SEX, LIES AND VIDEO TAPE IN THE SATYA SAI BABA STORY
WHEN A LUMINESCENT BALL OF LIGHT ENTERED Easwaramma while she was bathing, little did she, or Pedda Venkappa Raju, her illiterate husband, realize that the Lord had chosen her surrogate womb for His next parthenogenetic incarnation. Official literature enlightens us that the Lord's coming was anticipated long ago by Jesus and Mohammed. For those who cannot find the relevant passages in their version of the Bible or Koran, a more contemporary declaration was made by the Lord Himself. In 1918 during His earlier incarnation as the Sai Baba of Shirdi, He had revealed that eight years after leaving the Shirdi body, He would be reborn in Puttaparthi village of Andhra Pradesh, India, as Satya Sai Baba. So to fulfill of these predictions, the Lord grew in the womb of Easwaramma, "as the moon grows in the sky," and a male child was born on November 23, 1926. To mark the momentous significance of the event, musical instruments in the house played by themselves at the time of the birth: the thambura twanged melodiously , the maddela accompanied it with a soft beat, a divine fragrance pervaded the air, and a cobra, lord of reptiles, waited in attendance to protect the Lord. It is fair to assume that just as with the birth of the Buddha, elephants trumpeted in joy, peacocks danced, and the gods rejoiced.
Despite His omniscience, Satyanarayana Raju--for that was his given name--went to school where the playful display of his miraculous powers was soon recognized by all. Friends came to love him for his magically created gifts, and teachers feared his just wrath: one of them would not come unstuck from his chair, unless he begged for forgiveness and expressed remorse for ill treating the children. In 1940, at the age of 15, after torturous treatment by doctors for suspected mental illness, Satyanarayana Raju revealed His avatar-hood to the world and identified Himself as Satya Sai Baba. As He was to reveal later to his disciples, "I, the Lord, incarnated at Puttaparthi. Buddha, Christ, Mohammed and others were not avatars. They had some divine power.... My power is infinite; My Truth is inexplicable, even unfathomable. My task is the regeneration of humanity by Truth and Love." We are reassured that when the present incarnation would be over at age 96, in the year 2022, He would be reborn as Prema Sai in Mandy a district of Karnataka.
MAN OF MIRACLES
Satya Sai Baba would often say "miracles are my visiting cards"--a phrase which is also the title of a largely hearsay, cock-and-bull account of Satya Sai Baba's paranormal powers by Icelandic para-psychologist Errlelndur Haraldsson. Despite His insistence that His religious message was more important than the "tinsel" miracles He performed, the stupendous "powers" of Satya Sai Baba soon came to be known all over the world.
Based on the "most reliable information," but mistaking God for guru, the Reader's Digest book Strange Stories, Amazing Facts-II gives us this credulous account: "Sai Baba is an Indian guru blessed with extraordinary powers. He can produce gold rings and coins out of thin air, change rock into candy, and flowers into jewels. He heals the sick with the aid of vibhuti (sacred wood ash), which seems to appear from nowhere as he waves his hand. Perhaps the most astonishing display of Sai Baba's powers took place in 1953, when the blue and stiff body of Radhakrishna, which was cold, shrunken, and starting to decompose, was brought back to life by Baba. In the 50 years that Sai Baba has been demonstrating his apparently miraculous powers, no one has found any evidence of trickery."
In addition to these reports, Dr. John Hislop, American industrialist and management consultant, and also Chairman of the Central Committee of American Sai, earnestly explained how in 1971 Satya Sai Baba resurrected Walter Cowan, declared dead due to cardiac failure. The late Dr. Suri Bhagavantam, director of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, and also Baba's interpreter, narrated how once Satya Sai Baba created out of nowhere a copy of the Bhagavadgita. In a contemporary reenactment of New Testament miracles, he once converted water into petrol by dipping His finger into the water. He relieved devotees' ailments by taking them onto Himself, conducted surgeries with psychic powers, and plucked out-of-season mango fruit from tamarind trees. It is believed that Baba was responsible for repelling the Chinese army who were "invading India like locusts." Reports abounded of His bilocation (appearing in two places at the same time); and He cla ims that He never sleeps.
