Letters written by John Hislop
"Attached are three letters written by John Hislop in 1981. They come from the files of a former Sai Center president in the early 1980s. They were accompanied by a personal letter from Hislop to the previous president of this Center, who then turned them over to the subsequent president. The letters show how at the time a story of Sai Baba molesting boys was taken up very seriously and how it was dealt with the Sai Organisation's best intentions."
In the original letters of Hislop the name of the family concerned is given. For privacy reasons I have changed that into Mrs/Fam. X.
A comment on these letters from Ernest C Owen is added below...
A comment on these letters from Steve White is added below too...
The following three letters were written by John Hislop to Directors in Sai Centers, as a result of information that had come out from an American family. The son of this family was in Sai Baba's College in the late 1970s. He and his friends were, according to the boy and his parents believed him, molested by Sai Baba. This story came out in 1980, and was discussed in the Sai Organization.
Jan. 18, 1981
By the time you receive this memo you will already have received the letter which Mrs. X has mailed to each of us. And we hear she is sending it to other people in addition to ourselves. No doubt this is a terrible letter which carries the potential of destroying Sri Bhagavan in the West, and destroying also the spiritual life and spiritual faith of many devotees.
What can be said by each of us to devotees and other who come to us to express their distress? Directors Bayer, Goldstein, Krystal and myself have been going over and over the problem as we were talking together this weekend. Let me first say what we are not able to explain. There are two ways for us to respond to these horrible stories about Sri Bhagavan. One is to believe Sri Bhagavan when He says the stories are totally untrue, and the other is to believe the stories.
If our decision is to not believe the stories, then the question arises as to what moves so many people to say these false stories? This question we are quite unable to answer. I have written urgently to Sri Bhagavan asking Him to kindly supply us with the correct answer. I pray that we will be able to know the correct thing to say in response when people raise this doubt. Now, what are we able to explain? First of all it can be said that Hislop went to Sri Bhagavan while in India this past December, told Him of the stories which were circulating, in clinical detail and withholding nothing.
Sri Baba listened carefully, and without anger but in a most serious voice replied that the stories were untrue and they were totally false. Second, the following can be explained. The person who believes the stories chooses to believe also that Sri Bhagavan is a hypocrite, a liar and a criminal. Why?
(1) He would be a hypocrite because He pretends that His life is above the senses; and because He told me in an interview (which you have seen) that a homosexual is denied Membership in a Center, that this person should be questioned closely and be admitted only if the person desires to change their life away from that of a homosexual, and that people were homosexuals because of weakness of mind.
(2) He would be a liar because He told me, face to face, in the most serious way that the homosexual stories about Him were totally untrue.
(3) He would be a criminal because the homosexual abuse of children under His care and protection is a criminal action and such people are punished by jail sentences.
Now, is the above portrait of Sri Baba the portrait that the person really sees and believes in? Because, that is the portrait of Sri Baba that the person who believes the stories is actually taking into their mind. If such is really their portrait of Sri Baba, then that person should seriously consider a clear break away from Him. With such a portrait of Sri Baba nagging at the back of the mind, the person will not find peace of mind, and life will be troubled and unhappy.
Most people who may tend to believe these horrible stories about Sri Bhagavan have not, I feel sure, carefully thought through the situation. If it is carefully explained what the person is actually saying about Sri Bhagavan when these stories are even partially accepted, I believe it would be of genuine help to the person. I urge that you yourself carefully think through the situation, carefully consider all aspects of it, and come to a very serious and firm conclusion, which will then be your strength when you have to talk about this to a troubled devotee.
P.S. We are also contacting people we know who lived and worked in the situation with the boys. We have already talked to Jack Hand, who taught Physical Ed. & Health at the College for two years. At no time did he hear even one of these stories. As far as he is concerned, such stories did not exist with the college students.
P.S.S. Another point: It is downright crazy to even conceive that such a situation could exist without indictment from parents & Government, whereas Gov. Leaders are Swamis strong devotees.
Letter #2: 2-21-81
Enclosed are copies of letters written by two friends, and a copy of my letter to the X family. Do not exhibit the letters - let us not escalate the trouble - it would please me better if you would destroy them after reading and digesting the contents. Why do I write to you at all about these matters? Because I conceive it my duty to do my best to present data to you that will convince you as strongly as I am convinced that Swami is innocent of the slanderous charges against Him.
