23. SATHYA SAI BABA: PROBLEMS
Your web article Wikipedia and Sathya Sai Baba is said to break new ground in the response to cult harassment. It is evident that you have never been a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. The attack on yourself from within his sect has serious implications for non-participants. Can you comment further upon the wider issues posed by this religious movement?
23.1 Claims and Purported Miracles Contested
Sathya Sai Baba
The elaborate hagiology created by Sathya Sai Baba (d.2011) was very influential amongst the credulous. His promotionalism relied heavily upon the image of the miracleworker, a factor reflected in numerous devotional works. A major (and canonical) biography is Narayan Kasturi, Sathyam Sivam Sundaram: The Life of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba (4 vols, 1961-80). The tone is strongly devotional and eulogistic. Kasturi was one of the sources used uncritically in Howard Murphet, Sai Baba: Man of Miracles (1971), a work evocative of the partisan projection. Murphet's book was influential amongst Westerners who took the format at face value.
More realistically, Professor Lawrence A. Babb contributed an analysis of the problem via his paper “Sathya Sai Baba’s Miracles” in T. N. Madan, ed., Religion in India (1992), which I covered in my Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (2005), pp. 163-5 note 2. Professor Babb was careful to draw upon the multi-volume work Sathya Sai Speaks, which he treats critically, having evident reservations about the ideology expressed. Ex-devotees have revealed that canonical work to contain numerous errors. Translators are reported to have frequently removed mistakes in the problematic discourses of the guru. Even the final edited version can be faulted in many places.
One of the major critical commentators on the corpus of Sathya Sai is the ex-devotee Brian Steel. His website has also furnished penetrating analyses of matters such as miracles and the reincarnation claim. See especially Brian Steel, Claim to be the Reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. That claim is very much open to repudiation; this recourse evidently produced fame for the claimant at an early stage in his career. See 23.4 below. See also Sathya Sai Baba's Questionable Stories and Claims. Steel here makes many references to the edited discourses in Sathya Sai Speaks. He contradicts the claim of Sathya Sai to be omniscient. Steel instead describes Sathya Sai as a charismatic guru “who offers eclectic (Hindu-based) spiritual teachings and promotes universal harmony and charitable works achieved by devotees’ efforts or donations.”
Brian Steel has also provided a valuable documentary source in his Annotated Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba, in Three Parts. Steel himself formerly wrote a hagiography entitled The Powers of Sathya Sai Baba (1999), which he subsequently described as “thoroughly over-enthusiastic and unquestioning.” That verdict can be located in Part 3 of the Bibliography. In that section can also be found Brian Steel’s assessment of the canonical biography by Kasturi (mentioned above), in terms of “the first detailed hagiographical and eulogistic account of Sathya Sai Baba’s early life and his mission until the late 1970s by his close Indian devotee.” Steel informs that Kasturi retired from academic life in 1954, thereafter staying at the Puttaparthi ashram until his death in 1987.
Investigations of the parapsychologist Erlendur Haraldsson proved misleading. He contributed a well known book ‘Miracles are My Visiting Cards.’ An Investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba (1987; new edn, 1997). This work also gained the title of Modern Miracles in the American edition. Haraldsson was enthusiastic about investigating diverse miracle stories, questioning various persons in relation to these. Haraldsson was evidently tempted to believe in the well known "miracle" tricks (he became regarded as an uncritical devotee when he subsequently denied the relevance of many ex-devotee reports about abuse at Puttaparthi).
The assessment of Brian Steel is duly critical, including the observation that the Haraldsson version “is often erroneously regarded and quoted by devotees as a scientific endorsement of Sathya Sai Baba’s materialisations” (See Part 3, and also Part 1, of the Steel bibliography). In reality, we are here discussing a description of beliefs about miracles. Dr. Haraldsson made eight visits to India during the years 1973-1983, and could not prove anything. He could only relate what he was told by informants. Robert Priddy is also duly critical of the Haraldsson approach.
The Indian critic Basava Premanand (23.7 below) was in controversy with Haraldsson about certain aspects of the latter’s report. The relevant correspondence of the late 1980s was reproduced in early issues of Premanand’s journal Indian Skeptic. A Canadian academic, Dr. Dale Beyerstein, became interested in this argument and tended to side with Premanand, finding the Haraldsson version too condoning in relation to the guru. A few years later, Premanand published in India an investigation of the same subject by Beyerstein (Sai Baba’s Miracles: An Overview, 1994).
Dr. Beyerstein adopted a much more critical standpoint than Haraldsson and his associate Karlis Osis. The Beyerstein book was reproduced on the internet, becoming the nucleus for further critical comments, including those made on the basis of personal observations. The ex-devotees David and Faye Bailey contributed one of the most well known firsthand insights about sleight of hand in their internet document The Findings (2000), which gained widespread coverage (e.g., Shepherd, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, 2005, pp. 274ff).
The purported “materialisations” of Sathya Sai Baba were thus exposed as cheap tricks utilising sleight of hand, a habit which he cultivated from his early years in an obvious attempt to gain adulation. The element of deception is pronounced. His ashram at Puttaparthi, emerging in the 1950s (and known as Prashanthi Nilayam), was in receipt of very substantial funds. The fate of diverse fundings was a further cause for critical reactions.
Sathya Sai Baba "materialising" a lingam in his mouth, 2002
A prominent aspect of Sathya Sai miracle claims is the lore surrounding lingams, meaning iconic objects associated with Shiva. In 1951, the guru “materialised” a Shiva lingam on the occasion known in the Hindu calendar as Mahashivaratri. This spectacle became an annual event at the Puttaparthi ashram. These public “materialisations,” associated with the Shiva festival, ceased in 1978. However, they resumed sensationally in 1999, coinciding with the unease at the ashram about pending allegations against the guru from ex-devotees. The subsequent manifestations of this annual event were attended by strong critical appraisals. The Mahashivaratri performances of 2002 and 2004 occurred in front of BBC cameras; the relevant footage was appended to The Secret Swami BBC documentary of 2004. Brian Steel informs:
Videos of the highly dramatic event (including some on YouTube) have tended to support the long standing accusation by B. Premanand and other magicians and critics that the lingam production is the result of regurgitation (in the old days) and legerdemain (recently) rather than the claimed Shiva powers. (Steel, Sathya Sai Baba: Questionable Stories and Claims Part 2)
23.2 David Bailey and The Findings
The document known as The Findings was contributed by David Bailey, a British ex-devotee strongly disillusioned by what he discovered at the Puttaparthi ashram of Sathya Sai Baba. He was a concert pianist from Llandudno. From 1994, Bailey was in the habit of visiting the ashram three or four times a year. He discharged a role as music teacher to the students at the Sathya Sai College. Over four years, Bailey gained more than a hundred interviews with the guru. Participating in the devotional enthusiasm, he edited a magazine with his wife Faye for the purpose of spreading the teaching of Sathya Sai. However, Bailey was subject to increasing doubts at what he learned during this period. There were too many discrepancies. The result was a 46-page report on misdemeanours.
The Findings achieved recognition on the internet in 2000. Bailey concluded that the purported “miracles” were no more than cheap conjuring tricks, and that the much proclaimed healings of the guru were a myth. Furthermore, he now portrayed the guru as a charlatan with dissolute tendencies to sexual abuse, here meaning homosexual abuse. The enthusiasm of David Bailey had been shattered; his wife followed suit in the negative verdict.
Faye Bailey at first strongly resisted the critical viewpoint of her husband. Only when she ceased her habit of gazing adoringly at the guru’s face, did she begin to see events differently. When she focused instead upon the hands of Sathya Sai, she was horrified to perceive that the “miracles” of materialising sacred ash, rings, watches, and trinkets amounted to the stealth achieved by sleight of hand. The Baileys recorded that these diverse objects were palmed or plucked from chair cushions. The sacred ash (vibhuti) was derived from vibhuti tablets that the guru held between his fingers. The tablets were crushed in the adept hand, an action producing the “materialisation.”
David Bailey discovered that the “materialised” jewellery comprised worthless trinkets. The guru told the devotee that a ring “materialised” for him was a diamond ring of great commercial value. Bailey took this ring to a jeweller, who informed that the item was a typical “Sai Baba ring” of cheap manufacture. Bailey learned that these worthless rings were specially manufactured for Sathya Sai. The stones were valueless zircons.
In 1998, Bailey ended his association with Sathya Sai, after hearing disturbing reports from students at the Sathya Sai College where he taught. Some of these boys begged him to help them in their plight of being sexually abused by the guru. The victims feared for their personal safety if they disclosed the abuses. The boys were scared to inform their parents, who were indoctrinated devotees of the guru. Bailey now felt a special obligation to counter the propaganda he had formerly been assisting so committedly. He began to assemble a dossier, including verbatim reports of abuse from ex-devotees in various countries.
His disenchanted wife Faye Bailey now described Sathya Sai Baba in terms of “his chicanery, illusion, fraud, embezzlement, implication with murders, ongoing paedophile activities, and the almost impenetrable fortress of lies creating his ‘divinity'.”
The Baileys learned that many other people had encountered the same underlying problem in relation to the Puttaparthi ashram. During their worldwide travels to Sathya Sai devotee centres, the Baileys found that “after almost every meeting people would come to us asking for help because of the financial trickery they had experienced at the ashram.” The trickery did not stop at small amounts of money. Trusting devotees are reported to have given thousands of dollars per head for a living space at the ashram. They had not received any receipt for the money; when they tried to retrieve their funds, they were told that no records of the transaction existed. Bailey became acutely embarrassed by his role as an evangelist for the cause revealing serious flaws.
David Bailey concluded that the humanitarian reputation, cultivated by Sathya Sai Baba, was very deceptive. For instance, he and many other devotees were led to believe that the schools and colleges at Puttaparthi, also the Whitefield colony, had been created to give free education. Bailey discovered that only the village school charged no fees, being run by the government like other village schools in India. In contrast, the institutions of the guru charged substantial fees. Bailey specifies an annual figure of 20,000 rupees per child, plus extras if required. The college boys were enrolled from all over India. A strong allegation is that many of them regretted the homosexual attentions they received from the guru.
Sathya Sai Baba had encouraged his reputation for a simple diet. Bailey discovered that the evening meal of the guru consisted of six to eight different dishes that were prepared for him every night. The appearance and myth did not match the reality.
The ashram was in receipt of extensive funds. Some devotees had been suspicious of the costly new buildings regularly appearing. The most famous of these buildings was the Super Speciality Hospital. Bailey found fault with this construction; he mentions an unopened wing and bad sanitation. The Sai Baba Water Project also received criticism; this activity had arisen to create a new water supply for the ashram, replacing deficient well water.
