Sathya Sai Baba's Fluctuating Claims of Divinity
Brian Steel April 2003
Copyright © Brian Steel 2003
In the good old days, when life was so much simpler, SSB came to be known, worshipped, and written about not only as the miracle-maker and healer he claimed, and seemed, to be but also as the God Incarnate he also claimed, frequently, vociferously, and uniquely, to be.
From the beginning of his Mission, it was SSB himself who assiduously attracted attention to himself and conditioned his devotees to talk about the special features he was promoting: his MIRACLES and healing ability, his Avatarhood and Divine powers, his relationship with the legendary Hindu Avatars (Rama and Krishna), and the 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 pass on this unique message, very often in the form of books about their subjective experiences. From the mid-1960s to date, 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 all over the world and has come to be accepted unquestioningly not only by devotees but by many others.
Although there are other important aspects of SSB's Mission (his teachings, the charitable work of his SSO, for example), it is those same two fascinating Divine topics (Avatar and Omnipotence/Omniscience) which devotees tend to hold uppermost in their minds when talking or writing about their guru.
Thus, the millions of devotees who over the past six decades have flocked to this self-styled fully functional God Incarnate were able to bask in a very privileged spiritual conviction, attributing to him all sorts of benefits and personal transformations far beyond the experience of disciples of other merely 'human' (but divinely inspired) gurus, godmen, saints, and masters. Many (especially "Westerners", i.e. non-Indians) showed their delighted appreciation and gratitude by writing books about his uniqueness and his astounding achievements, which in turn added bulk to the promotional SSB snowball. The considerable number of such books which include words like Avatar, God, Divine, etc. in their titles offers further clear proof that the basic and unique claims of Divinity by SSB have been widely accepted as true and that they are at the centre of many (probably most) devotees' conception of SSB's identity. For them, SSB is GOD on Earth, with full Divine powers. (For a number of years, this was also my own firm belief, as I have stated elsewhere on this website.) No other contemporary guru has attracted such special attention. A few examples of these book titles follow; more are included at the end of this article:
Aura of the Divine,
The Dreams and Realities Face to Face with God
Baba is Here. Conversations with God on His Omnipresence
The Miracle Man Sri Sathya Sai Baba,
Zoroaster to Sathya Sai. Miracles of Mankind's Great Saviours
Vision of the Divine,
The Advent of Sri Sathya Sai Baba
The Man and the Avatar.
Journey to God.
God Descends on Earth. As Prophesied by Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce,
Sai Baba, God Incarnate
God Lives in India,
25 Years with Divinity
Baba, the Life Breath of Every Soul, etc. (See BIBLIOGRAPHY.)
In these much less innocent times, of global communications, and other sophistications, both good and bad, much counter-evidence and many dissenting opinions have been presented on the Internet and in the media. See, in the first instance:
www.exbaba.com and www.saiguru.net (both multilingual websites);
Alexandra Nagel, 'A Guru Accused. Sai Baba, from Avatar to Homo-paedophile' and 'For and Against Sathya Sai Baba on the Internet' - both available on www.exbaba.com and www.saiguru.net;
the website of Robert Priddy:http://home.no.net/anir/Sai;
my own website: http://bdsteel.tripod.com;
Serguei Badaev et al (eds.) 'In the Shadow of Sathya Sai Baba. Overview of Critical Materials', December 2002 (available on www.exbaba.com and www.saiguru.net).
A further important site has been unavailable recently: www.sathyasaivictims.com .
These radically different additions to devotees' extensive but blinkered literature about SSB make it imperative (and sensible) to consider the hitherto intertwined and undifferentiated aspects of the popular SSB image (the miracles, the allegedly divine, and the spiritual teachings) SEPARATELY. When viewed in the light of these (still accumulating) new insights and information, the comfortingly exclusive Divine image of the good old days changes appreciably.
For those able to free themselves from the straitjacket of unquestioning and mind-narrowing belief, the available and still emerging evidence on SSB reveals not God on Earth but a remarkable and charismatically inspiring personality, a once supremely self-confident populist persuader (whose Telugu Discourses are translated and heavily edited by his editors). The real image also includes the characteristics one would associate with a powerful guru: unspecified psychic powers, plausible spiritual teachings, and a laudable enthusiasm for charitable activities. Nevertheless, a darker, unresolved area of the ongoing SSB controversy involves allegations of sexual misconduct brought by a number of male ex-devotees as well as other allegations connected with the sensational homicidal events of June 1993.
