Sathya Sai Baba: Man of Many Stories
Brian Steel October 2002
Copyright © Brian Steel 2002
See Updated Dossier on SSB's Stories
As a Hindu teacher of simple village people, SB has naturally made extensive and effective use of stories taken from Hindu scriptures based on the legends of Hindu gods. I leave the authenticity of such specialised stories for others to examine and judge.
In addition to this method of teaching, SB has also constantly made use of other sorts of stories to promote himself as Avatar to his wider audience. To further his Mission, stories have been one essential means of asserting his alleged Divine attributes, in particular the attribute of omniscience. Most of SB's associates and devotees have hitherto accepted the veracity and coherence of his stories with unquestioning faith. Among the types of stories told by SB are ones dealing with his Divine claims, as well as factual matters like the story of his life and of the development of his Mission, religions, and general knowledge. A more objective study of some of these stories is providing evidence that SB appears to be driven by an irresistible compulsion for self-promotion as "the best", "the most knowledgeable", etc. So strong is this compulsion that it allows SB to say whatever he feels needs to be said, sometimes, as we shall see, with scant regard for clarity and truth, even though such actions inevitably contribute to a weakening of his claim to omniscience. In many of the factual cases to be presented, the inconsistencies and anomalies are glaringly obvious (at least, to non-devotees).
A subsequent investigation of some of SB's statements and stories about Shirdi Sai Baba, initially, and at a later stage, about Jesus Christ, indicates the same self-promotion process at work to enhance the legitimisation of his own forthright Divine claims, by close association with these two revered spiritual icons.
In the light of this fresh evidence, there is a need to re-examine and re-assess other apparently unverifiable stories and statements dealing with SB's claims of Divinity and its awesome attributes, which have hitherto been accepted by devotees as true (due to their total trust in the Divine image singlemindedly projected by SB at the beginning of his Mission and intermittently since.)
Perhaps the last thing one would expect in the speeches of a special human being, claiming and believed by many people to be omniscient, would be invention, inconsistency, confusion, nonsense, and factual errors. However, in the case of SB, there is a lengthening trail of such utterances in his edited Discourses, which begins with general knowledge, religious knowledge, his life story and, for the curious reader, continues into areas more closely related to his projected Divine image. A further anomaly is that these surprising elements tend to be totally unquestioned (or denied) by SB's devotees.
General Knowledge and Religions
As far as general knowledge is concerned, there is a detailed 1992 study by Dale Beyerstein (which has not yet had the attention it deserves): Sai Baba's Miracles. An Overview, available on several critical websites including < http://seercom.com/bcs/>. (A printed copy is also available from the Indian Skeptics Organisation at < http://www.indian-skeptic.org/html/index.html >.)
In Chapter 4, 'Does Sai Baba Have Complete Telepathic Knowledge?', Beyerstein gives many examples of SB's general knowledge errors. A parallel lack of knowledge, or lack of concern for correctness, is frequently seen when SB indulges his taste for imaginative and sometimes contradictory word etymologies. This entertaining but disconcerting habit is reasonably well known and documented. SB's confusion over basic scientific principles has recently been demonstrated by two extraordinary articles by an anonymous Central American ex-devotee (on SB's knowledge about atoms and magnetism) posted on <www.exbaba.com>, on Robert Priddy's website, and on <www.saiguru.net>: "The 'Omniscient' Sai Baba's Massive Ignorance of Atomic Physics Exposed" (Discourse on Guru Purnima Day, July 2002) and "The Legless and Headless Magnetic Golden Linga" (the Discourse on Mahasivaratri Day, 13 March 2002). Many other enlightening recent studies by Robert Priddy are to be found on his rapidly expanding website. (On the related issue of SB's confusion about Jesus and Christianity, to be dealt with later, Serguei Badaev's article "More Discrepancies in SB's Words" is also relevant. See <www.exbaba.com> or <www.saiguru.net>)
"Svami fumbled for a moment to recollect the name of the first man to land on the moon. Immediately one of his college students sitting in the front row gave out the name as Yuri Gagarin and Svami repeated it. But it was wrong. Gagarin was the first man to travel round the earth in a satellite. It was Neil Armstrong who was the first to land on the moon." (Ra. Ganapati, Part II:145)
Nowadays, 24 karat gold is pure. Carats are units of weight. Was it different in 1899?
"In 1899, hundred years ago, 110 carat gold was in existence. It was extremely pure and effulgent. Gradually it has lost its value and effulgence on account of its association with different metals like silver, copper and brass. Likewise, man at the time of birth is essentially pure and sacred, but as he grows up, loses his human values due to his excessive desires and association with kith and kin." (Discourse, 16 October 1999) [Just then SB allegedly materialized an 1899 gold coin.]
"The four colours are: black, yellow, white and red. The Negros and Bharatiyas are black in complexion. Japanese and British are white in complexion, while Chinese are yellow and the Russians are red." (24 November 1998)
Robert Priddy (1998, p.259) confesses to being shaken on hearing SB's interpreter say, in a talk by Baba, that "Cricket was first played in Melbourne in 1898".
"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 SB's 'Declaration'.)
Finally, a few examples where SB=s predilection for the dramatic effect of large numbers leads him to exaggerate:
"When the Mahabharata was completed, it ran into 100 crores of verses. It was a colossal compendium of all knowledge and ranked as the fifth Veda." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXI, 26:211) [Since the Indian crore equals 10 million, that amounts to1 billion verses (1,000,000,000), which sounds too high.]
According to J. Hislop, Baba told him in one of their conversations that in the age before Rama, the average height was 14 cubits (that is, 14 times the distance between the tip of the finger and elbow); then at the time of Rama, 7 cubits, but that in our present Kali Yuga age, the average height is only half that. (J.Hislop, 1978:118) Check those measurements!
Professor Kasturi quotes Baba as proudly announcing to an American:
"I know not only what happened 7,000 years ago at the historic battlefield of Kurukshetra but what happened 70,000 years ago, too. I read no books. When you run on the first gear, the car goes forward; shift to reverse gear, you go backwards. I can go forwards and backward in time, and know anything I wish. Time and Space can impose no limitations on Me." (S.P.Ruhela, 1996a:113, quoting from Kasturi's1975 article, 'The Interviews He Gives', in A Garland of Golden Roses, 50-53.)
"Just think, Puttaparthi, a mere hamlet of a population of 106 people has already grown to the size of a city housing several lakhs of people." (Discourse, 19 October 1999) [A lakh equals 100,000] Compare with: India Today, 4 December 2000, p. 39: "Puttaparthi, a town that usually houses 20,000 people ..."
Also, on his birthday in 1982, SB boasted that "Millions will rush to this place and gather here. This will happen soon." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XV, 55:313) If, as seems likely, he meant all at one time, this does not yet appear to have taken place, despite some of the grossly inflated estimates of crowd attendances at SB's birthdays.
