Sathya Sai Baba’s Questionable Stories and Claims
Brian Steel May 2008
Copyright © 2008 Brian Steel
John Hislop: “Is it wrong to criticise a person?”
Sai: “It is not wrong to criticise a person if the evaluation has been arrived at slowly and carefully.” (John Hislop. Conversations with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Section XLIV, p.145)
From the humble early years of his Mission in the 1940s, long before he began his formal Discourses, Sathya Sai Baba used to take his band of early devotees for a walk to the sands of the nearby Chitravati river and enthral them with his anecdotes, which he would announce as “Oka Chinna Katha” (A little story). Sathya Sai Baba’s frequent Telugu “Discourses”, which eventually grew out of those early informal teachings (first recorded in the mid-1950s after the arrival of Professor Kasturi as SSB’s devotee, associate and interpreter) are loosely-knit, unscripted and rambling teaching vehicles, lasting an hour or more. Into most of them, like other effective preachers, SSB usually inserts one or more didactic stories or anecdotes.
Most usually SSB talks about daily life and gives advice on proper conduct, often telling uplifting anecdotes based on Hindu mythology and scriptures. SSB also frequently speaks about himself and sometimes tells stories and short anecdotes about his claimed Divinity, the triple Avatar of Shirdi-Sathya-Prema, allegedly pre-ordained by Siva, or about his childhood and youth. Such stories reinforce and add to the officially projected image of SSB, and are often characterised by a certain amount of vigorous self-promotion, or even boasting. These stories have always been an integral part of his spontaneous preaching style.
However, as a study of his published Discourses will confirm, some of the facts, achievements, and predictions that SSB mentions in his stories turn out to be misleading or exaggerated. Other confident assertions by SSB are simply not true – sometimes spectacularly so. Nevertheless, most of SSB’s associates and devotees have hitherto accepted the veracity and coherence of all his stories because of their unquestioning belief in his cdlaimed Divinity. To my knowledge, the Sathya Sai Organisation has never denied any of those incorrect assertions by SSB which survive the official editing process. (Because of this latter process, it is impossible to estimate how many more discrepancies and errors have been removed during the editing process over the past 50 years, but the scanty evidence available suggests they may have been numerous.) Nevertheless, the Sathya Sai Organisation must bear its share of the responsibility for the propagation and re-quoting of such demonstrably unreliable material, particularly when it is presented as evidence of SSB’s Divine status.
Sathya Sai Baba's Claims of Divinity
Sathya Sai Baba as Storyteller
Flaws in SSB’s general storytelling
The major types of Sathya Sai Baba stories are about:
* Hindu deities, beliefs and scriptures
* SSB’s own biography, personality, spiritual identity and achievements
* his allegedly Divine Mission and avataric powers (See Part 2)
* Jesus Christ (See Part 2)
* his views and comments on the contemporary world (especially science)
* his idiosyncratic word etymologies
* inappropriate references and ‘name-dropping’
It is a lamentable indication of the lack of independent research on SSB carried out in India that, apart from six errors mentioned by SSB apologist Ra. Ganapati, no attention has yet been paid to SSB’s Hindu stories. Eventually, when Indian scholars and journalists realise the need for such research, interesting results may be forthcoming.
As a tiny contribution to this missing research, I can only offer the following quotation by SSB: “Shankaracharaya, in the fifth century A.D., went on foot from Kaanchi to Kaashi, Badhri, Kashmir, Kedhaarnath, Kailash or Puri, Shringeri and Kaaladi! And he only lived until the age of thirty-two!” (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 8:55) According to three reference books consulted, there is an error of three centuries here, since Shankara, or Shankaracharya, lived in the eighth century A.D. and established monasteries at the four cardinal points of India.
There is a long series of varied stories about SSB’s schooldays, involving two of his classmates, an examination in which he claims to have cheated on their behalf, in addition to other elements and permutations. Although SSB proudly proclaims his dishonest support of his friends by using his alleged powers to write their answer papers in their own handwriting, he takes pains to disguise the cheating by claiming that “none could accuse us of copying”, on the basis that their three examination seat numbers (which – amusingly – vary from version to version of the story) were far apart. Although SSB proudly admits this dishonest support for his friends by writing their papers (allegedly) in their own handwriting, he claims that “none could accuse us of copying” on the basis that their 3 examination seats (whose numbers vary from version to varsion) were far apart. The full series of anecdotes, with its bewildering permutations of details, is too long for this article but can be perused at Sathya Sai Baba as Storyteller.
Ironically, in a special publication made by the Japanese Sathya Sai Organisation for the Sri Sathya Sai World Youth Convention held at Prasanthi Nilayam in July 1997, a Discourse from 19 February 1984 is quoted, to the effect that SSB attended the ESLC examination in Bukkapatnam, but was the only one to pass. The Japanese compilers offer a rare literal translation because “The grammar and composition of these discourses has been kept in its original Telugu layout, to convey the sweet simplicity common in Bhagavan’s speeches to his young students.” (The Premsai team of volunteer translators, 2000-2002 were to give a very similar reason for their literal versions in 2000-2002, which have since been withdrawn. This Discourse is not listed online or in the 1984 printed volume by the SSO. Here is what the Japanese devotees quote:
“You should not think that what I am going to tell you is being given to you with the purpose to get some reputation for myself, or some greatness for myself. Actually in that examination, only I (Swamiji) alone got 1 st class and passed. All of the others failed that examination. All the boys were tiny little boys and this particular ESLC examination came to the world for the first time. Teachers were very strict. The teachers would search the pockets of the boys to see if they were carrying any papers. Nothing was allowed inside. Pencils, rubbers, and papers were all supplied by the teachers. So, this caused some confusion in the minds of the tiny little boys. Therefore, they could not do well at all. In Penukonda and in the whole town, people heard that only Raju alone got first class and passed that particular examination. They wanted to celebrate the occasion by taking Raju in procession on a bullock-cart in the village.”
This is followed later by a rather coy new variation of the three students in the Kamalapuram story:
“In the school, there were desks. Desks in which you could put your books, and where you could also write some notes and three boys had to sit together on one single desk. I used to sit in the center of the three places of the desk with two other boys. One of the boys was Ramesh and another boy was Sudhir.
“They used to sit on either side of me and I used to sit in the center. In this way, time passed on. After one year, it was found that in every examination in the class, it was these three boys, myself, and the other two boys sitting on either side of me were getting the highest marks and first class.”
However, of all the SSB self-promotional childhood stories, the following is probably the most detrimental to SSB’s credibility:
Since mid-1999, some of the popular public Sunday satsangs for College boys by SSB’s current interpreter and popular spokesperson, Professor Anil Kumar, have been made available to a world audience of devotees (in English and several other languages) on his increasingly voluminous web pages.
In his ‘blog’ posting for 10 March 2002, Kumar narrates an extraordinary SSB story, allegedly told recently to some students and teachers, in Kumar’s presence. To my knowledge, the story had not appeared in print before Kumar’s dramatic revelation. The reasons for the previous lack of publicity will quickly become apparent to most readers as will the reason for including it in my collection of special “problem” stories by SSB.
“And then Swami went on to say a few things about His own experience. “You know, I got a license. I could drive My car. You know at what age I got the license? At the age of nine!”