A Basic Problem
During 60 years of the SSB Mission, devotees have been inspired by those hundreds of 'rave' books and articles written by SSB's associates and adoring devotees who fully endorsed and constantly repeated all SSB's claims. The relatively sudden recent development of multiple demystifying controversies about SSB has left some of his followers floundering and out of their unique comfort zone. To judge by reports and Internet Chat-group activity, as many devotees find out to their amazement that a substantial body of alternative information and criticism of SSB actually EXISTS, they are reacting, or being encouraged by blinkered or misleading SSB evangelists to react, privately and sometimes publicly, with head in the sand denial - usually without taking the sensible precaution of reading the impressive amount of evidence offered on many Internet sites worldwide.
One of the demonstrably unsupported reactions by some 'denialists' is quite breathtaking: the categorically dismissive statement, "But SSB never claimed to be God." A rather different defence, that "SSB doesn't claim to be God" is more subtle, and reflects part of another disquieting reality surrounding SSB's claims, which is foreshadowed in the title of this study and will be stated and described below.
To anyone who has read anything about SSB, such unrealistic evasion demonstrates how far the speaker's faith has clouded his/her judgement. It also serves as a striking proof and reminder that the unique impact of SSB's charisma and behaviour tends to inspire unquestioning support for his Divine image. For both reasons, such total denial needs to be refuted and confronted with some of the copious and freely available counter-evidence in the official SSO books and magazines Sathya Sai Speaks and Sanathana Sarathi and, in the last couple of years, on the official SSO websites.
(Conversely, the statement by some devotees, "But I never saw SSB as God" is a perfectly respectable point of view, since it merely recognises the existence of SSB as an 'ordinary' guru. However, this viewpoint seeems much rarer among devotees.)
What emerges from a careful study of the 32 volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks is a fascinating picture of the power of self-promotion. Put simply, SSB spent the early years of his Mission (1943 to 1972, approximately) confidently, even flamboyantly projecting his unique image - with outstanding success which has lasted for several decades.
Since the 1970s, SSB's frequent and direct public claims have decreased (but the his Discourses have contained many indirect or ambiguous references as well as general references to God). For the past thirty years his Divine reputation has been asserted and maintained firstly by his more private person to person (or group) contact in interviews, secondly by the accumulated credit stemming from his unique initial claims of Divinity. More importantly, the Divine image, and certain mythical aspects surrounding SSB's image have been dutifully and happily endorsed by the zealous activities of his close associates and principal spokespersons, beginning with the indefatigable Kasturi and Hislop, and culminating more recently in the boundless devotion and proselytising energy of Anil Kumar. Other willing contributors to the maintenance and broadcasting of the Divine image in recent decades have been SSB's other spokespersons, New Age practitioners, writers, a few visionaries, and devotees. (For further details, see: 'Notes on the Responsibility of Writers ...' , 'SB and the Psychics', 'Devotees and their Contributions to the Purna Avatar Myth ...' , and 'The Latest Example of His Master's Voice'.)
Nowadays, when infrequent direct claims of Divinity occur in SSB's Discourses, they appear to be due either to SSB's force of habit (or inner conviction), a sudden whim, or sometimes the pressure of unwelcome criticism.
1. For more details and some speculation on this later reticence by SSB, and on the intriguing discrepancies in public statements about SSB by the SSO in India and by international branches of the SSO, see 'Downgrading Divinity' and 'Further National Variants of "Who is Sai?"' on my website. These observations are due to be updated.)
2. Although this is a fresh investigation of this important topic, a relevant previous version of SSB's Claims available (with abundant examples) on my website as 'Sathya Sai Baba's Claims of Divinity: Avatar and Triple Avatar'. If there is interest, I will eventually make available a fuller version of this new article with even more evidence. Meanwhile, interested readers may wish to conduct their own private investigations by consulting the volumes of the official publication Sathya Sai Speaks or the official SSB websites which now offer a full backset of SSB's edited Discourses for consultation. A quick but revealing check is to read (or skim) an early volume of Sathya Sai Speaks (or issues of Sanathana Sarathi) and then, for comparison, any volume after 16.) See also 'A Brief Update on SB News' for brief comments on the absence of direct claims in three recent Discourses.
3.SSB's translated and edited Discourses are published by the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Books and Publications Trust and are on sale at SSB's ashrams in India and in SSO Centres in many countries in the world.
Internet access to all SSB's (edited) Discourses is available on the official SSO website: www.sathyasai.org and several other unofficial sites.
4. An unofficial website: www.internety.com/premsai), which for a couple of years offered highly revealing literal translations (in several languages) of SSB's Telugu Discourses (as well as the Talks by Anil Kumar, suddenly went offline in October 2002 a few months after detailed references to its invaluable contents were posted on critical websites last year. This lamentable but vital fact should be noted by researchers and others interested in obtaining access to the truth about SSB. The SSO might also be asked if it regrets the disappearance of this closer source of SSB's true words.
