Why the big load heaped on the shoulders of so few?
Like Nelson Mandela or Gandhi the Mahatma
Like Simone Weil or Dietrich Bonhoeffer
And the small band of others across time
Many not named or else famed and soon-forgotten
Who will walk like these? Who simply will step forward?
Standing up, speaking out, stepping forward
Even though, even though – the numbers need to grow
Or who will be timid, and show kids how to back-step?
Or who will teach boldness by ourselves being bold?
Like Martin Luther King or Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop
Like the Dalai Lama or Wangari Maathai
And the small band of others across time
Their eyes on the straight point of their compass of conscience
Simple as a fable, just as pointed, and as true
Standing up, speaking out, stepping forward
Even though, even though – their numbers need to grow
… Why does it take war before we snap awake?
… Or a Royal Commission before we listen
… To the rivers across the years of people’s tears
… Who have no protection when bullies oppress them
Who will step forward? Who simply will speak out?
Why the big load heaped on the shoulders of so few?
Like Malala Yousafzai or Liu Xiaobo
Like the Irish peace women or Andrei Sakharov
And the small band of others across time
Many not named – or else famed and soon forgotten
Who will walk like these? Who will simply step forward?
Standing up, speaking out, stepping forward
Even though, even though – the numbers need to grow
… Why does it take war before we snap awake?
… Or a Royal Commission before we listen
… To the rivers across the years of people’s tears
… Who have no protection when bullies oppress them
Except when we are –
Standing up, speaking out, stepping forward …
The poem above was written by Australian teacher, poet and musician Barry Pittard near 9 years ago, and published on March 21, 2014, a mere three days after the official annexation of the Crimea by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. The world, we, did not speak out loud enough, we did not dare or want to. Look what has happened since. Full-size war after Putin invaded Ukrainian territory for the second time, February last year.
And victims who keep silent they were abused by Sathya Sai Baba though decades may have gone by. Which is not uncommon, especially when boys and young men are concerned. Even after #MeToo kicked in, men are still having far more trouble coming forward than abused girls and women. The examples are few, which doesn’t help. Indian sexual culture sure does not help either.
Back when I first read it, I took it to be an outcry for justice and peace and love, not by being all lovey-dovey but by showing backbone, thus speaking out, even when we are afraid or it hinders our personal interests.
In the end, to me it is a timeless call for action, gentle yet determined, towards a common purpose of truth and love and an abhorrence of dishonesty, pomp and circumstance and living a lie.
That lie encompasses that of Sathya Sai Baba, who continues to stay in good standing, from the hindutva driven Indian government led by Narendra Modi to scholarly literature like the never questioned bias in favor of Sathya Sai Baba and his movement in Winged Faith by (now) famous academic Tulasi Srinivas. Up till now, more than a decade after Sathya Sai Baba’s premature demise, he and his minions have still dodged the bullet of being seen for what they were: deeply flawed human beings, gifted in some ways, like charisma, dark and ugly when it came (and comes?) to acting responsibly towards the youth entrusted to him and his successors.
Let’s never forget to stand up, speak out and step forward. Or else we’ll never learn to become active nonviolent seekers of truth. Because it doesn’t come naturally. And it’s not easy. But it’s the honorable thing to do. Else we remain a silent majority, committing a sin of omission, not helping whereas we can. It’s not simply a question of moving on, like I tried to make clear in this earlier post: On the topic of moving on.
A few days ago, on November 3, according to an unassuming article in the lyfestyle section of the Hindustan Times (Sri Sathya Sai Divyasmriti Museum will be inaugurated soon in Bengaluru), followed by a few local media outlets, another museum in honour of the late alleged avatar Sathya Sai Baba was opened. As if anyone needed yet one more. But hey, leave it to the Central Tust to celebrate their own golden jubilee by building another useless piece of tawdry, self-serving, touchy-feely, hyperspecial state-of-the-art lifetime digital Phy-gital experience! (Spoiler alert: Not!) It promises to display no less than 15 exhibits! I quote:
… On display are creative recreations of anecdotes from Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s childhood and the experiences of early devotees. One of the exhibits features a touch wall with glimpses from his travelogue and archive images from his Puttaparthi and Bengaluru ashrams. Visitors can also interact with tables that chart the timeline of Baba’s entire life. The museum, which would be a nostalgic and sacred reminiscence for followers and devotees of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, will also inform people about the immense social welfare projects undertaken under his guidance …
An official YouTube teaser, to attract visitors
The new pink elephant in the room (and bright piggypink it is!) has been built not in Bengaluru itself, of course, as his late greatness is not important enough to deserve real center stage attention anymore, but on the premises of his erstwhile annex, the Whitefield ashram Brindavan, next to the Kadugodi railway station. Once a restful, tree filled enclave, it was long ago turned into the typical Indian style stock of building blocks in ultra Colorite, with no attention for durability and even fewer trees left, no concern over global warming, only a bit of an upgraded Madame Tussaud’s plus some interactive features every Western museum possesses for 2 decades or so, all to glorify the one and only true ‘godman’, Sathya Sai Baba, who greets you non-hologrammically in gypsum when you enter the building, like Chief Minister Bummai of Karnataka noticed after he cut the ribbon and entered the premises:
Why add to the self-glorifying list of dust gathering Sathya Sai Baba museums?
The list of so-called museums commemorating Sathya Sai Baba is quite staggering if one were to discount the fact that almost all are confined to the premises of his ashram Prasanthi Nilayam. Built with much pomp and circumstance in the last decades of the 20th century and a few later on, they were announced with great aplomb, but are failing miserably to live up to modern standards and lack visitors chronically. Their propagandistic and simplistic interior messages are an affront, so that does not help, their seva dal personnel are so robotic they might well be engineered from afar by Tank-Bin, the present firm to make it all hip and interactive. Whether it be the Chaitanya Jyothi Museum, the Eternal Heritage Museum, The Planetarium, they were in total disarray 3 years ago. Likely they are even in worse state than back then.
Divya Weed’s series of inside the ashram video series, including tours of the museums
For a comprehensive look inside the main Puttaparthi ashram and the museums there by former devotee Divya Weed, see her unique insider look YouTube video series here:
Is the SSSCT getting desparate?
