The Personality Cult of Sathya Sai Baba
Having set himself up as a God from his youth, Sathya Sai
Baba is already becoming the focus of a kind of mythology, and this process
is apparently gaining in strength as he becomes less available for personal
contacts. He is admittedly a fascinating figure, if only because his enormous
claims surpass all known limits. That he claims to be wholly pure and divine,
ever-present everywhere, all-knowing, almighty is a fact. Sai Baba has instructed
many people to worship him, including his own parents, but has also conflictingly
said at times that he does not wish to be worshipped.
- worship of his
person, name and form
The prevailing Indian guru worship culture
Sathya Sai Baba instructed many people to worship him, including his own parents, but has also conflictingly said at times that he did not wish to be worshipped. Yet, in the Indian guru tradition, he willingly accepted worship on all occasions (eg. particularly visible during the fire ceremony (arathi) which was usually done before him twice daily and was often garlanded, even accepting countless flower garlands around his neck at one time. This practice he claimed he would stop, and one would assume that it must have been a relief for him not to have frantic worshippers throwing themselves on his feet. He sat on many showy thrones that were made for him, rode in various chariots, including for years a magnificent and costly golden one (even though he also criticised this as a misuse of funds), swung at least once yearly on a silver swing to be worshipped as Krishna and so on.
People bowed before him constantly, touched his feet, lay flat on the ground at his bare feet and often also kissed them. Also, for decades he welcomed people to touch – or even kiss – his bare feet… then a few years ago he declared that this so-called 'padnamaskar' was not right, for it created a distance between him and the devotee, so it should be discontinued. (from Sanathana Sarathi, August 2001, p. 232). His explanation as to why he would stop public worship of his feet - that he and others are one - makes one ask why he ever allowed it in the first place. Worse than that, he still wanted to be worshipped as The Deity, because he asked people to do padnamaskaar mentally instead!
Nonetheless he continued to accept touching of his feet in public after a few weeks or so. A typical Sai ploy, to say one thing and do another.
If he was indeed born as a physical hermaphrodite, which subsequent reports would support, he would have been seen as a god and goddess in one by the villagers of Puttaparthi. The worship of him would have started then, as many subsequent births of children with extra limbs and even two heads have led to in recent times in India. Sathya Sai Baba is an assumed name, his real name being
Sathya Narayana Raju. By taking the same name of Sai Baba, the departed
Saint of Shirdi, he succeeded in creating some kind of spiritual lineage
for himself, which Shirdi Sai researcher claim must be a bogus claim. It has been claimed that no one knew of Shirdi Sai Baba in that region, which has been proven wrong since then. One of his relatives was even a Shirdi Sai worshipper. If one is to credit the 'incredible' stories about his childhood
and youth, many things supposedly set him apart from most spiritual leaders
and gurus. The most primitive superstitions held in his poor peasant family
and their village were supposedly disregarded by him from an early age.
His insistence on vegetarianism from earliest childhood despite a meat-eating
family is taken as an example of his 'divine childhood enlightenment'. However,
he has reaffirmed traditional superstitions on a grant scale in many ways
and in many discourses since he became an adult! He preaches as literal
truth most of the myths of Indian scripture and legend! (i.e. evil ogres,
giant men, air vehicles, ancient moon travel, miraculous powers of sages
and in idols of worship such as statues and lingams, plus much more in that
mythological vein). Likewise his unperturbed behaviour when tortured by
the magician after being thought to have become possessed by some entity
(the marks of deep cuts on top of his head are still visible sometimes).
In days gone be he allowed himself to be garlanded frequently,
even accepting a many dozens of huge flower garlands around his neck at
one time. This practice he stopped, and one would assume that it must be
a relief not to have to bear their occasional huge weight. Only infrequently
is he garlanded very briefly nowadays, taking the garland only symbolically
over the head then giving it back. Though he insists repeatedly that worship
of himself is the easiest way to liberation in this era, he has declared
time and again that he has come to show us the way to shellfire,
the direct experience of our own potentiality and inherent divine nature
and, in short, that each and every one of us is also God. Typically, however,
he has since his infamous Christmas 2000 discourse, begun to declare that
some people are demons without a 'divine spark'
namely, those who
accuse and criticize him.
Since he became an adult, Sai Baba was always at the focus of a constant crowd of thousands of
persons, which swelle up to over a quarter of a million on some of his birthday
celebrations. He was worshipped and set apart from - and way above - all
other living persons by his followers. He was regarded, not as a God, but
literally as God Himself, the One and only living divinity, the fullest possible embodiment of God in a human form. This is his
pronouncement and is the chief cause of all the eulogies.