(Note, 2011: Copies are available here
DIRECT Claims of Divinity
In the first ten years of his Mission (1943-1953), SSB apparently gave very few Discourses (in his native language, Telugu); he preferred to chat to his band of local devotees. It was only after his meeting with Professor Kasturi that the Discourses began to become a frequent part of his Mission. The first volume of Sathya Sai Speaks covers the years 1953 to 1960 (and in that volume, the majority of Discourses included are from the period 1957-1960), since not many translations of the Telugu Discourses were recorded by Prof. Kasturi in those days (or perhaps because SSB did not give many Discourses then). The early printed versions were composed from Kasturi's written notes. It is significant to the topic of this article that, since 1954, the official publishing policy has been to use initial capitals for He, His, Him, Me, and My when referring to SSB (which tends to reinforce the impression of Divinity). The early Discourses, mostly delivered to local audiences in rural southern India, are characterised by their simple evangelism and vigorous self-promotion by SSB.
(A convincing selection of SSB's direct claims of Divinity, etc. are offered below. There are many more to be found, mainly in the first 12 volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks. If you find the necessary examples tedious, just follow the thread of the commentary.)
Volume 1 of Sathya Sai Speaks
This volume contains many clear and direct claims of Divinity.
The first (edited) words of SSB's first officially recorded Discourse (in 1953) are: "When I was at Uravakonda in the High School, you know I came away one day and threw off my books and declared that I have My work waiting for Me. ... Well, that day when I came out publicly as Sai Baba, ... ... I called on all those suffering in the endless round of birth and death to worship the Feet of the Guru (spiritual preceptor), the Guru that was announcing Himself, who had come again for taking upon Himself the burden of those who find refuge in Him. That was the very first Message of Mine to Humanity." (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 1:1 - 1953)
(There are a couple of earlier simple discourses referred to in books by early devotees: see Vijayakumari and LIMF.)
"Note this also. In this Avathaar (Divine Incarnation), the wicked will not be destroyed; they will be corrected and reformed and educated and led back to the path from which they have strayed." ( Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 2:15, 1955)
"Let me tell you that you cannot understand Me and My Secret without first understanding yourselves. For, if you are too weak to grasp your own Reality, how can you hope to fathom the much grander Reality of My advent? ... The "miracles and wonders" which cannot be explained by the categories of science are so natural to Me that I am amused when you label them as miracles.The Lord has announced that He would come down for the restoration of Dharma (righteousness) and that he would assume human Form so that all might gather round Him and feel the thrill of His companionship and conversation. And the Lord has come, as announced." (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 25:154 Aukiripalli Markandeya Sanskrit College, 22-1-60)
"I have come to set the world right and so I have to collect all those who are ill and treat them in My 'Hospital' and restore them to sanity, strength and wisdom and send them back to their stations in life." (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 30:191, 29-9-60)
"I will be in this mortal human form for 59 years more and I shall certainly achieve the purpose of this avathaar, do not doubt it. I will take My own time and carry out My Plan as far as you are concerned." (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 31:198, 29-9-1960)
"Bhagavan has seven chief characteristics: Aishvarya, Keerthi, Jnana, Vairagtya, Srishti, Sthithi and Laya (prosperity, glory, wisdom, non-attachment, creation, preservation and dissolution). Whoever has these seven, you can consider as having Divinity in Him. These seven are the unfailing characteristics of Avatars, of the Mahashakthi (Supreme Power) which persists fully when it has apparently modified itself with Mayashakthim (deluding power). Wherever these are found, you can identify Godhead." (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 32:200, 30-9-60)
"... the day on which I took this human form. I am ever new and ever ancient ... I come always for the sake of reviving Dharma , for tending the virtuous and ensuring them conditions congenial for progress." (Sathya Sai Speaks, I; 34:218, 23-11-60)
Volumes II to VIII of Sathya Sai Speaks cover the years 1961-1968 and record many more direct and confident Divine claims by SSB, rising to a climax in Volume VIII (for 1968), which deals with the burst of activity brought about by the newly formed SSO, and the triumphant First World Conference of Sathya Sai Seva Organisations.