Kumar goes on to quote SSB as saying that he got the (amazingly premature) licence from two transport Officers, Seshagiri Rao and Hanumantha Rao, who granted it to him at the tender age of nine. In Kumar's lively rendering, SSB sounds quite pleased with himself about details like this: the licence was granted after a perfunctory examination consisting of merely satisfying themselves that Sathya Narayana was able to steer the car between two lines marked on the ground. This astonishing revelation is followed by more boastful details about young Sathya’s exploits with the car. The new ‘driver’ decided to drive the two Transport Officers to Madras. Although terrified of his driving, they bowed to his will and 9 year-old Primary School speed ace Sathya Narayana allegedly made the 8 hour trip in a record four and a half hours! Kumar adds that SSB finished the story with the following miraculous flourish: he had driven that car for 15 years but since it was wartime and petrol was rationed, he economised by using water from the well instead.
What is remarkable here is the extent and openness of SSB’s preposterous boasting in front of the College boys, as well as the factual weaknesses in this highly unconvincing children's comic book story. First, the dates: SSB was nine in either 1935 or 1938 (depending on his date of birth). The war began in 1939 and lasted just over five years. SSB’s Mission began (as we now know) in 1943 (not 1940, as officially claimed). Transport Officer Seshagiri Rao, probably from Bangalore, is only mentioned in Love is My Form (p. 213) from 1944 on when he organised a Bhajan Mandali for the newly declared “Sai Baba”. As for the Transport Officer Hanumantha Rao, according to LIMF (p. 353), he appears on the scene in Puttaparthi as Transport Commissioner of Madras State, with the task of conducting a preliminary road-building survey. SSB accompanies him on this survey and they have lunch together.
SSB’s public admission, in front of teenagers, of the illegality of the alleged obtention of the licence (like the impropriety of cheating on behalf of two schoolmates of which SSB boasts in the other much-repeated schoolboy story referred to above) seems highly inappropriate for an educator, a University Chancellor and a stern advocate of Dharma. The claim about fifteen years of driving a car fuelled by water may also come as a great surprise to many, especially the tireless researchers of the first volume of Love is My Form – in which there is no mention of the licence or the car driving.
During a 1978 discussion between prominent US SSO official John Hislop and SSB, a surprising fact was brought up: SSB was unaware that Jews and Christians do not belong to the same religion. In view of the number of prominent overseas Jewish devotees drawn to SSB from the late 1960s on, and their closeness to SSB, it is both amazing and revealing that none of them had brought up this fundamental question about their faith before.
In the reported group dialogue, SSB asked, “Does the Cross fail to symbolize the Jewish faith to a substantial degree?”
MG: “Yes, Swami. There is a substantial difference.” [MG = Michael Goldstein?] (See John Hislop, Conversations with Sathya Sai Baba.)
In spite of this clarification, eighteen years later, the Christmas 1996 Discourse contained several breathtakingly incorrect anecdotes about Judaism and Christianity. The official version in Sathya Sai Speaks (Volume XXIX, page 393) coyly glosses them over: “[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.]” Readers of the SSO version (which, remember, is the ONLY official printed version of SSB’s Discourses – in several languages) will never know that SSB made many major errors like those which follow, but James Redmond’s commercial video captured them in Telugu and in the simultaneous English translation. (See my Bibliography) Here are two revealing paragraphs (not published by the SSO):
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) “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.”
That same videotaped commercially available Christmas Discourse for 1996 reveals what must be one of SSB’s most insouciant and blatant acts of bravado: in front of the cameras, he ‘produced’ what quickly became known among delighted devotees as the ‘small Bible’ which he referred to in the following terms (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIX, p.394) “Scholars started investigating the validity of the statements made by Jesus Christ. They collected all knowledge that existed prior to one thousand five hundred and thirty years. All that was compiled in one book in England. Russians made it into a small tiny book.” The official report continues:
[Svaami produced the little book by a circular wave of His hand and held it before the audience.] “This is the book. You can see the cross on the cover page. The book was designed to demonstrate the common features of all religions. What is contained in this book is not to be found even in the Bible. It contains an entirely new account of the life of Jesus.”
In one of the officially edited printed versions devotees are further informed by the editors that this is a “book compiled in Britain around 1530 A.D. containing all the information about Jesus gathered during the preceding centuries. The Russians condensed all the material in a small book [in which language?] which they preserved in a place on the Black Sea coast [location not named].”
Apart from SSB’s unverifiable descriptions of the book’s sensational contents, this is a most disturbing performance to the keen observer of the videotape of the ‘materialisation’. SSB merely seems to pluck the miniature book (2 and a half centimetres by 3 and a quarter, the size of a small matchbox) from below the ledge of the table he is leaning on. Photographs of SSB holding up the tiny book were immediately circulated in Puttaparthi. One of these is on the cover of the Spanish edition of the January 1997 issue of Sanathana Sarathi (El Eterno Conductor). All very impressive and exciting, on the surface, but the truth that I discovered a few years afterwards was that copies of an identical work, the miniature so-called ‘Good News’ New Testament, have been on sale in India for many years. In 2000 I bought an identical one from a “Sai Baba” Centre in Australia for $2.50. It looks exactly the same as the one held aloft by SSB in the ashram photos. According to a typically sensational ashram rumour, SSB eventually ‘dispatched’ the book back to its exotic Black Sea monastery home. End of story – except that it is very odd that no one seems to have been curious enough to try to find out the detailed contents of such an original-sounding book!
At the time of that totally unexpected discovery, I was still a devotee and hagiographer of Sathya Sai Baba (with just a few files of puzzling discrepancies in my folders). The revelation of this outright deceit left me feeling disappointed and annoyed. Why on earth should SSB feel the need to make up such a cock-and-bull story for his listeners, knowing that it (and the photographs) would spread around the world immediately? And why did he assume (although he went unchallenged at the time!) that such a flimsy story would never be challenged? Such reckless behaviour invited further investigation but devotees have never queried it.
One of my subsequent discoveries was an equally astonishing assertion involving Alexander the Great and the Qur’an. In 1992, a colossal historical error of SSB’s had been pointed out by Dale Beyerstein in his e-book. In spite of its enormity, and because of the unconditional faith of devotees, most (including myself at the time) took NO notice! Such denial is typical among SSB’s devotees.
In his Discourse for 21 August 1986 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIX , pp. 137-8), SSB tells this story:
“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 at least one part of this story is utter nonsense. Alexander the Great could not have made a study of the Qur’an because he preceded Muhammad by a nearly a THOUSAND years! (Alexander the Great – 4th Century B.C.E. Muhammad and the Qur’an – 6th to 7th Century C.E.)
Sai on Science
Several of SSB’s devotees and apologists have written admiringly of his profound knowledge of science, including topics allegedly beyond human understanding. The evidence from some of SSB’s (edited) Discourses gives a very different picture, as Jorge Reyesvera and Robert Priddy have convincingly demonstrated in their analyses (on www.exbaba.com) of SSB’s pronouncements about atoms and magnetism, where the guru’s confusion is patent. The main articles by these two writers are:
‘The ‘Omniscient’ Sai Baba’s Massive Ignorance of Atomic Physics Exposed’ (Discourse on Guru Purnima Day, July 2001 – published on exbaba.com on 11 and 17 September 2002). Jorge Reyesvera also published ‘Sai Baba’s Magnetism on 7 May 2003. The fact that the writers were able to use one of the rare Premsai literal translations of SSB’s Discourses also enables us to check how much of the muddle was ‘airbrushed’ in the editing process which produced the official translation. Priddy offers a valuable URL for a copy of the literal English version: Discourse for 5 July 2001.