You are Swamis representatives to the world, and you have got to be in a position of maximum strength when facing devotees. I hope this mailing will be sufficient to conclude the matter, and I do not intend to write about it again unless something very much unforseen happens. About X. I am not a psycholgist that I can diagnose the specific problems of the boy. But any person who has reached our ages can see the probable outline of the situation.
At a young age, the tendencies and desires are strong, and discrimination and discipline are weak. Note in crime reports how the young predominate in acts of impulsive violence. The animal heritage has its remnants in us, and the primitive heritage of cunning and violence in order to survive a hostile environment is also there. In order to survive, mind and body must use the most deadly weapons available.
In modern society, the most deadly weapon that anyone can use to destroy the enemy, the one who threatens security, is to accuse that person of degenerative sexual crimes. Our direct experience is limited, but this method of attack is often reported in the news and it can be observed in operation at all levels of society.
I am convinced that it is probably the primitive survival reaction described that is responsible for the accusations of X. There are also other people who accuse Swami, and we have heard of some of them. In these cases the individual may feel threatened by his own homosexual tendency, and by projecting that tendency on to another person it can be attacked.
No doubt there are many devices the psyche uses to survive stress and strain, and if you are interested we can ask Sam Sandweiss to tell us about them. The central point is that it is folly to accept such stories as being factually and objectively real. Such stories about Sri Baba are fiction, novels, and the seeming reality they project depends on the artistic talent of the story teller. Let us be awake and very very skeptical of such stories.
You have heard that Swami wrote to me. The significant part of the letter is this: Sai is millions of miles away from the devilish passion attributed to Him As fire consumes all materials, these false stories and false allegations are reduced to ashes by My Divinity Rest assures that Sais fame can never be diminished by these false stories good and pious people will never care for them.
As I previously mentioned in another letter, the trouble is not with the condemnation of the alleged acts, not in the decision that one who does such action is a false teacher of spiritual life. The fault lies in the conclusion that Sri Baba is guilty of such actions. This a grave error in reason and judgement. As Directors, we must be able to correct this error whenever someone says it to us.
Letter #3: 3-25-81
Both you and members of Sai Centers in your region have learned from trips to India, or from other people in the U.S. that Swami is often the target of attacks which range from physical harm to verbal abuse. For example, not only was there a poison attempt on Him not long ago, but in earlier years He is reported to have been a kidnap victim. That the kidnapers then became His devotees is beside the point.
Some five years ago a gang of robbers (dacoits) came to Prasanthi Nilayam with the stated purpose of killing Swami; the police intelligence unit caught them but Swami refused to prosecute. There have been other incidents of a physical nature. Verbal abuse of Swami is more common than physical attack. The abusers live in foreign countries as well as in India. Probably you received a leaflet from Malaysia claiming that Swami fakes vibhuthi and materializations. The fraudulent magic tricks allegation was in great favor a few years ago and even had some university scientists as participants. In time these accusations subsided.
The attacks seem to come in waves and in series of waves. A few years back Swami was labelled Romeo, a great ladys man. Numerous women claimed that Swami came to their apartments at night and took them to bed. Next came the accusations that He was a homosexual. It seems especially difficult for the attackers to keep life in the homosexual accusation and the current attack appears to be already falling away.
The latest allegation to surface, and I do not know if it will become strong enough to be a wave, is the accusation that Swami is in it for the money and is busy misappropriating money for His personal fortune. I have been receiving some letters asking about this. What the nature of the next attack will be, I do not know. Because of the continuing nature of attacks upon Swami it is important that we know something of the background of this situation in addition to having our strong personal faith in Him. Swami is always surrounded by people, and everything He does is under intense scrutiny.
Many people still living have been close observers of Swami for thirty years and more. I am fairly recent - 12 years now, but I have spent considerable time in His company. We who are able to be inside His house and who are vitally interested observers see that Swamis life is exactly the same as His teaching and that He does nothing for Himself, but spends all of His time and energy in work for the benefit of mankind. So, how and why do these waves of attack arise? It is really very strange, is it not?