Through his apparently inexplicable manifestations of objects,
even though much of it is now known to take place by sleight of hand, he
has exerted great attraction on so-called 'spiritual seekers' who wish to
penetrate beyond the limits of ordinary perception. His attraction also
works through what is widely claimed to be the spontaneous appearance of
traditionally holy substances (ash, nectar, kum kum, turmeric powder, milk
etc.) on many pictures of himself in distant parts of the globe. He has
charmed royalty, statesmen, and many politicians, plus rich and famous persons
from many countries, to whom he gives pride of place before all other followers
whenever they visit his ashram. Thus, he has influenced many followers to
believe that he will become (some even believe he already is) the de facto
ruler of the whole world! This is remarkable to anyone with knowledge of
the world and religious cults
to believe such a thing is certainly
nothing but to be badly deluded, if only due to ignorance of Sai Baba's own published
words, which demonstrate fully to any educated, independent person the ignorance
and inconsistency that runs throughout his 'teachings'.
The personality cult
There are many personality
cults in the world, some probably harmless enough, such as those surrounding
most stars of screen and stage. Others known to us from the history of the
past century are highly sinister... the personality cults of Stalin, Hitler
and Mao Tse Tung were mostly used to highly misguided and evil ends. The
religious kind of personality cult A number of self-styled gurus from the
East have achieved temporary followings running into the millions, such
as Maharaji, Maharishi, the Rev. Moon, Rajneesh, the 'Ananda Marga' Baba
and many others of a more or less unscrupulous sort. Events have shown that
the Sai Baba movement very largely fits the pattern of these cults
Sai Baba claims to be both Rama and Krishna reborn - a claim
of divine reincarnation often made by Indian gurus and swamis. Sai Baba has publicly
and convincingly denounced various such impostors, including the many imitators
of him, though he avoids naming them in public. In private, it is a different
matter. I have met several reliable Western persons who at various private
interviews were told that various gurus, including Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
("dirty man, dirty hair") and Bhagwan Rajneesh ("demonic"),
are definitely not good teachers. Even when such gurus are totally discredited,
convicted of rape and murder (as have many), exposed as sexual exploiters
(as have a very large number), many of their disciples, ashrams and sources
of finances persist. Despite damning revelations in the world media by national
newspapers and international broadcasters, this can be expected of the Sai
movement too, not least because of the political influence, finance means
of propaganda, and a world-wide and extended following Sai Baba has gradually
achieved through a lifetime.
Despite all the evidence there is to show that Sai Baba has long
been involved in sexual abuse and other aberrations, positive effects are
felt by thousands of his followers, which they back up with much documenting
of their experiences. How much of this is over-positive interpretation,
wishful imaginings or direct invention (to raise one's 'spiritual status'
in the eyes of others) is an open question. Testimonies, of which there
are a large number - including about 400 books in English - are weighted
strongly in favour of Sai Baba having para-normal powers of thought transference,
healing, manifestations of objects and many other inexplicable phenomena.
These he speaks of as being true, divine miracles. However, testimonies
that show the limitations of these powers, that question the authenticity
of the many excessive accounts or which expose fakery, remain relatively
few, though these are increasing via the Internet, and this is surely largely
due to the fact that until this technology existed, Sai Baba had virtual control
of information about himself. He has long had control over whom he will
allow into his proximity, guarded as he is by a very large number of servitors
and security men.
Sai Baba's teachings are shot through with primitive religious
superstitions in the attempt to chastise and correct people's supposed sins.
As one typical example of his level of ignorance and use of superstition
to gain ascendancy over people, consider his 'teaching' in several discourses
that natural disasters are not natural, but caused by human wrong-doing:
"You are aware of the devastation caused by the earthquake in Gujrat.
Thousands of people lost their lives. The reason for this is that man has
no contentment and is entertaining excessive desires." (Sanathana Sarathi,
March 2001, p. 71f). Obviously, major earthquakes occur on a large scale
with great average regularity around the earth where the continental tectonic
plates meet, and not elsewhere, also mainly in areas where there are no
such human activities. Processes causing earthquakes and volcanoes are age-old,
preceding human society by countless eons. Sai Baba prefers the finger-pointing
'mysterious' solution and evidently chooses to ignore the massive scientific
evidence on this subject.
One basic assumption upon which Sai Baba builds his teaching
and all his enterprises is that he alone knows the truth of all matters.
He relies on the guru-disciple relationship, and anyone who will not adopt
the role of `ignorant disciple` is always rejected sooner or later. Those
who come to see Sai Baba invariably have already generated some faith in him,
whether through personal experiences of the paranormal kind or through hearsay,
literature and videos. Many come already ostensibly entirely convinced that
he is the avatar of the age, God in human form etc., while others see him
at least as a highly-developed or 'shellfire' soul. Some are seekers
with hopeful faith, but are unconvinced, without compelling personal experiences
and so still have various reservations and doubts which, however, are often
swept aside by the extraordinary scenes of mass worship of Sai Baba and the enthusiastic
atmosphere of being among so many who have had paranormal experiences directly
related to him.
