Notes from Arnold Schulman
on Baba's first years
The following passages are drawn from the book "Baba" by Arnold Schulman, published in 1972. At the beginning the author was skeptical and doubtful about Sai Baba, therefore in his book we can still find some "disenchanted" observation on SB. Schulman will then become a devotee, so as the book unravels itself, it appears more and more evident that the author is no longer able to judge impartially his future guru. Curiously, not a single part of the book is personally told by the author, but all is told in third person.
This is an extract from the chapter summarizing birth, childhood and the first Baba's years. Some parts, for the sake of brevity, have been cut or summarized: this has been done only for unessential parts, or for those which narrate of Sai Baba in the usual apologethical and legendary ways; this kind of accounts is findable in almost any devotional book about SB. Our interest is instead in those parts, through which the author refers some things drawing away from these myths, and their interpretations. The coloured numbers are references to a below comment of the related paragraph.
"That day of November 1926, when Baba's mother began to be in labour, it was at dawn. Together with many other villagers she was chanting in honour of god Siva. It was a sacred day, a monday of the sacred month of Karthika, a month even more rich of propitious presages beacouse the astrological ascendant was the star Ardra and, in these rare occasions, when month, day and star coincide, special pujas (votive offerings) are prescribed. Easwaramma (it was the name of Baba's mother), had just finished her Sathyanarayana puja when she startted feeling some violent abdomen contractions. She went home and sent someone to her mather-in-law, who was the head of family, to tell her that she was about to bear. [...] And, when [Baba] was born, they called him Sathyanarayana in honour of the puja. (1)
In the biography written by Kasturi is told that when the baby, who was barely born, was placed on a sheet, the midwife felt something moving under the sheet. And when they lifted it up, she and the other women present in the room saw a cobra, animal that in the whole India is regarded as a symbol of regality. [...] But one of Baba's sisters who says to have been present at her brother's birth, says that the cobra was not found under the sheet, but many hours after Baba's birth, it has been seen outside the house. But such spectacles were not unusual for that village. (2)
For any episode of Baba's childhood, there are countless contrasting versions and, at this point, the author discovered that it was no longer possible to separate the facts from the legend. The only thing that Baba has forbidden to his relatives and devotees is to talk about his childhood and "all them live in terror of Baba", as one of the most devoted Baba's followers has told the author. "When they make something wrong", he added, "he doesn't look at them nor talks to them for days, and for them is a kind of agony. [...]" (3)
At this regard there's a story about Raj Reddy, the maharaja's son who left all to drive Baba's car and take care of all his material needings. One time, according to this story, he was permitted by Baba to go home visiting his family, but he was commanded to return on a given day, in time for a certain festival. The day before the one in which the prince would have been leaving to go back to Puttaparthi, his grandmother died and the family persuaded him that he would have had to stay one or two more days. But when he was back to the ashram, Baba refused to talk with him. [...] This went on for five days until the prince [...], crying, prayed Baba to forgive him. He wasn't able to bear this anymore. He wasn't able neither to sleep nor to eat. Finally Baba said him: "Why do you think I make these festivals? Perhaps to celebrate my own birthday or such things? For me? I've no need of that. I do it for you, for my people. But when it's time to choose, who do you prefer, me or a corpse?" (4)
In the beginning the writer was suspicious about the reasons for which Baba had imposed such severe restrictions to his followers, in reffering episodes regarding his childhood, but afterwards he was brought to believe that it was not Baba's inention to suppress some informations because he didn't wanted them to be revealed. On the contrary, that was the better way to prevent that Baba's followers, even the good-determined ones, could distort the truth. A little exhaggeration here, a retouch there could have been definitively pollute his own "reservoir of credibility". (5)
It was impossible to document with irrefutable proofs the most part of Baba's biography. But with the help of Kasturi, who had met many people that played important roles in Baba's life, and that were convinced by Kasturi himself that it was not wrong at all it they would have talked about Baba, the writer gradually succeded in putting together the pieces to rebuild the picture of the Baba's childhood and his fame spreading. (6)
In some cases the interpreters had to transalte from other interpreters like in the case of the interviews with one of Baba's sisters who talked only telugu. In that particular occasion, the available interpreters were a young man tlaking only hindi and english, but no telugu, and another one talking telugu and hindi, but not a single word in english. Therefore, everything said by Baba's sister had to be translated by one of the young men from telugu to hindi and, then, by the other from hindi to english. This way of proceeding, not only brought a discouraging waste of time, but what finally was referred to the writer (after being filtered through two different personalities) as things told by Baba's sister, it could have been totally different from what she had really said. [...] (7)
