Howard Murphet - earliest promoter of Sathya Sai Baba as the 'Man of Miracles

Smt Vijayamma 'Refuge other thn you I have none'
Rita Bruce - hagiographer
Birgitte Rodriguez - Glimpses of the Divine

Sathya Sai Baba has stated to his servitors like V.K. Narasimhan that he loves to read books by authors who praise him, not only to the skies, but to above the highest heaven. He ‘showers grace’ upon those who write only massively rose-coloured accounts of himself. Other books about him that do not go so far are much less popular with him! The incredible eulogies that he received from such writers as Kasturi, the Balus, John Hislop, Howard Murphet (see more at foot of page!), Samuel Sandweiss, Peggy Mason, Phyllis Krystal, Joy Thomas, Rita Bruce, J. Jegathesan, Birgitte Rodriguez and many more are to his taste, as his responses to many of the authors clearly shows. I admit that I was deceived at the time I wrote my book about him, but events transpired which forced me to re-evaluate nearly everything about him and to think critically and investigate thoroughly, which I have done for years now.

Such paeans of praise as his favourites gush forth are part of the devotional set-up for virtually all gurus; expressions of blind faith, attempts to please in the hope of receiving their own spiritual salvation. Yet those written for Sai Baba are still in a class apart in sycophantic worship of his holiness and entirely positive over-emphasis of the fantastic. At the same time, Sai authors generally – and especially most of those noted above - were consciously involved in drawing the wool over the eyes of all readers about unfortunate events at the ashrams well known to them from many visits, and they never report serious incidents or any of the minor and major crimes that they all know to have taken place there. This they consider irrelevant to the divine mission of God the Father himself, in which they all explicitly believe. Often they act out of anxiety not to do anything Baba dislikes and only to see, hear and speak only what is good, especially about himself, as he often specifies in discourses. To a former insider of the Sai movement who knows something of the various trials and tribulations of the authors, the books are mostly noteworthy for what they do not tell or consciously suppress! Anything, however remotely, that could sully Baba’s image is prejudged automatically as 'scandal and rumour mongering' and is omitted.

From experience, I am inclined to the opinion that most of them behave thus out of the blindness of the faith that Baba has inculcated in them, and out of the huge social and political naivety about India common to them all, rather than from ill motives. However, this also makes most of them almost pathologically uncommunicative about their own psychologically unavoidable but very private doubts and anxieties which most of them claim never to have, but which are noticeable none the less to observers of human behaviour in the grip of ideology, religious belief-structures and cult movements.

The book I wrote about how I came to Sai Baba (‘Source of the Dream’), in which I certainly also exaggerated Sai Baba’s qualities and intelligence, was an arrempt to follow the dictum of supposed Indian masters to write entirely positively and to avoid any kind of critical and derogatory claims. This is also the stated ideal of Sathya Sai Baba, (even though he is often highly derogatory about various professions and specific human groups in his discourses). That book was still not quite to his taste. Firstly, I did not set out to flatter him by capitalizing every reference to him (i.e. no ‘His’, ‘He’, The Divine Lord, Lord Sai etc. ad. inf.) nor did I use the gushing, excessive adjectives used by his favourite writers to characterize him and everything connected with him. Worse still, I was so unreservedly daring as to point out that he makes mistakes about facts, with examples, which does not agree with his own self-evaluation, for he reckons he is perfect in all ways. But though I pointed out how fallible he is in various things, I then tried to rationalise it all away by cleverly contrived reasoning (a rather standard practice there, for I too was under the spell then). Finally, though I nevertheless gave him masses of praise as 'The Universal Teacher, and headed chapters with overblown titles like 'Sai Prema Supreme' etc. (far more than I now consider decent), I did not go completely over the moon with it, which is evidently what he requires for his full satisfaction! He eventually signed a copy (the stamp of authentication) at an interview in 1994 if perhaps somewhat grudgingly (who can tell?) "With love, Sathya Sai Baba". See here for selections from the text of 'Source of the Dream' with my present comments on the text. In the private interview with my wife he advised me to 'Write, write!' (which I continue to do, evidently to his chagrin now).

That Sai Baba accepted my book was largely due to V.K. Narasimhan, who had spoken to him of it repeatedly in the most glowing terms because he considered it more accurate and properly restrained (and documented) than most other books about Sathya Sai Baba, and virtually forced a copy on him one day by leaving it on his footstool in his room at Brindavan! Sai Baba never liked to go against this famous editor and journalist, who meant so very much to Sai Baba’s renown among the educated and ruling class of India who all knew and respected VKN greatly. What Narasimhan particularly liked about my book, as he said to me, was that it was “the most objective book on the subject yet”. He also wrote a glowing appreciation of the book which he sent to Samuel Weiser Inc. when it was republished in 1998. They published his review, which can be read here.

