Divine Tool or Side Effect?

by Serguei Badaev - December 2001

In the last two years, a lot of critical publications have appeared in media and on the Internet concerning a famous Indian Guru Sathya Sai Baba. Mostly criticism has been aimed at Sai Baba personally and regarded to the Sathya Sai Organisation (S.S.O.) just indirectly. The matter of relationships between Sathya Sai Baba and The S.S.O. is not as simple as it may look for the first glance. The analysis of these relationships may help to understand some strange and incomprehensible things in regard to Sai Baba and his organisation.

Who may this matter concern? For those ex-devotees, who do not want to hear anything about their former guru, the matter of his organisation is absolutely without concern. For those devotees, who are completely focused on their personal relations with Sathya Sai Baba as their Master or Avatar, the S.O. as an earthly structure does not attract much attention as well as the rest world of Maya. However, for those people, both devotees and ex-devotees, who with open mind and sincere attitude have been trying to understand what is going on and find some sensible explanations of many unbelievable facts, this analysis this analysis of Sai Baba and the S.S.O. relationships will allow, we hope, to get some new visions and insights.

One can formulate two principle concepts about the relationship between Sathya Sai Baba and his Organization:-
(A) The S.S.O. was established by Sathya Sai Baba himself and is his most important instrument in fulfillment of his mission, restoration of Dharma, or Righteousness on Earth. Sai Baba guides and inspires every move in the S.S.O. and thoroughly controls its activities.
(B) The S.S.O. was established by devotees as their own initiative. Sai Baba did not object and gave his name to it. However, the S.S.O. does not play any essential role in Sai Baba's proclaimed mission, as he works with every person individually. He usually does not interfere with the S.S.O. activities.
For the convenience of further discussion we would term them as the concept of a "divine tool" and the concept of a "side effect" correspondingly. This article deals with the arguments which can be viewed as supporting both of these concepts.

As the S.S.O. is to a great extent a closed organisation with a strict information exchange control and censorship, we have used officially published materials and books comparing and contrasting separate facts and quotations. Many points under discussion are stated as working hypothesis and suppositions because of lack of reliable information. We hope that this article will attract the researchers' attention to this topic and this will result in more detailed analysis of the Sai org. activities and its relationships with Sathya Sai Baba. This in turn might clarify lots of misunderstanding and many controversies in this matter.

(1) Spiritual or Service Organisation.
It seems that among Sathya Sai Baba's followers there are no agreement in regard to the point if the S.S.O. is a spiritual organisation or a service one. This can be seen even in a fact that an official name of the organisation sometimes contains a term "Seva" that means "service" (e.g. Sathya Sai Seva Organisation), and sometimes it does not contain it (e.g. Sathya Sai Organisation). It is interesting to note that this question was raised in the interview of J. Hislop, the leader of the American S.S.O., with Sai Baba on 22nd Octobber 1984.

Hislop: During the course of the next ten years is the American Sai Organisation to remain a Spiritual Organisation or is it to change its mode of life so as to become primarily a Seva Organisation?
Sai: The Organisation is to continue to be a Spiritual Organisation with some changes, but not major changes. Devotion to God: the purifying of mind and heart, by sacrificing to God all ego tendencies, is to be the purpose and the practice of the Sai devotees in the Sai Organisation. (interview of 22.10.1984. J.Hislop. Conversations with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. SSSB&PT, p.214)

At the same time service has been a main topic when Sathya Sai Baba addresses his Indian followers. Perhaps this discrepancy is due to different economic conditions of India and the U.S.A.

(2) Sathya Sai Baba criticises the S.O.
The concept that the S.S.O. is a sort of side effect of Sathya Sai Baba's mission finds its justification for many his devotees in a fact that the S.S.O. work often shows bad management and lack of cooperation, and its leaders are far from being the examples of those human values which are preached by Sai Baba. Despite the fact, that Sai Baba often reminds his devotees not to criticise anyone, in his discourses we can find a lot of critical remarks addressing to his organisation and supporting this concept. These remarks concern with understanding of the goals and objectives of the S.S.O., qualities of its leaders and ordinary members, and the work of the S.S.O. as a whole. We have selected some of them to illustrate this point.