While trying of discover what Baba's childhood had been, the writer came across any kind of judgements from: "he was a baby like all the others, like all of us" coming to stories about his precocious holiness in which was told how, already from the age of 5, he often stayed without eating to be able to give the food to the mendicants and blinds of the village.[...] (8)
[Now SB is 14 years old. After a presumed "bite of a scorpion", he seems to be a prey to a sort of hysterical "madness", with characterial unbalances and personality splittings.] For long periods of time Sathya alternated hysterical laughters and uncontrollable cryings. Sometimes he said to have visited places which nobody had heard speaking about and of which he gave minute details. Also were called the astrologers who, after long consultations and a number of complex calculations, came to the conclusion that the boy was possesed by a "spirit" who was the first tenant of the house which Sathya was living in with the brother. They reproached Baba's brother [...] and went away. The were called the magicians who diagnosed [...] a sudden traumatic experience which had terrorized the boy and altered the wave lenghts of his nervous system. [...] (9)
[We have come at 23 May 1940, in this day Sathyanarayana declares himself as "Sai Baba" to the father. The boy is performing some "miracles" in the house, for the friends.] Sathya's father [...] took a stick with wich he threatened to hit his son shouting: "But what are you doing? Are you a saint, a ghost or just crazy? Tell me!" "I am Sai Baba", answered the boy. Nobody till then, had ever heard the name Sai Baba. "What are you meaning?" asked the father. "Venkavadhoota prayed for me to be born in your family, so I have come". But they didn't even know who was Venkavadhoota. (much later they discovered that [...] there was an ancestor, a great sage, with that name. [...]) The father [...] asked: "What we would have to do?" "Worship me", asnwered the boy. "When?" "Every Thursday." (10)
The rumours about what had happened did spread around the village quickly and, subsequently, they discovered that a governative officer who had visited a nearby village, some time before, was a follower of a fakir named Sai Baba. This godmen lived in Shirdi. [...] After remarkable difficulties the officer was found again and, against his own advice, he agreed to talk with the boy. After a brief coversation, the man said that the boy was a clear case of mental confusion and he recommended the parents to admit him to hospital as soon as possible. "Sure, it is a state of mental confusion", is said that Baba replied, "but whose? It's you that seem not recognizing that Sai you say to worship". Then, the boy materialized some vibhuthi which he strewed around the whole room. (11)
[We are now in 1948, Sai Baba's community is growing up fast and so he resolves to build the ashram.] Many people (nobody of which wants to be mentioned) told the writer that one of the most important reasons that pushed Baba to take the decision to build the ashram, it was the fact that he had already assured the support of high governative officers to obtain the ashram's acknowledgment as an autonomous municipality, escaping this way, the karnam who is said to be imposing higher and higher taxes. [...] On 23 November 1950, 24th anniversary of Baba's birth, the temple of Prashanti Nilayam was officially inaugurated. (12)
(drawn and personally translated from Arnold Schulman's "Baba" italian edition)
What elements we can draw from this passage? Surely it puts in evidence how, otherwise from what is narrated by Kasturi's official biography and by the many devotional biographies, there's no certainty of the supernaturality of Sai Baba's birth and childhood; on the contrary, many controversial and doubtful elements are present, which seem indicating the "mythicizing" of a normal birth. This seems to be confirmed by the fact, here documented, that Sai Baba right from the beginning wanted to "delete" his own real childhood (see paragraph (3)), to make himself be known through the official biographers (when he was a little older than 20, he already had one, Kasturi). The author's interpretation of this fact (see paragraph (5), and the below analysis), shows in my opinion the limit of Schulman's investigation: he was skeptic, but intimately disposed toward being persuaded; therefore if by one side he seeks and finds interesting elements, by the other side he is disposed to accept little convincing and unlogical explanations. The same is to be said when (see paragraph (5)), for the sake of searching for elements about SB's life, he gets helped by Kasturi, who at that time was already SB's official biographer from long time, then certainly not a reliable source about that theme. But let's see the single paragraphes:
(1) This is an interesting part, because it throws a new light on the question of Sai Baba's register name. As we'll see, the Sai propaganda claims that he has been prophesied (among the others) by St. John in the Revelation (click here to go to the related page). One of the "prophetical" elements is right the name, Sathya Narayana: in this passage we see instead that there's no "prophetical combination" in that name, which is simply that of a particular worshipping performed by SB's mother.