It is my theory that the force of creation is outward-going into manifestation, experience and change; whereas the balancing force of discrimination and detachment is inward-going to silence, peace and eternity. Creation is violent; inward stability is peaceful. That which resists a violent current can expect to be battered. He who leads His family or followers upstream, against the tremendous power of a swift-flowing river, seeking to guide them to the source, will seem to be under attack by the current, the wave, the rapids and the whirlpools.
Swami says something the same. He points out that the Divine person throughout history has been abused and that enemies arise determined to destroy Him. In a lighter vein swami has mentioned that people do not throw stones at a barren tree but do throw stones at trees laden with fruit. I recently wrote some letters to Swami telling Him in detail about the verbal attacks mounted against Him. I asked if He would graciously send His comment. Swami did reply, and in summary said,
Sai is millions of miles away from the devilish passion attributed to Him As fire consumes all materials, these false stories and false allegations are reduced to ashes by My Divinity In all ages Divinity was attempted to be discredited with false allegations, but these merely give better shining to the Divinity of the Incarnation as a Diamond gets more lustre with each cutting Rest assures that Sais fame can never be diminished by these false stories. Only birds of the same feather will give credence to the false allegations good and pious people will never care for them.
Since a few people abuse their own essential Divinity with beastly attitudes and activities, how can we expect them to refrain from also abusing the Divinity of Sri Baba? Those individuals who participate in attacks upon Swamis person and His Name are in effect saying that they do not believe Swami is a Divine Embodiment of stainless love and purity. Instead, they regard Him as a person of low character and bad tendencies. These people are few in number but they certainly make some waves at least temporarily.
The Sai devotees who have direct knowledge of Him or faith equivalent to such knowledge are not a problem. Nor are those individuals who believe the gossip about Swami much of a problem for they quite properly run away, and it is not often possible or practical to attempt to bridge the distance to them for they have made their own choice and their own decision. Our problem (as office holders in the Sai organization) is with those devotees who are not well acquainted with Swami and who are wavering in their minds about the series of allegations against Him.
These latter devotees should have someone available with whom they can talk out the situation and their doubts. Who can this be? Because of time and distance factor it can only be the Officers of a Center. Thus, dear Director, if you agree that this suggestion is correct then you must educate and provide a good background briefing to the Officers of the Centers in your Region. How? One way to start would be to call the President of each of your Centers during the reduced-rate evening and week-end hours and read this letter to him or her and answer questions that might follow. As you will know, the reduced-rate phone charges are very reasonable and inexpensive.
You could also tell the President that the other Officers are welcome to phone you whenever they find it convenient. As Council President, I urge you to give strength to the Center Officers in this matter. Should not Sai devotees have an understanding of the situation? The possibility certainly exists that we have not seen the last attack. The only way to estimate the future course of events, and we all do it, is to weigh the probabilities and act in terms of that which is most probable. As Swami Becomes more and more a world-wide personality, those people who find in themselves love and veneration for the Person and the Divinity will multiply in numbers.
At the same time Swami will come to the notice of some minds that are anti-Avathar, or that are disturbed for one reason or another. For this reason is it not probable that attacks upon Swami are more likely to continue than to diminish? I believe it essential hat our Center Officers have the benefit of the your conversation and instruction to help them maintain balance in the Center Membership. Letters to devotees will not do, since letters are likely to escape and float in every direction without control.
I believe you must establish a verbal relationship with the Center Officers in order to properly inform them and educate them about this situation. The Indian Officers can take care of the situation in India, but it is ourselves who must take care of the American situation. I risk yourselves with written communications which you can study and work over, but I dare not enlarge the circle; someplace amongst people I do not know, there would be a weak link. If you find yourself of the opinion that my thinking in this matter is wrong, please write to me immediately and tell me what you believe would be correct .If you are in agreement, please tell me the results of your conversations with Center Officers, as they are consumated.
Comments on the Hislop letters 1
From: Ernest C. Owen
Date: 24 October 2001
Six comments on the letters by Dr. John Hislop in the early 1980s to Sai Org. leaders as published on the web.
(1) In allowing any mention of the sexual allegations to devotees, Hislop was more liberal and civil than present top Organisation leaders who exclude anyone from office who perplexedly asks honest questions about these matters, (eg. the dictatorial T. Meyer of Europe, for one, excluded the leader of EHV and deputy centre leader in Moscow, Serguei Badaev simply for asking him two or three questions about the matter).