The Findings aroused criticism from devotees, mainly because of the focus on sexual abuse. Bailey reports that two prominent devotees, who at first denied the allegations of sexual abuse, subsequently made a revealing admission. They telephoned him to admit that they had known for years of these sordid matters, “but he (Sathya Sai) is God, and God can do anything he likes.”
Bailey now discovered that the devotional mentality could justify any adverse factor. A wealthy Australian devotee even sent him an email derisively claiming that Bailey was merely an instrument of the all-powerful will of Sathya Sai. Bailey was severely harassed by some defenders of the guru. Certain devotees are reported to have maliciously presented David Bailey as a paedophile who was condemned to jail. These agents of rabid contrivance even spread the story that he hanged himself in his jail cell (Shepherd, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, 2005, pp. 293, 295). Bailey eventually chose to retreat into obscurity, wishing only to escape the persecution from dogmatic zealots. These fraught events confirmed his conviction that he had joined one of the worst cults.
The Findings internet document inspired many other ex-devotees to express testimonies of how they had been abused, exploited, or otherwise wronged or deceived. A number of them were more resilient than Bailey, maintaining a strong internet presence in opposition to the guru.
23.3 Exodus from the Sect and the Reactionary Gerald Joe Moreno
Sathya Sai Baba
Many Western devotees left the Sathya Sai movement, disillusioned by reports of sexual abuse and economic manipulation surfacing on the internet from the late 1990s onwards. Humanitarian idealism, associated with the Sathya Sai Colleges, became a shattered illusion. The slogan “Love All Serve All” was now regarded as a mockery by dissidents, many of whom had generously donated funds to the Puttaparthi ashram (in Andhra) where the guru resided. The bedroom murders of 1993 were another factor causing perturbations.
An aggressive devotee reaction, to the noticeable exodus from the sect, arose in America. Associated with the alleged backing of Dr. Michael Goldstein, the internet campaign of Gerald Joe Moreno (article 22 on this website) is now viewed as evidence of the drawbacks occurring in zealous support for cult figures. During the period 2004-2010, Moreno (of New Mexico) opposed all critics of Sathya Sai Baba, adopting measures of strident defamation in response to the many accusations lodged against the guru. He also resisted objections to his own output.
The primary website of Moreno (alias Equalizer) was saisathyasai.com, exhibiting the credo of “Exposing Critic’s Smear-Campaigns Against Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.” This pro-Sai activist creation was notorious for attacks on critics. Moreno continually assailed the output of ex-devotees, as in his item The Findings, pitched against David Bailey. His blog The John Hislop Letters unsuccessfully questioned the authenticity of certain documents relating to an early claim of sexual abuse in the American sector. The counter of Dr. Timothy Conway is more convincing to non-sectarian analysts. See 23.10 below. Moreno’s attempt to cast doubt on the Hislop letters included the accusation of “more lies from Anti-Sai’s” (accessed 17/07/2008). The tendency to cliché on the part of Moreno did not prove accuracy. His related item Witnesses attempted to negate the relevance of testimonies to sexual abuse, referring to the reports as mere stories.
Moreno’s resentment of ex-devotee activity on the internet was evident in such blogs as Pervasive Anti-Sai Websites, comprising a long list of online opposition features. This inventory was sub-titled: “Assessing the Extent of the Pervasive Online Propaganda against Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.” Spectators viewed the extent of opposition as being impressive rather than any proof of contrivance. A related attack scenario was entitled Anti-Sai Activists, where ex-devotees and critics met with hostile portrayals by Joe Moreno. Ex-devotees were continually presented by this apologist as "Anti-Sai" agents of deceit.
The Pro-Sai activist reiterated a defensive theme that Sathya Sai Baba had never been proven a charlatan, had never been convicted of any crime. Moreno also asserted that no alleged victim had lodged a complaint against the guru in India, “where courts would have jurisdiction over Baba as an individual defendant” (accessed July 2008). That statement was included in the Moreno item Kevin Shepherd – Citizen Initiative: In Conclusion, which basically comprised the defensive theme plus a few clichés relating to “frenzied Anti-Sai speculations and conspiracy theories.” Moreno had by then extended his Pro-Sai activist campaign via his role as a Wikipedia editor in 2006-7. His behaviour produced strong reactions, resulting in his permanent ban from Wikipedia. See Wikipedia Issues and Wikipedia Anomalies (plus the Sequel).
Ex-devotees strongly countered the Moreno attack, pointing out the suppression existing at legal and political levels in India, a situation facilitated by socially prominent devotees and sympathisers. The negligible prospect for victims in Indian courts was emphasised; the psychological fear of victimisation was a deterrent. The prominent Indian critic Basava Premanand discovered more than once how resistant the predisposed Indian legal system was to complaints against Sathya Sai Baba. See 23.7 below.
A strong complaint about sexual abuse could not get far even in the American legal system, due to obstructing factors created by apologists. The Moreno blog Alaya Rahm’s Failed Lawsuit was viewed by ex-devotees as a substantial distortion of a legal case mounted in 2006. Alaya Rahm, an American testifier to sexual abuse, was profiled by the BBC two years earlier; this salience made him a target of Moreno. See 23.6 below.
The Moreno misrepresentations of opponents became increasingly notorious. For instance, he libelled the academic ex-devotee Robert Priddy as a drug enthusiast, while contriving a story that ex-devotee Barry Pittard was a paedophile (see 22.10 on this site). Moreno and a close colleague (both banned from Wikipedia) were strongly implicated by ex-devotees in the extremist tactic of placing the names of resented critics on porn sites. Moreno countered by affirming that the porn site tactic could not be proven against him. Ex-devotees complained that Moreno web output was an obsessive and myopic negative reaction to the many allegations and tangible reports against Sathya Sai Baba.
The accusations of Gerald Joe Moreno about “racism” and “hate” were some discrepant features of his campaign against ex-devotees. Many of the latter were followers of Sathya Sai Baba for many years, giving their time and money all too generously. They represented a wide variety of temperaments, not sharing the same approach. This was a very significant phenomenon of dissident protest, with numerous statements of testimony.
The extremist sectarian adopted an abrasive tit for tat approach, evidently believing that if ex-devotees criticised the guru for abuse, they must be perverts. His fervour was quite bizarre in this respect. Critics of the guru were diversely stigmatised as racists, perverts, and fanatics.
Moreno did not stop at attacking ex-devotees. He also targeted the BBC for their documentary The Secret Swami (2004), and likewise prominent journalists who duly commented on the Sathya Sai issue. Moreno reviled Paul Lewis, of The Guardian newspaper, because of a relevant article detailing certain events in Britain (Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme). Moreno emphatically maintained that incidents of sexual abuse were unconfirmed. See 23.10 below concerning the many reports of sexual abuse, which are too numerous to ignore.
The BBC documentary of 2004 profiled various entities on both sides of the Sathya Sai controversy, eliciting their reactions to basic issues. Two claimants to sexual abuse (Alaya Rahm and Mark Roche) were in evidence, also the major Indian critic Basava Premanand. Amongst supporters of the guru here featured were the elusive Dr. Michael Goldstein (filmed on hidden camera) and the wealthy American devotee Isaac Tigrett. A long-term supporter, Tigrett expressed his belief that the allegations of sexual abuse are true; however, this factor made no difference to his faith in the guru. Moreover, Tigrett remarked that even if Sathya Sai were to murder a person, this would not alter his regard for the guru. One ex-devotee (Robert Priddy) described the condoning attitude as a form of derangement affecting long-term devotees (Shepherd, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, 2005, p. 298).
The abrasive polemic of Gerald Joe Moreno accused critics and objectors of expressing tabloid tendencies. Analysis of Moreno idioms is pertinent. The rather flippant vocabulary of this sectarian crusader included such refrains as “Enough said.” The best journalists do not use such expressions, and could never rely upon blog standards of abbreviation in their own careers. The attempt of Pro-Sai activism, to make allegations and testimonies look baseless, was reassuring to devotees. Others concluded that the Moreno project failed at such an elementary hurdle as sleight of hand “miracles” exposed elsewhere.
23.4 Shirdi Sai Baba and Dr. Marianne Warren’s Rejection of Sathya Sai
A scholar of Indian religion seceded from the movement when she grasped the nature of events surrounding Sathya Sai Baba (born 1926 or after). The late Dr. Marianne Warren, of Toronto University, is noted for research on Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918). She was a devotee of Sathya Sai for some years until news spread of the abuses and anomalies at the Puttaparthi ashram. She now felt badly about having glorified Sathya Sai in her book on Shirdi Sai entitled Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (1999). A revised edition of that work followed. Warren also planned a further book to assist in the exposure of Sathya Sai, whom she now considered an opportunist for claiming to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. Dr. Warren died in 2004 before her new project could come to fruition. See further Sathya Sai Baba and Marianne Warren.
The reincarnation claim has been a major issue amongst devotees of Shirdi Sai, who comprise a completely separate movement in a different sector of India (Maharashtra and the north, as distinct from Andhra). In so many features of his lifestyle, the faqir Shirdi Sai did not resemble his putative successor.
l to r: Shirdi Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Baba
Sai Baba of Shirdi is now frequently known as Shirdi Sai Baba in order to differentiate him from Sathya Sai. The very ascetic Shirdi Sai lived in a ramshackle rural mosque at Shirdi (in Maharashtra), daily begging his food until the end of his life. He was a liberal Muslim faqir, not a Hindu sadhu or sannyasin. His familiarity with Islamic speech and customs is strongly traceable in the extant sources, which include a significant notebook from the pen of a Muslim disciple. That Urdu notebook was detailed by Dr. Warren for the first time. The Islamic significances were also confirmed by her commendable familiarity with the Marathi original of Shri Sai Satcharita, a work by the influential Hindu devotee known as Hemadpant (Govindrao Dabholkar), frequently read in an English adaptation by Nagesh V. Gunaji that is resistant to Muslim factors. The Gunaji adaptation was published in 1944, gaining many reprints.
The Islamic orientation of Shirdi Sai extended to his performance of the sacrificial ritual known as takkya, involving the slaughter of a goat. That ritual was abhorrent to high caste Hindus, who preferred to create the legend that Shirdi Sai was a vegetarian. The saint gained many Hindu devotees who formed the bulk of his following. He was not a religious insularist in any way. Hindus came to associate him with Vedanta, a theme which Dr. Warren found misleading.