"I work twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year."(R. Selby. My Trip, in an interview, p. 143)
"It is well known that the earth spins around itself at the rate of 1000 miles an hour. ... Moreover, the earth is going round the sun at the speed of 66,000 miles an hour. As a result we have changes in seasons conducive to cultivation of crops." (XXI, 116:129) Four years later, there is a significantly different figure: "This earth revolves round itself hundreds of miles in an hour." (XXV, 10:110)
Given the grave difficulties in establishing historical facts for Hindu scriptures beyond the beginning of the Common Era (A.D.), the following precise assertion sounds quite ludicrous: "This was predicted five thousand and forty three years ago by an Indian yogi [[name?]] who declared that India will free herself from the rule of a strange race from the far west in the year Nandha! India achieved Independence from Western rule in the year Nandha." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 18:83)
Ten years ago, Dale Beyerstein pointed out a colossal historical/religious error of SB's. In spite of its enormity, and because of the unconditional faith of devotees, most (including myself) took no notice!
In his Discourse for 21-8-1986 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XIX , pp. 137-8), SB says: "A king from Greece [later identified as Alexander the Great] came to India to study the conditions here ..." (p. 137) "He made a study of the Bible, the Quran and Buddhist texts and found that all of this laid emphasis on Truth, ... In the Quran he found that only by adherence to the Truth can one be a real man." (p. 138)
BUT the enormous discrepancy over this reference to the Quran is a THOUSAND years! (Alexander the great: 4th Century B.C. Muhammad (and the Quran): 6th to 7th Century A.D.)
Jews and Christians
Since 1985, a brief reference in the second book by SB's close associate, John Hislop (My Baba and I - p. 186) has been available to the many devotees who treasure Hislop's books as extensions of SB's Discourses specifically directed at "Westerners". This reference states very diplomatically that, because of (understandable) discontent among Jewish devotees, SB had to be informed in 1978 by the American author that Jews and Christians do not share the same religion.
What follows is a series of short extracts from the simultaneous English translation of the Christmas Discourse, 1996, as captured on the James Redmond Video (See Bibliography). I am grateful to Dhyani-Jo for drawing my attention to this extraordinary performance.
NONE of the astonishingly confused information below was finally printed in the official edited translation in Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIX, but in a note on page 393 we learn simply that: "[Bhagavan gave a brief account of the Jewish concept of the creation of the cosmos and referred to the birth of Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph.]"
Doubtless, the editors saw that SB had had another 'bad day', but readers of their version will never know that.
1. "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. ..."
2. "Christianity is not just 2,000 years in its origin. It was there even before Christ, 350 years. There the divinity is explained very clearly."
3. "The name and the fame of Jesus Christ have spread far and wide. Here, at this moment, there are two schools of thought. The first group of thought - Roman Catholics. There is another group that fought with this group. This group is called Protestants. As they protested, they are Protestants. So among Jews there are these two groups: Catholics and Protestants. The difference of opinion has increased day by day. This led to Jesus, whose life was in danger. Jews there in Jerusalem did not permit Jesus to go there. Like this, religious conflict and fighting was ever on the rise. There were 250 schools of thought, divisions there. They also monopolized certain countries."
"Because of so many groups there, they all attempted even to harm Jesus. Romans on one side. Catholics on the other side. Luther on another side. There were so many groups that went on changing. All these differences are based on violence, and that led to madness. Because of this attachment to group affiliations, naturally there was conflict and fighting."
"Religious affiliation leads to ego. This led to confusion among them as to what Jesus said right or wrong."
These strange extracts sound more like a parody of a teenager's muddled history essay than the words of an omniscient avatar.
The 'Materialisation' of a 'Bible' and SSB's Story
That same videotaped commercially available Christmas Discourse for 1996 reveals what I can only view as one of SSB's most insouciant and blatant acts of bravado: in front of the cameras, SSB '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." [Bold type added]
In one of the official edited printed versions devotees are further informed by the editors that this is "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 SB's unverifiable descriptions of the book's sensational contents, this is a most disturbing performance to the keen observer because on the videotape of the 'materialisation', SB 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 SB 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) for that same month. All very impressive and exciting, on the surface, but the truth that I discovered long 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. I bought one from a Sai Baba Centre in Australia for $2.50. It looks exactly the same as the one held aloft by SB in the ashram photos. (According to a typical ashram rumour, SB 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 an SB devotee (with just a few files of puzzling discrepancies on my bookshelves) and I was left feeling disappointed and annoyed. WHY on earth should SB 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 the story would never be challenged?
On 9 September 1996, in a Discourse on Shankara, SB began to reminisce about a visit to Rishikesh in the Himalayas, en route for the sacred shrines at Badrinath and Kedarnath, and an invitation to the ashram of the revered Swami Sivananda (who, according to Kasturi, was cured by SB of some unnamed ailment):
"At that time, Shivanaandha and a group of his devotees came to the guest house and requested Svaami to visit Svaami Shivanandha's ashram the next day, which happened to be Shivaanandha's seventieth birthday. Svaami remarked: "It is not Shivaanandha's birthday but Kuppusvaami's birthday ... That Kuppusvaami ceased to exist with the taking of Sanyaasa. He then adopted the name Shivaanandha. That was 26 years ago. Hence Svaami is only 26 years old as Shivaanandha." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIX, 45:326-328)
SB (who was also 70 years old at the time of this Discourse) seems to be confusing and conflating two visits to that area of north India: one on 22- 28 July 1957 (to Sivananda's ashram: Kasturi, K1A, 126-134) and the other in June 1961 (to the sacred sites). (Kasturi's semi-official report, and references by other commentators about the first visit (1957) by the still relatively unknown SB seems to over-emphasise SB's impact on the venerable Shivananda, but more information needs to be gathered before that can be asserted with confidence.)
The Swami Sivananda website informs us that Sivananda was born on 8 September 1887 (as Kuppusvaami), became a doctor, renounced the world in 1923, was initiated as a Sannyasi by Swami Visvananda on 1 June 1924, began what was to become the world-famous Divine Life Society in 1936, and died on 14 July 1963. So the truth is that Swami Sivananda's 70th birthday was indeed in 1957, but on 8 September, over a month after SB's visit. By that time, Sivananda had been a Sannyasi for 33 years, not 26. On this basis, the alleged verbatim compliments from SB to Sivananda must be purely imaginary. And SB's linking of his 1957 visit to Sivananda's ashram with the subsequent 1961 visit to that northern area and especially to the Badrinath shrine (which is mentioned in Volume II of Sathya Sai Speaks), compounds the confusion.
Equally confusing and confused was a rambling story recently told by SB about a Shirdi Sai devotee named Nana (24 October 2001). At the end of the literal translation by the PREMSAI devotee translators, they felt it necessary to make 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.)"
Already in the above stories and details, even in those that are so erroneous, the objective listener/reader gets the impression that the overriding concern of the speaker is to be admired for the special information that he is conveying and that this desire overcomes any thought of caution. That impression will be conveyed much more strongly by the following stories.