But unfortunately Hislop gave up any proper pursuit of the allegations almost before he had begun. He asked Jack Hand, another Westerner, who was kept in the dark as are all non-Telugu-speakers in the tightly censoring Baba ashrams, is like the blind leading the blind. Can one imagine Sai Babas students under his very restrictive and moralistic discipline and ominous power freely questioning, Sir, why does God abuse me sexually?
Common sense and experience shout No! Another teacher at Babas college in Whitefield in the late 70s, Mr. Barry Pittard, was also unaware of such matters at the time, but is most certainly no longer so, as those who follow the exposť activities will know. Hislop should also have been aware that paedophiles are known always to deny their misdeeds and - when confronted - often to use threatening language or vague terms (viz. burning to ash, which one of the rishis was supposed to do to people with his eyes, according to Babas educative retelling of puranic stories).
Hislops shocked withdrawal from the alleged facts and non-pursuit of other leads (eg. the earlier Malaysian allegations, or approaching Tal Brooke for his personal witness account etc.) is psychologically understandable, but no more defensible for that. Why didnt he personally contact the boy to see for himself what kind of impression he could get from him?
A leader of a largish organisation purporting to convey moral values and defending the truth ought to have been less partisan, much more open to investigating properly. Instead, he managed to bury the matter very well for decades, I never even heard of it back in the 80s, but now the corpse has arisen! The allegations that Baba claimed he would burn to ashes have also shown a Phoenix-like nature, arising afresh time and again from new people and multiplying from all parts of the world!
(2) Hislop observably and understandably had strong motives - both personal and social - for rationalising the allegations by recourse to mere speculations about young people in general and the probable outline of the situation. Those 100% pro-Baba biased conceptions also caused him to go well beyond the facts when he claimed Swami is always surrounded by people, and everything He does is under intense scrutiny.
But Hislop conveniently overlooks the obvious, that there is no one who can observe Baba personally all the time, eg. Baba's nightly activities are said to be completely unknown to his closest attendants, as is what goes on in the privacy of the inner interview room. It is no use Hislop arguing, therefore, that, Many people still living have been close observers of Swami for thirty years and more. I am fairly recent - 12 years now, but I have spent considerable time in His company.
We who are able to be inside His house and who are vitally interested observers see that Swamis life is exactly the same as His teaching... Not only does Baba change the company he keeps many times a day, so that no single person has an overview of his many activities, but he often takes long drives away from the ashram, the destination or purpose never being made known except to those actually with him. Further, anyone who knows anything about cases of paedophilia and incest, will know that even wives are usually unaware of their children being abused sexually by their husbands or other close relatives.
This shows how much it all depends on what one wishes to believe. As to exact correspondence between teaching and action, there are many areas where discrepancies are obvious to those who wish to look (to check simply see my article on the 1993 murders, A Bloody Shambles or look into Babas angry Xmas discourse of 2000).
(3) Hislop refers to kidnappers who became Babas devotees. More likely, they willingly accepted employment from him rather than rely on robbery. One of these, known to all in the 60s, 70s and early 80s as the Prashanthi gatekeeper Kumar, was brutally murdered in the ashram in early 1985 because of his really hateful behaviour to people there (esp. the cook at the main Indian canteen), his constant beating with his watchmans stick of devotee Indian villagers (I saw him use it on Indian villagers during nagarsankirtan who did no more than walk in the wrong place), and taking money from poor Indian peasants to let them enter the ashram (tens of thousands in small notes were found behind his picture of Baba in his 'hut' just inside the main gate gopuram when it was cleared after his death).
In the early 80s he once even imprisoned a young US lady in his concrete pillbox like hut for over 24 hours. So much for such dacoits turned devotees. Various sources (incl. an ashram resident) hold that the killer acted in self-defence and rushed to Babas feet for forgiveness and Baba gave him money and sent him away somewhere until things had cooled down. It was a hush-hush matter at the ashram and no one could find out anything as it remained uninvestigated. As to Indian law and avoiding it its the same story all over.
