Untruth and Suppression of the Truth
Censorship, self-censorship and cowardice in not facing facts - exemplified in full by Sathya Sai Baba and all his minions
Everyone who stays at or even visits a Sathya Sai Baba ashram must tread most cautiously both literally and figuratively. There were plenty of scorpions and snakes, both real and figurative. The excreta of rubbish-scrounging pi-dogs and troops of monkeys are hardly a problem compared to the conspiracies
of silence and secrecy which are enforced on all who enter there so as to keep both ordinary facts and criminal injustices covered-up. All devotees soon got used to the kind of 'double-accounting'
whereby two versions of the facts exist, one close to reality for insiders who could not avoid knowing something -
and another that conceals the true facts. The ashram authorities hid all potentially destructive
information, or - when it began to leak out - hushed it up by any means they could. Not infrequently the only solution they found was to send away all visitors from the ashram on very short notice.
However, the staff at Sai ashrams usually offered a modicum of neutral, fact-based guidance to visitors which, if followed to the letter, would go some way in protecting them from unfortunate experiences while staying there. They warn that one should look carefully after one's personal property at all times, for thieves cannot be kept out of the ashram. They also repeated Sathya Sai Baba's advice not go outside to Puttaparti village to shop or socialise. Had they told the details of some previous incidents, visitors would surely take this advice much more seriously than they mostly do. The number of murders of foreign devotees both in the village and inside the ashram are know to few, but were they not assiduously buried they would surely cause major doubts about the supposed 'divine protection' Sai Baba guarantees his devotees.
Here are just a few small aspects of and examples showing to what lengths graded disinformation and the silence of censorship took (i.e. some called it 'positive publicity', others mendacious propaganda):-
1) There was extreme caution among all officials and VIPs - and most residents - in telling anything which might show the ashram or anything to do with it to be less than perfect. There were so-called 'lecturers' who were devotees of standing within the ashram who had been tested as to their blind faith and so chosen by Sai Baba to promote him. They took great care not to say things which they knew or considered might displease Sathya Sai Baba. My good friend, V.K. Narasimhan often wanted me to lecture for students. I was chary of this, as I had a critical view of the learn-by-heart and useless traditional educational methods in force at Sai colleges and would have been unable to avoid mentioning things like that. Narasimhan was himself very disappointed at these failings and said not one student could ask an independent question or answer anything other than what they had learned verbatim. He would only speak about this to his most trusted friends, for anything else would have drastically changed his status with Sai Baba, on whom he had become dependent in numerous ways. At one of his lectures just after the three Americans had been killed in the Museum accident in November, 1990, he cornered me and asked me to speak. I had known Michael Oliver, one of the victims of the horrendous accident well. VKN had already held forth about death and loss - but people were clearly most confused as to what it was all about, because he had studiously avoided mentioning that the deaths were due to an accident, the collapse of a huge dome in Sathya Sai Baba's much vaunted 'Eternal Spiritual Museum'. It would have been absurd had I not explained how the accident had occurred the day before. Most of the audience were very surprised. Afterwards, VKN told me that I should not have been so direct because "Baba does not like anything of that sort to be talked about". This explained his reticence, while at the same time, he would speak freely to me in private of what he was unable to publish.
2) Not a single word of critical questioning will be found in countless thousands of official and semi-official Sai Baba publications or web pages and discussion groups (all carefully moderated by self-censoring blind believers) nor in any of the thousands of pages of hagiography by Sai Baba's favourite authors (present company excluded - indeed, I was demonised after I wrote my very critical revelatory book 'End of the Dream'). Sathya Sai devotees have been very busy manipulating Wikipedia with adulatory articles and saturating the main Sathya Sai Baba page with nothing but positive biographical material and outright propaganda. Some took great pains to try to eliminate all critical materials as far as they can by repeated infringements of the Wikipedia rules. They have had numerous setbacks, but administrators there seem to have given up and left the page to its fate, which will be that it will never present a fair, objectively sourced, overall view of Sathya Sai Baba and his various deeds and misdeeds.
