Sai Baba ... Eyes Wide Shut

Read very carefully, before you pass any judgement.
The first article explains superbly, human spirituality.
The second article, understanding and forgiveness.
The final comment... Lessons to be learnt!

From the Pathwork Lectures of Eva Pierrakos:
"There are two basic approaches to human spirituality. The first one is to emphasize, concentrate, and 
focus on the divine possibility within until this possibility becomes a reality. Many movements exist that have practices, teachings, and exercises that help actively and effectively toward this end. All energies and concentration are directed toward cultivating and enhancing, manifesting and expressing, the divine reality within. However, this does not necessarily mean that the other fragmentary levels of consciousness are thereby automatically eliminated and incorporated into the divine center. It is quite possible and, indeed, a frequent occurrence that such practices genuinely bring out the real, Higher Self yet leave the underdeveloped aspects of consciousness intact.

"Many entities have such an intense longing to realize their divine, inherent nature that they forget, while in the body, that they came to fulfill a mission in the universal plan. This mission is the purification and growth of undeveloped cosmic matter. In order to do this, the second approach must be adopted. And that is to shed the light of conscious awareness and experience on the inner distortions, the ugliness, the darkness, the evil, the suffering, as well as on the inner truth, the beauty, the love, the goodness, the joy."

"It is necessary to attempt, again and again, to get in touch with the Higher Self, the divine consciousness that is ever-present, immutable, and immediately available within you. When this is done for the purpose of making distorted levels of soul substance conscious and in order to reorient them, so as to unify all split-off soul substance, meditation must take a different road from the kind of meditation that is used for the sole purpose of realizing the Divine Self while disregarding the dark aspects of the self. It is a current illusion and wishful thinking that this latter approach automatically deals with the dark side of human nature. This cannot be so. You cannot overcome what you have not consciously and fully experienced. This wishful hope with which you are all familiar is nourished by the fact that it is indeed possible to realize the already potentially present part of the God self. It is very important, my friends, to understand this clearly. This is why it is often true that entities once they shed the body who have led a difficult and apparently unspiritual life, do more toward the universal process of evolution than some others who have led an extremely spiritual life, who may even have been so-called 'masters,' but who have cultivated their beauty and disregarded their ugliness. They have thus failed to unify and so have unwittingly perpetuated the dualistic state of consciousness in which this earth finds itself."

--- From Pathwork Guide Lecture 193, "Resume of the Basic Principles of the Pathwork: Its Aim and Process"

Electronic Telegraph
By Mick Brown
Saturday 28 October 2000

(Some names have been changed. Additional research by Chloe Veltman.)

The guru Sai Baba has left India only once, yet his devotees across the world are estimated at up to 50 million. They worship him as a living god who, at the very least, can change people's lives and possibly even work miracles. But now his followers are bitterly divided by allegations that their guru has for years been systematically sexually abusing boy disciples summoned to his presence.

Driving into town from the small Midwest airport where Carrie Young and her husband had met me off the plane, she pulled a large picture from the back seat of the station wagon. Framed in gilded-gold, the picture showed the couple and their three children posing with an elderly, chubby-faced Indian man with an ostentatious Afro haircut, dressed in a red robe. Staring out of the picture, it seemed the Youngs were shining with happiness. 'And to think,' said Carrie, 'this is the man we used to think was God.'

I had been with the Youngs for less than 30 minutes, but I had already decided -- in the way you sometimes do -- that I liked them, that they were what Americans call 'straight arrows': honest, decent and truthful. A handsome, clean-cut couple in their mid-40s; both worked in the computer industry. The past year, said Jeff, had been difficult, what with all that had happened, but they were pulling things together. Any experience offers potential for growth, he said; even one as traumatic, as unbelievable, as this one. The Youngs put a lot of value in growth.