Conflicting Versions of SB's Stories
A study of SB's many Christmas Discourses on Jesus Christ makes it abundantly clear that some of SB's stories are not only probably spontaneous but flexible in content (rather like the idiosyncratic, and changeable, word etymologies). We shall return to the details later. Increasingly in the last twenty years, and most particularly since 1990, there have been a number of other cases where these variations of detail in repeated versions of a story leave the reader in doubt about the real truth of what SB is saying.
The major interest of these sets of variations offered ingenuously by SB is that they lead the objective reader to the conclusion that his role as story-teller and 'performer' sometimes predominates over any considerations of truth. Such an attitude has implications for his other stories.
Shirdi Sai Baba Makes Two Dramatic Comebacks
Even for Shirdi scholars the early years of Shirdi Sai Baba are shrouded in mystery. In September 1990, in a characteristically sensational and ad hoc way, SB finally broke a 20- year public (Discourse) silence about Shirdi Sai Baba (to be examined later) to reveal to the world his version of the hitherto unknown date of birth of Shirdi Sai as well as what he assured his listeners were many other unknown details about his upbringing and youth (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIII, Discourse 28, pp. 229-245).
This Discourse was given on 28 September 1990. SB announced dramatically: "Today ... I propose to reveal what has not been known to anyone hitherto." He went on to give Shirdi's Date of Birth as 28 September 1835, naming the parents as Gangabhadavya and Devagiriamma. SB further revealed that the couple had prayed for children and that Parvati (Shakti) and Parameshwara (Shiva) had appeared to her and promised her that she would bear three children, of whom the third would be Parameshwara himself. (p. 241 ). Once again, as with his own 1963 "Shiva-Shakti" Discourse, SB seems anxious to give himself a very special legitimacy by linking Shirdi (and himself) directly to the legendary Hindu gods. Over several more pages, SB 'reveals' many details of young Shirdi's life. The dramatic news was enthusiastically received by SB's devotees.
Equally sensationally, but more confusingly, exactly two years later (27 September 1992), SB, without the least reference to the former revelations, amended the date of birth by three years, to 27 September 1835, and went on to offer a few lines about Shirdi's early life, without mentioning the names of the parents or the visit from Shiva and Shakti, and many other details of his later life, his miracles, plus his prediction (in 1918) that he would reincarnate in 8 years time. "Shirdi Baba told Abdul Baba alone: "I will give darshan in the name of Sathya for upholding Truth." (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXV, 31:326-334).
Most SB devotees seem to have accepted without question both the original statement and the later version, which invalidates much of what SB said in the 1990 Discourse. I do not imagine that the Shirdi Sai Baba Association has taken any official notice of this "new" information - nor do I know if the second amended revelation about their saint was due to private comments from them to the SSO, but the idea of such an intervention is not unreasonable. For those Shirdi writers who are not also SB devotees the early years of Sai Baba of Shirdi remain shrouded in some mystery.
Different Versions of Childhood Stories
In recent years SB has occasionally excited his audiences with nostalgic and boastful stories about his youth. In one case he has offered up to four versions of the story. Given the remoteness of those early years and the mythology that has arisen in the many books about SB, the further confusion caused by such stories is to be regretted; more rather than less clarity would have been preferable.
It is interesting to note here that one rare exception to the standard uncritical hagiographical treatment of SB's childhood and youth in books about SB is Arnold Schulman's Baba. In this 1971 book Schulman makes the following valuable assessment "In trying to discover what Sathya's childhood was like, the writer ran across every possible variation from" he was an ordinary child, like the rest of us" to stories of precocious saintliness which told of how, when he was only five years old, he frequently went without food so that he could sneak it out of the house and give it to the beggars and blind men of the village." (p. 125) Schulman also concludes, helpfully, that, "For every story about Baba's childhood there are any number of conflicting stories and, at this point, the writer discovered, it is no longer possible to sift out the facts from the legend. For one thing Baba has forbidden his family and devotees to talk about his childhood and " 'they all live in terror of Baba,' as one of his most devoted followers told the writer." (p. 123) (Their fear is of SB's usual punishment for those who make mistakes or incur his displeasure: ignoring them totally.)
1. Ramesh and Suresh
Between 1998 and 2000 SB gave the following versions of a childhood reminiscence. Firstly, on 11 September 1998, and again a year later, on 18 October 1999, Baba delights his listeners by a long reference back to his schooldays and he tells the story of his desk-mates, Suresh and Ramesh, (Sanathana Sarathi, August 2000, pp. 236-241 - an unusually late publication date, 10 months after the Discourse). In describing the way in which he cheated for his friends, SB is also claiming miraculous powers.
The following year, on the same Dasara festival (according to a Special Issue of Sanathana Sarathi for November 2000, pp. 327-330; Discourse for 1 October 2000), Baba, apropos of nothing in particular, again begins some schoolday reminiscences, and proudly repeats in less detail the story of how he helped these rather unintelligent desk-mates, Ramesh and Suresh, to pass the Elementary School Leaving Certificate examination (the E.S.L.C.):
Before the 2-hour exam he told them to pretend to write answers. In the exam they sat far apart. "I wrote for both of them in their handwriting after finishing My paper within half an hour." (p. 330). When the results were posted, only Baba and his two chums had received First Class results. In the ensuing oral examination, the other two were unable to answer the questions but Baba had told them to say that they had known the answers during the written exam. So, apart from claiming a considerable personal feat (and a miracle), Baba, the Educator, is condoning cheating and dishonesty. A little odd. Odder still, however, is the specific news, backed up by documents (in LIMF, p.129), that: "Sathya's school records at Bukkapatnam indicate that, in 1942, he was not allowed to take the ESLC examination as he did not have the minimum required attendance at school." The photocopy of the school register is also offered as evidence on page 69. The researchers go on to say that "All the 41 students, who attended the ESLC, failed. (Sathya joked that they had all failed because they had gone to take the exams without him.)" [The editors do not give a reference for this alleged remark.]
This carefully researched LIMF volume had only just been published when Baba gave a third version of his story in his Discourse of 1 October 2000. The encyclopedic LIMF makes no mention of these companions, although it traces many other schoolmates of SB. He must have known about the recently published book, which had been in local preparation for 7 years by the Sai Towers editorial team, who are devotees. He may have seen the presentation copy which the devotee editor and publisher, Padmanaban, must have given to him. Nevertheless, he seems to have decided, almost compulsively, defiantly, to repeat the above and the extra and spectacular revelation (not in the October 1999 version) that his two devoted friends both died (one by suicide) just after his Declaration of Avatarhood and leaving school. LIMF does not mention these deaths either - nor SB's amazing claim that the two boys reincarnated as SB's dogs (Jack and Jill). (In John Hislop's Conversations with Baba (p. 125), SB is quoted as saying simply: "In the school, there were two boys who sat with Swami in the same seat. ... When Swami declared that He would no longer go to school, one boy committed suicide. The other boy went mad. He would call, 'Raju, Raju,' all the time. At length he died." There is a similar bare statement, without names, in Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIII, 29:252, the Discourse given on 20 October 1990, the alleged 50th Anniversary of the 'Declaration'.)
