Dossier 1: Sathya Sai Baba as Storyteller
Brian Steel November 2004
Copyright © 2004 Brian Steel
"Know that there is nothing that Sai does not know." (Discourse, 16 May 2002)
According to his biographers, SSB has been the focus of other people's attention since his childhood. As soon as he announced his Mission (in 1943), he began to attract more and more people to him and in the early days was able to spend much time chatting with them. When the numbers of devotees had grown and he began to address them with 'Discourses' in a more formal setting, he retained his simple unsophisticated chat style.
The major contributing factor to SSB's growing celebrity over the past 60 years has been his ability to attract and keep people's attention with his charisma and spiritual teachings. His principal physical interface with the public has been through his twice daily darshan appearances at his ashram, interviews for small groups of devotees and regular public talks (Discourses) in Telugu to those present in the ashram. For 50 years these Discourses, translated into many languages and heavily edited by SSO officials, have been published in official magazines and annual compilations, reaching the wider public of SSB devotees in India and many other countries.
The teaching content of SSB's Discourses is widely read and discussed, and widely reproduced and propagated in devotee writing. Until recently, due to a widespread firm belief in SSB's Divine nature and infallibility, and major interest in his spiritual teachings, little or no serious critical attention had been paid to the anecdotal content of these Discourses. A closer look at the first 35 volumes of SSB's Discourses, unblinkered by religious faith, reveals a series of basic discrepancies which cast very serious doubt on SSB's general credibility, particularly with reference to his claims of Divinity and its accoutrements.
SSB's frequent Telugu Discourses are loosely-knit, unscripted and rambling teaching vehicles, lasting an hour or more. In most of them, like successful preachers everywhere, SSB usually inserts one or more didactic stories or anecdotes. Most usually he talks about daily life and gives advice on conduct, often telling illustrative anecdotes based on Hindu mythology and scriptures. Often SSB also speaks about himself and sometimes tells stories and short anecdotes about his Divinity or his childhood and youth. Such stories reinforce and add to the officially projected image of SSB, and usually involve a certain amount of vigorous self-promotion.
However, a substantial number of stories, statements and claims made by SSB are confused, exaggerated, or incorrect. Not infrequently, with his stories as with other statements, he contradicts himself. These dubious or incorrect assertions are too numerous and serious to be dismissed, as devotees tend to, as mere 'leelas' by a playful or testing God. SSB has a spontaneous compulsion to tell stories. Emanating from one whose early popularity as a guru was solidly based on his strong, explicit and unequivocal claims to be God on Earth, Divine, All-Powerful and Omniscient, the stories with discrepancies in them deserve close attention as primary counter-evidence to the Divine claims. If one group of verifiable stories have obvious major flaws in them, why should those other basically unverifiable stories about his Divine person and nature be accepted so unquestioningly as truth?
Contents of this Dossier
Stories about SSB's Childhood and Family, and of the Early Years of His Mission.
Stories about SSB's Childhood and Family, and of the Early Years of his Mission.
1. Schoolmates and Claims of Miraculous Cheating in Examinations
SSB sometimes reminisces about his early years in his Discourses. Between 1949 and 2002, he has told one particular story about his schooldays, in at least nine versions, with permutations of different and conflicting details. (For more details, see The University Chancellor and His Schoolboy Stories)
Firstly, the basic ingredients in the confection of these story variants are:
1. SSB had many school friends. Some of these sat beside him in the different schools he attended, especially in far off Kamalapuram (June 1940-April 1941), nearby Bukkapatnam (July 1941- April 1942) and relatively distantUravakonda High School (1 July 1943 - presumably October 1943, the date of the alleged second Declaration). The indispensable Love is My Form (Vol. 1) documents all this (see especially pp. 40-41, 68-69, 128-129, and 132-133).
Note: Distances from Puttaparthi: Bukkapatnam, nearby; Kamalapuram, 200 kilometres; Uravakonda, ?140 km.
2. The ESLC (Elementary School Leaving Certificate)
The best documented version of the Elementary Leaving Examination story (in LIMF, p.129) is that: "Sathya's school records at Bukkapatnam indicate that, in 1942, he was not allowed to take the ESLC examination as he did not have the minimum required attendance at school." The photocopy of the school register is also offered as evidence on page 69.
3. In the Old Mandir (December 1945-), SSSB had several dogs, some given to him by devotees. One pair of puppies, called Jack and Jill, was given by an English couple who had stayed in the Old Mandir. They were his favourites and slept in his bedroom. The Maharani of Mysore visited the ashram with her chauffeur. Jack was sent to guide the chauffeur back to the car on the other side of the Chitravati River and slept under the car. In the morning, when the driver started up the car, he accidentally ran over the dog. It limped or crawled back to the ashram and expired at SSB's feet. Jill stopped eating and died a few days later. A memorial plaque was placed in the Mandir grounds. ( From LIMF, p. 271 and a Discourse in February 1997: Sathya Sai Speaks, XXX, 4:34-36)
In SSB's hands, these three basic strands (schoolfriends, exams, and dogs) grow and intertwine. As we shall see on other occasions, like SSB's annual references to Jesus Christ, his conflicting and unexplained versions of the early life of Shirdi Sai Baba, and in some of his idiosyncratic word etymologies, undergo new and sometimes conflicting and puzzling variations.
What appears to be the seed for the main part of the story, and its probably truthful version was told to the young Miss Vijayakumari and other early devotees in 1949 (and reproduced recently in her book of reminiscences, on p. 217). Note the brief but essential details. In those days SSB would take the devotees to the sands of the Chitravati and chat to them.
"I had four very good friends. After school, we would assemble under a tree and offer worship to Shirdi Baba. Whatever my friends wished for, I would take out of my bag and give them. During the exams, I would tell the four of them what questions would be given in the question paper. Once, when one of them did not attend the exam, I answered the paper in his handwriting. Later, for High School studies, I had to go to Uravakonda." [Italics added]
In the same talk, SSB added, "In my thirteenth year, coming to know that I had become a 'Baba' and had left home, one of my friends became mad. It seems, he went away somewhere, crying out 'Baba! Baba!' Another friend jumped into a well and died." (p. 218)
So, the basic elements in 1949 were:
Examinations (plural), four unnamed friends, the miracle of cheating for ONE of these friends in one exam. In Uravakonda LATER, one friend went mad, the other committed suicide after Sathya Narayana's Shirdi Declaration.
Between 1978 to the present, this school story has gone through 8 differing versions, until it finally fuses with the other involving the pet dogs (after 1945).
In the Discourse for 1 October 2000 (Special Issue of Sanathana Sarathi for November 2000, pp. 327-330), the strange story undergoes a further expansion:
Ramesh and Suresh and SSB had to go to Uravakonda from Puttaparthi (?140 km). SSB cheats for them and all three get a first class result. The seat numbers are 9, 300, and 200. SSB brilliantly finished his own paper in half an hour; the results came out the next day: all 3 received First Class. So, apart from claiming a considerable personal feat (and a miracle), SSB, the Educator, the University Chancellor, is once more condoning cheating and dishonesty. (Again, the Headmaster, according to SSB, was M. Kameshwar Rao.)
But, in this Discourse, SSB's story goes on:
When SSB left Uravakonda after his Declarations, Ramesh ran and jumped into a well; Suresh went mad and was institutionalised in Bangalore. Ramesh and Suresh were reborn as Jack and Jill to SSB's two dogs, Lilly and Billy. Jack was crushed in the automobile accident and Jill died a few days later.
The carefully researched LIMF volume had only just been published when SSB gave this full new version of his story. Although it traces many other schoolmates of SSB, the almost encyclopedic LIMF makes no mention of these particular companions: Ramesh and Suresh/Sudhir. However, as on a few other potentially embarrassing occasions, having provided convincing contradictory evidence to SSB's story, the editors of LIMF try to reduce its importance but merely succeed in compounding the suspicion of inaccuracy on SSB's part with the following statement: "In a number of Discourses, Sri Sathya Sai Baba has referred to His classmates under various names, such as 'Ramesh', 'Prakash', 'Suresh', 'Sudhir' and 'Paresh'. Our thorough search failed to locate their existence in any of the four schools in which Sathya studied as a boy. It is possible that Sri Sathya Sai Baba chooses not to disclose their real names, in order to protect their privacy." (LIMF, p, 61, footnote 8) This is possible, especially since they seem to have lived in distant Uravakonda, but surely unlikely since most of SSB's schoolmates appear to have been described and pictured in the 600-page large format book which only covers the years 1926-1950 - and, on p. 129, the LIMF team throw further doubt on the Ramesh and Suresh names: "Most [schoolmates] agree that Koti Reddy and Narayan Rahu were deskmates of Sathya at Uravakonda."
The confused convolutions and incongruities in these boastful stories about SSB's distant past highlight the urgent need to re-examine, rewrite, and re-assess this very obscure early part of his official biography, especially the period 1940-1945.
Why SSB chooses to invent and vary details in some stories which can be checked against the bare bones of his official biography is open to conjecture. The fact that he does so, and that he can be shown to do so in stories like the above examples, has serious implications.
2. The Amazing Wolf Messing Anecdotes
Also related to SSB's schooldays are his anecdotes about a meeting with Wolf Messing. According to the very sketchy biography of Wolf Messing (at present being critically re-investigated by Alexandra Nagel), this celebrated mind reader was born in Poland in 1899, of Jewish parents, and rather than study to be a Rabbi, he went off to seek his fortune and quickly discovered that he had rare psychic gifts. According to his biographers, he became a highly successful stage mind reader and between 1910 and the late 1920s travelled in many countries, including India, demonstrating his fascinating 'mentalist' or paranormal abilities. He is even alleged to have personally met and impressed Freud and Einstein (in 1915) and Gandhi (in 1927). In 1939, Messing fled from Germany, seeking refuge in the Soviet Union, where he settled, married, and continued to work successfully until his death in 1974. Some of the many colourful anecdotes that have made him famous as a paranormal performer concern meetings with Stalin and impressing him sufficiently to gain his support. He may also have worked for the Soviet military on their secret paranormal research.
Messing began to be known in the West with the publication in 1970 of a sensational bestseller dealing with secret Soviet research: Ostrander, Sheila and Schroeder, Lynn, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, Prentice-Hall, 1971 (1970). (See especially pp. 41-57.) (This was soon followed by two equally successful books by the same authors:
Ostrander, Sheila and Schroeder, Lynn, Psychic Discoveries. The Iron Curtain Lifted, London: Souvenir Press, 1997 (1970) [Introduced by Uri Geller]
Ostrander, Sheila and Schroeder, Lynn, The ESP Papers: Scientists Speak Out from Behind the Iron Curtain, New York: Bantam, 1976.
Ten years later, SSB began to make Messing even better known by his devotees by linking him dramatically to his own childhood in the first of two (or three) versions of another reminiscence of his schooldays.
Version 1 Discourse for 22 November 1980, see Sathya Sai Speaks XIV, pp. 364-366, or the SSO website. This was given at the 3rd World Conference of Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, attended by delegates from many countries, including the Soviet Union.
a) The Sathya Sai Speaks official version begins with a highly coloured account of Messing's alleged meetings with Freud, Einstein, Hitler and Stalin, with a few 'new' facts and assertions thrown in, including the original information that Freud was "a scientist engaged in research on the human mind. Freud was surprised at Messing and his powers; he realised that his own researches were shallow and turned his attention to the search for the highest level of Consciousness in man. Stalin was caught between Freud and Messing but he dare not give up the image he had once built up. He continued the easier path of establishing the materialistic and atheistic state and implanting irreligion in the hearts of youth." (p. 364)
Following this exotic preamble, SSB takes us to 1937. He says Sathya Narayana was eleven years old and a student in Kamalapuram (200 km away from Puttaparthi). Sathya is with some friends near the railway station. A man comes running up to him and kisses him, saying, "I am so happy. I love you", and dances with joy. On seeing this performance the boys edge away from him and the man stands watching them. SSB then informs his audience that this was Messing, who was also in India to do spiritual exercises and to meet Gandhi. But Messing is not known to have visited India after 1927 and Alexandra Nagel has recently pointed out the incongruity of SSB's further claim that Messing had gone to India to "identify and realise the Atma". SSB ends this Wolf Messing story with the latter's alleged forecast of a collapse of Stalin's state and the advent of Krushchev.
