Elena Hartgering - "My Story"


Date: 03-09-02

To: Former Devotees of Sathya Sai Baba

Document date: November 8, 2000 

I am allowing this writing to be posted on the Internet with my name and e-mail address because I would like to begin a dialogue with former devotees and especially fellow professionals who have also left the Sai Baba cult. The time has come for me to heal my wounds and move on. I am seeking like-minded individuals who wish to share their process as well. Perhaps together we may discover methods that will help others who struggle to free themselves from cult learned behaviors. I will respond to all serious inquiries. I am saddened that many so-called defenders of Sai Baba have resorted to vile language and hate mail. I believe in the universal law that says, – What goes around comes around. If you are inclined to send hate mail, please don’t. I have already directed it back to you.

Last July, I read the "Findings" posted on the Internet by David and Faye Bailey. They reveal Sai Baba to be  a fraud, charlatan, and worse, a pedophile. I have since read most of the Internet material on two different websites, as well as many testimonials from victims, a magazine article in NEXUS [an Australian publication] and the lengthy article published in The Daily Telegraph [one of the largest circulation newspapers in the UK] on October 28, 2000. I was a 20 year devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, but have since withdrawn from all Sai activities and organizations.

I am a licensed professional counselor. In my practice I work with victims of sexual abuse and incest. I recognized immediately the consistent theme in the stories told by young men from around the world who have come forward to describe their victimization by this man masquerading as God. Whether the victim is from Australia or Germany, Sweden or the U.S., Denmark, or the Netherlands, all described the same manner of sexual misconduct on the part of Sathya Sai Baba. There is also testimony from young men in my community who said they were inappropriately touched by Baba or knew others in their traveling parties who were. This is a major violation of trust, especially when one considers the power differential between a purported Avatar (God incarnate) and a youngster believing him to be God, therefore all good and all powerful. Not only were their bodies abused, their minds and spirits were violated as well.

It is very difficult for both genders to admit they have been victims of sexual assault. It is particularly difficult for young men and boys to acknowledge such vulnerability. Those who have come forward display a great deal of courage in their willingness to speak the unspeakable. When it comes to sexual abuse of children, I have found that those who have been abused and then recant, for the most part, do so out of fear of reprisal, or worse, coercion by their families. Sexual assault is so shocking that often a parent’s only emotional defense is denial. How terrible it is for youngsters to be victims of a such an ugly crime and then to be disbelieved by the very people who are charged with their protection. Parental denial, in this case, the need for parents to take care of themselves instead of their children, victimizes the children further, and even worse, exonerates the perpetrator. These young men have nothing to gain by telling their stories in an international forum except perhaps the restoration of their personal power and integrity, their self respect, and the knowledge that their willingness to expose the pedophile may prevent other boys from enduring a similar violation.

As a licensed therapist, I am a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse as are doctors, nurses, teachers, psychologists, social workers, school counselors, clergy, and others. As I began to come to terms with the truth of Sai Baba’s pedophilia, I asked myself the following questions: Can I justify to the state licensing authority my worship of, and blind loyalty to, a guru in India who claims to be God on the one hand, and stands publicly accused by victims around the world of pedophilia? How do I justify the Baba organization’s efforts to suppress these accusations, when I am obligated by law to report them? 

My journey to Baba started early in life. As a child I did not find God in the Christian faith of my family. Talk of God was there, but His spirit was absent. By the time I was 18 I had tried three different denominations. Disillusioned, I declared myself an atheist and gave up on religion, spirituality and God for 20 years. When I was in my late 30’s (the year was 1978) I took a philosophy course at my local community college and my professor, a former Jesuit, introduced me to Sai Baba. He was an honest man, an educated man, and a wise man. If he believed that Sai Baba was a divine incarnation, I was willing to take a look. I read and believed the testimonials of Howard Murphet, an Australian author, Dr. Jack Hislop, president of the Sai Organization of the Americas, Phyllis Krystal, a psychotherapist, Dr. Samuel Sandweiss, a psychiatrist, Dr. Kasturi, Baba’s official interpreter, and many others. These were, in my mind, very credible people. I relied on Sai’s representations, "I have not come to start a new religion" and "Where money is I am not." I applauded his "Ceiling on Desires" program and the Education in Human Values program, when it came into being. Sai Baba is very godly in his demeanor. I made 3 trips to India, in 1985, 1995, and 1996. We were scheduled to go again in January, 2001. I was mesmerized by him and believed he could do no wrong. He was, after all, God incarnate.

