Some matters concerning the Sathya Sai Organization's discrepancies of word and action

Extravagance & wasteful showpieces?
Wasteful building projects?

Importance of 'Name and fame'

Money matters or 'power and pelf'
Advertisement and publicity?
Membership - quality vs. quantity?

Brothers and sisters?

Women treated as equals?

All-inclusive love of everyone?
Not hearing or speaking ill of others?
Security & 'Abode of Supreme Peace'?

Non-discrimination of creed & religion?

Extravagance and wasteful showpieces: 

One cultural difference between many devotees from the East and the West is the attitude towards show and extravagance. It originally appealed greatly to spiritual Westerners that Sai Baba's life was an example in living without material luxuries and in an eco-friendly, non-consumerist way. His doctrine was very markedly against waste of money, time, energy and food (his ‘Ceiling on Desires’ recommendation).  His giving away of necessities to the poor and distribution of food etc. are practical aspects of this philosophy.

 It is understandable that ashram facilities for visitors have been much improved since the 1980s, considering the enormous amounts of money donors have also given for this purpose. (The price for the right to use a one-room flat with minimal furnishing for up to one month per annum (and no longer!) had reached $US 7,000.-  by 2000, plus daily rental costs while in occupancy! 

 Through the years I have learned that an appreciable number of Sai followers from Europe and the US feel that increasingly large-scale time-, energy- and money-consuming aspects of the showpiece festivities put on by the powers-that-be in these matters, such as for some of the birthday celebrations and major festivals, could well be considerably reduced. Why promulgate a programme of ‘Ceiling on Desires’ while wasting time, energy, money and food on constant festival binges?  Much material and effort goes into lengthy preparations and extensive light and flower decorations for the constant round of festivals major and minor which are popular mainly with the wider Indian public. (That these are especially welcome as holiday breaks of monotony for the very poor peasantry of the whole region, who swell the numbers greatly and also may receive free food and some even gifts of clothes etc. is certainly at least no argument against them).

Far from all members are able to reconcile this with Baba's teachings about correct use of money and the primacy of care to the poor, nor the expensive developments of the lavish marbled temple compound (the Kulwant Mantap) with its unnecessary 150-plus huge chandeliers, the very costly "Eternal Spiritual Heritage Museum" and a huge architectural hodge-podge celebrating the Sai universal mission, "Chaitanya Jyothi" reportedly costing over US$5 million, was added in 2000. Numerous other wasteful building projects have taken place, including the huge and ostentatious luxury apartment building for statesmen VIPs that is seldom in use, the Sri Kasturi Reading Room that was pulled down after a few years to make room for other projects. An ashram shopping centre built only around 1995 has been replaced recently by a much larger one. All this bad (non-prescient?) planning is also seen in the demolition of the one-time Shanthi Vedika at P.N. which became a hindrance, the permanently unoccupied luxury apartment villa built beside the Western Canteen and Roundhouses for a Princess (of Thailand?) and the demolition of the Sai Ramesh Hall at Whitefield after only a few years of use to be replaced by a more lavish structure. A very luxurious 'lingam-shaped' temple at Muddenahalli, between Puttaparthi and Bangalore, managed by the Sathya Sai Central Trust, cost over Rs. 200 million when built around 1993 on the lines of the Prashanthi Nilayam mandir, with a luxury apartment complex for Sai Baba and his entourage. He visits the adjoining school complex, but has not (yet) stayed in the apartment.