He continues, while on the Russian paranormal theme, with a few separate but excited remarks about someone he calls 'Kiril' (known to the world as Kirlian). [Interestingly, Messing and Kirlian were both involved in paranormal research in the Soviet Union over a similar period.] According to SSB, 'Kiril' also helped in some unexplained way to effect the change of leadership. And then SSB is off briefly on this other tangent, sounding quite excited and even impressed as he announces some biographical details about Kirlian: that the latter saw flying saucers and posited life on far distant spheres, including one near the Milky Way. From these heights, SSB comes back down to the topics of atheism, belief in God, and the rest of the Discourse. (p 366). Quite a journey!
The trouble with this story is that it just does not fit in with the chronicled biography of either Messing or SSB. According to the sparse biographical details available, Messing's visit to India was in 1927. So, according to SSB's story-telling chronology, Messing seems to have come to Kamalapuram to see him either when he was one year old and in Puttaparthi (or, possibly, before he was born). Secondly, according to the school register photostats in LIMF, Sathya Narayana was at school in Kamalapuram in 1940 and 1941 but the psychic performer had already taken refuge in Moscow (with war between the Soviet Union and Germany breaking out in 1941) and Messing is not known to have travelled to India or anywhere outside the Soviet Union at that difficult time.
In recent years there have been three other versions of the Messing story, which shows SSB's peculiar fascination with the man. The last of these versions is also the most spectacular and the least credible.
In his Discourse for 31 August 2002, SSB again spoke about Messing and himself, at length but with very significant changes and additions. In characteristic SSB fashion, it also adds a totally novel final episode. The story takes up one third of the his Krishna Discourse for that year.
SSB refers to the childhood of Wolfe [sic] and then mentions his world travels before moving on to the local visit. While in India Messing took a train from Cuddapah to Anantapur [a much more feasible route than in version 2]. When the train stopped briefly in Kamalapuram, Messing saw Sathya and his two friends sitting on the platform. (Here they are named as the same Suresh and Ramesh who feature in the previously mentioned series of discrepant stories by SSB). In his excitement, Messing jumped from the moving train and fell over. He comes close to Sathya and is overjoyed. Sathya is aware that he wishes to see him but the friends take fright and call the father of one who comes up in a jeep [an anachronism in the 1930s?] to whisk him away from the strange white man. Messing follows them and waits outside the house for three days hoping to see Sathya, but he leaves, after writing a message on the door referring to the "Divine child".
Next comes the breathtaking new bit: Then, says SSB, Messing "reached his country, Russia". Twenty years later (presumably in the late 1950s or early 1960s), Messing, armed with a Kirlian camera, returned to Kamalapuram and was directed to Bangalore. There he goes to a crowded darshan and takes a special picture of SSB's Divine aura, which turns out completely white (pure). [This is probably a confused - or fused - reference to the well-documented visit of Dr Frank Baranowsky, the aura expert who used a Kirlian camera on a 1977 visit to SSB's ashram.] Still seeking his meeting with SSB, Messing is invited to give an evening talk to the students and goes up to SSB, saying, "My dear, my dear. You are my everything. I am your instrument." Whereupon SSB taught him "all that had to be taught", over a period of ten days [another curious touch because by then Messing was in his fifties and his major life accomplishments as a psychic showman had already been achieved and described in his unpublished autobiography].
Based on the many inconsistencies in these Messing anecdotes, the following conjecture seems reasonable: Once more, as a consummate weaver of stories, especially about himself, SSB has fearlessly based these anecdotes on fragments of knowledge gleaned from his associates and visitors or even from his own reading. He has then garnished it idiosyncratically with his fertile imagination. The source of this particular anecdote is undoubtedly the Ostrander and Schroder books, especially the 1970 one, which would have been circulating locally at that time (probably in an Indian edition). Such an intriguing bestseller on paranormal topics would have been discussed by SSB's ashram associates in their daily meetings as well as by overseas visitors (rather like SSB's sudden reference to the 'Lost Years of Jesus' research referred to elsewhere). The Ostrander book presented the necessary basic background information on Messing, as well as on Kirlian and his photographic techniques. SSB then wove it into his own story (either imagining it to be true or inventing it as more self-promotional material).
For many devotees, and others, the possibility of a psychic, non-physical meeting between these two persons is likely to be offered as an interesting conjecture but this lies outside my research capacities, and in any case it does not intrinsically alter the factual discrepancies in SSB's accounts. Therefore, whichever way one looks at the three Messing stories, and whatever paranormal truth there might conceivably be at the base of the various permutations of the Messing-SSB 'meeting', the conclusion that SSB has invented the story, adding discrepant details and dates, is surely unavoidable. But, once again, the questions arise and linger: Why, time after time, do intelligent devotees unquestioningly indulge SSB's disregard for or carelessness with the truth? Why does he embroider his stories, and so often? And why did he continue to do so even in 2002, when SSB's advisers were aware of the many serious questions (which they are too quick to dismiss as "gossip and rumour") being raised in different forums concerning his omniscience and credibility? Or doesn't he listen to his advisors?
Postscript: The first version of Alexandra Nagel's highly original recent research into the realities of Wolf Messing's extraordinary biography is now available on www.exbaba.com (November 2004: 'Wolf Messing, an enigmatic 'psychic entertainer' whom Sathya Sai Baba claims to have encountered'). Nagel makes an intriguing preliminary case for a hypothesis that some of the more spectacular assertions about Messing's exceptional exploits may not be factually based. Among the doubtful events would be the meetings with Freud, Einstein, and, later, Gandhi. If this hypothesis can be proved, as subsequent research will doubtless determine, it would mean that 'omniscient' SSB even failed to detect the discrepancies in the stories presented in Ostrander's book and possibly shared with him by his senior associates.
3. The Shirdi Sai Baba Story under the Spotlight
There are several unique features which set SSB apart from all other gurus (living and dead). His alleged healing miracles are obviously one of these but predating them is his first very special Claim (Declaration) made in Uravakonda in May 1943: "I am Sai Baba" (i.e. the reincarnation of the revered Muslim-Hindu saint, Sai Baba of Shirdi, also known as Shirdi Sai Baba (or simply Sai Baba), who died in 1918). This extraordinary claim was to characterise SSB's early Mission. Not only is this claim crucial to the credibility of all his Divine claims but it is also probably the weakest (and one which he practically ceased to make in 1969).
Following SSB's mysterious and traumatic illness in 1943 (officially claimed as 1940), he made that famous "I am Sai Baba" announcement a few months before the Declaration of his Mission on 20 October 1943. For the first years of his Mission, the Shirdi Sai Baba connection was to become a prominent feature, along with his growing reputation as a miracle man and miracle healer. In addition to making frequent public claims to be the reincarnation of this widely revered saint, SSB made special efforts to describe his affinities with Shirdi: teachings, types of miracles, and sayings, as well as exhibiting pictures of Shirdi in his ashram, which are still prominent to this day. He also made references (including allegedly omniscient ones) to Shirdi's life, especially to older devotees who had worshipped him. All of this played an important part in spreading SSB's fame and in attracting early devotees, including an important number of elderly aristocratic patrons. The Shirdi aspects and links have been described in many of the books about SSB and present-day devotees are familiar with them.
The reincarnation claim and other alleged evidence has not, however, been universally accepted or welcomed, as the following critical statements by the scholar Kevin R. D. Shepherd in his work,Gurus Rediscovered: Biographies of Sai Baba of Shirdi and Upasani Maharaj of Sakori (Cambridge, Anthropographia Publications, 1986) indicate:
"However, some of [Shirdi] Sai Baba's latter day following have a grievance with which it is easy to sympathize. This relates to the claims made for a certain namesake of the original [Shirdi] Sai Baba, who encourages an obsession with wonder-working and is believed to be the avataric reincarnation of the Shirdi saint." (Shepherd, Chapter 1)
"Hazrat Sai Baba of Shirdi is certainly not to be confused with those gurus who announce themselves as speedily returning reincarnations of him, and who even appropriate his name.(77)" (Shepherd, Chapter 3)
[Note 77] "Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparti was born in 1926 and claimed in 1940 to be a reincarnation of the Shirdi master. Fame accrued very quickly. It is reported that he would produce ash (udhi) from thin air, and likewise photos of Sai Baba, and gerua cloth which he said was from the kafni which Sai Baba used to wear." (Shepherd)
In a recent revised edition of her scholarly book on Shirdi Sai Baba as a Sufi, Dr. Marianne Warren adds some evidence which weakens the credibility of the Shirdi-Sathya avataric link. (See Unravelling the Enigma. Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism, New Delhi, Sterling, 2004) However, Warren stops short of considering important recent evidence, which, when examined carefully, shows that SSB's strident early Shirdi claims are totally unconvincing, as the following paragraphs will show.
As the Mission prospered and more benefactors and worldly-wise collaborators and advisers joined SSB, the Sai Baba Organisation really "took off", nationally and internationally, with the April 1967 First All-India Conference in Madras and the First World Conference in Bombay in May 1968. And, suddenly, not only does the public claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba CEASE to be made but for almost 20 years (in Volumes X-XXII of Sathya Sai Speaks covering the years 1970-1989) there are NO printed PUBLIC references by Sathya Sai Baba to Shirdi Sai Baba. At the same time, SSB began to introduce the Jesus Christ story into his Discourses, but that is a separate story, to be told briefly below, under 'Jesus Christ'.
Such reticence (self-censorship?), following the previous confident claims draws attention to itself. Why would an alleged Divine being need to be quiet about one of his prime characteristics? One can only hazard a guess that the silence might have been to avoid (or to stop) offending the very powerful Shirdi Sai Organisation, few of whose members appear to accept SSB's claims of being a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. The writer and publisher, Parveen Chopra, in the issue of his high-circulation spiritual magazine, Life Positive, dedicated entirely to articles on Shirdi Sai Baba, states clearly, in connection with Sathya Sai's claim to be an incarnation of Shirdi Sai and a precursor of Prema Sai, that "Most Shirdi Sai devotees as well as the Shirdi Trust don't give credence to any of this." (Life Positive, October 1997, p. 35). Also, on the Internet, it is noticeable that whereas the Sathya Sai websites feature Shirdi Sai Baba prominently (as is also the practice in SSB's ashrams, with photos and statues), Shirdi Sai sites do not mention SSB. Finally, as far as I can ascertain, SSB has never visited Shirdi. Why not? The answer is, presumably, that he would NOT be accepted there as Shirdi's reincarnation!
The following piece of very recent evidence (for which I thank Serguei Badaev) suggests that the diplomatic silence kept by the Shirdi Sai Baba authorities for so long may not please all Shirdi devotees.
On 1 June 2002, according to one of the official websites of the very influential Shirdi Sai Association, www.saibaba.org/whatsnew.html, in a report by Mansha Bulchandani, a Shirdi official, Shri C. B. Satpathy, in an address to an All India Convention of Shirdi devotees in Chennai, was quoted in the following terms: "He said that ... Shri Sainath [Shirdi Sai] is an avatar, an incarnation, and emphasised that an incarnation is never reincarnated again." [italics added] To Shirdi supporters (and any SSB supporters who might come across the reference on the Shirdi Sai website), this would seem to be a relatively direct semi-official repudiation of SSB's well-known claim to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.
In fact, the Shirdi Movement is particularly strong in the North, notably in the capital, Delhi, which Baba has only visited on a handful of occasions in 60 years. The lack of a SSB base in that important city until 1999 may also be due to his relative lack of popularity in the North of India, both for the Shirdi reason just offered and the fact that in multilingual India, Sathya Sai Baba's native Telugu language is a limiting communications factor, since it is only spoken in SSB's South Indian home state of Andhra Pradesh.