A year ago, their son Sam had come to them with a shocking assertion: Sathya Sai Baba, he told them -- the man the Youngs had revered as God for more than 20 years -- was, in fact, a sexual abuser. Over the course of four years, in his ashram, while Sam's parents sat a few yards away - thrilled that their son should be in such close proximity to the divine, secure in their belief that the god-man was ministering to their son's spiritual welfare - Sai Baba was actually subjecting him to sustained and systematic sexual abuse. 'You'll meet Sam at the restaurant,' said Carrie. 'He's prepared to talk about this. He thinks it's important too.'

Sam was a tall, blue-eyed, dreadlocked boy with a look that could only be described as angelic. The Youngs ordered hamburgers and beer -- a gesture, it seemed, almost of defiance; for the 23 years they followed Sai Baba the family were all strict vegetarians. For the next four hours, they told me the story of how they had come to Sai Baba; of their spiritual aspirations, the dreams, the visions, the miracles -- and the nightmare their lives had turned into. And always, throughout the conversation, the same question repeated itself: how could it possibly have come to this?

For more than 50 years, Sai Baba has been India's most famous and most powerful holy man -- a worker of miracles, it is said, an instrument of the divine. His following extends not only to every corner of the Indian sub-continent, but also to Europe, America, Australia, South America and throughout Asia. Estimates of the total number of Baba devotees around the world vary between 10 and 50 million.

To even begin to appreciate the scale and intensity of his following, it is necessary to have some understanding of what his devotees believe him to be, and of the powers that are attributed to him. Much of what follows exists in a realm beyond rational explanation. Among his devotees, Sai Baba is believed to be an avatar: literally, an incarnation of the divine, one of a rare body of divine beings -- such as Krishna or Christ -- who, it is said, take human form to further man's spiritual evolution.

According to the four-volume hagiography written by his late secretary and disciple, Professor N Kasturi, Sai Baba was born 'of immaculate conception' in the southern Indian village of Puttaparthi in 1926. As a young boy, he displayed signs of miraculous abilities, including 'materialising' flowers and sweets from 'nowhere'. At 13 he declared himself to be the reincarnation of a revered southern Indian saint, Shirdi Sai Baba, who died in 1918. Challenged to prove his identity, Kasturi writes, he threw a clump of jasmine flowers on the floor, which arranged themselves to spell out 'Sai Baba' in Telugu.

In 1950 he established a small ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam (Abode of Serenity) in his home village. This has now grown to the size of a small town, accommodating up to 10,000 people, with tens of thousands more housed in the numerous hotels and apartment blocks that have sprung up around. So great are the numbers of pilgrims that in recent years an airstrip has been constructed near the town. There is a primary school, university, college, and hospital in the ashram, and innumerable other institutions around India bearing Sai Baba's name.

In India, his devotees include the former prime minister, PV Narasimha Rao, the present Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and an assortment of senior judiciary, academics, scientists and prominent politicians. Unlike other Indian gurus who have travelled in the West, cultivating a following among faith seekers and celebrities, Sai Baba has left India only once, in the Seventies, to visit Uganda. His reputation in the West spread largely by word-of-mouth. His devotees tend to be drawn from the educated middle-classes.

It is said that as an instrument of the divine, Sai Baba is omniscient, capable of seeing the past, present and future of everyone; his 'miracles' include materialising various keepsakes for devotees, including watches, rings and pendants, as well as vibhuti or holy ash. Like Christ, he is said to have created food to feed multitudes; to have 'appeared' to disciples in times of crisis or need. There are countless accounts of healings, and at least two of his having raised people from the dead.

Unlike the infamous Rolls-Royce-driving guru Rajneesh, who preached a philosophy of heady libertarianism, or the Maharishi of Beatles fame, who marketed traditional meditation techniques as an aid to better health and efficiency, Sai Baba's teachings resemble a synthesis of all the great faiths, with a particular emphasis on Christian charity, enshrined in his most ubiquitous aphorism, 'Love All, Serve All'. Perhaps his most improbable disciple is Don Mario Mazzoleni, a former Vatican priest and the author of "A Catholic Priest Meets Sai Baba", in which he expresses his conviction that Christ and Sai Baba are the same manifestation of God on earth. Mazzoleni was excommunicated in 1992 because of his belief.