Many Indians and other Easterners – who make up the overwhelming majority of visitors to Sai Baba’s ashrams - evidently want their god-guru constantly to be surrounded by outward signs of his greatness and make great financial efforts to affect this. He condones many such efforts, according to his own explanations, solely because of the devotion and goodness of those who make them. Yet this going along with such extravagance has only encouraged more and bigger showpieces, which he also invariably accepts and certainly also seems to revel in himself. For example, silver motorised chariots, golden thrones, huge light displays, pomp-filled birthday and many other celebrations. In discourses, Sai Baba has also criticised expensive aspects of ceremonies as the ostentatious Golden Chariot at the Paduka celebrations and asked for it to be sold and the money used for service instead, but he continued to mount it yearly even after this disavowal Other wasteful projects include the expenses of laying a cricket field and other arrangements for an international cricket match in 1997 with its 20kgs. solid gold Cricket Unity Cup and solid silver trophies, excessive Las Vegas type illuminations and other showpieces at Sai Baba birthdays and many more festivals.

That teacher preaching ‘Serve All, Love All’ should use such huge funds for such publicity in Andhra Pradesh, where many live on the poverty line and clean drinking water still is extremely scarce in huge areas, is beyond serious explanation. The tasks of correction and maintenance of the incomplete and often malfunctioning super-costly ‘Water Project’ that Sai Baba caused to be installed with improper planning and undue haste (to be complete for inauguration on his own 70th birthday!), were soon shed onto the AP State authorities. Facts about the malfunctioning are known to Indian experts in water management and not least to the Central Trust, but admitted and all such problems are suppressed on their publicity website.

All in all, some of the paperwork directives from the Overseas Chairman and others calling for financial support for such projects have confronted many of us with the fact that the SSO has slid gradually further and further away from Sai Baba's teachings, especially from his insistence on the importance of quality of spiritual work and an organisation based on inner motivation, rather than one supposedly ‘run by leaders’ to achieve worldly projects.

Importance ofName and fame’:

This phrase recurs in many Sai Baba discourses in deploring those who lay any store whatever by such things. This teaching is tirelessly reiterated in various ways by Sai Baba. Contrasted to this are the countless discourses in which Sai Baba insists on the infinite divine and holy potential of his own name (always written ‘His Name’) and that he seems never to tire of speaking in the most glowing terms of the spread of his name and fame to every corner of the earth. See Sai Baba's fame. He insists that all SSO projects must bear his name as a guarantee of their success. He is very censorious to anyone who criticises him in any way and has spoken threateningly against anyone who defames his name or hinders his works in any way. See 2001 Christmas Discourse.

The Spiritual HeritageMuseum, though ostensibly to promote all religions and universal spirituality, highlights Sai Baba as its decided centrepiece - the only One Living God the Father and Holy Spirit who rules over everyone and everything. Self-publicity on such a scale (Sai Baba having supervised every detail of the project) conflicts roundly with Sai Baba’s own declarations of wishing and needing no publicity other than personal good work and of not requiring anyone to worship him. In the setting of what is called a ‘museum’, this promotional showpiece made at such expense seems remarkably out of place. The centrepiece of Sai Baba's 75th birthday - the 'Chaitanya Jyothi' building was an even more extravagant venture solely devoted to glorification of the 'living avatar'. Sai Baba thus eagerly supports all kinds of initiative and activity that go to increase what is a ‘personality cult’ focussed on himself, by any definition of the phrase.

Money matters or power and pelf’:

Sometimes added (by Sai Baba’s translators) to the phrase ‘name and fame’ is ‘power and pelf’ (‘pelf’ is an antiquated, derogatory word for ‘money’). Both are deplored tremendously, no one should ever aim for either or revel in them when possessed. Contrasted to this are almost continual descriptions of the omnipotent power of Sai Baba himself, by himself. He also occasionally points out the reach of his social power over people from many countries and classes etc. Though he speaks of the money donated to him personally as if it had nothing to do with him, he personally countersigns every cheque paid. (His nephew, when a manager of the State Bank of India in Puttaparti, actually showed my wife and I a very thick wad of cheques, through which he slowly leafed for us to see that all were countersigned by his hand in ink with the recognisable signature, ‘Sathya Sai Baba’). All who have had much personal contact with Sai Baba know that he often asks a potential donor just how much money will be given. This he did to me, as well as to friends I knew well.