I must say plainly that ninety out of a hundred among you have not clearly visualised the purpose for which I have allowed you to form these Organisations. (21.11.1968. Sathya Sai Speaks Vol.VIII, p.230)

Of what benefit is this discourse of Mine if you do not receive it into your hearts and act according to it? I find that all these years to awaken you to your duty to yourselves are not fructifying in you. You are like the rocks on the seashore that unflinchingly face the beating of the waves. (18.08.1968. Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol. VIII, p.159)

This Organisation has spread far and wide, but I must say that it is drifted away from the purpose for which it was started. It has not resulted in the least benefit. (20.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. X, p.195)

I am not interested or elated when this or that District claims to have a larger number of Units of this Organisation than the other one. I am interested in the work, in the loving heart, in the selfless service. There are Units that exist only in name! There are others that function in ways quite contrary to our purposes and ideals! Instead of allowing these to continue, it is best they are wound up, immediately. Better to have two or three that function well than hundreds that function badly or not at all. (20.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. X, p.200)

From now, the usual practice of meeting once a year in Conference, passing a few resolutions with great furore, and casting them aside that very day, will not be of any avail. Only those units of the Organisation are authentic, wherein the office-bearers practise and experience spiritual Ananda through adherence to the lines laid down here. The rest are mere nominal; they burden lists with their names, and should be immediately removed. (22.12.1971. Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. XI, p.227)

Though we have been laying down many rules, and restrictions and guidelines during the last five years for the proper working of the Units, and emphasising their importance, they have been more misused than made-use-of for the betterment of the Organisation. As a result of misuse, you find yourselves helpless in cleansing the blemishes in your minds and eradicating the evils rampant in society. ( ... ) This has made you forget the very purpose of your existence, as well as of the Organisation, which has been established to help you. (23.12.1971. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XI, p.230)

Sai has resolved to transform the individual and society by promoting this mutual regeneration, by the action of one on the other; hence, the formation of this Organisation, and the establishment of its Units in all countries, for the sublimation of the human into the Divine. I have however to tell you that the units of this Organisation have not advanced much in the task that is expected. (4.01.1974. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XII, p.127)

Do not allow even a trace of ego, pomp, or cruelty to pollute your actions. Peace and prosperity can dawn on the world only when you move in society with love that is free from the taint of selfishness. The question may be raised whether our Organisations are free from this taint? They are not without it, for you are but human. But you should endeavour ceaselessly to get rid of it and its attendant evils. (19.11.1980. Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. XIV, p.347)

We have in our organisation, State Presidents, District Presidents, State Convenors, etc., but these positions should not be used for enthroning oneself and exercising authority. They are allotted to people so that they can be examples, through their own lives, of seva sadhana. But some State Presidents are too proud to share in seva activities! Leaders must lead; they should not push from behind. (21.11.1981. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XV, p.170)

The setting up of Sai Centres is not an exercise in numbers. The emphasis should be on quality and not quantity. The International President and the National President of our organisation have mentioned how the Samasthalu (centres) have grown. But has Samathvam (fellow-feeling) grown to the same extent? Fellow-feeling should grow. On the contrary, divisiveness is growing. I want quality, not quantity. (18.11.1995. Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. XXVIII, p.309)

The quotations presented above refer to the period from 1965 to 1995 and demonstrate that the S.S.O. development was not smooth at all. Some of Sathya Sai Baba's remarks suggest that those relationships between him and the S.S.O. some times suffered a great tension and even they might be on the threshold of break.

"I wish that all of you conduct yourselves as elder and younger brothers and make the Sai Organisation as a model for the world. I have no connection whatsoever with the organisation. You have to work for yourselves. If you have Ananda, I partake of that Ananda." (21.11.1987. Sanathana Sarathi, Dec.1987, p. 324)

It is worthy to note that in 1987 the Sathya Sai Organization survived the dissolution of the World Council, that time apparently a supreme body of the Sai Organisation.