I was writing a book, with seven chapters completed, about Baba, my spiritual journey and its compatibility with the practice of psycho/spiritual therapy. My husband and I were serving on committees organizing the Sathya Sai School in West Hartford, CT and the Sathya Sai summer camp in Woodstock, CT. I have also been a workshop facilitator at the regional retreats, and numerous meditation retreats held in our region. Both of us have been officers in our local Sai Center several times; I was vice-president before my resignation in July, 2000.

Dr. Goldstein and other officials in the organization are suppressing information, and attacking former devotees who have testified against Sai Baba. There is, for example, a letter from a woman in California which was sent to all Center presidents. In our center it was suppressed by the president and devotions coordinator because they were told to do so by the regional president. In the US freedom of speech and access to information are rights protected by law.  This material cannot be suppressed. People will eventually find out as we did and then feel doubly betrayed; first by Sai, and then by the organization and our fellow devotees.   Sai devotees resent the organization being labeled a cult, yet these are clearly cult practices and mind control techniques.

Since we first saw the information on the Internet, we have talked to three different mental health professionals. In three separate conversations, they identified the cult practices, mind control, and brainwashing techniques. These are truths we could no longer deny.

It is troubling that neither Sai Baba himself nor the officials who head up the organization are willing to confront the accusations. If   he and the organization have nothing to hide, then the accusations should be confronted directly, rather than with rehashed accounts of Sai’s miracles and divinity, and being told to rely only on one’s own experience. When people start thinking independently these stories lose their impact. All the miracle stories have now become suspect and are being seriously questioned by growing numbers of people. Ultimately, suppression is the poorest of tactics, because at the least it indicates something to hide, and at worst, it is viewed as an admission of guilt.

Saying Sai predicted this in advance -- "soon many devotees will fall away" -- is irrelevant. This predication resulted from his realization that the information on the Internet  would be disseminated widely. It appears to be a lame attempt to save face. Instructions to stay off the Internet simply arouses more curiosity among most people. Eventually this tactic won’t work, except for those who are not able or willing to think for themselves. Indeed, postings on the Internet should be considered carefully, but   the Internet is not the problem here. The problem is Sai Baba’s behavior. No one is denying he touches male genitals. Knowledge about this is so widespread it cannot be denied without the organization losing total credibility. People delude themselves with comments like, "he is God, he has no sexual intent" or "boys need to be tamed in that regard" or "it is a therapeutic touch, like a doctor." How can a rational human being believe this? Obviously the boys who have come forward with their tragic stories aren’t accepting these explanations. How can we? As one psychologist said to us, "There is never any reason to touch genitals, outside of the requirements of a medical exam or established ritual, such as circumcision. It is degrading, humiliating, and a violation of the sanctity and privacy of one’s body. The touching of genitals  has only one intent, and that is sexual." If Sai Baba is indeed God, he has no need to touch genitals, which he has been doing for decades.

It was the multiple testimony of sexual abuse of boys and young men that turned me away from Baba. There is no conspiracy here, as some have claimed; these people are from many different countries. My decision was reinforced by accusations of  fake materializations (which I have since seen on a video tape), the misuse of money, and even murder. The accusations should be examined carefully in the Sai centers, not lost in suppression or in clouds of blind devotion. It is also interesting to note that videotapes have not been sold in the Sai Baba bookstore [Tustin, California] for years. Is it because videotapes clearly show Baba’s sleight of hand in making vibuthi [holy ash]?

God is Truth and Light. Eventually darkness is dispelled and Truth is known to all. One thing I know with certainty – the evil of sexual abuse of children flourishes in secrecy, denial, and collusion by those in authority with the child molester. They often are family members wishing to avoid shame.   Many are guilty here, not just Sai Baba. Who is willing to speak out against this evil? Who speaks for the children? Has anyone asked the boys who were touched and/or sexually assaulted by Baba if it was OK with them? Have they been healed, or their sexuality tamed?

I was not injured personally by Baba. Indeed, my study of God and cosmology intensified and I have grown in my spirituality. However, now knowing the truth, I cannot credit Baba with either creating these teachings or my spiritual growth. When one prays with a pure heart, God answers. Baba is not God, but there is a God in this universe who responds to our prayers. What Baba teaches is the perennial philosophy which can be found in the Vedas, Upanishads, Bible, Koran and other holy scripture. He has led us to believe that quotes from the Bhagavad-Gita, Gandhi,   Buddha, Jesus, Narada, and many of the sages and saints of India are original to him. I don’t know if  Baba originated anything. The teachings are good. It is unfortunate the teacher could not lead by example, and live up to the human values he espoused. His actions now speak so loudly I can no longer hear his words.

