This was the original Introduction to the November 2001 web-book named below. It contains a Personal Statement outlining the gestation process of that book. In view of many months of further research and discoveries, much of the book and parts of the Personal Statement have been superseded by the contents of a revised version, "The Guru from Puttaparthi. An Alternative View of Sathya Sai Baba". I have left the Introduction here as an indication of how both versions arose. (For an update on my "position", see also the Preface to the "The Guru ..." and the short note titled "Clarification".)
Version 1.0 (November 2001 - Copyright © Brian Steel 2001)
What set Sathya Sai Baba far apart from other major gurus from the very beginning in 1940 (or 1944, according to a recent book: Love Is My Form) was his constant and consistent claim to BE God and his parallel claim is to be divinely Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnipotent. On the joint basis of these claims of his, as well as innumerable reported miracles of many types and his important spiritual teachings, Sathya Sai Baba has built up an enormous following in India and overseas over the past 60 years, although almost certainly not as enormous as the Sai Baba Organisation claims and devotees believe. His fame and reputation have attracted many major donors and massive donations and, as a result, the Organisation that bears his name has been able to undertake much social work over the past 30 years, particularly in the fields of education and medicine. In other countries, Sai Baba's devotees have done much community service in response to his exhortation: Love All - Serve All.
This study assembles and presents a body of circumstantial evidence which raises questions about the validity of these claims to Divinity.
Necessary Personal Statement
Like a large proportion of Baba devotees, my attention was attracted (in the early 1980s) firstly by an interesting home video of a group visit to Sai Baba's ashram, quickly followed by written and hearsay evidence of the God-appeal (the "I am God" claims), and of constant miracles (particularly to do with health, healing, and omniscience) as well as an acquaintance with the impeccable basic teachings first revealed in the books of enthusiastic commentators like Murphet, Sandweiss, Hislop and, later, Krystal.
With these powerful, compelling accounts of Sai Baba's teachings and personality, I soon came to accept and believe his claims to be an incarnation of God, with full Divine Powers, as also revealed in many other books written by devotees. Although I never experienced the over-brimming blissful love that many devotees do, nor the special (often dramatic) impact of seeing Baba for the first time (and, for some, at every darshan), I considered myself a devotee.
I did not join a Sai Baba Centre or attend any bhajan singing meetings until almost ten years later and for several years I felt no wish or compulsion to go to India to see Baba. My first visit to the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram was in a group form Australia in December 1988. On my return home, I conceived (like so many others) a strong desire to do something to help spread knowledge about Sai Baba and his Mission, and I attempted to do this for the next 10 years or more. For five of these, I was fairly seriously dedicated to studying books on Sai Baba and writing about him, eventually publishing two serious and original compilations about Baba and his Mission.
In my personal life, I tried to follow some of his teachings but, unlike many devotees, I didn't follow Baba's exhortations to give up meat, alcohol or coffee. I did very little seva (service to others) beyond normal (and convenient) family seva, and writing, and I was never in any hurry for Moksha (Liberation from life on earth and from further reincarnations) nor to comply with the (Hindu) expectation of celibacy and increasing spiritual practices as a Sannyasi in the fourth and final stage of life (from the age of 50). Nevertheless, through my time as a devotee, I have come to appreciate many other aspects of the Hindu religion, which underlie Baba's teaching and worship of him (karma, reincarnation, respect for all religions, the power of individual meditation and of certain mantras, especially the Gayatri Mantra).
The few Discourses by Baba that I have heard live in the ashram (with interpretation into English) on special Festivals, or on videos, seemed disorganised, rambling, and incomprehensible. When I finally read the apparently edited versions, only the small pithy enlightening sentences and analogies appealed to me and I skipped the endless Hindu scripture stories. I was still happy to be a devotee.
I also remember feeling impatience and great physical discomfort at the prolonged waiting cross-legged for up to 2 hours for morning and afternoon darshan. I admit that it was disappointing not to be looked at by Baba although he did (eventually) accept my few letters on each visit. He also briefly blessed my 2 books in darshan. The first time in1997, with a cursory nod and a hand gesture of blessing toward the book - Abhaya hasta - and in morning darshan on March 6, 1999, when he pushed against the proffered book cover and poked me on the head with a bony finger and asked the familiar questions which often precede an invitation to a personal interview : "Where are you from?" and "How many?"). There was no invitation but I was still delighted by the attention. Those were the only words Baba ever said to me.
I never had an interview with Baba but I accepted this as due to my own spiritual unworthiness and my largely undiminished ego. I noticed (approvingly) that Baba does seem to make a good choice of interviewees by choosing the more sensitive, loving and committed devotees. This ability still impresses me, although I am told by others more cynical that, for some devotees, particularly if a donation is involved, an interview may sometimes be "arranged" by the senior officials of the Baba Organisation!
For my previous writing and for the present investigation, this lack of the valuable observations and experiences of a personal contact has been a handicap. It has made my research and belief much more dependent on my own observations and feelings during darshan and, more crucially, dependent on the writing and conversation of other more favoured devotees.
