Sathya Sai Organisation.

Divine Tool or Side Effect?

Serguei Badaev


24 July 2002



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         For last two years a lot of critical publications have appeared in media and on the Internet concerning Sathya Sai Baba and the Sathya Sai Organisation (SSO).  Many materials can be found on;; and private sites of Brian Steel ( and Robert Priddy (

The matter of relationships between Sai Baba and the SSO is not as simple as it may look at first glance. The analysis of these relationships may help us to understand some strange and incomprehensible things in regard to Sai Baba and his organisation.

         Who may this matter concern? For those ex-devotees who do not want to hear anything negative about their former guru, the matter of his organisation is absolutely of no concern. For those devotees, who are completely focused on their personal relations with Sai Baba as their Master or Avatar, the SSO as an earthly structure does not attract much attention, nor does the rest of the world of Maya. However, for those people, both devotees and ex-devotees, who with open minds and sincere attitudes have been trying to understand what is going on and find some sensible explanations to many unbelievable facts, this analysis of Sai Baba and the SSO relationships will allow, we hope, some new visions and insights.

         Two principle concepts may be formulated about the relationships between Sai Baba and the SSO.

         (A) The SSO was established by Sai Baba himself and is his most important instrument in fulfilment of his mission, restoration of dharma, or righteousness, on earth. Sai Baba guides and inspires every move in the SSO and thoroughly controls its activities.

         (B) The SSO was established by devotees and was their own initiative. Sai Baba did not object and gave his name to it. However, the SSO does not play any essential role in Sai Baba’s proclaimed mission, as he works with every person individually. He usually does not interfere with the SSO activities.

         For the convenience of further discussion we would term them as the concept of a «divine tool» and the concept of a «side effect» correspondingly.

         As the SSO is to a great extent an organisation with strict information exchange control and censorship, we have used officially published materials and books, comparing and contrasting separate facts and quotations. Many points under discussion are stated as working hypotheses and suppositions because of lack of reliable information. We hope that this article will attract researchers’ attention to this topic and this will result in more detailed analysis of SSO activities and their relationships with Sai Baba. This in turn might clarify lots of misunderstanding and many controversies in this matter.


         (1) Spiritual or Service Organisation.

         It seems that among Sai Baba’s followers there is no agreement as to whether the SSO is a spiritual organisation or a service one. This can be seen even in a fact that an official name of the organisation sometimes contains a term «Seva» that means «service» (e.g. Sathya Sai Seva Organisation), and sometimes it does not contain it (e.g. Sathya Sai Organisation).  It is interesting to note that this question was raised in the interview of J. Hislop, the leader of the American SSO, with Sai Baba on 22nd October 1984.


Hislop: During the course of the next ten years is the American Sai Organisation to remain a Spiritual Organisation or is it to change its mode of life so as to become primarily a Seva Organisation?

Sai: The Organisation is to continue to be a Spiritual Organisation with some changes, but not major changes. Devotion to God: the purifying of mind and heart, by sacrificing to God all ego tendencies, is to be the purpose and the practice of the Sai devotees in the Sai Organisation. (Interview of 22.10.1984. J. Hislop. Conversations with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. SSSB&PT, p.214)


         At the same time service often is a main topic when Sai Baba addresses his followers.


In the Sathya Sai Organisation, seva (service) has pride of place. The Sai samithis (centres) were started only with service in view. (19.11.1990. Sathya Sai Speaks XXIII, p.261)


         (2) Sai Baba criticises the SSO.

         The concept that the SSO is a sort of side effect of Sai Baba’s mission finds its justification in a fact that the SSO’s work often shows bad management and lack of co-operation, and its leaders are far from being the examples of those human values which are preached by Sai Baba. Despite the fact, that Sai Baba often reminds his devotees not to criticise anyone, in his discourses we can find a lot of critical remarks addressed to his organisation and supporting this concept. These remarks concern understanding of the goals and objectives of the SSO, qualities of its leaders and ordinary members, and the work of the SSO as a whole. We have selected some of them to illustrate this point.    


