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The words of an aristocratic Indian girl I knew in Delhi rang in my ears, “You foreigners will accept anyone as a guru—people like Maharishi are export items as common as tea, but we Indians will have nothing to do with them. [The Maharishi, however, is also a non-brahmin (Mangalwadi, 1992), perhaps accounting for a large part of the indigenous reluctance to accept him and his teachings.] There is only one I have heard of who the Indians trust, he is Sai Baba” (Brooke, 1999).
Swami Amritananda, companion of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi [1879 – 1950], was convinced that Sri Satya Sai Baba knew yogic science better than anyone else in his experience (Kasturi, 1971).
Although Sai Baba only attended school to the age of thirteen, he has complete mastery of the scriptures, of all the sciences, arts, languages—of all fields of study. As a matter of fact, he knows everything—including the past, present and future of all of our lives (Warner, 1990).
[Sai Baba] says he is an avatar, or the divine prophet of God for our time (Giuliano, 1989).
The Avatar is one only, and this one body is taken by the Avatar (Sai Baba, in [Hislop, 1978]).
By 1963 Baba had begun to claim that he was the incarnation of Shiva and Shakti.... Since the Westerners have begun to follow him, he has also declared that he is Jesus Christ who has come again (Mangalwadi, 1992).
[W]hen it became obvious that I was not going to leave this issue [of alleged sexual abuses on the part of Sai Baba] alone, a couple of [national coordinators] telephoned me to say that yes I was correct and they had known of this for years. “But he is God, and God can do anything he likes” (Bailey and Bailey, 2003).

FOR THE PAST HALF CENTURY, Satya Sai Baba has been India’s “most famous and most powerful holy man” (Brown, 2000), renowned for his production of vibhuti or “sacred ash,” and for numerous other claimed materializations of objects “out of thin air.”

Sai Baba was born, allegedly of immaculate conception, in southern India in 1926.

At the tender age of thirteen, he was stung by a scorpion. Following that, he announced that he was the new incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, a saint who had died eight years before Satya was born.

Some accounts have the previous inhabitant of his body “dying” from that sting, and Sai Baba’s spirit taking it over at that vacated point, as opposed to his having been in the body from its conception or birth. (Adi Da, whom we shall meet later, claims to have been guided by the same spirit during his sadhana.)

In any case, from those humble, Spider-Man-like beginnings, Sai Baba has gone on to attract an estimated ten to fifty million followers worldwide, with an organizational worth of around $6 billion. Included among those disciples is Isaac Tigrett, co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe; the “Love All – Serve All” motto of that chain is a direct quote from Baba. Also, jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson—who has reportedly pleaded with Sai Baba to heal his progressive hearing failure, to no avail—and Sarah Ferguson, the former wife of Prince Andrew.

It is believed that the guru once granted [George] Harrison a rare personal audience at his Anantapur ashram in India sometime in the mid-’70s. John and Yoko also met with Sai Baba around that time. It was from this experience that Lennon later made the quizzical comment, “Guru is the pop star of India. Pop stars are the gurus of the West” (Giuliano, 1989).

Interestingly, the late, great jazzman John Coltrane’s second wife, Alice (now Swami Turiyasangitananda), on the basis of her own visions, claims that “Sai Baba is described by the Lord as ‘one of my sacred embodiments’” (Rawlinson, 1997). Coltrane himself had earlier been introduced to the teachings of Krishnamurti by his pianist, Bill Evans.

* * *

No “divine prophet of our time” would so descend, of course, without manifesting numerous “signs and wonders.”

Like Christ, [Sai Baba] is said to have created food to feed multitudes; to have “appeared” to disciples in times of crisis or need. There are countless accounts of healings, and at least two of his having raised people from the dead (Brown, 2000).

The first widespread indications that Sai Baba’s manifestations might be less than miraculous, however, occurred in the context of a visit to his ashram by an East Indian prime minister, in which Sai Baba appeared to materialize a gold watch as a gift.

[W]hen Indian state television workers played back film of the incident in slow motion, they saw that the miracle was a sleight-of-hand hoax. The clip was never broadcast in India but has been widely circulated on videotape there (Kennedy, 2001).

That, of course, would have come as no surprise to any of the skeptical magicians who have, in the past, questioned and consequently dismissed Sai Baba’s “miraculous” production of sacred ash and other manifestations:

Examination of films and videotapes of Sai Baba’s actual performances show them to be simple sleight of hand, exactly the same as the sort used by the other Indian jaduwallahs, or “street conjurors.” Sai Baba has never submitted to an examination of his abilities under controls, so his claims are totally unproven (Randi, 1995).

