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To establish any credible claim of an ability to perform paranormal cures, supporting documentation of doctors' reports coupled with some measure of controlled investigations of the circumstance of cure by Sai Baba has to be provided. The reader who has followed the analysis given here so far will not be surprised to learn that devotees' claims of paranormal cures are of the loosest anecdotal type. Cures are attributed to `Baba's grace' whether or not they were effected by standard medical means or could be explained as remissions of diseases well known to be subject to such remissions, etc. Doctors' reports are mostly not given, nor are the names of doctors or hospitals given, or where they are, so that an investigator can do further research. Most of the accounts in Sai Baba literature are of conditions in which remissions, in the absence of any kind of treatment, are not infrequent. No statistics are provided showing that Baba devotees are any more or less prone to certain diseases than the general population. There are in addition anecdotal accounts of Baba having promised to cure, and the patient subsequently dying, of doctors' complaining about Baba's meddling, and so on. What follows is a typical sampling of the evidence
A pilgrim to Puttaparthi suddenly developed acute appendicitis. At the time, there was no hospital there nor was there a surgeon, so Sai Baba was asked to come to the room where the patient lay groaning. He waved his hand in the air and produced a surgical knife out of nowhere. A second wave materialized vibhuti which he used as an anaesthetic. With these aids he performed the operation to remove the inflamed appendix. Then the surgical knife vanished into thin air. He applied the vibhuti on the wound which healed immediately, leaving only a small scar.
Kanu, Sai Baba ,God Incarnate, p. 52.
Given that it was Kanu who solemnly reported that Cowan had been pronounced dead by two doctors, (see 16), this report, with neither name of patient, year of event, nor original source of the story is hardly to be regarded as reliable evidence. If there was no hospital at the time, nor surgeon present, who was qualified to determine that the stomach cramps the patient was suffering were indeed appendicitis? Was it Sai Baba who made the diagnosis? Perhaps the patient merely had gas.
We can get a sense of Sai Baba's diagnostic `ability' from the following account which happened to John Hislop.
While asleep in Brindavan in the month of October, 1978, without any prior warning to me, the prostate suddenly closed off the urethra. What happened then was agonizing, but nevertheless most comical. When Baba came down from his apartment, about 8 a.m., I told him that the urethra was closed and that already the bladder was very swollen. He smiled, said not to worry, and gave me vibhuti. About 11 a.m., he returned from inspecting some new construction and as he came to the veranda, both Dr. Goldstein and I approached him saying that my condition seemed to be serious. Baba came up to me, looked in my eyes, patted me on the head and said not to worry, it was just the heat. Then at 4 p.m., when Baba usually came down after rest, I did not wait, but sent a note upstairs that the situation was steadily getting worse and that now severe pains were moving back and forth throughout my body. Baba came down immediately. In the group of devotees waiting for him, there were, as usual, several physicians, including Dr. Goldstein from California. Without any discussion, Baba told the doctors to take me at once to the hospital and operate if necessary.
Now the comedy quickened. We got into several cars and went to Baba's hospital for women in Whitefield. The Medical Officer-in-Charge, Dr. Mrs. C. Rajeswari, made an examination room available, and the assembled doctors tried some 20 or more times to insert various sizes of catheters into the bladder, but with total failure.
By now I was in agony, although I bit my tongue and kept silent. It was the immediate decision of the doctors that an emergency opening would have to be made through the wall of the abdomen...
At Bangalore, the job was botched by the resident surgeons; heavy infection set in, and in three days Baba ordered me back to Brindavan...Baba arranged for the operation at the Whitefield hospital...The care was magnificent...The entire inside of my abdominal cavity was filled with virulent infection, and the tissues were so rotted that standard operating procedures could not be used...
Why the big comedy in the whole affair? It took me some time to figure it out...Why the deadly complications at the Bangalore hospital?...Finally, at the time of another visit, I told Baba that I had figured the matter out. My conclusion was that I had come to the end of my natural life, Baba had let me go down to the final step, and at the last moment, he had reversed my natural death by giving me rebirth. Baba smiled and confirmed that what I said was true; he had given me new life. After returning home to Mexico in January, some continuing complications arose which took me into a Mexican hospital and then an American hospital. Baba sent word to not worry, that these were just rebirth pains.
John Hislop, My Baba & I, pp. 49-51.
...I was present at an operation Swami performed in Hanumantha Rao's house in Madras on my friend Krishna, who had septic tonsils. Swami produced the knife from the air. I was shocked. (I am a doctor's son; my father was a surgeon.) Samiji just looked at me and smiled. I understood perfectly what he meant: `You still don't believe in me'. Then he put the knife into Krishna's throat. There was also with me another doctor friend of mine, Dr. Dakshina Murthy, who was shocked. But none of us could say anything. Swami just kept going.
