In spite of the appearent oneness of the Sai Organisation, with its common rules and structure, in fact, it contains two essentially different parts (Indian and Overseas), which follow different Charters and Rules and Regulations.
Below we present a comparative analysis of the Charter and Rules and Regulations for Indian and Overseas parts as they are fixed in the corresponding documents. For the Indian part it is "Rules and Regulations for Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, India", published soon after 6th World Conference (1995). For the Overseas part we have used a brochure under a title "Charter of the Sathya Sai Organisation and Rules and Regulations (For Overseas Countries)". Unfortunately, the brochure is not dated. Further we will refer to them as to "Indian version" and "Overseas version" correspondingly.
It is worthy to mention here that the Charter is supposed to be an unchangeable part though Rules and Regulations can be changed from time to time. Introduction for the Indian version written by the All India President reads: "Almost after every major conference the Rules and Regulations (Manual of the Organisation) undergo modifications some major, some minor...". It is stated in the introduction that the current version is considered to be valid until next global conference and members are encouraged to send their proposals how to improve functioning of the Sai Organisation.
1. The Name of the Organisation
From the above mentioned sources it can be easily seen that the Indian and Overseas versions use different names for the Organisation: "Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations" and "Sathya Sai Organisation" correspondingly. In official documents of the Organisation we can meet other versions of the name. For example:
a) Sathya Sai Seva Organisation (an official letter of Zone IV Chairman T.Meyer);
b) Sri Sathya Sai Organisation (an official letter of International Chairman I.Shah).
It is clear that there is no agreement about the name of the Organisation though 36 years have passed since its inception in 1965 and 20 years after the Charter was granted by Bhagawan Baba in 1981.
2. Content of the Charter
It may sound strange but the texts of the Charter in the Indian and Overseas versions are different. In the Overseas version the Charter consists of the following sections (some titles are given ad hoc): (1) The Preamble, The Declaration; (2) The Code of Conduct; (3) General Principles; (4) Objectives of the Sai Organisation; (5) Activitites of the Organisation; (6) The Structure of the Organisation. In the Indian version the order and the titles of sections are as follows: (1) the Charter (it corresponds in content to the Preamble and the Declaration of the Overseas version); (2) The Code of Conduct; (3) General Principles; (4) The Structure of the Organisation; (5) Practice of Sadhana by Bhaktas; (6) Inner Significance and Objectives of Activities.
This obvious difference seems even stranger as both Indian and Overseas versions have the same opening words: "Permanent Charter granted by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba to the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation, at the Third World Conference, dated 14th day of January, in the 55th year of His Advent, Anno Domini 1981." A logical question arises: which of two texts was actually granted by Bhagawan Baba?
3. The Structure of the Organisation
Whereas in the Indian version this section describes the structure from the level of the All India President down to the centres ("samithi" in the Indian version) and groups, in the Overseas version this section describes so called the Central Organisation comprising the Central Office, the All India President and the International Chairman. According to the Overseas version it is this body that makes rules and regulations for the whole Organisation. However, it is left completely unclear what the Central Office is, its staff, tenure, etc. In the Indian version the Central Office is shown on the chart of the structure of the Organisation, but mentioned nowhere in the text. The Central Office is the only body common to both Indian and Overseas parts. Down from the All India President for the Indian part and International Chairman for the Overseas part both Indian and Overseas parts have their own structure and hierachy.
The structures of the Indian and Overseas parts differ in a respect that Indian part doesn't mention any collective bodies like Coordination Committees or Central Councils of the Overseas version. Instead of this there is a strict hierachy from top to down: centre president ("samithi convenor" in the Indian version) - state coordinator - state president - zonal coordinator/all India coordinator - all India president.
Another interesting feature of the Indian part of the Sai Organisation is existence of a special separate structure for women members. It is called Mahila Vibhag and consists only of women. Women belonging to Mahila Vibhag deal mostly with educational activities and at the same time take part in other activities of the centre (samithi). They have their own coordinators on the level of a state according to the 3 kinds of activities in the Sai Organisation (educational, devotional amd service) and report directly to a state president.
4. Office Bearers
According to the Indian version all office bearers are appointed from above. State President appoints all office bearers from the level of state down to the level of centres and groups. At the same time, according to the Overseas version from the level of centres and groups there are elections (they are called "selections" in the text) by consensus up to the level of the Chairman of the Central Council, which is appointed from above. So, starting with the Chairman of the Central Council we have office bearers who are not elected and not accountable to the lower levels of the Organisation.
Significant differences between two versions concern the tenure of office bearers and their reselection. The Indian version reads that the All India President, National and Zonal Coordinators "shall hold office during the pleasure of Bhagawan Baba". For office bearers of lower level the tenure is 2 years with further re-nomination. In the Overseas version all office bearers from the level of central coordinators down hold their offices for a period of 2 years and can be re-nominated only one more period of 2 years. It is interesting fact that the Indian version doesn't give any limitations on the consequent re-nomination of office bearers, but at the same time mentions that office bearers can't hold office in more than one unit of the Organisation or in any other religious or spiritual organisation. This is a point which is omitted in the Overseas version.
5. The Status of Members
The Rules and Regulations of the Indian and Overseas versions contain a lot of differences. For example, the membership. Below are the quotations concerning enrolment and status of the Sai Organisation members.