This is where SSB's storytelling habit again weakens his own case. In September 1990, in a characteristically sensational and ad hoc way, SSB finally broke this public silence about Shirdi Sai Baba of more than two decades to spontaneously reveal to the world his assertion of the hitherto unknown date of birth of Shirdi as well as many other unknown details about his upbringing and youth (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIII, Chapter 28, pp. 229-245). At some length, SSB gives his version of the birth and childhood of Shirdi Sai and several anecdotes about his relationship with devotees. The salient points are: On 28 September 1835, Shirdi's parents, Gangabhavadya and Devagiriamma abandon the newborn baby to devote their lives to detachment. A local faqir adopts the child for four years (1839) and, on his death, the faqir's wife has to turn Shirdi over to a Hindu scholar called Venkusa, because of Shirdi's disconcerting and unpopular habit of singing songs of praise to Allah in the Hindu temple. Venkusa keeps him in his ashram between 1839 and 1851, when the boy goes off to Shirdi, briefly. After two months, he resumes his wandering and in 1858 returns to settle finally in Shirdi. He declares himself to be Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. After his death on 28 September 1918 he then re-appears to Krishna Priya to tell her he will give her darshan as Sathya eight years later. (There is also a significant anecdote about the devout (but singularly neglectful) parents of Shirdi having been promised this child by Parameshwara and Parvati.)
As with SSB's surprising 'revelations' about Jesus (which will be examined later), the information already given is more than a whole band of Shirdi writers have been able to unearth. However, as you may have guessed, there is more: On the Shirdi anniversary two years later (on 27 September, 1992), equally sensationally, but more confusingly, SSB, without the least reference to the former revelations, amended the date of birth by three years and offered different details about Shirdi's early life, and about his death (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXV, 31:326-334). As seems usual, most SSB devotees accepted without question both the original statement and the later apparently capricious contradiction - both unverifiable.
The crucial discrepant details are as follows:
Shirdi's date of birth is now 27 September, 1838. The parents are unnamed and leave the child "for various reasons". He is taken in by a faqir and then handed on to Venkusa a few years later. In 1854, aged 16, he stayed briefly in Shirdi, then returned in 1858 to settle there. In one of several anecdotes he tells police that his name is Baba and that he is Divine. Another anecdote involves the appearance of a three-headed baby.
Only nine days later (on 6 October 1992), SSB tells his third Shirdi Sai story, with different anecdotes and no major contradiction except that when he dies in 1918, it is on the shoulder of his devotee Shyam - who, according to the 1990 Shirdi story had died at Shirdi's feet in 1917.
I have no reference to a Shirdi Sai Baba Association reaction to the these contributions to the Shirdi Sai biography. Indeed, their discreet silence about their powerful rival is a little puzzling, although it is true that because of the SSB 'recommendation', many SSB devotees have become Shirdi devotees as well. However, it does not seem to be a two-way traffic, as the comments above show.
To the above data, which weakens SSB's Shirdi reincarnation claim, there is still much more to add. SSB, who has flourished on publicity, seems to be very media-wary and on a rare short visit to Delhi in March 1999, as on the previous sporadic ones, he was again careful not to claim Divinity or any direct relationship with Shirdi Sai Baba. It was almost as if he was being forced to swallow his previous claims. Was it because the buildings he inaugurated were only a couple of hundred yards down the road from the principal Shirdi Mandir in Delhi? In answer to a journalist's question about Shirdi Sai, SSB replied evasively as follows (The Times of India, 12 March 1999):
"How do you relate yourself to Sai Baba of Shirdi?"
"This body has not seen him."
In stark contrast to this evasion, SSB had welcomed a rare but much-celebrated encounter with a famous media personality in 1976 (when his reputation was under public scrutiny). SSB did much better. However, he also made the false claim that Shirdi Sai Baba was unknown in his village (Puttaparthi) when he made his claim to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Baba in 1943. Equally disconcertingly, his confident assertion was officially supported by the long-time Chairman of the SSO, Indulal Shah.
"What makes you so sure that you are Shirdi Baba incarnate?"(Karanjia, 1976:21)
"The very fact that I announced that I am Shirdi Baba 40 years ago, when I was only 10 and when nobody in this part of the South had known or even heard of Shirdi Baba proves this fact."(p. 21) [Note the careless double error on SSB's part, virtually placing his Shirdi Announcement of 1943 in 1936, and at the age of TEN!]
Equally confident is the official backing for this claim, voiced here by the Chairman of the SSO World Council, Indulal Shah:
"All this confirmed more and more my faith in Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's announcement at the age of 14 that He is the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. What appeared remarkable to me is that He made this announcement in his village where no one had even heard of Shirdi Sai Baba!"(Shah, 1980:51)
What is not clear, of course, is whether Mr. Shah had been misinformed by SSB.
"Even in the early hagiographical SSB literature, there is some evidence that what SSB and Shah stated was not correct. Prior to the publication of LIMF in 2000, we already had some weak evidence: Howard Murphet's Man of Miracles, p. 56: "The name [Shirdi Sai Baba] was only known to a few very old villagers." (Also on p. 58: 'known by a few people in the area'.) Also, as we have already seen, in his scholarly study of Shirdi Sai Baba, Kevin R. D. Shepherd had written, "It may be observed that photographs of the Shirdi adept were not difficult to obtain at that time..." (Note 77)
However, in 2000, background information in LIMF very strongly contradicted these claims in several places, but in particular on pp. 78-9, where two of SSB's classmates recall that Sathya Narayana had Shirdi Sai pictures in his books and pockets: "He had pasted Shirdi Baba pictures in all his books and also carried one in his pocket." (p. 78) "He had a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba." (p. 79) "At Penukonda people had heard of Shirdi Sai Baba." (p. 114)
On p. 117 the meticulous (devotee) researchers put the matter beyond dispute by quoting the following extract from an interview they conducted with a contemporary, showing that Shirdi Sai was both known and worshipped in SSB's village and area in the early 1940s:
"The practice of Shirdi worship was becoming common in Puttaparthi. Raju's uncles, Venkatarama Raju and Venkatasubba Raju, were worshippers of Sai Baba of Shirdi long before Raju announced himself as being 'that' Sai Baba. Venkatasubba Raju brought a Shirdi Baba portrait and started offering worship before it. During the worship, Raju used to sit behind him and, on many occasions, would fall into a trance." (p. 117) Also, this uncle "often read aloud the biography of Shirdi Baba." Of all this, SSB's biographer and associate Kasturi seems unaware.
"In the Foreword to LIMF, written by the celebrated octogenarian devotee, Kamalamma, the younger wife of the (late) Karnam, we find further direct support of the young boy's familiarity with Shirdi Sai: "He keeps a Shirdi Baba photo ..." (p. xv)
"Further evidence of this apparent attempt by SSB to conceal the fact that Shirdi Sai was worshipped in the Puttaparthi region in the early 1940s is provided in an early studio photograph of young SSB in 1944 reproduced in Lakshmi Devamma's book and in Kasturi's first biographical volume), SSB is wearing a small picture of Shirdi Sai Baba's face on his white gown, over his heart. Interestingly, this (embarrassing?) picture is NOT visible in the much larger and clearer LIMF version of the photograph on page 232. The obvious question here for devotees, ex-devotees, researchers, and observers is: Why has the picture been removed? Is it not likely that the disappearance of the picture is a deliberate attempt to downplay Sathya Narayana's enthusiastic and intense youthful worship of and fascination for Shirdi Sai Baba (mentioned in LIMF) and the latter's popularity in the rural region, which, to their discredit, both SSB and Indulal Shah are on record as denying? But there is also an odd inconsistency here, for in both Devamma (p. 9) and LIMF (p. 134) there is a photo showing SSB seated cross-legged behind a small statuette of Shirdi Sai Baba. In both publications, the reader is informed that, in Uravakonda (during part of 1943 - possibly following SSB's post-trauma May Declaration that he was "Sai Baba"), SSB used to celebrate bhajans on Thursdays in the garden of the Anjaneyulu family, and perform puja to Shirdi Sai in front of that statuette. This is echoed in the recent eye-witness account by Vijayakumari, who quotes SSB as saying in 1949: "I had four good friends. After school, we would assemble under a tree and offer worship to Shirdi Baba." (p. 217) The same writer also reveals that SSB's elder brother, Seshama, once made this statement in the presence of the writer: "For schooling, I took him to Uravakonda. My desire was to educate him well and make him an important official. ... But Swami used to sit in front of Shirdi Baba's picture always and offer pooja." [worship] (Vijayakumari, p. 254) So much for Shirdi not being known locally! But, given so much evidence to the contrary, why does SSB make such apparently reckless statements?
Such overwhelming local counter-evidence to the denials by SSB and I. Shah are very damaging to SSB's credibility and his claim to Divine omniscience; it should even be of concern to unquestioning devotees. Is it possible that SSB became so accustomed to total unquestioning adulation that, as some point, he felt free to say whatever he liked?
Stories about Jesus Christ in Christmas Discourses
In his 1992 study, Professor Dale Beyerstein offers a series of SSB's unsupported statements about the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ, followed by expert opinions on these lapses or inventions. (Chapter 4, 'Does Sai Baba Have Complete Telepathic Knowledge?')
On the issues of SSB's confusion about Jesus and Christianity, Serguei Badaev's article "More Discrepancies in SSB's Words" is also relevant. See <www.exbaba.com> or <www.saiguru.net>)
SSB's Christmas Day Discourses contain many new undocumented and sometimes contradictory revelations about Jesus Christ (in connection with whom SSB claims both intimate omniscient knowledge and avataric superior rank - see below). "Western" devotees, who flock to the ashram for this annual event are delighted with SSB's apparently compulsive tendency to reveal 'unknown' or 'different' knowledge about Jesus appears to have strengthened during the 1990s.
During the late 1960s, foreign interest in India, the Beatles' "Maharishi", and in SSB, 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 SSB were shortly to be published (H.Murphet, Sai Baba. 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 SSB's alleged miracles but also his similarities to Jesus Christ. In the early 1970s, the first SSB centres in USA and Europe were formed. It was the beginning of a period of very rapid expansion in the numbers of foreign devotees.
In May 1968, a year after the successful setting up of the SSO, SSB made this reassuring laudably 'ecumenical' statement to non-Hindus at the 1st World Conference of Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, in Bombay.
"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 commendable teachings.
However, as a few objective observers have commented, this has always been a paradox: SSB'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 many devotees seem to prefer.) (There is an SSO ruling that an SSO Centre official cannot also be a member of another church.)
As pointed out above, in 1969 SSB's Discourse references to the Shirdi Sai Baba connection ceased for twenty years (although the ashram presence and worship of Shirdi continued unchanged. In 1970, when SSB's Mission had already been developing for almost thirty years, he introduced the Jesus Christ theme into his Mission (Christmas 1970). This is half of the short paragraph attributed to SSB by his translators and 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) (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.)
In themselves, the remarks seem unimportant, but in fact they were a novelty for SSB and his listeners, and they were to herald an important development. In the previous twenty seven years of SSB's mission, there had been almost 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 the Christmas 1970 paragraph at the end of Vol. X, mentioned here) 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 in India) of 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) SSB 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 rather more welcoming 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, SSB 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. It is also, as we shall shortly see, similar to the threefold sequence that SB will later repeat in many annual Christmas Discourses about Jesus which he still continues to make.)
d) An even warmer remark in 1970:
"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)
e) By 1971 the conversion (and even identification with Christ, which will later be visible especially at moments of opposition and stress for SSB, like his annus horribilis of 2000) is even more noticeable:
"This birth has been undertaken by you for this very mission: the mission of crucifying the ego on the cross of compassion." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 5:30)
The simple fact is that since the early1970s the Christmas celebrations in Puttaparthi in honour of Jesus Christ, complete with carol singing concerts and children's dramatic portrayal of the birth of Christ have become a major feature alongside the otherwise predominantly Hindu festivals.
One key reference point to this important new development, or new direction, for SSB is visible in the Discourse given on 23 December 1971 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 35:239). Here SSB 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, SSB 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".) SSB then gives us a brief glimpse of the discussion which has led up to what is visibly a proposed new ecumenical emphasis for the SSB 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 SSB. An ecumenical approach may also have been suggested by one of SSB's close associates like Kasturi, Gokak or Shah, or his principal new foreign converts, like Murphet, Hislop (who was to be instrumental in the setting up of the US Sai Baba Organisation in 1974), or by foreign benefactors like Elsie Cowan (who undertook to set up a Sai Baba Book Centre in USA).