It is quite clear this whole newest kid on the block ‘museum’ was built on commission by the Central Trust, and with ‘their’ money. Notwithstanding the fact they are still trying to gain influence, there is little to go on that they are making headway. They face fierce competition as new gurus garner attention, like the fake Muddenahalli boy, see my post Sai Baba Copycat gets PM Modi’s Covert Support.
In an unlikely twist of events, PM Narendra Modi, like a number of former PM’s and presidents of India a staunch supporter of the late Sathya Sai Baba, seems to at least surreptitiously endorse the Sathya Sai Baba copycat Madhusudan, as if he were a rightful and worthy heir to the legacy of the late ‘avatar’. (Well, perhaps, he is, as he seems as mendacious and self-deluded, as convinced of his own predictions, and selling his trickery to the highest bidders while donning a renunciate philanthropist life style).
Modi and the late Sathya Sai Baba
Narendra Modi, a hindutva hardliner, is prone to do anything promoting the superiority of the Hindu foundations and traditions of the ancient subcontinent that is India. He did so when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he does it still, often to the detriment of minority groups, like muslims and members of the LGBTQ+-community. After all, being a religious man of Hindu faith, he is much akin to the conservative ideals the catholic church maintains. Modi is a walking and talking billboard for the veneration of avatars, sadgurus and saddhus whenever and wherever they pop up. Whether Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Sai Baba of Shirdi, or any other saintly figure, past or present, Modi was and is quick to grant his endorsement. He endorsed Sathya Sai Baba from early on, and did so with a host of other false gurus too (See: Narendra Modi’s love of false Hindu gurus).
The Light Body Drama Boy, Madhusudan
Endorsing a Sathya Sai Baba copycat like Madhusudan, once an inconsequential student of one of his colleges, known mainly for his keen impersonations of others, Sathya Sai Baba included, and subsequent failures in business enterprises, is a different kettle of fish. Madhusudan and his clique have in a mere decade caused a major rift in the Sathya Sai Baba community, starting their own ashram in Muddenahalli, some 200 miles from Prasanthi Nilayam, and luring ever more devotees away to his once tawdry side show, which went from welcoming the ‘subtle appearance’ of the late Sathya Sai Baba to becoming his mouthpiece to embodying him in full since 2019. Madhusudan´s ashram, Sathya Sai Grama, by now grown beyond recognition, even surpassing Prasanthi Nilayam in pomp and circumstance, his free hospitals, his first-class travels throughout India and abroad, each one of those poses a direct threat to the memory of the late so-called avatar and the flow of money to his Central Trust cronies, like Rathnakar, Anil Kumar and lawyer Naganand.
For this reason, they have from the get-go tried to smother this new guy on the block’s popularity. In 2016, the situation had gotten so dire a public petition was drafted to the PM and the President to disengage themselves from any dealings with this new fraud, see: Petition to stop Muddenahalli scam of sri Sathya Sai Baba impersonation in public interest. If this report is to be believed, Central Trust lawyer Naganand, who signally failed to act against Madhusudan in a timely manner, spoke to Modi directly on the matter in late 2017. Only a picture is produced though, no written report:
The former college boy Madhusudan Naidu, aided in no small measure by a wealth of money provided by disappointed western Sathya Sai Baba devotee millionaires like Isaac Tigrett, has morphed from a follower of a not-to-be-seen astral Sathya Sai Baba into a mouthpiece of his late greatness to a fully (by Sathya Sai Baba) inhabited Sadguru Madhusudan Sai. Ahh, the stuff that dreams are made of! It boggles the (right) mind, yet needs no genius to see the growing similarities:
Madhusudan’s claim to have predicted Modi’s rise to power
Modi did NOT mention Madhusudan Sai in his video speech, in spite of claims to the contrary
Whereas Modi has never visited Prasanthi Nilayam ever after Sai Baba’s demise in 2011, odd, to say the least, he did present himself on several occasions at inaugurations of hospitals and colleges of ‘the Muddenahalli Group’. He for instance attended the groundlaying ceremony of the Raipur hospital in 2016, in Chattisghar, meanwhile sprinkling a statue of the ‘other’ Sai, that was unveiled on site.
And only a few weeks ago, he gave an online speech lauding the opening of a children’s heart hospital belonging to the Sathya Sai Sanjeevani faction in Fiji, where none other than their leader Madhusudan was the guest of honour!
Struggle for government approval
It is safe to say that both the original organisation, that of Sathya Sai Baba’s Central Trust, which recently got a district named after their late guru (See: Furor over the new sri Sathya Sai District Headquarters), and the new Muddenahalli-based organisation, which gains credits with state governors already, are vying for government approval in the highest levels. This is not new, of course. It’s an age-old tradition, perfected by the late Sathya Sai Baba and his helpers themselves, only now to be in danger of being toppled by a newer, savvier, richer and as yet asexual (?) guru wannabee. Who has at least the advantage of being alive…
The whole dreary, tedious ceremony was aired live, with some 30 plus minutes just seeing the tomb with the interred guru inside, followed by the ever busy Sri Naganand. (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pK59LSfkcM, especially from 40 minutes onwards). He gave the particulars on the present state of the global council, which I will delve into some more later in this post.
In the days leading up to the grand occasion, rather pathetic declarations were issued, like the one by Saibliss, a Facebook group consisting of more than 40.000 devotees closely aligned to the Central Trust and professor Anil Kumar, in which the rumour is spread that ‘Australian office bearers resign enmass’ (from the SSSIO that is). Or the link to everyone in the USA to join the Global Council, a clear attempt to sow division. Or the congratulatory letter proving that the entire populace of Mauritius no less (a tiny island state) ‘made the right choice’ (leave the SSSIO) and decided to join the GC, signed by Chakravarthi himself.
‘Blessed the rain droplets’
In a ridiculously flowery post, Saibliss also announced that ‘Even the rain droplets must be blessed to fall in the holy abode of our beloved Lord’, the only understatement being the fact that it clearly was pouring with rain that day.