In the mid-1990s I did come to love the group experience and uplift of singing and hearing devotional bhajans, especially when I discovered (in Mexico) that I could sing them reasonably well. For a couple of years, I was happy organising bhajan sessions in my home and still have the photo with what appear to be some tiny spots of vibhuti which appeared on the glass cover after one bhajan session. I am impressed by many of Baba's materializations and particularly by the spontaneous appearance of vibhuthi and amrit/nectar in devotees' homes, which I have witnessed.
I have often felt specially protected, particularly during certain very dangerous moments in my life during the past 18 years, and at different times I have felt strong promptings to write about Baba. I have even had a few dreams of Baba, documented somewhere in my diaries, but nothing worth repeating here. While writing my two previous books, I felt particularly helped and inspired, and very happy. In both cases, the writing process following the arduous research period was quite pleasant - and for one thrilling week in May 1998, a diamond python basked in the sun from 10 a.m. till 3 p.m. outside my study window as I wrote. At the time, I had the impression that my path was being facilitated (by discovering needed or unknown books at the right time, for example) and even that interventions on the computer were being made to make me think twice about including certain points or about rewriting certain passages. I share all this with you because it was my experience.
In 1995, 2 weeks after being rescued at the last moment from drowning by two teenage surfers after desperately calling out for Sai Baba's help, I had the idea of writing three books about Baba. I then settled down more or less full time to the task of reading as many more books about Baba as I could find (perhaps 200 in all). In 1997 and 1998 I published two books on Sathya Sai Baba: The Sathya Sai Baba Compendium and The Powers of Sathya Sai Baba.
These books of mine were my sincere attempts to present a coherent picture of this very special spiritual phenomenon by analysing and condensing the huge (and disparate) literature by Sai Baba devotees produced during the 50 years of his Mission so far.
In 1998, I also began to research a third Baba reference book, with the aim of describing Sai Baba's Mission, but this time through his own words - as published by the Sai Baba Organisation of Prashanthi Nilayam from 1954 to 1997 in the 30 volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks published so far (to which I shall refer frequently during this study).
As the intensive reading and annotation of the 30 volumes progressed, I began to pick up more and more little pieces of evidence which did not fit easily into the descriptive categories I had pre-selected for special coverage (like: Claims of Divinity, Miracles, Omniscience, Devotees, Benefactors and Helpers, Stages and Growth of the Mission, and so on). In fact, these newly discovered discrepancies and worrying pieces of information were niggling reminders of the fragments and threads of perplexing or unacceptable data that I had already had to put aside in separate files during the compilation of the data for the two preceding books.
When I finally completed my database on the 30 volumes towards the end of 1999, I was surprised and perturbed to find that I simply could neither continue with writing up my original project, nor could I contemplate writing a totally different, and critical, book about Sai Baba. I had run into a writer's brick wall!
In this uncomfortable state, I put aside my crammed files and rough drafts, jottings, musings and fragments and I tried to concentrate on other writing tasks and work. Every now and then, my unease and my strong doubts drove me to look over some aspect or other of this awkward mass of information, to pick at it as one's tongue constantly seeks out a nagging tooth.
Then suddenly in April 2000, after months of speculation, came the beginning of an international furore with critical Internet allegations and revelations about Sai Baba's activities, including allegations of sexual misconduct by Baba over many years. I found these revelations very disturbing. For full details, see the Internet articles by Alexandra Nagel documenting much of this recent period:
A Guru Accused. Sai Baba,
from Avatar to Homo- paedophile, on
For and Against Sathya
Sai Baba on the Internet, on
See also her Sai Baba as Shiva-Shakti: a Created Myth? Or?http://home.hetnet.nl/~ex-baba/engels/articles/Paper%20'Shiva-Shakti'.html"
The major part of the subsequent and ongoing activity by the pro- and anti-Baba groups has centred around the sexual allegations and, although the discerning Web surfer can find a few serious website discussions of the issues, the ether has also been inundated by a lot of unhelpful, scurrilous, ranting Internet postings on a number of Bulletin Boards for and against Baba. In spite of a considerable number of published accusations by young male ex-devotees, which suggest that Baba has been interfering with some young devotees over decades, there is as yet no legal proof of misdemeanours or crimes. Should such proof eventuate, of course, those devotees who have remained faithful will be faced with a serious dilemma. A further serious matter hanging over the Organisation and Baba himself are the inadequately explained ashram murders and police shootings of 1993. Both of these issues are having an important influence on the development of the Sai Baba Mission worldwide, and there are currently well-publicised plans afoot to attempt to indict Sai Baba in some national or world arena.
Some major Internet sources of information on the accusations of the past 18 months, and on older material which has now been given greater prominence are:
http://vclass.mtsac.edu:940/dlane/forums.htm (for David Lane and his Neural Surfer archives, including a series of postings in the early to mid-1990s)
The principal defence website set up by devotees of Sai Baba is:
In this public process of accusations and denial, much adverse attention has been attracted to Sai Baba (and his Organisation). Because of this, an unknown number of non-Indian devotees (especially ex-officials of the Sai Organisation in foreign countries like U.S.A., Canada, UK, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina and Australia) have been forced to face the trauma of loss of belief in the Divinity of this guru and have left the Baba fold to face an uncertain spiritual future, or to engage in activities designed to "unmask" Sai Baba. At the moment (October 2001), it is not clear how these allegations will eventually be resolved but the bitter and determined debates will continue to rage around the figure of this Guru until some sort of resolution is achieved.