Other enlightening studies on similar topics by Robert Priddy, for example, ‘The Legless and Headless Magnetic Golden Linga’ (Discourse on Mahasivaratri Day, 13 March 2002 – http://home.no.net/anir/Sai/enigma/lingam.htm), are to be found on his constantly expanding new website (www.saibaba-x.org.uk).
In an even more extraordinary ‘scoop’ on a SSB ‘scientific’ gaffe, Priddy reported in an article on www.exbaba.com on 17 April 2004 that one of SSB’s characteristically reckless off-the-cuff predictions to small groups of devotees had had to be literally covered up by the magazine Spiritual Impressions (March/April 1998, p. 37).
“A photo of Sai Baba was pasted over the text in most of the edition. When steamed off, the underlying report was headed “Kodai Sessions” and stated what he said in a discourse at Kodaikanal, as follows:-
“From the 14th of April, Tamil New Year's Day, Swami gave continual discourses. There was the absolutely stunning news (and so because it was from Swami) in the very first 15th of December 1998, Swami declared the axis of rotation of Earth shall shift.
In other discourses Swami mentioned the effects of the embalance [sic]; melting of glaciers at the poles, rising of water level on the planets surface, earthquakes.
Never before has Swami spoken so directly about a future event.”
Priddy adds: “ I was told by an ashram source that, when SSB found out about the printed report, his officials hot-footed it to Sai Towers to make Mr. Padmanabhan withdraw the issue. The same source told me that the messenger from SSB informed Padmanabhan that what ‘Swami’ had said was specifically meant only for (the benefit of?) those who had heard it! However, it was also reported widely by interviewees that SSB had warned them not to fly at that period around December 15, 1998. The ashram was alive with this warning – told ‘confidentially’– when I was there.”
SSB on his Mission
As should now be plain, SSB’s speaking characteristics include boasting and exaggerating, especially where figures, statistics and his own alleged achievements are concerned. 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 ashram attendance estimates: ‘SSB’s Exaggerations: The Numbers Game’, at http://home.no.net/anir/Sai/saiorg/index.htm
“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 ...”
Professor Kasturi quotes SSB 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.)
“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)
“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)
In one of his fledgeling Discourses, SSB brashly mocked the use of etymological examples by a previous speaker “... 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 own simple direct style, SSB then attempted to add this didactic 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 similar to his stories. These may therefore be included as further examples of his habit of spontaneous and highly idiosyncratic story-telling. Apart from his erroneous etymology for ‘Sai’ (see below), consider a few examples of his different extempore etymologies for the word ‘Guru’:
An early clumsy invention in 1956 asserted that two syllables (or letters) ‘equalled’ no less than nine. This is not etymology.
“Gu = Gunaatheetha – one who has transcended the three gunas ...
Ru = Rupa Varjitha One who has grasped the formless aspect of Godhead.” (Sathya SaiSpeaks, 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 ...” (Sathya SaiSpeaks, X, 15:97)
(Since Rupa means ‘form’, how can its first syllable or letter mean what SSB suggests?)
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)
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 on 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.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXVII, 11:105)
There are two interesting and significant facts to add here. Firstly, none of the educated Hindu members of SSB’s entourage or audiences have commented on these obvious discrepancies and errors. Due to his total charismatic influence over the thoughts and reasoning powers of his devotees as ‘Omniscient Avatar’, SSB’s unusual or incorrect opinions, here as elsewhere, are accepted without question as true. As Professor Dale Beyerstein has observed, such obvious anomalies are not likely to have any significant impact on devotees. Like much else, they will simply be rationalised away.
Although, as I have demonstrated in other articles, there is sufficient evidence that SSB’s official translators and editors sometimes tone down or omit potentially embarrassing passages before devotees read them, a significant number of literal versions are available for study in the Sathya Sai Speaks series. During the brief 2-year ‘window’ (2000-2002) when enthusiastic devotees produced literal translations of the Discourses in several languages, in order to preserve SSB’s “simple poetic language”, rather than the more formal official style, it was possible to see exactly how different the literal and the edited versions are. Those 40 pairs of Discourses, which many people have seen and copied, are a major piece of evidence of the true content of the Telugu Discourses. Even those devoted translators must have been surprised at some of the things they translated but presumably their deep faith aided them to rationalise that SSB always knows best. However, after translating a confused and rambling story told by SSB about a Shirdi Sai devotee named Nana (24 October 2001), the “PREMSAI” devotee translators (as they called themselves) felt it necessary to make these revealing comments:
“(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.)”
SSB’s fixation on the psychic entertainer Wolf Messing
According to SSB’s implausible stories in the 1980s about the famous Polish mind reader and psychic performer Wolf Messing (1899-1974), at the height of his career in the USSR, the latter paid the schoolboy a special visit in Kamalapuram in 1937 to express his homage and admiration. Apart from the fact that the only reported visit by Messing to India was in 1927 (less than a year after SSB’s alleged date of birth), school registers show that SSB was not at school in Kamalapuram until 1940.
These stories can only be explained by the fact that Messing’s career had become known in the West with the publication in 1970 of a sensational bestseller dealing with secret Soviet paranormal research: Psychic Discoveries Behind the IronCurtain, by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder (Prentice-Hall - See especially pp. 41-57.) This was soon followed by two equally successful books by the same authors. Once more, as a consummate weaver of stories, especially about himself, SSB must have based his daring anecdotes on fragments of knowledge gleaned from his ashram associates and visitors, or even from his own reading. He then garnished the story idiosyncratically with his fertile imagination, using the association with the famed ‘mentalist’ (for whom he may have felt admiration) as further self-promotion.
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 andUnknown 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). Following his storytelling penchant, SSB also mentioned these lost years in Christmas Discourses during the 1970s.
Further anecdotal corroboration of SSB’s habit of reporting and misreporting material contributed by his ashram visitors comes from Robert Priddy. In a comment in one of several joint articles in 2002/3 with Jorge Reyesvera on SSB’s misleading lectures on scientific subjects (like atoms and magnetism), Priddy remembers a private conversation with the distinguished retired Indian Journalist, V. K. Narasimhan, who was SSB’s main associate and confidant in the 1990s:
“I am reminded of how shocked I was when V.K. Narasimhan once remarked to me during a conversation that SSB is ignorant of science and picks up things he hears from people in interviews, then goes out and tells it to students on the veranda, sometimes even getting the facts he just heard distorted or completely wrong! Narasimhan even quoted from his excellent memory several examples for me. I rationalised this at the time in the way that all devotees rationalise many things ...”
(See Sai's Ignorance of Science)
There is a further possible irony: in his stories about Messing’s visit, SSB repeats the Ostrander account of Messing’s meeting with both Freud and Einstein in Vienna. Alexandra Nagel’s highly original recent research into the realities of Wolf Messing's extraordinary biography is 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 are the joint meeting with Freud and Einstein and, later, Gandhi, in India. If this hypothesis is proved, 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.
(Alexandra Nagel has also pointed out the incongruity of SSB’s claim that Messing had gone to India to “identify and realise the Atma”, since Messing is known to have considered himself purely as a psychic performer, not as a spiritual seeker or practitioner.)