Naganand then rewrote history in order to claim the Central Trust as the main executive of the Indian and foreign Sathya Sai Organisations after the death of their guru. He underpinned this rather vain claim by stating that the United Nations had after all given the Central Trust ‘special consultative status’ (meaning NOT the international organisation). Without delivering a shred of evidence he went on to state that 90 per cent of the centres worldwide had by then signed up to the Global Council (‘over 800’). After assuring everyone the Central Trust has no right of veto, and only has 3 members in the national and international executive bodies of the Global Council, Naganand stated that ‘… It (the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council) is truly a representative body of the entire Sai world, in India and abroad.'(049:36:00 ff).
‘The spirit of the Global Council is Unity, Unity, Unity’
‘The Global Council will provide a forum for all Sai organisations to come together, sit together, discuss in a spirit of cooperation, friendship, mutual respect and independence. The object of this body is to unify the entire Sai world, so that each will know what the other is doing, and policy decisions can be taken at the level of the Global Council, keeping in mind the partical differences among countries, regions and certain areas which require special treatment due to local conditions and regulations. The spirit of the Global Council is unity, unity, unity. I would like to conclude with the assurance that the Global Council will conduct itself in a free and fair manner. The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust has no intention or desire to controll either the All India sai Organisation nor the International Sai organisation, which is spread all over the world.’
Convocation by the ‘Big Shots’
Then the pivotal moment came when 3 of the members of the Central Trust, Naganand, Chakravarthi and Rathnakar, plus Nimish Pandya (leader of the SSSSO of India) offered the Global Council at the feet of the master’s tomb. In its typical childish, taudry way, a shiny, translucent globe of sorts was offered, with a cardboardlike figurine of Sathya Sai Baba in front of it and a bunch of flags, to seal the deal (no flag of the USA discernable).
Where does this leave the Sri Sathya Sai International Organisation? Chakravarthi speaks…
The speech by Naganand did not address the huge elephant in the room, namely the continued opposition by the Sri Sathya Sai International Organisation to join the Global Council, which I detailed in my previous 2 posts. Chakravarthi however, in his ‘welcoming the GC speech’, from 58 minutes onwards (until 1:04:41), deals with the topic as condescendingly as he deems effective.
´The arms of the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council are waiting to embrace all those who have not yet registered, and are awaiting their homecoming’, he eulogizes.´Whereas´, he vilifies, ‘those who refer to this place as adharmic´ (1:00:44)’, ´they rile.´‘This place will make adharmic people be dharmic, not the other way around. All the lives of those who have taken the correct decision (i.e. choose to become members of the GC) will be purified by the pervading divinity here.’‘The Global Council by its very nature stands sanctified’. It is of course a little disheartening that all the Sri Sathya Sai Centres in all the countries have not yet formally joined, although they have a place in the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council by virtue of their being Sri Sathya Sai Centres in different parts of the world.’ ‘Possibly, with a varying period of maturation for these Sri Sathya Sai Centres to claim their rightful place in the hallowed Sri Sathya Sai Global Council.…’ On their way to join the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council a few countries and Sri Sathya Sai centres seem to be bedeviled by misconceptions borne out of fear (?) and error or deliberate falsification of the intent and objective behind the setting up of the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council. As you are all aware, we have two seva organisations, one for India and another for the countries overseas. As such the identity of the two arms has not been disturbed. The Sri Sathya Sai Global Council is conceived as inclusive of both. And as such, there is no question of a choice being asked to be exercised between the Sri Sathya Sai organisations overseas and the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council, since the devotees are naturally part of Prasanthi Nilayam. It is pertinentto remark at this stage that when announcing the setting up of the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council, it was made clear that all the functionaries at various levels will continue because all of them are seen as doing seva to Bhagawan. We take it that there is a time and hour for those that have not joined the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council to do so. It is my hope and prayer to Bhagawan that it will not take much time for them also to take their legitimate place in the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council. This body of the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council will, I hope and pray, become a common, divine platform for all those engaged in furthering andstrenghthening the Sai mission across the globe.Wishing you all a happy and holy Guru Poornima, I am placing my reverential pranams at the holy lotus feet of Bhagawan. Jai Sai Ram, thank you.’
Nimish Pandya, the all India president and newly appointed vice-chairman of the Global Council, underpins Chakravarthi’s take
In a feverish and propagandistic tone of voice, Sri Nimish Pandya then took center stage to give his two cents. In short, he alleges it is a no-brainer to commit oneself to the Global Council. India, the nation bearing 95 per cent of all the devotees across the globe, chose from the heart. Half of the USA centres have done so also, like the UK, South Africa and Nepal, he went on. Without being rooted in Prasanthi Nilayam, there is no future or nourishment for whatever organisation.
A clever amalgam of Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses clinches the dedication
From roughly 1:19:00 onwards, a lengthy and convincing exposé is presented, copiously using direct quotes by Sai Baba himself from various discourses, in order to cast suspicion on the position of the SSSIO.
A few countries though? Really?
If we are to believe the ‘few countries’ that haven’t joined, and we turn to the website of the SSSIO, we come across a still very different narrative. It is that of a heavily besieged organisation, that has set up a Helpline for their member countries, centres and devotees. They also lay claim to still 107 countries that have not joined the Global Council: if correct, that’s not a few. The SSSIO also goes into great detail, earlier done by me in my previous posts, to underpin their point of view, including the different TOR’s and a masterclass by old hand, 43 years of service Californian lawyer Robert Baskin.
The SSSIO Story
All the while the SSSIO is sticking to their guns. Reddy and the other ‘Western’ big wigs went even further in detailing the present state of events.
The gloves are off. The now arisen power play between the SSSGC and the SSSIO seems to be turning in favour of the Indian based Global Council. The SSSIO has all the hallmarks of an organisation fighting an unwinnable rearguard action. A pity, but such are the age old rules of a political power struggle: divide and conquer. Although Pandya assures this is not Indian domination over the West, but inspiration, there is a not to be missed rift between an autocratic, Indian style of leadership, top down and expecting obedience, and a western style of leadership, open, democratic and more up for debate. In that vein, the global Sathya Sai Movement is in danger of loosing its universal acknowledgement. It’s in serious peril of reverting back to its Indic, Hindu roots, to the detriment of a worldwide appeal.