Money matters are often far from being dealt with in accordance with Baba's repeated pronouncements, year after year, about never asking anyone for a penny and that the SSO shall not solicit funds, saying that where there is money, there he is absent. However, repeated fund-raisings appeals for money for the hospital were made in his journal, which is published and sold in large numbers (The English version of Sanathana Sarathi was already selling a minimum 50,000 copies per month some years ago). A direct financial appeal made through the SSO itself to all members to support the Rayalaseema water project through a highly suspicious share investment scheme was backed up by the Overseas Chairman and very active soliciting of funds by a Central Coordinator. Considerable donations are also solicited from individuals by personal approach by CCs.Increasingly to seek funds for service projects in India, new buildings and diverse other local purposes, often at the expense of projects in other countries that contribute, is not at all what Baba has previously preached. These requests for money are now made via letters from the central authorities in Sathya Sai institutions and even in announcements in the public journal Sanathana Sarathi.

In recent years, however, it has been common to have a collection box in some prominent place in centres and groups, where donations can be made - either anonymously or by name. One of numerous examples that could be documented was sent in from an Australian devotee.

Advertisement and publicity:

Sai Babas continued declarations and clear directives insist that the SSO is not to seek publicity other than through the example of the good behaviour and selfless work done by the devotees who are its members. Sai Baba has time and again insisted that any kind of self-advertising is entirely foreign to the true spirit of selfless service. He repeated this in 1999 “Sathya Sai Organization abhors campaigns and advertisements. It does not function for the sake of advertisement. It is only Love that should bind us as one. It is our service activity that will broadcast our ideals, not advertisements.” (from Sai Baba’s 1999 Yugadi Discourse).  In discourse after discourse, however, Sai Baba himself praises to the skies the various projects for which bear his name (schools, colleges, hospitals, water scheme etc.), saying that no one does one thousandth of what he does and there is nothing like his free schools & hospitals anywhere else in the world! Clearly, he follows a different ideal of publicity to what he preaches. Despite Sai Babas words, SSO leaders exert increasing pressure on members to contribute to spreading news of the SSO via the media. Yet this laudable ideal that true service of mankind is a private concern between oneself and God is not much observed. In this way Baba apparently stands only for the word and his followers for the deeds that deny the words. For example, photos of service work are sometimes called for to mount exhibitions at the ashram or travelling showpieces of the SSO’s work! In 2000, each country was instructed by the leaders of the International SSO to “take action to project awareness” of Sai Baba by organising publication of articles, special supplements in the local press, talks, shows on local TV etc., in which Sai Baba’s service activity and his contributions to society were to be prominent. See Rationalising publicity in the media

The production and large scale sale of films and videos and books about Sathya Sai service activities is undeniably also a form of publicity. In 2001, Sai Baba angrily denounced the allegations made internationally by more than a dozen independent sources about his sexual practices - and he proclaimed, ‘I am not on the Internet’ (despite his claimed Omnipresence). Nonetheless, his ashram, the Sathya Sai Central Trust and many national branches of the SSO advertise on the Internet. We find the SSO very active with his connivance at  and in other media such as the radio, e.g. a 24-hour Digital Radio Broadcasting Station on Bhagawan's 76th Birthday -- 23 Nov. 2001 in Asia, a service available through Worldspace ASIA's STAR WEST, the SSO official web site informs us. Many National and other SSO centres have their own web pages.

Another aspect of publicity made by the SSO are undue claims of achievements - or exaggerated accounts - that are sometimes made and are left uncorrected, extending baseless claims and denying corrections of inaccurate glowing accounts. This has occurred most notably with Education in Human Values claims, the failed villages project and the flawed water project.

Membership - quality vs. quantity:

It is almost a natural law that organisations tend to want to be successful, such as in increasing active membership, and not least in obtaining a good image and positive publicity. However, Sai Baba has many times declared that the SSO should always prefer quality to quantity and not work just to increase the number of members. Through the years there has been constant internal pressure to register members and their attendance, to progress by almost any means - if only on paper - from the status of a group to a Centre (which shall have at least 9 active members) and to increase the number of projects undertaken, without due regard to the quality of the work or prevailing local conditions known best to those actually doing the service work.