In 2002, SSB repeated the Messing story but added a further equally apocryphal account: that Messing revisited him 20 years later in Puttaparthi and worshipped him with the words: “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. (Messing had already had a successful career as a “mentalist” in the Soviet Union.) In this version of the story, Messing brought a Kirlian camera and took pictures of SSB’s pure white aura. This is clearly a case of SSB’s confusion of Messing with the American Professor Baranowsky, who visited the ashram in the 1970s.
Further light on the origin of this fixation may be discernible in new Discourse material revealed (without source details, as is their custom) by the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publishing Trust in a 2005 publication (Sathya Sai Baba, His Story as Told by Himself (Pertaining to His Younger Days). A Compilation from the Divine Discourses of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Prasanthi Nilayam). This seems to have been dredged up, along with other new information and one or two fresh discrepancies, from the SSO archives. The few inconsequential-looking new Discourse lines offered by the SSO may have an important bearing on SSB’s apparent infatuation for Wolf Messing (although, characteristically – and perhaps narcissistically – he describes it as the reverse). In this official SSO celebration and regurgitation of some of SSB’s self-promoting stories about his youth, the new feature revealed is this: Following the alleged apocryphal visit to Whitefield by Wolf Messing in the (?)1950s to pay homage to SSB’s Divinity, SSB confesses that he had a vision soon afterwards in which Messing appeared to him (and, possibly, the Principal of Brindavan College, Narendra). Messing just appeared and then disappeared. “He just came, saw Me and disappeared as quickly as he came there. That was a great miracle that not all people could witness. Neither all can understand the phenomenon, even if I try to explain” (p. 68). This highly cryptic (and apparently superfluous) reference offers a new angle for consideration: that SSB’s peculiarly strong experiences with Messing’s fame sprang in fact from his own psychic visions or dreams of Messing after finding out the (bestselling) story of this celebrated psychic performer with whom he, with his own psychic gifts, might have felt an affinity.
Inappropriate references and name-dropping for effect
A Nobel Peace Prize for Sathya Sai Baba?
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 an unofficial Premsai literal translation but not it appears in any official translation), a predictable wave of equally triumphant devotee rumours (and even some Indian newspaper reports) trumpeted the possibility of 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 natural 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 and not 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 (although descended from the Npbel Prize donor) 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 SSB’s 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 (although he is a great grandnephew of Alfred Nobel). Worldspace director Dr Nobel is also Chairman of the Nobel Family Society (philanthropic, no doubt). 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.
The World Bank Does Business Directly with SSB?
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).
The literal translation of the original Discourse for 13 April 2002 contains even more surreal details. (See PREMSAI 13 April 2002)
“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?”
For any public speaker’s credibility, the above collection of confusion, discrepancies and errors would be damaging; for an allegedly omniscient God on Earth, such a variety of stattements should have been a public relations disaster. However, most devotees are so absorbed by SSB’s charisma and their faith in his healing powers and his teachings that they do not even notice anything is amiss – and simply refuse requests to look at the overwhelming evidence, which must be wrong because SSB is Omniscient and therefore cannot make errors (except as deliberate leelas to test devotees’ faith). Other more open-minded people, after reading the above body of basic evidence of SSB’s talent and compulsion for storytelling may feel more inclined to examine the claims of Avatarhood and Divine Omniscience made by SSB and his devotees. Prima facie, there are no limits to SSB’s imagination and his impulsiveness, nor to his capacity for getting things muddled or wrong. That this strong propensity has not been curbed in 60 years indicates that he is either blissfully unaware of it or is supremely confident in his own charismatic powers over devotees.
In Part 2 SSB’s Divine claims will be reviewed in the light of a hypothesis drawn from this basic evidence, which, like the explicit claims themselves, is feeely available in the official Sathya Sai Speaks volumes.
Given the existence of so many samples of SSB’s penchant for capricious storytelling (especially about himself) and his carefree capacity for factual inconsistency, confusion and error, there are strong grounds for a critical review of his Avataric and Divine claims (by any measure extraordinary but which are taken so literally by devotees). My hypothesis is that these extraordinary claims, although dealing mainly with non-factual matters and beliefs, and therefore not verifiable, may nevertheless have a significant relationship with SSB’s previously described stories, which appear to be the products of his erroneous beliefs or his unfettered imagination. The following claim-story from 1963 is offered as a prime example:
“There was an occasion when Krishna laid His flute aside and declared that He would not play on it again. It is a long story, not found in books; I alone must tell you about it, for it is only the Person who has experienced it that can describe it.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 19:113)
When the Divine claim-stories contained in the 35 volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks (Revised Indian Edition) are examined in detail, a similar strong thread of self-promotion and self-indulgence, as well as a predilection for boasting become apparent. For example, many of SSB’s statements about Shirdi Sai Baba, Jesus and Siva indicate the self-promotion process at work: the result is invariably an enhancement or reinforcement of his own forthright Divine claims by such intimate (and subjective) association with these three revered spiritual icons.
For a period of just over two years, ‘Premsai’ (an ashram-based volunteer devotee group of multilingual translators who preferred Sathya Sai Baba’s spontaneous Telugu style to the official edited versions) ran a large website (www.internety.com/Premsai) in several languages. This site offered a treasure trove of rare and revealing literal translations of Sathya Sai Baba’s Telugu Discourses. These were made available in several languages by the devotee-translators between the end of 2000 and mid-2002, when the translations were abruptly discontinued and removed from the Internet – quite possibly at the behest of associates of Sathya Sai Baba following substantial critical Internet postings about the revealing discrepancies between the literal and the officially enhanced translations. (Those critical articles are still available online to researchers and others.) For a time most of the Premsai website material remained available for study, comparison and research on “The Wayback Machine” but it was subsequently removed. However, the Premsai literal English versions of these 60 Discourses are still on display.
There are several unique features which set SSB apart from all other gurus (living and dead). One of these is his first very special Claim (Declaration) made as a schoolboy 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 (often repeated in his early Discourses) was to characterise SSB’s early Mission. In the 1940s and 1950s, the characteristics which appear to have attracted most new devotees to SSB (especially a handful of wealthy local devotees, aristocrats and Royalty) were his identification with Shirdi Sai, stories of healings and exorcisms, as well as the much-publicised materialisations.
Not only is this Sai Baba claim crucial to the credibility of his claims of Divinity and Avatarhood on a level with Rama and Krishna but it is also probably the weakest. For instance, he has taught his devotees that the ‘Sai’ part of the adopted name means ‘Divine Mother’, which is not true. Shirdi scholars agree that the ‘Sai’ element derives from the Persian (Muslim) word for ‘saint’. (There is also some circumstantial evidence that, in his original 1963 revelations, SSB may have reversed the roles of Shirdi Sai and Prema Sai.)
A further unresolved mystery is why SSB considered it necessary to claim (with the backing of SSO Chairman Indulal Shah) that Shirdi Sai Baba was unknown in his village (Puttaparthi) or region when he made his claim to be a reincarnation of the Maharashtran saint in 1943. Apart from bits of evidence in Kevin R. D. Shepherd’s 1986 book on Shirdi Sai and some of the devotee literature (Murphet, for example), information in Love Is My Form (2000) 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 (thereby increasing the need for further speculation on the reason for this false story) 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 in his own family 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.”
