Thoughts on the BBC Documentary ‘Secret Swami’

by Reidun Priddy

At last we got to see the BBC documentary  Secret Swami about Sai Baba of Puttaparthi. It was very gratifying that they had managed to record on film what the leader of the Sai Org. was like when he was not performing for the camera or an audience. The reaction of the former home minister of the Indian government showed an attitude which I find typical also of many of SSB’s ashram officials. Right up there on their high horse looking down on everyone, especially on women who don’t automatically cringe before them.

I had read the transcript of the documentary before I saw it, so I thought I knew what it would be like, but here was indeed a strong demonstration of how pictures can say more than thousands of words. Seeing it made a deep impression on me, not least the well known images and sounds from the ashram, which used to be a source of spiritual inspiration to me and dear to my heart, but which is now quite the opposite. And what a shocking state SSB was in during the Shivaratri celebration. Contrary to the fuzzy video published by SSB officials, these images were crystal clear and there was nothing spiritual at all about SSB’s appearance, with water and spittle drooling down his chin in between puking. He drank water which he then gulped up, quite clearly water - no liquid gold there! (Anyway, how hot would that have been?) Then he fumbled about and brought out the golden ‘lingam’ from the towel and then he had to be carried out. The whole scene was disgusting. Pitiful to see, but for the fact that this man lies to, cheats, and abuses his devotees while pretending to be divine love incarnate who can do nothing wrong.

Sai Baba and his devotees have through the years explained away his illnesses in different ways, the classic one being that he takes on the sufferings of his devotees. Why would he take on permanent sufferings just as he grows old?  To anyone with a normally functioning mind it is obvious that he now suffers from the effects of old age and increasing sickness with it, just like so many others do. I don’t suppose he boasts about his good health and happiness anymore like he often used to, saying it was due to his being completely pure and unselfish unlike all of us with our illnesses caused by our impurities, selfish desires and all sorts of shortcomings compared to his divine self! He certainly looked far from happy.

There are friends and acquaintances who would like to see our copy of this documentary, and I, like I have done before, rather cringe when I think of letting my friends see how I was duped by this man and everything around him. Knowing this feeling, I want to express my admiration for those who have come forth as victims of SSB’s sex abuse. I am so grateful for what they have done, and I realise some of the anxiety this must have caused in addition to the plethora of painful feelings they have had to struggle with. This is love and selflessness in action and what an example they are to others! This is like a shining light compared to the darkness of the doings of SSB and his cohorts, where things have to be kept in the dark, behind closed doors with terrible threats if the truth is told, money in closed envelopes – don’t tell, don’t show, do as God tells you or the punishment will be terrible! How primitive and grabbing those people are.

How come we didn’t see through it before? It has been rather scary to realise how powerful the mind is, how much my beliefs influenced my perceptions. I don’t know why some of us have a propensity to be attracted to gurus and spiritual teachers, other than that we yearn for spiritual reality and realisation, and guidance on how to achieve it. Having grown up in a democratic country with a very egalitarian society (Norway), it took me some time to accept that someone could be spiritually highly evolved in a way which was not potentially possible for anyone. Having come to the point where I fully believed that some beings could be beyond the apprehension of the ordinary person, I still kept a reserve – or thought I did. But I took heed of SSB’s teaching that in due time, after testing the guru, one had to make a decision and put all doubts aside for good - or leave. By then I was convinced that SSB was who he said he was, and accepted that there were things beyond me that I couldn’t understand.

The trouble was that there had been things right from the beginning that I found both difficult to accept and disturbing, but in trying to sort out what was what, I was straight away fooled by the attitude of the already convinced devotee. This was at least partly due to the stunning events involving SSB in our own lives which happened before we saw him and which drew us to him. The strong effect of this influenced all our later reactions, no doubt about it. As the years went by we were disillusioned by one thing after the other – the Sai Org. and its leaders, the misleading reports, collection of funds contrary to the official lies that it was something not part of ashram or Sai Org policy, even including invitations to invest in Indian shares calling it the ‘currency of love’ and promising big profits! Then there were the rude ashram officials and many incidents there, glossy reports in Sanathana Sarathi which was nothing like the reality of actual events, the pomp and glitter surrounding SSB, his expensive cars, the all pervasive VIP’ism . The list seems to be endless and in the last years we used to say that it was only SSB himself who kept us in the movement, otherwise we would have nothing to do with it. So our critical minds were at work, but mine was fully convinced that SSB was unsullied by the dirt around him even after the murders in his rooms.

The realisation that I had been so mistaken took a long time to sink in. After nearly 20 years my belief in him as the teacher above all teachers was not easily discarded, for how could I have been so wrong? And, as the horror of the truth sunk in, my faith seeped out until I felt quite shattered and empty. So, just as I went in for SSB 100% after a certain point, I now reject him as fully. The whole guru tradition has been brought into disrepute both by SSB and most other so-called Indian spiritual teachers. The teachers or leaders of other spiritual traditions seem to be no better. Hypocrites like Michael Goldstein drove me away from religion in my youth, and they still seem to be a dominant factor in spiritual, religious and new age movements. I don’t know where or if there are any true spiritual teachers in the world, but I know there are a few true seekers. Thanks to all of you who dare to face the truth and tell it to others.