Having provided convincing contradictory evidence to one of SB's stories, the editors of LIMF try to reduce its importance but merely succeed in compounding the suspicion of inaccuracy on SB's part with the following statement: "In a number of Discourses, Sri Sathya Sai Baba has referred to His classmates under various names, such as 'Ramesh', 'Prakash', 'Suresh', 'Sudhir' and 'Paresh'. Our thorough search failed to locate their existence in any of the four schools in which Sathya studied as a boy. It is possible that Sri Sathya Sai Baba chooses not to disclose their real names, in order to protect their privacy." (LIMF, p, 61, footnote 8) Possible, but surely most unlikely since most of SB's schoolmates have been described and pictured in the 600-page large format book which only covers the years 1926-1950.
Just to complicate the issue a lot more, a recent eye-witness memoir of SB's schoolboy stories as told in 1949, Smt. Vijayakumari, quotes SB as speaking of four special friends whom he helped in examinations, "I had four good friends. ... During the exams, I would tell the four of them what questions would be given in the question paper. Once, when one of them did not attend the exam, I answered the paper in his handwriting."(Vijayakumari, p. 217)
And two relevant footnotes to this story give further food for thought on the notions of omniscience and morality:
1. "[Exam seating] Numbers allotted were such that I got 9, Ramesh 300 and Suresh 200." (1 October 2000) In another version (11 September 1998), the seat numbers are 6, 60, and 600.
2. The following brief statement suddenly pops up at the end of the Discourse in which the first version of the exam cheating story/miracle had been given some minutes previously. (11 September 1998 Discourse):
"Some students get the homework done by their brothers and sisters. This amounts to cheating their teacher. This is not correct. Students should do the homework themselves. They should develop good qualities."
Whether this was a belated admission by SB that he had given an inappropriate example, or a tactful addition by his editors, it was not repeated in the following two repeats of the story.
2. Another example of conflicting versions of a childhood story is that of SB's alleged meeting with the Polish psychic, Wolf Messing. This involves Discourses in 1980 and August 2002. (See "More Messing" on my website.)
3. Driving Licence at Age Nine
Since mid-1999, some of Professor Anil Kumar's public Sunday satsangs in the ashram have been made available to a world audience (in English and several other languages) on his web page, associated with < www.internety.com/premsai >.
In his posting for 10 March 2002, Kumar narrates an extraordinary SB story, allegedly told recently to some students and teachers, in Kumar's presence. To my knowledge, the story has not appeared anywhere 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 this collection of special "problem" stories by SB.
"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 SB as saying that he got the (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, SB sounds quite pleased with himself about details like this - 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 (thrilling for the College boys?). 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 SB 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. End of story; beginning of reactions.
What is remarkable here is the extent and openness of SB's boasting in front of the College boys, as well as the factual weaknesses in this highly unconvincing children's comic book story. (See the full version with SB's quoted words and one or two typically favourable comments by Kumar on the "Premsai" website.)
First, back to dates: SB was nine in either 1935 or 1938. The war began in 1939 and lasted just over five years. SB's Mission began in 1943. Seshagiri Rao, probably from Bangalore, is only mentioned in LIMF (p. 213) from 1944 on when he organised a Bhajan Mandali for the newly declared "Sai Baba". As for the Transport Officer Hanumantha Rao, he appears on the scene in Puttaparthi as Transport Commissioner of Madras State, with the task of conducting a preliminary road-building survey. SB accompanies him on this survey and they have lunch together. (LIMF, p. 353) SB'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 SB boasts in another story of his) seems highly inappropriate for an educator and a stern advocate of Dharma. The fifteen years of driving a car fueled 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.
This boasting, in front of SB's schoolboys, of the (alleged) illegally obtained driving licence (like the impropriety of cheating on behalf of two schoolmates of which SB boasted in the variations of the preceding story) seems totally inappropriate for an educator and one who constantly preaches the need for Dharma. Moreover, the fifteen years of driving a car fuelled by water may also come as a surprise to many knowledgeable devotees, including (especially) the researchers who interviewed so many local devotees for the compilation of LIMF, which deals in great detail with SB's childhood and youth.
Also from Kumar's satsang, for 7 January 2001 is this rather unconvincing boast (to an audience of schoolboys and teachers) about his youthful prowess.
"And then Swami said, "You see, in Kamalapuram while I was in school, I used the same technique." "Huh? Same technique? What is that, Swami?" "We had a running race competition every year. And you know that in the school, they are all big, big boys, older boys, grown up boys, and well-built, hefty personalities. Even now I am short. You can imagine how I was then! (Laughter.) Not just short ... very lean and thin, wearing knickers and a shirt. But I always stood first in the running race. Do you know that?" "Swami, first in the running race? You stood first in every way!" "Ah! That's a different thing. You know the secret of My success?" "What, Swami?" "All the boys stand in the front. I'm always in the back. They thought, 'This little boy, after all, is useless. I allowed them to think so. (Laughter.) They were all standing in the front. Now the drill teacher will blow the whistle ... 'Start!' All the boys in the front, the grown ups, start running, running, running, running, running. I start running slowly to begin with. The front boys, as they start with a high speed, they get exhausted and start gasping for air. Then they slow down. Then I'll pick up speed. So I used to pass them. (Laughter) That's how I used to win." That's what He said." "Ahhh! Swami, wonderful, wonderful!"
(This sounds more like SB's exhibitionistic appropriation of "The Tortoise and the Hare".)
This need to promote his image by boasting is visible throughout SB's Discourses, particularly when he makes his Divine claims. But the need to show himself in the best possible light, as we have seen in some of the above examples, seems to well up from a deeply personal urge which takes precedence over his responsibility to give a good example to his devotees by always telling the truth. It is now leading SB into episodes like the following, which can only reflect unfavourably on him.
According to the literal translation of the Yugadi Discourse on 13 April 2002, SB made the following statements, some of them excited, jubilant, even boastful. (See <www.internety.com/premsai>. For the interestingly different official edited translation, see: <www.sathyasai.org >.
"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?"
This all sounds highly improbable, even on first sight. Consultation of the World Bank website (www.worldbank.org) provides the following helpful 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 like the SSO.
The inevitable effect of so much strange evidence about SB's story-telling techniques is to encourage a more careful analysis of some of his other pronouncements. This takes us on a revealing tour of the SB Mission.