(2) In Schulman's account are totally missing many "supernatural" details, which instead are everywhere abounding in Kasturi's biography, like e.g. that all musical instruments of Rajus house would have started playing by themselves to celebrate the birth of the "divine child". The detail of the snake is controversial, and it's useful to indicate the probable artfulness of the "divine birth" story; anyway Baba's sister at least would have to be as reliable as the midwives. But the question is not in them, but in the next "mouth-to-mouth" passages of the story. Really, to see a cobra in the surroundings, in those lands it wouldn't have been strange at all. It' surely possible that someone had seen it, and that with the handing down of the account, just because the cobra is highly symbolic, someone SUBSEQUENTLY put the cobra into the crib, and not around the house. It's possible to say the same for the most part of "divine" details of Sai Baba's history.
(3) And this passage is a confirmation: facts and legend at this point are no longer separable. If this on one hand makes difficult to ascertain the truth about the facts, on the other hand surely it would have to prevent from the claims of supernaturality in lacking of effective comparisons. But instead SB's press office throws itself on the legend, amplifying it and making it truth for those who are disposed to believe it. It is not by chance that SB has PROHIBITED to speak about his own first years, and people live "in terror of him". This means that the young SB has wielded an AUTHORITATIVE AND VOLUNTARY CENSORSHIP over something he wanted not to be known. Perhaps this was the fact that he's a human being like all of us, and not God? Moreover, do notice how Schulman says :"The only thing that Baba has forbidden..." The only thing? Well, my goodness! Since we're talking simply of the alleged God's birth on the Earth, a censorship on this event, and what's more applied directly from the concerned one, it doesn't seem to me so much negligible! And moreover this would have to generate some "little" suspect...