I must say plainly that ninety out of a hundred among you have not clearly visualised the purpose for which I have allowed you to form these Organisations. (21.11.1968. Sathya Sai Speaks v.VIII, p.230)


Of what benefit is this discourse of Mine if you do not receive it into your hearts and act according to it? I find that all these years to awaken you to your duty to yourselves are not fructifying in you. You are like the rocks on the seashore that unflinchingly face the beating of the waves. (18.08.1968. Sathya Sai Speaks, v. VIII, p.159)


This Organisation has spread far and wide, but I must say that it is drifted away from the purpose for which it was started. It has not resulted in the least benefit. (20.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks v.X, p.195)


I am not interested or elated when this or that District claims to have a larger number of Units of this Organisation than the other one. I am interested in the work, in the loving heart, in the selfless service. There are Units that exist only in name! There are others that function in ways quite contrary to our purposes and ideals! Instead of allowing these to continue, it is best they are wound up, immediately. Better to have two or three that function well than hundreds that function badly or not at all. (20.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks v.X, p.200)


From now, the usual practice of meeting once a year in Conference, passing a few resolutions with great furore, and casting them aside that very day, will not be of any avail. Only those units of the Organisation are authentic, wherein the office-bearers practise and experience spiritual Ananda through adherence to the lines laid down here. The rest are mere nominal; they burden lists with their names, and should be immediately removed. (22.12.1971. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XI, p.227)


Though we have been laying down many rules, and restrictions and guidelines during the last five years for the proper working of the Units, and emphasising their importance, they have been more misused than made-use-of for the betterment of the Organisation. As a result of misuse, you find yourselves helpless in cleansing the blemishes in your minds and eradicating the evils rampant in society. ( ... ) This has made you forget the very purpose of your existence, as well as of the Organisation, which has been established to help you. (23.12.1971. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XI, p.230)


Sai has resolved to transform the individual and society by promoting this mutual regeneration, by the action of one on the other; hence, the formation of this Organisation, and the establishment of its Units in all countries, for the sublimation of the human into the Divine. I have however to tell you that the units of this Organisation have not advanced much in the task that is expected. (4.01.1974. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XII, p.127)


Do not allow even a trace of ego, pomp, or cruelty to pollute your actions. Peace and prosperity can dawn on the world only when you move in society with love, that is free from the taint of selfishness. The question may be raised whether our Organisations are free from this taint? They are not without it, for you are but human. But you should endeavour ceaselessly to get rid of it and its attendant evils. (19.11.1980. Sathya Sai Speaks v.XIV, p.347)


We have in our organisation, State Presidents, District Presidents, State Convenors, etc., but these positions should not be used for enthroning oneself and exercising authority. They are allotted to people so that they can be examples, through their own lives, of seva sadhana. But some State Presidents are too proud to share in seva activities! Leaders must lead; they should not push from behind. (21.11.1981. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XV, p.170)


The setting up of Sai Centres is not an exercise in numbers. The emphasis should be on quality and not quantity. The International President and the National President of our organisation have mentioned how the Samasthalu (centres) have grown. But has Samathvam (fellow-feeling) grown to the same extent? Fellow-feeling should grow. On the contrary, divisiveness is growing. I want quality, not quantity. (18.11.1995. Sathya Sai Speaks v.XXVIII, p.309)


         The quotations presented above refer to the period from 1965 to 1995 and demonstrate that the SSO development was not smooth at all. Some of Sai Baba’s remarks suggest that those relationships between him and the SSO some times suffered great tension and they might even have been on the threshold of a break.


I wish that all of you conduct yourselves as elder and younger brothers and make the Sai Organisation as a model for the world. I have no connection whatsoever with the organisation. You have to work for yourselves. If you have Ananda, I partake of that Ananda. (21.11.1987. Sanathana Sarathi, Dec.1987, p. 324)


         It is worth noting that in 1987 the SSO survived the dissolution of the World Council, that time apparently the supreme body of the SSO.


         (3) Sai Baba praises the SSO.

         Alongside the criticism in Sai Baba’s discourses, we can find praises and compliments addressed to the SSO: high quality of its work, unity of its members, love and harmony in their relationships. Surprisingly, they are often the qualities opposing the ones that were severely criticised by Sai Baba previously and so, it creates an absolutely different image of the SSO. It may even create a feeling that we are dealing with two completely different organisations.