Equally significant, surely, is that even though Shirdi Sai has been worshipped in Sathya Sai’s ashrams, after 60 years, the Shirdi Sai Baba Association (highly active in India, with a reported 25,000 pilgrims per day visiting its ashram in central India, and with many overseas Centres) does not recognise the SSB reincarnation claim or the related SSB claim that Shirdi announced his planned return before his death, nor are the two different sets of claimed biographical revelations offered by SSB to devotees (in 1990 and 1992) about Shirdi’s shadowy early years acknowledged by the older Association based in Maharashtra State.
Nevertheless, there is little printed evidence of disapproval or rejection by the senior association but the following quotations should be taken into consideration:
1. “Most Shirdi Sai devotees as well as the Shirdi Trust don’t give credence to any of this.” (Parveen Chopra, Life Positive, October 1997, p. 35).
2. 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.”
3. “The two sets of followers maintain an uneasy peace between themselves.” (Rohit Arya, in a brief balanced profile of Shirdi Sai Baba on www.indiayogi.com)
In fact, travel around India suggests that, in general, the name “Sai Baba” is more commonly associated with Shirdi Sai than with Sathya Sai, as Arya indicates in that same profile: “Sai Baba’s representations are now found all over India and nearly every taxi and auto-rickshaw in Maharashtra carries a little image or photo of him as a talisman. As a real focus of religious belief he is hard to beat.” Although a similar majority for Shirdi Sai seems to be visible currently with personal blogsites, since 2000 the SSO has invested in a much more extensive Internet presence with its several official websites and radio station.
In later stories in this ‘divine’ series, SSB not only claimed that his birth was an Immaculate Conception but that the alleged triple Avatarhood of Shirdi, Sathya and Prema (following Sathya’s predicted passing in 2022 – according to devotees) were the result of a promised boon to an alleged Brahmin ancestor of (non-Brahmin) Sathya, with the purpose of saving the world. (He has also told parallel stories about Shirdi’s mother and their alleged common Brahmin ancestor, the sage Bharadwaj, being personally promised boons from Lord Siva.)
On the curious subject of these alleged reincarnations of Siva, SSB’s learned Hindu associates and devotees have singularly failed to comment on the anomaly referred to in a general way by Pratima Bowes: “Unlike Krishna, Siva has no connected life-story and he is generally not reckoned to have incarnations despite the attempt by some Saiva Puranas to give him some.” (The Hindu Religious Tradition. A Philosophical Approach, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977, p. 242) Vishal Mangalwadi, in his criticism of SSB, also points out that in the Hindu tradition, it is Vishnu who has had reincarations, not Siva. (See my Annotated Bibliography, Part 1: V. Mangalwadi, The World of Gurus)
As the SSB Mission prospered in the 1969s and more benefactors and worldly-wise collaborators and advisers endorsed SSB, the Sathya Sai Organisation “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. Within a few years, not only does his 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 scarcely any printed public references to Shirdi Sai Baba by Sathya Sai Baba. On the other hand, from about 1970 (after 27 years of his Mission), SSB began to offer Christmas Day Discourses containing many new undocumented and sometimes contradictory revelations about Jesus Christ (in connection with whom SSB claimed both intimate omniscient knowledge and superior avataric rank – see below). For the next 30 years, “Western” devotees, who had begun to flock to the ashram in the 1970s, especially for this annual event, were impressed by SSB’s apparent ability to reveal ‘unknown’ or ‘different’ knowledge about Jesus (including some popular New Age themes). The slightly self-referential picture presented by SSB over the next three decades shows Jesus as following an exemplary Hindu path of realisation of his essential inner Divinity and as exhibiting the same qualities (particularly Love) and even tribulations as SSB himself (for example, in the Christmas 2000 Discourse in which SSB uttered a long lament about opposition to him and Judas-like betrayal).
As far back as 1992, Professor Dale Beyerstein offered a series of SSB’s unsupported statements about the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ, followed by expert opinions on these lapses or inventions. In spite of the serious academic treatment and the concrete evidence, devotees have ignored this serious critical work. (See Chapter 4 of Beyerstein’s important study, ‘Does Sai Baba Have Complete Telepathic Knowledge?’)
On Christmas Eve 1972, SSB offered an astonishingly implausible assertion, which has never been publicly questioned by devotees. On the contrary it was (until relatively recently) prominently cited by the Sathya Sai Organisation in its promotions of SSB’s Divinity as one of the four major statements made by SSB. In Sathya Sai Speaks (Volume 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. (The official edited translation follows.)
“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)
The Mahasivaratri lingams
In her memoirs, Karunamba Ramamurthy, an early devotee from the mid 1940s, mentions the thrill of the production by Sathya Sai Baba of a Siva lingam on Mahasivaratri night in 1951. In the first printed volume of SSB’s Discourses, the spectacular event is mentioned for 1955 and 1959. By 1963 it already appears to be an annual spectacle at Prasanthi Nilayam, with each forthcoming miraculous materialisation (pre-announced by a rather showmanlike SSB) creating an air of intense fervour and expectation among Hindu devotees. As SSB explained clearly, this event was unique in the world, since it can only be carried out by Siva.
The Mahasivaratri festival attracted large crowds of Hindus and the fervour and excitement increased on those few occasions (like 1974 and 1999) when SSB announced that those fortunate persons who had witnessed the sacred event would be granted moksha (liberation from further human birth). Several of these crowded events in the early 1970s have been described by prominent Western SSB chroniclers (e.g. Sandweiss). From 1978 until 1999 no lingams were publicly produced. The unexpected 1999 resumption of the famed annual event coincided with an atmosphere of growing anxiety over pending allegations about SSB. These were finally made public on the Internet in early 2000, in the form of the “Findings”, by David and Faye Bailey.
In subsequent years (until 2006), videos of the highly dramatic event (including some on YouTube) have tended to support the long standing accusation by B. Premanand and other magicians and critics that the lingam production is the result of regurgitation (in the old days) and legerdemain (recently) rather than the claimed Siva powers. On the unfortunate Mahasivatri performances of 2002 and 2004 (in front of the BBC cameras), see Robert Priddy’s illustrated article, Lingam ‘emerges’ at Shivarathri – ‘The Lingodbhava’ (from the Discourse on Mahasivaratri Day, 13 March 2002 ). See also the specific BBC footage in their 2004 documentary, ‘Secret Swami’.
Examples of SSB’s specific Mahasivaratri Claims:
“This evening, the Lingodbhava (emergence of egg-shaped stone of Shiva) is My Duty, My responsibility, rather My Nature which must reveal itself on this holy day.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 30:160 -1962)
“In a short time, you will be witnessing the emergence of the Linga that is formed within; the auspicious time for the emergence for the Linga is approaching; you see it and you receive the blessings; but yet there will be some among you who will doubt it and deny it.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, IV, 4:26, Mahasivaratri 1964)
“(Here, Baba stopped the discourse; the movements started, first in the region of the abdomen, then the chest and the throat; Baba swayed from the side, leaned on the table, drank water, and finally, after about twenty minutes, an egg-shaped pink Linga emerged from His mouth. Holding it between the thumb and forefinger of His right hand, Baba discoursed further about it.)”
“Ah! This is the Brahmaanda Linga! Symbol of the Universe. Inside it, the nine planets (Navagrahas) revolve; the entire Universe is represented herein ... You are indeed blessed, the merit of many births as brought you here to see the Great Phenomenon, this rare Creation.”