"You have not demanded direct proofs of Divinity from either Rama or Krishna, have you? Have faith first and then you will get proof enough." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 19:98)
"You clamour for further experience of My Divine nature and ask that your faith might be strengthened thereby. To know the taste of sea-water, putting a drop on the tongue should be enough; there is no need to drink the whole lot." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 20:101)
"...it is enough if you call Me from wherever you are; in My case, there is no need for you to travel long distances and spend hard-earned money. I shall fulfil your wishes, at your own place." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 34:197)
"Well. You have the chance to see, experience and be sanctified by the Incarnation of the Lord; this chance you have got as a result of the accumulationh of merit in many lives. That merit has brought you here, where I have come down." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 36: 209-210)
"When someone asks you, in great earnestness, where the Lord is to be found, do not try to dodge the question. Give them the answer that rises up to your tongue from your heart. Direct them. He is here in the Prashanthi Nilayam." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 47:266)
"You can hear My Footsteps, for I walk with you, behind you, beside you." (Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 22:133)
"... this village ... got the Light the day this Shakthi took birth in this place!" (III, 28:162)
"... many are afraid to approach Me, for they know I am aware of their innermost thoughts and deepest desires." (IV, 1:6)
"(In the poem that Baba composed impromptu and sang before commencing His speech, he announced Himself as Shri Naatha, Loka Naatha, and Anaatha Natha (Lord of Lakshmi, of the world and of the helpless ...)." (IV, 37:220)
"I am always aware of the future, the past, as well as the present of every one of you. So I am not moved so much by pity." (IV, 40:239)
"But I call you to Me ... No Avathaara has done like this before, going among the people, the masses, the millions ..," (V, 42:233 - 30-9-65)
There is also evidence of at least one claim by SSB to have been born by Immaculate Conception. Kasturi mentions it in his Easwaramma (p. 20) and M.N. Rao (in God and His Gospel, 1995, p. 183) repeats the Immaculate Conception claim, and, without giving any sources, presents part of the Kasturi information and a quotation traceable to a Discourse:
"I was [[not]] begotten. It was Pravesa and not Prasava. [Bold type added] No Avathaar is born from flesh and blood including this Avathaar ... The embryo of the ordinary mortals is Jalodakasayi, enveloped in watery stuff; the embryo of the Avathaar is Ksheerodakasayi, enveloped in the pure white milk of Holiness. That is why in the make-up of the Avathaar, there is no blemish." (Notice, however, that in the (translated and edited) Discourses we find the following confirmation of most of the statement of 4 February 1963 but, curiously, without the more specific first two sentences given above. Have SSB's intermittently vigilant editors excised the crucial details from the revised editions of Sathya Sai Speaks? And, if so, WHY? Is this not a further example of SSB's 'fluctuations'?
"No Avathaar is born flesh and blood including this Avathaar ... The embryo of ordinary mortals is jalodhakashaayi (enveloped in watery stuff); the embryo of the Avathaar is encased in Ksheerodakashaayi (the pure white milk of holiness). That is why in the make-up of the Avathaar, there is no blemish, there is no trace of Guna." (Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 3:22)
Volume VIII of Sathya Sai Speaks
1968 was SSB's 42nd year and the 25th of his Mission. It was the year which witnessed the culmination of SSB's special direct claims of Divinity, Omniscience, 'descent' from Shirdi Sai, and close kinship with the revered Hindu Avatars, Rama and Krishna. It was also the year of the First World Conference of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations (held in Bombay in May 1968), arranged by the newly created SSO bureaucracy under the dynamic leadership of the businessman, Indulal Shah, who, now in advanced old age, is still the International Chairman of the SSO and SSB's righthand associate. In front of a reported audience of 25,000 people, SSB boldly repeated his claims of Divinity. This speech is still quoted on one of the official Internet sites by the SSO as one of his Four Principle Discourses (all from this early period: 1963, 1968 (2), and 1974) and is full of direct claims. (www.sathyasai.org)
"... I affirm that this 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 Raama, Krishna, Ishwara, Sai - for they are all My names." (SSS, VIII, 19:95-96)
From that same Conference of over 30 years ago, the following disclaimer may seem rather disingenuous:
"I have not got the slightest intention to utilise the Seva Samithis (Service Organisations) for propagating My Name or canvas homage for My Name. No! I am content only when spiritual endeavours and disciplines to elevate and purify man are progressing everywhere." (VIII, 19: 96)
"This is the very first time that a World Conference is held of persons devoted, while the incarnation is present before everyone, with the body assumed for the purpose, bearing the name that is chosen for it by Itself." (VIII, 19:98)
"In truth, you cannot understand the nature of My Reality either today, or even after a thousand years... But, in a short time, you will become cognisant of the bliss showered by the Divine Principle, which has taken upon itself this sacred body and this sacred name." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19, 98)
"This is a Human Form in which every Divine entity, every Divine Principle, that is to say, all the Names and Forms ascribed by man to God are manifest." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19:99)
"... in a short time you will become cognisant of the bliss showered by the Divine Principle, which has taken upon itself this sacred body and this sacred name." (VIII, 19:99)
Also from 1968:
"In each Yuga, the Divine has incorporated itself as an Avatar for some particular task. This Incarnation is different in that It has to deal with the crisis which is world-wide and world-shaking." (VIII, 28:157)
Six months after the World Conference, gave his Birthday Discourses for 1968, which is also offered on the same official website as another of the four very special Discourses, and is titled 'The Milestone Speech'. Through some enormous publishing oversight of the SSO, however, the Discourse is not to be found in the Sathya Sai Speaks volume for that year (which offers for 23 November 1968 a very low-key Discourse with only a bare mention of the Birthday, beginning: "This is a pot; this is a thatch; this is a house; this is a wall ..." Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, Ch. 45). Neither is it printed in the American edition of the Discourses. Nevertheless, the English version of the 'missing Discourse' is widely known among devotees because it has been available for many years in Samuel Sandweiss's Sai Baba - the Holy Man and the Psychiatrist, 1975 (pp. 86-91).