(4) Let's consider this fragments from Sai Baba's speeches:
"No one has the right to advise others unless he is already practicing what he preaches. First establish the reign of Love in your own home, between the various members. Let the family become the centre of harmonious living, of sympathetic understanding and mutual faith." (1 October 1976)
"Follow the disciplines imposed for your betterment. Practice repeating God's name and meditation, and cultivate the attitude of selfless service to others. Become good sons and good citizens, and bring honor to the family, the society, and the country." (6 January 1977)
"But remember that, first of all, you have the sacred duty of loving and respecting your mother. [...] Therefore be solicitous with her who conceived you; don't cause her any sorrow, don't offend her. This is the first rule to observe if you want to drwa near to God. If you are not able to please your, then how ill you be able to make yourself pleasant to God?" (14 October 1988, personal translation)
"Do honor your parents' name. [...] Do honour your nation's and your mother's name, who gave you birth. Learn to love your country without any hostility for the others. This is the bigger lesson to be learned. It is written that, above Heaven there is the mother of family and the mother land, one's own nation." (14 January 1989, personal translation)
What we have read is part of Sai Baba's family doctrine, although it is later respect Raj Reddy's episode. On the other hand this couldn't be a problem, since SB consider himself as a Purnavatar, perfect embodiement of God omniscient and omnipotent, carrier of sacred, eternal and unchanging values; in this key, therefore, I don't think that his family doctrine could change, less then ever in a brief amount of time. Then the poor Raj Reddy, what he would have had to do? No doubt he was a good son and nephew, by honouring his family at the moment of grandmother's death. SB instead humiliates him for five days, then he says: "But when it's time to choose, who do you prefer, me or a corpse?". Well, remarkable showing of sensibility, selflessness... what was the need for SB to behave that way? Isn't this a strong showing of selfishness, egocentrism and psychological dictatorship? It is also to be noticed when SB says: "I do it for you, for my people". HIS PEOPLE? But Sai Baba is not Prime Minister or President of India, and at that time he was far less important than now, since he was very young and almost unknown. Sai Baba IS PART OF THE INDIAN PEOPLE, which is not "his property" at all! Here we can see how the young Sathya was already materially ambitious, an ambition which is little divine, feeling already above the authority...
(5) This passage is cunning and amazing at the same time. Question: one who declares himself as "God, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient", how could he have the problem of the "reservoir of credibility"? Then we are told that would have applied a kind of censorship, not because he didn't wanted his childhood to be known (oh no, not at all...!), but instead to "prevent exaggerations and distortions". And infact the results are visible: the story of Sai Baba's youth is a clear example of sobriety, absence of exaggerations, rationality, comprehensibility... please, let's be serious! Reading with disenchantment, it's evident that Sai Baba has hid the traces of his "normal" youth and and intimidated those who were knowing about it, by means of his presumed divinity which was believed by the most part of the villagers, leaving then to Kasturi (the official biographer) the task of building "ad hoc" a divine birth.
(6) Fantastic, quite an impartial and objective investigation: since he lacks of impartial and irrefutable elements, to gather informations about SB speaking with Puttaparthi's people, Schulman gets helped by Kasturi, SB's official biographer! Really a neutral and impartial source! At that time (and widely still now) Puttaparthi's inhabitants were mostly poor, illiterate, greatly devoted and reverently timorous of Baba; can you imagine such a person when approached by SB's "press office head", Kasturi, who says to speak about the youth of Baba? And all this when the latter had already prohibited to talk about his own life? What objective value could have the testimonies this way gathered by Schulman? One must consider that the final picture, is that of a certainly "divine" Baba, and infact Schulman will become his devotee.
(7) This part seems to be made right to throw a doubtful shadow on Baba's sister testimony, e.g. the one about the absence of the snake in SB's crib. After all those translation, is said, maybe what she has said was not at all what have then been reported, then maybe the cobra was there... thus the logical conclusion of this reasoning is that maybe all discordant details in SB's story have been wrongly interpretated or reported. Now, if Baba's sister has said: "there was no cobra in the crib", we could translate in all world's languages, but the concept remains: according to the sister into Baba's crib there was no cobra, while Kasturi write that it was there. Schulman then remarks as a limit the fact that SB's sister was talking only telugu: he seems to forget for a while that the same SB (who claims to be omniscient, i.e. in possession OF ANY KNOWLEDGE, thus he would have to know every language) speaks only telugu, and a weak english learned after many years: the proof of this is that he always needs a translator for speeches, and often an interpreter during the interviews (even with indians, since he doesn't know any other national idiom but telugu). I've got always a lot of fun, even when I was following SB, seeing people reading seriously and with admiration the simple telugu popular poems that SB often uses in his speeches, and which are always marked by the saying "Telugu Poem". But the same people would have exploded laughing by seeing elsewhere mentioned, e.g. a "Calabrese Poem" or a "Milanese Poem": "Calabrese" and "Milanese" are italian regional speeches, as telugu is an indian regional speech, and they are equally good and respectable. Is by this way that, for lost westerners, and indian from a remote village, who speaks only his native dialect is the omniscient God; a western man with similar features would be instead considered an ignorant ragamuffin. Misteries of faith...
