The large number of followers that Sathya Sai Baba gathered was another proof of man’s craving to worship something or someone. There certainly must have been something in the Baba that had the potential to attract people.
The most simplistic explanation I have ever read is Mayah Balse’s. In her book, Encounters with men of miracles, the author argues that some traumatic experience in life could endow the person with miraculous powers. She mentions a few examples like one Subba Rao who “one night, rolled off his bed and fractured his skull. His unconsciousness must have shaken loose some faculty because when he regained consciousness, he claimed he had superpowers, and what was more, demonstrated them. He generated a strange animal magnetism akin to Mesmer’s and cured terminal diseases by just touching a patient on the head.” Sathya Sai Baba also had some similar traumatic experience. He was bitten by a scorpion at the age of 14 and lay in a swoon the entire night. “When he awoke, he astonished the world with miracles,” says Balse.
Science may not accept such a simplistic explanation. Traumas can alter people’s attitudes and even their psychic make-up. But how much? And for how long?
Were the miracles performed by Sathya Sai Baba really miracles or sleight-of-hand tricks? Why did he give up performing miracles eventually and focused on spirituality? Is it because he did not wish people to stop at seeking miracles and go beyond into the realm of the spirit? And see the real ‘god’ residing in them? Or is it because he grew out of the need to attract people with such tricks?
The best part of the Baba’s teaching must have been that we are all ‘gods’. The vast majority of us don’t understand it or don’t perceive the god within us. He could see the god within him and so he was a god. A simple yet profound view. One should also appreciate the respect that the Baba had for all religions. His was not at all a narrow approach to religions. It was an all-embracing comprehensive approach. He did inspire a lot of people to lead a ‘good’ life.
Perhaps, the most important question now is what will happen to the vast ‘empire’ that the god-man built up? [Newspapers put the total assets between 40,000 crore and 1.5 lakh crore.] Will it eventually become a corporate enterprise?
Let me past below the mail I received from Rationalist International:
India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba
Indian Rationalist Association & Rationalist International
When Sathya Sai Baba died this morning (24 April 2011) at the age of 85 years, he proved once again that miracles and predictions fail. He had predicted at a public gathering at his head quarters in Puttaparthy, in 2000, and repeatedly many times, that he would die at the age of 96 only. And till the last moment, many of his devotees clung to his word and waited for a miracle. May it be an eye opener for the millions of gullible people whom he misguided and deluded.
De mortuis nihil nisi bene, they say, say nothing but good of the dead. But I think Sathya Sai Baba’s case qualifies for an exception. Too great is the damage that he did to India. His devastating influence on reason and scientific temper caused huge setback to the country. At a time, when scientific progress led to great social and economic leaps and scientific awakening started spreading all over India, Sathya Sai Baba launched a “counter revolution” of superstition, supported by irresponsible politicians and other public figures who should have known better. In my judgment, this is his greatest crime. I have succeeded again and again to expose him publicly as a fraud, so did some other rationalists. But due to his political protectors he was never held responsible for his crimes against public reason. Nor was he ever booked for any other crime he was accused of. Numerous cases of alleged sexual abuse and murder are yet to be investigated, not to mention the financial secrets of his empire.
Sathya Sai Baba insisted in all seriousness that he was god, the creator of the universe, and “proved” his divinity with a couple of small “miracles”. As son of a village tantric he was familiar with the hand sleights and tricks of the trade. However, he did not only fascinate poor and uneducated villagers with his fraudulent performances. Over the years, he managed to attract a galaxy of India’s rich and powerful, among them ministers, prime ministers, presidents, chief justices, top industrialists and superstars.
Sathya Sai Baba had a special modus operandi that was the key for his astonishing success and the root of his enormous clout. Many of his high society devotees came to serve their own vested interests. Some came to rub shoulders with the prominent. Many joined the club because it was working as a powerful syndicate spreading its tentacles all over the political system. It was a way to the top jobs and a way to get things done. Others were seeking financial support or wanted to get rid of ill-gotten black money: The empire, it is alleged, was based on money laundering, using foreign devotees and branches. In fact, the huge foreign donations to Sai Baba stood in contrast to the comparatively modest number of active foreign devotees and the sometimes quite weak foreign branches, some of them residing in private homes. That is no great surprise, when one considers that Sai Baba did not speak any other language than Telugu and traveled only once in his whole life abroad – to visit his friend Idi Amin in Uganda.
On his 80th birthday, Sai Baba’s supporters announced that he would turn from a miracle man to a philanthropist. That was, after I had demonstrated his miracles so often in TV shows that many kids in the streets could imitate them. That he since spent a part of the great fortunes, swindled out of the gullible, for social development around his ancestral village, is highlighted now to present him as a saint. But as useful and welcome hospitals, schools and drinking water projects for the poor always may be: this kind of alibi-philanthropy is well known even from mafia-bosses. It cannot be weighed against his crimes and the damage he has done to the Indian society.
In December 2005, I wrote a letter to then President Dr. Abdul Kalam, one of Sai Baba’s ardent supporters, which was never answered. I demanded criminal investigations against Sai Baba. If his social development projects are meant to be indulgence to nullify his crimes, this procedure is unprecedented and unacceptable, I wrote. It is a shame for India that well-founded accusations and numerous reputed witnesses against Sai Baba are ignored without any investigation. Do saffron clothes make an offender untouchable for the law? Do we have to tolerate that political protectionism raises its head so boldly, mocking India’s democracy?
Sathya Sai Baba caused great damage to India. His irresponsible political patrons corrupted the political culture of India. Encouraged by the clout of Sathya sai Baba, a new clan of miracle mongers imitated him. India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba.
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