Document date: 11-12-02
By: Robert Priddy
From: Sathya Sai Baba - Extensive information and Viewpoints
Part Three - Pressures by SB to stop contacts & friendships
In India the culture of official secrecy is endemic and those officials who become ashram staff continue and even intensify this, revealing only what suits them, no more and no less... as indeed the inscrutable God also does by all scriptural accounts. No one who has been at any SB ashram for long can have failed to notice the tight-lipped behaviour of nearly all SB officials. There is a culture of control and censorship of what can be said in nearly all Sai org. groups, never criticism or relating anything that can be considered as 'bad' about anything connected with SB. This is fully backed up by all the leaders in Sai Organisation, who comply with all cover-ups and unquestioningly accept everything handed to them - whether lies or not - as being "the will of the Lord" etc. (except for the considerable number who resign or are thrown out, of course!).
A well-known problem of most hierarchical spiritual organisations is that, as they grow, the leading figure necessarily delegates authority to others of a lesser level of supposed purity and insight. An astute and widely experienced observer of Indian ashrams, Paul Brunton, noted totalitarian tendencies in virtually all of the many he visited. Central spokesmen or other officials easily become a power in their own right as regards matters with which the guru does not concern him or herself, not infrequently including finances. Most of the Indian population is accustomed to not having to think for themselves, being told what to believe and to do by their superiors, so the are easy prey when wolves get among the flock.
To follow orders slavishly and to the letter is an ingrained attitude in caste societies where freedom of speech never was the tradition, even if it is supposedly allowed. Information is usually controlled by those in central positions, which makes it easy to get away with underhand doings and to cover up all kinds of negative incidents. Unscrupulous persons easily take advantage of the top-down order by insinuating the guru's likely wrath, exclusion, excommunication or worse to those anxious to speak out. This has been demonstrated in any number of sensational cases of major gurus with ashrams in India - and also Eastern gurus abroad - in recent decades, where murder has frequently been committed - even over long periods - before the facts were revealed in court cases. Unfortunately, Prashanti Nilayam is no exception!
All informal chatting while at the ashrams (at least) is discouraged by nearly all full-time believers or office-bearers, while anything like rumour-mongering or back-biting are thought to be cardinal sins of greater evil (because SB harps on about this time and again in the most unreasonable terms). One has to ask, of what is SB so frightened? The answer springs readily to mind, he does not want anyone to know of the many untoward incidents, well-founded accusations and so on. Such information would (and often does) soon reduce or kill faith in him and most of what he claims to be. Further, he needs to keep control of talk because his sexual preferences are so well known to most Puttaparthi villagers and other persons and have even been admitted to Westerners by a number of his close servitors through the years. Though such matters of homosexual relations with minors are all strictly passed over in silence in India - and thus tolerated and even accepted - SB has realised for some time that knowledge of this destroys the hugely-inflated reputation he has gained and shows him up as not even being a pure and decent, law-abiding person. For many years, he has evidently been awaiting the day when his doings would be revealed and accusations would hail down, and he has tried to avert this through rigorous censorship and brain-washing of the faithful (now backed up by cosmic threats) and by predictions of the accusations and fall-off that were bound to come... in an effort to back up his claim of omniscience.
Talking is discouraged in general, but more particularly about anything remotely negative. So there is a relative dearth of well-confirmed facts about anything that may be thought to reflect in any way upon SB and his works. Virtually every setback and difficulty is denied or explained away - or, at worst, hushed up from the considerable number of disappearances, suicides, and murders of both foreign and ethnic Indian devotees to the frequent epidemics of debilitating throat/chest ailments, dysentery and stomach infections at festivals. Further, all details of donations and finances are kept secret, as well as how and why accommodation is issued and any number of other internal matters.
Cover-ups are, in my fairly broad experience of affairs there, endemic to SB ashrams and the fear of leaking secret information is like a constant cloud under which all residents and leaders exist, however good they may be at rationalising each episode. Some examples: a villager's death caused by SB's driver; that man's self-immolation as a result; a male US visitor killed at Brindavan found with his testicles cut off, the murder within the ashram of SB's long-term violent bully and gatekeeper Kumar, a van accident on the way to Bangalore in which two students died, the death of a woman devotee under the 'wish-fulfilling' tree (!), the rape and murder of another foreign lady in Puttaparthi, the knifing to death by two thieves of a Swiss lady in her new ashram apartment, the Spiritual Museum dome's collapse causing the death of three Americans... plus a number of other deaths in veiled circumstances through the years. The first-mentioned incident is worth recounting. In the late1980s, SB's personal driver for over 20 years took his own life by immolating himself, dowsing himself in petrol and setting himself on fire under the Shiva statue in the Hillview Stadium. He had failed to follow a warning, repeated three times by SB, to drive more slowly. While testing one of SB's fleet of cars, he happened to knock down and kill a villager in a place near Puttaparthi. This was hushed up by secret monetary compensation by the ashram officials or, in a more accurate term, 'bribes'. The poor man was driven to this by words uttered by SB himself. According to what Narasimhan told me when I asked about this incident, the words of SB had been that, if one did not follow his directions to the letter after repeated warnings, one might as well set fire to oneself! However, the ashram officials must bear some of the blame, for they reacted to his 'crime' while SB was away in Brindavan by rigorously banning him from the ashram, knowing that he had no property or money, for he had been a selfless server of SB for decades, and so he chose to end it all. This is how the aphorisms so dear to SB, "Help ever, hurt never" and "Why fear when I am here" actually play out when his interests are seen to be threatened in any way, even by a road accident!