In this Discourse, SSB once more strongly reaffirms his direct claims in some detail. I include some quotations which have become very well known and frequently quoted by SSB devotees:
"For the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of evil-doers and for establishing righteousness on a firm footing, I incarnate from age to age."
"The arrival of the Lord is also anxiously awaited by saints and sages. Spiritual aspirants (sadhus) prayed and I have come. ... You can enjoy the bliss through the experience the Avathar confers."
"I do not mention Sai Baba in any of my discourses, but I bear the name as Avathar of Sai Baba. I do not appreciate in the least the distinction between the various appearances of God: Sai, Rama, Krishna, etc."
"That is why the present Avathar has come."
"These yogic powers are just in the nature of the Avathar - the creation of things with intent to protect and give joy is spontaneous and lasting. Creation, preservation, and dissolution can be accomplished only by the Almighty. ... no one else can."
"Magicians play their tricks ... They are based on falsehood and they thrive on deceit, but this body could never stop to such a low level."
"Let me assure you that this divine body (dharmaswarupa) has not come in vain. It will succeed in averting the crisis that has come upon humanity."
1968, so momentous for the number of claims of Divinity by SSB, was, in fact, also the year when he was finally projected on to the world stage. From that time on, SSB and the SSO were to take on an increasingly global dimension, while remaining firmly anchored in the Hindu tradition of the majority of SSB's devotees, and while maintaining public worship of and reverence for Shirdi Sai Baba in SSB's ashrams.
Between 1969 and about 1972, which marks the end of an important phase of the SSB Mission, there are still a fair number of these robust claims in SSB's Discourses. For example:"It is impossible for anyone to understand or explain the meaning and significance of Swami. There can be no possible means of approach to this manifestation, from the stage which you can attain. This is an Incarnation, an Embodiment, which is beyond anyone's comprehension. Trying to explain me would be as futile as the attempt of a person who does not know the alphabet to read a learned volume, or the attempt to pour the Ocean into a tiny waterway." (Sathya Sai Speaks, X, 28:170 - I am grateful to Robert Priddy for bringing this example to my attention.)
Other examples of the early 1970s:
In Volume X, Chapter 30, page 185, the well known but still unsubstantiated claim:
"I am active and busy all the twenty-four hours of the day. Every day, the mail brings me thousands of letters and you hand over to me personally hundreds more. Yet I do not take the help of anyone else, even to open the envelopes. For you write to me intimate details of your personal problems, believing that I alone will read them and having implicit confidence in me. You may ask how I manage it? Well, I do not waste a single moment."
"In order to make known My majesty and My glory as the Divine that has Incarnated, miraculous happenings of an amazing nature do take place in certain areas." (X, 35:234)
"... during no previous Age did man have this unique chance. No organisation of this nature was established, no Conference of this character was held in the Presence and no opportunity was given then to derive Ananda through such close association, through conversation and through singing together. Undoubtedly, you are all singularly fortunate." (X; 35:238)
"The Sathyam-Shivam-Sundaram (Truth-Love-Beauty) manifestation of God responds to prayers addressed to any of Its manifold Names. It is endowed with infinite patience and compassion, though It has now assumed human form and can be expected to have human traits and even human failings, for it has to deal with human frailties and rescue man from himself." (X, 38:251)
Talking to pilgrims who walked 400 miles to the Mahasivaratri festivities, SSB says: "I was with you throughout, from the very first step to the last. Some of you argued at H... ... I know that you spent 75 per cent of the time in Divine thoughts, 25 per cent on your personal worries ... " (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 9:54-55 - a rather unimpressive revelation in the circumstances, but many naive devotees are impressed by such predictable pronouncements which they see as omniscient!)
Another major self-promotional statement which must have drawn gasps of delighted astonishment from devotees was SSB's revelation on Christmas Eve, 1972 that Jesus Christ had predicted his Advent (as God the Father, not as the Son of God) by pointing to a sheep and uttering the word "Ba-Ba". Part of the context is offered here for purposes of clarification:
"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." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 54:346)
This is where Baba makes his striking claim (patently exaggerated, like so many other statements by or about SSB, but accepted and repeated by so many devotees):
"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 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.' [Bold type added for a particularly bold and unequivocal claim.] 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)
"The power of Sai is limitless; It manifests for ever. All forms of 'power' are resident in the Sai palm." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XII, 38:227 - June 1974)
Nothing could be clearer than this massive early body of direct confident claims of Divinity, etc. by SSB. It is therefore perhaps not just futile but suspicious for some spokespersons and devotees to turn a blind eye to them.