The fact is that on Christmas Eve of the following year (1972, in Bangalore), SSB was to deliver a long and detailed reference to Jesus Christ, the first of many, but perhaps the most spectacularly vivid because of his preposterous claim that Jesus made a specific prediction of SSB's Advent by pointing to a lamb and saying "Ba-ba". This is dealt with in more detail in a separate section below. (Not only have devotees not criticised this remarkable story but it is seen as one of the most cogent 'proofs' of his Divine claims! On one of the official SSB Websites this is one of four key Discourses which has been given special prominence. Equally preposterous claims are made in the 1963 "Shiva-Shakti" Discourse is another of these 'Basic' Discourses.)
The Christmas Discourses
SSB's main emphasis, and his references to Jesus elsewhere, is not on Jesus as a full Avatar, and 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 SSB'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 SSB 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. The credibility of the allegedly omniscient SSB is further undermined by the confusion, the discrepancies and the continual variations on themes, not to mention the frequent compulsive offering of new (and not always consistent) quotations attributed to Jesus.
Basic list of discrepancies in the Christmas Discourses
The Star: SSB denies that it had anything to do with the birth of Jesus but was a recurring astronomical phenomenon every 800 years (1977). 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)
The Wise Men are variously: some Tibetans, Wise Men, Kings, or Shepherds.
In 1977, SSB gives them some dialogue (repeated verbatim in 1984):
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 - 1984)
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.
According to SSB, Jesus' father, Joseph, dies twice:
- when Jesus is 30, after Jesus has spent his life with his parents (Christmas 1994): "Jesus grew up at Nazareth till he reached thirty." (SSS, XXI, 34:272)
- and when Jesus is 10 (1995 and in a more recent Discourse), presumably allowing him to undertake the foreign travels described by SSB.
The date of Christ's birth is given in 1992 as 25 December and in a later Christmas Discourse as March or April. Curiously, while the other discrepancies about Jesus had not bothered devotees at all, this one chronological detail, although historically and theologically very possible or probable, caused quite a lot of anguished muttering among devotees, who probably then rationalised it away as being a SSB leela, as with all other inconvenient details about their unpredictable and inconsistent guru.)
The years of wandering and the Lost Years in the East, are a feature of many New Age accounts and bestselling books. They are also mentioned by SSB in his Christmas Discourses. Mick Brown states that he saw a caption in the Eternal Heritage Museum in Puttaparthi: "Baba says that between the ages of 12 and 30 Jesus went to India and learnt meditation." (M.Brown, p. 93) These years are referred to by SSB in the Discourse for Christmas 1977, which is not in the main recent printed editions of SSS. It is possible that the Discourse was originally published in the first edition of SSS and left out of the Revised Indian Edition. (Robert Priddy, in his superb Index - now, alas, withdrawn from the Internet - refers to '5 Years in the Himalayas' as being in Vol. X, p. 142.) So the omission must be ascribed to carelessness rather than anything more sinister. There is, however, a reference to a Christmas Day 1977 Discourse in the American edition in the Discourses for 1 January 1978 and the Discourse can also be found in a private and out of print publication (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). SSB's story on this occasion may be of particular interest to some since he deals with topics which are outside the teachings of the orthodox Christian churches but are familiar in New Age circles and in some Eastern legends.
Even this topic is presented by SSB with different details, sometimes as if he is referring not only to the lost years of Jesus' early manhood but to the separate (equally bestselling) legend that he did not die on the Cross but escaped to Kashmir and lived to a ripe old age. In any case the timetables are bewilderingly varied:
In 1977: twelve years of mediation and five years in the Himalayan region:
"Later He retired from the world to be alone and contemplate the nature of God. He was totally immersed in the God within Himself for twelve years. ...
"Craving God still more, He went on a pilgrimage to an isolated part of the Himalayan mountains, dwelt even more deeply and constantly in God's Love. He continued this practice for five years.
"In His mountain retreat He practised a number of intense spiritual disciplines. He realized that the embracing Love of the Father was His own basic nature. He declared ``I and My Father are One.''
In the late 1970s, as told to Hislop: eight years in India, Tibet, Iran, and Russia (a more extensive trip). (See excerpts below.)
"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, 28:180)
A vital clue to the source for all this is contained in a remark by an exchange between a devotee and SSB recorded by John Hislop:
"Mr 'X' wishes to make a film about the so-called 'lost years of Jesus'. He has much experience in making films and he is a Sai devotee."
[SSB] "Jesus realized that he was Christ in his 25th year. For eight years following his 16th birthday he travelled in India, Tibet, Iran, and Russia." (Conversations with Sathya Sa Baba, Rev. ed., p. 97) SSB goes on to mention that "His parents ... practically abandoned him at an early age."
In the Christmas 1980 Discourse, further variations: "His stay in the Himalayan monasteries in Kashmir and in other centres of eastern asceticism and philosophical inquiry, gave him great awareness. From the attitude of being a Messenger of God, he could now call himself the Son of God." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIV, 16:109) And on the next page a Tibetan monastery is mentioned too.
(Curiously, in the American Volume X Discourse referred to above, SSB makes this error: "Today is New Year's Day, associated with the birth and life of Jesus.")
Pause for Conjecture:
The so-called "lost years" (in India, etc.) of Jesus were the subject of research and a contemporary video by the prominent American SSB devotee Richard Bock, who also made videos about SSB 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 SSB on their ashram visits in the 1970s since they were already not only devotees but officials in the Los Angeles SSO since 1972. (P.Krystal, p. 19) The coincidence of the ashram visits by the Bocks and SSB's subsequent revelations about Jesus' travels in the East in more than one Christmas Discourse from the late 1970s on should be noted, particularly by those investigating the 'cold reading' phenomenon. This instance of relaying information gleaned from ashram visitors seems to have been repeated in the case of the stories about Wolf Messing. Robert Priddy has also publicly revealed that SSB's close associate V.K.Narasimhan was quite critical of SSB's habit of soaking up scientific knowledge from visitors and repeating it with errors to his students.)
So this farrago of invention, confusion, and bewildering permutations about the alleged life and times of Jesus (one of SSB's claimed 'predecessors' - though of inferior avataric status, remember, and the one who allegedly predicted SSB's Advent so graphically), seems to indicate that SSB 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 (is invention too strong a word?), the credibility of other non-verifiable 'Divine' revelations which he chooses to offer, both in his Christmas Discourses and elsewhere, is, once again, nullified. Once again, all that the alert (and unbiased) reader can be sure of after reading such unsupported or conflicting details is that SSB often improvises as he goes along, using his powerful personality and his story-telling techniques to rivet his adoring and uncritical listeners.
All the above information is copied from the official SSO translated and edited version of SSB's Discourses. But the truth of what SSB actually says about Jesus Christ is even more astonishing, as is occasionally evident in some books and videotapes. During a narrow window of three years (late 1999 to mid-2002), Internet surfers were able to glimpse much more evidence of the reality of what SSB says (in Telugu) when the total devotion of a group of SSB devotees, so enamoured of his simple 'poetic' style (and presumably disappointed that the Discourses reach the public in an officially heavily edited form), inspired them to sacrifice considerable time on producing literal translations of selected Discourses in several languages and made them available on a website ( - now closed). Some details relevant to SSB's Christmas muddle are added here from that ephemeral source of truth. They are offered with due acknowledgments to the anonymous translators and in the interest of public information.
For example, take the two versions of the lengthy Christmas 2001 Discourse. Throughout the speech, in the 'traditional' mass-marketed version, SSB'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 can be seen with other Christmas discourses, SSB'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. After a long meandering examination into Bhutakasha, Chitthakasha and Chidakasha, we are treated to some new characteristically imaginative dialogue between Jesus and His mother in the PREMSAI literal version:
"Jesus also said this. When all of the fishermen came, first and foremost they desired what appealed to them in the world. Peter said, "I want a lot of fish." Still, he was on Lokakasham (the physical world). This only is Bhutakasha. Jesus fulfilled all their desires relating to Bhutakasha. Finally Peter thought about Chidaakasha - Chidaakasha, meaning Atma. "This Chitthakasha is not what I should desire. I have to go beyond my Chitthakasha (mind)."
"Jesus also said that to everybody. "Oh, people! Why this hatred? Why these agitations? Foster all with compassion. Love everyone. Wish well for everyone. Have faith in the unity in diversity." Jesus also said this. There were no different teachings of his. Numerous disciples wrote just as they liked. When they put his body on the cross, an ethereal voice said:
"All are One, my dear son.
Be alike to everyone.
"What is this? As the Mother Mary was crying, Jesus said: Death is the dress of life.
What is this? Death is only changing this dress. This dress is changed and another dress comes. Will human beings always have the same dress? One changes dresses every day. In that same way, these bodies change through numerous births. So it should not be called death just because it changes. This change is only related to the body."
The official version reads:
"The fishermen wanted Jesus to fulfil their worldly desires. Peter wanted more fish. But ultimately, he realised the futility of worldly desires. He wanted to go beyond the level of body and the mind as per the teaching of Jesus. Jesus told them to give up hatred and to love all and serve all. He exhorted them to develop faith in the principle of unity. Many disciples of Jesus interpreted the teachings of Jesus in their own way.
"When he was being crucified, he heard an ethereal voice, "All are one my dear son, be alike to everyone ". When the mother Mary was shedding tears, Jesus told her, "Death is the dress of life." Death is like changing of dress. Do you find anybody wearing the same dress every day? Just as you change your dress every day, you change the body from birth to birth. It is the body that dies, not the life principle. The Spirit is immortal and non-dual."
And, finally, there is a terrible combined mix-up as SSB invents another bit of Jesus dialogue, then rambles into yet another confusing and almost unbelievable reference to the Roman Catholics (does he mean the Romans? probably not), and then compounds the confusion with an idiosyncratic reference to the (later?) theological use of 'person':
"Jesus was the same way. Jesus also, even from the very beginning, never said that he was God. He only kept saying, 'Father, Father, Father, Father.' He pacified all the hostile people who came to him.
"There is only One God for me, for you and for everyone. There is only one Father for you, for me and for everyone. We are all children of this Father. Hence, we are the children of God." He also taught that.
"Finally, due to hostile people increasing, some of them went and caught hold of the head priest. He also knew the fault in their accusations. He knew that everything Jesus was saying was true. However, to protect his position, the head priest gave this kind of punishment to Jesus. He said to crucify him.
"The governor agreed to that, but he felt very badly. He said, 'Fie, fie, fie! Have I succumbed to such a sin?' The second day (after crucifixion), when Jesus rose again, the governor spread the fame that Jesus was a very great man.
"In the very beginning, all the Roman Catholics did not say that he was God. They didn't say that he was a disciple. They didn't say that he was the servant of God. However, they gave him another name. They called him, "Persona." All the Roman Catholics called Jesus, "Persona, persona, persona."
"Persona" means 'sacred'. English people made that sacred word 'persona' into 'person'. So the word 'person' has come from 'persona'. This means that this sacred Divinity is present in every single human being. Therefore, they called everyone 'person, person, person'. (Applause) Hence, even I and even every human being is a form of the Divine.
I and you are One.
"Therefore, all are embodiments of the Divine. So there is the Divine Atma in everyone. They gave the name of 'persona' to this Atma. Hence, there is Divinity in every single human being. A human being devoid of God cannot be seen at all. A living being devoid of God cannot be seen at all. There is no life form devoid of God. There is Divinity in every living being."
For all of which the editors jump in and offer this still rather odd condensed EDITED version:
" From the beginning, Jesus never said that he was God. He only said that God was his father. He taught people that there was only one God and all were his children. His critics complained to the head priest against Jesus. The priest knew that Jesus was speaking the truth. But they did not support Jesus in order to safeguard their own position. It was decided that Jesus should be crucified. The Governor issued the orders, but later he repented. When Jesus rose from the cross, he went on propagating the glory of Jesus.