As I predicted at the end of my latest blogpost, Ugly Turf War between Central Trust and International Organisation, the sworn peace between Sathya Sai Baba’s Central Trust, managed by the deceased guru’s nephew Rathnakar, and the Sathya Sai International branch (SSSIO), headed by Narendranath Reddy, was of short duration. It was in fact no peace at all, more a shortlived truce, as can be gleaned from below correspondence.
No love lost between Rathnakar and Reddy as International Organisation retracts its statement of intent to join the Global Council
This statement can be found on the main site of the SSSIO since little over a week (end of June):
The Stumbling Block? An irate letter by Rathnakar sent to Reddy on June 26 certainly did not help
As can be read below, the joint declaration of intent to join the Global Council, dated June 1, (see below and also in my earlier blog post), was to be finalised by a mutual, signed agreement on two conditions:
No disruption in structure and function of the SSSIO
Mutual acceptance of a so-called TOR, a document pertaining to Terms of Reference
According to the SSSIO, and the CT does not deny this, these terms were agreed upon in the cordial Zoom meeting on May 30, and put into writing following the joint statement. Then discussion, phone calls, mails with TORs et cetera were exchanged in order to reach a final agreement. Every semblance of concord ended when Rathnakar sent the following mail message to dr. Reddy on June 26, in reply to a mail by Reddy that I wasn’t able to retrieve. Note the tone and the frequent use of exclamation marks:
YOUR OWN ACTIONS SHAPE YOUR DESTINY” – BABA – 26 /06/2021 Dr. Narendranath Reddy, Saíram.
Received your mail rejecting the very main clauses of the Sri Sathya Sai Global Council. It is important to mention that you are aware of these clauses right from 16th November 2020, day on which the concept note was circulated to you and Mr. Nimish Pandya. You are also aware that this Unifying initiative, SSSGC, was announced on the most auspicious occasion of Bhagawan’s 95th birthday celebrations. Inspite of receiving uncivil and irrational letters from office bearers of SSSIO accusing SSSCT Trustees and several zoom calls you and your team conducted where vicious and venomous attacks were made, we from SSSCT confined only to giving clarifications to your accusations and tried to appeal to devotees in various centres across countries. We readily came forward for an online zoom meeting accepting your requests on 30th May 2021, putting aside all the innuendos that were made on SSSCT and personal attacks your team heaped on us.
Please understand that we are in the organisations bearing the divine name of “Sri Sathya Sai” where there is neither place for ego nor for self aggrandizement. This is a beautiful organisation created by the loving lord for the sake of devotees and to uplift the entire mankind. This is not our personal organisation where we can bring in our personal agendas and idiosyncrasies. There should not be any clamor for power and positions and endless greed to hold on to our chairs. The main purpose for which we come to the Lotus feet of Sai or join the Sai Organisation is to lose our identity into Him but not to create an identity for ourselves and revel in it.
Painstakingly we have clarified all your concerns and reiterated the position of SSSCT that SSSGC is a Unifying, Coordinating and Supervising body which will not interfere with the structure and functioning of SSSIO and SSSSO. How can we make it a mere superficial body as you are expecting? Please be assured that SSSCT did not initiate SSSGC either to disturb any organisation or to undermine any one of you. If you and your team have any prejudices, preconceived notions, mistrust and wrong opinions about individuals, then you need to deal with such perceptions yourselves, as they are concerned with individual personalities. They cannot be rubbed onto the institutions. Unfortunately you seem to place personal interests above the interests of these sacred and noble institutions started by the Avatar Himself!
In all our exchanges in several meetings, calls and emails, we could not find any logical reason in your unwillingness to accept SSSGC, except your often repeated excuse of ‘divine command’ as published by Dr. Michael Goldstein, in Sanathana Sarathi, 2006. Also, at times you made us feel that SSSIO was only trying to forestall SSSCT actions and was indulging in procrastination. Maybe you are being misguided by Ganguly , Sadanand and the likes!
Our intentions and actions determine the future, and not mere words. You bring up issues like jurisdictions, independence, etc. I wonder whether we understand and appreciate the good fortune of being in such a noble, Divine Sai mission? Swami always emphasised on “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” and that is exactly the fundamental basis of SSSGC.
What jurisdiction can we give to Bhagawan? The whole universe is His jurisdiction!! All organisations bearing His name cannot and should not be divided in the name of jurisdiction. It goes against the very principles that Swami enunciated throughout His Avatarhood!
I feel sad to recollect that in one of your letters, you have mentioned “… removing, or replacing the jurisdictional duties of appointments and reporting of officers, means taking away one of the primal functions of the SSSIO…” The primal function of any Sri Sathya Sai organisation anywhere in the world should be following Bhagawan’s spiritual teachings, participating in community service activities, spreading love and bringing peace and harmony to the society! What have we made of these divine organisations? No point talking about ideals to others, ignoring them ourselves as though they don’t apply to us. You and the team flaunt authority and accuse us of being autocratic and authoritarian!!
We fail to understand the circumstances in which you are in, due to which you are being indecisive. Maybe your team members who attacked SSSGC and SSSCT under your direction must be questioning your joining SSSGC! It was you and SSSIO which sought our meeting after about five months of animosity. We readily agreed and came forward for the sake of brotherhood and it was once again you who was in a hurry to release the Joint Statement and first to release the joint statement to Sai devotees worldover! You have also registered the entire SSSIO, including all the nations and centres en bloc on the SSSGC portal. Now you and the team are backtracking ! Inspite of the clarification and comfort, I and Sri Nimish Pandya gave you during the discussions, you are going back on your word, citing your team members unwillingness!! Only Swami can help to deal with this instability in thinking. I do not know how you will face the devotees? How embarrassed your national council presidents would be to go to centers and face devotees?!
Dr Narendranath Reddy, we have given our 100% and made all possible efforts sincerely to assure you and your team. It is clear to us that you understand our intent, but you appear to be not understanding. Being a reputed and respected organisation, SSSCT is not in a position to be part of any discussion wherein you are unable to come up with any clarity and we are unable to make any headway!! The responsibility of convincing the SSSIO team is entirely yours as we are not involved in that. Please do not blame SSSCT and Trustees or any one for that matter, for your wish to stay away from SSSGC and Prasanthi Nilayam!