For example, when I was leader for the Oslo group & Norway, I once tried to correct membership figures I had sent in but which had been inflated by our ‘superior’ regional office-bearer, who was very keen to represent us as a centre, though we had only 4 members. I have repeatedly come across others from around the world (e.g. Denmark, Sweden, Venezuela, Austria, UK…), who complain of the same kind of pressures and/or inflated misrepresentation of their activities by higher coordinators. To exaggerate membership and numbers surely shows a lack of faith in Sai Baba, as if the success of his mission depended upon the SSO or the size of his following? (All SSO leaders know well that he has frequently declared that his mission cannot fail, there is no power capable of opposing it and even said that he could have the whole world at his feet if he wished, but that is not his desire). However, it is known that Sai Baba exaggerates wildly, which sets precedents to repeat and copy.

The SSO upper hierarchy is much focussed on recruitment figures, and are entirely uninterested in any statistics that show ‘de-recruitment’ (i.e. loss of members, not followers and visitors who fall away etc.). This runs contrary to the interest of most other groups, organisations etc. not only in their gains, but also their losses. Voluntary bodies (charitable organisations, idealistic non-governmental movements, political parties etc.) all naturally consider their effect on members, supporters, voters etc., for they wish to improve their attraction, advance their work and understand why people leave, are disaffected etc. Not so the SSO. The SSO relies on the simple fact that those who leave soon disperse and, not being a homogenous group or in contact with the SSO any more, will not be noticed. Another matter is what is known and discussed behind closed doors, perhaps? Repeated pronouncements from Indulal Shah and others show how it keeps on denying facts and ‘massaging’ statistics so as not to lose face, under the constant belief (or hope?) that virtually every day brings many more followers and that the entire world knows about Sai Baba! Despite this, it should be added that circulars have been sent to all centres asking them to contact all ex-members inviting them to rejoin and to increase membership by recruiting any non-organised Sai groups one can find.

Brothers and sisters?

It is interesting to observe how the CCs of the SSO use as substitutes to Mr., Mrs., or Ms. as prefixes to names of other devotees the words ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister’, as if they were formal titles (often somewhat absurdly abbreviated to Bro. when writing letters: e.g. ‘Bro. Shah’ and ‘Bro. Hira’, though so far we have not yet seen ‘Sis.’ used). However this is in direct disregard of Sai Baba’s repeated ridiculing of using the
titles 'brother' and 'sister' as a deception while not behaving fully as such. He has very pointedly remarked that, if one really acted as a brother, one would not even walk past a penniless beggar in the street without sharing all one had with him. I have seen or know of more than enough instances of behaviour by several top Sai leaders (not forgetting certain of the Indian Seva Dal) that make people feel they are hardly even far distant cousins. Indeed, who among us can claim that they can announce they are a true brother or sister of all without becoming a hypocrite? This conflict between what the guru says and the follower does invariably will have some cause.

In this case, we may note that, in the West this usage suggests the person is a monk or a nun, or at least an evangelical or other sect member. The person is seen as wishing to emphasize that he or she is religious. But these ‘titles’ have a strongly sectarian, often ‘fundamentalist’ and naive overtone that serve more to disaffect than inspire the great majority of normal adults in the West, and largely make for a laughing stock…  especially when these words are far from always matched by really brotherly and sisterly actions. So the explanation of this deviance from the guru’s advice can be an overwhelming desire to present oneself as conformist religious and a ‘good person’, to keep up sectarian morale and to cloak the negative effects of the otherwise starkly quasi-military chain of command from ‘superior’ to ‘inferior’ in which these ‘brothers and sisters’ take part. This, at least, is a sociological hypothesis to explain the social custom.