1. Shirdi Sai Baba
There is at least one unique feature which sets SB apart from all other gurus (living and dead). It is his first special Claim (Declaration) made in Uravakonda in May 1943: "I am Sai Baba". (The date officially claimed has always been 1940. New documentary evidence contradicting this basic accepted fact has shown this to be inaccurate.) With these words SB was referring to himself as the reincarnation of the revered saint, Sai Baba of Shirdi, also known as Shirdi Sai Baba, who died in 1918 and who subsequently gained a strong following in many parts of India. Along with SB's alleged healing miracles, this forthright and extraordinary claim, frequently and dramatically reiterated, was to constitute the principal immediate appeal of SB's early Mission. Any serious claim to be a Divine reincarnation deserves very special attention; given the multiple nature of SB's Divine claims and their unquestioning acceptance by his devotees in spite of all the "rumours" thrown up by the ongoing public controversy, it was inevitable that the spotlight would eventually focus on anomalous aspects of the Shirdi Sai Baba claim, not least because, after 60 years, SB is still not accepted as a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai by many (or most) Shirdi devotees who belong to the thriving Shirdi Sai Organisation, which appears to maintain a discreet silence about SB's claims.
Following SB's mysterious and traumatic illness in 1943 (officially claimed as 1940), he made the famous announcement, "I am Sai Baba" (in May) a few months before the Declaration of his Mission on 20 October 1943. For the first years of his Mission, the Shirdi Sai Baba connection was to become a prominent feature of SB's growing reputation. In addition to making frequent public claims to be the reincarnation of this revered saint, SB made special efforts to describe his affinities with Shirdi: teachings, types of miracles, and sayings, as well as exhibiting pictures and a statue of Shirdi in his ashram. He also made many impressive-sounding references (including allegedly omniscient ones) to Shirdi's life, especially to older Indians who were or had been Shirdi Sai devotees, including a number of elderly aristocratic patrons and benefactors. Similarities and affinities with Shirdi have been described in many of the books about SB and present-day SB devotees are familiar with them - although it probably goes unnoticed that books on Shirdi Baba written by his devotees who are not devotees of SB do not mention SB, nor the alleged new biographical facts about Shirdi which SB has asserted in his Discourses, nor claims like his early confident allegations that before his death Sai Baba of Shirdi himself had announced the coming of SB. (There are of course a few writers who are devotees of both Sai Babas, so there exists a sort of parallel literature about the saint from Shirdi.)
"When this Mahaashakthi decided to leave the previous body in 1918, Kaaka Saheb Dikshit was told that in 8 years= time this will take birth again." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II, 20:102)
"While in the previous body, I had said, 'I will come again after eight years.' Dikshith has written it down as if I will appear as an eight-yr-old! That is a mistake. Having cast off that body on the Vijayadhasahami Day, 1918, I granted actual concrete darshan off and on to various bhakthas during about six years." (Sathya Sai Speaks, II; 22:118)
With such evidence and SB's other confident early claims in Discourses to be Shirdi reincarnated (which seem to have been accepted by so many Indians) as well as SB's many reported early demonstrations of proof of his dual identity and the physical presence of pictures and statues of Shirdi in SB's ashrams, it can be seen that since the beginning of the Mission the proclaimed Shirdi connection has served to enhance and even partially to legitimise SB's claims of Divinity.
However, this reincarnation claim has not been universally accepted or welcomed, as the following critical statements by the scholar Kevin R. D. Shepherd (from his work, Gurus Rediscovered: Biographies of Sai Baba of Shirdi and Upasni Maharaj of Sakori (Cambridge, Anthropographia Publications, 1986) indicate:
"However, some of [Shirdi] Sai Baba's latter day following have a grievance with which it is easy to sympathize. This relates to the claims made for a certain namesake of the original [Shirdi] Sai Baba, who encourages an obsession with wonder-working and is believed to be the avataric reincarnation of the Shirdi saint." (Shepherd, Chapter 1)
[Chapter 3, Note 77] "Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparti was born in 1926 and claimed in 1940 to be a reincarnation of the Shirdi master. Fame accrued very quickly. It is reported that he would produce ash (udhi) from thin air, and likewise photos of Sai Baba, and gerua cloth which he said was from the kafni which Sai Baba used to wear." (Shepherd)
And this hint of resistance to SB's reincarnation claim may be at the root of a sudden surprising change of emphasis: for a quarter of a century, the SB Mission prospered and grew in India and more benefactors and worldly-wise collaborators and advisers joined Baba and produced the Sathya Sai Organisation. Both SB and the SSO latter really "took off" internationally, with the April 1967 First All-India Conference in Madras and the First World Conference in Bombay in May 1968. And, suddenly, not only does the public claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba CEASE to be made in Discourses but for 20 years (in Volumes X-XXII of Sathya Sai Speaks covering the years 1970-1989) there are NO printed PUBLIC references by Sathya Sai Baba to Shirdi Sai Baba. However, as with much information about Baba, the Shirdi-SB identification remained valid for devotees who continued to promote it in their conversations and books. The resumption of stories about the Shirdi connexion in 1990 (and a different version in 1992) has already been described in the first part of this article.
Such sudden and complete public reticence (self-censorship?) on SB's part, following the previous confident claims draws attention to itself. Why would an alleged Divine being need to be quiet about one of his prime characteristics? Had the Shirdi Sai Organisation taken umbrage and made protests about Baba's reincarnation claims early in his Mission? One can only hazard a guess that Shepherd's comment above is true and that the silence was to avoid (or to stop) offending the very powerful Shirdi Sai Organisation. Further cogent evidence comes from the writer and publisher, Parveen Chopra, in the issue of his high-circulation spiritual magazine, Life Positive, dedicated entirely to articles on Shirdi Sai Baba. Chopra states clearly, in connection with Sathya Sai's claim to be an incarnation of Shirdi Sai and a precursor of Prema Sai, that "Most Shirdi Sai devotees as well as the Shirdi Trust don't give credence to any of this." (Life Positive, October 1997, p. 35).
Also, on the Internet, it is noticeable that whereas the Sathya Sai websites feature Shirdi Sai Baba prominently (as is also the practice in SB's ashrams, with the photos and statues), Shirdi Sai sites do not mention SB. (Finally, as far as I can ascertain, Baba has never visited Shirdi. Why not? The answer is, presumably, that he would NOT be accepted there as Shirdi's reincarnation!)
Another inappropriate reported statement by SB is connected with his attitude to his initial adoption of the Shirdi link. It arose not in a Discourse but in a magazine interview in 1976 (six years into the "silence" on the Shirdi claim) when he stated that Shirdi Sai Baba was unknown in his village (Puttaparthi) when he made his claim to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Baba in 1940 (=1943). The official support for this incorrect claim by SB (about the lack of local knowledge about Shirdi Sai) by the long-time Chairman of the SSO, Indulal Shah, is also contradicted by new evidence.
"What makes you so sure that you are Shirdi Baba incarnate?"(Karanjia, 1976:21)
"The very fact that I announced that I am Shirdi Baba 40 years ago, when I was only 10 and when nobody in this part of the South had known or even heard of Shirdi Baba proves this fact." (p. 21) [Another careless error on SB's part, virtually placing his Shirdi Announcement in 1936, and at age TEN (instead of the official thirteen)!]