Let me affirm that we gave our best to unite SSSIO with Prasanthi Nilayam but SSSIO did not come forward. Top leaders should have clear thinking and cannot be dilly dallying. Without clarity, leaders lose credibility. We have no right to take devotees for granted and think that the centers and devotees will follow us just because we have some positions in the organizations. Expecting devotees to swing to our tunes is not good. Swami will be deeply hurt when we cause confusion amongst devotees. Also, every office bearer should be here only for Swami and not for any of us. If they think they are for “leaders”, they don’t deserve to be part of the noble mission.
You need to appreciate our position that we will be moving forward on the SSSGC. We from SSSCT are committed to the SSSGC and that commitment is made to Bhagawan. We will abide by it. As far as SSSGC is concerned, all Sai organisations are already part of it. We will soon be communicating with all the countries and centers.
We, along with all those Sai children who joined Prasanthi Nilayam, will be making the offering of SSSGC at the Lotus Feet on Gurupoornima, 24th July 2021.
The doors of SSSGC will always be open for you and your team in future, but it will be without any dialogue, mails or calls and will be unconditional. Let me also affirm that SSSCT has initiated SSSGC as it is Bhagawan’s own directive and a safeguard for the future.
I am enclosing Bhagawan’s discourse clips for ready reference.
In Sai Service
R J Rathnakar
Strong stuff, to be sure, this letter by Managing Trustee Rathnakar. Worthy of his reputation as ‘the Don’ of Prasanthi Nilayam, some might think. Safe to say it is richly laden with serious, acerbic accusations towards Dr. Reddy, not unlike before but even more angrily phrased (not here for Swami, self-aggrandizing, unwilling, indecisive, egotistic, seeking personal interest, muddled thinker, flaunting authority). The only difference now is in the threat, or promise if you will, at the very end, where Rathnakar basically says: you shut up now, you and the SSSIO. We (i.e. the Central Trust) will be moving forward unilaterally. You can either sign at the dotted line or stew (… doors always open, but it will be without any dialogue, mails or calls and will be unconditional). On the other hand, I find it quite understandable that some devotees, especially from India (but not all), mainly found active on Facebook, agree with Rathnakar, as he and his trust members seem to make some valid points, not only in this ´tough-love´ letter but also in their Zoom calls I presented earlier. Was Reddy, in cohoots with his Prasanthi Council members Gutter and Harvey, stubbornly and stupidly stonewalling and sandbagging a perfectly sound idea to bring unity where it was lacking??
To further try and split the foreign countries up, this rather sweet-voiced message was put online by the CT after the decision of the SSSIO to remain independent after all was made public.
Reddy’s Convincing Rebuttal
As the initial statement at the top of this page by the SSSIO in response to this onesided step by the CT already makes clear, the SSSIO was quick to react. The SSSIO is NOT part of the Global Council, it firmly stated. In a new declaration of independence the International Organisation sums up 107 countries who jointly agree with this remarkable turn of events, and stick to the SSSIO. The above call to join the SSSGC by the CT evidently did not amount to much. The reason might well be a lengthy Teams-session posted online July 4 on the SSSIO website, showing Reddy, Gutter and Harvey, the leaders of the International Organisation, moderated by Malaysian SSSIO executive Dr. Suresh Govind, in a strong and enlightening rebuttal of the allegations flung at them by the Central Trust. The screenshot is telling as to the scope of subjects discussed by this panel of VIP-devotees and office bearers with a joint total of near 110 years of close, personal contact and experience with Sathya Sai Baba during the master’s lifetime, and another 30 in office after his demise.
Some decisive statements that caught my eye and ear: The CT was developed solely for the management of the ashram, schools, hospitals and institutions. It was never intended to have any purview outside India. Another one: The history of the SSSIO harks back decades, and was, by the master himself, in near-constant deliberations with Goldstein, but especially Reddy, often in the presence of Harvey and Gutter, put into place as is around 2004, a wholly independent body to ´spread the word´, not for 50 or 100 years but forever. Like the disciples of Jesus, men like Reddy were to see themselves as apostles in expanding the flock. Also, all the necessary laws and by-laws were drafted and after discussing them with Sai Baba approved by Sai Baba himself, both verbally and in writing (!), including a democratic process of replacing office bearers, up to the highest level. This process went on until Sai Baba’s death. So, to men like Reddy this was divine command, and still is. To come in between swami and his devotees, creating a divide between swami and Prashanti Nilayam for foreign devotees is unacceptable as it is the home for every devotee even before any organisation existed. To set conditions, as the MT does, is adharmic. So Reddy emphatically states: Do you want to follow Bhagawan’s teaching or the instruction of the MT? And at 1:10:37: The Global Council is manmade, the SSSIO and its guidelines were godmade and meant for all times. Gutter elaborates: They erased with the left hand what they have promised and written with the right hand. A salient detail in the video is Chakravarthi’s statement dating back to 2013, where he unequivocally affirms international matters are far beyond the scope or mandate of the CT, as it only has a domestic role (see below video from 1:14:30 onwards). By now however, Chakravarthi is an important member of the CT and appointed Global Council chair, and seems to embrace the totally opposite view. Up til 2015 the independent position of the Prasanthi Council and the International Organisation was not seriously contested. The organisatation’s organogram clearly showed that. See here:
Reddy went on: We only surrender to Swami, not to the Managing Trustee. Gutter specifically addressed the dispute regarding the differences in the two TORs. He says, in reference to Rathnakar’s letter, that he/the CT insisted on adding a supervisory role and the right to appoint office bearers at every level by the CT within the SSSIO. This is not in accordance with the procedure swami bestowed upon the SSSIO. It violates Bhagawan’s direct instructions. Another hot topic: Are the Prasanthi Council members powerhungry and do they want to cling to their seats? is rebuffed with valid arguments (Many came and went, even after swami’s demise. We have a democratic process for that). In a small but strong intersection, Harvey describes the announcement of the Global Council as a Trojan horse. In conclusion Reddy soothingly said: All is well. No one needs to worry. Even if they want to make us second rate visitors to Prasanthi Nilayam, it is of no consequence. The bond between swami and his devotees does not depend on that. It is eternal and of the heart.