(3) Sathya Sai Baba praises the Sathya Sai Organization.
Alongside with the criticism in Sai Baba's discourses we can find praises and compliments in the address of the S.S.O.: high quality of its work, unity of its members, love and harmony in their relationships. Surprisingly, they are often the qualities opposing the ones that were severely criticised by Sai Baba previously and so, it creates an absolutely different image of the S.S.O. It may even create a feeling that we deal with two completely different organisations.

The Sai Organisation is set up to develop and foster Love; it is not set up through compulsion; it arose from the heart and it expands the heart. The inner desire to achieve Love and expand Love has taken outer shape as this Organisation. (21.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks v. X, p.203)

This Organisation does not attach value to the likes and dislikes of any office-bearer. It is based on devotion and faith only. (21.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks v. X, p.206)

Remember also that the development of this Organisation will bring Peace and Tranquility to the world torn by chaos. (21.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks v. X, p.209)

From ancient times, the Upanishathic prayer said: "May He protect US all; may He nourish US all." The spirit of oneness proclaimed in these manthras (sacred formulae) is operative today only in the Sathya Sai Organisation. (22.11. 1980. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XIV, p.359)

Moreover, there are organisations in which the young and the old render different types of social service. But, only in the Sathya Sai Organisations can you find all the people rendering service in a completely selfless spirit. <...> Politicians talk about "Service to man is Service to God." But only members of the Sathya Sai Organisation actually live up to this slogan. (22.11. 1980. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XIV, p.360)

All of you should take a vow continually to develop the Seva Organisations. Let all join in the activities. <...> Never give up the organisation. Regard it as the breath of your life. (24.11.1990. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XXIII p.304)

It can be asserted as a fact that only in the Sathya Sai Organisations is service rendered without any feeling of egoism. If today lakhs of people are gathered here and are putting up with various inconveniences and difficulties, it is indeed a great penance they are doing. This sense of oneness cannot be seen in any other organisation. Only the Sathya Sai Organisations have such oneness. You see here people belonging to many countries, professing many faiths, speaking various languages, behaving like brothers and sisters and experiencing the bliss of being here. This is possible only for those belonging to the Sathya Sai Organisations. (19.11.1990. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XXIII, p.261)

To the extent possible, take part in the work of Sai Organisations. Today there is no nobler work in the world. I shall not speak about the numerous other organisations in the world. But the purity that obtains in the Sai Organisations cannot be found anywhere else. (24.10.1993. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XXVI, p.382)

Taking into account the criticism on the Sathya Sai Organisation presented in the previous section these compliments seem rather being exaggerated and consider desirable as real. We would like to emphasize the point that dealing with quotations only we inevitably place our analysis out of actual historical context where the events occurred. But up to now it seems to be the only way for more or less objective analysis of the S.O. history.

(4) Sathya Sai Baba takes part in the Sai Organization activities.
Although Sai Baba does not hold any office in the S.S.O. (in contrast with The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, where he apparently has a right to sign the financial documents), he is considered as its spiritual leader. It is difficult to understand how actively Sai Baba takes part in the affairs of the S.S.O. nowadays, especially taking into account its size and international character. In 1997 according to the official data the S.S.O. consisted of 5000 centres and groups in India and 1800 centres and groups overseas in 145 countries. Surprisingly, it is in contradiction with Sai Baba's statement that in 1976 there were 7000 centres in 42 countries of the world. (14.11.1976 Sathya Sai Speaks v. XIII, p.150).
It seems that at the early days of the S.S.O. Sai Baba's participation in its work was rather active. For example, J. Hislop, the leader of the American S.O., and Sai Baba had a very active correspondence where Hislop informed Sai Baba about all the details of the S.S.O. development in the U.S.A. This busy correspondence even confused Hislop because he could not realise why the omniscient Avatar needed to know all the details which he was to know according to his all knowing status.
Another example of an active participation in the S.S.O. activities is Sai Baba's work during the Conference of office-bearers of Andhra Pradesh state in India in 1968.