3) The rounding up of the hundreds of stray dogs that plagued the ashrams by entrapping them in nets, howling with fear, and transporting them to deserted areas occured at intervals at Sai ashrams. (A coolie I knew pointed out the dogs as they returned from the jungle hundreds of miles distant untill most of them had returned!) Any visitor who has the insolence to complain to the office aboutthe entrapment of dogs was blackballed, even got their cameras smashed by 'public relations officials' (as did a Norwegian lady, Mrs. Felicia Fotland some years ago). So much for Prashanthi "public relations" - these officials are known by all who cross their paths, whether wittingly or not, as being very narrow-minded and imperious opinionated small 'gauleiters' with too much power over visitors and residents.
4) Censorship was so rigorously applied that exclusion from the ashrams for ever was a fairly frequent event, and some were taken into police custody, some disappeared or their bodies were found around the place. Beatings of unrepentant devotees occurred, even in the darshan lines! In trying to contain the situation and keep everyone ignorant of the true state of affairs, a draconian regime is enforced at times of crisis, sending all foreign visitors out with less than a days' notice and without any explanation. This has occurred at least a dozen times in the last two decades, several times due to separate incidents of killings of visiting devotees, not least from abroad.
5) There was no recourse to accountability or fairness when any problems devotees experienced due to lacking receipts, financial irregularities or other matters connected with donations. This has been particularly so in the case of the Sai Books and Publications Trust. I know five persons who were involved in transactions with Mr. Suri, the previous Convener, who told me in detail of his corruption and lies from their own experience, not least the senior Indian journalist V.K. Narasimhan - for two decades the editor of Sai Baba's monthly journal. Others who were swindled of large sums include Mr. Taylor (former servitor at the PN sweet shop), Mr. Al Drucker, and Mr. and Mrs. Rita Bruce. The Convener was found by investigating journalists during the 1993 incident with an unregistered sum of Rs. 2 lakhs (i.e. 200,000) in his apartment, taken from the ashram's publishing trust. See here. Sai Baba then spoke out in a July 1993 discourse in defense of all his officials as being beyond any suspicion of misusing funds! Months later he quietly dismissed several Central Trust and ashram officials from their positions, including at long last also Mr. Suri.
To censure those who posed normal questions or who refused to be put off with a threatening hiss or an outright avoidance was hardly the way to communicate ideals
of truth, love and non-violence. However, Sathya Sai Baba sets the example for his officials by using angry grimaces, hisses and constant avoidances of answering reasonable or well-intentioned questions he dislikes. All who were not confirmed 'true believing' devotees
will be warned off by such behaviour and it called for courage to question for evidence of wrongdoing and crimes in that proto-totalitarian atmosphere. Of course, any community
that fails to allow for healthy feedback will eventually run into difficulties
of credibility and in fulfilling its aims, as has occurred with Sathya Sai Baba and his organization. Especially foreigners from more genuine democracies were not cowed so easily. Interestingly, with his experience of the common authoritarian Indian control of the young by the elderly, Sathya Sai Baba had doubtless never reckoned that so many young men would testify against him in public.
The extreme secrecy of persons around Sai Baba about what went on, what he did when not visible at darshan etc., was impossible not to sense. The fear of talking about things may have come partly from the ingrained belief in many followers that Sai Baba's used paranormal abilities to influence the minds of people - even manipulate their sensory perceptions. There are many kinds of what is often called 'hypnosis', extremely strong and fast suggestion inducing false perceptions and much else. (One classic exponent and exposer of many such amazing techniques is the Englishman Derren Brown). Nonetheless, it is also remarkable how so many matters - like plain-clothes surveillance and spying on ashramites sometimes wherever they go, secret suppliers of trinkets later 'materialized' in interviews and so forth - that Sai Baba and his minions evidently thought were safely covered-up have surfaced through unexpected channels and how the evidence that backs this up has accumulated from here and there. One must hope that "the truth will out", but this can never be guaranteed as any mature person knows full well (despite Sai Baba always preaching the opposite). Above all, he did not wish the dark and deceitful side of himself and his ashrams to deter visitors or put off any good trusting people by letting negative things be known about him or anything connected to him. Therefore he ruled those around him with an iron hand (if often hidden from most in a velvet glove).