Krishna suffered for one day. Next day we took him to my doctor Dr Das, the same doctor who was treating me. `Who are the fools meddling with your throat!' he said. `He is a great fool. What is wrong with him? This chap is going to get into a soup' he said. We were all a bit worried and kept going to the doctor for the next two days. Then on the second day the doctor asked: `What has happened?' for the pain had stopped, the septic tonsils had disappeared.; everything had gone. That is what Swami did. He didn't actually surgically remove the tonsils; all he did was make some scratches with the knife. But after two days the tonsils disappeared. To my knowledge he (Krishna) did not have any problem with it afterwards.
Account of ex-Sai devotee, Mr Varadu, quoted in Haraldsson, Miracles are My Visiting Cards, p. 167.
Once I had myself tonsillitis and a very sore throat. Then Swami said he would operate upon my tonsils. This happened in Hanumantha Rao's home in Madras. He waved his hand, and a knife came seemingly out of nowhere. He put his hand into my throat. I said that I could not see him cutting my tonsils, that I would get frightened, so I blindfolded myself with a handkerchief. If someone puts something into your mouth, you will naturally cough. He was saying that I was not allowing him to make the operation, but after I was blindfolded I was quieter, and he did something with my throat. When he said he had finished the operation and I opened my eyes, there was some blood on a tray that someone held.
That evening I went to a doctor friend of mine and said, `Look, Swamiji has removed my tonsils.' He remarked something like this: `What do you say? You are a fool and he is a liar.' The tonsils were still in my throat. A few years later, about 1959 or 1960, just before I moved to Hyderabad, the tonsils were removed by a medical doctor at Stanley Hospital in Madras. The medical record must still be there.
Mr. Krishna, quoted in Haraldsson, ibid., p. 176.
When his wife (Ananthappa's wife, a Sai Baba devotee) was bitten by a dog, which was suspected by the entire neighbourhood as mad, she refused to believe in Pasteur but cured herself through vibhuthi only. A large number of `peons' in Davangere town became Ananthappa's customers for the Vibhuthi he had placed before the portrait sent by Baba. They sat through his Bhajans and sang with him in order to deserve the gift.
Kasturi, Loving God, p. 134.
It is important to note that there is no record of anyone's examining the dog to see if it was in fact rabid. So, we have no evidence that there was anything to cure. Sai Baba's ministrations under these circumstances would thus appear to be harmless. But what of the cases where Sai Baba's ministrations are given instead of orthodox medicine, and the condition is serious?
The husband of Swami's sister Venkamma was bitten by a dog, but nobody knew it was rabies-infected. When this news came to Madras, some of the doctors, like Dr. Dakshina Murthy, said it was always safer to take injections against rabies. But in the villages they do not follow such rules, and some of the baktas said: `Why do you talk like that? Swamiji is there'. If the dog has rabies, the effect will not be there till after some weeks, but once the disease is manifested there is no cure for it. Then suddenly this man became sick, and I was asked to take him to Penukonda, to the nearest hospital in these days. So I and some relative, Krishnappa, took him there. When the doctors found out that this gentleman was suffering from rabies, they told us we had brought him too late and nothing could be done to save his life. Then we took Venkamma's husband back and to a hospital in Anantapur, where he passed away.
Mr. Krishna, quoted in Haraldsson, op. cit., p. 176.
Then one day, out of the blue, `SHE' approached me and said in broken English; `I think you were here last year when I was. I remember you. Do you remember me?' I replied I in fact did remember her. Then I mentioned that she had received several interviews in a very short period of time immediately upon her 1984 arrival. Smiling, she said: `Yes, I have a brain tumour. Swami touched my head and told me to think only of Him and not to worry, so I have done just that. I am back at work now and I don't worry. I listen to Swami.' Startled by what she said, I stammered: `Did you return to the doctor? Did you have surgery?' `No', she calmly replied, `I never went back to the doctor. I only think of Him.' How courageous! How beautifully faithful!
Joy Ziegler, writing in Sanathana Sarathi, January 1986.
In a more recent interview Baba told me that cancer is one disease which can be cured only by God's grace and with love.
Krystal, The Ultimate Experience, p. 205.
It is one thing for a person to decide without prompting or encouragement to cease taking medical care. But for Sanathana Sarathi, a Sai Baba official journal, to give institutional sanction to the idea that the proper treatment of cancer is to abandon doctors in favour of whatever Sai Baba says, is cause for serious concern. This concern is further deepened by Sai Baba's continued ignorance on the subject of cancer. The plain fact is that vast numbers of cancers are thoroughly curable by routine medical procedures. Sai Baba's incomprehensible medical advice is readily documented, for instance, in the following quotation:
[Baba] then launched into a detailed diagnosis of my physical problems which Dr. Bhagavantam translated from Telugu into English. Baba spoke very fast and used complex medical terms which neither of us was able to comprehend and which I would not have been able to spell even if I had tried to take notes...