I recommend all who doubt or are simply curious as to what has transpired to watch the whole video:
“You are not going to be missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)
Now I personally am no devotee, and have no vested interest in a smooth, unaltered, unified Satyha Sai Baba Organisation remaining in place in whatever shape or form, as I do not share the sole premise these esteemed gentlemen from both sides of the isle DO share, a rocksolid belief in the divineness of their master. Still, it is of interest to see the very thing happen in this organisation that so many starting and even matured religions suffer or suffered from: fractioning, in-fighting, each faction surer than the other to know the will (?) of the (long) gone master. That being said, my sympathy is with the SSSIO, though their Zonal Leaders in my time were one of the reasons to step from the podium (they could be every bit as hideous as Rathnakar and co). I find the SSSIO´s version of events and their firm insistence on independence simply more humane and convincing. But then, is that not due to the mere fact that I am a westerner? Let’s not forget the Indian independent organisation (SSSSO) went along with Rathnakar in a jiffy… Then again, maybe it has something to do with very real, lasting differences between (the traditional religious part of) India and the rest of the world? Different mores and such? Anyhow, for now, the rift is near total.
Without prior notification the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT) announced the erection of a new legal entity, a Global Council, November last, about a week before the late guru’s 95th birthday. Whereas the Indian based Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations (SSSSO), headed by Sri Nimish Pandya, apparently went along with the ‘proposal’ within six hours, the hitherto independent International Organisation (SSSIO), with its headquarters in the United States, did not. On the contrary: they vehemently opposed. Over a period of roughly half a year the conflict obviously got so out of hand that at least 2 members of the Central Trust, Sri Rathnakar, the (in)famous nephew of Sai Baba (see for instance this incisive post) and Managing Trustee, and Sri Naganand, an experienced lawyer, felt the need to publicly step in.
On the other hand, the accusations made by the International Oganisation’s leaders regarding this initiative by The Central Trust were so serious they could not be ignored nor concealed, as they were part and parcel of the social domain. Reddy and Gutter basically accused the Trust of power grabbing, money grabbing and withholding Covid aid to countries outside India. These accusations were apparently widely shared with central committees and centres all across the globe, in letters, mails and online meetings. The remnant of a letter dated April 13 2021 by Narendra Reddy can be seen in below screenshot (it has recently been taken offline):
The full version can be read here. It was saved by several sources before it disappeared. A similar message, on video, by Leonardo Gutter was preserved also and can be seen here:
As most official letters, mails and internet meetings are by now largely hidden from the general public, what exactly transpired during the last 7 months is difficult to fathom. The Central Trust’s version of events is quite clearcut, in that they view the Global Council as a necessary new overarching body, with Prasanthi Nilayam as the central hub. They accuse the leaders of the International Organisation of letting the topic of ‘the Muddenahalli gang’ slide, and put them in place also regarding the amount of money that was donated to the CT by the IO over the last decade, it being a miserly 2 million dollars, the same amount the Central Trust allegedly pays every month in expenses, if we are to believe Rathnakar.
Because the turf war was allegedly all of a sudden over after one, ‘cordial’ Zoom meeting on May 30, clearly decided in favour of the Central Trust, and thus in favour of the Global Council, every previous letter and public announcement by the International Organisation has all but vanished. The following amazing joint statement by SSSCT, SSSSO and SSSIO went out across the planet immediately after, as if all the discord and burning of bridges had never happened:
All lovey-dovey again in the Sai Universe?
One wonders what will become of the International Organisation after Guru Poornima Day (July 24) this year, when the Global Council will be put into actual fact. And one cannot but wonder what will happen to brave men like mr. Gutter, who spoke out in favour of an independent organisation outside India and against the vanity of a Central Trust that once was the sole domain of only the late guru himself. Will this newly found comradery last?
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 and officebearer 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 afforded 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 caucasian 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 passing away 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 and the amount of active followers Sathya Sai Baba had before all hell broke loose concerning his alleged homosexual abuse of 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 this important spokesperson 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 reputable publishing house 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 84, 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 and his notorious 1981 letters. 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 and a debunking of the ‘sexual healing’ myth here.
As feared, the body of Toni Anne Ludgate has indeed been found buried at the site one of the alleged assailants pointed out to the local Indian police.
The Daily Telegraph (Sidney) confirmed this news last night local time. Indeed, her mortal remains will be cremated in Hindu style so fast that her family will be unable to attend the service, due to the short time frame, we learn. For those who have read my previous blog, this sad outcome will alas not come as much of a surprise. Indeed, in the meantime, Mrs. Ludgate’s body has in fact been cremated. In an ABC article released later on, graphic detail of the circumstances surrounding her death is added:
Ms Ludgate was reportedly doing charity work at the ashram of popular Hindu guru Sai Baba, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, when she went missing in August.
Police said three men, including the guard at the building where she was living, were arrested.
Police Inspector B. Venugopal told the ABC investigators [they] believe Ms Ludgate gave the guard approximately $600 to pay her rent, but he only passed $200 to the landlord. Inspector Venugopal said when Ms Ludgate asked for the money back a few days later the guard and his two friends murdered her.
“They went 16 kilometres into the fields and they buried her,” he said. “They burned all her belongings – laptop and camera and documents … and passport.” “After that they kept quiet.”
Inspector Venugopal said police suspected the guard may have been involved after he told investigators he had not seen Ms Ludgate since August 24; others had reportedly seen her in the area up until August 28. He said the accused eventually confessed and told police where to find her body.
Police said her remains were cremated in a traditional Hindu ceremony at the request of her family. They said the accused are facing murder charges but the investigation is ongoing. Police are trying to recover Ms Ludgate’s phone, which they believe the guard sold or gave to a friend who has since left the state.
Earlier this month, Ms Ludgate’s daughter Traci Harding released a YouTube video offering a reward for any information that would lead to finding her mother. In the video, Ms Harding said her mother was a seasoned traveller who visited India every year to do charity work.