Young men are never told (in advance) by Sai Baba - or any of his VIPs in the know - that in the private interview room he regularly carried out the oiling of male genitals, French kissing and other more intimate sexual advances on boys and young males. However, when these alleged facts became a subject of much discussion in the ashram in 2000 (and on the veranda among his VIPs, some of whom acknowledged the fact both in public and many more privately), he issued a stark warning that he would banish anyone who mentioned such things there.
The inexpressible 'Truth' of which Sathya Sai Baba ever talked about - which he said is both eternal and ungraspable by any human mind (excluding his supposedly Divine mind) is of such a transcendent and metaphysical nature that he admits it cannot be expressed. Such 'truth' which cannot be expressed should be consigned to silence (as Wittgenstein opined)! Any 'Truth' that constantly flies in the face of facts actually serves to hide the whole truth and not lest that of the truth of the great chain of being. The supposed 'truth' Sai Baba preached was not of this world, he insisted, but merely a fleeting phenomenon, a passing cloud! We can certainly say it is of no value or any help at all to any genuine seeker, for has the nature of a mirage which draws the thirsty spiritual seeker on into a more and more barren deserts. Many end up longing for 'release' from the consequent emptiness of their own lives (i.e. even death and rebirth).
As Kramer and Alstead stated it in 'The Guru Papers': "The scientific method is rejected in favour of revelation, belief and otherworldly projections and hopes, and one is trained to construct and maintain a view of reality which fits the mould set by the guru. This is self-conditioning to a truth which one accepts as unchallengeable. This stagnant model of truth lies at the root of most authoritarianism."
Sai Baba was a clever manipulator of truth and falsity in what he would say - often using vague words which were open to different (even opposed) interpretations. He was a master of the half-truth, saying something partly true yet partly false... so devotees latched onto the true part and - if they noticed the falsity at all - wonderingly considered it as having a hidden meaning only he knew or tht it was probably a 'test set by Swami to see if we keep iron faith in Him'. In his denials of facts, his numerous totally insupportable claims eg. (to lift a mountain range, to fly unaided in the sky) and the lies he propagated about the many crimes of which he stood accused, one is reminded of the following famous statement:-
"the principle--which is quite true within itself--that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Lie)
Claims of omniscience and knowing every details about everything abound in Sathya Sai Baba's own published discourses and in the 'positive
propaganda machine', to which all his institutions are geared up. The result
is that rumours fly all the faster and the one incredible positive story
and fanciful invention after the other becomes as if factual to many devotees
just because they are left to flourish, are never refuted by Sai Baba or his
staff... except in the most embarrassing or unavoidable extreme circumstances.
Sai Baba actually condoned and even loved the rumour mill, as long as it was
about his miraculous acts and omniscient and total divine power. Left
alone untruth festers. Well-investigated, undeniable 'negative' facts
need to be brought into the light of day.
Observant persons find official versions of events full of convenient omissions and editing out of doubtful and untoward statements which were nevertheless recorded in the verbatim tapes. Much of what is written make it hard to tell what comes from Sai Baba and what is merely an editor or reporter's interpretation. Many of the leaders and officials who wish to impose their own views or manipulate people for their personal reasons take advantage of lack of clarity to impose their own advice. In such circumstances, distinguishing with precision the exact nuances of Sai Baba's doctrines and other utterances is sometime difficult. Add to this the confusion that has arisen about his 'teaching' and works from the many distorted interpretations made by devotees who wish to get kudos through praising him beyond all reason and other hagiographic accounts that diverge in a wide variety of ways from the authenticated (though edited) discourse. How to interpret his living message, which he says is his life, is yet more difficult when his daily activities are so carefully cloaked and what he actually does is hard to distinguish from what occurs close to him as a result of what is said to be his orders or wishes. Above all, there is the much more challenging problem of reconciling an increasingly large number of Sai Baba's words with one another and further, with his known his actions, as demonstrated widely on these postings.