Even on the first day of discovering my chosen god form was a fraud and a criminal, an overwhelming sense of relief overshadowed my sorrow. Now I understand why. I am relieved to have come out of the darkness into the light. From untruth, lead us to Truth, from darkness, lead us to Light. I am relieved to have found the God of the Universe who resides in our hearts. I am so relieved to be free again. I pray we all soon discover that the abode of supreme peace is as near to us as the beating of our own hearts.

Elena A. Hartgering

The Void

Chapter 3

When the student is ready the teacher will come. I read that somewhere, or maybe I just heard someone say it. It was so long ago, I cannot remember the source. It is one of those gems that’s become imbedded in my mind, only to surface at those times I am given a gift of knowledge, in whatever form it may appear. Then I think, Oh yes, I remember. When the student is ready the teacher will come. While it may not seem so at times, we do live in a benevolent Universe. When we are ready to learn something, a teacher is provided. Teachers appear in many forms. For example, an alcohol and drug counselor I know was looking for a method that would help her clients access traumatic memories in the pre-verbal stage of their development. In a book store one day, the exact book she needed literally fell off the shelf and hit her on the head.

 Occasionally, the teacher is a special person who mysteriously appears just at the exact moment a lesson is ready to be learned. Sometimes we too are the teachers, and mostly not aware of it. I am often surprised when a client reminds me of something I said that had a special meaning for them. If I remember it at all, it does not stand out in my memory as anything special. These occurrences are reminders that we all have gifts to share. In whatever form the teacher arrives, it is for the purpose of delivering the gift of knowledge the student is ready to receive. Knowledge is a very precious gift. Is it not?

I was in my late thirties when I had a strong desire to pick up the threads of my education which I had dropped many years before. Until then I was homemaker whose primary focus was the care of family. My parents and grandparents were getting on in years and becoming more and more dependent. My brother and sister had major health problems, so the load for elder care fell heavily on my shoulders. My sister’s two daughters were quite young when she had a number of prolonged hospital stays. When that happened the girls came to stay with me.

As I went about my daily duties, I kept sinking deeper into the roles others had cast for me. I was wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, secretary, bookkeeper, nurse, chauffeur, cook, laundress, social worker, counselor, cleaning lady, gardener, and very often, peacemaker. I was very busy, and rather unhappy. Something kept nagging at me; something was missing, and I didn’t know what it was. No matter how much time I spent in frenetic activity, there were moments when unwelcome thoughts and feelings pushed their way into my conscious mind. This usually happened while I was driving from one errand to another, or when I was cooking and washing dishes, but more so, when falling asleep, or just waking. These were times when I allowed my mind to drift unimpeded along its own course. These were the times I felt a profound sense of sadness, and an emptiness so deep I could not begin to describe it. I was surrounded by people nearly 24 hours a day, yet I was always lonely.

My joy was reading. This was one thing I did do for myself. When I managed some free time, I lost myself in books, often reading until dawn when the rest of the household was about to begin a new day. Books were my best friends. They were more than hours of entertainment. I was a ready student and they were my teachers. There came a time though when I needed more than books. I was ready for more knowledge but I didn’t know what it was I wanted to learn.

The student was ready, and sure enough, the teacher appeared in the form of a lawyer who was looking for a mature individual to help out in his office. I wasn’t qualified for the job. I didn’t know anything about a law practice, but I was indeed mature and well organized to boot. We struck a bargain, the lawyer and I. He would teach me all that I needed to know in exchange for a lesser starting salary. From my point of view I had the better part of the bargain. I was given specialized training from a well respected member of the bar who was willing to pay me as well as teach me.

I shall always be grateful to this teacher because he gave me much more than just a start in my career. Back then I didn’t think I was capable of much. Obviously, my self-esteem was low. My lawyer/teacher encouraged me to think for myself, to develop my mind, to go back to school, and most of all, to be respectful of myself and my abilities.

Encouraged by my success in the law firm, I screwed up my courage and called the State Education Department. Before I could think about it, I was sitting for the GED exam. With that successfully behind me, I enrolled in a course at the local community college, just to test the waters. What a difference the passage of time makes. Here I was 38 years old and loving school. I actually looked forward to Wednesday nights. No matter how many other commitments I had, no matter how many people made demands on my time, I didn’t miss a class if I could help it. Something was stirring inside me. It was a new feeling which I couldn’t identify. It was a good feeling that I held close to me because I didn’t trust anyone else enough to share it with them.