The same scholar felt obliged to emphasise the misleading nature of the Gunaji adaptation of Dabholkar abovementioned. Reproduced below are some of her very relevant observations on this subject:
Gunaji frequently added sections of his own Hindu interpretation of the saint’s words and actions....the graphic description of the goat slaughter is completely missing from chapter 38 in the English adaptation, where Gunaji simply reports that Sai Baba made pulav with meat. Many of the secondary authors have made the mistake of assuming that Gunaji’s book is a direct verbatim English translation of Dabholkar’s work.... a close line-by-line comparison between the two reveals that Gunaji was indeed very selective in his translations, deliberately omitting whole sections which he decided were not relevant. Many of these omitted sections include numerous specific references to Muslims, Muslim practices and Sufi precepts. Gunaji, like Dabholkar, was a Hindu with perhaps little knowledge, understanding or appreciation of the Muslim religion and the finer points of the Sufi tradition....he (Dabholkar) repeatedly acknowledged Sai Baba’s Muslim faqir status. Thus, for example, whenever Sai Baba spoke in Deccani Urdu [a Muslim language] he (Dabholkar) recorded it, albeit transcribing it into Marathi script. Gunaji, on the other hand, felt no such obligation and important points such as Sai Baba’s frequent use of Urdu words are completely lost in his English adaptation. (Warren, Unravelling the Enigma, first edition, New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt Ltd, 1999, pp. 5-7)
The missing account of the Islamic goat sacrifice was replaced by Gunaji with an equivocal theme (in chapter 38): “By drawing inferences or guessing in their own way some people said that Sai was a Brahmin, and some that he was a Moslem.” That is an instance of how the Muslim faqir became assimilated to the preferred role of a Hindu Vedantist who enjoyed elite social status as a member of the brahman(a) caste (the Sanskrit word brahman was generally corrupted in English as brahmin).
Dr. Warren acknowledged that the first writer to emphasise the Muslim Sufi significance of Shirdi Sai was myself, in the preliminary work Gurus Rediscovered (1986). Dr. Antonio Rigopoulos made an equivalent acknowledgment in his The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi (1993). There were differences of emphasis between all three of these commentaries, to some extent spotlighted by the treatment of Shirdi Sai in my sequel book Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (2005), Part One. See also Shepherd, Sai Baba of Shirdi: A BIographical Investigation (2015); Shepherd, Sai Baba: Faqir of Shirdi (2017).
Although devotees did strongly credit Shirdi Sai with miracles and related phenomena, these did not equate with the miracle stunts performed elsewhere. Shirdi Sai did not indulge in sleight of hand. He was, however, believed to confer offspring and similar blessings. Such beliefs about holy men are widespread in India.
The Muslim Sufi saint of Shirdi developed a habit in his last years of requesting money, afterwards redistributing the funds before nightfall. At his death, he had no surplus funds, just enough to cover his funeral expenses. He had no ashram and no bank account. Whatever his eccentricities, he remained true to his renunciate vocation. See further Shirdi Sai Baba and the "Sai Baba Movement" (2009).
The career of Sathya Sai was markedly different to that of the Shirdi saint. In 1943 (though officially 1940) the teenage Sathyanarayana Raju first made his controversial claim to be the reincarnated Shirdi Sai Baba. “I am Sai Baba.” He assumed the name of the deceased saint, whose fame was spreading; the namesake gained some wealthy patrons. At his Puttaparthi ashram in Andhra, the proclaimed successor adopted a much more comfortable (and opulent) lifestyle that did not involve begging. Sathya Sai Baba was not a Muslim faqir, but a Hindu swami. Giving daily darshans (audiences), he constantly emphasised his “materialisations” of holy ash, jewellery, and lingams. These actions were strongly disputed as fraud. See 23.1 above. His version of the Shirdi saint was very much in a Hindu mould, following the popular Hindu assimilation of the Muslim faqir.
The early claim of Sathya Sai, to be the reincarnation of the Shirdi saint, became a major reference point for his first followers, along with the supposed miracles that also drew attention. From the 1970s onwards, Sathya Sai gained many Western devotees who generally accepted the reincarnation claim without query.
Extensive hagiographical elements in the biography of Sathya Sai are a cause of vexation. Claims concerning his divinity (or avatarhood), and his miracles, are much in dispute. The official biography is considered very unreliable by critics. Even the date of the guru’s birth is in question, as a consequence of anomalies in reporting about his early years. The official date of his birth is 1926, while the official date of his “alleged Declaration of Mission,” as the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai, is 1940. Recent evidence has caused researcher Brian Steel to firmly opt for 1943 as the date for the declaration of identity with Shirdi Sai. I have accordingly followed suit above. Steel has also queried the official date of birth, suggesting that 1929 might be more accurate. However, no certainty applies. The exact date of birth could easily have been forgotten in the remote village where Sathya Sai was born. See further Steel, Fuzzy Dates in the Official Biography of Sathya Sai Baba: A Re-examination (2008).
Dr. Warren wrote a draft introduction to her proposed new book, which intended to expose Sathya Sai as a deceiver. That document included the following statements:
Shirdi Sai Baba never anticipated any future incarnation of his own. Indeed, he intimated that he would have no physical successor.... The Maharashtrian saint (Shirdi Sai) does not appear to have been aware of a future triple avatar [expounded by Sathya Sai], and in fact he personally never described himself in these terms, although his Hindu devotees occasionally termed him an avatar, but more as a mark of their esteem than a literal designation.... This is but one of many discrepancies and anomalies between the extant literature on Shirdi (Sai) Baba and the way he is described by Sathya Sai Baba.
Sathya Sai Baba goes further, claiming that Shirdi Baba was the incarnation of Shiva, that he himself is an incarnation of Shiva-Shakti and that Prema Sai, the third and future incarnation, would be Shakti alone. This would be a magnificent idea if it had fitted, but Shirdi Sai was a Muslim mystic who showed no awareness of his cosmic powers as Lord Shiva of the Hindu tradition. No wonder then that Sathya Sai Baba has emphasised the Hindu characteristics of Shirdi Sai Baba, bestowing on him a Hindu birth, and other Hindu features. One of the most glaring errors I discovered is that in a full-length painting of Sai Baba of Shirdi in the Prasanthi Nilayam mandir [at Puttaparthi ashram], he is depicted as wearing an orange full length robe. This is a colour that only Hindu sadhus would wear, but Sai Baba of Shirdi was a Muslim. Muslim faqirs would only ever wear white, and extant photographs of him (Shirdi Sai) confirm this to be true....
As a result of all the investigations, research, allegations and revelations, I present this document as objectively as possible, as a warning to those who may discover the literature on Sathya Sai Baba and all the extraordinary claims, and are tempted to believe it.
The testimony of disillusionment on the part of Dr. Warren is just one of the many in evidence on the web (though unusual for the scholarly associations involved). The most well known ex-devotee site is exbaba.com, which has numerous reports. See also saiguru.net.
23.5 Gerald Joe Moreno And Ex-Devotees
A pocket of American Pro-Sai activism vehemently denied the relevance of dissident websites. The main reason why critics did not take seriously the “last ditch stand” of Sathya Sai supporter Gerald Joe Moreno (23.3 above) is because reports of abuse by Sathya Sai Baba are too numerous and consistent to ignore. Investigators would not be justified in putting aside such reports to suit the convenience of sectarian exegetes. The frequent preference of Moreno for anonymity did not improve his profile outside the sphere of apologist affiliation.
There is only one known photograph of this internet crusader; that image he early discarded from his web record. Moreno resorted to many web pseudonyms such as Equalizer, vishvarupa108, and Joe108. His Wikipedia pseudonym was SSS108, prior to the ban imposed upon his activism in 2007. His aggressive tactics, and strident denial of abuses, evoked the conclusion that he demonstrated a sectarian psychology making Scientology propaganda seem reasonable by comparison.
Ex-devotees complained that the tactics of Gerald Joe Moreno were not limited to websites and blogs; they described his activity of emailing all the contacts he could find of the persons he attacked, e.g., Conny Larsson, Barry Pittard, and Sanjay Dadlani. This email recourse was designed to stigmatise the victims.
The American sectarian flagellated the prominent British ex-devotee Robert Priddy and his Australian counterpart Barry Pittard. These two rank amongst the most articulate ex-devotees, each of them maintaining a successful blog committed to the exposure of Sathya Sai Baba as a fraud. That is evidently why Moreno hurled depreciatory invective in their direction. Priddy was dismayed to find that Moreno announced the presence of his URL on a porn site. Pittard complained that Moreno, and his close associate Lisa De Witt, were using accusations of “acting like racists” and “hate campaign” in reference to his own critique of Sathya Sai. The sectarian reaction caricatured the critique in terms of “hiss, spit and froth-at-the-mouth.” Criticism is not necessarily even remotely equivalent to hate or fanaticism. Whereas apologist rhetoric did convey the strong impression of being what the opponents were accused of.
Racism was one of the slurs rejected by Martin Alan Kazlev, an Australian critic who contested on his website the Moreno depiction of ex-devotee “Anti-Sai Activists” as monsters of wrongdoing. Kazlev also proffered a more speculative psychological interpretation of Moreno that was strongly contested by the latter. Moreno then made Kazlev the subject of an attack blog.
The Pro-Sai activist expressed a wide range of polemical inflections against critics. He upbraided those without academic credentials as being imposters of no consequence, while an academic like Priddy received pronounced castigatory treatment. Moreno became strongly associated with Michael Goldstein, the top official of the Sathya Sai Organisation, who remained in the background while his foes were being stigmatised.
The deceptive nature of the Moreno campaign was emphasised by ex-devotees. Though he claimed to be unconnected with the Sathya Sai Organisation, Moreno was revealed to be in close affinity with the official thrust of the sect. Some critics believed that he was secretly paid for his defamatory services by Dr. Goldstein. There is as yet no proof for the persistent belief. Moreno lived in New Mexico, while Goldstein resided in California. The period of libellous output was 2004-2010. Over fifty victims were counted, some of them receiving intensive depreciatory treatment.
The salience of cyberstalker Moreno on Google Search name listings, meaning those of ex-devotees and critics of Sathya Sai Baba, was a subject of strong grievance. The "infovandalism" of Moreno sabotaged the diverse contributions of other individuals on Google Search. In 2009, Robert Priddy reported:
Moreno runs a massive defamation and arrant disinformation campaign on the internet.... He claims to be a defender of 'free speech' but he does all he can to deny this right to dissidents by harassment.... Gerald Moreno's constant character assassination attempts on all critics of Sathya Sai Baba, parodying them in irrelevant and adolescent ways, and relentlessly webstalking them and any family members, associates, and any of their friends whose names he can discover - is a cultist hate campaign of massive dimensions virtually without parallel on the internet today. (Priddy, The Gerald Joe Moreno Dossier, part 1)
The case of Sanjay Dadlani shocked spectators. Forty-nine web attacks on Dadlani were documented, including seventeen Google listings associated with porn sites. “Moreno has arranged for Sanjay Dadlani’s name to appear on numerous disgusting porn sites; Moreno conceals his identity here as elsewhere." Dadlani, Priddy, and Reinier Van Der Sandt all suffered distorted images on Moreno postings. Questionable images depicted Dadlani with female breasts and Van Der Sandt with an oversize nose (the latter is a critic of the guru closely associated with a major ex-devotee website). For these discrepant images, see Moreno and copyright blathering. Gerald Joe Moreno continually denied any malpractice in his extremist campaign of defending Sathya Sai Baba.