The principal event in Prasanthi Nilayam is darshan, in which Sai Baba emerges twice daily from his quarters adjacent to the main temple and walks among the thousands of devotees seated on the hard marble floor. Hands reach forward to touch his feet or to pass him letters of supplication. Occasionally he pauses, to offer a blessing or to 'materialise' vibhuti in an outstretched hand. It is during darshan that Sai Baba, by some unseen criteria, chooses people from the crowd for private interviews. When I visited the ashram three years ago, researching a book on India, my application to the secretary to interview Sai Baba was politely refused; a formal letter of request to Baba himself went unacknowledged. For the next week I sat on the marble floor of the temple waiting to be chosen for interview. I never was. Some devotees might wait for years. 

It is difficult to describe the atmosphere of fervent devotion that permeates the ashram. Devotees talk of having been 'called' by dreams, visions or curious flips of synchronicity, impossible to explain and too powerful to ignore. People jockey for favour and position, endlessly recycling stories of his miracles and powers. It is a catalyst for every imaginable emotion -- piety, hope, desperation, jealousy and pride. One person described it as 'like metals being smelted -- all the crap comes up to the top'.

Inevitably for such a potent figure, Sai Baba has, for years, been the subject of rumbling allegations of fakery, fraud and worse. But he has proved remarkably immune to controversy, the accusations doing little to dent his growing following or the esteem in which he is held. But all that, it appears, is about to change. 

In recent months, an extraordinary storm of allegations have appeared -- spurred by a document called The Findings, compiled by an English former devotee named David Bailey -- which threaten to shake the very foundations of Sai Baba's holy empire. Sai Baba may represent an ancient tradition of belief, but the instrument of accusation against him is an altogether modern one. Originally published in document form, The Findings quickly found its way on to the internet, where it has become the catalyst for a raging cyberspace debate about whether Sai Baba is truly divine or, as one disenchanted former devotee describes him, 'a dangerous paedophile'.

It is one of the many imponderables of this story that the charges against Sai Baba should have begun with a rotund and jocular concert pianist from Llandudno. 

David Bailey became a devotee of Sai Baba in 1994, at the age of 40, drawn by an interest in the guru's reputation as a spiritual healer. 'I couldn't see him as a God,' says Bailey, 'but I did think, this could be a great holy man who has certain gifts.'

An extrovert man, Bailey quickly became a ubiquitous and popular figure among devotees. He travelled all over the world, speaking and performing at meetings and would visit the ashram in India three or four times a year, often performing during darshan and teaching music to students at the Sathya Sai Baba College. Over the course of four years Bailey claims to have had more than 100 interviews with Baba. At Baba's instigation, Bailey married a fellow devotee, and together they edited a magazine to propagate Sai Baba's teachings. But the closer he came to Sai Baba, Bailey told me, the more his doubts multiplied. The 'miracles', he concluded, were 'B-grade conjuring tricks', the healings a myth, and Baba's powers of being able to 'see into people's minds and lives' merely a clever use of information gleaned from others.

Bailey's dwindling faith was finally crushed when students from the college came to him alleging that they had been sexually abused by the guru. 'They said, "Please sir, can you go back to England and help us." They were unable to tell their parents because they were afraid of being disbelieved, and feared for their personal safety.' 

Shocked by the allegations, Bailey severed his association with Sai Baba and began to assemble a dossier of evidence from former devotees around the world. The Findings is a chronicle of shattered illusions. It contains allegations of fakery, con-trickery and financial irregularities in the funding of the hospital and over a Sai Baba project to supply water to villages around the ashram, which is habitually trumpeted as evidence of his munificence.

Some of these allegations have been aired before. A former devotee, B Premenand, has made a virtual career out of debunking Sai Baba through his publication, The Indian Skeptic. But the charges contained in The Findings are of an altogether different magnitude. They include verbatim accounts of abuse from devotees in Holland, Australia, Germany and India. Conny Larsson, a well-known Swedish film actor, says that not only did Sai Baba make homosexual advances towards him, but he was also told by young male disciples of advances the guru had made on them.