Krystal, ibid., p. 37.
I have already pointed out that the evidence for sai Baba actually curing anything is extremely shoddy. Given that the burden of proof is on the one who claims that Sai Baba can cure paranormally, this ought to be sufficient to give one pause. However, the case is even stronger against Sai Baba: We also have evidence of failures to cure:
Swami has frequently promised cures and people did not get cured. For example, he told Mr and Mrs Hanumantha Rao that he would cure their son, who suffered from infantile paralysis. He never did.
Mr. Krishna, quoted in Haraldsson, ibid., p. 175.
I had two interviews with Dr. Narasimhaiah...There had ...been a few letters accusing Baba of promising healing that never occurred...
Haraldsson, ibid., p. 201.
Asha was the only daughter of a diplomat with foreign assignments in Europe and her husband's first post in the foreign service was in Argentina. After three years, he was transferred back to New Delhi and after working there for a year he was scheduled to be posted to Middle East, when suddenly it was discovered that he had cancer of the ears and throat already so advanced, that it was considered incurable. A friend of a friend of Dr. Bhagavantam, the Scientific Advisor had described to Asha's aunt about Satya Sai Baba and his miraculous operation on a boy's spine who was born a cripple and later the boy was able to walk.
Hearing this, Asha left for Puttaparthi with the only hope of saving her husband and on the fourth day afternoon she was given an interview.
Before she had a chance to say a word Baba asked her not to cry, and that he will cure her husband's cancer.
He made the rotating motion with his open palm and transferred a handful of Vibhuti from his hand.
At precisely the moment Baba gave her the ashes, her husband sat up in bed, over eleven hundred miles away, and spoke for the first time in two weeks.
Baba said that he can hear her husband.
Months later a friend in New Delhi wrote that when Asha returned to New Delhi from Puttaparthi she followed Baba's instructions and gave her husband a pinch of vibhuti in water once a day for three days. Within three weeks the friend said that he was cured and back at his desk.
A year and a half later, the friend wrote that Asha's husband had been hospitalized for cancer of the lungs and three months later her husband died.
Premanand, summarizing a story in Arnold Schulman's account of Sai Baba. [The name `Asha' is not the original name of the person, who wished anonymity.] Lure Of Miracles, p. 39.
In the `Sunday' weekly of 25-7-'76 Dr. A. Ganguly cites the case history of three patients who went to Satya Sai Baba, where his personal assurance of a cure were proved false. It is the case histories of a 25 year old youth who suffered from cancer, the second of a girl who suffered from leukemia, and a third a boy of 12, who had an attack of viral encephalitis. The first died, the second is in death bed, and the third without any hope.
B Premanand, ibid., p. 42.
One of Dr. Bhagavantam's sons, an eleven year old boy was mentally retarded. Baba pierced his lumbar region of the spine to remove cerebro-spinal fluid to relieve pressure on the brain. When Murphet asked Bhagavantam whether he is any better, he answered saying that he was better and that his condition has improved though not remarkably. He said that if the puncture was not done by Bhagavan he did not know what would have been his son's condition. It might have been worse!
B. Premanand, ibid., p. 41.
When a Sai Baba devotee has a close brush with disaster, the event ends up being interpreted as an act of Sai Baba's Divine Grace! No devotees have presented any evidence at all that Sai Baba devotees are any less or more prone to having close brushes with disaster than the general population, and without such evidence, the anecdotal accounts of cars nearly running into each other and so on, are of no particular scientific interest. A useful account of how Sai Baba devotees find omens of Sai Baba's interventions in nature virtually everywhere is found in L. A. Babb's Redemptive Encounters.
...for Sathya Sai Baba's followers everything that occurs does so by his ordainment. They speak of this constantly, even in connection with what may seem to be the most trivial events; nothing happens that he does not will....Their world is something like an enchanted garden. This is a point on which it is difficult to be ethnographically precise, but it is real enough. It emerges mainly in the tone...An informant reported an altercation with someone while staying at Baba's ashram; immediately upon leaving the room his eye lighted on a sign with some slogan about the evils of anger. Another informant reports longing for a guava, having seen a few unimpressive specimens for sale while on a motor trip. When her car halted, a man suddenly appeared by its side with two plump and juicy ones, which he sold her for eight annas. This, of course, was Baba himself. Another informant tells of how she was frightened by the dark clouds surrounding an aircraft in which she was descending for a landing at Nagpur. But then, just as the thought of Baba flashed through her mind, the plane passed through a momentary shaft of sunlight.
Lawrence Babb, Redemptive Encounters, pp. 198-199.
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