Equally confident is the official backing for this claim, voiced here by the long-serving Chairman of the SSO World Council, Indulal Shah:
"All this confirmed more and more my faith in Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's announcement at the age of 14 that He is the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. What appeared remarkable to me is that He made this announcement in his village where no one had even heard of Shirdi Sai Baba!" (Shah, 1980:51)
Prior to the year 2000, we already had some weak evidence that this was not true: Howard Murphet's Man of Miracles, p. 56: "The name [Shirdi Sai Baba] was only known to a few very old villagers." (Also on p. 58: 'known by a few people in the area'.) In his scholarly study of Shirdi Sai Baba, Kevin R. D. Shepherd had written, "It may be observed that photographs of the Shirdi adept were not difficult to obtain at that time..." (Note 77)
However, in the year 2000, background information in LIMF very strongly contradicted these claims in several places, but in particular on pp. 78-9, where two of SB'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 quote the following extract from an interview they conducted with a contemporary, showing that Shirdi Sai was both known and worshipped in SB's village and area in the early 1940s:
"The practice of Shirdi worship was becoming common in Puttaparthi. Raju's uncles, Venkatarama Raju and Venkatasubba Raju, were worshippers of Sai Baba of Shirdi long before Raju announced himself as being 'that' Sai Baba. Venkatasubba Raju brought a Shirdi Baba portrait and started offering worship before it. During the worship, Raju used to sit behind him and, on many occasions, would fall into a trance." (p. 117) Also, this uncle "often read aloud the biography of Shirdi Baba."
In the Foreword to LIMF, written by the celebrated octogenarian devotee, Kamalamma, the younger wife of the (late) Karnam, we find further direct support of the young boy's familiarity with Shirdi Sai: "He keeps a Shirdi Baba photo ..." (p. xv)
And, finally, the recent eye-witness account by Srimati Vijayakumari quotes SB as saying in 1949: "I had four good friends. After school, we would assemble under a tree and offer worship to Shirdi Baba." (p. 217) The same writer also reveals that SB's elder brother, Seshama, once made this statement in the presence of the writer: "For schooling, I took him to Uravakonda. My desire was to educate him well and make him an important official. ... But Swami used to sit in front of Shirdi Baba's picture always and offer pooja." [worship] (Vijayakumari, Refuge Other than You is There None, p. 254) Another book, by N. Lakshmi Devamma, shows an old photograph of the young SB with a small picture of Shirdi on the front of his tunic. In LIMF (p. 232), this 1945 Bangalore studio portrait is much clearer but lacks the picture.
In other words, the local evidence contradicting SB's reported statement is overwhelming. I have quoted it at length to demonstrate that it is possible that SB has become so accustomed to total unquestioning adulation by his devotees that he honestly believes that he can say what he likes with complete impunity. In fact, such glaring examples of "story-telling" cast a shadow over both SB and his Organisation, with its inflexible "official" line on matters concerning SB's biography.
Paradoxically, but also disturbingly, in a later press interview (in 1999, on a rare visit to Delhi), in answer to one journalist's question about Shirdi Sai, "How do you relate yourself to Sai Baba of Shirdi?" SB cautiously replied: "This body has not seen him." (The Times of India, 12 March 1999)
2. SB's Claims of Divinity
In addition to his well-documented early claims of Divinity and Avataric powers (see Sathya Sai Speaks, vols 1-9 and for a critical study, my Chapter 1, "Sathya Sai Baba's Claims of Divinity: Avatar and Triple Avatar") which were, like the claims to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, frequent, strong, and dramatic, there is scattered evidence to indicate that SB claimed both publicly and privately (probably in the early 1960s) that his allegedly Divine birth was by Immaculate Conception. Such a claim seems totally logical in the light of SB's other claims of Divinity. But the following investigation also indicates that SB (or the SSO) probably decided not to keep this potentially polemical claim by SB himself on public record in its original quite specific form. However, like so many frequently alleged facts about SB, it is still propagated by some writers and unofficial spokespersons: with SB you can have your cake and eat it.
In the first volume of his biography (1961), when describing the birth, Kasturi makes no mention of an Immaculate Conception, but in his much later (1984) book about SB's mother, Easwaramma, he quotes an undated conversation at which he was present. A Pundit had asked SB whether his was an Immaculate Conception (Pravesa) or a normal one (Prasava). SB had then allegedly turned to his mother, who was also present, and asked her to comment. Easwaramma then explained that she had been told by her mother-in-law not to be frightened if something happened to her through the will of God. SB's Mother is then quoted as saying, "That morning I was at the well drawing water, a big ball of blue light came rolling towards me and I fainted and fell. I felt, it glided into me." Swami turned to Rama Sarma with a smile. "There you have the answer! I was not begotten. It was Pravesa [spiritual birth; entrance], not Prasava [biological conception]." (N. Kasturi, Easwaramma, p. 20)
M.N. Rao, a fervent and influential unofficial spokesperson for SB repeats the Immaculate Conception claim, (God and His Gospel, 1995, p. 183) and then, without giving any sources, presents part of the Kasturi information and a quotation traceable to a Discourse, as we shall see. Rao begins with the "Easwaramma / ball of light" information already quoted, and then adds the following additional quotation: "Swaami concluded the topic by confirming that: "I was [[not]] begotten. It was Pravesa and not Prasava. [Bold type and logical correction added] No Avathaar is born from flesh and blood including this Avathaar ... The embryo of the ordinary mortals is Jalodakasayi, enveloped in watery stuff; the embryo of the Avathaar is Ksheerodakasayi, enveloped in the pure white milk of Holiness. That is why in the make-up of the Avathaar, there is no blemish." (Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 3:22) In the (translated and edited) Discourses we find the following confirmation of most of SB's statement of 4 February 1963 but, curiously, without the more specific first two (bold type) sentences given above. Have his vigilant SSO editors excised them from the revised editions of Sathya Sai Speaks? Were they in the first printed editions? And, if they have been deleted, WHY?
From the evidence presented, it seems certain that SB not only made this quite specific claim in a witnessed conversation but also incorporated it into that 1963 Discourse, from which a part has been censored. The only mystery in all this, given the total openness of SB's other frequent early claims to Divinity, is why he (or the SSO) should have such apparent reluctance to allow this direct claim to remain on record in the Discourses? An obvious hypothetical answer immediately suggests itself: so as not to provoke or antagonise other major religions, notably the Roman Catholic Church for which the person of the Virgin Mary and the dogma connected with the Immaculate Conception is of central importance. But whether that hypothesis is correct or not, why should God be censored?
As time went by, as observed in Chapter 1 ("Sai Baba's Claims of Divinity: Avatar and Triple Avatar"), the direct Discourse claims of Divinity would sometimes become less frequent, more muted, often indirect, but they would also periodically return in their former vigour. For the editors of Sathya Sai Speaks, spokespersons, writers, and devotees, however, the strong claims continued to be made boldly on all occasions.