In 1965, as in previous years, it is SSB himself who promotes and raises expectation about the Lingam production during the Mahasivaratri festival. Here he also asks people to relate the event to others:
“Contemplate the Atma-linga (spirit of the soul), the Jyothi-linga (the effulgent form), which this day emerges from Me; be convinced that the Linga is in every one of you, for it is a mark of the Shiva that resides in the shava (body) shell).” (Sathya Sai Speaks, V, 8:52)
“Perhaps when you return to your village, you too will tell people, ‘there were thousands and thousands of people from all parts of India and even some from foreign countries, at Puttaparthi’ ...” (V, 9:56)
At Mahasivaratri (8 March 1967), the appearance of the Lingam on the the next day is announced and again on the morning of the 9 th of March: “The Emergence of the Linga ... will happen today.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, VII, 6:37) (The annual Abhishekam ceremony to honour Shirdi Sai was also announced.)
Those eye-catching instances of SSB’s storytelling claims represent a small fraction of the assertions of divinity and Avatarhood made by the guru during his career. From the beginning of his Mission, SSB assiduously attracted attention to himself and encouraged his devotees to talkabout the special features he was promoting: his MIRACLES and his healing ability, his Avatarhood and Divine powers, his relationship with the legendary Hindu Avatars Rama and Krishna and the initial Shirdi Baba reincarnation connection. With such amazing credentials, SSB’s initial Divine reputation was quickly and firmly established decades ago in his native region of southern India. Adoring devotees and, later, faithful spokespersons were only too happy and eager to play their part by passing on this unique message, very often in the form of books (many hundreds of them) about their subjective experiences of SSB’s Mission. From the mid-1960s, SSB’s Organisation, the SSO, took over the main task of propagation of this Divine image of SSB, especially in print. That image has spread widely around the world and has come to be accepted unquestioningly not only by devotees but by many non-devotees who have heard or read about him.
It is true that there are other important aspects of SSB’s Mission (his teachings, his personal charisma, his siddhis, the charitable work carried out by his SSO with voluntary devotee donations). It is equally true that the alleged Divine characteristics (Avatar, Omnipotence, Omniscience, etc.) are what many (probably most) devotees tend to hold uppermost in their minds when talking or writing about their guru.
In recent decades the Divine claims have been noticeably more muted and discreet and, as I have commented elsewhere, there seems to have been a discreet but dichotomous ‘Downgrading of Divinity’ in some official sectors of the SSO, particularly in their post-2000 appeal for serious worldwide attention. This downgrading, or lessening of emphasis, has been visible for much longer; for instance, it has been clearly reflected for at least fifteen years on the inside cover (front or back) of all volumes of the officially published Revised Indian edition of Sathya Sai Speaks, where one finds the following disingenuous (and slightly ungrammatical) statement: “To hundreds and thousands of people spread over almost every country in the world, Sri Sathya Sai Baba is believed to be an Avathaar, an embodiment of God, divinity in human form.” [Bold type added] It is worth stressing that the official promoters of SSB’s Divine claims seem to wish to visibly distance themselves somewhat from those claims with the passive phrase ‘is believed to be’ (i.e. by ‘others’). Although true of devotees, the statement is also misleadingly incomplete because, as a study of the Sathya Sai Speaks volumes (as well as a visit to the huge SSO websites), SSB himself asserts his Divinity and Avatarhood directly or indirectly (and the SSO editors themselves constantly signal their acquiescence with the respectful capitalised pronouns ‘Him’, ‘Me’, ‘My’ and ‘His’ reserved for Deities).
This impression that Sathya Sai Baba is believed to be an Avathaar (etc.) is widely diffused in works of reference and by many academic researchers. It may also be the general impression held by the majority of India’s 800 million Hindus (who are not devotees of SSB). SSB’s general celebrity as a miracle godman is widespread in India but it is unlikely that non-devotee Hindus have any detailed knowledge of his Discourses or of assertions like the stories in Part 1 and the claims in this part. Even in a country where godmen’s general claims of divine powers and connections are commonplace, SSB’s very extensive and insistent claims over several decades are unique. In spite of their tolerant spiritual traditions, therefore, non-devotee Hindus would probably be astonished, shocked (or even amused) by the extent and frequency of claims such as those listed below, particularly where these involve references to the revered Hindu gods Rama and Krishna, claimed by SSB as his partners and predecessors. (For example, his confident self-referential assertion in 1960 that: “... this Avathaar is different and unique [...] I am not inclined to punish; I am the goldsmith who repairs and re-shapes broken ornaments. Raama came as the embodiment of Sathya, Dharma and Shaanthi (truth, virtue and peace); Krishna came as the personification of Prema (Love); now, the Embodiment of all the Four is needed ...” ( Sathya Sai Speaks , II, 22:113)
Although unnoticed by most academic researchers, within ten years of his (1943) claim of being the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, SSB was vigorously promoting himself to his local audiences in Andhra Pradesh not only as the reincarnated Shirdi Sai but also as God on Earth and long-awaited Hindu Avatar. A reading of the first volume of the official Sathya Sai Speaks, which contains discourses translated by Professor N. Kasturi during the years 1953-1960, reveals quite clearly that SSB’s mention of Divine claims during the first twenty years of his Mission (before the formation of the Sathya Sai Organisation) were very frequent and explicit.
Note: Some of the early Discourses appear to convey a note of insistence or anxiety that SSB is not being listened to by his local audiences. This reinforces a number of other impressions in the SSB literature that his initial path in the mid- to late-1940s, in spite of great adoration from his closest devotees, was not easy.
The first section below contains a representative selection of Sathya Sai Baba’s frequent Divine claims recorded between 1953 and 1960 (notably between 1958 and 1960) in the first official volume of sathya Sai Speaks.
“When I was at Uravakonda in the High School, you know I came away one day and threw off my books and declared that I have My work waiting for Me. ... […] I called on all those suffering in the endless round of birth and death to worship the Feet of the Guru (spiritual preceptor), the Guru that was announcing Himself, who had come again for taking upon Himself the burden of those who find refuge in Him. That was the very first Message of Mine to Humanity.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 1:1 Prasanthi Nilayam, Vijayadasami, 1953)
“Note this also. In this Avatar (Divine Incarnation), the wicked will not be destroyed; they will be corrected and reformed and educated and led back to the path from which they have strayed.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 2:16 - Prasanthi Nilayam, 1955)
And on the same page: “Again the Avatar will not select some place other than the place where the Nativity took place for the centre of Its Leelas, Mahimas and Upadeshas (divine sport, miracle power and divine instruction)… […] Unlike the appearances as Rama, Krishna, etc., where the Life was played out mostly among and for the family members, this Avatar is for the Bhakthas , the Sadhus and the Sadhakas (devotees, noble souls and aspirants) only.”