In a first reaction to the press, Ms. Harding, daughter of Mrs. Ludgate and noted science-fiction author, reportedly said:
‘[My] mother was a source of happiness to all she knew. She was in love with the place; she had a karmic connection to it even. Considering what’s happened, you’ve just got to look at that.’
‘We are just happy to have found her so that we can put her to rest.’
‘She had a deep connection with this place (i.e. the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba, Prasanthi Nilayam), she wanted to end her days there – not like this obviously. She wanted an Indian burial and wanted her ashes spread at the ashram.’
To those not familiar with this kind of metaphysical reasoning, the family’s reaction might well be regarded as quite astonishing. One person commenting on the website of the Daily Telegraph voices exactly what to me also is most striking, the total absence of anger (Mind you, I do not agree with the racial slur). A woman naming herself susie writes there: ‘Am I alone in sensing a deplorable lack of anger from this woman’s family at this horrible crime? Let me put it this way … When an Indian citizen is attacked in Australia it is called a race-hate crime and people scream their heads off about it. Where is the same outrage for this poor woman and what happened to her at the hands of an Indian citizen in India – hypocrisy anyone????
It is exactly this kind of new-age, karma-driven philosophy, so prevalent amongst even highly educated Westerners, that accounted for much of Sathya Sai Baba’s popularity whilst still alive. Anything bad happening to someone under his protection could safely be attributed to their ‘bad karma’, and hey, life was just a fleeting illusion, so why worry about anything? The master of the universe was in control, after all… This cultish indoctrination also enabled the late guru of gurus to get away with many a vice: massive bribery, hoarding of money, abusing followers in all possible manners and building an empire for himself the likes of which has rarely been seen.
To me the lasting truth is this, though: Sathya Sai Baba was no saint. His ashram was no place of supreme peace but a den of corruption. And his empire is turning out to be as empty as his asham is nowadays, scarce three years after his demise.
Just yesterday, November 7, news broke across India that an elderly Australian devotee, who was reported missing, has been murdered in Puttaparthi, within the confines of Prasanthi Nilayam, the ashram of guru Sathya Sai Baba, who himself died there under suspicious circumstances in April 2011.
If this turns out to be true, this latest murder in the ‘Abode of Supreme Peace’ is one in quite a few, and just goes to show that this remote place was nor is a safe haven at all. It was not so while the master was still alive, it is not so now.
What makes it doubly sad is that the victim, identified as 75 year old mrs. Ludgate, went to the ashram to do seva, voluntary work, every year, even after the premature demise of her guru. Apparently, she arrived in Puttaparthi in July and was supposed to fly back to Australia on October 27.
The case drew national attention in Australia, as Mrs. Ludgate is the mother of noted novelist Traci Harding.
The family, filled with hope even on November 6, judging by an extensive report in The Daily Mail (Family missing grandmother optimistic), now most likely has to deal with the stark reality of a mother and grandmother brutally murdered for money and possessions.
Though reports from India state the murder as a fact (Times of India: Missing Australian woman found murdered), up til this morning the body of mrs. Ludgate has not been found. The alleged killer, mr. Bhagwanth, the keeper of Sai Gauri House, her lodgings, has confessed to the murder to the local police. The victim’s remains are allegedly buried on the shore of a nearby lake. The location will be searched today.
‘Why fear when I am here? I am always guarding you’
As stated, this murder does not stand alone. It fits in a long line of similar cases in what is still considered by many as a saintly place. Though Sathya Sai Baba always boasted that no one under his protection would ever need to fear anything, he himself did not even walk his talk. Judging from all reliable reports, he fled an infamous murder scene in his own chambers in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram in 1993, and amped up his personal security to an unprecedented level afterwards.
Many other, not so powerful devotees of the late master met with a fate far worse: they either disappeared, suffered and sometimes died from terrible accidents, killed themselves or were murdered, like mrs. Ludgate.
The self-proclaimed avatar, who could not effectively protect himself without the help of hired security forces and who took near permanent shelter in a fortress-like new appartment complex for the remainder of his life, was never any good in protecting those who sought his refuge and thought he was their saviour. Poor mrs. Ludgate is to be pitied as the latest victim who paid the ultimate price based on an entirely false sense of protection, actively promoted by her late master.
Puttaparthi is not a safe place. The few Westerners who are still living there or go to visit the Abode of Supreme Peace are in fact in real danger of being taken advantage of, robbed, or worse.
To this very day, and probably until kingdom come, devotees of the prematurely deceased godman Sathya Sai Baba keep presenting highly dodgy stories and ‘evidence’ in order to underscore their guru’s self-professed claim that he was the grandmaster of the universe, the great ‘cosmic visitor’.
An early, outlandish example that reappears from time to time is the tale of a person called Homer Young, who if we are to believe current internet postings by die-hard devotees supposedly worked as an engineer for or close to NASA in the 1970’s and who is said to have ordered a set of four satellite pictures taken of the Puttaparthi area as it looked back then from 200 miles up in the air. As is often the case with the material presented as proof of Sai Baba’s miraculous and superhuman powers, it is almost entirely based on hearsay. There is no first-hand account available by mr. Young himself, as far as I have been able to establish.
The first time I myself learned of Homer Young (or, to be accurate: Homer S. Youngs, in actual fact a rather unsuccessful inventor) was more than thirty years ago, back in 1981, when I read his story in a newly published book called Living Divinity, by mrs. Shakuntala Balu of Bangalore. As far as I know, this book is the sole and primary source of the ‘miracle’. Mrs. Balu and her family were ardent devotees of the rising star of the south from the early seventies onwards. As they lived in Bangalore, they had the opportunity to visit the avatar frequently, and she, her husband Venkataraman Balu and her two sons got well befriended with Sai Baba, who visited their home on several occasions.
Mrs. Balu’s book Living divinitywas actually finished as early as 1978, but took a couple of years before it hit the market. It made quite the impression within the devotee community, as it was written in an accessible, personal style, and told not only first-hand accounts of the Balu family with Sai Baba but a host of stories of very early devotees and their miraculous encounters with the slender, young Sathyam.