The Indian version: "Any person who is a spiritual aspirant, has faith in the teaching of Bhagawan Baba, and who signs a declaration that he is willing to abide by the 9-point Code of Conduct and the rules of the Organisation in force will be treated as a Member. Members who participate in the activities of the Organisation shall be treated as "Workers"."
The Overseas version: "Any person who is a spiritual aspirant, has faith in the teaching of Bhagawan Baba, and who is willing to abide by the 9-point Code of Conduct and the rules and regulations of the Organisation in force will be treated as a Member. Such of the members as are in a position to devote at least four hours a week to activities of the Organisation shall be treated as Active Workers."
6. World Conferences
World Conferences, which are held by the Sai Organisation every 5 years and considered to be most important events in the Sai Organisation life, are not mentioned at all neither in the Indian version, nor in the Overseas one. It means that those conferences cannot be legal collective bodies of the Sai Organisation and cannot pass any authoritative resolutions on behalf of the Organisation. Rather they are a sort of a forums for exchanging views and ideas. According to the Charters, the only authoritative resolutions for the Sai Organisation are directives and guidelines of the Central Organisation (the Central Office, the All India President and the International Chairman).
(1) Such significant discrepancies in the Indian and Overseas versions of the main documents of the Sai Organisation lead to the conclusion that the Sai Organisation should not be considered as a united body, but rather as two clearly distinct bodies under the common managing body.
(2) The vague structure and unclear places of both Indian and Overseas Charters and Rules and Regulations sections hardly make these documents appropriate for any legal registration.
(3) It is known that the text (texts?) of the Charter has been considered several times for possible improvements and modifications. However, it seems that the text of the Overseas version hasn't undergone any serious modifications. Even the establishment of the "youth wing" in 1997 and division of the Overseas part into zones (1999?) with subsequent introduction of the Zonal Coordinator position has not so far led to any modification of the Charter and Rules and Regulations.
(4) The leaders of the Sai Organisation often refer to Sai Baba' s words about significance of the Sai Organisation and its role in a future spiritual revival of the humanity. The Sai Organisation is expected by its members to become a model and an integral part of the human society and to exist for many centuries. ("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) However, the Sai Organisation is so strongly focused (from the point of view of its policy and ideology) on its charismatic leader, Sathya Sai Baba, that after Sai Baba leaving this physical realm, it will inevitably face a great shock and those Charters and Rules and Regulations, as they exist now, can hardly be a basis for effective and smooth functioning of the Sai Organisation.
The problematical Charter's history
- some background and comments:
The original Charter, 'granted to' the Sathya Sai Organiztion (SSO) by Sathya Sai Baba in 1981, was penned by Dr. S. Bhagavantam (famous for the possibly 'dharmic achievement' of making India's first atomic weapon) together with the ex-politician and initiator/head of the so-called Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, Mr. Indulal Shah. Sai Baba had accepted this, however, and it was printed for sale. That first brief Charter was narrowly conceived in respect of any global, inter-cultural relevance and was soon replaced with a longer version, which also evidently was soon found too problematical as a basis for organisation work internationally, being widely criticized by Westerners. It was unfortunately packaged in largely unintelligible bureaucratic language, a kind of formal or pseudo-legalistic jargon.
Around 1990, all countries were instructed to hold series of meetings to discuss the Charter and send in their comments. Several committees drawn from European countries worked on the final recommendations in 1991 at 'Mother Sai House' at Divignano near
. Bernhard Gruber of Germany, the excellent leader of the European region at that time, sent off those recommendations - but in the end not one had any real effect on the final result (again penned in its final form by the International Chairman, I. Shah, and eventually accepted by Sai Baba). The new Milan leader at that time, after the dismissal by Shah of Lucas Ralli from the office of President of the SSO in the UK , was Harry Mansbridge, who soon (apparently) resigned. He had sent in a fax with many pages of amendments gathered from UK devotees. Neither was more than a word or so of all these recommendations incorporated. That is how far democracy stretches in the SSO. UK
The Charter has gone through some small changes since then - officially dividing the SSO into two variants, one for the Eastern and one for Western hemispheres. Later the SSO was re-divided into five world zones, which allows for a certain amount of (unspecified) regional differentiation in actual practice because five different leaders presumably interpret the Charter somewhat selectively in respect of specific events according to the needs of their zones.
The Charter has repeatedly proven a stumbling block because of the requirements it prescribed, including rituals that are largely impracticable in Western countries or non-Hindu cultures. Therefore, it was - and still is -frequently ignored in practice both centrally and locally as and when leaders (or sufficient numbers of engaged ground-level members) see fit. One example of this should suffice. In Prashanthi Nilayam at the time of its world conferences, the SSO grants to any foreign visitor who happens to be staying at the ashram as a member and country delegate, even those who are merely boarding there for convenience and have never even been to a single darshan in their lives and never even find out that they are 'member delegates'. Needless to say, this is wholly contrary to the rules for membership in both Charters. It did not help matters in countries where qualification as a member is no automatic right, but requires acquaintance with the practices developed locally like active participation and other requirements for membership.
Locally, one often ignores other culturally unacceptable limits prescribed by the Charter when inappropriate (e.g. Hindu rituals, stated membership criteria, and various other rules). Such deviance from the paragraph is common to all organisations, but the degree and nature vary. It is particularly relevant in the SSO to examine certain common deviations from the rules as an expression of problems or conflicts met in social and spiritual practice.
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