In what can only be described as divine disapproval of capitalist claims on property rights, by the mere waving of his hand Satya Sai Baba has also "created" and distributed trademark-protected Parker pens and Omega watches. The vibhuti (ash) He creates have been used by devotees for treating everything from terminal cancer to pimples. The irreverent skeptic is admonished: "Do not try to delve into Me; Baba is beyond the keenest intellect, the sharpest brain.... How can the limited know the depth of the unlimited? How can the ant delve into the mountain? It is beyond you to know how or why I create things...the objects that I create, I create them by My Will, the same way I created the universe. Develop faith and veneration and derive joy through Prema (love). That is the utmost you can do, do that and benefit."
THE SATYA SAI COMMUNITY
Sai Baba's exhortation to believe has found many receptive ears. Today His followers number at least two million, with growing numbers being recorded in the spiritually-impoverished West. Australian journalist and theosophist Howard Murphet and London photographer David Baily came to scoff but stayed to pray. "Noted" American psychologist Dr. Samuel Sandweiss was convinced when he was told, "I am everything, everywhere, omniscient, omnipotent, and so whatever I will, instantly happens." Dr. Hislop asked in tragically foolish wonder, "Baba has the inconceivably immense task of the Universe. How can He afford to spend time talking to people like us?" Baba reassured him: "Baba with his limitless bodies is everywhere doing the tasks...that is Baba's omnipresence. God is not subject to any limitation." Dr. Hislop was delighted at this explanation.
The combination of irrationality, gullibility, and superstition establishes a kinship which transcends cultural and national barriers. Among the miracle-mongering Satya Sai followers are top Indian political leaders and judges, Presidents and Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Mauritius, several former Greek Prime Ministers, the Spanish royal family, members of the international diplomatic corps, advocates, engineers, doctors, and common folk Perhaps because it is they who need the most spiritual advice, it is very common to see the pacific and teetotaler Satya Sai Baba in the company of power brokers, associates of international arms traders, and liquor barons. Notable among Baba's international inner circle are Giulio Andreotti, former Prime Minister of Italy and currently on trial for murder of a journalist, former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Graxi, who was sentenced to five and a half years of imprisonment for corruption, and Princess Pahlavi, sister of the former Shah of Iran, arrested i n Switzerland in 1962 for carrying heroin. India's new Prime Minister and liberal face of the Hindu right ring, Mr. Bihari Vajpayee is a devotee of Satya Sai Baba.
BEGONE SATYA SAI!
Into such a community of God-fearing people came the late Sri Lankan Dr. Abraham T. Kovoor, Asian President of the World Union of Freethinkers, and Dr. H. Narasimhaiah, India's best known rationalist and former vice chancellor of the Bangalore University, who together led a most animated critique of Satya Sai Baba.
Dr. Kovoor narrates in his book Begone Godmen! that in 1973, during a newspaper debate on Satya Sai Baba, Dr. Bhagavantam (Baba's interpreter from Telugu to English), wrote of the "awe-inspiring, wonderful experience of the Seiko watch manufacturer" who, when on a visit to Puttaparthi, was presented by Sai Baba with the very watch prototype that the manufacturer had, pending tests, kept in a safe in Japan. With this materialization, all his doubts about the divine powers of Satya Sai Baba melted away. "He fell prostrate at Sai Baba's feet and worshiped him. Since then he is an ardent devotee of the Bhagavan." Since Dr. Bhagavantam was not forthcoming with details, a suspicious Dr. Kovoor wrote to Shoji Hattori, President of Seiko Watch Company in Tokyo, to verify the facts. Mr. Hattori wrote back "I am in no way able to further your knowledge as regards the man mentioned in your letter, Mr. Sai Baba. Neither I, nor any members of my staff, have ever made the acquaintance of this individual. I am sure that th ese reports are completely unfounded." Bhagavantam remained silent when confronted with the response.
