A Brief Update on SB News
Copyright © Brian Steel February 2003
Christmas and the New Year have provided us with further contributions to a more balanced picture of Sathya Sai Baba.
1. SB's Discourses
In any discussion of SB's Discourses, it should be clearly noted that the versions of SB's Discourses which are made available to non-Telugu devotees and to the general public are edited translations. (See The Packaging of SSB's Discourses.) For this reason, the reader cannot be sure that these official versions of SB's public addresses are an accurate reflection of SB's original words and style. Because of the dedication of a handful of devotees, for just over two years it was possible to read their literal translations into several languages and, if one wished, to compare them with the official translations. (See www.internety.com/premsai ) These (and a few other) comparisons reveal that SB's real speaking style is different in many important aspects from the heavily edited and more sophisticated official texts. Unfortunately, we (and future scholars) are now deprived of further examples of these inestimable literal translations because the devoted volunteers of the Premsai group discontinued this unofficial service in July 2002, shortly after embarrassing discrepancies had been revealed on the Internet (See, for example, Omniscience and Truth , SB and Christianity. Some Observations , and 'The 'Omniscient' SB's Massive Ignorance of Physics Exposed' II, on www.exbaba.com, 17 September 2002.)
Objective observers will draw an inevitable conclusion from this silencing of one important aspect of the truth about SB: that SB's real words and speaking style are, in fact, an embarrassment to the Organisation which supports him and bears his name. Which prompts the equally unavoidable question: Why are the Discourses in their original form embarrassing? For a quick answer to that question, just take a careful look at the pre-July literal translations still available on 'Premsai' (NOW, before they disappear from the website) and make your own comparisons with the packaged versions). Because of these observable differences (which vary in number and importance from Discourse to Discourse) , unless the SSO changes its editing policy and practices, all SB's Discourses should carry a label stating "A free adaptation (or summary) of the Discourse given on ..." As a further irony, the unofficial Premsai site now only posts the EDITED version of the translations (which are labelled "Traditional") of post-July 2002 Discourses, as well as the regular intimate chatty disclosures (translated into several languages) by SB's close associate and hyper-devotee, Anil Kumar, of which more in section 2 below.
SB's Christmas Discourse seemed rather subdued and a trifle grumpy as he complained about devotees' bad qualities and made some oblique references to recent criticism of him. He also spoke in his usual way about Jesus, the three stages of his life, etc. (Some readers may wish to compare these statements with those of other years.) This year the wise men were "royal" and they said, respectively, about the baby Jesus: "This child will love God", "He will be loved by God", and "He will love one and all. He is no different from God." From this SB extrapolated the usual stages of Jesus as Messenger of God, Son of God, and at "one with God". He then offered for careful consideration the "inner meaning" of these "statements given in the Bible": "The one you think you are; the one others think you are and the one you really are." Check your Bibles.
SB's rather vague complaints about devotees included his "disgust" with the behaviour of "many people" over the past five or six years. Such people, he thought, deserved "exemplary punishment". (A departure from his usual expressions of love for all.) From there he moved on to speak of his "only weapon", love, but then resumed his vague complaints about "some people" who boast that SB cannot attract them. (Who are they, and why should they make such a boast?)
The New Year Discourse, to students, was mainly for local consumption, but SB once more eschewed any direct reference to himself as God. He roundly condemned cities as bad places, and advocated living in villages as the best thing. Many of India's desperately poor villagers may not agree with him. He further suggested that the real place for devotees to do seva in India was in villages and not the towns and cities. He even criticised Indians from cities like Madras and Hyderabad, as well as foreigners who had come to do seva in India, for not staying at home and attending to their local areas.
The Sankranti Discourse, like the preceding two, was devoid of direct references by SB to himself as Avatar.
All of the above modesty on SB's part contrasts quite paradoxically with the official treatment of his Christmas activities by the public relations chroniclers on the second official SSO website (www.srisathyasai.org.in ). Here, in their descriptions of the events of Christmas Eve and Christmas day, the references to SB's alleged Divinity were frequent - and of course, following the SSO custom in print for worldwide devotees, initial capital letters for He, His and Him were the rule.
These contrasting presentations of SB as a) simply a famous beneficent guru and spiritual leader, and b) the Avatar are further surprising public pieces of evidence of what appears to be a divergence of opinion and policy within the SSO hierarchy and its overseas affiliates in the face of growing criticism of SB on the Internet and in the international media. (I have previously referred to the incongruity of this coexistence of traditional references to SB's alleged Divinity and what appear to be public relations attempts to 'downgrade' or tone down SB's alleged 'Divinity' in order to improve his current worldwide image as a "spiritual leader" and public benefactor in Downgrading Divinity and Further National Variants of "Who is Sai?")