Control of the tongue? Sai Baba held that most talking was bad, that 'silence is the language of the realised' and he warned followers not to enter into arguments with others about spiritual matters or about his nature and mission. This also worked to clamp-down on intelligent discussion, the exchange of correct information - being a way of controlling it and keeping facts under wraps. He always minimised the importance of facts as 'worldly matters' and of scientific or scholarly investigation as mere passing phenomena. He emphasized personal self-investigation and self-improvement, but this he held is done mainly on an inner level through self-examination and - more importantly - through repeating his name and visualising him, prayer and inner worship! Educated people throughout the world today rightly often expect open debate with a free exchange of opinions and frank critical evaluations. No one can live properly in a complete social vacuum solely with one's own thoughts... not even a hermit, not Sai Baba either, for all carry with them the culture and the handed-down ideas and memories of others that nurtured them. The deaf and the dumb had to devise a sign language to share in the living world.
The full truth about Sathya Sai Baba was certain to come out eventually, be evaluated properly, and spread wherever his name may be heard. Some upstanding people have to contribute to this before all can be swept firmly under the carpet of time. Former devotees who have given many years of their lives in selfless service - who were accepted as leaders, teachers and authors in Sai Baba's institutions - took on this task as a bounden public duty of conscience. We have come to know what we once never believed could be possible, and we therefore investigated most thoroughly before realising the truth of many allegations and concealed facts about Sathya Sai Baba. I am reminded of Sai Baba's words when inaugurating the Venkatagiri Girls' High School many years ago, "Speak the truth always, for falsehood is the result of cowardice" (Sathyam, Sivam, Sundaram Vol. I. p.79). His present mendacity and despicable hypocrisy in covering up his misdeeds belies his words as mere lip service. However many efforts are made to cover up significant facts, they will not succeed in the long run, especially if or when the Sai Baba mission really sometimes should become known about very widely. Penetrating investigations have been made about many hitherto concealed matters and those who spoke out created a forum and an exposé movement to support them. If, as Sai Baba insisted, the truth will ultimately raise his public reputation, why did he not correct the one-sided propaganda of his followers, dispel the countless 'over-positive' rumours and excessive miracle stories that circulate through the Sai movement and instead offer a balanced presentation of facts?
Sai Baba pointed out and complained mightily many times how - despite some selfless achievements by his followers - many problems of egoism, selfishness and greed still beset his movement. He made it seem that these errors dominated in many parts of his set-up, including the Organization (which he now and again criticised roundly), his college teachers (some of whom he publicly castigated in extreme terms) and not least among the 'Seva Dal', those who are supposed to be servants of others but who have used their badges and privileges to look after their own interests first. Ashrams led by a guru usually function best when they are not too large, but the huge proportions of Sai Baba's caused him to delegate most of its daily running to others. All reports from organisation conferences, and also from interviews Sai Baba gave to his office-bearers, indicated that he offered very few definite answers on specifics of organisational activity, confining himself mainly to general directives, usually aphorisms concerning the sort of 'spiritual life' he recommended. This was also marked in his well-known indirect or elliptical style in discourses and most interviews. Therefore, much was left to persons appointed by Sai Baba, who seemed to have been given a free hand to ignore or overrule whatever suited them. If it were found out that they criticised him or his directives, expressed any serious doubts or leaked sensitive information, however, they were expelled without further ado.
