience for doubting him when the conflict with Pakistan came about. He went on to guarantee that because the word 'Hindu' means according to his usual etymology of it, "free from any desire to be violent", India is incapable of aggressive intentions against other countries. With the danger finally over, he further guaranteed that Pakistan's resentment at losing its territory would not induce it to attack India.
Once again, SSB appears to be taking indirect credit for something he has not done. Incidentally, for what it is worth, I have found it impossible to check on his Birthday claim since there is no recorded Birthday Discourse for 1971 and, although there are several Birthday Celebration Discourses for 1970 in Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol. X, none is dated the 23 November and none has any reference to the claimed prophetic 'Birthday declaration'. Nor does Professor Kasturi (who was usually punctilious in relaying any special positive - propagandistic - information of this kind) mention such a prophecy in his description of the Birthday 1970 celebrations in Vol. 3 of his biography of SSB.
(And just over a week after that came SSB's spectacular emergency appendix situation in Goa.)
In the light of the above precedents, it will be instructive to see SSB's comments at the end of the 2002-2004 hostilities and occasional brinkmanship between India and Pakistan. In fact, in early 2004 it looks as though there is a reasonable chance of Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee (a prominent but perhaps ex officio SSB devotee) realising his ambition: peace with Pakistan. Let us hope so, and let us also keep a critical eye on SSB's Discourses if this happy geopolitical event takes place.
A Related Indo-Chinese Case
On 8 September, 1962, 600 Chinese soldiers surrounded and besieged an Indian Border post in a disputed region of the Himalayas. Hostilities continued over the next month. On 20 October 1962, Chinese Army units invaded from Ladakh in Kashmir to Longji in the North East Frontier Agency. On 18 November, Chinese attacks drove back Indian forces at Bomdilla. There were many Indian casualties. By 20 November, the Chinese had overcome the Indian forces but were so over-extended that they declared a unilateral ceasefire on 24 November and withdrew most of their forces. However, even after that date, the Chinese remained in control of an area the size of Switzerland (38,000 square kilometres) in the Aksai Chin region of Ladakh to guard a road they had been building for ten years with no effective objections from the Indian Government. Their strategic objective was to link their new 'province' of Tibet (shame!) with Sinkiang.
On his birthday, 23 November 1962, SSB said: "I know that your hearts are filled with other thoughts - the thought of pushing back the Chinese from the land they have invaded ..." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 49:274) ... "My Birthday Festival will not be marred by any dispiriting news; it will be made happier for you by quite positive cheerful news, I am sure." (p. 275)
By the next day (the 24th), he adds: "You will have known by now that the Chinese, of their own accord, prompted by the mysterious working of a Higher Power, withdrew from the advance lines they held on the night of the 22nd and, as I said, My Birthday was celebrated in an atmosphere of joy. Some unseen force caught them by the neck and hurled them back. ... Man ... is compelled to retrace his steps by God, by the Dhaivi Shakthi (Divine Power)." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 50:278) The reader will note the suggestive nature of the statement and the suggested link with this 'Higher Power'.
If one dispassionately compares the facts and dates with SSB's words, one can only conclude not only that no omniscience is involved but that he further indirectly claims divine credit for the 'miraculous' retreat (omitting mention of the military defeat of the Indian forces, the casualties, and failing to add that not all Chinese forces had been "hurled back" but remained in position and possession for long afterwards). SSB's compliant biographer, Kasturi, reinforces SSB's version, saying that the Chinese had "started withdrawing, since midnight of the 22nd beyond the mountain ranges for some as yet undisclosed reasons." (K1B, 68)
And so on ...
Present and future scholars of comparative religions and of the SSB phenomenon will be able to make an exhaustive study of the unjustified or misleading assertions and boasts which are frequently found in statements by and about SSB and indiscriminately repeated by the SSO, spokespersons, writers, and devotees.
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