In April, Glen Meloy -- a retired management consultant and a prominent Californian devotee of some 26 years standing -- received a letter from an American woman who had read The Findings on the internet. Her 15-year-old son, she said, had also been abused. Included in the letter was a four-page statement from the boy himself alleging multiple sexual abuse.

Meloy launched his own internet campaign to spread the allegations. The effects of this have been enormous. 

There has been a rash of defections from Sai Baba groups throughout the West. In Sweden the central group has closed down, and so too has a school based on the Human Education Values programme devised by educationalists at the Puttaparthi college.

From other devotees, however, the response has been one of disbelief and denial. 'Sai Baba', says Bailey, 'is a simple sex maniac who's on an ego trip, after money, after power. He is a sheer conman.' No, say others, 'Sai Baba is God.'

The Young family are not among those listed in The Findings, but the story of how they had come to Sai Baba was not atypical. In the early Seventies, Jeff had become interested in 'the spiritual quest', initially through psychedelics, then through yoga and meditation. He learned of Sai Baba through a friend, and in 1974, at the age of 18, visited India for the first time, driven, he says, by 'an intense and burning desire to feel and experience God'.

The teachings of Sai Baba, he said, struck him to the core. 'The first thing I read by him was, there is only one caste, the caste of humanity; there is only one language, the language of the heart; there is only one religion, the religion of love; there is only one God, and he is omnipresent. That made perfect sense to me. He wasn't claiming to be part of any religion. It was just all about love.'

A month before leaving for India Jeff had a dream in which, he says, he was in a queue, waiting to see Sai Baba. Baba passed him by, then turned, looked over his shoulder, winked and said the word 'talk'. On his first day in India he sat in a queue as Sai Baba walked past. 'Then he stopped and he looked over his shoulder, and he winked at me and he said "Talk" -- exactly as he had done in the dream.'

Three weeks later Jeff had a private interview with Sai Baba. 'And I remember feeling peace like I had never felt before; feeling loved like I'd never been loved before.'

He returned to Los Angeles, where he lived in a community with fellow Baba devotees. He met Carrie, whose childhood had been characterised by parental abuse, and her teenage years by drug abuse. She too became a devotee of Sai Baba, putting her troubled past behind her. They married, moved to the Midwest and started to raise a family. Over the years, they visited Sai Baba from time to time. They founded a community, home-schooled their children according to his teachings, and strove to lead a life of purity and self-discipline based on the principles of 'Love All, Serve All'.

Then, in 1995, things began to change. Their son, Sam, who was now 16, visited the ashram with a family friend and was singled out for a private interview with Sai Baba. Eighteen months later, the Youngs returned to Puttaparthi; again Sai Baba singled out Sam and called him and the family for an interview. 'He made [a big fuss of] our group,' said Jeff. 'He materialised a ring for my son. He told everybody that Sam had been a great Shirdi Sai devotee in a previous life -- he just poured it on.'

During the course of that visit, the Youngs were called for seven interviews, while Sam had some 20 private meetings. The family felt blissfully privileged. Baba advised Jeff on his business, signed the bylaws for their community and told them that one day he would come to their home. He materialised rings, watches, bracelets, gave them robes and the silk lungi he wore next to his skin. 'People were saying, what's with you guys?' said Jeff. 'One guy actually said to me, when I die I want to come back as you. And Baba was telling us not to talk a lot, to keep it quiet, because it causes jealousy in others -- which is true.'

The following year, the family returned to Puttaparthi three times. On each occasion they would be gifted with two or three interviews. Sam had twice as many. 'We had no idea what was going on,' said Jeff. 'We'd ask Sam, and he'd say Baba was talking about his future. Every day there'd be another watch, a ring. We thought maybe our son deserved this attention because he'd done so much for Shirdi Sai. We just rationalised things. You can rationalise everything.'