The treatment afforded to those who leave office or the SSO by many higher office bearers is to ignore them. Those who leave because they disagree with the regime, or for various other reasons (including illness), are seldom contacted again or offered any kind of help, even when they may have worked tirelessly for the SSO for years. Worse still is the way those whose faith in Sai Baba weakens or who leave due to disaffection. They are labelled as being 'disgruntled', 'having too big egos' and as 'chaff blown away by the wind'. Those who feel they must challenge Sai Baba because of evidence of illegal activities have by CCs been charged without any evidence of being guilty of the same activities themselves. This hardly accords with the constantly repeated teaching of Sai Baba demanding respect of all persons, compassion and truthfulness. See 'criticising ex-devotees'.

Women treated as equals?

During the 70th birthday celebrations, Sai Baba introduced for the first time a Ladies Day (19th November, 1995), when all spiritual functions are taken over by ladies in place of men. This is a relatively modern idea in Indian society, but not in many other parts of the world. It was remarked that the ladies have their day, but the men still have the other 364 days of the year, and there is much truth in many a word said in jest. In the SSO the influence of women is known to and recognised only by women, it certainly appears so in all respects. Ladies’ Day is made of it in ashram publicity because ladies are for once given a front place during the celebrations, but this has not noticeably altered the role of women in the SSO, or other Sai Baba institutions. This is certainly due to Sai Baba’s traditional (and often self-contradictory) view of the female as being first and last a home-maker and child-rearer.

Yet the real backbone of the SSO everywhere consists in women workers, though they hold virtually no decision-making positions in the world movement. The proportion of women devotees to men is high in all the ashrams too. However, the running of the SSO is overwhelmingly dominated by men. At conferences in India, women are relegated to inferior places in the locale. To give an example, at the World Conference in 1995, women delegates had to sit on the floor in a cramped space at the side of the hall, while the men (decidedly the minority there as always) occupied the centre of the spacious hall and male leaders sat on rows of chairs placed right in front of everyone. When ordinary delegates were at last given half an hour to voice opinions, one delegate - a Western man - brought up this matter. The International Chairman I. Shah had already absented the locale nonchalantly in full view of all directly beforehand. Sai Baba is well-known for giving the lion’s share of his attention to men, often ignoring women totally, which sets an example in concrete.

All-inclusive love of everyone?

Before long, every office-bearer is faced with dilemmas about how to deal with difficult persons who visit group meetings and centres. From discussions at international meetings it is evident that this occurs all the time in all countries. It is not surprising that Sai Baba is approached through the SSO by many who are suffering from incurable illnesses, chronic health problems, psychic problems, and – because of the massive publicity about incredible miracles etc. – people with a poor grip on reality, warped or delusional ideas about spirituality and religion as well as persons who feel they should run things, decide over others, receive privileges because they believe they can heal people or convey wisdom from Sai Baba as mediums or by other esoteric means.

This fact has led to a range of different (informal) restrictive practices – not formulated in the rules - to handle such persons. Regional committees issue advice and sometime requirements in such cases. Membership is often denied to those who fail to conform to various requirements over and above those stated in the Charter(s), such as following a long course for aspirants, partaking in regular group service activities and so forth. Serious critics of Sai Baba are mostly soon made unwelcome by a number of means, including ostracism and even physical exclusion from meetings. Unruly and ill-behaved persons - or those who persistently challenge in argument SSO groups or their leaders - are treated likewise, just as people are who overstep the fairly narrow behavioural limits at Sai Baba ashrams. However necessary this may seem to the running of a group, it remains a kind of exclusivity which, by Baba’s strict requirements, is seen as going against the all-inclusive love and respect of others he calls for… and this leads to various conflicting ideas and feelings among members and office-bearers, and is in our experience especially disturbing to infrequent guests and visitors to centres. Such human issues arise and are often dealt with similarly in society elsewhere, but then the SSO lays claim to having a much higher standard of love, compassion, and tolerance.

