Brian Steel October 2002
Copyright © Brian Steel 2002
My attention has been drawn to the fact that SB recently decided to liven up a Discourse in honour of Krishna (31 August 2002) by retelling his Wolf Messing story in its third incarnation. The previous shorter versions are to be found in his Discourse of 22 November 1980 - Sathya Sai Speaks, XIV, Chapter 57, pp. 364-366; LIMF, p. 48; and in R. T. Kakade and A. Veerabadhra Rao's Shirdi to Puttaparthi, pp. 159-160. My July 2002 commentary on the earlier versions can be seen at 'Paranormal References: Wolf Messing and Kirlian (Revised)'. For this latest SB version, see <www.sathyasai.org >, <eaisai.com/baba >, or <www.internety.com/premsai> (select the TRAD version; it now appears that there is unlikely to be a literal translation but it would be interesting). Later in the this Krishna Discourse, SB tells some more stories about his youth and these also deserve close analysis and comparison with earlier versions of the stories - if someone has the time.
If we begin with some known facts on Messing, it will be easier to judge the accuracy and credibility of some details in SB's different versions of the story. The facts to be presented below are mainly from the major available source in English, Sheila Ostrander's and Lynn Schroeder's, PSI Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, London, Abacus, 1973  (See pp. 58-73.) This bestselling book, with its reprints in 1976 and 1977 would also have been available in India in 1980. The authors of PSI ... also point to the less accessible "About Myself" by Messing which was published in Russian in 1965 in a Journal called "Science and Religion", Numbers 7 and 8. Tantalisingly, they also tell us, on page 73, that a full autobiography which was due to be published in the magazine "Sovietskaya Rossiya" in 1967 was withdrawn. A later important but out of print account of Messing's life, which I have been unable to see, is Tatiana Lungin's, Wolf Messing: The True Story of Russia's Greatest Psychic, New York, Paragon House, 1989.
Here are the basic facts from Ostrander and Shroeder's fascinating work:
Messing was born in Poland in 1899 and died in Russia in 1974. He became a very famous psychic practitioner, performer and researcher. At the age of six, although possessed of a prodigious memory he had just refused to go to a religious school to train to be a rabbi, when he experienced his first miracle: a vision of a "gigantic, dark figure clad in a white garment" appearing on the porch of his parents' modest house. It advised him to accept the school place. He did so but at the age of eleven his unhappiness made him leave home in search of his destiny with a few cents in his pocket. He immediately began to discover and develop special psychic powers and became a theatre "Wonder Boy", also training himself in other arts and accomplishments like telepathy and power over people (suggestion, mind reading, etc.). In 1915, during his performances in Vienna he was invited to meet both Einstein and Freud who showed interest in his gifts. He then undertook a further ten years of touring the world as a psychic entertainer, and in 1927 (the year after SB's alleged birth) he met Gandhi in India. (Ostrander, pp. 65-68)
There followed a further ten years of similar shows in Poland, and Messing also showed an interest and proficiency in predictions and in spiritualism, although his personal verdict of the latter was that this was all fake. (Ostrander, p. 70) This brings us up to the Second World War in 1939, when Messing (who, in 1937, had publicly predicted Hitler's death if he "turns toward the East") had to flee from the German invasion of Poland. He settled in Russia and lived the rest of his life there, continuing with his psychic public performances and his experimentation, and, possibly, collaborating on secret Soviet military psychic projects (which are now also conducted by other military forces).
Now, following that comparative basis, here are some notes on the SB versions of the story of his meeting(s) with Messing:
Version 1 (22 November 1980) in essence goes as follows:
SB begins by speaking about materialism and atheism in Russia from 1917 on and about Stalin. Messing was a "powerful personality" whom Stalin tried to get rid of by sending him to Hitler. [Not logical] On his way to Hitler [presumably in the late 1930s?], Messing saw Freud and Einstein in Vienna; Freud was so impressed by Messing that he realised his own studies were shallow.
Following this exotic preamble, SB takes us to 1937 when Sathya Narayana was eleven years old [or perhaps 8], a student in Kamalapuram (200 km away from Puttaparthi). Sathya is with some friends near the railaway 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. SB then informs his audience that this was Messing, who was also in India to do spiritual exercises and to meet Gandhi. He continues, while on the Russian paranormal theme, with a few separate but excited remarks about 'Kiril' (otherwise known as Kirlian). [Interestingly, Messing and Kirlian were both involved in paranormal research in the Soviet Union over a similar period and must have met.]
Version 2 (In LIMF (p. 48)
This gives the same gist and adds details from another story told privately (no references are given). Messing was travelling from Madras to Cuddapah and saw Sathya and his friends when the train stopped at Kamalapuram. The boys ran off into a nearby house and the man stood staring at that house for two hours, telling some old locals that he had come to seek a blessing from the boy in the house. Just then Sathya appeared behind the men and raised his hand in blessing.
[One problem here is that the town of Kamalapuram is beyond (i.e. to the north-west of) Cuddapah, not between it and Madras (to the south-east). See Version 3 below.]
A variant of version 2 is offered by RT Kakade and A. Veerabhadra Rao in their book Shirdi to Puttaparthi (pp. 159-160). Here the story is told by "a Russian" as part of an entertainment by schoolboys and others on 24 November 1980.
