Date: 11-17-02

By: Robert Priddy



In January 1985, I was sitting in the temple, which was packed with students and devotees awaiting the start of evening bhajan. Being long in the torso, I could see through one of the small narrow windows onto the veranda, where SB stood talking for 15 or more minutes to one of his ashram officials at the time, Mr. Chiranjia Rao (deputy head of the ashram). I was then uncritically accepting of nearly all the major claims about SB and thought I was very fortunate to see 'The Avatar' at such close quarters. I heard enough fragments to know that the conversation was not in English, so I understood nothing that was said. I presume it was conducted in Telugu, which SB almost always speaks. What surprised me, however, was the apparent unfriendliness of the expressions of both SB and Rao. Though Rao held his hands in the obligatory namaskaar, he seemed rather forceful in his replies to SB. This jarred with my idea of how relations were supposed (by all accounts) to be between SB and everyone, including his staff. Rao seemed to be under cross-examination and getting some telling-off at times, to judge by SB's scowls... but Rao also seemed undeterred. SB's expression was never once the slightest bit benign or friendly. I was very puzzled... and my mind set about finding some explanation or excuse for SB. (i.e. 'He is just testing or deluding us!' and suchlike defensive tricks from his teachings). Eventually I gave up trying to figure it and told myself, 'Well, you got a good darshan there all right!' None of the students who were packed about me observed this, only I was so placed that I could see these two at an angle through the little window.

Now I am able to look on that exchange in quite another light. It seems that I was, so to speak, seeing behind the more usual maya veil of greetings and smiles - while unable to realise that I was seeing the ordinary aspect of SB, the day to day bossy ruler dealing with a stubborn or perhaps rather dull-minded lackey (a former railway clerk) who was reporting back. Had my mind not been full of the miraculous mysteries and burning enthusiasm to see the world changed through the avatar etc. etc., I would have recognised the revealing ordinariness of this straight away.

When I visited Prashanthi Nilayam nearly two years later, I got to know an Anglo-Indian called Alfred Brinnand, who speaks Hindi. He told me that Chiranjia Rao was ever snooping about the ashram precincts to see whether visitors were getting too friendly with residents. I have long suspected that SB gathers information about visitors through his minions.

Apropos the preceding, a Russian colleague wrote the following to me: "A memory has come to my mind and it may be useful. It was I think in 1996. When we came to PN we were surprised that there was a sort of public relations office and there we saw a westerner. This person was about 35, rather tall and strong complexion (it seems to me he was from Holland). We were explained that he was in charge to contact with western devotees coming to PN and to deliver an orientation lecture and so on. And we did have an orientation lecture about how to behave and how to be careful because "moths come for light and frogs come for moths" etc. Anyway, it was nicer than when it was done by an Indian guy. But this PR did not exist for long. Later, when I left PN or maybe even next year he left the ashram forever. Some people said that SB gave him the sack. I was told by a person whom I cannot doubt that he wrote a letter of explanation and his mother distributed this letter in PN. In the letter it was said that SB offered him to spy in the ashram and when he refused, SB said that he might leave. And he left. Many Russians considered it as an acute test from SB. Some believed he had failed but others believed he had passed."

Alfred knew - and introduced me to - a Chinese man from Singapore who was a resident in Prashanthi Nilayam, a man with a very serious degree of disability due to some unusual condition. This man understood Telugu too and told Alfred about a murder that had just taken place right in front of the accommodation office in broad daylight. The circumstances were most peculiar. The gate-keeper Kumar, who had been a bandit and whom SB had surprised and called to come and serve him, was a brutal man known for beating Indian peasant visitors and even some European visitors. He had reportedly raised the ire of a priest in a Shiva temple who had visited the ashram now and again. The Shiva priest came up to Kumar while he sat on a bench in front of the offices and asked his forgiveness and to touch his feet. However, when he held Kumar's feet he bit off his big toe on one foot. I was told that these priests, who haunt burning ghats and the like, often sharpen their teeth for biting heads of chickens in sacrifices. The shock this caused was so great - doubtless combined with superstitious fears - that Kumar died from it in the ashram hospital within a couple of days. Where but in India can one hear such things, or do such things doubtless occur? It was this event, however, that Chiranjia Rao and the ashram staff were trying to stop coming out and they were extra vigilantly watching residents who knew about it and what contact they had with foreigners, according to our informant. Alfred had seen both Rao's (Head of ashram Kutumb and his deputy, Chiranjia) on the veranda in apparent abject anxiety at Baba's wrathful looks after it was discovered that the gatekeeper's room had turned out to have tens of thousands of rupees in small denominations hidden behind the picture of SB! He had been taking bribes from poor people to enter the ashram. Such things were supposed to fall within their area of responsibility... even while the 'omniscient' SB - is repeatedly said by various writers to 'look after every detail' in his ashram himself!

As soon as the distorting rosy glasses are removed, more and more aspects of the hidden SB and his activities emerge clearly into consciousness. Those who think they are blessed in wearing such glasses seem to fear removing them for an instant in case they have to lose their (false) sense of security and realise what dupes they have been. That is tough... but the truth never was very easy.