The SSO shall not take part in joint service projects with any other humanitarian or spiritual organisation, according to Sai Baba's own amendment to the resolutions of the VI World Conference, 1995. Moreover there is an unwritten policy in the SSO not to take part in any spiritual meetings and forums where Sai Baba could be presented as one among others. Likewise, circulars from the Central Office have now and again instructed that other gurus or leaders of different spiritual organisations may not to be invited to speak at SSO meetings. No genuine interfaith dialogue exists within the SSO. The expectation that people should be led to recognise Sai Baba as God is too prevalent among members, from whom this belief is required as the No. 1 article of faith.

Not hearing or speaking ill of others: 

A typical dilemma caused by conflicting ‘norms’ is that between the common expectation to follow Baba’s teaching about not speaking ill of anyone versus the expectation from strong believers within the Sai movement and SSO that leaders should refute all allegations against it or Sai Baba and to defame critics. Such persons are repeatedly referred to in Sai circles and the SSO as ‘having too big egos’, ‘bad men’ (a term Baba often uses in interviews), ‘disgruntled persons jealous of others and/or Baba’s achievements’ and, more recently, ‘representing vested interests’. Even when known to be groundless, these pseudo-explanations are virtually a part of the Sai liturgy and are used almost as if they were protective mantras. Their function, in branding others, is indeed to protect devotees from knowing why other devotees can even consider ‘leaving God’ or from finding out the reasons for their disaffection.

A number of derogatory and disrespectful statements were made by various CCs in internal printed circular letters and to the press in some countries against a considerable number of admittedly serious criticisms of Sai Baba since 1999. Various SSO office-bearers stigmatised ex-devotees out of hand as ‘sick’ and worse, themselves having made no contact with these persons, nor being willing to investigate the facts reported in their public testimonies. Sai Baba’s published words in his Christmas discourse of 2001 leave no shred of doubt that even mentioning these allegations is forbidden. This soon led to the dismissal of  at least one high office-bearer. (see S. Badaev’s testimony) All defamatory words against critics were a definitive break with the whole letter and spirit of Sai Baba’s repeated teachings.

Security in the ‘Abode of Supreme Peace’?  

Sathya Sai has many times proclaimed that no one and nothing can harm him. He named his ashram Prashanthi Nilayam (which means ‘The Abode of Supreme Peace’). In numerous books blessed by Baba it is stated that visitors to Prashanthi are under the protection of Sai Baba, no harm can befall them etc. SSO encourages its members to visit Sai Baba ashrams, often arranging group visits and making their travel arrangements. The information given in advance to newcomers is, in all permitted literature and in talks given about conditions there is seriously lacking in frankness as to certain dangers that can be met, even within the ashrams. All information about deaths therein, murders, suicides, fatal accidents and other major untoward incidents is suppressed. Those who have found out, usually by chance or private contacts about such events, have had to rationalise hard to sustain belief in all that Sai Baba promises about his protection and with his much-publicised motto ‘Why fear when I am here?’ Serious discussion of these facts is taboo in the SSO. The conflict of belief and reality, and of word and action in this raises many questions that are quashed by issuing spiritual directives on how it is best to mind one’s own business, examine oneself instead etc. The attitude one is supposed to take is that, if Sai Baba allowed an event to happen in his ashrams (or nearby or even anywhere in the world!), it must be for the best… be it contagious illness, injury, sudden death, murder, cover-up etc. What appears harmful to us, it is repeatedly told, must be in accordance with the All-Good, All-Knowing Divine Will of Sai Baba. It is just that we don’t understand anything of it!