“No, the scorpion had nothing to do with it! In fact, there was no scorpion at all! I came in response to the prayers of sages, saints and spiritual aspirants for the restoration of Dharma.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 5:27 - Chitravati River, 23-2-1958)
“Nothing can hold Me up or agitate Me or cast a shadow on Me come in this Human Form; be certain of that. Not even a hair can be touched by forces of calumny or distrust or ignorance. My sankalpa (resolve) must prevail; My task must be accomplished. My mission will succeed. I have come to illumine the human heart with the Light Divine and to rid man of the delusion that drags him away from the path of shanti (peace), the perfect equanimity born of realisation.” (I, 16:92, Venkatagiri Town, 9-9-58)
“The land [of Kerala] is very beautiful, as I saw when I came from Coimbatore ... The Lord enjoys these things as a painter; He appreciates His own handiwork, standing before His own painting or sculpture.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 18:105 -106, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, 20-12-58)
“The Lord has announced that He would come down for the restoration of Dharma (righteousness) and that he would assume human Form so that all might gather round Him and feel the thrill of His companionship and conversation. And the Lord has come, as announced.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, I, 25:154, Aukiripalli Markandeya Sanskrit College, 22-1-60)
“I may sometimes wait until I can achieve ten things at one stroke ... But My Word will never fail; it must happen as I will.” (Sathya Sai Speaks I, 31:198 - Prasanthi Nilayam 29-9-60 - second discourse)
“I will be in this mortal human form for 59 years more and I shall certainly achieve the purpose of this avathaar, do not doubt it. I will take My own time and carry out My Plan as far as you are concerned.” (I, 31:198; Prashanthi Nilayam 29-9-1960 - second discourse)
[Note: The maths doesn’t quite add up to the figures usually quoted by spokespersons, writers, devotees and the SSO. (Perhaps it is they who are wrong.) SSB’s alleged age, 33, plus 59 years = 92, or perhaps 93. 1960 + 59 = a forecast death in 2019 at age 92, rather than 2022 and 96, as devotees believe. There is a similar corroborating statement in a 1961 Discourse: “I shall be in this body for 58 years more; I have assured you of this already.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 18:92 – this again indicates a predicted death in 2019.)
Volume 2 of Sathya Sai Speaks contains translated and edited Discourses from 1961-1962.
“Science transforms things, re-arranges them ... But I create the things themselves! And they are as lasting as any that is found in Nature!” (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 16:73)
“Rama and Krishna and Sai Baba appear different because of the dress each has donned, but it is the Self-same Entity, believe Me.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 18:92)
“You have not demanded direct proofs of Divinity from either Rama or Krishna, have you? Have faith first and then you will get proof enough.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 19:98)
“You may fall into the quagmire of doubt: ‘Rama came, Krishna came, Sai Baba came, this Puttaparthi Sai Baba comes and challengingly declares that He is all These! How can this be?’ You can never understand this phenomenon. That is the understanding that you need. I am incomprehensible. You will see the world coming here in about a year or two.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 22:113)
The main claim is constantly reinforced and devotees are asked to spread the word:
“When someone asks you, in great earnestness, where the Lord is to be found, do not try to dodge the question. Give them the answer that rises up to your tongue from your heart. Direct them. He is here in the Prashanti Nilayam.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 47:266)
“My glory is spread daily through those who call themselves My bhaakthas. ” ( Sathya Sai Speaks , III, 1:11)
On Guru Purnima Day 1963 (6 July), following a sensational recovery from a serious week-long illness, variously described by the SSO as cerebral thrombosis and tubercular meningitis , SSB suddenly told his concerned devotees an anecdote about his alleged predecessor, the sage Bharadwaj. According to SSB, Bharadwaj had been slighted by the 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)
Although it may amaze most non-devotee readers, this is the flimsy basis for SSB = s entire claim (triumphantly parroted by his spokespersons and devotees for forty years) to be the second of a pre-ordained Trinity of Avatars with a Divine Mission to save humanity. When considered as part of SSB’s habit of story-telling, there is no obvious reason to take this claim as anything other than another inspired dramatic story.
“I am always aware of the future, the past, as well as the present of every one of you. So I am not moved so much by pity.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, IV, 40:239)
“This Body has come through Divine Sankalpa (the Lord’s Resolve), to come. There is nothing that Divine Power cannot accomplish. It can transmute earth into sky and sky into earth.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, IV, 49:285)
Then i n the mid-1960s begins a rapid expansion of the Mission, coinciding with the formation and rapid growth of the SSO under the leadership of the Bombay accountant-devotee Indulal Shah.
“... illness has never affected this body. It cannot, anytime." (Sathya Sai Speaks VII, 32, 169)
“[The President] said that Sathya Sai Baba knows all that happens in all. That is because I am in everyone - Ishwara sarvabhoothaanam - as the scriptures say.” (Sathya Sai Speaks VII, 11:59)
This volume of Sathya Sai Speaks is full of direct claims. It covers the very important year of 1968, when the expansion of SSO activities begins to show.
“Of what benefit is it merely to swallow a few drops of nectar created by Me?” (Sathya Sai Speaks VIII, 1:2)
“I have no intention to create and give amrith on this Vaikuntha Ekadashi day. For no one walks on the path I have chalked out ...” (Sathya Sai Speaks VIII, 1:4)
On Mahasivaratri (26 February 1968) SSB, as was his custom, announced the coming miracle: “Many of you have come to witness this day the amazing evidence of Divine Power.” But he also warned the crowd not to dwell on the process of the lingam production:
“only the manifestation of an atom of My majesty. In Me, who can create worlds and fill the Universe, there are things more worthy of adoration: universal love, the teaching of dharma (virtue) ...” (Sathya Sai Speaks VIII, 8:35, 26 February 1968)
During the May 1968 First World Conference of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, in two key Discourses, SSB presented himself very forcefully with the following bombardment of unequivocal claims to a claimed audience of 25,000 (Sathya Sai Speaks Chapter 19, pages 95-100). He began by assuring delegates that “My Life is My Message”, (which some critics have claimed to be a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi) but stated clearly that, although he has not come to set up a new cult, “I affirm that this Sai form is the form of all the various names that man uses for the adoration of the Divine.” (17 May, p. 95) (Sathya Sai Speaks VIII, 19:95)
The fuller text is:
“You must have noticed that I do not speak abut Sai in My discourses, nor do I sing of Sai during the bhajan with which I usually conclude My discourses. And you must have wondered why. Let me tell you the reason. I do not want the impression to gain ground that I desire this Name and this Form to be publicised. I have not come to set afoot a new cult; I do not want people to be misled on this point. I affirm that this Sai form is the form of all the various names that man uses for the adoration of the Divine. So, I am teaching that no distinction should be made between the names Raama, Krishna, Ishwara, Sai B for they are all My names.'' (Sathya Sai Speaks VIII, 19:95-96)
“I have not got the slightest intention to utilise the Seva Samithis (Service Organisations) for propagating My Name or canvas homage for My Name. No! I am content only when spiritual endeavours and disciplines to elevate and purify man are progressing everywhere.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19: 96)
Chiding devotees for making too much of his ‘miracles’ also seems to date from this period:
“You elaborate in your lectures the unique powers of Sai, the incidents are described as ‘miracles’ in books written on Me by some persons. But I request you not to attach importance to these. Do not exaggerate their significance; the most significant and important power is, let Me tell you, My prema (love).” He then repeats this habit of both claiming and downplaying his miraculous abilities: "I may turn the sky into earth or the earth into sky; but that is not the sign of Divine might. It is the prema ... that is the unique sign.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19:98)
“This is the very first time that a World Conference is held of persons devoted while the incarnation is present before every one, with the body assumed for the purpose, bearing the name that is chosen for it by itself.” (Sathya Sai Speaks p. 98)
On page 99: “This is a Human Form in which every Divine entity, every Divine Principle, that is to say, all the Names and Forms ascribed by man to God are manifest.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19:99)
“... in a short time you will become cognisant of the bliss showered by the Divine Principle, which has taken upon itself this sacred body and this sacred name.” (Sathya Sai Speaks VIII, 19:99)
“On previous occasions when God incarnated on earth, the bliss of recognising Him in the incarnation was vouchsafed only after the physical embodiment had left the world.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19:100)
“But ponder a moment on this Sathya Sai manifestation; in this age of rampant materialism, aggressive disbelief and irreverence, what is it that brings to it the adoration of millions from all over the world? You will be convinced that the basic reason for this is the fact that this is the Supra-worldly Divinity in Human form.”