"The Romans addressed Jesus as 'persona' meaning one of sacredness. The English word person has been derived from this. It means that there is divinity in everyone. That is why I address you as embodiments of divinity. I and you are one. There is divine spirit in everybody. The very Self is called 'persona'. There is no life principle without divinity. Sarvatah Panipadam Tat Sarvathokshi Siromukham, Sarvata Sruthimalloke Sarvamavruthya Thishthati (With hands, feet, eyes, heads, mouth and ears pervading everything, He permeates the entire universe). Divinity pervades all forms."
That is how SSB really addresses his (mainly Hindu) audiences, in the same simple way as when he began his Mission! But no one is allowed to see this any more. Why?
Confused Biographical Memories
On 9 September 1996, in a Discourse on Shankara, SSB began to reminisce about a visit to Rishikesh in the Himalayas en route for the sacred shrines at Badrinath and Kedarnath and an invitation to the ashram of the revered Swami Sivananda (who, according to Kasturi, was cured by SSB of some unnamed ailment):
"At that time, Shivanaandha and a group of his devotees came to the guest house and requested Svaami to visit Svaami Shivanandha's ashram the next day, which happened to be Shivaanandha's seventieth birthday. Svaami remarked: "It is not Shivaanandha's birthday but Kuppusvaami's birthday ... That Kuppusvaami ceased to exist with the taking of Sanyaasa. He then adopted the name Shivaanandha. That was 26 years ago. Hence Svaami is only 26 years old as Shivaanandha." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIX, 45:326-328)
1. SSB (who,incidentally, was also 70 years old at the time of this Discourse) seems to be confusing and conflating two visits to that area of north India: one on 22-28 July 1957 (to Sivananda's ashram: Kasturi, K1A, 126-134) and the other in June 1961 (to the sacred sites).
2. The Swami Sivananda website informs us that Sivananda was born on 8 September 1887 (as Kuppusvaami), became a doctor, renounced the world in 1923, was initiated as a Sannyasi by Swami Visvananda on 1 June 1924, began what was to become the world-famous Divine Life Society in 1936, and died on 14 July 1963.
So the truth is that Swami Sivananda's 70th birthday was indeed in 1957, but on 8 September, over a month after SSB's visit. By that time, Sivananda had been a Sannyasi for 33 years, not 26. On this basis, the alleged verbatim compliments from SSB to Sivananda must be purely imaginary. And SSB's linking of his 1957 visit to Sivananda's ashram with the subsequent 1961 visit to that northern area and especially to the Badrinath shrine (which is mentioned in Volume II of Sathya Sai Speaks), with which this Shankara-related digression of SSB's began, compounds the confusion.
Equally confusing and confused was a rambling story told by SSB about a Shirdi Sai devotee named Nana (24 October 2001). At the end of the literal translation by the PREMSAI devotee translators, they felt it necessary to make the necessary revealing comments. They were obviously used to his story-telling idiosyncrasies.
"(NOTE: The details in the above story are slightly different than what Swami has said on previous occasions. According to the book on the life of Shirdi Sai, entitled "Sai Satcharitra", the tonga came only on the last leg of the journey, not from Shirdi itself. The devotee sent by Baba took a train up to Jamner, then the tonga to Nana's remote village. The tonga and driver disappeared, but not the devotee who brought the prasad. The devotee who brought the prasad was named Ram Giri Baba, not Shyam.)"
Further evidence of SSB's problems over family facts
Omniscient SSB's trouble with family dates shows up in his Discourse on 6 May 1998 (Easwaramma Day, in honour of his mother).
"Now it is 30 years since the mother of this body passed away."
BUT she died in 1972 (26 years before).
Quoting a visit from his mother's spirit: "For 40 years I was with You."
She was with SSB for 46 years - 1926-1972 (if SSB was born in 1926).
The background facts seem clear enough:
Karnam Subbamma (a wealthy, childless Brahmin lady and neighbour of SSB's family) was Sathya Narayana's first local benefactress throughout his childhood and for the first years of the Mission, and the building of the first mandir at Prasanthi Nilayam. SSB had always promised to be present at her death. She died in 1945. The well-known story concerns her death and alleged resurrection.
1. The first version, by Prof. Kasturi (K1A, 75) was probably drafted from what SSB told him.
Subbamma falls ill and is taken to Bukkapatnam. SSB is away first in Bangalore, then in distant Tirupati. Subbamma's state worsens and she is finally pronounced dead by those around her, but, according to Kasturi, 'a glow' remains in her face. It takes SSB three days to return to Bukkapatnam by car. "Her eyes had lost the glint." SSB sat and called her name. She opened her eyes and grasped his palm. He put his fingers to her lips and "poured into her mouth a small quantity of water which He said was from River Ganges. Subbamma then joined the ranks of the released!" [Note that Kasturi does not himself say that she had died.]
2. Nagamani Purnaiya, another early local devotee, who wrote a well-known book of simple tales about SSB's life and miracles (without giving a single date!), embroiders a little on the basic elements to produce another of her dramatic and effective 'Sunday School Stories' for SSB's humble local followers.
According to Purnaiya, Subbamma fell ill but was in Puttaparthi. SSB then went off on a tour of some unnamed villages, promising Subbamma that he would be back to give her holy Tulsi leaf water at the moment of her death.
Finally her breathing stopped. Her friends were vocally critical of SSB's broken promise. SSB then senses something is wrong and leaves his tour and hurries back. He arrives 3 HOURS after Subbamma's death. Ants are already "prowling around her body". He denies the claim of those with her that she is dead, and calls out to her. She opens her eyes and he gives her Tulsi water "from nowhere". She then grasped his hand and closed her eyes with a blissful look. (N.Purnaiya, The Divine Leelas of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, pp. 16-17)
3. LIMF (p. 253 - no references given)
"Baba was away from Puttaparthi when Subbamma's final moments came at her Bukkapatnam house. The genial old lady closed her eyes and people thought that she had passed away. The body began to decompose. When all seemed lost, Baba's car arrived. He walked up to her and called her name very softly. As if rising from the dead, Subbamma opened her eyes. The two silently communicated with each other, Baba holding her hand. Baba asked for a tumbler of water. He poured some water from the tumbler into her mouth with a tulsi leaf and the pious and fortunate lady breathed her last." (25 November 1945)
4. In a much later brief version of this anecdote, the prominent ashram identity and hagiographer, M.N.Rao (1998, p. 107), is much more dogmatic than Kasturi, even though he is merely repeating the well-worn story. He also adds his own contribution: "two days": "When she died, Swami revived her deceased body two days after her death."
5. Eventually SSB publicly gave his own dramatic version of the story in his Discourse on 18 October 1999. The reader will note one odd admission of 'non-omniscience' and some apparent confusion and invention about wartime (LIMF tells us Subbamma died on 25 November 1945) but still the main emphasis is on the miraculous momentary resurrection, in this case just before Subbamma's cremation.
"One day, we were travelling in a bullock cart. "Subbamma, what do you want?" I asked her. She looked around and noticed that no one else was there. Then she said, "Swami, I don't want anything. But when I breathe my last, please sanctify my life by pouring water into my mouth with Your hands." I promised that I would fulfil her desire.
"Later, one day I had to go to Chennai in a hurry as desired by some devotees. I had to stay there for ten days. It was the war period. Once in every hour there used to be air-raid siren. The streets would become empty with that warning. Swami could not return to Puttaparthi. Meanwhile, Subbamma fell seriously ill. She was taken to Bukkapatnam. There she died. Her relatives started making sarcastic remarks: "Sai Baba gave word to her that He would pour water into her mouth at her last moments. Did He come? Where has He gone?"
"During My return journey, I stopped at the cremation ground as it was on the way. I saw some people there. The logs of wood were kept ready for cremation. "Who is going to be cremated?" I asked them. Washerman Subbanna was there. He said, "Swami, Subbamma died." "Is it! When did she die?" I enquired. "Three days ago, Swami," he replied. I went to the house where her body was kept. Her relatives were about to carry her for cremation. Her sister saw Me and started wailing. "Baba, she longed for Your arrival. She yearned that You would pour water into her mouth before she breathed her last. At last she died with that disappointment." I told her that there was no possibility for such an eventuality and asked her to fetch water in a tumbler. I put a basil leaf in the water and I removed the cloth from her face. Ants were crawling over her body as three days had already elapsed. "Subbamma," I called her. Immediately she opened her eyes. She held My hands and wept. "Subbamma, look here", I said. I wiped tears from her face with a towel. "Now close your eyes peacefully," I told her. I poured the sacred water into her mouth and kept My promise." (www.eaisai.com/baba)
Claiming Credit and Name-dropping
There are numerous occasions when SSB uses his Discourses to claim special credit and attention for himself. Here are three salient cases.
Present and future scholars of comparative religions and of the SSB phenomenon will be able to make an exhaustive study of similar 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.
1. Jesus and "Ba-Ba"
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 SSB's listeners who are Hindus). Jesus Christ is acknowledged and claimed as universal by SSB. But SSB 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 SSB himself, not as Jesus's successor, but as God the Father. SSB puts into the mouth of Jesus several prophetic references clearly describing SSB, 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 SSB 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)
2. A Nobel Peace Prize for SSB?
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 SSB's REAL language style and emotional state - so far removed from what is read in the officially translated and edited versions of his Discourses)
"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'. However, 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.)
3. The World Bank Does Business Directly with SSB?
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 http://web.archive.org/web/20030216111817/www.internety.com/premsai/ )
"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?"
Further Basic Confusion: Errors and Discrepancies about Religions
Christianity and Judaism
In SSB'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 Baba 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).
On more than one occasion and over many years, SSB 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. Given the large number of Jewish devotees in the early days of the American SSO during the 1970s and their easy access to SSB, it is surprising that none of them brought up the subject before Hislop in 1978.
During the following 1978 discussion between Hislop and SSB, a surprising fact came to light: Baba did not know that Jews and Christians did not form a homogeneous group. In view of the number of prominent Jewish devotees drawn to SSB from the late 1960s on, and their closeness to SSB, it may now seem both amazing and revealing that none of them had brought up this fundamental question about their faith before.
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." [MG = 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)
SSB finally gave a group interview to Jewish devotees at Puttaparthi in 1980. Hislop was present at this meeting and quotes SSB as explaining to them: "The Sai symbol of five religions represents the five major religions found in India. For the West, the Jewish Star [Magen David] 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 SSB, reported this astonishing revelation about SSB's knowledge in the most favorable way. For the record, Hislop (who eagerly collected SSB's verbatim conversations with him managed to fill a book with them) states 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) Given the following very different report of the same meeting by an Australian SSO official , Hislop's excuse seems disingenuous. In his book Walking the Path with Sai Baba (1993, p.154), Howard Murphet records the following report from Ian Abrahams, who was also present in that historic 1980 meeting between the Jewish delegation of devotees and SSSB to sort out the problem: "It seems that in general Swami tried to lead the group into a deeper understanding of their own religion by revealing its essence ... and they were all thrilled." More unconscious rationalisation? For unquestioning devotees, anything usually seems preferable to an unthinkable truth. And further hard evidence about SSB's confusion about Christianity and Judaism goes without comment, even from Jewish devotees. See, in particular, the following Christmas discrepancies long after SSB allegedly showed Jewish devotees the "essence " of their religion.
Although already commented on above in the section of references to Jesus Christ, this Discourse deserves further attention because of a really extraordinary series of totally confused SSB ramblings for which the simultaneous English translation of that same Christmas Discourse was captured and has been commercially available for years on a James Redmond Video. (See Bibliography)
These and other extracts were originally transcribed and sent to me by an ex-devotee called 'Dhyani Jo'. Here, then, are my brief excerpts from the longer text sent by Dhyani Jo, to whom I am also grateful for some expert editing advice. No further editorial comment is necessary, except to remind the reader that the subject of this dossier is SSB's stories.
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 learn that NONE of this astonishingly confused information was finally printed in the official version in Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIX. Instead, 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 long-suffering SSO editors saw that SSB had had a very 'bad day', but readers of their version (which is the ONLY printed version of SSB's Discourses - in several languages) will never know that SSB made these major errors.