Since the much-publicised murders of six persons in Sai Baba’s rooms in June 1993, which were impossible to keep under cover, the security arrangements at Prashanthi have been very much increased. All can see the armed security personnel provided by the Indian authorities and the metal-detectors one must go through to each darshan or gathering in the proximity of Sai Baba. All can see the new apartment of Baba, but only from a considerable distance due to 24-hour guarding of all approaches to it. By 1996, I was informed by V.K. Narasimhan that the ashram itself was spending Rs.100,000 per month for plain clothes security men, trained in commando techniques, who mingle with the devotees. This was ostensibly for the benefit of visiting devotees as well as for Sai Baba himself, who lives in what Narasimhan characterised as a fortress-like apartment with an unclimbable overhanging balcony and access only by internal lift, which is locked at night. On top of this comes a constant guard of 500 unpaid male volunteers for the Seva Dal - also to partake in surveillance work. Many of them carry out security duties throughout the ashrams on a 1 or 2 week basis, coming from all over India for the period during which they often do guard duties for 12 hours of each day. A very costly and massive array of Black Beret commandos take over at functions which the P.M. and President of India attend, often causing crowd crushes, such as at the bi-decennial birthday celebrations (i.e. 65th, 70th etc,)

Bomb threats received by the ashrams are never made known (except by independent sources in the press), and devotees are left in the belief that there are no threats of such dangers. A bomb threat from Tamil Eelam were received prior to the 75th birthday, which was quietly reduced in size by the ashram authorities without giving the reason as reported in the Indian press.

Universality, non-discrimination as to creed or religion: 

Perhaps the most serious and deep-lying conflict between Sai Baba’s teachings and SSO activities (being based on recommendations in the Charter) is rooted in its traditional Hindu-orientation in methods of worship, the forms commonly worshipped (mostly) and the insistence on the nature of Sai Baba as being God Himself, the Avatar of the Age. At least one picture of Sai Baba is invariably the centrepiece of all meetings of worship in SSO groups and Centres, as it is at all the ashrams and Sai Baba temples in India. Many centres have a highly-decorated empty chair in a prominent place, sometimes with an orange robe from Sai Baba spread on it.

Though Sai Baba says he accepts Islam as an essentially true faith, and would not exclude Muslims, Islam itself rejects out of hand the possibility of an avatar of God as it is preached by Sai Baba. Thus, the first requirement of the SSO to have faith in Sai Baba automatically denies believing Muslims of almost all Islamic sects (bar some Sufi-Muslims) from being members. Sai Baba claims to be the one whom all prayers actually reach, to whichever divine form of god, deity or saint they may be addressed. He has referred to himself as “all gods rolled into one” and claims to be the one and only ‘full’ incarnation of God in this entire ‘Kali’ or Dark Era of thousands of years (along with his previous form, Shirdi Sai, and his coming form, Prema Sai). He does not insist that everyone accept this, but in practice the SSO virtually requires it

As soon as Sai Baba is set up by devotees in public as the supreme teacher whom all should follow, it becomes a divisive social and political idea. To hold that Sai Baba is the only existing divinity - as so many Sai followers do even after decades of listening to his denials of this in discourses - is about as exclusive of other faiths and as misguided as all those Christians who wrongly insist that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ and that all others are misguided, even calling them 'unredeemed', 'lost souls' and so on. Further, a number of central pronouncements of Sai Baba about Jesus go firmly against the teachings of both mainstream Catholicism, Protestantism, Baptism and of dozens of other Christian sects. See Brian Steel's analyses. In trying to bridge this gaping gap, the Catholic priest, Mario Mazzoleni, conducted services which combined Christian mass/communion with the use of Sai Baba’s ‘holy ash’ (vibhuti), singing of both Sanscrit bhajans and Christian hymns etc. He was formally excommunicated from the Catholic Church as a result of his belief in Sai Baba. This shows, however, that lack of openness to other faiths is similar in the SSO to that in the Catholic Church, while 'excommunication' by the SSO is without any due process, as in the Catholic Church.