Robert Priddy (a retired academic of Oslo University) complained in 2010: "Moreno has tried to blacken my character in innumerable ways, all without the slightest substance." These ruses included the accusation that the victim had posted on a porn site to get his website listed. In 2007, Moreno denied being responsible for the misdeed, saying there was no proof. Ex-devotees conceded that one of Moreno’s close activist colleagues may have done the foul deed, in which case Moreno would have been in full knowledge of the details when he advertised Priddy’s new porn site association. The fact that Priddy and Dadlani ranked as the major opponents of Moreno, is cause for due reflection on the reasons for the unsavoury porn site stigma, which became widely regarded by ex-devotees as a cult tactic. The Priddy critique of Moreno is articulate.
The Moreno strategy commenced in 2004. The ex-devotee (and linguist) Brian Steel has detailed the disconcerting career involved. In 2007, Steel wrote that the modus operandi of Joe Moreno was “to set himself up as prosecutor, judge and jury, and issue unappealable guilty verdicts (usually based on the flimsiest of evidence) on the writers of ALL criticisms of Sathya Sai Baba – indiscriminately – beginning with most of the extremely varied output of 5 years of publishing by exbaba.com." The Steel analysis continues:
Two flaws in the campaigner’s method were visible from the outset: his refusal to consider any evidence which conflicted with his preordained verdicts and an evasion of the central divine claims issue [meaning the claims of Sathya Sai to be a God-man] – claims which he had admitted he did not endorse.
Over the past three years, this propagandist has devoted considerable time and energy to his self-imposed mission, adapting techniques drawn from basic propaganda procedures, ‘spin’ tactics, demagogic talkback radio (talk radio), and low-level Internet discussion forums. He has been bombarding Internet surfers for over three years with hundreds of articles containing his idiosyncratic versions of the truth about Sathya Sai Baba.
From his elaborate network of at least 14 interlinked websites and blogspots, this unofficial champion of Sathya Sai Baba is now able, like an electronic Jack-in-the-box, to pop up all over Search Engine results for ‘Sathya Sai Baba’ (or even ‘Sai Baba’) or for individual critics’ names, in an increasingly more strident and dictatorial attempt to impose these biased opinions on Internet users curious to know the facts of this growing controversy. As he (Moreno) concentrates more and more on the messengers (i.e., the critics) rather than the inconvenient messages, the activist’s intemperate language and strong personal denigration and defamatory statements have escalated, in an Internet system which has proved incapable of dealing with such deliberate abuse.
Brian Steel continued on this deeply problematic subject:
During the three years of Joe/Gerald’s voluminous output of propaganda aimed, unrealistically, at exposing the ‘errors, lies, deceit and smears’ of all of Sathya Sai Baba’s critics (rationalists, ex-devotees, journalists, scholars and other commentators), some of his victims have – not unnaturally – protested against his crude bullying and disparagement. Such unwelcome reactions have merely provoked fresh diatribes.... Boosted by his tireless Search Engine Optimization activities, Moreno has engineered a high Internet profile to project his own extensive ‘smear campaign’ with its egregious deceit and dishonesty....
When readers and researchers pause to take note of Moreno’s preference for intemperate language and ad hominem tactics, and realise that many of his triumphant boasts and dogmatic ‘refutations’ of criticisms are misleading, unfounded or malicious, they may feel curious – ‘No smoke without fire’ – to look more closely at the object of Moreno’s ranting: any detailed criticisms and allegations directed at Sathya Sai Baba and the Sathya Sai Organisation.
Already Moreno’s reckless behaviour has earned him public condemnation on the Internet for one high profile but minor part of his extensive campaign. Thanks to his highly aggressive attempt to dictate to Wikipedia contributors what should and should not be included in their article on Sathya Sai Baba, the propagandist has received a significant official rebuff from that prominent Internet institution. After months of Moreno’s abrasive demands and provocative filibustering, the already heated Wikipedia debate became incandescent and vituperative, leading, inevitably, to the intervention of an internal Arbitration Committee. After three months of discussions, in March 2007, Joe Moreno (as User SSS108) and others involved in the debate were banned indefinitely from contributing to the Wikipedia Sathya Sai Baba article, its Discussion page and related articles.
The above quotes are gratefully reproduced from the bibliographer Brian Steel, in his very informative Diversionary Tactics by an Internet Demagogue), subtitled The pro-Sathya Sai Baba Campaign of Gerald ‘Joe’ Moreno (2008).
The decision of the Wikipedia arbitration committee, dating to March 6th 2007, is documented at Requests for Arbitration. This item contains the clause: “Wikipedia is not a soapbox for propaganda or activist editing.” Earlier, in January 2007, Moreno had gained a reputation on Wikipedia for making personal attacks on other editors. More especially, his term as Wikipedia editor was notable for a sustained opposition to an article about ex-devotee Robert Priddy. The opposing contingent viewed the Moreno campaign on Wikipedia as a convenience for Dr. Michael Goldstein, the presiding American supporter of Sathya Sai.
Goldstein was the International Chairman of the Sathya Sai Organisation, based in India. This body claimed high moral values such as love. Dr. Goldstein, a physician of California, became notorious for his non-response to urgent letters concerning the strongly alleged sexual abuse by Sathya Sai Baba. His evasive attitude met with a notable tactic from the BBC, who took the unusual step of filming him with a hidden camera, a recourse that is only employed when there is evidence, or strong suspicion, of cover-up. See 23.11 below. Goldstein’s resultant appearance, in The Secret Swami documentary of 2004, aroused public amazement and indignation at his very dogmatic attitude in support of the guru, amounting to outright denial of all testimonies and allegations.
Ex-devotees complained that Moreno included, on his blogs, a statement that he was not a member of the Sathya Sai Organisation, nor even a devotee of the guru. The overwhelming contradiction is that Moreno spent years of "virtually full-time work attacking critics of Sathya Sai and the Sathya Sai Organisation on many hundreds of internet pages."
Robert Priddy reported: “Several lawyers and not least webmasters of major portals (e.g., zoominfo.com, Steve Hassan etc.) who have looked at the attacks by [Sathya] Sai Baba’s proxy defenders [Moreno and Lisa de Witt] on the internet, have said that their content is defamatory and the attacker is completely out of order. No one who takes the ethical and spiritual teachings of Sathya Sai Baba at all seriously would be able to commend their writings” (Priddy, Smear Campaign against Critics of Sathya Sai Baba, 2008). The point is that the guru’s teachings were contradicted by the libellers, an anomaly which many devotees failed to assimilate.
The complaint was made by Priddy that Moreno and his accomplice (Lisa de Witt) diverted attention to side-issues, a ruse which misled uninformed readers. “They produce no sound point by point evidence against critics of [Sathya] Sai Baba, although they strive to give the superficial appearance of it. When their statements are refuted – however civil the manner – with documentation and/or independent testimony, they never change their wilfully posted false information or make any apology” (ibid).
Priddy conceded: “Some minor errors or unclear statements have been made by serious critics from time to time.” However, these were “invariably corrected later where possible,” and “no dishonesty has ever been proven.” The same commentator adds that, in contrast, the sectarian attackers “are unable to produce any reliable testimony or published third party evidence to support their case, and almost never show independent documentation from the public sphere, while critics of Sathya Sai Baba constantly do so, not least from many of his own published writings, discourses and authenticated reports on his statements” (ibid).
A striking reflection is made by the ex-devotee critic: “Virtually every critical statement of fact by over a hundred testifying witnesses, independent journalists, film-makers, researchers, disaffected former followers of Sathya Sai Baba and alleging survivors of sexual abuse and other abuses, is contested and cast into doubt, or called a lie, a blatant lie and so on – almost invariably without any attempt at presenting respectable evidence.” Priddy describes this obsessive apologist recourse in terms of a cultist attempt to stifle criticism.
Priddy complained that the webpages of critics like himself are “copied relentlessly without linking to the source pages (totally infringing copyright).” This tactic of Moreno is interpreted in terms of a fear about being shown to be in the wrong. In my own outsider instance, I found that my Response to Moreno, initially featuring many links to Moreno sources, was ignored by the Pro-Sai exponent, save for a few lines that were crudely misrepresented.
The Priddy article Smear Campaign supplies a list of over fifty critics of Sathya Sai Baba who were attacked by Moreno, along with “many more.” Concerning his own victimisation, Priddy recounts how “I was constantly attacked tendentiously on Wikipedia, until both the main attackers [Moreno and de Witt] were banned indefinitely.”
The same informant relays: “I am accused of lying about the donations my wife and I made to the Sathya Sai Central Trust (but I have documented most of them).” Priddy also refers to the Moreno tactic of “a hair-splitting denial that I can have any kind of ‘collegial’ friendship with Professor Erlendur Haraldsson, who has referenced my writings in lectures and who still visits us in our home.” Furthermore, “he [Moreno] has tried to cast doubt on whether I was a leader in the Sathya Sai Organisation (which is proven fact), whether I wrote the articles I claim for Sathya Sai Baba’s journal Sanathana Sarathi (but they are all documented), and cast many similar doubts about me” (Priddy, Smear Campaign against critics of Sathya Sai Baba). See also 23.9 below on Priddy’s connection with V. K. Narasimhan.
See further The Internet Terrorist Gerald Joe Moreno (2009) and Analysis of a Cultist Defamation (2013).
23.6 The Alaya Rahm Lawsuit in California
Ex-devotees emphasised the strong convergence of Gerald Joe Moreno with the resisting attitude of Dr. Michael Goldstein to the Alaya Rahm lawsuit of 2006, occurring in California. Alaya Rahm gave testimony that he was a victim of sexual abuse by Sathya Sai Baba. There were difficulties in making a case directly against the guru. The victim filed a civil lawsuit against California leaders of the Sathya Sai Society, who included Dr. Goldstein. The case was finalised in April 2006.
The lawsuit was foiled because of a diverting technicality improvised by the Goldstein contingent, who were here the defendants. They were known as the Sathya Sai Society of America. This wealthy body conveniently stated that they were nothing more than a bookstore, and therefore not at the centre of the guru’s activities. This despite the role of Goldstein as the leading international representative of Sathya Sai. The Society were able to take legal cover behind their defensive technicality. The attorney (William Brelsford) of Alaya Rahm advised his client to self-dismiss the case in view of the delaying complications envisaged.