“... how fortunate you are that you can witness all the countries of the world paying homage to Bharata; you can hear adoration to Sathya Sai's Name reverberating throughout the world, even while this body is existing - not at some future date, but when it is with you, before you.” (p.100)
”You can witness very soon the restoration of Sanathana Dharma to its genuine and natural status ...” p.100
Until about 1972 (after nearly 30 years of teaching), as foreign (especially non-Hindu) visitor numbers began to increase, the claims are strong and frequent. Thereafter they are more sporadic or oblique. In the early 1970s Jesus is introduced into the Discourse narrative and the Shirdi motif is eclipsed in Discourses but not in worship for many years.
Along with the habit of chiding devotees for over-valuing the miracles, the important variant concept “We are all God” was also introduced and duly promoted at about this time. Some devotees and writers are in the habit of citing this teaching as evidence that SSB does not claim to be God. In recent years (especially in the face of public controversy over SSB) some spokespersons and devotees have gone much further, claiming, absurdly, that “Swami never claimed to be God.”
The Sathya Sai Speaks series contains much more similar material, on the above themes and others. When further research is done by anyone (including academic experts on New Religious Movements) this striking facet of the SSB phenomenon can no longer be ignored.
The cumulative evidence of SSB’s prolonged persistence in making such strong assertions reveals a common link with his storytelling prowess: a drive for self-promotion. However, the examples contained in the officially edited Discourses may only be the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. In other articles dating back to 2002, I have analysed in some detail the relevant question of the packaging of SSB’s Discourses (for example, in The Packaging of Sathya Sai Baba's Telugu Discourses). In the research for those articles, I was fortunate to be able to add to my own modest collection of examples of discrepancies an ephemeral Internet bonanza of comparative materials which give a vague idea of how much more SSB may have added to his other Telugu stories over the past five decades without the evidence surviving the translating and editing processes.
As was revealed in Part 1 of this article, for a period of just over two years, ‘Premsai’ (an ashram-based volunteer devotee group of multilingual translators who preferred Sathya Sai Baba’s spontaneous Telugu style to the official edited versions) ran a large website (www.internety.com/Premsai) in several languages. This site offered a treasure trove of rare and revealing literal translations of Sathya Sai Baba’s Telugu Discourses. These were made available in several languages by the devotee-translators between the end of 2000 and mid-2002, when the translations were abruptly discontinued and removed from the Internet – quite possibly at the behest of associates of Sathya Sai Baba following substantial critical Internet postings about the revealing discrepancies between the literal and the officially enhanced translations. (Those critical articles are still available online to researchers and others.) For a time most of the Premsai website material remained available for study, comparison and research on “The Wayback Machine” at http://web.archive.org/web/20030216111817/www.internety.com/premsai/ but it was subsequently removed. However, the Premsai literal English versions of these 40 or more Discourses are still on display here.
Apart from the substantial amount of stories and proselytising information offered publicly by SSB in his Discourses there is a great deal of other relevant information passed on more privately to his associates, the “verandah men”, spokespersons and college boys as well as to apologist writers and individual devotees (often in interviews). This “evidence” is eagerly passed on by the recipients, verbally or in their writing. Indeed, for most of his Mission, SSB has been content to rely on such willing proxies, especially in propagating his Telugu message in English and other languages.
Interestingly, most of what devotees know about some of the more controversial topics like the proclamation of the future Advent of Prema Sai Baba, the claimed Immaculate Conception and the multiple alleged predictions of his own “Advent” has come from these secondary sources. In some such cases, there is no proof that the statements are anything other than enthusiastic contributions, visions or conclusions made by the devotees themselves (as is probably the case with the more far-fetched of the miracle stories).
In the Discourses there are, for example, only a few brief mentions of Prema Sai (including the 6 July 1963 reference). From devotees’ writings (or rumours and gossip) we learn of the forecast place of birth, a picture of him allegedly produced by SSB, his parentage, and other Hindu-centric details like the following, reported by Howard Murphet (Sai Inner Views, 1996, p. 61):
“One day in the late 1960s, probably 1969, when my wife Iris and I were sitting alone in a room with Sai Baba at one of his ashrams, he said in what seemed a casual manner, “Vivekananda has been reborn in Sri Lanka. When his education and training are complete, he will help me with my mission.” (On later pages of the same book, Murphet gives more concrete information about this man – enthusiastically absorbed and passed on by other devotees.) Such ‘mediated’ or filtered stories, of which there are very many, immediately become an inseparable part of ashram lore on Sathya Sai Baba.
As the previous newsworthy detail indicates, SSB feels more relaxed and expansive in such company (whereas he is usually much more guarded with the Indian media). Another extraordinary remark from SSB comes to us from a conversation reported by John Hislop (My Baba and I, p. 190). On 7 November 1980 SSB claimed credit (possibly via an interpreter) for the following alleged achievement: “Were it not for the mind change of Sai devotees the world would already have fallen into complete chaos. The deterioration of mind and man has been very rapid and abrupt, even precipitous during the last fifteen years. That the world is not in total destruction is due to the change in mind of Sai devotees and to Sai’s Grace.” There seems to be absolutely no possibility that Hislop has invented any of this.
Similar bold assertions and claims are frequent in the SSB hagiographic literature and as soon as they are relayed by the privileged messengers, they are given the same credence by devotees as anything uttered by SSB in his public Discourses.
In addition to the types of claims outlined above, SSB has made many other contentious claims, for example about:
his ‘human body’ (its fortitude – including a lack of need of sleep –, his self-guaranteed lifelong health (contradicted by the facts, especially in recent years), his predicted passing at the age of 92 (or 96), and his eventual reincarnation as Prema Sai;
his mental capacity and powers (divine omniscience, including his alleged knowledge of languages) and his other avataric powers (omnipotence, miracles – including resurrections).
There is ample material for further investigation of these unique claims but the Internet is already well stocked with abundant reports and analyses. The cumulative evidence indicates that Sathya Sai Baba is not the Omniscient Divine Being and Avatar whom he, his Organisation, and his followers have believed and claimed him to be for the past 60 years. Although the matter of motivation must necessarily be left open, the simple truth, for those who are willing to read and digest the stories presented in hisDiscourses (even in their translated and edited state), is that the story of Sathya Sai Baba is that of a charismatic and energetic guru who offers eclectic (Hindu-based) spiritual teachings and promotes universal harmony and charitable works achieved by devotees’ efforts or donations.
Other Background references:
Part 2 of the Bibliography
Part 1 of the Bibliography
Other research articles are available on Brian Steel's Sathya Sai Baba Page.