Then, however, comes an important change in the pattern: from the mid-1970s onwards, this steady stream of confident, brash, direct self-projection as the Omnipotent Avatar and the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai is stemmed and reduced, outnumbered by indirect, impersonal, ambiguous, associative claims. The latter were also visible since the early Discourses, but in recent decades they, along with many more general references to God (God's Love; God is within, We are all God, etc.), have gradually become SSB's usual way of dealing with the subject of Divinity. Meanwhile, the mantle of responsibility for propagating and maintaining the Divine myths has fallen on the shoulders of his spokespersons and devotees, happy to spread (by word of mouth, and in countless books and lectures) the earlier claims as well as stories of countless Divine miracles, and constant rumoured proofs of SSB's other alleged Divine characteristics, like omniscience and omnipresence.
Why this significant (dramatic) change came about is open to speculation, but, in the light of later clear moves to downgrade or downplay this initial and characteristically direct promotion of SSB's alleged divine aspects by both SSB himself and parts of his SSO (see my two articles previously referred to), the sharp contrast in self-presentation (and the dichotomous presentations by the SSO and others) is quite significant and merits more intensive examination by other researchers.
It is also relevant to point out that, in connection with the direct/indirect dichotomy of the public Divinity claims, a similar alternation by SSB (between assertion and silence or denial) is also obvious with reference to the history of SSB's projection of his alleged miracles. While solidly establishing his uniquely Divine and Omnipotent reputation as a miracle maker and healer in the early years, SSB also made occasional disarming disclaimers, stating that the miracles (which have always had a great influence on attracting people's attention to SSB) were mere bagatelles to attract attention to the real spiritual life. In later years, exhibiting a more subtle approach to self-projection, SSB was to make this sort of disclaimer more frequently, in an apparent attempt to distance himself from the sensational aspects which - largely because of his own advocacy - had become associated with his name and which had attracted so many devotees to him! Here is an early example:
"You elaborate in your lectures the unique powers of Sai, the incidents are described as 'miracles' in books written on Me by some persons. But I request you not to attach importance to these. Do not exaggerate their significance ; the most significant and important power is, let Me tell you, My prema (love). I may turn the sky into earth or the earth into sky; but that is not the sign of Divine might. It is the prema ... that is the unique sign." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19:98)
(See also the example given earlier from Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 25:154)
It is not surprising that such disclaimers are now avidly seized upon by beleaguered devotees, anxious to stem the flood of recent criticism of SSB's claims: "The miracles are not important." "SSB does not claim to be God." Other observers, less affected by SSB's undoubtedly mesmeric and charismatic spell, might describe this alternating technique as SSB having his cake and eating it, as he does when the off-the-record rumours and personal anecdotes which he spreads in private conversations are repeated in public by devotees and spokespersons, and sometimes later denied by him.
Researchers and others will have noted the tactical progression (conscious or otherwise): first the powerful 'hype' for the special message, then when an atmosphere of interest and expectation has attracted and convinced a significant audience to the point where it voluntarily repeats the hype, there is an important and subtle adjustment of the message by SSB (in this case to a more indirect and often conveniently ambiguous, presentation). As has already been pointed out, the SSO itself often fluctuates between promoting SSB as Divine and downplaying direct claims in public. For example, all volumes of the official Revised Indian edition of Sathya Sai Speaks offer the following coy statement at the beginning of the book 'blurb' on the front inside cover: "To hundreds of thousands of people spread over almost every country in the world, Sri Sathya Sai Baba is believed to be an Avathaar , an embodiment of God, divinity in human form." (But we and they know very well WHY he is "believed to be ...")
A possible explanation of the dichotomies: direct/indirect; crude/subtle.
In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the SSO expanded; so did the influence of the SSO mentors and apparatchiks and as the direction and main focus of the Mission began to change, away from India (and Shirdi Baba), towards a more universal projection, and the introduction of the Christ ideal (a new intimate and global spiritual connection) in the early 1970s, the direct Divine claims tend to become increasingly less frequent, and replaced by more indirect or oblique ones, culminating in recent years in the SSO's tendency to project a more ecumenical and less provocative image of SSB on the (largely non-Hindu) world stage as an important spiritual leader at the head of an extremely well endowed charitable Foundation.
The delicious irony here is that that it is precisely SSB's alleged Divinity and Divine Powers that seems so important and attractive to so many of SSB's non-Hindu devotees, who go out of their way to continue to shout it from the rooftops! Equally ironic, in my opinion, is that some devotees who have abandoned SSB's fold in the past three years because of the controversies appear to have done so, not so much because of the recent clear revelations of blatant inconsistencies, exaggerations, and flaws in SSB's claims and pronouncements (which would entail a fully cathartic admission of their own very basic gullibility over many years) but because of the more conveniently repulsive image presented by the sensational sexual allegations.