As a consequence, the court did not arrive at the due stage of investigating substantive evidence regarding the testimonies of sexual abuse which motivated the lawsuit. Basic facts of this legal episode were subsequently distorted by sectarian propaganda at an international level, in a process described as “systematic disinformation.”
Moreno was eager to cover the resisted lawsuit in his blogs. He promoted the supposed “evidence” emanating from Lawrence (Lewis) Kreydick, a declared devotee of the guru who was favoured as a witness by Goldstein and his colleagues. Moreno depicted the Kreydick version as “pivotal” evidence against the testimony of Alaya Rahm. He promoted this misleading version on Wikipedia and elsewhere. However, the apologist was obliged to accept removal of his pro-Kreydick contention from the Sathya Sai Baba article on Wikipedia, "because he could not prove it was available in the public realm except through himself”.
The Kreydick testimony, originating with the Sathya Sai Society, was described as “mostly conjectural” by ex-devotee critics. Moreno’s version of the Alaya Rahm legal issue appeared on his primary website in May 2006 as Alaya Rahm’s Self Dismissed Lawsuit. Moreno described the lawsuit in hostile terms, pitting himself against opponents, who included the ex-devotee parents of Alaya Rahm. See, e.g., the detailed report dated July 2006 entitled Alaya Rahm’s Lawsuit vs Sathya Sai Society of America (exbaba.com, search tab). This report specifies: “That Alaya Rahm withdrew his case reflects on certain Sathya Sai Organisation leaders and their bad faith, not on him.”
The Goldstein contingent were pitted against the significant testimony of Alaya’s parents, namely Al and Marisa Rahm: “Sai Baba also threatened Alaya repeatedly that if he ever told anyone what Swami (Sathya Sai) was doing (i.e., sexual abuse of Alaya), Sai Baba would use his (occult) powers to cause an accident to Alaya and would also never talk to his parents again.”
The ex-devotee Al Rahm was a big headache to Dr. Goldstein. The father of Alaya was a long-term American devotee, having gained many interviews with Sathya Sai during visits to India. Al Rahm was one of the regional officers in the widespread deployment of the Sathya Sai movement in America. He started the first Sai school in America at the personal direction of the guru. However, when he grasped what had been happening to his teenage son in the 1990s, Al Rahm seceded from the sect. He subsequently testified that the American leaders, like Dr. Goldstein, had been covering up problems of sexual abuse for many years.
In 1999, Al Rahm informed Dr. Goldstein about the abuse of his son. A process of acute evasion followed. “Goldstein told us that he had never heard anything like this before; that was twenty years after the Hislop letters, which we now know prove he was lying.” Goldstein was a recipient of those letters, which referred to the sexual abuse by Sathya Sai of another American youth in the 1970s. See also 23.10 below.
Several years later, disgusted by the evasion of the international Sathya Sai Organisation, the Rahm family appeared in the evocative BBC documentary The Secret Swami (2004). The BBC team had such difficulty in getting a due response from Dr. Goldstein that a hidden camera was the final resort. The result was not in Goldstein's favour. See 23.11 below. Thereafter, Gerald Joe Moreno repeatedly targeted the BBC documentary with misleading statements, of a type evidently designed to justify the role of Goldstein and the sectarian mandate of dismissing testimonies to abuse.
The attorney of Alaya Rahm divulged that the 2006 lawsuit was dropped because “California does not have reciprocal jurisdiction rights against an out-of-country defendant,” here meaning Sathya Sai Baba, who was not subject to the powers of the Hague Treaty. The Letters Rogatory process would have needed to be pursued. Unfortunately that process can take several years to complete; there was no guarantee that Sathya Sai would respond to service of a subpoena, or even that he would still be alive at the time of such eventualities.
Ignoring these complexities, and making no reference to them, Moreno denied validity to the testimony of Alaya Rahm by depicting him as a consumer of street drugs and alcohol, also by asserting that this interpretation “irreparably compromises the integrity of his claims.” This statement was made in the Moreno attack, of Sept. 2007, against my defence of publishing right. That defence (the original Wikipedia Issues) occurred in response to what can be interpreted as a reflex of the Goldstein contingent on Wikipedia, via their front line buffer Gerald Joe Moreno. Six years elapsed before a proscribing Moreno (SSS108) User page was deleted from Wikipedia by Jimmy Wales. This event served to underline drawbacks posed by the Wikipedia system of pseudonymous editors.
The fact that Moreno also attempted to deny validity to the literate Robert Priddy, on the basis of an inverted drug stigma, is no encouragement to accept his hostile verdict about a Californian lawsuit. Cf. Moreno, Kevin Shepherd Referenced the BBC ‘Secret Swami’ Documentary (at saisathyasai.com). The title of this blog signifies a sectarian accusation. I am quite happy to have referenced the BBC documentary so strenuously opposed by the apologist.
For the record here, I do not believe and endorse all reported statements of Alaya Rahm or other ex-devotees, contrary to the inverse logic of Pro-Sai activism in the blog cited immediately above. Furthermore, I here explicitly rebut a Moreno assertion in the same item: “Kevin Shepherd also blatantly lied and distorted the truth when he erroneously claimed ‘the American Sathya Sai Society blocked the lawsuit of Alaya Rahm in 2006’.” Alaya Rahm only self-dismissed his lawsuit, on legal advice, because he was blocked by the Goldstein faction with a delaying tactic. It is impossible for close analysts to credit the pro-Goldstein statement of Moreno that “the Sai Society did not ‘block’ Alaya Rahm’s lawsuit whatsoever” (accessed 30/08/2008). This is the same form of evasive argument which dismissed the testimonies of sexual abuse.
The “quote” (about a blocked lawsuit), supposedly representing a blatant lie, did not occur in the original version of Moreno’s Sept. 2007 attack webpage against myself. The “quote” was inserted at a later date, evidently being extrapolated from my Response to Moreno (Nov. 2007), without any acknowledgment of that separate document, nor the argument and source material provided. I referred to “the blocked lawsuit of Alaya Rahm,” giving the due internet source evaded by Moreno, whose method of commentary was aberrant, as ex-devotees have emphasised. Moreno routinely accused critics of “lies,” a favoured word amounting to a rhetorical device in his instance.
To repeat, the lawsuit was effectively blocked by the bookstore technicality. Alaya Rahm’s attorney stated:
We were successful at the demurrer stage in establishing that a duty would be owed by the Society in the event they sponsored and/or endorsed the trips that Alaya went on when he was abused by Sai Baba. As it turns out, the Society is not the ‘hub’ of all of Sai Baba’s corporate activities. Rather, the Society, pursuant to declarations under penalty of perjury, confirmed they are a bookstore... nothing more. Accordingly, we do not have the necessary factual requirements to establish liability on the Society/Book center.
The persistent attacks and ruses of cyberstalker Gerald Joe Moreno fit a category of extreme sectarian disposition. Moreno has been called an “internet assassin” and “web delinquent.” He is said to have harassed in total over a hundred victims in his questionable role as a “webstalker and libeller.”
The Moreno attitude is now widely considered to demonstrate a cult mentality, involving the assumption of an inviolable supremacy transcending the obligations of due civilised protocol. The apologist mentality so frequently regards any measure as being justified if that serves the cult agenda. From defamation and harassment to criminal abuse and murder, the spectrum of cult options remains a warning to the rest of society.
23.7 The Indian Rationalist Basava Premanand
For important insights into the real nature of events at Puttaparthi ashram, see Basava Premanand, Murders in Sai Baba’s Bedroom (2001), relating to notorious murders in 1993. According to this source, Sathya Sai Baba instigated the bedroom murders of protesting victims who had been sexually abused by him. Basava Premanand (1930-2009) was the leading Indian critic of the guru, one of the Indian Rationalists. His attempts to secure official investigation of anomalies were repeatedly blocked by influential Indian supporters of the guru. Robert Priddy, when still a devotee during the 1990s, was scathing about the reports of Premanand. His viewpoint subsequently changed to one of complete agreement. Gerald Joe Moreno later attempted a denialist approach to Premanand, who responded strongly and far more convincingly. Premanand complained that Moreno vilified him in many blogs (Reply by Premanand to Moreno: On the Murders in Sai Baba's Bedroom, at exbaba.com, search tab).
l to r: Sathya Sai Baba, Basava Premanand
Related problems were highlighted by the book of Basava Premanand, entitled Sabotage by Murali Krishna Yachendra (2005), describing over one hundred emails revealed as a ploy to discredit and damage ex-devotees of the guru. Premanand concluded that the objective of Yachendra was to mislead critics into accepting fabrications as true, in the hope that they would present these stories as legitimate on “Anti-Sai” websites. The author of the emails subsequently revealed himself as being a devotee of Sathya Sai, a detail which underlined the ploy. More precisely, the stories "he later admitted - indeed boasted - were lies when he 'came clean' on [Sathya] Sai Baba bulletin boards about always having been a totally devoted devotee" (quote from Priddy, Gerald Moreno backs lying saboteur, 2009).
The Yachendra episode left investigators feeling startled at the scope of dissimulation that can occur in fervent devotional circles. Yachendra was described as the member of a devotee family with early and close connections to Sathya Sai, having significant affinities with officials at the Puttaparthi ashram of the guru in Andhra. His “sabotage” campaign by email is notorious for the invention of fictitious stories. He claimed a knowledge of murder plots and embezzlements by the guru. Yet all this was revealed as a scam.
The alert Basava Premanand reported Yachendra to the police. A report says that, due to questioning and the train of events, Yachendra became confused and could no longer maintain his sham role as one of the abused. He began to present himself, on Sathya Sai web bulletin boards, as a believer in the guru. Yachendra was abetted by Gerald Joe Moreno, who ridiculed Premanand as suffering from "conspiracy paranoia." The American apologist was continually antagonistic to the Indian Rationalist.
Various statements made by Basava Premanand are very thought-provoking. For instance, he complained about (homo)sexual abuse by Sathya Sai, also asserting that many Indian devotees of Sathya Sai were murdered. The overall number of murders, relating to the Sathya Sai sect, is unconfirmed. Premanand knew more about this sect than all other critics; his accusations cannot be ignored. He was in active opposition to Sathya Sai Baba for over thirty years, working tenaciously to expose the purported “miracles” of that celebrity. Premanand informed the BBC that he was ruthlessly molested several times by aggressive supporters of the guru.
The Indian critic also reported that many financial irregularities occurred at the Puttaparthi ashram of Sathya Sai Baba. Much of the money gifted to the Sathya Sai Organisation had not been accounted for. Very substantial funds were donated over the years. Premanand called for a government investigation of alleged corruption. His increasing concern, about the diverting internet activities of the extremist Gerald Joe Moreno, are reflected in his book Failed Sabotage by Sathya Sai Baba through Gerald Moreno (2007).