By contrast, at the same interview he signed the latest book of Joy Thomas in more than one copy, "with love and blessings" and signed the various photographs and whatever they kept pressing on him. They have proudly shown me other books signed by him front, back and sideways - almost. I can just hear the devotees who read this concluding that I was a victim of 'envy and jealousy', (Sai Baba's automatic explanation of everything unpleasant). It was not like that, however, for I never felt the desperation for every single scrap of Sai Baba's attention that they demonstrated, nor their need to publicise it all so much. Nor did I want to prove anything about myself. It was of interest to me how Sai Baba would react to my writing, however. (He said in private that 'What you are doing is right' and 'Write, write!'. Seems that he might regret that now!). Moreover, I only feel truly sorry now for Joy Thomas after what transpired when they moved to Sai Baba's ashram and things all began to go very wrong for them - the sudden neglect by the Seva Dal, the intolerable noise in their room which kept them awake most of the night, and the marked cooling of Sai Baba towards her, ending in Sai Baba's blank refusal to sign her latest book (it had to be delivered to him by a friend) and subsequently her reportedly bleeding to death due to serious medical neglect by one of Sai Baba's favourite devotee doctors. One cannot but feel that the favourite had played her role for him and now could be discarded!

As one could predict, persons given much open attention and accorded many of Sai Baba's various kinds of privilege, including VIP status in the Sai movement are always in jeopardy. If and when they should change their tune, or otherwise seriously displease Sai Baba, they are figuratively “cast into the outer darkness”, ostracised socially and are even sometimes threatened by Sai Baba personally.

Few people have dared to present Sathya Sai Baba with anything but eulogy, but one notable exception was Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, the Icelandic psychology professor whose descriptive study, "Miracles are My Visiting Cards" I saw being accepted from the author by Sai Baba at darshan in 1989. Sai Baba’s none-too-pleased comment was, 'there are wrong facts in it'. Among the facts reported were the serious allegations from Sai Baba’s previous 'soul brother' Krishna - long since disaffected – who told about Sai Baba’s personality. Then there were reports on allegations made against Sai Baba about his homosexuality. Perhaps most damaging was the account of the doctors at the clinic where Walter Cowan was brought and was supposedly declared and certified as dead, which all involved denied to be the case. Professor Haraldsson’s extensive interview researches among Sai followers in India, also tracing and interviewing former devotees, was undertaken for the sake of advancing the knowledge of parapsychology, and did not in any way set out to attack Sai Baba, rather to the contrary. This book is still an important source for those who wish to obtain the perspective of an honest and serious researcher, even though there is much that it evidently leaves unsaid and despite its having been written before the mass of emerging documentation of fraud concerning Sai Baba’s early days and an increasing number of witnesses of fraudulent manifestations.

The author's wife, Reidun Priddy, wrote the following additional comment:-

The monthly journal Sanathana Sarathi published from Prasanthi Nilayam has been one prime model for how to write about Sai Baba. Its first editor was Kasturi for many years until he died, then VK Narasimhan until his death, and the present one is Anand. They have all dutifully glorified everything that goes on in the ashrams, never mentioning anything untoward that happens there. For example, there was never a mention of the fact that the dome of the Spiritual Heritage Museum caved in before it opened and three young Americans got killed. Everyone who was there and knew about it were deeply shocked, but it wasn't supposed to be mentioned officially in the ashram. Next day at a lecture for foreigners when something had to be said to answer the questions of many who had heard of it, Narasimhan tried his best to talk about it without saying what had actually happened so that those who didn't already know wouldn't get to know about it either! In other words, the policy is definitely to keep knowledge of anything 'negative' suppressed as far as it is possible.

Another hypocrisy is the reporting of the feelings and reactions of all devotees present at the various functions around Sai Baba. Time and again we are told that one and all were transported to a state of immense bliss etc. It is so blatantly untrue, and how would they know anyway, those writers who are far from the cramped conditions of the great mass of people who can hardly see or hear anything of what goes on! Even for a faithful devotee it is discouraging to read the standard phrases in Sanathana Sarathi that ring as hollow as any stale indoctrination institutionalised religion or politics can produce. Just the kind of hypocrisy that has put so many of us off religion and made us search elsewhere. How disappointing then to find that Sai Baba loves best this kind of glory merchandising. The fact is that many devotees, especially from the western world, yearn for the more quiet type of spiritual life more often associated with life in an ashram, than one could ever hope to experience at Prasanthi Nilayam. Maybe this lack explains the need to put such an excessive gloss on things, the ashram landscape doesn't correspond to the spiritual map, so anything that might add to doubts that are bound to arise from experiencing the ashram must be kept hidden. Baba sets the first example, the editors of SS follow and authors take their lead from this practice to ensure approval from the one they think is God himself.

See a comprehensive, fully sourced bibliography of all extant books by or about Sathya Sai Baba and his movement in English:
"An Annotated Working Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba. Part 1" by Brian Steel (WORD doc.)
To Part 2 of the Bibliography

To Part 3
To 'New Factors for Researchers'

Return to Main Page