In order to focus your attention on some major problems and to conserve time, I am placing before you four items for discussion at this Conference. I want that, immediately after the close of this session, you should meet district-wise and forge a common report on these points and submit them to Me before noon. (21.11.1968. Sathya Sai Speaks v. VIII, p.230)

I was perusing the reports you gave Me on the points I had placed for your consideration. I must say that your suggestions regarding the raising of funds were uniformly bad. (21.11.1968. Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. VIII, p.236)

The next example demonstrates that Sathya Sai Baba, despite of the proclaimed omniscience (i.e. knowing everything), sounds very worried because of the lack of information about what is going on in the S.S.O. It is worthy to note that he mentions the flow of information only upward direction that is up to now the characteristic feature of the S.S.O.

Another important matter: the Organisation is not yet organised effectively! Reports of activities from the units do not reach the Samithi, the Samithi are not reporting to the district president and they in turn fail to inform the state presidents, who are unable to present a full picture of the activities of the state to Me. The flow of information from below and of instruction and inspiration from above must be unbroken and steady. (23.12.1971. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XI, p.237)

Of the facts of more recent time we can mention those changes that were introduced by Sai Baba personally into the decisions and recommendations of the VI World Conference of the S.S.O. in 1995. One of the principle resolutions of that Conference was formulated as follows (Clause 4 under the caption "Service", p.11):

The Sai Organisation should take the lead in involving the community in service programmes for the needy. In this respect they should take the initiative in bringing religious and service organisations together under SAI leadership to work together for the common good of society. This will help expand service activities to serve a greater number of the needy and also foster unity of faiths and bring about a greater understanding of Bhagavan Baba's message and teachings to mankind.

Next day after the resolutions were adopted by the Conference, they were presented to Sai Baba. He gave some directions which were included in the decisions and recommendations as the agenda and were distributed throughout the S.S.O. with a separate letter. One of the directives was following:
The Sri Sathya Sai Organisation should not take help of any other religious or spiritual organisation in conducting the activities of the Sai Organisation. In view of this, Clause '4' under the caption 'SERVICE' on page 11 of the Decision and Recommendations should be deleted.

(5) Sai Baba about the significance and the future of the S.O.
There are some witnesses that lead to the conclusion that Sai Baba attaches, or at least attached, great importance to the S.S.O. Here are the words of J. Hislop who was a leader of the American S.S.O. for many years until the beginning of 1990's.

I was talking to Swami one time and I said, "Swami, in America, there are probably not more than a thousand or fifteen hundred members who have actually signed the register that they wish to be Sai devotees and follow the instructions of Sai. On the other hand, there are, at least, one hundred thousand or more people in America who read what You write, read Your discourses, learn about You, but they do not join the Centers. Why not just discontinue the Centers, Swami? Let us finish with them; they are too much trouble and they are not important."
Swami said: "Hislop, My Centers are of tremendous importance to Me. Were it not for My Centers, the world would be in a dreadful condition now. Only because of My Centers is the world not in a disastrous condition." So that means, the Sai Organization is an instrument of Swami's in a way that we do not comprehend. (J.Hislop. Seeking Divinity. SSSB&PT, p.160.)

Next quotation tells us that Sai Baba expected a great expansion of theS. S.O. in India.