(8) Again, we see how there were different testimonies about Sai Baba's childhood; but Schulman's story from now will stay into the line traced down by Kasturi.
(9) What I'm about to tell is true: on the night across 21 and 22 April 1995, I dreamed to fly astride my motorbike on a beatiful, luxuriant green hills landscape, just like in Canada or north-Europe; places where I've never been. The flight then turned toward a city, and I dived with my bike toward the city, flying through the arches of a big suspended bridge on a river and threading through the city's buildings. Still now I'm able to give you very detailed particulars, and none of you has ever been there (!!!). Thus the fact that SB spoke about unknown places, never seen by none of his relatives and friends (therefore he could have told them anything, since they were knowing nothing about this!), it could have been simply result of dreams and of the psychosomatic derangement through which Sathya was going. It's interesting the detail about the astrologers: if they have been so useless and approximate, then the astrologers' calculations which made "sacred" Baba's birth day, how much reliable they could have been? The last remark about the magicians is a clear sign of a subsquent re-elaboration of the whole story: infact, it's almost impossible that an indian magician, at that time and in such a backward land like Puttaparthi, could know the concept of "wave lenght" (which anyway, regarding the nervous system, is wrongly mentioned).
(10) Miracle! Sathya spoke about Venkavadhoota, but nobody knows who he is; then they start searching and they discover that there was in the family an ancestor with that name. The conclusion is: Sai Baba is omniscient! The anecdote, instead, shows only that the informations about the ancestor were somehow available, if searched: therefore maybe Sathya is not omniscient, but he could have discovered them just as his relatives did, maybe just out of curiosity. And moreover, since nobody was knowing Sai Baba of Shirdi (and they discovered only later who he was), for the father the answer of Sathya was anyway senseless: then, since he was intentioned to beat him for his behaviour (and this seems to indicate that he was not impressioned by his son's "miracles"), it seems improbable that he instead accepted without saying a word, to worship his son every thursday.
The young Sathya Sai Baba with his parents.
(11) Again: Sathya has named Sai Baba, but nobody knows him, what a mistery! But then someone discovers who he was, where he has lived and also one his devotee (the officer). Thus also these informations were findable even for common, not divine people; and since that, as so it seems, in those lands the voices were spreading very fast, why then Sathya could not have learned of Sai Baba from someone? Anyway, the officer judge that Sathya is to be admitted to hospital... and the boy answers him with the eloquence we've seen. Notice how in this part of the story, any language difficulty (like in the case of the sister) miracolously fades away: Sathya and the officer understand each other perfectly, without interpreters, and so the boy shows off all his "divine loquacity".
An old picture of Sai Baba of Shirdi, the fakir of which Sathya Sai Baba claims to be the reincarnation.
(12) Sathya Sai Baba from now on, is running toward power and, later on, wealth (even if he states that he doesn't possess anything): he has already started to build his network of connections with authorities and public men, he builds the ashram (obviously "for devotees' sake"), and he is able even to get its aknowledgment as autonomous municipality, to avoid paying taxes to Puttaparthi's karnam. Also the cospicuous donations from abroad, that soon he'll start receiving, will be tax-free. But he is right the one who later will teach everybody to respect the authorities...
The rest is today's matter... if here we've seen some controversial element dating up to the very first Baba's years, that could make us reflect on the real "divinity" and genesis of Sai Baba's phenomena, what will follow is controlled and filtered by Sai propaganda. There will be no more chances to see indipendent, skeptical or critical informations about Sai Baba; the divinity myth is now galloping, and it feeds itself and the opinions of people approaching it. But, observing and analyzing with sharp and disenchanted mind, it's possible to understand something. If you still have not been bored, go on reading the site. Thanks.
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