The Sai Organisation is set up to develop and foster Love; it is not set up through compulsion; it arouses from the heart and it expands the heart. The inner desire to achieve Love and expand Love has taken outer shape as this Organisation. (21.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks v. X, p.203)


This Organisation does not attach value to the likes and dislikes of any office-bearer. It is based on devotion and faith only. (21.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks v. X, p.206)


Remember also that the development of this Organisation will bring Peace and Tranquillity to the world torn by chaos. (21.11.1970. Sathya Sai Speaks v. X, p.209)


From ancient times, the Upanishathic prayer said: «May He protect US all; may He nourish US all.» The spirit of oneness proclaimed in these manthras (sacred formulae) is operative today only in the Sathya Sai Organisation. (22.11. 1980. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XIV, p.359)


Moreover, there are organisations in which the young and the old render different types of social service. But, only in the Sathya Sai Organisations can you find all the people rendering service in a completely selfless spirit. <...> Politicians talk about «Service to man is Service to God.» But only members of the Sathya Sai Organisation actually live up to this slogan. (22.11. 1980. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XIV, p.360)


It can be asserted as a fact that only in the Sathya Sai Organisations is service rendered without any feeling of egoism. If today lakhs of people are gathered here and are putting up with various inconveniences and difficulties, it is indeed a great penance they are doing. This sense of oneness cannot be seen in any other organisation. Only the Sathya Sai Organisations have such oneness. You see here people belonging to many countries, professing many faiths, speaking various languages, behaving like brothers and sisters and experiencing the bliss of being here. This is possible only for those belonging to the Sathya Sai Organisations. (19.11.1990. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XXIII, p.261)


To the extent possible, take part in the work of Sai Organisations. Today there is no nobler work in the world. I shall not speak about the numerous other organisations in the world. But the purity that obtains in the Sai Organisations cannot be found anywhere else. (24.10.1993. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XXVI, p.382)


Sometimes praises of the SSO are followed by a sort of pressing to make members keep associating with the SSO.


All of you should take a vow continually to develop the Seva Organisations. Let all join in the activities. <...> Never give up the organisation. Regard it as the breath of your life. (24.11.1990. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XXIII p.304)


The same passage of the Sai Baba discourse in the book of Indulal Shah, the International Chairman of the SSO, sounds even more warning:


Embodiments of the Divine Atma: all of you should take a vow to continue developing this Service Organisation. Take all people into the fold. <…> People who have gone away from this organisation are the unfortunate ones. Do not become an unfortunate one. Come that way, do not give up this service Organisation. Consider it as your very life’s breath and do this with real determination. (Indulal Shah. “I, We & He”, Written, Compiled and Published by Indulal Shah, Prashanthi Nilayam (India), 1997, p.114)


         Taking into account the criticism of the SSO presented in the previous section, these compliments seem rather exaggerated and consider the desirable as real. We would like to emphasise the point that, dealing with quotations only, we inevitably place our analysis out of the actual historical context when the events occurred. But up to now it seems to be the only way for more or less objective analysis of the SSO's history.


         (4) Sai Baba takes part in SSO activities.

Although Sai Baba does not hold any office in the SSO (in contrast with The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, where he apparently signs all the financial documents), he is considered as its spiritual leader. It is difficult to understand to what extent Sai Baba takes part in the affairs of the SSO nowadays, especially taking into account its size and international character. In 1997 according to the official data the SSO consisted of 5000 centres and groups in India and 1800 centres and groups overseas in 145 countries. Surprisingly, it is in contradiction with Sai Baba’s statement that in 1976 there were 7000 centres in 42 countries of the world. (14.11.1976 Sathya Sai Speaks v. XIII, p.150).

         It seems that at the early days of the SSO Sai Baba’s participation in its work was rather active. For example, J. Hislop, the leader of the American SSO, and Sai Baba had a very active correspondence where Hislop informed Sai Baba about all the details of the SSO’s development in the U.S.A. This busy correspondence even confused Hislop because he could not realise why the all-knowing Avatar needed to know all the details, which he was supposed to be aware of, according to his omniscient status.

         Another example of active participation in the SSO activities is Sai Baba’s work during the Conference of office-bearers of Andhra Pradesh State in India in 1968.


In order to focus your attention on some major problems and to conserve time, I am placing before you four items for discussion at this Conference. I want that, immediately after the close of this session, you should meet district-wise and forge a common report on these points and submit them to Me before noon. (21.11.1968. Sathya Sai Speaks v. VIII, p.230)


I was perusing the reports you gave Me on the points I had placed for your consideration. I must say that your suggestions regarding the raising of funds were uniformly bad. (21.11.1968. Sathya Sai Speaks v.VIII, p.236)


         The next example demonstrates that Sai Baba, despite the proclaimed omniscience (i.e. knowing everything), sounds very worried because of the lack of information about what is going on in the SSO. It is worthy to note that he mentions the flow of information only in the upward direction, which up to now is a characteristic feature of the SSO.