Sai Service Organisations must grow in numbers and cover the entire country. Only then the country will enter on an era of prosperity. (19.11.1990. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XXIII, p.262)

After all the S.O. is considered by Sathya Sai Baba as an establishment of the world scale, which will influence the future of the whole mankind.
"The whole world itself will be transformed into Sathya Sai Organisation and Sathya Sai will be installed in the hearts of one and all." (20.11.1998, Sanathana Sarathi v.42, #1, p.21)

In order to keep constant contact with the expanding number of groups and centers of his organisation Sathya Sai Baba even planned to use such extraordinary means of transportation for rural India as a helicopter. Such an intensive travelling activity seems rather unusual way of behaviour for a traditional spiritual guru in India. Below there is a part of a published letter of Sai Baba to J.Hislop.
Hislop! Receive my Blessings
I have received the two letters from you. I have noted what you have written. You have taken a lot of trouble regarding the helicopter and gathered a number of details about it. The number of Sathya Sai organisations has grown in this country. I have to travel by car to visit these organisations and such journeys are not very convenient besides taking a lot of time. I therefore propose to dispose of the 3 or 4 cars I have and get a helicopter.
Travel by service planes is also inconvenient. Recently the Government have imposed rigid rules and passengers are closely checked. Besides crowds gather at every air-port. I feel a helicopter is better in every respect for my journeys. I can visit a large number of Sathya Sai organisations, more quickly and with less inconvenience to every one and thus satisfy thousands of devotees.
(letter of 27.05.1971, J.Hislop. My Baba and I. p.244)

Another story which is given below, however odd it may sound, also may be connected with Sathya Sai Baba's plans to use modern means of transportation to contact his organisation.
She told Sharon about all the negative stories concerning Sai Baba on the Internet and how her husband, who was an intimate friend of Iris and Howard Murphet, had been asked by Sai Baba to go back to the USA to study and get all the necessary credentials and experience to be Baba's personal airplane pilot. This came as a shock to the young man, who at the time was thinking about becoming an accountant. But because this was a direct request from God Almighty, the young man spent thousands of dollars and for 10 years invested all his energies and money into becoming qualified to be the personal airplane pilot for Sai Baba.
When he returned to India, he was on the front line trying to tell Sathya Sai Baba that he had done what Sai Baba had requested and that he was now returning to be his pilot. After completely ignoring him, the day finally arrived when he stood up and waved all of his credentials at Baba and then came the incredulous words from Baba's mouth......."WHAT CAN I SAY?.............NO PLANE!"
(, section "Articles", "Sharon Purcell relates her story after 32 years" by Glen Meloy)

(6) Sathya Sai Baba runs service projects independent on the S.S.O.
It is an interesting fact that all the major charity projects in India connected with the name of Sai Baba, such as water supply project in Andhra Pradesh state, free of charge super-hospitals in Puttaparthi and near Bangalore, free colleges in Whitefield and Anantapur, free Institute of Higher Learning (deemed University) in Puttaparthi, - all these projects are not the projects of the S.S.O. (For example, in a booklet about the water supply project it is stated that this project is a joint venture of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, The Government of the Andhra Pradesh state and the company Larsen & Tubro Limited). These projects are conducted under a personal control of Sai Baba. Though some members of the S.S.O. can take part in these projects (for example, as volunteers in hospitals), in general the S.S.O. have never taken part directly in the fulfillment of these projects. These projects are financed from special trusts (Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, Sathya Sai Medical Trust, Sathya Sai Education Trust), which accumulate donations from all over the world. It is extremely difficult to obtain any information about these trusts. They do not publish any statistical data about their activity and are not accountable to any body or board in Sai Movement.
The only large service project aimed at the development of Indian villages was launched by the S.S.O. in 1982 as a direct instruction from Sai Baba.

On this birthday I have only one desire. I am desiring this only to promote your ananda. You are planning programmes for the coming 60th Birthday. Even before the 60th Birthday, you must adopt at least 6000 villages and improve them through proper means into ideal villages. (23.11.1982. SSS XV, p.310)

As the information about this project can hardly be found anywhere and few members of the S.S.O. have ever heard about it, we assume that this project most probably ceased its existence.
The only exclusion might be the work in the field of education in India and to some extent abroad that is run by the S.S.O. and only in rare occasions by outsider. Unfortunately, any reliable statistical data about this activity can also be found nowhere.

1) Print this Page       2)  Use right click here - then 'Open page in new window' to translate

Back to overview of Badaev's articles