Chapter 10 of Part I, Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the Satellite, deals with the Homer Young(s) miracle. It is 4 pages long, and offers a quite detailed description of a six-year period (1972-1978) in which the scale of the supposed miracle gradually became clear to the main characters, Homer and Lila Young(s), and a circle of devotees in the same California region. Unfortunately, mrs. Balu does not say anything on how she got this information. Did she meet the Youngs herself over these years and/or talk to them? She certainly wants us to believe so, but it remains a mystery. Noteworthy also is the fact that Sai Baba never debunked the story as a myth in the 30 years he lived after its first appearance.
This is the tale in short, as I found it on the internet, posted by a devotee called Mannar Krishna on a Yahoo-group (It can be found in numerous other places also, including in Sathya Sai Baba’s commemorative museum, Puttaparthi!):
Laila and Homer Young were a couple living in California. Homer used to work in the establishment concerned with launching of satellites.
In 1972, Laila joined a group led by Indra Devi of Mexico, an ardent devotee of Swami, and came to Puttaparthi to meet Bhagawan. Homer desired that Puttaparthi should be photographed from space right at the time his wife was in Bhagawan’s Presence. Several photographs were taken by a satellite from 200 miles above the earth. Because of the great distance, no clear details of habitations, hills or buildings could be seen in the photographs, which showed only a number of patches and dots in black and white that made no sense. When Laila saw them on return from Puttaparthi, she felt very much disappointed. Being middle class people, she felt they should not have wasted US$60 on these poor pictures.
Several years went by. Some Sai devotees on their way to Tecate to attend the wedding of Indra Devi’s daughter visited the Homers’ home. He was then running a Sai Book Centre. There were several photos of Bhagawan in different poses in the Centre. As the visitors showed interest and liked some of them, Homer showed them the satellite pictures of Puttaparthi too. The visitors were closely looking at those photographs. Suddenly, a lady cried out, “Here is Sai Baba!” Curiosity aroused, they could all discern the face, in profile, of Sri Sathya Sai composed by the numerous patches and dots, which had earlier made no sense to Homer and Laila. The image was now crystal clear. The crown-like thick black hair on the head, the eyes, the shape of the nose and, wonder of wonders, even the birthmark on the cheek of the enchanting face of Bhagawan could be clearly seen.
Homer made his own calculations. He took into account longitude and latitude and found that the photograph covered a vast area, 40 miles long and 20 miles wide. He realized with considerable astonishment, that Swami’s form filled so much area. From the data available, Homer concluded that Bhagawan was looking at an extensive area surrounding Prashanti Nilayam.
In 1978, Homer came to Puttaparthi to meet Bhagawan. He saw a great circular aura around Swami’s head. He took several photographs and showed them to Swami. Bhagavan smiled sweetly and said, as Lord Sri Krishna told Arjuna, “These are trifles in my boundless divine magnificence (Anantha Mahimas).” These photographs taken on 29th November 1972 have been placed for exhibition in the planetarium in Prashanti Nilayam.
Several of the details are unaccounted for or plain wrong but the gist of the story is clear enough: a cosmic miracle, photographed by a NASA (well no, actually EROS) satellite, showing the visitor from space watching over his own earthly birthplace annex ashram: wow! If that does not constitute proof of… yeah, of what, actually??
Below: The supposedly untouched EROS satellite image of Puttaparthi (November 1972):
Below: The supposedly relevant section enlarged. Image on the left is said to be untouched. Image on right is a composite image to show the striking resemblance to Sathya Sai Baba (including a mole on his left cheek):
Mind you, the EROS-satellite used to take these pictures is unsuited to reveal any detail on the ground, other than river beds and large patches of vegetation. The blotches and apparent rocks are in fact chiefly clouds, not features like towns or habitation on the earth surface itself. Some might say that only adds to the mysterious way of the former Lord of Lords but does it?
To me, this whole show of so-called evidence of Sai Baba’s universal omnipresence captured in ‘natural phenomena’ (See later examples, e.g. of Sai Baba’s appearance on the moon) speaks of a desperate predilection of his cult members to see their master’s hand (or face, or feet, or ash) in every single thing. If science is seemingly involved, the miracle gains even more stature and credibility. (For an example of another apparent NASA involvement in a Sai ‘miracle’, read Robert Priddy’s post Malaysian Lawyer Hariram Jayaram on faked miracle photo etc.)
In reality, this photo’s interpretation seems nothing more than an example of a well-known scientific phenomenon called pareidolia. Pareidolia is an inherent psychological urge to see meaningful patterns, especially faces, in random and coincidental stimuli. Simply put, we have an almost uncontrollable predisposition to see faces in meaningless pictures. It is akin to a statistical Type-I error or a false positive. Common examples of pareidolia include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.
Some examples of pareidolia to clarify matters and drive home the immediacy and near-inescapability of this phenomenon:
Pareidolia is part of a larger conglomerate of phenomena called apophenia. This term was coined by German psychiatrist Klaus Conrad in his 1958 study of the onset of schizophrenia. Unlike an epiphany, apophany does not provide insight into the true nature of reality or its interconnectedness, according to Conrad. It is a hallmark of delusional thinking. Brugger later defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”, but nowadays, it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random information in general, such as with gambling and paranormal phenomena.
As a one time devotee, I can still recognize this selfsame need to interpret each and every random event or pattern in my life as intrinsically meaningful and connected to the guru. Everything had some kind of deeper meaning; you just needed to ‘see’ it. And boy, did I and all those brainwashed other devotees did some hineininterpretierung! Is that a problem? Yes, because there is no end to reading personalized purpose and meaning into perfectly natural phenomena that are simply unconnected, or at least not meaningfully connected to us. It is hard to snap out of it, but it is not impossible. Like fellow former devotee Barry Pittard said regarding this Homer Young picture in his 2007 post Sai Baba To Be Seen In Moon? But Where Was Moon?:
Certainly, Sai Baba’s so-called ‘spiritual’ museum exhibitors cater for such spurious ‘confirmatory’ evidence of their ‘Lord’s’ greatness. On show for example is what purports to be a NASA satellite photo of Sai Baba. It appears to some as though the very terrain for miles around his abode shows him watching over it… …Here you are, dear Reader – but gaze on this divine miracle of Sai Baba, and, should you become fully enlightened, please remember me in your Will.