(And on 24 November 1998, SSB still maintains that: "In the beginning even Romans were Jews, not Christians.")
When one recovers from one's amazement, a little reflection 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. It is a sign of (and a commentary on) devotees' unquestioning faith in SSB that this peculiar public performance either went unnoticed or was rationalised as one of SSB's 'leelas'.
In 1992, a colossal historical error of SSB's was pointed out by Dale Beyerstein in his e-book (available on several critical websites). In spite of its enormity, and because of the unconditional faith of devotees, most (including myself at the time) took NO notice!
In his Discourse for 21-8-1986 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIX , pp. 137-8), SSB says:
"A king from Greece [later identified as Alexander the Great] came to India to study the conditions here ..." (p. 137) "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." (p. 138)
BUT the enormous discrepancy over this religious reference is a THOUSAND years! (Alexander the great - 4th Century B.C.E. Muhammad (and the Quran) 6th to 7th Century C.E.)
Until the Internet burst of critical activity from 2000 on, the only written source claiming inconsistencies and errors in some of SSB's 'omniscient' pronouncements was the Internet work by Paul Holbach and Chapter 4 of the Internet-published highly critical general work about SSB by the Canadian academic and sceptic, Dale Beyerstein, Sai Baba's Miracles. An Overview (1992). This work (of 75 pages), which concentrates on SSB's paranormal claims, is now available (anonymously) at the new address of the British Columbia Skeptics website, . (A printed copy is also available from the Indian Skeptics Organisation at .)
In Chapter 4, 'Does Sai Baba Have Complete Telepathic Knowledge?', Beyerstein gives many examples of SSB's general knowledge errors, principally in quoting or describing the words or actions of famous people.
SSB's confusion over basic scientific principles has been demonstrated in penetrating articles by Jorge Reyesvera and Robert Priddy (on SSB's knowledge of atoms and magnetism), posted on and www.saiguru.net . The main articles are:
'The 'Omniscient' Sai Baba's Massive Ignorance of Atomic Physics Exposed" (Discourse on Guru Purnima Day, July 2002) and 'The Legless and Headless Magnetic Golden Linga" (the Discourse on Mahasivaratri Day, 13 March 2002). Many other enlightening studies on such topics by Robert Priddy are also to be found on his constantly expanding website.
As should now be plain, SSB's speaking characteristics include boasting and exaggerating, especially where achievements, figures and statistics are concerned. Some of the examples given below involve that element of exaggeration, sometimes to an extreme degree. (See also Robert Priddy's collection of SSB's exaggerations, especially in relation to crowd estimates: 'SSB's Exaggerations: The Numbers Game', at http://home.no.net/anir/Sai/saiorg/index.htm)
Dictionaries and Theology
"Any dictionary contains only words which refer to things existing in the world such as birds, beasts and other living beings, as well as inanimate objects. Non-existing things do not have a place in the dictionary. The very fact that the word "God" occurs in all dictionaries is enough to prove the existence of God." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXV, 17:193)
Top Devotee Country
"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)
Other Numerical Inflations
"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.
More Numbers and Statistics
A closely related characteristic of SSB's discourse style is the use of attention-grabbing illustrative examples or analogies involving large numbers. These always sound impressive but cannot always be verified. Crowd estimates for attendances at Prahanti festival, especially for SSB's Birthday, whether given by him or by his spokespersons, are notoriously inflated, as the veteran ashramologist Robert Priddy has pointed out in one of his penetrating articles. (Given SSB's track record with figures, I wonder if SSB's 1965 estimate of "hundreds of thousands" at a regional gathering was accurate. - Sathya Sai Speaks, V, 19:105)
The following statistics, which show SSB's penchant, seem quite reasonable:
the number of breaths taken per day (21,600, according to Baba).
the number of seconds in a year (correctly given as 31,536,000, in Sathya Sai Speaks, 27,11:115).
12,000 miles for blood to travel around the body (in what period of time?).
Also, in his estimate of the number of species on earth, Baba seems consistent:
"Birth as man is the final stage in the upward evolution of the 840 thousand species of living beings. In previous lives, one might have been an insect, a worm, a bird or an animal." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XVI, 25:137 - 10-10-83) "Of the 84 lakhs of species of living beings, no species is afflicted with the disease of insatiable desires as much as man." (XX, 22:186)
However, other SSB statistics (particularly high numbers) are much more dubious, and tend to be on the 'high to very high' side. For example:
"When the Mahabharata was completed, it ran into 100 crores of verses. It was a colossal compendium of all knowledge and ranked as the fifth Veda." (XXI, 26:211) [Since the Indian crore equals 10 million, that amounts to 1 billion (1,000,000,000), which sounds too high.] The following year, SSB refers to "the task of writing down millions of verses", which, although vaguer, still sound too high. (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXII, 27:194)
According to reference sources, 100,000 stanzas, or 215,000 lines are the real figures.
In SSB's Mahasivaratri Discourse for 21 February 2001, he gave the speed of light as 160,000 miles per second (according to the literal translation); in the later official edited version this came out as 180,000 m.p.s., which I assume is the correct figure.
Hislop recalls that SSB told him in one of their conversations that in the age before Rama, the average height was 14 cubits (that is, 14 times the distance between the tip of the finger and elbow); then at the time of Rama, 7 cubits, but that in our present Kali Yuga age, the average height is only half that. (J. Hislop, 1978:118) [Check the measurements for yourself!]
Professor Kasturi quotes Baba as proudly announcing to an American: "I know not only what happened 7,000 years ago at the historic battlefield of Kurukshetra but what happened 70,000 years ago, too. I read no books. When you run on the first gear, the car goes forward; shift to reverse gear, you go backwards. I can go forwards and backward in time, and know anything I wish. Time and Space can impose no limitations on Me." (S.P.Ruhela, 1996a:113, quoting from Kasturi's 1975 article, 'The Interviews He Gives', in A Garland of Golden Roses, 50-53.)
In the following examples, there are serious discrepancies, which add to the evidence that SSB sometimes simply makes things up as he goes along.
"In the 5000 years of human history, fifteen thousand wars have soaked its pages in blood." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XV, 57:322) But in Volume XX, one of the figures changes:
"... in 5500 years of recorded human history there have been as many as 15,000 wars." (XX; 28:226)
"It is well known that the earth spins around itself at the rate of 1000 miles an hour. ... Moreover, the earth is going round the sun at the speed of 66,000 miles an hour. As a result we have changes in seasons conducive to cultivation of crops." (XXI, 116:129)
Four years later, there is a significantly different figure: "This earth revolves round itself hundreds of miles in an hour." (XXV, 10:110)
SSB's rebuke to some of his audience of SSO office-bearers for being ""people who attend 600 cinema shows a year" also seems excessive, wince this would be eleven visits every week of the year. (Sathya Sai Speaks, IX, 35:184)
Given the grave difficulties in establishing historical facts for Hindu scriptures beyond the beginning of the Common Era (C.E.), the following precise assertion ends up sounding quite ludicrous: "This was predicted five thousand and forty three years ago by an Indian yogi [[name?]] who declared that India will free herself from the rule of a strange race from the far west in the year Nandha! India achieved Independence from Western rule in the year Nandha." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 18:83)
"The traditional number of created beings is 84 lakhs." [= 8,400,000] (SSS, VI, 15:81) Traditional when? And what about the new species which are constantly being found?
More impressive big numbers and a further contradiction:
July 2001 Guru Purnima Discourse:
Literal translation: "Forty lakhs [4 million] of light rays are shining in the eyes."
Official: "They [the eyes] have 40 lakhs of light rays in them."
13 March 2002 (Mahasivaratri)"
Literal: "There are taste buds. How many taste buds do we have on the tongue? There are 3,000 taste buds. How many light rays are in the eye? There are two crores [20 million] of light rays."
In the official edited version (from eaisai), this is toned down to:
"There are thousands of taste buds in our tongue and lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of light rays in the eyes.
Perhaps someone can let me know if the following reflects accepted facts about Krishna and Arjuna:
[At the time of the Mahabharata War] "Krishna was seventy-six years old. Arjuna was seventy-eight years old." (Summer School Discourse for 21 May 2002, 'Premsai' literal version)
False and Conflicting Etymologies
As cultured Indians like Professor Kasturi were drawn into his service and SSB began to give more frequent Discourses, he also livened up his simple public speaking style (in Telugu, remember) with some of the rhetorical tricks and word play which he heard in the conversation and speeches of others. In one of his early Discourses in the 1950s, SSB had made a very disparaging remark about speakers who, to illustrate a point, pretentiously use references like the one given below. (He did not use the word etymology, but that is the technical name for a linguistic process which analyses the composition and historical derivation of words, as a way of explaining their meaning.) With the self-consciousness, perhaps, of someone new to public speaking, he amused his audience by complaining about a previous speaker for "... saying Na meant this and Ra meant that and so on; it all sounded very learned and is really very clever; but no one can go on endlessly in this way, saying Na means either this or that ..." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 21:105)
Nevertheless, in spite of his preference for a simple direct style, SSB then attempted to add this academic stylistic effect to his Discourse repertoire. Sometimes the Sanskrit etymologies he offers in his Discourses are correct. On many occasions, however, in spite of the wealth of Sanskrit information available from his learned associates in the ashram, he demonstrates an ignorance of, or a lack of interest in, the principles of etymology, producing capricious and contradictory inventions. These can now be included as part of his broader habit of story-telling. Among the most interesting examples of his etymological inventiveness is the varying treatment derivations he offers for his own adopted name, Sai Baba (and for 'Sathya').
Before giving SSB's explanation of the first part of his adopted name, a preliminary glance at a tentative scholarly definition of the foreign-sounding 'Sai' (as in 'Shirdi Sai Baba') will be useful: "Sai is not a Hindu name, but a Persian word indicative of a holy man. It seems to bear an affinity with the Arabic sa'ih, which in the early medieval era of Islam was used to designate itinerant ascetics of sufi background. It appropriately reflects the Muslim background of the subject. ...."
"... Sai is more pronouncedly in the Muslim idiom, denoting a saint." (Kevin R. D. Shepherd: Chapter 2)
Bearing in mind Shepherd's definition (also given by another academic, Antonio Rigopoulos, in his book on Shirdi Sai Baba), it will be easier for non-Sanskrit scholars to judge this specific case of SSB's boldly imaginative extensions of the concept of eytmology, which were first briefly mentioned by the academic Lawrence A. Babb: "One of his most characteristic rhetorical devices is the ad hoc (and often false) etymology." Babb then refers to SSB's etymology for the word 'Hindu': "One of his most characteristic rhetorical devices is the ad hoc (and often false) etymology. For example, he has stated that Hindu means 'one who is nonviolent' by the combination of hinsa - (violence) and dur (distant)." (Babb, 1986b: Redemptive Encounters, p. 171) He adds that this device had become very frequent over the years. SSB has continued to employ it since then.
In a 1992 e-book which studies many alleged inconsistencies in SSB's statements and actions, another academic, Dale Beyerstein, citing Babb, also briefly pointed out SSB's idiosyncratic view of etymology, citing examples of Dharma and Guru, adding, critically, that devotees are only interested in themselves and therefore such matters are either unnoticed or inconsequential. (See Beyerstein's Chapter 3 on 'Does Sai Baba have complete telepathic knowledge?' Sections 67-70)
From a volume of SSB's early discourses come the following contradictory and mainly incorrect examples (with the exception of his interpretation of Baba as 'father' - or revered person, which is correct).
What exactly is the meaning of Sai Baba? Sai means Sahasrapadhma (thousand lotuses), Saakshaathkaara (Realisation), etc. Ayi means Mother and Baaba means Father.@ (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 2: 6 - 1961)
"I am called Sathya Sai; Saayi (as in Seshashaayi) means reclining. The name is very appropriate, let me assure you." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 47:266)
Later, in spite of the probable Persian origin of the title Sai referred to above, SSB settled on the following as his preferred explanation of his adopted name, which is the one usually repeated (trustingly) in books by devotees:
"Sa means 'Divine', ai or ayi means 'mother' and Baba means 'father'. The Name indicates Divine Mother and Father ..." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XII, 38:229)
There are two interesting and significant facts to add here. Firstly, none of the educated Hindu people in SSB's entourage or audiences have commented on these discrepancies and errors but, due to his total charismatic influence over the thoughts and reasoning powers of his devotees as 'Omnniscient Avatar', SSB's unusual opinions, here as elsewhere, were accepted without question as true, and the errors and inconsistencies still to be pointed out in this study are, as Professor Dale Beyerstein observed, not likely to have any significant impact on devotees. And that is part of their problem.