Time and again, it appears that, where SB is involved, the 'bottom line' in any major incident can not be accessed except by determined investigation, careful digging and correlating information critically from many sources. The very effective cult of tight wraps on information around SB, about what he does when not visible at darshan and about his many failed minor and major plans, has misled all devotees into believing that things are just fine! It can sometimes be that SB's influences the consciousness of people by paranormal means - and it seems on occasion he can manipulate their own sensory perceptions. This is not any well-known form of suggestion or hypnosis, however, but an ability that is so remarkable and fleeting as to be almost indescribable by those who experience it, as I myself have done on a number of occasions. Such phenomena have been described in connection with Tantric mystics and other gurus (including fallen or brashta yogis), not least by the world-famous Romanian writer and religionist of wide personal paranormal experience, a follower of Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh, Mircea Eliade, and - of course - by very many other convincing witnesses from all around the world in almost all cultures and eras. It is not the abilities that are in question so much as the ends to which they are sometimes put! (Nor do the abilities prove SB to be a divinity, of course.)
Professor N. Kasturi, both a historian and a journalist, who was in his 50's when first appointed by SB to write his biography, once struck me as a careful, but fair and frank, commentator on most events. I did not feel that he went out of his way in his talks or replies to questions to present an unduly rosy picture of everything that occurred around SB. He did not cover over all unpleasant facts, such as some attempts made to kill SB in his younger years, which he reports on in the four volumes of the main biography of SB, Sathyam, Sivam, Sundaram. He avoided negative reports about most persons visiting or living in the ashram - except where claims by persistently fraudulent persons had to be refuted and he was also his own strictest critic, in conversation as well as in print. Yet he still also wore rose-coloured glasses at all times and never reported untoward happenings in the ashram like suicides, killings in Puttaparthi of foreign visitors and other unmentionable facts. Still, his sympathetic accounts strike one as relatively realistic - at least in part - compared to the heavily glossed-over descriptions and blatant eulogy of almost everything connected to SB which have become the rule in all official writings in SB's journal and other organs. As more undeniable conflicting and revealing facts emerge about SB's early years to contradict the official version on point after point, it becomes more and more evident that Kasturi was a very pro-biased interpreter, lacking in critical acumen and comparative skills. In fact, he has functioned much more as a 'spin doctor' for SB than a reporter. The same goes for all those who followed in his footsteps, from Howard Murphet to Samuel Sandweiss to John Hislop and onwards into the mass of hagiologic eulogies. This development helps make its progenitor Kasturi seem more credible than most writers on SB, and more believable than he most likely is!
Persons mature and fearless enough openly to discuss any such awkward facts in a helpful and constructive spirit are in great dearth everywhere, and no less so at ashrams, which are virtually self-contained. These 'total institutions', as they are known in sociology, have their own rules and norms, existing mostly in isolation and with a high degree of independence from wider society. Group pressure to follow the rules - written and unwritten - is constantly present. This pressure can unify too, having some useful functions and positive aspects. For example, the variety of unwritten rules about how to behave, where to walk and sit, when not to move etc., in the huge crowd that gathers frequently for darshan at SB ashrams are soon picked up within the group and - when not observed - are helpfully applied or eventually enforced by those who have the duty of disciplining the crowd when necessary. Without such rules, the management of the vast crowds from every kind of background and all nations or cultures that gather there would doubtless lead to crushes and deaths by trampling, as occurs all too often in India at religious festivals.
Group pressures also invariably work to unify against suspicions or criticism coming from outside. When this comes from within, however, the organisation often turns to censorship and then censure of those who speak frankly. This is the great problem of total institutions, not least of most religious organisations and especially ashrams, to which SB's are certainly not exceptions. Many brush all hints of misrule and corruption under the carpet, believing that they become better devotees and increase their chances of receiving grace in one or another form. Sheepishly following is a trait encouraged and sometimes outwardly rewarded - at least in small ways - at SB's ashrams and other institutions, especially by those leaders who revel in power over others and internal prestige. SB's teaching blackens those who criticise, spread negative news or raise doubts, even when there are valid grounds and openness is justified. Thus, SB has even lately called dissenters 'Judases' implying that their actions can never be redeemed, even throughout any number of future births ( see his infamous Christmas Discourse, 2000). (He is doubtless also quite unaware of the modern Biblical research about Judas, Jesus' closest disciple, who it emerges did not 'betray' him at all.)
The doctrine that worldly facts are not truth is easily misused to cover up facts in ashrams - which are all also inevitably involved in worldly dealings. The claim is that facts have no significance beside the higher, divine truth and so can safely be ignored. Therefore one distorts actual matters and presents doctrinal half-truths in their place. But the old saying that 'a half-truth is often worse than a lie' holds true! Idealising propaganda by SB and his various officials it soon becomes largely self-induced and self-sustained. Fed by a flow of indoctrination and misinformation, this soon leads to a kind of brainwashing of a physically non-violent but yet more effective kind. The converse of all this is growing disaffection among those who feel most suppressed by it, while the 'outside world' that happens to observe it, finding its questions unanswered, feels all the more that many suspicions may well be justified.
All in all, there is a dearth of facts or any unbiased accounts of any events from anyone connected with SB - especially about anything like epidemics at festivals, finances, setbacks to Sai projects, how and why accommodation is issued to those who have donated for rooms, plus on any number of other matters. The law of complete unaccountability is absolute throughout all of SB's doings and institutions!