My own slow and hesitant investigations (kept totally private until now) are along quite different lines, mainly peripheral to the spectacular current allegations and the resulting heated debate. Indeed, part of my dilemma has been that if I publish my "evidence" (such as it is), it will instantly be pounced upon to reinforce the existing allegations of sexual misconduct (and indeed crimes) against Sai Baba. That was and is not my intention. My current position is that, based on what I believe I have discovered (painfully and slowly although it was there all the time for me - or anyone else - to see), I can no longer justify my belief in Baba as an incarnated God on Earth, or as Omniscient and Omnipotent. However, I still recognise that he displays certain special powers (inexplicable outside the Hindu guru or godman tradition). Furthermore, it seems futile to deny that the huge worldwide Sathya Sai Organisation, whatever its alleged or real internal faults and weaknesses, has carried out much worthwhile charitable work, mainly in India.
Other people's beliefs are none of my business and I willingly recognise that a major amount of evidence contained in the literature written about Sai Baba shows Baba to have been and still to be a powerful, charismatic, and effective guru who inspires millions of people with his impeccable spiritual and moral teachings, and who has been instrumental in attracting many people to the spiritual path and in transforming many lives.
In my case, serious doubts about the truth of the Divinity claims (together with collateral damage to my faith from the accumulating sexual allegations) have forced me to recover my critical judgement, anaesthetised for so long by my belief in Sai Baba's special self-proclaimed Divine nature, and to draw together the strands of the niggling doubts which I collected (but conveniently hid away) into a more coherent pattern. What I can no longer do is hide from myself the embarrassing evidence revealed by my three book research projects. I am being cathartically forced to admit, and (perhaps), as a writer, to share with any others who may be interested, that some of what I happily and uncritically described as unique and exciting truths in my two previous hagiographical books about Sai Baba must now be seen, objectively, as untrue and misleading. Indeed, truth (which is the meaning of Baba's first name, Sathya, and one of the five cardinal principals advocated by him) seems to be what is in question here.
I thought I was right about Sai Baba in my previous
books. How do I know if my new opinions are correct? I do not, but I cannot
ignore my disturbing evidence.
I welcome comments on what I have written here. However, to avoid misunderstandings and to save unnecessary correspondence, let me repeat that I am not crusading against Sathya Sai Baba as a spiritual teacher. It is not my aim to stop other people from believing in his teachings per se. My constant preoccupation and problem has primarily been to try to sift through a mass of worrying evidence to reach some sort of conclusion. I now wish to share that evidence and the thoughts it has provoked in myself with others who may be in a mood to listen to it.
Finally, when I comment on the naivety and gullibility
of devotees, I recognise that I shared these attributes for many years - and
I am not totally free of them now.
The Scope of this Study
This study begins with a detailed description
of the creation and fostering of mythical aspects in connection with
Baba's alleged Divine Powers (Chapters 1 to 4) and it continues with
the reporting of examples of discrepancies and disturbing evidence (Chapters
5 to 7).
Baba's Claims to be an Avatar
He claims to be an Incarnation of God, with full Divine powers (principally Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence). He further claims to be the second of a series of three such incarnations whose mission is to bring peace to earth in these difficult times.
These claims are so clear, frequently voiced, and unusual (among gurus) that it is not surprising that many (perhaps most) devotees are initially attracted to him by hearing about the claims and the alleged evidence of the powers as described in the literature.
However, discrepancies are sometimes visible
in his behaviour and in his own Discourses (as reported by his Organisation).
These, along with other evidence concerning the Divine Powers, cast
doubt on the claims.
All is not as it seems.
Chapter 3 - The Packaging of Sai Baba's Discourses
How do we know what Baba really says?
Chapter 4 - Devotees' Contributions to a Myth
A totally accepting, uncritical, indulgent attitude by devotees promotes many aspects of a myth.
The hagiographical nature of devotee writing.
The role of writers and spokespersons.
Chapter 5 - Omniscience and Truth
Evidence of Fallibility
Chapter 6 - Omnipotence
Baba's use of Miracles to attract devotees. Some
Chapter 7 - The Development of the Sai Baba Mission
Observations and comments.
Appendix - More Discourse Comparisons
Additional revealing comparisons of basic and
edited versions. (See Chapter 3)
I am grateful to and totally dependent on my written and other sources of information. I have tried to acknowledge them all by brief references in the text. See the Bibliography for full details. I am particularly indebted to the pioneering investigative work of two authors: Dale Beyerstein and Erlendur Haraldsson, until recently relatively lone voices of objectivity in a literature noted for its devoted and trusting hagiography.
On a more personal level, I wish to thank my dear friends, Alexandra Nagel and Robert Priddy, for their contributions of information, suggestions and corrections, and above all for their constant encouragement, and good humour, even when my motivation faltered and I wanted to put an end to the whole painful venture.