Here are some examples of the official continuing promotion of SB's claims of Divinity:
"... enjoying Christmas in the living and loving presence of the One who sent the Christ to us ..."
"The Lord came to the Sai Kulwant hall ..."
"in the Divine presence".
The official scribes included yet another unconvincing association of Sri Aurobindo's writings with SB's Advent. (See Misleading Evangelism)
"One was reminded of the lines from Savitri authored by Sri Aurobindo when he probably visualised this moment a century ago ..." (This use of "probably" is audacious, but not untypical of the SSO's information techniques.)
"the flame of Bhagawan's divinity"
"in the Divine presence".
On Christmas evening, another speaker is quoted as saying, as SB's devotees tend to do: "... we are in the presence of God Himself".
The session ended as usual, with the Christmas day "Divine Discourse", on which comment has already been made above.
2. Anil Kumar continues to reveal more and more
[Two paradoxical reminders:
Until relatively recently, SB boasted that advertising was not necessary in his case, and the bureaucrats of overseas SSO Centres sternly warned devotees not to go against SB's wishes in this respect.
In spite of SB's vigorous rejection of the Internet in October 1999, there are now TWO huge official SSO websites!]
In his regular unofficial 'Internety' Satsang chat column (www.internety.com/anilk2002/), SB's indispensable contemporary equivalent of Prof. Kasturi (but with an instant electronic and global reach), his trusted, devoted associate and popular spokesman, Anil Kumar, broadcast two of his special chats, in October and December 2002, dealing with his own story as a devotee of SB - in (understandable) response to requests from friends and admirers of his popular talks to students and others about SB's opinions, ideas, and anecdotes.
The absolutely crucial role (and responsibility) in the success of SB's Mission played by sophisticated, eloquent, English-speaking spokespersons like Kasturi, Bhagavantam, Gokak, Kumar, et al merits a very profound study. In the first part of his reminiscences, Kumar, in his simpatico, friendly, exuberant, self-deprecatory but authoritative style offers this characteristic, yet still amazing, reference to his total devotion to "Swami":
"Since then [his eventual acceptance by SB], I never spent any Sunday, any festival day or any vacation at home. I toured to about a thousand Sai centers all over Andhra Pradesh. On the average, I must have visited every center at least thrice, spreading over a period of twenty years. I went all over the State. During that time, I never purchased any provision with these hands and I never took care of my children. I did nothing because I was the 'Minister of Sai External Affairs'. That's all." (Applause)
In the second part of these personal reminiscences, Kumar repeats this claim, adding with
"My wife stayed back at home, taking care of the children, my in-laws and my parents, ours being a joint-family (an extended family, all living under one roof together)."
Some readers will remember that a similarly extreme degree of dedication inspired by SB was a striking characteristic of the now disgraced Dr Bhatia in his book of memoirs (Naresh Bhatia, The Dreams and Realities. Face to Face with God. Prasanthi Nilayam, [No publisher], 1994 - not published by the official SSO Book Trust. Could Bhatia have had rivals there?).
Consider, for example, this item for July 8,1992. "I asked Bhagavan to grant me three promises that day. ... Swami, first let this LOVE flow between You and me for eternity, If there is a break for even a fraction of a second, let that be my last moment. ... Bhagavan, I cannot live without You anywhere any more. Please always, always, always keep me in Your Divine Lotus Feet here only." (N.Bhatia, 143)
Or this one. During his 1981 interview, Baba is talking to Bhatia about the Gita, when he has a vision. "Before me, a most incredible vision appeared. It will forever be imprinted on my mind. The form that stood before me was not that of our beloved Swami but that of Sakshat Lord Krishna. His face was of the highest tapasvi [evolved sage; Glossary]. His eyes were so big that I could hardly see into them. His complexion was as dark as rain clouds, but it had an ethereal glow. A huge white beard and long, white, curly hair flowed down. The sight was so terrific that I could not stand it for very long. Then He transformed back into our Swami; then again into Krishna and back to Swami."' (N.Bhatia, 85)
Also: Bhatia was reading about Krishna describing himself. "I looked up for a second and there was Lord Krishna standing before me. And He appeared in the same form that was shown to me by Swami on Sept. 27, 1981. I thought I was hallucinating. Quickly, I sat up on the sofa, and Lord Krishna, in His most resplendent form sat down next to me on my right. Then Swami appeared and sat on my left. I do not recollect how long I remained in the bliss of superhuman consciousness," (N.Bhatia, 89).