Premanand referred to many murders in relation to Sathya Sai; attendant information appeared on the websites associated with his journal Indian Skeptic. He reported that he himself survived only because of his prominence. Premanand filed several unsuccessful lawsuits against Sathya Sai, who had formidable support from devotees and sympathisers in prominent social positions. Premanand stated: “I have the records of more than a hundred persons destroyed by the Sathya Sai Baba gang, beginning with one Mr. Venkatamuni of Madras who was done away at Madurai in an air conditioned room, and then (after getting death certificates from doctors) taken to Madras by Sathya Sai Baba in his own car and cremated without giving any information to the police.”
Premanand referred to deaths or murders by car accidents, heart failure, poisoning, hanging, and drowning. A number of these deaths were officially interpreted as suicides. Premanand mentioned “hundreds of such deaths.” Even if that be considered an exaggeration, the implications are extremely grave, meriting a due official investigation that never occurred. See also ex.baba.com (Murders tab). Premanand is included in the Priddy article Untoward Events at Sai Baba ashrams (formerly online at saibaba-x.org.uk/8/Untoward_events_Sai_Baba_ashrams). Some accounts mention the grim factor of despair or stress causing suicide amongst devotees.
In his younger days Premanand was a follower of holy men; however, from 1976 he campaigned to expose their trickery. His major target was Sathya Sai Baba, whose promotion relied so heavily upon purported miracles. Not all gurus have opted for the role of a miracleworker, though many have done so in the obvious hope of influencing the credulous with despicable tricks.
Basava Premanand was a versatile critic. His dexterity at magic enabled him to expose numerous supposed “miracle” feats of holy men, including Sathya Sai Baba. His abilities in deception included eating glass, placing lighted camphor in his mouth, putting a spike through his tongue, and producing holy ash out of apparent thin air. The ash trick, favoured by Sathya Sai, comprises sleight of hand. The spike did not actually go through the tongue, only seeming to do so.
Premanand was deeply offended at how poor people were deceived by gurus employing so-called miraculous stunts. He gave many lectures relating to this subject. Moreover, he toured numerous villages and small towns in a jeep, treating crowds to a performance of “miracles” like a holy man, then afterwards exposing the trickery. His innovation appeared on the television documentary Guru Busters (1995), associated with UK Channel 4.
This campaign was at a cost, meaning attempts to annihilate Premanand. He reported being physically attacked and hospitalised. His jeep is said to have been tampered with by supporters of Sathya Sai, causing the vehicle to overturn at speed. A lorry attempted to run him down. Undaunted, Premanand became Convener of the Indian Rationalist Association. In 1988 he began publishing the monthly magazine Indian Skeptic, noted for an atheistic tone. He complained of the formidable opposition represented by Sathya Sai Baba, who “has followers amongst bureaucracy, law enforcement departments, revenue departments, the judiciary, the state and central ministry, and among the elite and the influential.” See Lewis Jones, Scourge of the Godmen. This strongly entrenched supporter faction blocked the court petitions of the protester, seeking to obliterate all indication of discrepant events.
See further Aftermath.
23.8 From Yogi to Magician and Sceptic
In the year 2000, a lengthy report on Premanand appeared in a London newspaper. Some errors are said to have been incorporated, although the basic information came from Premanand. This article emphasises that several attempts were made to kill the subject by the followers of “godmen” (as Premanand called them). He is here said to have visited almost every village in India, made 7,000 speeches, and written 36 books.
Premanand revealed that he left home in Tamil Nadu, at the age of eighteen, in search of a guru. He claimed a link with both Aurobindo Ghosh (Shri Aurobindo) and Ramana Maharshi; however, it was a less well known teacher of kundalini yoga who precipitated his scepticism. That guru resorted to a cheap “miracle” trick involving the application of chemical agents to a piece of paper bearing a mantra. When the paper was lighted, only the mantra (untreated with chemicals) survived. At first deceived, Premanand was stunned when he happened to see how the guru performed this trick. He traced the beginning of his sceptical career to that episode. He afterwards learnt how to accomplish the “miracle” feats occurring in a widespread vogue.
Originally an ardent meditator, the disillusioned ex-yogi at first hesitated to tour villages, because of his lack of an academic education. However, Premanand became a consistent crowd-puller, his prolific energy being devoted to travel twenty days every month. He could perform any “miracle” trick. He would always carefully explain afterwards how the deceit was achieved. He walked on fire, consumed fire, laid on beds of nails, and stopped his heartbeat. He also knew many other "tricks." Premanand gained television appearances and many enemies alongside the admirers. The “godmen” he ridiculed called him rakshasa or demon. When he published his first book on Sathya Sai Baba, entitled The Lure of Miracles, Sathya Sai devotees burned the heresy.
l to r: Basava Premanand eating fire, Sathya Sai Baba (wordings from other sites)
The “godmen” contingents harboured vindictive temperaments. “Premanand says he has received numerous anonymous midnight phonecalls, threatening everything from public flogging to murder. More than once, his group of fellow magicians have doubled as bodyguards to protect him from being stoned or knifed” (Beatrice Newbery, “Miracles don’t happen,” The Independent, Dec. 24th 2000). Premanand required surgery to place a protective metal rod in his damaged knee, which survived an attack from Hindus wielding big sticks. The varied attacks he attributed to Hindu fundamentalists and devotees of the godmen, especially the Sathya Sai camp. Christian objectors were also implied, because he dismissed miracles.
Internet attacks on Basava Premanand were launched by the Pro-Sai activist Gerald Joe Moreno, living in New Mexico. The apologist pressed, for instance, an erroneous denial of the National Award for Science Popularization gained by Premanand, in 1998, at a presentation in Delhi. Moreno facilely assumed that the National Award was fictitious, not being able to find relevant details. He was proved wrong by Premanand in Unfounded, Misleading Claims against my Writings – part 4. (formerly online at saibaba-x.org.uk/31/Prem1d).
The proscribing nature of sectarian arguments are well known to careful investigators. In 2006, the following quote was stigmatised in a Wikipedia User page of Moreno: “According to Kevin Shepherd, the former national leader of the Sathya Sai movement in Norway, Robert Priddy, expressed the opinion that Sathya Sai Baba was an accomplice to the 1993 murders, among others based on information given to him by his friend V.K. Narasimhan.” This quote was formulated by Wikipedia editors. Moreno strongly disputed the quote in his hostile User page against myself. See 22.1 and 22.3 above. Premanand had previously made a much stronger claim about the 1993 murders, writing a lengthy book on that subject.
I did indeed mention the Priddy data to which Moreno was so hostile, without defining this as an opinion. See my Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, 2005, p. 293. There is a logical difficulty in avoiding the strongly implied complicity of Sathya Sai. That complicity was independently urged in a formidable book by Premanand, a volume not mentioned in the very misleading Wikipedia User page abovementioned, featuring the cult advocate Jossi Fresco and the apologist Gerald Joe Moreno. See further Premanand, Murders in Sai Baba’s Bedroom (2001), where the author has much to say about the four "alleged assailants" who were killed at the guru’s private quarters in 1993. Elsewhere, Premanand informs: "I have collected enough materials to prove that his (Moreno's) comments, accusations and response were not to find the truth but by hook or crook to absolve Sathya Sai Baba" (quoted from More misleading claims of Moreno, formerly online at at saibaba-x.org.uk/31/Prem4b).
Premanand reported the murder of his son, in 2003, by hostile supporters of Sathya Sai. Premanand pressed this matter, though unsuccessfully. The insidious political process of support for the guru was a deterrent to due official investigation into the fatal episode. Other detailed reports of murder were likewise reduced to the level of "allegation" by pro-Sai legalists who blocked legal cases of Premanand.
In another direction, the complaint was made that Tony Blair stopped British Metropolitan Police investigation into the Sathya Sai Organisation, because of political considerations about not offending the Indian government. This loaded decision, of the former British Prime Minister, is said to have been made on the basis of contracts for expensive British jet aeroplanes that were signed by the Indian Prime Minister. Trade before scruple, is the accusation here.
Some analysts of cult activities have concluded that (with the exception of Aum Shinrikyo) the Sathya Sai Baba sect was the most questionable of all the contemporary problem movements, and indeed, even more so than the Rajneesh sect which once took priority in this respect (see 24.1 below). In the closing years of the guru's life, the Sathya Sai Organisation was accused, by ex-devotees, of facilitating an internet campaign to blacken the names of critics on an international basis. See 23.12 below.
23.9 The Case of V. K. Narasimhan
V. K. Narasimhan with Robert Priddy, 1998
The issue of V. K. Narasimhan (d.2000) is revealing. This Indian devotee remained loyal to Sathya Sai Baba until his death. However, he was known to express cynical reflections, a tendency some have attributed to his earlier career as a noted journalist. The American apologist Gerald Joe Moreno treated the reports of British ex-devotee Robert Priddy, about Narasimhan, as mere hearsay and contrivance. Priddy decisively proved that accusation wrong in the documentation appearing on his website (formerly online at saibaba-x.org.uk/16/index). The Priddy notebooks detail his significant contact with Narasimhan to a very convincing degree. Those notebooks describe his nine visits to the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba during the years 1984-98, when Priddy was a devotee. Priddy found Narasimhan both likeable and forthright. The two would spend hours in conversation.
Narasimhan, who settled at Puttaparthi ashram in 1980, was formerly a well known journalist attached to leading Indian newspapers. He had “defied Indira and Sanjay Gandhi over publishing facts about the 1973 Emergency under the threat of (military) tanks.” See Famous editor confronted Sathya Sai Baba (2008). One would expect such boldness to remain an aspect of his temperament. This was indeed so, according to the Priddy notebooks.
Narasimhan evidently found great difficulty in accepting the explanations given by Sathya Sai Baba about the disconcerting bedroom murders of 1993, an event which caused a shockwave in the international movement. This dire episode evidenced that things could go seriously wrong in the guru’s periphery. Four young intruders were shot dead in the private quarters of the guru. Tangible and premature deaths at the ashram were not the best fuel for “Love All Serve All” enthusiasms. An allegation was made that the police had been blackmailed to carry out the shootings. In 1996, Narasimhan admitted, with some emphasis, that the answers of Sathya Sai to his own questions about the disconcerting murders “were not convincing, not convincing” (Priddy, The Unresolved, Covered-Up 1993 Murders, formerly online at saibaba-x.org.uk/8/MurderReview).
The bedroom murders were far from being the only topic about which Narasimhan expressed reservations. The ex-journalist claimed that inconsistencies could be found in the teachings of his guru. He even argued with Sathya Sai about Advaita Vedanta, himself believing that this favoured doctrine had ruined India with the doctrine of maya, meaning an assertion of the unreality of the physical world (Priddy, Narasimhan Contradicts Sathya Sai Baba, formerly online at saibaba-x.org.uk/16).