The Name, the Fame and the Shame
The phrase 'name
and fame' recurs in many Sai Baba discourses in deploring those who lay any store
whatever by such things. This teaching is tirelessly reiterated in various
ways by Sai Baba. Contrasted to this are the countless discourses in which Sai Baba
insists on the infinite divine and holy potential of his own name (always
written 'His Name') and that he seems never to tire of speaking in the most
glowing terms of the spread of his name and fame to every corner of the
earth. He insists that all SSO projects must bear his name as a guarantee
of their success. He is very censorious to anyone who criticizes him in
any way and has spoken threateningly against anyone who defames his name Sai Baba has said in a discourse, "I
will do anything, even sacrifice my name and fame, if it will lead one devotee
towards liberation." Though this is a patent absurdity, it serves
to 'explain everything' for those who want to salvage some shreds of faith
in Sai Baba's much-trumpeted unity and goodness. He has apparently done
terrible things for the sake of one or a few people and has certainly blackened
his own name in the process. His relative fame appears to be turning more
and more into global infamy.
But this is absurd beyond all belief, surely? Yet I have occasionally heard
this repeated by a very close lady devotee whenever Sai Baba is caught out in
some new lie or other deviousness. Sai Baba flattered that lady a great deal
in his ashrams with apparent full success. (She also fears him).
Note how Sai Baba makes it evident that he values his name and
fame above all else... so he's "even sacrifice my name and fame"!
How transparently self-obsessed can a person get, I ask. But most people
in the Sai movement take it for granted!
Sai Baba has condemned himself with his own words time and
again, such as when he said that name & fame are "as
disgusting as spittle" (p. 147, Sanathana Sarathi May 1987),
that world-fame for Sai by publicity is without value (p. 193, My Baba &
I, Dr. John Hislop) and has often ridiculed gurus who seek name and fame
(for example p 75, Prema Vahini). If Sai Baba has no need to seek fame (see
p. 64, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 11 new ed.), why then does he allow his discourses
to be broadcast on digital radio world-wide... or build massively-costly
huge buildings in his name, some devoted entirely to spreading his name
If name and fame are "as spittle", what is so
huge about this huge sacrifice of his name and fame Sai Baba would make? (Perhaps
he means to sacrifice his fame and replace it with the infamy that now surrounds
him!) The degree of audacious mendacity to which Sai Baba goes is almost astonishing,
but yet more so is the literal acceptance of all he says on this and dozens
of other matters by so many followers. How can any of the much-exaggerated
good he does cancel or ameliorate the great infamy? He has besmirched his
own name, which is thus becoming a millstone around the neck of projects
attached to it. Intelligent comment welcome!
He has instigated the building of two major free hospitals,
of many schools and colleges and other social works of various positive
kinds. The existence of these institutions is not denied, nor even that
these institutions would not have come about as such without Sai Baba as
a focus for donations and the huge efforts and voluntary input of thousands
of devotees. However, his picture is everywhere to be seen in them, his fatuous sayings are
plastered all over the place and only those who accept that he is divine usually get to be treated there.
The Spiritual Heritage Museum, though ostensibly to promote
all religions and universal spirituality, highlights Sai Baba as its decided
centerpiece - the only One Living God the Father and Holy Spirit who rules
over everyone and everything. Self-publicity on such a scale (Sai Baba having
supervised every detail of the project) conflicts roundly with Sai Baba's
own declarations of wishing and needing no publicity other than personal
good work and of not requiring anyone to worship him. In the setting of
what is called a 'museum', this promotional showpiece made at such expense
seems remarkably out of place. The new centrepiece at Sai Baba's 75th birthday
- the 'Chaitanya Jyothi' building was an even more extravagant venture solely
devoted to glorification of the 'living avatar'. Sai Baba thus eagerly supports
all kinds of initiative and activity that go to increase what is a 'personality
cult' focussed on himself, by any definition of the phrase.
All Sai Baba buildings for these are plastered in many places
with pictures and praise of his name, his divinity and so forth. Critical-minded
people, who are relatively unaffected by the propaganda, have raised serious
concerns about the underlying purpose and actual functioning of these projects.
One such is why all this is used above all for the glorification of the
person Sai Baba and the spread of his influence. Besides the two large super-costly
museums that have been built to glorify him, all hospitals, colleges and
schools bearing his name are regular showpieces for him personally (his
image dominates everywhere, rather like that of Kim Il Sung in North Korea)
and his penny-proverbs.
Dictatorial methods: Personality cults based on person
with absolute power within their baliwicks often rely on a combination of
assumed benevolence and actual suppression and fear. Despite all the talk
about his universal love and benevolence, Sai Baba also fits the bill for an
'angry and jealous God', someone who abides absolutely no questioning or
contradiction. He keeps everyone in their places at a distance most of the
time and is quick to show anger when crossed, and sometimes sheer rage.
He punishes those who do not keep 'mum' about matters concerning himself
that he wishes to be hidden. Somewhat the same kind of tyrannical behaviour
has been seen in many a worldly despot and dictator, who also may at the
same time well have commissioned many social works and institutions in their
own name and to their own glory etc. Russia, Germany and Italy. Not a few
historical emperors and dictators have claimed to be God, or have been acclaimed
as divine by others! One might mention, without making other comparisons,
that some Emperors of Rome, of the Inca Empire, and even rulers in African
States in recent decades have assumed the mantle of God.
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