In Part one of these personal revelations, Kumar answers the question, "Are Baba and Jesus Christ the Same?" His answer is, like the official descriptions of Christmas at Prasanthi Nilayam quoted in Section 1 above, quite unequivocal, and in keeping with SB's previous claims:
"Baba is the Cosmic Christ. Bhagavan is everyone for that matter, Sarva Devata Swarupa. He represents all deities, all gods -- that is the answer I can give you."
On the same Internety website, Kumar also announces a recent e-book, Satyopanishad, Vol 1 (2002). (See <www.internety.com/anilk-e.book>) These 45 pages (with a further short volume to come on Sadhana questions) are the English translation of the Telugu original, with translations also available in the other major languages of South India, Tamil, Malalayam, and Kannada. Other translations are promised for Kumar's worldwide audience.
Readers are informed that the Q and A sessions are the fruits of four annual meetings in Kodaikanal of SB, Anil Kumar, some selected students, and a few visitors (from overseas?). Most of the Q are nevertheless from AK (as the writers of the Introduction tell us).
Satyopanishad appears to be a short Public Relations release to a world audience, perhaps to strengthen wavering devotees, in Question (from Kumar) and Answer (from SB) form. We are offered a series of short explanations of Hindu concepts, spiritual matters, and a lot of talk and explanation of God, education, good and evil, etc, but with no personal claims to divinity by the increasingly discreet SB. Instead, it is spokesman Kumar who takes it upon himself to state or insinuate the connection here and there. The title of the e-book is characteristically grandiose, with its connotations of the original Vedic Upanishads of the Hindus. Here also, as always in the speech and writing of the faithful A.K., indefatigable in his Divine Lord's service, there are clear and unequivocal references to "the Avatar of the Age", "the Supreme Preceptor", and capital initial letters for He, His and Him, and even for "You".
The brief extracts which follow are offered to illustrate how strongly the total personal commitment of A.K. influences the way he reports on SB, presenting and endorsing him as THE Avatar he used to claim to be. Public declarations of such unconditional devotion and whole-hearted endorsement of SB's claims of Divinity and Omniscience (in particular) are being exposed as unjustified or misleading by the mounting evidence available on the Internet. For many years such favorable promotions of SB have been a prominent feature of the writing of so many other spokespersons, devotees, and devotee-writers (past - mea culpa! - and present). The main and perhaps most influential of SB's public "sponsors" are (or were) associates of SB, like Kasturi and Kumar, or psychic individuals professionally involved in New Age activities and Internet consultancies, like Connie Shaw, Craig Hamilton-Parker, the Jevons of Ramala Centre in UK, and several others. It is to be hoped that such misrepresentations will soon become much rarer. (See Notes on the Responsibility of Writers of Sathya Sai Baba Books)
However, putting aside for a moment the question of the Divinity claims (which are basically due to SB's self-promotion and uncritical acceptance by devotees), a vital, unavoidable research project still to be undertaken by those with the appropriate qualifications and insight is: The nature and extent of SB's real paranormal powers as evidenced by the genuine experiences of his devotees, and others. Such an analysis, if possible, might help to replace the misleading hype about SB's alleged Avatarhood (and devotees' obsession with talking about it) with a more accurate and helpful picture of SB's real nature and importance as a guru and spiritual teacher.
Back to Kumar's Satyopanishad. Consider, for example, this gushing piece of unjustified hype offered to the world by Kumar:
"Every word of Bhagavan Baba is a mantra, every sentence He utters an Upanishad, and every discourse He delivers a Veda. It is our sacred duty to listen to every word of His with absolute alertness, as it has immense significance and deep inner meaning. Further, it is our responsibility to hand over to the coming generations these most precious gems, Bhagavan Baba's words, which we are fortunate to hear owing to His infinite mercy. With this end in view, while imprinting in our hearts these words of wisdom of our beloved Bhagavan, the Avatar of this Golden Age, let us also record, preserve and treasure them."
This is misleading evangelism and preposterous nonsense, but people believe it, especially if it appears in print form, or on the Internet.
A valuable clue to part of Kumar's purpose in choosing the questions and making the e-book so widely available on the Internet at this (problematical) time, is innocently revealed by the writers of the Introduction:
"The tone and the tenor of some of the questions makes it clear that often he [i.e. Kumar] plays the spokesman for the vast body of silent and hesitant spiritual aspirants, and that of the devil's advocate drawing out from our Merciful Swami responses to many prejudices, distortions and misgivings. These last, if Swami does not quell them, can undermine the devotees' selftrust and faith in divinity." [italics added]
The writers are sharing a risky confidence with readers: that, eagerly assuming the role of protector of SB's 'divine' reputation and of wavering devotees' faith, Kumar has cooked up a few very specific questions in this new e-book, thus enabling SB to react publicly in a general way to the increasing number of people who question the legitimacy of his Divine claims. How convenient for SB, but how does one feel about such stooge-like behaviour by a spiritual devotee which one associates with the antics of politicians? The most obvious of these 'propaganda' questions are Questions 38 and 78, which I quote in detail in the interests of public information:
Q38) "Swami! In an organisation where we have to interact with people, most often we come across people criticising each other and blaming each other. This is very frustrating, and divides people into groups. Sincere persons become frustrated because of uncharitable criticism. It looks like character assassination and mud slinging. How are we to take this evil prevalent everywhere?"