3. Jesus Christ
The muting of the Shirdi claims (from 1969 to 1990) and the reduction in direct Divinity claims by SB are not the only major change during his Mission. During the late 1960s, foreign interest in India, the Beatles' "Maharishi", and in SB, had been growing and the recently created SSO, under the leadership of Indulal Shah, had begun to function very vigorously. "Western" visitors to the ashram were mainly Christian, Jewish, and/or New Age and the first "Western" books on SB were shortly to be published (H.Murphet, Sai Baba. Man of Miracles , and A. Schulman, Baba, both in 1971- but with very different receptions; S. Sandweiss, Sai Baba. The HOLY MAN ... and the Psychiatrist , 1975) Such books highlighted not only SB's alleged miracles but also his similarities to Jesus Christ. In the early 1970s, the first SB centres in USA and Europe were formed. It was the beginning of a period of very rapid expansion in the numbers of foreign devotees.
In May 1968, a year after the successful setting up of the SSO, SB made this reassuring laudably 'ecumenical' statement to non-Hindus at the 1st World Conference of Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, in Bombay.
"I have not come to set afoot a new cult, I do not want people to be misled on this point. I affirm that the Sai form is the form of all the various names that man uses for the adoration of the Divine. So, I am teaching that no distinction should be made between the names Rama, Krishna, Ishwara, Sai - for they are all My names." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19:95-96) Over the years, he has repeated this disarming statement in different forms and it is frequently quoted by devotees and writers as one of his basic and very specially attractive and laudable teachings.
However, as a few objective observers have commented, this has always been a paradox: SB's devotees, and in particular those active in the SSO, view themselves as HIS devotees (even if they still somehow maintain their connections with other religions). He is the centre of their unconditional worship. (To claim otherwise is to be in denial, a state which many devotees seem to prefer.)
In 1969, as stated previously, Discourse references to the Shirdi Sai Baba connection ceased for twenty years (although the ashram presence and worship of Shirdi continued unchanged. In 1970, when SB's Mission had already been developing for almost thirty years, he introduced the Jesus Christ theme into his Mission (Christmas 1970). This is half of the short paragraph attributed to SB by his translators and editors: "This Day marks the beginning of the Christian Era, the year of Christ. Christ sacrificed his life for the sake of those who put their faith in him. He propagated the truth that service is God, that sacrifice is God." (Sathya Sai Speaks, X, 39:264) (The reader will note, incidentally, that at that time neither the translator/editor nor the printer thought Jesus exalted enough to justify the capital letters usually accorded to Divinity: He/ Him/His. Later, this would be rectified and it has become a firm SSO publishing principle.
In themselves, the remarks seem unimportant, but in fact they were a novelty for SB and his listeners, and they were to herald an important development. In the previous twenty seven years of SB's mission, there had been almost no indication, as far as I am aware, of a particular interest in Jesus. The only 3 references I have found to Jesus, or Christ, in the first 10 volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks (apart from that Christmas 1970 paragraph at the end of Vol. X) are:
a) a mention of the name of Jesus in a list of names of the Lord (Vol III, 18:105);
b) a strongly critical comment (often voiced by Hindus in India) regarding the presence and activities of foreign Christian missionaries in India, and elsewhere (in November 1965): (Sathya Sai Speaks, V, 58:314-315)
c) a remark in April 1967: after a brief description of the three "different but not divergent paths to the goal of liberation" in Hindu spiritual traditions: Advaita, Visishtadvaita, and Dvaita, SB simply adds as a further analogy, " 'I am the Son,', 'God is My Father,' 'I and My Father are one' - these declarations of Christ are significant in this context." (Sathya Sai Speaks, VII, 19:105) (It is interesting to note that a similar descriptive didactic sequence was favoured by Swami Vivekananda, as the disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, in his preaching to overseas audiences at the beginning of the Hindu "Revival". The threefold sequence is also similar, as we shall shortly see, to the one which SB will later repeat in many annual Christmas Discourses about Jesus, which he still continues to make, during an ecumenical celebration of Christmas to which crowds of foreigners flock.
One key reference point to this new development, or new direction, for SB, is in the Discourse given on 23 December 1971 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 35:239). Here SB comments on the Fifth All-India Conference of Sathya Sai Samithis (in Madras), explaining in detail the nature and importance of some of the Conference decisions. Towards the end of the Discourse, SB mentions the example of Jesus realising the three stages of his true identity and Mission: as Messenger, then as the Son and finally, 'I and My Father are One'. (He adds that the Quran propounds "similar ideas".) SB then gives us a brief glimpse of the discussion which has led up to what is visibly a proposed new ecumenical emphasis for the SB Mission: "The Sathya Sai Organisation has to seek out chances of studying and substantiating these basic similarities and promote love and mutual cooperation." Phraseology like that seems to point strongly to a bureaucratic origin of this important (perhaps crucial) Mission initiative to give prominence to common ground shared by Jesus Christ and SB. An ecumenical approach may also have been suggested by one of SB's close associates like Kasturi, Gokak or Shah, or his principal new foreign converts, like Murphet, Hislop (who was to be instrumental in the setting up of the US Sai Baba Organisation in 1974), or by foreign benefactors like Elsie Cowan (who undertook to set up a Sai Baba Book Centre in USA).
The simple fact is that on Christmas Eve of the following year (1972, in Bangalore), SB was to deliver a long and detailed reference to Jesus Christ, the first of many, but perhaps the most spectacularly vivid. (On the official SB Website this is one of four key Discourses which has been given special prominence.The 1963 "Shiva-Shakti" Discourse is another of these.)
On this occasion (see Sathya Sai Speaks for 1972, Vol XI, Chapter 54), there is a detailed 10-page treatment of the Jesus story (especially useful for the majority of SB's listeners who are Hindus). Jesus Christ is acknowledged and claimed as universal by SB. But SB uses this Discourse, 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 SB himself, not as Jesus' successor, but as God the Father. SB puts into the mouth of Jesus several prophetic references clearly describing SB, including a mind-boggling reference to a lamb and to the word "Ba-Ba", imitating the sound of a lamb. This time we note that the printed translated and edited version has one or two capital references to 'He' / 'Him' (rather than 'he', 'him'). A brief extract is necessary:
"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 SB 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) With this audacious pronouncement, a new phase had begun for SB and the SSO.
Since then the celebration of Christmas (with detailed references to Jesus Christ in SB's Christmas Discourses) has become a well-attended annual event in Prashanthi Nilayam. SB's allusions to Jesus Christ basically reinforce his own projected and perceived Christ-like qualities in the minds of his Christian and other listeners. Jesus is projected as a sort of metaphor for SB's own Mission and message and in this ongoing association, as with Shirdi Sai Baba, Christ also helps to "legitimise" SB's claim to Divine status.