(4) Hislop remarks P.S.S. Another point: It is downright crazy to even conceive that such a situation could exist without indictment from parents & Government, whereas Gov. Leaders are Swamis strong devotees. This shows how naive and ignorant Hislop really was about legal justice and omnipresent corruption in India, as will be proven by any reading of the materials about the 1993 murders at Prashanthi Nilayam and the subsequent government cover up, the petitions that were rejected by judges who are Sai devotees and so on.
Even national Indian television Doordarsan destroyed materials showing an alleged faked materialisation that were considered to be injurious to Sai Babas image. The fact that Gov. Leaders are strong Sai devotees should have made it obvious to Hislop that they couldnt possibly be impartial. If you regard someone as God, can you find faults in that Being if you dont have very strong reasons that you just cannot dismiss by explaining it away somehow?
(5) Hislop's letters show his frequent inaccuracy as in the phrase, I am convinced that it is probably.... He was convinced of probability! It is well known that Hislop spent much of his life in a never-never land of gurus that proved false or useless, successively leaving them, from a Yogananda guru, then the tricky money-grabbing Maharishi Mahesh yogi to the unsatisfactory vipasana yogi U Ba Thin. This makes it rather surprising that he was still able, even after a string of disillusionments of faith, seriously to hold that, The Sai devotees who have direct knowledge of Him or faith equivalent to such knowledge are not a problem.
This demonstrates how Hislop still recognised no difference between strong faith and actual knowledge in judging whether worldly facts are the case or not. Poor, misguided seeker... he had swallowed a chunk too much of the vaguer, pseudo-intellectual parts of Sai Babas teachings.
(6) Hislop reported an unheard-of fact, that Baba, told me in an interview (which you have seen) that a homosexual is denied Membership in a Center, that this person should be questioned closely and be admitted only if the person desires to change their life away from that of a homosexual, and that people were homosexuals because of weakness of mind.
Now we know something never before explained in the Organisation, that Sai Baba instructed its leader in the West to ban homosexuals from the Organisation, and even from its centres. Well, would you believe it? One must wonder why this was so closely guarded for so long, why it was never prescribed in the Organisations directives. And which secret divine teaching will surface next?
Comments on the Hislop letters 2
From: Steve White
Date: 25 October 2001
"When SSB devotees face sincerely the allegations against SSB they naturally feel deep discomfort and distress. There are three aspects in it.
SSB is a sort of a myth devotees create in their minds. No one can claim that he/she knows who SSB really is. This myth is constructed on a basis of their inner experience and essentially on books and other people stories. This myth might satisfy some inner hunger to get an intimate contact and real connection with God as Father on earth. One idea contribute a lot to this myth. It is that such a person with the supernatural abilities (which cannot be denied in SSB) is endowed with ethical perfection. Unfortunately, it might be not true at all. Supernatural abilities as well as an external beauty are not at all a guarantee for high moral standards. A very clear illustration of this point are the famous heroes of Ramayana, Rama and Ravana, the only difference between them being Rama's adherence to Dharma and Ravana's complete negligence of it.
The allegations against SSB may contradict what devotees might know about SSB, his way of life and his deeds. It is not easy for everyone to scrutinise and analyse facts and stories about SSB to discriminate between true and false. Many facts and ideas related to supernatural powers of SSB or Vedanta philosophy with its concept of Universal Maya are difficult to digest intellectually. After all, the whole picture can be a result rather of imagination than intellectual analysis. One cannot deny that there is a sort of propaganda conducted by the Sai Org. and a group of people close to SSB that contribute a lot to the whole picture. It includes censorship, cover up, incomplete information and even false facts. Everyone who dares to question the Sai Org. activities and SSB's life and deeds will see that the picture is not so pink as it looks.
Many devotees are strongly attached to the physical form of SSB. They put a lot of themselves into these relationships (their hopes, ideals, love, etc). This projection can be so strong that discovery of something opposite might be experienced as a betrayal. The very possibilty of that can be felt as a serious danger and can be suppressed and kept on the periphery of the mind. There is an idea which is widely used by SSB and the Sai Org. to prevent devotees against critical thinking. In brief, it is as follows: do not criticise, see only good, those who criticise and see bad are bad themselves (birds of a feather SSB). This makes an additional psychological pressure on those who have any doubts.
I think these three aspects can contribute to the explanation of the rationalising and denying behaviour of SSB devotees who are in deep psychological distress after having faced allegations against SSB."