Why did people continue to visit? Once people had become believers enough to invest in the 'spiritual search' under the guidance of a divine being so praised as such by so many prominent persons in India and even abroad, it takes a major event - usually of the nature of a decisive personal shock - to divert them from pursuing the miasmas put before them. No doubt, a considerable proportion of visitors to the ashrams quite evidently had experiences there which they found rewarding and inspiring, as all converts to a new religion or way of life invariably do. Many were impressed by the psychic abilities of Sai Baba, which even I recognized many a time, even though he without doubt also often used fraud, surveillance and deception in the process. Yet I have long known from many conversations in the organization (which I led in Norway for nearly 2 decades) and from letters and writings that good people and keen devotees did suffer unduly at the ashrams, sometimes very badly - especially mentally and spiritually. Often this was at least in part due to the ignorance, antagonism and injustice of certain of the staff - and often from other devotees or residents there. Believing as some do that Sai Baba is always the ever-present doer of all deeds, the sufferers imagine that they are being punished or corrected for some unknown fault by Sai Baba through his staff or in other mystical ways! All this misunderstanding about almost anyone with a badge or an office being 'Sai Baba's instrument' makes the manipulation of others easier, while Sai Baba - supposedly all-knowing and protecting his devotees - stood by and said or did nothing. Many turned to intricate excuses of a fanciful nature so as to absolve their Lord and master of any responsibility... "it is his play", "it is for our own good", "he has to teach through difficult lessons", "no one can understand his mystery" and so on. Pathetic rationalizations, when one has seen and heard enough of them and seen the results of believing them, as I did.
Just as we always appreciate and remember helpfulness, openness and concern, we are all free to make our own observations and note when fine words about truthfulness, compassion and service are not followed up in actual behaviour. Reluctance to speak straight has led an unknown number of people - both Indian and foreign followers - into serious problems and even death, as discussed at length elsewhere. The activities that permit (and cover up) this cannot be said exactly to have the stamp of Divine protection, compassion or service! Sai Baba's words, "Why fear when I am here?" are shown to an empty vanity. Even though Sai Baba was there, I know how much some of them feared, and feared him most of all (The 'fear God' syndrome)! One might well fear sinning, but surely not anyone purporting to be divine? All important staff at Prashanti Nilayam and the Sathya Sai Central Trust were under constant duress to inform nothing that could harm Sai Baba's image, even to non-devotee relatives and dependents of persons killed.
Censorship was so rigorously applied that exclusion from the ashrams for ever was a frequent event, and some were taken into police custody, others simply disappeared or were found dead near the ashrams. Beatings of unrepentant devotees occurred, even in the darshan lines! In trying to contain the situation and keep everyone ignorant of the true state of affairs, a draconian regime was enforced at times of crisis, sending all foreign visitors out with less than a days' notice and without any explanation. This occurred at least a dozen times during my involvement over two decades, several times due to separate incidents of killings of visiting devotees, not least from abroad.
The same applies to problems devotees experienced due to financial irregularities connected with donations. Not least also to money problems with the Sai Books and Publications Trust, concerning which I knew five reliable persons involved in transactions with Mr. Suri, the previous Convener, persons who told in detail from their experience in these affairs, not least by the senior Indian journalist V.K. Narasimhan, who was for two decades the editor of Sai Baba's monthly journal. The Convener was found by investigating journalists during the 1993 incident with an unregistered sum of Rs. 2 lakhs (i.e. 200,000) in his apartment, taken from the ashram's publishing trust. Sai Baba spoke out in a July 1993 discourse in defense of all his officials as being beyond any suspicion of misusing funds! Months later he quietly dismissed several Central Trust and ashram officials from their positions, including at long last also the Convener, Mr. Suri.
The extreme secrecy of persons around Sai Baba about what went on, what he did when not visible at darshan etc. may conceivable sometimes have been the result of Sai Baba's using paranormal abilities to influence the minds of people - even somehow manipulate their sensory perceptions (as so mnay followers have reported at length). Nonetheless, it is also remarkable how so many of the matters that Sai Baba and his minions evidently thought were safely covered-up have surfaced through unexpected channels and how the evidence that backs them up accumulates.