Since 1999, coinciding with a more defensive 'bunker' environment and an increasingly hostile international climate, there appears to be an even greater dearth of direct claims of Divinity by SSB in his Discourses, but the subject still needs careful examination. He continues to exhibit his previous tendency to attract attention to himself mainly by indirect references to God, Avatar, etc. and to garner reflected glory by general or oblique references to the previous Rama and Krishna Avatars. Having convinced persuaded and convinced devotees many years ago that he is God, he can rest on his spiritual laurels and leave others to proselytise - but very occasionally, as if suddenly needing to re-assert himself, SSB makes a direct claim, particularly when he is aware of outside criticism, as on Mahasivaratri day , 1999, when he allegedly materialised a Shiva lingam in public for the first time in 22 years and said proudly: "You cannot see such a manifestation anywhere else in the world. It is possible only with Divinity." Consider also these triumphant boasts from 1990: "What has been accomplished at Prashanthi Nilayam in the past fifty years could not have been achieved even in five hundred years [cheers]. Although many avatars have done great things, no avatar has achieved the stupendous things done here in fifty yrs. All this has been accomplished by this single hand. ... This supreme power of attracting so many from all parts of the world can only belong to the Divine [cheers]." (XXIII, 29:254) And: "The two bodies are different, but the Divinity is one. The first advent was for revealing Divinity. The second advent is to awaken the Divinity (in human beings). The next advent is for propagating Divinity. The three Sais are: Shirdi Sai, Sathya Dsai and Prema Sai." (XXIII, 28:244)
For purposes of comparison, here are a few of SSB's very frequent indirect, impersonal, discreet, subtle, or even ambiguous references to Divinity. It is reasonable to assume that devotees, who are convinced SSB is the Avatar, hardly seem to notice the difference between the two categories. That is surely significant.
"It is not possible to know the Lord by book knowledge or by human intelligence. When the Lord comes in human form, His measureless powers are not to be judged by looking at His age, size or innocent behaviour. Such judgement will only lead to greater misunderstanding of the Divine." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XVI, 17:98 - 24-7-83)
"Even when the Divine appears in human form, moves freely amongst men, and is near in various ways to people, few are able to recognise Divinity in the physical form alone." (XVI, 17:94, 24-7-83)
"One should understand the ideals set for humanity by God in His human incarnation and live up to them." (XX, 18:149)
"It is not easy to understand the nature of the Divine. Because the Divine is omnipresent, He can undertake any kind of activity." (XX; 29:240)
"God's omnipresence is certainly true. But one gets the right to speak about it only when he has experienced it at least to a small extent." (XXII, 12:93)
Another of SSB's dichotomies, fluctuations, or inconsistencies, is the stark contrast between his early direct Divine claims and his repeated reticence and evasiveness in his very rare public encounters with the media. Some instances of this reticence are the following:
At the First All India Conference at Venkatagiri.
On the brief African tour in 1968 (during which he made a veiled reference):
"It is not enough if you gather in thousands on occasions when a mahatma (sage) comes to town ..." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 24:132) Incidentally, this was the only time that SSB has ventured overseas - so far.
As SSB's Divine claims came to be unquestioningly accepted and he began to cut down on the number of direct references in his Discourses, and to increase his verbal contact and demonstrations of powers with his associates and with interviewees, the Divine reputation continued to be sustained by spokespersons, writers and devotees. As a result of these private confidences, and their repetition by others, in print and by word of mouth, it is often difficult for most devotees to distinguish between SSB's words as relayed (nearly always in translated, edited form) by the SSO in their official publications and the words attributed to him by these other commentators, often well known ashram personalities. It is also often impossible to cross-check such reported statements with the Sathya Sai Speaks record because there is no parallel public statement by SSB.
More Fluctuations: A Final Note on the SHIRDI BABA Claims
Just as SSB made his strong direct claims to Divinity in the early (translated and edited) Discourses, so he continued to impress on his listeners the claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba which he had made so indelibly at the outset of his Mission in 1943 (not 1940, by the way). This is another clear and recurring characteristic of SSB: the claim of legitimacy by association with Shirdi, Rama. Krishna, and later, Jesus Christ. The difference is that, while SSB's uninterrupted efforts for his name to be associated (at least indirectly) with Rama and Krishna the Shirdi Baba association, although very prominently advertised in the early decades of SSB's Mission, ceased to be mentioned in his Discourses for twenty years.
On his alleged Shirdi origins and recollections, SSB made many references like the following in the early years. With such demonstrations he ensured that his and Shirdi's names would be closely linked, as they have remained in devotees' eyes to this day.