Version 3 (31 August 2002)
This latest one is new to me. It is much longer and offers many more details, especially of dialogue and description; it also adds a new final episode. The story takes up a third of the 31 August 2002 Krishna Discourse. The main details: Wolfe [sic] was born in Poland in 1899 and had a very special childhood during which he had a vision of [note the phraseology] the "tall personality wearing a white robe" - SB says it was Messing's grandfather, urging him to to seek spiritual knowledge. Messing duly left home in February 1909, aged 10, with a few coins in his pocket, to search for spiritual knowledge. He toured the world for ten years. (So this only brings us up to 1919.) Then while in India he took a train from Cuddapah to Anantapur [a much more feasible route than in version 2]. When the train stopped briefly in Kamalapuram, where SB says he was studying, Messing saw Sathya and his two friends sitting on the platform. (They are named here as Suresh and Ramesh, who are also mentioned in other discrepant stories by SB about his youth). 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".
Then says SB, Messing "reached his country, Russia". Twenty years later (?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 SB's Divine aura, which turns out completely white (pure). [This sounds more like the well-documented visit of Dr Frank Baranowsky, the aura expert who used a Kirlian camera on a 1977 visit. See Footnotes.] Still seeking his meeting with SB, Messing is invited to give an evening talk to the students and goes up to SB, saying, "My dear, my dear. You are my everything. I am your instrument." Whereupon SB taught him "all that had to be taught", over a period of ten days [but by then Messing's major life accomplishments had already been achieved and he had written his unpublished autobiography].
Since Messing was a very powerful psychic (like SB) and is known to have travelled to India, a journey via Kamalapuram, and even a meeting somewhere, does not seem impossible. However, since this is a story about psychic powers and two very prominent psychics, it is surely far more likely that there was some kind of non-physical paranormal contact ('meeting') between the young Satya Narayana and the seasoned psychic performer, researcher, and perhaps mentor, although SB is at pains to show that it was he who inspired and (belatedly) 'initiated' Messing, not vice-versa.
Nevertheless, what is at issue here is not so much the physical meeting of the two men but, as has been seen time after time with other SB stories, the amount and the significant nature of the conflicting and glaringly discrepant elements (particularly regarding feasibility and credibility) in the different versions. Because of the discrepancies, not all details of these stories can be true, and yet SB claims (and is widely believed) to embody Truth and to be omniscient. We have seen particularly important examples of this disquieting characteristic in a range of SB's stories: about his youth, the information he gives almost annually about Jesus Christ, and even in the two very different versions he has offered about the (alleged) early years of Shirdi Sai Baba (in 1990 and 1992, I think).
Even without such precedents, what are we to make of all the conflicting elements in these Wolf Messing stories. First and foremost, none of the dates properly FIT the biographies of SB and Messing, except perhaps that final section about a later visit by Messing (in the 1960s?), but a ten day stay in the ashram by such a 'star' would have been documented by Professor Kasturi or some other biographer.
A recapitulation of the most obvious discrepancies which emerge from the above analysis inevitably casts the shadow of doubt over all three of these versions:
Messing's biographical 1915 visits to Freud and Einstein are postponed by SB to 1937.
Messing met Gandhi in 1927, when Sathya was 1 year old.
SB's own presence in far distant Kamalapuram was, as LIMF shows, between June 1940 and June 1941, not 1937 (when Sathya Narayana was only in his second year of Primary school). By 1941 the war in Europe was raging and Messing was presumably confined to the Soviet Union.
The Hitler references lack plausibility given Messing's Jewishness and his prediction about the Fuhrer's death.
The geographical discrepancy between the railway itineraries mentioned.
Parts of Version 3 also sound as though they were gleaned from the Ostrander-Shroeder book or a similar biographical source, like Lungin's.
Therefore, whichever way one looks at the 3 Messing stories, and whatever truth there might be at the base of the various permutations, the conclusion that SB has invented or changed details and dates is surely unavoidable. But, once again, the questions linger: Why, time after time, do intelligent devotees unquestioningly indulge SB's disregard for the truth? Why does he embroider his stories, and so often? And why does he continue to do so at this particular time when SB's advisers are aware of the many serious questions (not "gossip and rumours") being raised in different forums concerning his omniscience and credibility? Or doesn't he listen to them?
Dr Frank Baranowsky (or Baranowski), whose 1977 visit was, understandably, well received by SB and the SSO, is mentioned in many books about SB. Here are two major references:
"Professor Baranowsky explained to me that Sri Sathya Sai Baba's aura is at its fullest when bhajans are sung. Then the pink surrounds the people singing in the hall and extends beyond them.@ [pink] (Shakuntala Balu, Living Divinity, p. 49, and see pp. 47-49. Of possible minor anecdotal interest is her use of the spelling 'Kyrillan', close to SB's 'Kiril', for Kirlian.)
Sanathana Sarathi for September 1978 contains an account of Baranowsky's enthusiastic ashram talk about his findings. There is also a short article - perhaps with the same content - by Baranowsky in a collection of laudatory articles about SB titled Golden Age 1979.
Given the successful nature of the Baranowsky visit (and his status as a scientist), as well as the fact that he would have explained the technology to SB and his associates, and the date of his visit (1977), it is within the bounds of possibility that SB's interest in Kirlian photography dates from that moment; the original 1980 Messing story and the unspecific link with 'Kiril' MAY have somehow been triggered by this meeting with Baranowsky (with his "Russian" name) plus some other psychic connection with or knowledge of Messing.
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