The national scandal that broke out when Dr. Kovoor released his correspondence to the press, describing Satya Sai Baba as a "sleight-of-hand" trickster and exposing one of India's brilliant scientists as a Sai Baba agent, was only surpassed by the nuclear scientist Dr. H. Narasimhaiah's crusade as Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University, when, in 1976, he appointed a 12-member official committee "to investigate rationally and scientifically miracles and any other verifiable superstitions." Dr. Narasimhaiah's committee exposed Sai Krishna, a seven-year-old child-protege of Satya Sai Baba, by pulling out the packet of vibhuti hidden in Sai Krishna's underclothes. As a result of this exposure, and fearing they themselves would be investigated, several sundry godmen immediately confessed that they did not have any miraculous powers. It was Satya Sai Baba's turn now, and the committee asked Him if He would allow them to investigate. When they visited Him, a terrified Satya Sai Baba locked Himself up in His White field residence, close to Bangalore. All He could do was spew helpless vitriol at the Narasimhaiah Committee.
AVATAR OF THE GODS
As if these resounding rationalist responses and public humiliations were not enough, in 1976 another bombshell was thrown at Him. Tal Brooke, a born-again-Christian who spent 14 months with Satya Sai Baba, wrote the book Avatar of the Night (all three thousand copies of the book released in India were purchased and destroyed!), describing Satya Sai Baba's homosexual interest in young boys. it is revealing of the submissive attitudes and lack of critical thinking in the Sai devotee that despite Sai Baba's enticement, "What is mine is yours, money, food, anything. Just ask!," Tal Brooke said to himself "Lust contradicts Baba's nature; therefore it does not exist in him. Blind faith...Baba is innocent." Tal Brooke experienced three such consummate encounters and heard numerous similar accounts of pedophilia from friends before he realized that Satya Sai Baba's nudging pelvis, pawing hands, and intimate behavior were not part of any soul-cleansing encounter.
With news of these events and later incidents, the seeds of doubt were sown in many minds. How is it that Sai Baba's own brother-in-law died of rabies? Why did Baba, Himself a psychic surgeon, have to be hospitalized for appendicitis and a broken leg? And preaching simplicity, why does He travel in Mercedes cars and require heavy protection? Why did Sai Baba have to wave his hand in circles before producing anything? Was it because of prestidigitation, as emphatically asserted by the renowned Indian stage magician P.C. Sarcar Jr. and skeptic E. Premanand?
LOAD, MISDIRECTION, DISPLAY
The most spectacular fodder for doubt for the believer was the unique birthday gift given to Satya Sai Baba by the Deccan Chronicle on November 23, 1992. This large circulation, Hyderabad-based English daily published an expose that any rationalist would cherish! Splashed on the front page were pictures from a video recording of Satya Sai Baba's "creation" of a gold necklace in the presence of the Prime Minister of India, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao.
The videotape unambiguously shows Satya Sai Baba clandestinely being passed a necklace by his personal assistant Radhakrishna Menon, which Baba later "materializes" after a wave of his hand. Filmed by a state television crew covering the Prime Minister, the cassette was suppressed. However, a copy was leaked and several copies of the cassette were distributed in India and abroad. Rationalists organized a big meeting to support and congratulate the courageous journalist Venu Kodimela (who was told that his mother's cancer was due to his act). For a long time, playing this video tape became a necessary ritual of all public skeptic meetings. It was shown on local and district cable television too.
CRIME AND KARMA--MURDERS IN THE BEDROOM
Much worse was in store when on June 6, 1993, six residents of Sai Baba's residence were murdered in his own bedroom. It is alleged that two were killed by the other four residents and the police claimed to have shot dead--in self defense--the other four, who were armed only with knives. Realizing the danger to his person, Baba ran for his life, jumping out of an open window and setting off a secret alarm, whose existence even the inner core did not know about. Interestingly, all the people killed were part of the inner circle of Sai Baba, including Radha Krishna Menon, the personal assistant who had been caught on video passing the necklace to Baba. Baba Himself spoke of the murders in His Gurupoornima lecture and dealt with the question of whether the deaths of his near and dear were unavoidable. "Birth and death go together. One should realize that death is a natural phenomenon and avoid worrying about it.... You must note that Swami's life is in His own hands and not in those of anyone else. If I will it, I can live as long as I please. Because He is the almighty, God cannot behave in any arbitrary manner. Not realizing this truth, men who are involved in worldly ways ask questions as to why in certain situations, God did not use his limitless powers to avert certain untoward events...."