Bhagawan: "It is a sin to criticise others. It is a sign of weakness and inferiority complex. You shouldn't criticise or hate anyone. In fact, no one has any authority to criticise others. To tackle this, first of all, one should put a question to oneself: "Who is being criticised?" Then, you don't feel upset any longer. Why? If the criticism applies to your body, you don't need to feel bad because the body is temporary and ephemeral. ......................."
"You have put another question. You want to know how you should react to criticism against you. A small example. Suppose you receive a registered letter. If you don't want to accept it, you can refuse to take delivery. The registered letter will then go back to the sender. Will it not? Similarly, criticism against you is a registered letter. Don't acknowledge and receive it. Refuse it so that the same registered letter of criticism will go back to the sender, the critic himself. If anyone speaks loudly and belligerently against you in public, it is all lost in the air or in your vicinity. If anybody accuses you secretly, it goes to the accuser himself. .............."
Here, SB is basically advocating the ostrich (head-in-the-sand) approach to ANY criticism, thus dictatorially ruling out 'a priori' the possibility than any criticisms of him (or anyone) may be well founded. Such attempts at thought and behaviour control, with which many devotees comply, should not go unnoticed.
In the answer to Question 78 we get a fleeting glimpse of a confused and angry SB attempting to justify himself in the face of mounting public criticism, similar to several other outbursts in Discourses since 1999.
Q78) "Swami! Some people pose challenges quite unwarranted. Pious and noble people are disturbed and agitated in such situations? What should we do with those who challenge us unnecessarily?"
Bhagawan: "Only egoistic, jealous people with bodily attachment challenge like this. Aspirants and seekers should not be disturbed by these challenges. You should not react to their words and be affected thereby. A cow that grazes in a field may challenge another cow. A pig that feeds on faeces can challenge another pig. Should man who takes food challenge a pig? You can talk to an equal but not to everyone. Don't respond to everyone and then lose your peace. In fact, you should face a challenge if you must, in this way, "Do you help everyone as I do? Have you taken up welfare programmes as I have done? Are you broadminded like me? How many people have you transformed into the righteous way of life?" People should have healthy competition. You should not challenge for petty, low, mean things."
But is Truth a petty, low, or mean thing?
In his Satsang chat for 26 November 2002, Anil Kumar makes the following irresponsible contribution to the tired old myth that SB speaks all languages. The new twist is that SB appears to contradict Kumar's pandering attitude, but the editing makes this unclear.
"You must have noticed that this afternoon, Bhagavan granted an interview to some teachers from Zambia.
Swami said, "You know, I spoke in their mother tongue, Swahili. I spoke in their language. They all liked it."
"Swami, which language is not known to You? You know all the languages."
"No, no, it's all right. [Meaning?] However, I am telling you that today I spoke to them in their native language. So they are very happy." That's what Bhagavan said."
The reader is also left wondering exactly what SB meant by his boast about his prowess in Swahili. After all, if you simply say "Buenos días" and perhaps a few other common phrases to Spanish speakers and then go on to lecture them in English, you (or others on your behalf) could also claim correctly, but ambiguously, "I spoke to them in their language".
3. One-sided news from the New York Times
In early January 2003, SB devotees must have been heartened to receive news of some favorable media coverage for a change. And indeed, an unusually poor journalistic performance by a reputable newspaper was something of a windfall for them.
An experienced New York Times reporter had visited the ashram. As a result of what he saw and was told by SB sympathisers, he wrote a very favorable report about 'A Friend in India to all the World '. Unfortunately, the careless reporter apparently failed to make any basic checks on his "scoop". One single Google search would have revealed quite a lot of alarming and important counter-information on SB and the SSO. The result: a substandard article, a barrage of justified e-mail complaints to the New York Times for its blatantly one-sided reporting. To their discredit, writer and editors sat tight in their bunker and rode the storm without, as far as I have been able to detect, deigning (or daring?) to acknowledge any of the substantial accusations of the inferior standard of its flawed report. Shame on the New York Times!
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