A formerly devoted, inner circle disciple of Sai Baba has independently confirmed all of that. That is, Faye Bailey claims to have personally seen “rings, watches and other trinkets being palmed, or pulled out from the side of chair cushions” and “vibhuti tablets held between [Sai Baba’s] fingers before being crushed and ‘manifest.’”

[Sai Baba’s] major and most advertised “miracle” is the production from his apparently empty hand of a substance known as “vibhuti” (“holy ash”) which turns out on analysis to be powdered ashes of cow dung mixed with incense. Street conjurors in India (jaduwallahs) perform this trick by preparing small pellets of ashes and concealing them at the base of their fingers, then working their fists to powder the pellets and produce the flow of fine ash. Their trick is indistinguishable from Sai Baba’s miracle (Randi, 2000).
There are fantastic stories going round about Sai Baba’s supposed powers, but in five years searching I have not found one to be genuine (Bailey and Bailey, 2003).

Beyerstein (1994) has given a further detailed, critical analysis of Sai Baba’s paranormal claims.

* * *

The concerns surrounding Sai Baba are not restricted to questions about the authenticity of his “miracles.” Indeed, as early as 1976, Tal Brooke (1999) had told the story of his own experiences during two years as a close disciple of Baba in the late ’60s, before converting to Christianity:

Baba’s nudging pelvis stopped. Suddenly a hand unzipped my fly, then, like an adder returning home at dusk, the hand burrowed inside.

With less of a purple (but perhaps more of a tie-dyed) hue, a friend of Brooke’s further related the following tale, claimed to have occurred around a year later:

When all the others left and Baba got [Patrick] alone ... the next thing that happened was that in one smooth motion, Baba reached down and unzipped Patrick’s fly, and pulled his tool out....
[H]e worked up a bone all right, and the next thing that happened is really gonna blow your mind. Baba lifted his robe and inserted the thing. That’s right. Maybe he’s got a woman’s organ and a man’s organ down there. Yeah, a hermaphrodite. But he honestly inserted it. Patrick said it felt just like a woman.

More serious are the guru’s alleged interests in young boys:

Conny Larsson, a well-known Swedish film actor, says that not only did Sai Baba make homosexual advances towards him, but he was also told by young male disciples of advances the guru had made on them (Brown, 2000).

Larsson himself claims that the guru regularly practiced oral sex on him—and asked for it in return—over a five-year period. “By 1986, Mr. Larsson had talked to many young male devotees, most of them attractive blond Westerners, who told him they too had had sex with Sai Baba” (B. Harvey, 2000a). He says he now receives twenty to thirty emails a day from victims “crying out for help” (Brown, 2000).

Hans de Kraker ... who first visited Sai Baba’s ashram in 1992, said the guru would regularly rub oil on his genitals, claiming it was a religious cleansing, and eventually tried to force him to perform oral sex (P. Murphy, 2000).

Another sixteen-year-old boy whose parents were both Sai devotees told his story to them:

Sai Baba, he said, had kissed him, fondled him and attempted to force him to perform oral sex, explaining that it was for “purification.” On almost every occasion Sai Baba had given him gifts of watches, rings, trinkets and cash, in total around $10,000. He had told him to say nothing to his parents....
In 1998 [i.e., at age eighteen], according to [the boy], Sai Baba attempted to rape him (Brown, 2000).

None of the above allegations, however, have unduly swayed the faith of those close to Sai Baba:

[British Columbia Sai Baba president Nami] Thiyagaratnam ... says he’s not surprised that people are trying to ruin the reputation of such a wondrous man. After all, he says, people also persecuted Jesus Christ and Buddha (Todd, 2001).
Dr. Michael Goldstein, the influential U.S. president of the Sai Baba organization, this year dismissed all the accusations. He says they’re unbelievable and that Sai Baba remains divinely pure, filled only with “selfless love.” The answer for those who doubt, says Goldstein, is to show more faith (Todd, 2001).

Or, as Baba himself put it (in Dass, 1971):

The influence of the Guru is obstructed by mental activity, by reliance on one’s own exertions and by every kind of self-consciousness and self-exertion.
Sai Baba is reported to have said recently to his devotees: “Never try to understand me” (Harpur, 2001).

The head of at least one overseas arm of the Sai organization correspondingly refuses to warn families taking children to Baba’s ashram in Puttaparthi, about the reports of pedophilia.

Sai Baba, who hardly ever grants media interviews, alluded to the allegations himself at an address last year, saying, “Some devotees seem to be disturbed over these false statements. They are not true devotees at all” (Goldberg, 2001).

Being “God,” after all, means never having to say you’re sorry.

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