In 1995, Sam had come to his father. In a private interview, he said, Sai Baba had 'materialised' some oil in his hand, unbuttoned Sam's trousers and rubbed his genitals. Jeff told his son he had had a similar experience when he first met Sai Baba at 18. 'I said to Sam, what did you think about it? He said he didn't feel there was anything sexual about it; it was like Sai Baba was doing his job. And I'd kind of had that experience. A doctor gives a boy an exam. I'd taken it as some kind of healing.' Thereafter, Sam said nothing about his experiences.

What had actually occurred was this: from anointing with oil, Sam told me, Sai Baba's advances had grown progressively more abusive and forceful. Sai Baba, he said, had kissed him, fondled him and attempted to force him to perform oral sex, explaining that it was for 'purification'. On almost every occasion Sai Baba had given him gifts of watches, rings, trinkets and cash, in total around $10,000. He had told him to say nothing to his parents.

So why had Sam continued to go into interviews, and to say nothing? From the day he was born, he said, he had been raised to believe that Sai Baba was God. 'All my life, that was my goal, to get an interview and have Sai Baba talk about my life. And then I get in there, and my mum's so happy out in the crowd, and then I see what's really in there for me... I'm thinking, maybe this is for love, and he might want to be experiencing that with me, but I don't want that.'

When Sam asked Baba why he was doing this, he would tell him it was because Sam was 'a special devotee -- that it was a great blessing'. When Sam attempted to resist, he said, Baba would threaten not to call his parents for any more interviews. 'I felt obligations, to my parents, our friends, all the thousands of people sitting outside who all wanted to be in the position I was in, not knowing what was really there.

'And then the big thing was the concept that he is God, from day one, so when he says, don't tell anybody...'

In fact, Sam did tell somebody. He confided what was happening to two other American teenagers who were students at the Puttaparthi college. They had had similar experiences. 'They justified it as a divine experience. But we didn't talk about it too much because of the idea that he was omniscient, that he'd know what we were talking about and what was in our heads. 

'If you listen to what Baba says, he's talking about taking charge of your life, and I was thinking, "I'm with you, so everything must be good." But he was doing things to me that I didn't want to do, and I was just letting it happen.'

In 1998, according to Sam, Sai Baba attempted to rape him. The following year, the day before the family were leaving for Puttaparthi, he told his father he did not want to see Sai Baba alone, without specifying why. Jeff sensed something was amiss: 'I told him, you must always be true to your conscience. The family don't care if we never have another interview again.'

In Puttaparthi, Sam was again called for a private interview. When Sai Baba attempted to get him to perform oral sex, Sam walked out for the last time, although it would be some months before he summoned the nerve to tell his parents. Jeff said it took some weeks to 'process' what they were hearing. 'We knew that Sam was telling the truth, but I still asked myself, what could this mean?'

The Youngs contacted a leading figure in the American Sai Baba organisation. 'He said it must be some kind of test,' said Jeff, 'and for a moment we felt better.'

Then Dr Michael Goldstein, the man in charge of the entire Baba organisation in America, flew in from California to meet them. 'He said, we've got to talk to Baba about this; words are not enough; faith must be restored.' Goldstein immediately flew to India. He returned to tell the Youngs that Sai Baba had told him 'he is pure', and that Goldstein accepted that. He asked Jeff if he thought his son might be 'delusional'. The Youngs no longer speak with Goldstein.

I attempted to contact Goldstein in America, but was told he was away, in Puttaparthi. However, another senior devotee, a trustee for the Sathya Sai Baba Society of America, did return my call. Jerry Hague told me that he and his wife had been devotees for 25 years. He said he was deeply shocked at the allegations and could not begin to understand them.

'All I know in my heart is that Swami is the purest of the purest, and that everything he does is for the highest good of everybody. If other people feel something else, that's how they feel. It's a mystery to me, and that's how I'm leaving it. I just know in my heart what I've found.'

This denial -- Sai Baba is God, God doesn't do these things -- was a theme that was echoed by innumerable other devotees I spoke to in America and Britain. One woman told me the allegations were 'utterly inconsistent' with her experience of Sai Baba over the past 30 years. Others said they were convinced they were a result of 'delusions', or 'the projections' of boys and young men at a difficult time sexually.

Continue to the surprising conclusion...

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