Even a scholar like Ra. Ganapati made a special effort in his early hagiographical biography of SSB, to defer to what he presumably saw as SSB's 'Divine' superior knowledge. Ganapati makes the following obsequious statement, through which the strangeness of SSB's definition is inadvertently highlighted - for those who wish to look:
" 'Sai' is a variation of either the Sanskrit 'Svami' or the Persian 'Shahi', both signifying a great soul. This we have seen is the traditional meaning of Sai Baba. But our Svami gives a different, deeper interpretation. 'Ayi' means mother. ... 'Baba' denotes Father, the Universal Father Siva ..." (Ganapati, I:132)
When faced with anomalies in SSB's statements, devotees constantly rationalise the issue in SSB's favour, as above, deferring to his supposed Divine Omniscience.
Do such inventions by SSB matter? Of course, because once again, he frequently presents as fact statements which are demonstrably inaccurate; and his trusting devotees accept this, and repeat the assertions. Such fanciful 'etymologies' are scattered through SSB's Discourses, like his other stories, about Hindu legends, and about his own life story, Shirdi Sai Baba, and Jesus, and Wolf Messing. (Of these the Hindu stories still remain to be investigated by researchers with specialised knowledge.)
As has been clearly established in other studies, some of his stories contain substantial exaggerations, boasts, fantasy, contradictions, and downright errors. In view of this demonstrably poor record of accuracy on matters of fact, the objective observer is entitled to entertain reasonable doubts about the authenticity of other idiosyncratic and less verifiable stories and statements, including SSB's claims of Divinity and his boasts of Omni-powers (all unquestioningly accepted by those who view him as God). These etymology examples are worth adding to all the other discrepant stories since they shed more light on SSB's uses of language. In the case of many of SSB's etymologies, the speaker's behaviour at times seems so transparently cavalier that no expert knowledge of Sanskrit is needed to detect the invention or confusion, as we shall see below. A defensive rationalising all of this as SSB's Divine leelas is plainly inadequate.
As a public speaker, SSB has shown a predilection for certain aspects of language use, such as poetry, word play, and (like many of his Indian associates) puns. These are valuable tools in communicating with others, but his puns in English are rather forced. He constantly instructs or amuses his audiences by contrasts like the following:
Shiva vs Shava auspicious vs corpse ( Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 13: 78)
yoga, bhoga, roga (IV, 9:50)
"More than the Guru, the guri (Goal) is essential for attaining the Divine." (IV, 50:290)
He often uses another creative rhetorical device especially used in forms of teaching and preaching to drive home a point: promotional MNEMONIC devices like the following uses of word spelling mnemonics, letter by letter:
"The Bharatiyas and Westerners have a common term in English, God. In this word, G stands for generation, i.e. creation, O for organisation, i.e. sustenance and D for dissolution. Thus in this word God, all these three aspects, namely creation, sustenance and dissolution are implied." ( Sathya Sai Speaks, p. 385, December 2000)
"The latest new meaning of Sai Baba as given by Swami in his Divine Discourse on 23rd July 1995 is: 'SAI means See Always Inside; Baba means Being-Awareness-Bliss-Action'"
(R.Reddy, p. 37) "My name is Baba, B.A., B.A. I am a double graduate." (R.Reddy, p. 37)
Such normal uses of this technique by SSB seem acceptable (although perhaps over-frequent) but in the following example one can get an idea of SSB's confusion of mnemonics with etymology:
"What does 'man' mean? It is said 'M-A-N', man. 'M' means 'maya' (illusion) has to be forgotten. 'A': Atma has to be seen. 'N': attain Nirvana (liberation from bondage). A true man is one who forgets maya, beholds the Atma, and attains Nirvana. Today every man is immersed in delusion and has forgotten the Atma. Then how will he attain liberation? So, first and foremost, illusion has to be forgotten. Maya has to be left." (20 October 2001)
'Man' does not MEAN what SSB claims. For the subjective purposes of his teaching, he is really saying that Man STANDS FOR Maya. etc. There is a big difference, but apparently not for SSB. (The fact that each letter of the English word is equated with a Sanskrit concept - albeit well known by spiritual seekers - is also a little too convenient.)
A Selection of SSB's Etymological Stories
Akshaya - a good example of SSB's faulty knowledge, where a- simply represents a negative prefix, like un-, as in Asathya, Untruth). His following suggestion has little to do with etymology either.
"Akshaya is a combination of 'Kshaya' and 'A'. 'A' represents the Atmaswarupa - the Absolute, the Eternal. 'Kshaya' represents the Jivaswarupa - the individual entity that is liable to change. Akshaya indicates the union of the unchanging Eternal Spirit and the impermanent individual entity." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIX, 7:60)
In the following unorthodox examples, SSB gives his etymological opinion that 'Na' means 'Vijnaana'. [How could it?]
Ganapathi: "'Ga' means Buddhi (intelligence). 'Na' means Vijnaana (wisdom). Pathi means master." (XXVII, 25:216)
"In the name Ganapathi, 'Ga' stands for Guna (virtue) and 'Na' for Vijnaana (wisdom). When Ga and Na are joined we have the combination of Vijnaana (worldly wisdom) and Prajnaana (Spiritual wisdom)." (XXV, 27:294) - followed by a complex paragraph.
(Ironically, this repeated error is an ironic reminder of the young SSB's sarcastic dismissal at the beginning of his career as a public speaker of those who used such techniques.
"... saying Na meant this and Ra meant that and so on; it all sounded very learned and is really very clever; but no one can go on endlessly in this way, saying Na means either this or that ..." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 21:105)
Not surprisingly, SSB is frequently keen to give etymological stories about this key word.
An early clumsy invention in 1956 asserted that TWO syllables (or letters) 'equalled' no less than nine:
"Gu = Gunaatheetha - one who has transcended the three gunas ...
Ru = Rupa Varjitha One who has grasped the formless aspect of Godhead." (I, 3:21)
SSB's inventive stretching of this version continues with the much later:
"Do not seek human Gurus, however great their reputation. They are not gu (gunatheetha - beyond the Gunas); they are not ru (beyond Form); they are still in need of Form ..." (X, 15:97)
(If Rupa means form, how can its first syllable or letter mean its opposite?)
A variation on the same idea (selecting negative explanations which are not justified, but which convey the point SSB wishes to make):
"... Gurus, those who have the double qualification of gu and ru: gu meaning, devoid of gunas and ru meaning, devoid of rupa- that is to say those who have transcended Form and Flavour, those who have merged in God, or the Atma Itself."
(IX, 15:80 Prashanthi Nilayam 29-7-69 Guru Purnima, Second Discourse)
"Jagat - That in which birth and death take place. ('Ja' means birth and 'ga' means passing)." (XIX, 7:60)
But in Summer Showers in Brindavan 1993, p. 2:
"The very meaning of the word Jagat [world] signifies the transient nature of the world, for 'Ja' means going and 'Gat' means coming."
Krishna (another favourite source of etymological stories for SSB)
"Krishna has three separate mngs ... 1. Karsh is one root ...; it means 'that which attracts' ...2. The word is also related to the root Krish, to cultivate ... 3. It is related to the root. Krish, meaning something above and beyond the three attributes and the three eras, and na, means Sath-chit-ananda." (XI, 30:202)
"the root Krish which means 1) to attract, 2) to plough and cultivate, and 3) the Divine Principle beyond time, space and causation." (XI, 45:291)
In the following quotation, SSB uses Krishna for a symbolic portrait.
"Ka thus symbolises the sun principle also. Ra represents the principle of delight. Sha represents Vishnu, the source of all wealth and prosperity. Na signifies the Narasimha avatara, the combination of man and animal in an integral unity. A reveals the Akshara swarupa of the Lord, His imperishable and eternal quality." (XIX, 18:145)
In the following example we are given a deeper insight into what SSB really says in his Discourses and into the problems he causes for his busy editors. But the following self-indulgent and inventive passage (of fourteen lines) which was published in a Premsai (literal) version in 2002 was just too much invention and muddle for the editors: understandably, in the circumstances, they totally DELETED it - but this means that few will ever know that SSB actually said such a thing on 16 July 2000.
Name of Krishna
"Now, here is a small example of Divinity. Krishna. Many people have different kinds of Asha (expectations), different kinds of Love. How many letters are there in the word 'Krishna'? Most people would say that 'Krishna' has two letters ('Kri' and 'shna' of all Indian languages including Sanskrit and Telugu). But no! There are five letters in the word 'Krishna'.
"We have the sound of ka, rru, a, sha, and a. Krishna. Ka - rru. Do you see? What does 'ka' stand for? 'Ka' is the name of Rama Devi (Goddess of Wealth). 'Ka' means Rama Devi. 'Rru' is Sita. Therefore, each letter has a meaning. 'Sha' is for 'Shanti' (Peace). Then, this 'a' is for 'Adi Shakti' (the Primordial Power).
"If you look at it like this, the five elements and the five senses are contained in the name of Krishna. They defined the name of Krishna as Karasha Teeti Krishnah. Karasha means 'ploughing the land'. So it means the one who ploughs the field of our heart is God. When the field becomes soft, the one who sows the seed of Love is only God. Therefore, Karash Teeti Krishanah. Kushu Teeti Krishnah. (The one who makes the effort also is Krishna.) Aakaarsha Teeti Krishnah. (The one who attracts is Krishna)." (www.internety.com/premsai - now closed)
" ... that very word Moksha ... is self-explanatory. 'Mo' indicates Moha (delusion; being deluded by the scintillating, the gaudy, the transitory, the temporary trash); and 'ksha' means kshaya (decline; disappearance, destruction)." (IV, 9:46)
On April 5, 1998 (Sanathana Sarathi, May 1998, p. 115), Baba's etymological embroidery continues.
"The term "Rama" has another esoteric significance. It consists of three syllables: Ra + Aa + Ma. "Ra" signifies Agni (the Fire-god). "Aa" represents the Sun-god (Surya). "Ma" represents the Moon-god (Chandra)."
"The term 'Rama' means one who is pleasing and loveable. 'Ra' refers to Atma and 'Ma' refers to Mind. The Rama Principle means merging the mind in the Atma." (XX, 7:47)
A further astonishing example proving that SSB often improvises facts of language, without raising a hint of criticism even in the Brahmin members of his audience, is the following lengthy invention he spontaneously introduced into his Discourse for 12 March 2002 with reference to the 'meaning' of Sathya. The literal translation of this Mahasivaratri Discourse published on the ephemeral Premsai website shows him indulging in a bit of fanciful promotion of his own name:
"The essence of all Vedas gives the inner meaning of these words. The word 'Sathya' represents Rig Veda. The letter 'Sa' represents Sama Veda. The letter 'A' represents Atharvana Veda. 'Ya' represents Yajur Veda. Sathya-Sa-a-yi. (Applause) 'Sathya' = Rig Veda. Sa = Sama Veda. A = Atharvana Veda. Ya = Yajur Veda. Sathya Sai. Therefore, the essence of the Vedas is contained in every word. We inquire of the proof fully; but foolish people who don't know the meaning may create any number of wrong meanings."
His hard-working SSO editors, not daring perhaps to omit the name, did what they could to make it look a little more plausible, and so this is the reduced version which readers will see:
"Every word has a deep inner meaning. Take for instance the name Sathya Sai. Sathya stands for Rig Veda. 'Sa', 'Aa' and 'Ya' in Sai stand for Sama Veda, Atharvana Veda and Yajur Veda, respectively. Therefore, Sathya Sai is the very personification of the four Vedas."