Narasimhan disclosed his compromised situation at the Puttaparthi ashram, which involved “having to make unprofessional edits of Sai’s erroneous statements and also under pressure tell untruths about the Central Trust so as to save face for (Sathya) Sai Baba” (Priddy, New year 1996, formerly online at saibaba-x.org.uk/16/VKN_newyear96). Narasimhan complained about “numerous embezzlements” by members of the prestigious Sathya Sai Central Trust. This was part of the economic malaise at the ashram, featuring in a number of dissident reports.
The role of unprofessional editor is significant. Narasimhan had been requested by the guru to take over editorship of the monthly journal Sanathana Sarathi from the biographer (and hagiographer) Professor N. Kasturi. The latter was a very subservient devotee. In contrast, the ex-journalist Narasimhan “was bold enough to contest the adult Sai Baba’s statements and opinions, which he did – though almost always privately – on numerous occasions.” Disliking the boldness of Narasimhan, the guru cancelled his editorship for a lengthy period, which meant that the tired Kasturi had to replace him for many months. After becoming “too dependent on the ashram,” the mood of Narasimhan was tamed to “strict political correctness” in his restored editorship, a role which imposed encomiums and the absence of criticism. Sadly, “Sai Baba actually forced him to lie in an article about the Sathya Sai Central Trust.” Priddy adds that Narasimhan “confided this to me of his own will and with a dejected expression.”
Being unable to print his own real views any longer, the ex-journalist unburdened himself in private conversations. At the same time, “he was unable to constrain himself from critical comments in public (though never in written form).” The information is supplied: “Despite his frequent public praise of (Sathya) Sai Baba, Narasimhan did not believe in all of Sai Baba’s claims about himself, particularly about omniscience, omnipotence and being the avatar.” All these quotes come from Narasimhan's Revelations to Robert Priddy (formerly online at saibaba-x.org/uk/16/Narasimhan_RobertPriddy).
The conscience of Narasimhan was stirred in disclosures to Priddy. “He was worried that he would fall into disrepute because of the editing he had done.” That cosmetic editing involved reformatting discourses of the guru in the monthly journal to eliminate “self-contradictions and faux-pas” (Famous Editor). The sanitised official versions of the guru’s discourses, published in Sanathana Sarathi, gained the repute of being “heavily reduced translations.” Discrepancies showed in the complete and unexpurgated versions, appearing on a partisan website that was subject to forced closure by the ashram authorities.
The ex-journalist described himself as being “a rather non-religious and even cynical person.” Narasimhan often remarked that he did not understand why Sathya Sai Baba was so nice to him. Priddy supplies the reason: Narasimhan was an asset to the social credibility of the guru because of the former’s “huge journalistic prestige,” his social ideals, and his reputation for honesty (Priddy, Faith-Shaking Events, formerly online at saibaba-x.org.uk/16).
The testimonies of the compromised ex-journalist, V. K. Narasimhan, gain additional significance because the attendant disclosures were a major factor in causing Robert Priddy to transit from his devotee identity to that of a dissident.
Gerald Joe Moreno accused me of “audacity” in daring to briefly reflect on Narasimhan’s critical sensitivity. More specifically, this stigma was applied in terms of “the audacity to claim that Robert Priddy’s hearsay trumped V. K. Narasimhan’s own words.” The unyielding dogmatism was further reflected in the Moreno web strategy that sought to make me appear as a villain. Narasimhan was one of the ingredient topics in the online Moreno harassment aimed at my Google Search name list in the autumn of 2007. See 22.16 above.
The typical vehemence of Moreno, on this subject, insisted that an article written by Narasimhan for Sanathana Sarathi in 1999 (shortly before his death) was the appropriate gauge for the ex-journalist. Narasimhan here glowingly referred to the guru as Bhagavan (“God”) and Avatar (divine incarnation). Moreno here stated (on his primary website) that the Priddy version amounted to “subjective and non-verifiable hearsay.” Furthermore, Moreno considered that his article about Narasimhan (at saisathyasai.com) was very important for elucidation of the subject, and far in advance of the Priddy version. Moreno blithely stated that his critique of Priddy “provides concise and damning (sic) information about him that proves he is not credible.”
My own very brief reference to Narasimhan was construed by the vituperative cyberstalker in terms of “bias and fanatic viewpoints” (note the plural). Who else but damning sectarians can lay claim to any objectivity? My brief remark in favour of the Priddy version was castigated in terms of undermining my “self-professed integrity.” I never mentioned the word integrity. Who else but damning sectarian polemicists can lay claim to such virtually unachievable goals? The sinful reference of the “fanatic” viewpoint(s) can be quoted here, informing that Narasimhan is “known to have entertained extensive doubts, his habitual cynicism tempered by his dependence upon ashram amenities.” That remark was located in the original July 2007 Update to the Sathya Sai Baba and Wikipedia webpage [later Wikipedia Issues] on the Citizen Initiative website. The Moreno denial was expressed in Kevin Shepherd And The Case Of V. K. Narasimhan.
Moreno could not perceive that the official ashram output of Narasimhan did not amount to the total psychological vantage point involved in ex-journalism. The blinkered apologist denied the validity of an important firsthand report. Indeed, Moreno suggested that Priddy fabricated information to “further his venomous campaigns against [Sathya] Sai Baba.” The difference between partisan and dissident commentary is often telling, and perhaps crucial in the analysis of events.
23.10 The Testimonies of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is strenuously denied by devotee spokesmen. However, the numerous testimonies of abuse are strong, and widely circulated by ex-devotees. Many details can be be found at exbaba.com (Witnesses tab). See further Anomalies and Testimonies of Sexual Abuse. There is also Priddy, Sex Abuse Testimony Index (saibaba-x.org.uk/6/index.html).
l to r: Timothy Conway, Michael Goldstein
A relevant report comes from Dr. Timothy Conway (an American ex-devotee, not a medic but a scholar of Indian religion). In My Concerns About Sathya Sai Baba, Conway says: “We do have first-hand, informally sworn testimonies (if not formally sworn and notarized affidavits) from numerous individuals who have openly reported that, when they were younger (ages vary from mid-teens to early twenties), Sathya Sai made ostensibly or blatantly sexual contact with them, contact that includes a range of behaviour from the suggestive to the explicit.” Furthermore, “it is estimated that many hundreds or thousands of male youth have experienced” the widely known “oiling” ritual favoured by the guru, a procedure applying to the lower abdomen and related areas of the body. That ritual could be the preliminary to more intimate advances.
Several testifiers to abuse have appeared on camera in Danish and British documentaries. The two most famous names here are probably Alaya Rahm and Conny Larsson, the former having mounted his own lawsuit in America (foiled by the Goldstein contingent on questionable grounds), and the latter being a former leader of the Swedish branch of the sect. Larsson has authored the book Behind the Mask of the Clown (available in English translation).
Conny Larsson became noted for a forthright address to the FECRIS conference at Brussels in 2006 (FECRIS denotes the European Federation of Centres Research and Information on Sectarianism; see also 24.6 on this site). Larsson described how he had transited from being a devotee of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to a follower of Sathya Sai Baba. He became disillusioned with the manipulations of the Maharishi, whose TM-Sidhi programme was attended by the claim that participants would levitate and “visit all kinds of planets.”
Larsson subsequently spent over twenty years as a devotee of Sathya Sai, whom he says encouraged him into a physical (homosexual) relationship for four years. He affirms that the four young men who were murdered at the ashram in 1993 were “part of the inner circle of [Sathya] Sai Baba” (in his book he describes the murdered men as victims of sexual abuse). Larsson pointedly refers to the activity of Sathya Sai in terms of “a paedophile ring.” Larsson also affirmed that the “criminal organisation” denoted is “a money laundering machine.” The dissident claimed that over fifty million dollars per annum was being acquired from devotees throughout the world by the Central Sathya Sai Baba Trust.
There are further factors involved. Larsson stated: “I have personally brought in $22 million dollars, others have gone as high as 900 million and even a billion each year.” He alleged that the disputed Trust “includes a payroll which deals out payment to (Government) Ministers, Supreme Court judges, directors of CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), all very eminent men in high positions.” The implications are thought-provoking, also shocking. Larsson complained that for security reasons he had moved from Sweden to Cyprus, because of the hostility from Sathya Sai devotees after he had published his book. “I am hunted down and as soon as they find that I am going to speak anywhere, they find me and try to stop me from speaking.... I can no longer stay in my country because the danger is too big” (formerly available at saibabaexpose.com/fecris).
Returning to the account of Conway, this informs that sixteen named males have directly testified to sexual abuse, while “well over a dozen more” males have given private testimonies. This gives a total of over thirty testifiers, approximately one third of whom were minors (under age 18) when the abuses occurred. However, there is yet a third category of abused males who appear in verbal and/or written reports supplied by relatives, friends, or acquaintances. This category comprises “at least a dozen or a few dozen further cases where we do not have any specific names.”
The total list of these three categories involves “nearly 50 named and unnamed individuals.” Dr. Conway adds that sectarian denials are contradicted by the (obvious) fact that “there are simply far too many allegations corroborating each other on similar crucial details.”
Yet the main testimonies are by no means the only ones. There are other accounts, such as those deriving from many students (primarily Indians) attending the Sathya Sai Baba colleges, which existed apart from the ashram routines, and normally represented a closed sector for investigation. The colleges are notorious amongst ex-devotees for sexual abuse. Conway informs: “Numerous students have allegedly expressed fear to researchers about saying anything of Sathya Sai Baba’s sexual improprieties with them for reasons of shame and family situation (e.g., their parents and grandparents are devotees).”
The plight of these boys is said to have been aggravated by fear of reprisal, also the risk of sudden termination of their subsidized educational opportunities by expulsion, a factor which could seriously affect career prospects in a country like India. Tendencies of the guru to questionable activity are well known. Conway reports: “It has become pretty much public knowledge in the movement that Sathya Sai Baba has one, two or more students spend the night with him almost every night for many decades in his private bedroom at Puttaparthi and at Whitefield, and when visiting his summer retreats at Kodaikanal or Ootacamund.” The extent of abuse in this sector is unknown, though evidently extensive. The exploitive situation was attended by homosexual imitators of the guru within the Sathya Sai Baba colleges.
Dr. Conway also mentions a further group of “suspected molestees,” meaning male youths who left the movement after having gained private interviews with Sathya Sai. It is known that such disappearing persons often emerged from their interviews “with eyes downcast, looking depressed, confused, even shaken or agitated.” Conway assesses the number of such suspected cases of abuse in terms of “at least an additional few dozen individuals, if not many more.” He includes in this category a rather notable instance, namely the late M. Krishna, the closest companion of Sathya Sai in the early years, a man who shared the guru’s bedroom at night during the 1940s. Krishna subsequently left the movement. Many years later, Krishna told one investigator that he regarded his period with Sathya Sai as a “nightmare.”