The police report describing the motive for the killings was changed from an attempt to murder Baba, to internal squabbles at Prashanti Nilayam. Mysteriously, Shankar Dayal Sharma, the President of the Indian Republic, deviated from protocol and propriety and said that the murders were "all about a girl" When asked why Satya Sai Baba, the head of the institution in whose bedroom the murders took place, was not interrogated, Home Minister Chavan, who visited Sai Baba twice immediately after the incident, insisted that Sai Baba was not present at the time of the murders, further compromising the investigation. Surprisingly, Prashanti Nilayam authorities themselves filed no police complaint.
B. Premanand, a magician and former devotee of Baba and today the most important Indian Skeptic and Sai Baba-baiter, refused to accept the interference with the investigation and hauled the government into court, accusing the police of having willfully destroyed evidence. Amusingly, in the past Premanand and K.N. Balagopal, rationalist advocates in the Supreme Court of India, had dragged Satya Sai Baba into court for violation of the Gold Control Act which imposed restrictions on the "manufacture, possession, Sale and transfer of gold," since Satya Sai Baba "materialized" gold ornaments to be given to devotees. While rejecting the petition, the High Court Judge Justice Y.V. Anjaneyulu, a member of the Satya Sai inner circle, allowed the argument that an article materialized by spiritual powers cannot be said to have been manufactured, prepared, or processed. Perhaps for the first time in jurisprudence, spiritual powers were recognized as a valid defense in law!
In the present murder case, however, Premanand petitioned to the High Court in a public interest petition that the case be transferred to an impartial investigative agency so that justice might be done. The High Court dismissed the plea and Premanand was admonished by Chief Justice Mishra, who even threatened to punish him the next time he "misused" the Court with such complaints, whose intention, he said, was to defame Satya Sai Baba. In January. the Supreme Court of India expunged all the remarks made by the High Court Judge, boosting rationalist morale. Chastened by the Supreme Court of India, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh State admitted a contempt of Court petition by Premanand against the government and the police. Premanand and Satya Sai Baba had made the front pages of newspapers again. The judicial mood in India is remarkably different recently, with the Indian Supreme Court taking up an "operation clean hands," arresting several corrupt politicians and forcing the Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to arrest his favorite Godman and arms dealer-power broker Chandraswami.
THE SAI BABA EMPIRE
B. Premanand, advisor on miracle exposure to the Rationalist Association of India, member of the Indian Radical Humanist Association, and editor of Indian Skeptic, estimates the Sai empire to be worth 60,000 million rupees ($1.3 billion). Puttaparthi now has an airport and 3,000 small apartments are available for rentals to accommodate visiting cash-rich Americans, Scandinavians, Belgians, Germans, Dutch, Malaysians, and Japanese. Prashanti Nilayam itself has adequate infrastructure to feed 10,000 people at one time. To have an idea of the scale of operations, consider the fact that in 1982, the target of the Satya Sai Organization was the adoption of 6,000 villages, to "fulfill all the physical and spiritual needs of the community." There are 3,000 Satya Sai centers in India and 400 centers abroad in 85 countries. They utilize their social service activities for public relations and publicize the fact that more than 100,000 children are taught free in centers run by Sri Satya Sai Bal Vikas Trust. Union Bank of India, owned by the state, does not charge any fee for money transfer to Satya Sai Baba and the money keeps flowing.
A look into the world view of Satya Sai Baba should help clarify why His style of education must also be challenged:
At the centre (of the world), everything is liquid. Everything is melted. No temperature. Everything is liquid, like water. Gold, iron, silver all are liquid. Next there is solid. Then trees. Then human beings and animals. At the very centre is the divine. It is the support of everything. First is liquid, chemistry. Then solid, physics. Then trees, botany. Then man, the pinnacle of life. But at the centre, supporting all, is the divine. Without the divine, where is chemistry, physics, botany? Like this will be the teaching of all courses at the university
A few years ago, the Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning was declared a University by Madhuri Shah, devotee and chairperson of the University Grants Commission, on a par with the rest of India's centers of higher learning. Many well-meaning people--and there are many such among the Satya Sai Baba followers and admirers--fail to realize that philanthropy is merely an investment in the Satya Sai Baba cult and a way of evading tax. Thanks to the intellectuals and the common man's willful suspension of disbelief and critical faculties, the Satya Sai octopus has been able to spread its tentacles far and wide through the lure of miracles.…