Sai baba has said a great many negative and often very condemnatory things about almost all other swamis, gurus, yoga teachers and virtually all spiritual teachers who are active nowadays,though without naming names in public discourses, at least. This he sometimes does in private interviews, however, against various well-known contemporary spiritual figures (Rajneesh, Mahesh Yogi and others) according to the personal experiences of several of my different reliable informants. Baba’s denigration of most other swamis course experienced as exclusion by those who still revere persons who hold spiritual or religious beliefs that differ more or less from those taught by Sai Baba. Many who visit Sai Baba meetings who are already followers of other teachers, dead or alive (for example, Buddhists) are naturally very soon put off by this. Interestingly, he has never condemned the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, the Ayatollah, or heads of other major religions, nor has he ever mentioned any of them in discourses to my knowledge. And nor have they ever mentioned him! However, he is quite adamant that one shall not only have only one God, but only one guru, Sai Baba! One is supposed to be ‘one-pointedly’ focussed on one’s chosen preceptor, otherwise to go somewhere else. Circular instructions are now and again sent quoting Sai Baba that no other spiritual teachers, swamis, or gurus of any kind should be invited to speak at any Sai Baba meetings. The SSO must keep clear as much as possible of other religious organisations and should carry out service preferably only under the name of Sai Baba.

All these views and practices are extremely hard really to reconcile with the claim to universal spirituality that is central to hundreds of Sai Baba’s discourses. This exclusivity is an ever-recurring theme in informal conversations of many followers and not least visitors to the SSO activities, and is also discussed regularly at regional meetings for coordinators.

The level of ‘morals’ preached by Sai Baba – so puritanical and pietistic as to be evidently largely unattainable by anyone - raise expectations among believers to themselves and towards others that are bound to lead to constant disappointments in actual experience. The above-noted discrepancies between word and word - and word and action – have to be accepted either as being beyond all mere human understanding, or as ‘tests of faith’ set by the all-knowing sadguru (i.e. true spiritual master) to see of what mettle the aspirant is made (i.e. whether there is blind faith or not). These expectations are apparently somehow often kept alive by sheer willpower and sheer hope, despite continual disillusionments. Sai Baba has repeatedly said before crowds at major festivals that he cannot see one true devotee among them. He has said, for example, “Where is the devotee to be found who is pure in thought, word and deed.  God is searching for such a devotee.” (Sathya Sai Speaks 1990s ed. Vol. 28, p .14)  This creates a virtual ‘no-win situation’ where those who get few blessings from Baba are probably kept striving and in line.

Newcomers to SSO groups/centres and first-time visitors to the ashrams, who have been led in advance to believe that they are entering the company of virtual budding saints, are thrown into confusion when they learn the hard way that there is little peace and quiet, but plenty of jockeying, pushing and struggling for places at darshan, in the canteen queues and mad rushes for best places at events. In this situation, leaders cannot change the facts, so they have to set about changing the ideas of those who are upset by explaining how all is Swami’s will, all is a spiritual lesson etc. Leaders are themselves faced with many dilemmas of this kind… whether to be frank and truthful about ‘unpleasant’ facts or the many anomalies that arise, or whether to dissemble in some way, avoid answering, ignore pleas for help etc. To speak up is to break faith with the codes of the ‘chain of command’ and the pledge of unquestioning faith in whatever Sai Baba says and does.

To my knowledge, only a few office-bearers in the SSO have spoken frankly in bringing up at conferences weaknesses and problems of the kind known to most grass roots members, and if they persist, they are treated as heretics. Most of the above problems should have been at least dealt with and attempted solved internally by the SSO. As already remarked, in the UK alone, at least two Central Coordinators originally nominated by Baba himself (and possibly a third also), both extremely dedicated and decent people, have been relieved of their offices and then ignored completely for attempting such things.

All this creates a considerable ‘role-conflict’ for office-bearers, especially in the lower echelons who are in direct contact with a wide range of interested non-devotees. It affects, though more indirectly, those NCs and CCs who try to get groups and Centres to conform to restrictions despite the feelings, understanding and opinions of less passive and self-confident members and other participants.

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