Sadly, this disclosure of Krishna was not set in due perspective, largely because an influential European investigator, namely Erlendur Haraldsson, was preoccupied with supposed miracles of the guru (see 23.1 above). Those purported miracles have been revealed, by other investigators, as faked “materialisations” of sacred ash (vibhuti) and jewellery. Basava Premanand, David Bailey, and others have shown that Sathya Sai Baba concealed ash in his palm; furthermore, cheap jewellery was conveniently concealed (for ready access) in the storage space beneath his cushion in the group interview room. Some objects he would hide in his handkerchief as part of the general deception achieved by sleight of hand.
The issue of sexual abuse attaches to documents composed by Dr. John “Jack” Hislop (d.1995), a leading American devotee who was made aware of a complaint about the repeated sexual abuse (by the guru) of a male minor from California. Dr. Hislop was leader of the Sathya Sai Baba Council of America. A series of memos or letters dating to 1981, and written by Hislop, have added fuel to the accusations against abuse. Briefly, Hislop could not believe that the complaint of the minor was justified. Conway observes: “He (Hislop) invented a theory of teen anxiety and projection to discount the stories.”
Hislop had formerly worked for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, prior to becoming a devotee of Sathya Sai. One of the most influential spokesmen for the Sathya Sai movement, he lectured widely at the Sathya Sai Centres, which spread in many countries during the 1970s and after. Hislop wrote one of the most popular books on the guru, namely My Baba and I (1985), including some miracle stories. The mood is totally partisan; the title was chosen by the guru.
The apologist Gerald Joe Moreno questioned the Hislop letters. His entry The John Hislop Letters, found on his primary attack site, presented these documents as being of questionable authenticity. Contradicting the pro-Goldstein angle, Dr. Conway states: “I have sworn a notarized affidavit that these Hislop memos, which have been uploaded for viewing at different internet sites run by former devotees, are indeed genuine.” Conway received copies of the Hislop letters in the mid-1980s, from a close friend who preceded him as a president of the San Francisco Sai Center. On the authenticity of these letters, see Conway, The crucial John Hislop Letters, Sathya Sai Baba, and Sathya's defender Joe Moreno.
Dr. Michael Goldstein, and other prominent American devotees, were happy to ignore the complaint of the abused minor during the 1980s. Dr. Conway relates that similar reports began to emerge later in the 1980s, and then especially from about 1997, with the advent of disturbing accounts communicated on the expanding internet. Conway was associated with the Sathya Sai movement from 1978 onwards. He acted as president of the San Francisco Center during 1981-4, also being an official in the Sathya Sai Baba Council of America for Northern California during 1984-7.
In the year 2000, appeared the internet exposure of the guru by the British ex-devotee David Bailey, whose document The Findings succeeded earlier online material of the late 1990s. When Conway and other Americans discovered the extent of discrepancies within the sect, they seceded, becoming further offended by the evasive policy of Michael Goldstein, leader of the Sathya Sai Organisation.
23.11 Michael Goldstein and The Secret Swami Documentary
Dr. Timothy Conway exited from the Sathya Sai movement in 2001. He was subsequently asked to submit questions for Dr. Michael Goldstein, as part of the BBC research preparations for their 2004 documentary The Secret Swami. Goldstein was the influential International Chairman of the Sathya Sai Organisation. However, the possibility of interviewing Goldstein was seriously curtailed by the latter’s evasive policy. Conway records, on his lengthy webpage My Concerns About Sathya Sai Baba, three formulated questions that were never answered. He wanted to ask Goldstein why the latter did “not call for an open hearing on the topic (of alleged abuse), instead of trying to suppress this information.”
More pointedly, a second question was contributed to the intended confrontation: “Dr. Goldstein, why, as a medical professional, have you not obeyed the ‘mandated reporting’ rules of your profession and U.S. law, which hold that anyone aware of evidence indicating ‘reasonable suspicion’ of inappropriate sexual contact by an adult toward a minor must report this adult, no matter what his/her position, to the proper child protection agencies and legal authorities?”
A third question was also very explicit. “Why did you never respond to the plea from the Oregon Sai Center in 2000 (signed by some 75 members) for an open discussion about the case of yet another boy sexually molested by Swami (Sathya Sai)?” Dr. Conway supplements this question by informing that, via an intermediary, Dr. Goldstein sent an inappropriate response to the Oregon Center, couched in terms of Advaita Vedanta, a Hindu teaching which has undergone strange adventures during the past few decades. That response included a quote from Ramesh Balsekar, an Indian exponent of Advaita who had become popular in America. Goldstein’s indirect response has been interpreted in terms of excusing (or evading) sexual molestation behaviour on the part of Sathya Sai Baba.
Conway also supplies information tending to negate the unsatisfactory recourse to Balsekar. Again I quote here from his webpage:
Ramesh himself, in the winter of 2004/5, was exposed for his own chronic manipulative soliciting of sexual favours from numerous female students, several of whom turned on him publicly at one of his retreats and vociferously demanded amends; he only gave a semi-apology and tried to deploy his pseudo-advaita teachings to absolve himself of any real accountability.
Subsequently, the evasion of Dr. Goldstein caused the BBC to adopt a hidden camera technique for The Secret Swami documentary of 2004. There was no other way to penetrate the sectarian tactic. The images below derive from the encounter in California.
Dr. Michael Goldstein on BBC camera, wordings from an ex-devotee website
BBC logo and reporter Tanya Datta, who appeared in The Secret Swami documentary
The disclosures of Dr. Goldstein, via The Secret Swami documentary, were not impressive to many viewers. Further, the American ex-devotee Al Rahm (father of Alaya Rahm) was here reported by the BBC as saying that he had spoken with Goldstein in 1999 about the alleged abuse; Goldstein had then responded by saying that he hated the idea of having wasted 25 years of his life (in being a devotee of the guru). Goldstein subsequently mentioned the subject of abuse to Sathya Sai Baba himself, without taking the investigation any further. The guru asserted his purity. Goldstein thereafter stated, as justification for his condoning stance, that he accepted the claim to purity of Sathya Sai (“Swami said that he is pure”).
The BBC were faced with a very evasive situation rendering dialogue impossible; Goldstein refused to discuss any of the allegations made against Sathya Sai. The BBC accordingly took recourse to a hidden camera that accompanied the revealing interview in California between Goldstein and reporter Tanya Datta. Dr. Goldstein relied upon his medical reputation to deny any possibility of sexual abuse on the part of Sathya Sai Baba. The testimonies to abuse were effectively prohibited by this attitude. A full transcript of the BBC documentary is available at BBC programmes Secret Swami.
The negative policy of the Sathya Sai Organisation, in relation to testimonies of abuse ("allegations" to devotees), rests entirely upon the guru’s claim to purity. The many sufferers had no palpable existence in this cult perspective. Furthermore, outsiders who happened to comment upon the neglected reports of abuse, and other anomalies, were liable to be greeted by internet harassment tactics from Gerald Joe Moreno (believed to have been paid by Goldstein for his services).
My own complaint (August 2007) about the Oct. 2006 misrepresentation on Wikipedia, of my publishing project, was treated as “whining and snivelling” by sectarian activist Moreno (alias User SSS108). The cyberstalker was zealously intent upon removing Wikipedia references to testimonies of abuse (see Wikipedia Issues). The full dimensions of this issue are far from being exhausted by the apologist mandate, which dictated that all criticisms must be opposed, eliminated, caricatured, or harassed.
23.12 Complaint at Massive Libel and Disinformation Campaign
A significant document was signed in 2008 by ten prominent ex-devotees of Sathya Sai Baba. This was entitled The International Sathya Sai Organisation – an accessory to a massive libel and disinformation campaign. The Sathya Sai Organisation (SSO) was the official term for the movement under discussion, centred at the Puttaparthi ashram of the guru in Andhra. The Chairman of the SSO was Dr. Michael Goldstein of California.
The document is further identified as Open Letter to the Prashanthi Council (ex-baba.com. search tab). The related administrative body denoted here was strongly associated with Dr. Goldstein and Dr. G. Venkataraman, who filled the roles of Chairman and Deputy Chairman. Dr. Venkataraman became well known as the head of Radio Sai, the official international radio broadcaster for the sect. The Open Letter is addressed to Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Venkataraman. The document was dated March 17th 2008.
The Open Letter states that the SSO has allowed “deplorable libel and misrepresentation of former devotees in many countries.” Further, “two semi-official pro-Sai websites” maintained links to websites “which libel all former members (of the SSO) who have spoken out.” Links are specified which make clear that the web activities of Gerald Joe Moreno were here the aggravating factor.
Further, the SSO and Prashanthi Council “have both failed to distance themselves” from the fraudulent email ploy of Murali Krishna Yachendra (see 23.7 above).
The charge is made that “defaming former members who are in dissent further emphasises the aggressive cultist nature of those in control of the Sathya Sai Baba sect.” The Open Letter proceeds to argue that if the flagrant violations continue to be condoned by the SSO and Prashanthi Council, “you cannot avoid the charge of being a closed, clandestine cult.”
Suggested reasons are then given for the prevailing deficient situation. These include the apparent situation of Sathya Sai Baba forbidding Dr. Goldstein (“the top official of his worldwide institutions”) to allow any discussion of the allegations of abuse, “thus rejecting all principles of accountability and transparency.”
The complaint is also made that Dr. G. Venkataraman of the Prashanthi Council (and Deputy World Chairman of the SSO) “cast many serious slurs on the integrity of former devotees” (the slurs were rebutted on an ex-devotee website). The Open Letter ended with a reflection that if the SSO chose not to reply, or not to act accordingly, then the negative situation would be taken as further and definitive proof of unaccountability and “collusion with vicious libellers.”
An endnote informs that a former letter of complaint, sent to the Prashanthi Council two years earlier, had been totally ignored.
One of the signatories to the Open Letter elsewhere emphasised that many other letters sent to the SSO leaders (e.g., Dr. Goldstein) since circa 2000 had also been ignored. These included communications from India Today, the BBC, The Times of London, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and also media in Europe, Canada, Latin America, and Australia (Sathya Sai Baba Cult – Blind Eye To Massive Slander, 2008).
The significance of the Open Letter to the Prashanthi Council is considerable. Clearly identified here are the official bodies at fault in the propaganda of the movement discussed. Also clearly identified is the libel factor causing aggravation at an international level.
There was no reply to this very relevant epistle, a fact which speaks volumes for the SSO strategy. The absence of response was interpreted by the signatories in terms of a commitment to harassment and libel. Other parties have the option to make due analysis of a reprehensible situation.