The Christmas Discourses since 1972 (which are available in edited form in the volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks or on the official SB websites, are examined in more detail in my Chapter 5 "Omniscience and Truth"). In short, SB's Christmas stories about Jesus and Christianity display the typical bewildering variations, discrepancies and unverifiable "new" facts and dialogue exemplified in SB's other stories, but this time in relation to Jesus' Mission and development (including some topical references to the 'Lost Years' of Jesus), the wise men (also kings, and shepherds), the star, the date of Christ's birth, and the age at which Joseph died.
In his 30 year pursuit of the Jesus Christ themes, SB has delighted many of his foreign devotees with the perceived connections; more and more he has come to be identified with Jesus. But, as can be seen by studying what he has said, his carelessness with the facts about Jesus and his irrepressible habit of embellishing stories, often with several variants, are constantly evident. With closer and more objective study of these stories and the dissemination of all these discrepancies, etc. on the Internet, this long and fruitful Christian connection may yet become a source of embarrassment for both SB and the SSO.
The cumulative effect of so many discrepancies, confusions, inventions, verbal embroidery, and errors in SB's Discourse stories dealing with verifiable facts and personal reminiscences, is to underline SB's predominant desire for self-promotion at whatever "cost" . Inevitably, such unusual repeated behaviour affects the credibility of other key aspects of the Divine image projected by SB - in addition to its effect on the attempted identification with Shirdi Sai Baba and Jesus, which no longer seems convincing. In view of this (self-inflicted) trimming of the Divine aura, there seems to be no further justification in continuing to view with such awe and wonder other unverifiable ethereal stories and statements by SB by means of which his alleged Divinity was largely established.
In these circumstances, one of the most vulnerable pillars of SB's claimed Divine legitimacy (from a Hindu point of view) is the spectacular and pivotal "revelation" of Guru Purnima Day in July 1963 of SB's predestined participation in a tri-avatar existence on earth, as promised by Shiva and Shakti to his (alleged) ancestor, Bharadwaja: the "Shiva-Shakti Discourse" (Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 15:88-91, 6 July 1963). Such a breath-taking attempt to claim the highest Hindu Divine sponsorship and legitimacy, a direct link with the legendary Hindu Gods, may be just as inspired but fanciful as other extraordinary but flawed stories with which SB has thrilled and enthralled his listeners.
Since the first of his frequent and confident Divine claims was accepted, SB has been indulgently worshipped as Deity by his adoring devotees. His teachings, looks, gestures, and actions are gratefully received, as are his (edited) discourses, which are dissected by Study Groups whose members vie with one another to squeeze out the last drop of spiritual meaning from each paragraph. Anomalies, confusions, discrepancies, inventions, and errors - such as those illustrated in this article - are either not seen or humbly and unquestioningly accepted because of firm beliefs like:
a)"SB must know what he is talking about"; b)"It's his leela for us to learn from"; or c)"He's just testing our faith in him."
From any objective viewpoint this must surely be regarded as very strange behaviour.
Books and articles referred to in this study are listed in the Bibliography.
Following interesting recent publications by devotees, even the date of birth of SB seems to be in some doubt.
1) The doubt arises because of the School Register photostats published in Love is My Form, Vol. 1, in October 2000. There the date is given on two certificates as 4-10-1929. Nevertheless, this evidence on its own is far from conclusive, as LIMF itself and another Indian expert have informed us.
2) However, the following circumstantial evidence has also emerged in a 1999 publication.
In 1993, an elderly lady (Smt. Vijayakumari) completed a book manuscript from notes she claims to have taken since 1945 about her own and her family's close experiences of SB between that date (when she was a young girl), and 1972. Her two teenage brothers, Krishna Kumar and Amarendra Kumar, were close friends of SB's for a few years (and are mentioned in books by other devotees). She states, on p. 6, that SB approved of and named the original book, Anyadha Saranam Nasti on 16 November1996 and gave the order (permission?) for its publication, presumably in Telugu, a year later, on 22-10-97. The English translation, Other Than You Refuge is There None, was finally published - apparently privately - in Chennai in 1999.)
Vijayakumari's book is another example of a close devotee's detailed account of many happy events and conversations with a charismatic figure but it also contains some interesting snippets of biographical information for the patient researcher (including first-hand evidence about one of SB's alleged 'resurrections' - of the girl's father, Radha Krishna, which does not support the official story - and different versions of some of SB's schoolboy stories). (Incidentally, Professor E. Haraldsson refers (more conclusively) to the girl's diary in his investigation of the Radha Krishna incident.)
Among these snippets are two innocent quotations offered by Vijayakumari seem to provide a degree of independent support for the possibility (suggested by the LIMF evidence) that SB's date of birth was NOT in 1926 but in 1929.
In 1945 the little girl's cousins were strolling in the affluent Bangalore suburb of Malleswaram when they heard bhajans being sung and entered the house to listen. Sai Baba, who was present there, invited them to go to Puttaparthi (whose name they had never heard). When they returned to their town of Kuppam (south-east of Bangalore), the cousins told the girl's mother about their meeting. The latter was keen for them all to go, but the idea was at first vetoed by the father, who said: "You tell me He is sixteen years old and claims to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. This is all humbug." (p. 12) The father relented and their first visit allegedly took place during Dasara, in October 1945. (p.13) The family soon became very close to SB and visited for long periods.
The father's words quoted above indicate that in 1945, SB was 16, which would make his year of birth 1929 (as indicated by the register entries in LIMF). What is also interesting about this possibility is that at the time of the Mission Declarations of 1943 (the other biographical adjustment of three years proved beyond any doubt by the documentary and other evidence in LIMF), he would have been almost 14 years old - as he and his biographers have always claimed!
And there is yet another possible sliver of corroboration. Vijayakumari later quotes from a story session by SB to devotees assembled on the Chitravati sand dunes in 1949 (pp. 216-218):
"Later, for High School studies, I had to go to Uravakonda. ... ..." (p. 217) "In my thirteenth year, coming to know that I had become a 'Baba' and had left home, one of my friends went mad ... Another friend jumped into a well and died." (p. 218) (The same SB story related earlier in this article.)
We now know, from LIMF, that SB went to Uravakonda in early 1943, and left in October 1943 (when he was still a month away from his 14th birthday) to begin his Mission after the second of his Declarations. So, according to the above quoted statement, once more a 1929 date of birth seems indicated.
As for the possible day of birth, in the school Register photostats in LIMF it is given as 4 October (1929). It has been celebrated on 23 November since 1946 at least, when we find the first reference in LIMF to an official birthday. It was also celebrated on 23 November in 1950, as Vijayakumari notes, with the Inauguration of Prasanthi Nilayam:
"Till that day, prominence had not been given to Swami's Birthday. But that day we prayed to Swami to permit us to celebrate it." (Vijayakumari, p. 161) (In the Discourses recorded in Sathya Sai Speaks, the first to be labelled as a Birthday Discourse is the one for 1960.)
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