Basic Notes on Sathya Sai Baba's Credibility Problem
Brian Steel November 2004
Copyright © 2004 Brian Steel
Sathya Sai Baba is a well known charismatic spiritual teacher whose unique claims of Avataric Divinity seem to be unquestioningly accepted by most of his followers. In spite of this faith-induced acceptance, a large number of factual errors and other discrepancies in many of the stories he tells in his public Discourses weaken not only his general credibility but in particular the credibility of his Divine claims. What follows is merely a brief introductory sample of the evidence available for examination in his published Discourses (available on the official SSB websites and in book form from the SSB Book Trust) and, in a limited number of cases, on commercially available videotapes.
For example, over the past thirty years of his 60 year Mission, he has regularly included special mentions about the life story and teachings of Jesus Christ in his Christmas Day speeches for overseas and other devotees. On one of these occasions (in 1996) a number of very surprising statements translated literally from Telugu into English by his consecutive interpreter were captured on a commercial videotape, which was made available for purchase and can be studied:
1. "Three hundred and fifty years B.C., before Christ, Jews lived. ... Christianity is not just 2,000 years in its origin. It was there even before Christ, 350 years. "
2. "So among Jews there are these two groups: Catholics and Protestants. The difference of opinion had increased day by day. This led to Jesus, whose life was in danger. "
3. "Because of so many groups there, they all attempted even to harm Jesus. Romans on one side. Catholics on one side. Luther on another side."
The task of the publishing wing of this guru's Organisation is to translate into many languages and publish the leader's Telugu speeches for devotees to study. They are printed in an official magazine and in annual volumes. In this case the editors reproduced most of the speech but replaced the above and several other videotaped sentences about the Middle East at the time of Christ with the bland editorial comment:
"(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.)"
Because of this editorial control, most devotees will never know about SSB's far from omniscient statements about Jews and Christians, etc.
Although some of the evidence is in print in a bestselling devotee book, few devotees will be aware or concerned that a group of Jewish and other devotees had had a special meeting with SSB sixteen years before these statements to explain to him, the allegedly omniscient Avatar, that Judaism and Christianity were not a single religion? (And how many will have read his "schoolboy error" that in the fourth century BCE, Alexander the Great studied the Bible and the Quran?)
"A king from Greece [later identified as Alexander the Great] came to India to study the conditions here ..." "He made a study of the Bible, the Quran and Buddhist texts and found that all of this laid emphasis on Truth, ... In the Quran he found that only by adherence to the Truth can one be a real man." (Discourse for 21 August 1986)
How many devotees noticed that the following daring and totally unsupported assertion (which followed the Jesus segment of the 1996 Discourse referred to above) about a miniature book (approximately 3 by 3 and a half centimetres) which he suddenly produced and held up for his audience to see? It looks identical to the Good News New Testament of the Bible, available very cheaply in Indian and overseas markets. However, for SSB (and therefore for his devotees) it was "a 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 which they preserved in a place on the Black Sea coast." "Some of the details of Christ's life found here are not recorded in the Bible. This is the true story of Jesus."
Unfortunately, what would have been a unique addition to New Testament knowledge subsequently disappeared, allegedly spirited away to the safety of its still unidentified Black Sea home (according to ashram rumour for devotees thirsty for news, any news, about miraculous happenings associated with SSB).
Equally serious for SSB's credibility is that in other Christmas speeches, in addition to offering a lot of dialogue not found in the New Testament or discussed by Christian theologians, he has made the following conflicting remarks, again with total impunity and zero embarrassment to himself or to his spokespersons and devotees:
1. The Three Wise Men were (in different Discourses): wise men; shepherds; kings; Arabian kings; Tibetans.
In another Christmas Discourse (1972), SSB claimed incongruously that his (Messianic) Advent was foretold by Jesus on the Cross, by pointing symbolically to a lamb which happened to be nearby and pronouncing the familiar sounds: "Ba-ba". Then Jesus, although already "merging in the Supreme Principle of Divinity" was allegedly able to be more specific: 'His Name will be Truth.' SSB made an even more specific claim about his own alleged Divine hierarchy: "Christ did not declare that he will come again. He said, 'He who made me will come again.' That Ba-ba is this Baba." Even this inspired piece of story-telling went unchallenged by devotees; instead they greeted the news with the usual rapture and applause. Once again SSB's credibility, instead of being weakened by extraordinary assertions, remained intact because of their unquestioning acceptance of anything he says.
That astonishing "Ba-ba" claim (or series of claims) on Christmas day 1972 was made nearly thirty years after SSB's first Divine Declaration that he was the reincarnation of the well known Indian saint Shirdi Sai Baba. It marked the fusion of the initial Hindu Mission with a massive ecumenical global outreach phase which began in the late 1960s. The Christian part of that link is now specially celebrated on the appropriate day in December each year. (For comparison, between 1954 - the first officially printed Discourse - and 1969, there were only four or five short Discourse references to Jesus Christ.)
During the 30-year period since then, those 1972 statements have been proudly repeated and publicised by spokespersons and writers, and marvelled over by devotees. In the last few years that Christmas Discourse has been prominently displayed by SSB's Organisation on one of its official websites as one of his four most important Discourses. The bold title added to the Discourse is, 'He whom Christ Announced'. The Discourse is also available in official SSO books and magazines and also on the official SSO Radio station.
Firm in their belief of SSB's claims, the SSO, associates, spokespersons, writers and devotees often go a few steps further than even SSB by asserting or believing that his Avataric Advent was also forecast in Hindu scriptures, the Book of Revelations and by Muhammad, Nostradamus (of course), and in the 20th century by Edgar Cayce and Sri Aurobindo. The evidence offered for such assertions is sufficient for devotees, but, at best, will be found unconvincing by the general public and at worst, will make them question the judgement of those who make and believe such claims.
Because of such high-powered publicity and the resultant celebrity status it has conferred over the years, this charismatic and (probably) paranormally gifted spiritual leader rarely needs to make the sort of direct claims of Divinity that he made so strongly and often in the early years of his Mission six decades ago. His devotees happily repeat his claims to be God on Earth on his behalf and they tend to reject out of hand - or even refuse to read - any suggestions which point to a different truth, like the few mentioned above. There are, in fact, many more such inconvenient Discourse stories and facts. Those dealing with SSB's own childhood and youth) have already been shown to contain significant discrepancies and errors. The overall result is a growing body of evidence which suggests that SSB's style of storytelling undermines his credibility in relation to his claims of personal Divinity and Omniscience.
For further details:
Sathya Sai Baba: Man of Many Stories
Omniscience and Truth
Promoting Sathya Sai Baba in Today's Spiritual Marketplace
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