"I remember telling a questioner in Maharashtra, while in the previous body, that there are three types of devotion ..." (I, 2:10 - 1955)
" ... the late brother of the Raja S..., a person who dwelt on My name even in the last moments of his life ..." (I, 16:93 Venkatagiri Town, 9-9-58)
"I am reminded now of past events, events in my previous body. ... A wrestler challenged Me then for a fight and he was defeated before a large gathering of villagers." (II, 31:170)
"This day ... is not only the day which marks the date of birth of this Avathaar; the previous Sai Avathaar was also inaugurated on a Thursday ..." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 25:131 - 23-11-61)
It may surprise many SSB devotees that the following claim does not form part of the beliefs of most Shirdi Sai Baba followers (that is, those who are not also devotees of SSB).
"When this Mahaashakthi decided to leave the previous body in 1918, Kaaka Saheb Dikshit was told that in 8 yrs' time this will take birth again." (II, 20:102)
"While in the previous body, I had said, 'I will come again after eight years.' Dikshith has written it down as if I will appear as an eight-yr-old! That is a mistake. Having cast off that body on the Vijayadhasahami Day, 1918, I granted actual concrete darshan off and on to various bhakthas during about six years." (II; 22:118)
And then, just before SSB began to become world famous and to talk in public and at length about Jesus Christ every Christmas, he suddenly dropped the subject of Shirdi from his Discourses - for twenty years! I have found no references to Shirdi between Vol X (1970) and Vol XXII (c1989) of Sathya Sai Speaks. Very ODD! But in the 1990 and 1992 volumes of Discourses (Vols. XXIII and XXV) he suddenly blurts out, in one of his famous impromptu stories, the alleged new facts (two bewilderingly DIFFERENT versions) about Shirdi's birth and upbringing. (There are more references to Shirdi Sai in Vol. XXIX.)
(A reasonable speculation: could the silence be due, in part at least, to objections from Shirdi Baba devotees and the strong Indian and international Shirdi Baba Organisation? There were no Delhi visits by SSB in the period c1981-1999, and Delhi is a stronghold of the Shirdi Baba Organisation.)
As for the very rarely mentioned Prema Sai, SSB practically publicly denied his 'reality' (and side-stepped a direct question about the Shirdi reincarnation) on his 1999 visit to Delhi (the first in 17 years). SSB's first interview with journalists in many years was published in The Times Of India on 12 March 1999. His guarded answers to two direct questions on what we may term the "Sai succession" were:
How do you relate yourself to Sai Baba of Shirdi?
This body has not seen him.
Who will lead the Sathya Sai movement after you? My devotees. God will continue to guide them.
Once again, the fluctuation: from claim to silence, or denial.
So, whether by design or accident - whatever the underlying reasons - the general pattern of SSB's claims of Divinity seems to be: make the strong claims (or tell the stories), enjoy the impact on the public, then sit back and allow your followers to repeat the claims (or stories) for you, beginning with the gargantuan efforts by Kasturi and Hislop, and continuing with the cooperation of countless devotees throughout the past thirty years. From the 1970s onward, the slightest indirect associative remarks and innuendos from SSB's lips (usually in Telugu) have been taken by his audiences as reconfirmation of his claims of Divinity. Their beliefs remain unchanged. He no longer needs to make brash claims.
In view of all the available evidence, the reader will form his or her own opinion about these highly visible changes in the pattern of SSB's public pronouncements, and in some minds intriguing and speculative questions may arise, such as:
Does SSB now regret or privately disown his own earlier vigorously direct Divine claims (as some of his desperate or forgetful devotees seek to do)?
Was he advised (and did he agree) to change his style of self-promotion by his associates and advisors in the SSO after its creation in 1965?
One of the references at the beginning of this analysis was to the subject of devotees' defensive denials: "SSB never claimed to be God on Earth." Perhaps we could now suggest to them that they should amend this to: "SSB doesn't claim to be God very much any more." However, we might not agree on the explanation for this characteristic fluctuation by SSB.
Finally, in view of SSB's teachings and other activities, does it really matter whether he is a Divine Avatar or not? In view of the vehemence and scope of those overwhelming initial claims, it obviously should matter because it involves SSB's credibility, and the credibility of those who continue to support all these Divine claims long after SSB has virtually ceased to make them in public in such a flamboyant and unequivocal manner.
A few more book titles which reflect devotee conviction of SSB's Divinity:
Divine Life and Mission of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba,
The Divine Leelas of Sri Satya Sai Baba
Satya Sai Avatar. Glimpses of Divinity
Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A Story of God as Man
In Search of Sai Divine.
Lord Sri Krishna and His Present Reincarnation
Sai My Divine Beloved
Face to Face with God,
Sathya Sai. The Avatar of Love
Sathya Sai. The Eternal Charioteer
God in our Midst
When God Walks the Earth
Sathya Sai Baba. God in Action
My Holy Man is Avatar
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