 In the 1970's legal assistants were gaining recognition in the legal community. In response to the demand for these paraprofessionals, community colleges developed a two year course of study, offering an associate in science degree, coupled with a legal assistant certification. The very next semester I enrolled in the program. As a part-time student taking an average of two courses a semester, it took me five years to earn my AS and certification.

During those five years I had many good teachers. One in particular will always stand out in my mind because what he taught me would change my life. Even though I was more content than I had ever been; even though I eventually identified that good feeling as my self esteem just beginning to emerge, there was still a nagging, an empty space that my studies did not fill.

Once again the student was ready, and this time the teacher came in the form of a philosophy professor. I chuckle as I write this because I still remember vividly that evening I walked into the classroom and saw Dr. Jacobs for first time. He was, even then, an older gentlemen with a shock of white hair; he reminded me of Albert Einstein. He spoke in a strong, loud voice with a German accent. Dr. Jacobs put all of himself into his lectures. His points were often punctuated with the waving of his hands, sometimes pounding his fist into his hand, or, actually hitting the desk on occasion. He was flamboyant, and authoritative, and most of all a tough task master. His multiple choice quizzes were deadly. Each question had more than one correct answer, and woe to you if you missed one.

Dr. Jacobs had a way of delivering information and introducing topics that challenged his students to think in depth. In one of his lectures about religious conflict, for example, he said, How would it be if you take Jesus out of the confines of the church, and deal with Him as a separate entity entirely?

Now there was a new idea. I never thought of separating Jesus, or God for that matter, from religious organizations.

As I was driving home that evening, I remembered how as a child I loved the tender Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem. Even though I was an avowed atheist I still cried uncontrollably whenever I saw a movie depicting Jesus’ crucifixion. When I visited the Cathedral of San Francisco in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I stood mesmerized before the cross, tracing with my eyes the blood streaming from the crown of thorns to the nailed hands and feet of the crucified Christ.   What was that all about, I wondered?  By the end of the semester I was beginning to believe I was not at all an atheist. Perhaps agnostic was more accurate. I also came to understand my atheism was not so much a matter disbelief as it was anger at the religious systems that fostered the holy wars of my childhood.

I noticed Dr. Jacobs wore an unusual ring. One evening I asked him if I could look at it. The ring was a gold colored band with a small disc sitting on top. There was an image of a man with a profusion of hair imprinted on the disc. I asked, Who is that?

His response was quick, You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. And he walked away, leaving me a bit startled. Why wouldn’t I believe him? He seemed to be a person of character and integrity. Some of the students thought he was arrogant, and even rude at times. I do not, however, recall anyone ever challenging his integrity.

I enjoyed philosophy and Dr. Jacob’s lectures. The following semester I enrolled in another one of his courses. It wasn’t required in my program of study, but I was able to take it as an elective. One evening, in the first few weeks of the semester, I stayed after class to ask for clarification of the homework assignment. As he explained, my eyes fell on the mysterious ring. It shined on his finger as his hand rested on the desk. I actually interrupted him in mid-sentence, Why won’t you tell me about the ring?

He seemed taken aback by my impertinence. He put his head down for a bit, then looked up at me and said, You won’t believe me.

I said, I believe in you, why would I not believe what you tell me.

Again he put his head down. He seemed troubled by my questioning. He looked up at me again and then he said the words that would cause my life to totally change direction. He would introduce me to God, not as the child who was frightened by the holy wars, but as an adult ready to discern truth. His words would lead me onto a spiritual path, and everything in my life would change; everything. He said the words that finally helped me remember I am a child of the One and my life’s purpose is the search for Truth.

He looked up at me and said, I don’t know, maybe He is calling you. This ring was materialized out of thin air by Sathya Sai Baba. You wouldn’t believe how holy ash, vibuthi, drips from his fingers. He is an incarnation of God and I saw Him with my own eyes.

I thought, you’re right, I don’t believe you, but I had the presence of mind to remain silent.

He stood up abruptly and said, Come to my office.

I can’t right now, I have another class, I said.

He looked down at me with that authoritative look of his and said, Your other class is not important. Come with me to my office.

He gave me a book entitled, Sai Baba, Man of Miracles, by Howard

Murphet (1) and told me to read it and return it to him in two weeks.

I protested, Dr. Jacobs, I have a full time job, a home and family to care for, and I am taking two courses. I don’t have time to read this now.

Yes, you do, he said, as he strode off toward the parking lot.

I read the book in less than two weeks. And I finally knew what had been nagging at me for so long. I understood the empty place inside me was a spiritual vacuum, a deep cavernous space longing to be filled.