A little over two weeks ago, I put down my phone after a most peculiar and disconcerting conversation with former Dutch academic mr. Harmen Reerink, a now 76-year-old, longstanding VIP-devotee of the late guru Sathya Sai Baba. Like I still am, in his working life he was a (child!) psychologist. Mr. Reerink was then based in Amsterdam. He now lives in a town in the East of the country, where he is chairman of a vegetarian based housing project, and is actively involved in seva (serving others in need without personal gain or ego, in accordance with Sathya Sai Baba’s lifelong motto: ‘Love all, serve all’). After many years of being the Chairman of the SSIO (Sathya Sai International Organisation), region Northern Europe, representing 17 countries, until well after the master’s untimely demise in April 2011, he told me he is now ‘only’ the media director of the Dutch Sathya Sai Baba Organisation.
On August 7, 2010, less than a year prior to Sathya Sai Baba’s so-called mahasamadhi (his death being a far cry from the necessary conscious shedding of his mortal coil, see also my post The Sorry Tale of Sathya Sai Baba’s Final Weeks on Earth), mr. Reerink was the chief male representative of a Western group of bhajan chanting devotees (some 300 in all). Before commencing their programme, he was presented the singular privilege to present the by then clearly wilting ‘living god’ a rose, after which he gave a short speech, as can be seen in this section of a lengthy video of this Northern European gathering in Prashanti Nilayam. Mr. Reerink was the sole white person to be allowed on stage the entire duration.
The reason I reconnected with him was a chance viewing a couple of weeks ago of a long interview on Dutch television, concerning mr. Reerink’s life in connection to Sathya Sai Baba. After a little research I learned that it aired repeatedly since its first release in late 2014 (NPO/OHM). This surprised me greatly, as I had thought the SSB Organisation and its groups and centers had all but vanished after the untimely, ignominious demise of their leader. This turns out not to be true: to my astonishment, there are 18 groups and centers currently active in the Netherlands! Although these comprise only half the size of the amount of active followers Sathya Sai Baba had before all hell broke loose concerning his alleged homosexual abuse of young boys and young men, his misappropriation of funds and his massive, seven decades spanning con as far as miracles and sound predictions go, it is still a sizeable number. Mind you, probably the largest part of the remaining followers are Dutch citizens of Indian descent, stemming from the former Dutch colony Surinam, young and old(er), who are chiefly Hindu, and are therefore much more accustomed to embrace the ‘avatar’ concept.
The abovementioned interview with mr. Reerink on Dutch television (NPO
I myself first met mr. Reerink some 38 years ago, in the earliest period of the budding Sathya Sai movement in the Netherlands, and knew him intimately during the eighties. A soft-spoken man, he struck me from the get go as a staunch and unwavering believer in the ‘fact’ that Sathya Sai Baba was God incarnate. He rose in the organisational ranks, and became the leader of region 7, Northern Europe, a position he held for many years.
As I only had second-hand information as to his current view on Sathya Sai Baba’s alleged transgressions, I decided to contact him directly. Doubting if he would speak to me at all if I gave away the fact that I have long since become a non-believer, I presented myself as a wavering devotee of old, who had ‘just’ heard some alarming information. Reassured by this small piece of misinformation, he first of all confided in me that he still received several angry calls a day by anonymous people, shouting things like ‘Satan Sai Baba!!’ This had been going on for years, he told me. He had grown accustomed to this kind of abuse, and knew how to brush off these kinds of verbal attacks. I told him how I had become a psychologist also, not yet retired like him, and was interested to know his direct comment as a fellow academic concerning matters I had come across on the internet. Mr. Reerink then congratulated me on my very good fortune to have become a devotee so early in life, and such a dear one to swami. He had gotten a copy of my translation of the first Sandweiss book signed by Sai Baba himself, he went on, which I had produced and found a publisher for.
He also remembered the unusual amount of attention that Sai Baba had showered on me, both publicly and privately. Upon asking his opinion on the serial sexual abuse issue, he stoically replied that he knew about this matter, but that it was all done for the best. Who better to ‘cure you of karmic debts and sexual lust’ than the ‘psychiatrist of all psychiatrists’? he asked me in earnest, meaning Sathya Sai Baba of course. As Sai Baba, being God incarnate, could only do good, everything he did must necessarily have been good also, no matter how strange it might have come across, his thought process seemed to run. Did he never harbour any doubts concerning these allegations? I queried in disbelief. ‘No’, he answered. To every bit of disconcerting news I subsequently brought forth, he had a similar, decided response: the untimely death of the master at 85, actually probably 81 (‘No, swami reached the predicted age of 95 alright, according to the Hindu moon calendar’), the massive decline in devotees since the turn of the century (‘In 1985 Sathya Sai Baba already predicted a definite separating the wheat from the chaff.’*), the trick materialisations and healings (‘Why, Chris, they were REAL!’). As a last word of fatherly advise, he urged me to stay on the straight and narrow, not waver or let myself be influenced by blatant lies, stemming from disgruntled, troubled former devotees. Better not to read all this garbage at all, rather concentrating on my ‘inner net’ rather than on the ‘internet’.
The experience left me dumbfounded. How could an educated man, a child psychologist of all people, condone the abuse of children and youngsters? And not only condone, but turn it into a GOOD experience for the many victims?? It eerily resembled VIP-devotee Yaani Drucker’s maddening rationalisation of her own rape, see here, and many, (some much) earlier attempts to suppress the truth by important Western leaders, like John Hislop. What was crystal clear to me was the fact that this human being, in spite of all his undoubted good works and his professional education, harboured no doubt whatsoever concerning the Godstatus of his late guru. More, nothing, not even the most abject thing, could change his mind. His belief was blind. He had seemingly entered into a superior state of total surrender, leaving behind any sense of critical questioning, keeping any morsel of news that could disconfirm his belief system at arm’s length or twist it in the most egregious ways to make it fit the desired picture. Apparently, he thought of me as an ageing doubting Thomas, a turn for the worse in his eyes. It is one thing to know that remaining devotees of Sathya Sai Baba are deaf, dumb and blind as far as their master’s shortcomings are concerned, but to hear a former fellow traveler utter these brazen rationalisations regarding serious misdeeds shook me more than I had imagined. ‘Help ever, hurt never’ was one of many one liners of the late master. It is precisely the second part of this proverb, hurt never, that people like mr. Reerink, and other VIP-devotees (Goldstein, Tigrett, Sandweiss), violate with their unquestioning belief. Their comments hurt others, who do not or do no longer believe in the inverted wonderland Sathya Sai Baba created, and refrain devotees of lesser stature from investigating matters independently, so they go on believing. Theirs is a default superior position, apparently unbeknownst to themselves, which can create as much guilt as the late master was capable of. Sathya Sai Baba’s universe revolved around himself and was thoroughly moralistic and egocentric. For all the charitable works devotees like mr. Reerink perform, in my opinion this does not absolve them from a duty to society and to fellow believers to no longer bury their heads in the sand. Wrongdoings cannot and must not be covered up. Rose-coloured fairy tales, no matter how utterly believable to oneself, must not be spread. The cost is simply too high. Turning a blind eye to me constitutes a sin of omission.
*See a searing, apt comment by another fellow psychologist (Swedish Asa Samsioe) on Sai Baba’s actual, inexplicable behaviour here.