Four months later, he offers this other etymological story on his name:
"What is Truth (Sathya)? There are three syllables in the word 'Sathya' - sath, aa, yaa. Sath is permanent. That is life. Aa stands for annamu (food). Yaa is the procedure for this investigation. For life, food is essential. Yaa is Sun (not son) who provides the food. For the Sath which is life you need Aa which is annamu (food) and Sun is essential for providing food. So, Sathya means: by the grace of Sun God you appease hunger and lead a comfortable life.(27 July 2002 Discourse to American Devotees.)
Not content with that, SSB immediately carried his special audience of enraptured American devotees with him on a further flight of fancy:
"There is another way to look at this - Sa, Tha, Yaa. When you consider it in the reverse order, Yaa stands for Yama and Niyama of sadhanas. That leads to Tha which is Thathwa (Reality) which in turn leads to Sa which is divinity. When you do austerities with Yama and Niyama, you experience divinity. Man should talk less and do more sadhana." (27 July 2002 Discourse to American Devotees)
(This Telugu Discourse, with the usual simultaneous translation into English, was given towards the end of his three week period of a painfully swollen jaw or neck - taken on, according to SSB's standard claim with his illnesses and accidents, to save pain for an unnamed child.)
SSB occasionally tries his hand at foreign etymologies with equally exotic and erroneous results, which do not seem to worry his devotees:
"The Muslims use the term Salaam as a form of greeting. What does the word mean? 'Sa' refers to Sai, the Lord who is the embodiment of Truth, Awareness and Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda); 'la' means 'layam' (mergence). Salaam means merging in the Supreme, who is also the embodiment of Truth and Bliss."(Sathya Sai Speaks, XVIII, 30:187)
(According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'Salaam' is Arabic for 'Peace'.)
A few years later, SSB offers these further thoughts in the subject:
"In Islam, the expression salaam is used as a form of greeting. "Sa" in this term signifies the combined expression of Saalokyam, Saaroopyam, Saameepyam and Saayujyam (Seeing the Divine, having the vision of the form of the Divine, nearing the Divine and merging in the Divine). When these four expressions are combined and merged into one - "La" signifying merger - you have Salaam (the merging of the many in the One)".
(Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIV, 29:321)
Notice that in both of these conflicting examples, SSB arbitrarily reduces 'Salaam' to 'Sa' plus 'la' (i.e. 'Sala') to fit in with his inventive needs.
SSB may even be risking offending Muslims by the following idiosyncratic interpretation of the name 'Allah'.
"A stands for Aathma, la for layam. Invoking Allah signifies merging in the Aathma which is the One God." (XXVII, 11:105)
"Spirituality means seeking to realise the oneness of all beings. There is only One ... For instance, the name of Yesu (Jesus) itself spells out this truth. Ye means one, su means good. There is only one good." (XXVII, 11:105)
Note: For other examples of SSB's inconsistent etymologies, Robert Priddy's original Index (search for it on the Wayback Machine) or the search engine available on the official websites www.sathyasai.org (if still there) and as from late 2004 on www.sssbpt.org, under the heading 'Discourses'. Look for keywords like: Bhagavan, Bharat, Guna, Guru, Hindu, Krishna, Lingam, Manava, Nara, Rama, Sai, Sathya, Vedas.
SSB's Bland Yugadi Predictions for Local Consumption
Still following the trail of inconsistencies and improvisations in SSB's stories and pronouncements, let us now turn to certain items of information given out by him in his annual Discourses on Hindu and Christian Festivals. Because these Festivals (for example, Mahasivaratri, Krishna's Birthday, SSB's Birthday, Christmas Day, Dasara, etc.) commemorate specific important spiritual events, there is a set basic theme for the Discourse (with a great deal of variation in the content) and a certain amount of listener expectation about what they are about to hear. For instance, at Mahashivaratri, miracles are expected, and often seem to have been performed. Secondly, on the Southern Indian Festival of Yugadi, or New Year (usually in March or April), in recent years, Baba often issues a short (expected) prophecy for the year whose beginning is thus being commemorated. There are some interesting cases to examine.
Yugadi is the religious festival in South India which celebrates the beginning of a New Year, for which predictions are expected. In the 1950s, 1960s and for much of the seventies, there were either no Yugadi Discourses by SSB, or simply bland New Year messages limited to vague announcements of some bad local (Southern Indian) weather forecasts. Also common, then as now (and as is the case in many sermons in other religions), was the general exhortation from SSB for his mainly Indian listeners to behave properly, to cultivate detachment, throughout the coming year as a karmic means of avoiding a bad year. For example: "... it forbodes a period of conflicts. ... This year is a mixture of good and bad events. Life is like that. ... This is a year in which everyone will have to be on his guard. One should keep a watch on every word he uses." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIII, 5:35)
When SSB made his Yugadi 1971 Discourse (27 March), the India-Pakistan war had just broken out. There was no mention of this: "This year itself has got a rather forbidding, foreboding Name, Virodhikrithi, meaning the year of making enemies! Do not have any apprehensions." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 18:107)
Ganapati (I:462) says, "at the beginning of the Bangladesh war, SSB was saying, 'In this Bangla war, our dharmic traditions and culture glow brighter than in the previous confrontations with China and Pakistan.' ... " But Ganapati also says that the war only began in November 1971... (p. 464) and that people were critical of SSB when Pakistan bombed Indian air force establishments, because SSB had stated that "the war would not enter the frontiers of our country." He quotes SSB as defending himself by saying: "What I meant was that the war would not affect the civilian life in the country." (p. 463)
In 1980, 1984 and 1985, SSB's Yugadi forecasts were short and vague. Again in 1986, the Yugadi forecast was mainly India-centric and vague, but with an equally vague reference to the rest of the world:
"The Akshaya year will be altogether a fairly good year with no serious untoward developments. However, the first two months - from mid-April to mid-June - are likely to witness some serious troubles. The heat will be excessive and some fire disasters may occur in May-June. ... Astrologically, important changes all over the world will be for the good. Not India alone, but all countries will benefit from these changes." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIX, 7:64)
The next forecast comes in 1990 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIII, 51:29-36):
"indications of various kinds of conflicts and dangers from fire disasters but many joyous events. (p.29). Because of a conjunction of planets, SSB foresees a "period of conflicts" with no apparent reason but also joyous events. "This year is a mixture of good and bad events. Life is like that." (p.35)
Hmm! In other words: "A mixture of good and bad events". Just to stress the obvious here, such platitudes from any other public speaker but SSB would be found rather embarrassing but they seem to delight the crowds of his unquestioning devotees.
Incidentally, SSB has claimed several times that earthquakes and other 'natural' disasters are the result of human karma and human acts. "There are likely to be more earthquakes. What is the cause? It is the consequence of man's wrong actions. The good or bad events of the world are a consequence of the activities of mankind." (Yugadi Discourse, 2001) However, this claim appears rather weak when one considers that earthquakes occur with statistical regularity all around the earth (in both populated and unpopulated parts) and that they had been happening for aeons before humans lived on earth. (My thanks to Robert Priddy for pointing that out.)
Fire disasters (in a hot country like India!) are also stressed in the Yugadi 1993 'predictions' and bomb blasts are mentioned (the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers were becoming increasingly active). The year 1999 was a particularly nasty year, with fighting in many countries, suffering and atrocities in Kosovo and East Timor, serious flooding and other natural disasters, and the Indian State of Orissa saw the most disastrous cyclone of the century, with many thousands of deaths. Nevertheless, in his Yugadi Discourse (taken from the English translation on the www.eaisai.com website), SSB was full of assurances:
"The name of the New Year is Pramadi, which implies dangerous prospects. The name may imply danger, but in reality the world will attain prosperity. We shall escape from all dangers. ... There are no dangers either for the world or for the nation or for the society or for the family ... Similarly, this year although named Pramadi will not bring any calamities. ..."
After all the preceding vagueness, no more accurate than the worst newspaper horoscopes, here we have a confident positive prediction of a good year in spite of all the astrological obstacles. Since the "forecast" was so far short of the truth for that disastrous year, one is tempted to speculate whether it is possible that SSB's MOOD, or even whim, rather than any special psychic or divine knowledge, dictates the nature of his predictions. At that particular time, he had recently returned from a successful visit to Delhi, the first in seventeen years, and was very pleased with the reception from the crowds, the students, the media, and with his talks with prominent politicians. Perhaps he was even relieved, in view of Delhi's previous hostility, at his reception there. Therefore, everything seemed rosy to him and he gave his cheerful discourse. But it showed no special knowledge or predictive ability at all.
These Yugadi results strongly suggest that SSB uses his Discourses on this festival in two ways: to demonstrate his (expected) omniscience by offering a 'prophetic' traditional (Indian) horoscope to his majority (Hindu) Indian listeners and also, as a skillful public preacher and moralist, to offer a mixture of good and bad prospects in order to attract their attention to the need for righteous behaviour to achieve spiritual progress or Divine mercy. For the devotee, SSB's Yugadi pronouncements are further proof of his Divine powers; for others less blinkered by unquestioning loyalty, they are unimpressive platitudes: another sort of story.
For a public speaker, the above scoreboard of confusion, discrepancies and errors is appalling; for an allegedly omniscient God, it should be a public relations disaster. In fact, most devotees are so absorbed by SSB's charisma and their faith in him that they do not even notice - and refuse requests to look at the overwhelming evidence. That is their problem. To other more open-minded people, this mass of basic evidence of SSB's talent and compulsion for storytelling will show that those who claim Divine Omniscience for SSB are in fact defending the indefensible. There are, it would appear, no limits to SSB's imagination and his impulsiveness, nor to his capacity for getting things muddled or wrong. These limitations do not inhibit him in the slightest, possibly because he is blissfully unaware of them. However, the truth is there for those who wish to see it (including, perhaps, academic experts on NRMs, who have been conspicuously uninterested in studying the unique SSB phenomenon).
The cumulative effect of such prolonged persistence in reckless improvisation, discrepancies and contradictions is persuasive: SSB cannot be the Omniscient Divine Being whom he, his Organisation, and his followers have claimed him to be for the past 60 years. He is a charismatic and famous guru who offers spiritual teachings and fosters charitable works.
This dossier has presented a considerable variety of disturbing factual discrepancies and errors, all spontaneously uttered with complete self-confidence and lack of concern by SSB, and unquestioningly accepted (and in many cases, repeated) by his devotees. Although surprising to outsiders, the special relationship created between his charisma and forcefulness and their totally trusting receptiveness must surely explain why, after the sorts of storytelling displayed here, SSB can still be seen by devotees as omniscient and Divine. That same special relationship also helps to explain why devotees believe, and repeat, SSB's much more arcane and esoteric claims and statements on which the myth of his Divinity and Divine Powers rests.
To take just one example of SSB's esoteric anecdotes:
On Guru Purnima Day 1963 (6 July), following a sensational recovery from an illness, SSB suddenly told his concerned devotees an anecdote about his alleged predecessor, the sage Bharadwaj. According to SSB, Bharadwaj had been slighted by the (mythical) Deities Shiva and Shakti, who made amends by promising him a special boon: "Shiva said that They would take form and be born in the Bharadwaaja Gothra (lineage) thrice: Shiva alone as Shirdi Sai Baba, Shiva and Shakthi together at Puttaparthi as Sathya Sai Baba and Shakthi alone as Prema Sai, later." (Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 15: 91)
Amazing though it may increasingly appear, this was the basis for SSB's entire claim (triumphantly parroted by his spokespersons and devotees for over fifty years) to be the second of a pre-ordained Trinity of Avatars with a Divine Mission to save humanity. On the evidence of the above detailed analysis of SSB's habit of story-telling, there is no reason to take this breathtaking claim as anything more significant than another spontaneous story by SSB. And besides, as Sanjay Dadlani has astutely pointed out on an Internet Bulletin Board (Yahoo: sathyasaibaba2), there is a theological error here as well: unlike Krishna, Shiva and Shakti are not the sort of Hindu deities who are supposed to reincarnate. But forty years later, the myth is still officially maintained (and perceived by devotees) as one of the basic truths about the SSB Mission.
Compare SSB's stories with his Claims
For SSB's latest discrepant story, click here.
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