Another important matter: the Organisation is not yet organised effectively! Reports of activities from the units do not reach the Samithi, the Samithi are not reporting to the district president and they in turn fail to inform the state presidents, who are unable to present a full picture of the activities of the state to Me. The flow of information from below and of instruction and inspiration from above must be unbroken and steady. (23.12.1971. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XI, p.237)


         Of the facts of more recent time we can mention those changes that were introduced by Sai Baba personally into the decisions and recommendations of the VI World Conference of the SSO in 1995. One of the principle resolutions of that Conference was formulated as follows (Clause 4 under the caption «Service», p.11):

The Sai Organisation should take the lead in involving the community in service programmes for the needy. In this respect they should take the initiative in bringing religious and service organisations together under SAI leadership to work together for the common good of society. This will help expand service activities to serve a greater number of the needy and also foster unity of faiths and bring about a greater understanding of Bhagavan Baba’s message and teachings to mankind.

         Next day, after the resolutions were adopted by the Conference, they were presented to Sai Baba. He gave some directions, which were included in the decisions and recommendations as the addenda and were distributed throughout the SSO with a separate letter. One of the directives was the following:

The Sri Sathya Sai Organisation should not take help of any other religious or spiritual organisation in conducting the activities of the Sai Organisation. In view of this, Clause ‘4’ under the caption ‘SERVICE’ on page 11 of the Decision and Recommendations be deleted.


         (5) Sai Baba says about the significance and the future of the SSO.

         There are some witnesses who imply that Sai Baba attaches, or at least attached, great importance to the SSO. Here are the words of J. Hislop who was a leader of the American SSO for many years until the beginning of the 1990’s.


         I was talking to Swami one time and I said, «Swami, in America, there are probably not more than a thousand or fifteen hundred members who have actually signed the register that they wish to be Sai devotees and follow the instructions of Sai. On the other hand, there are, at least, one hundred thousand or more people in America who read what You write, read Your discourses, learn about You, but they do not join the Centres. Why not just discontinue the Centres, Swami? Let us finish with them; they are too much trouble and they are not important.»

         Swami said: «Hislop, My Centres are of tremendous importance to Me. Were it not for My Centres, the world would be in a dreadful condition now. Only because of My Centres is the world not in a disastrous condition.» So that means, the Sai Organisation is an instrument of Swami’s in a way that we do not comprehend. (J.Hislop. Seeking Divinity. SSSB&PT, p.160.)


         The next quotation tells us that Sai Baba expected a great expansion of the SSO in India.        

Sai Service Organisations must grow in numbers and cover the entire country. Only then the country will enter on an era of prosperity. (19.11.1990. Sathya Sai Speaks v. XXIII, p.262)


         After all, Sai Baba considers the SSO as an establishment of the world scale which will influence the future of the whole of mankind.

«The whole world itself will be transformed into Sathya Sai Organisation and Sathya Sai will be installed in the hearts of one and all.» (20.11.1998, Sanathana Sarathi v.42, #1, p.21)


         In order to keep constant contact with the expanding number of groups and centres of his organisation, Sai Baba even planned to use such extraordinary means of transportation for rural India as a helicopter. Such an intensive travelling activity seems rather an unusual way of behaviour for a traditional spiritual guru in India.  Below there is a part of a published letter of Sai Baba to J. Hislop. 

Hislop! Receive my Blessings

I have received the two letters from you. I have noted what you have written. You have taken a lot of trouble regarding the helicopter and gathered a number of details about it. The number of Sathya Sai organisations has grown in this country. I have to travel by car to visit these organisations and such journeys are not very convenient besides taking a lot of time. I therefore propose to dispose of the 3 or 4 cars I have and get a helicopter.

Travel by service planes is also inconvenient. Recently the Government has imposed rigid rules and passengers are closely checked. Besides crowds gather at every airport. I feel a helicopter is better in every respect for my journeys. I can visit a large number of Sathya Sai organisations, more quickly and with less inconvenience to every one and thus satisfy thousands of devotees.

(letter of 27.05.1971, J.Hislop. My Baba and I. p.244)

(Note: the helicopter was bought, with funds provided by Alf Tidemann-Johannesen of Norway – who later claimed SB had behaved fraudulently.It was used by SB to give darsan from the air to crowds at the (I think) 5oth birthday and this – incl. SB in the helicopter door - can be seen on an early video of the event)


         Another story, which is given below, however odd it may sound, also may be connected with Sai Baba’s plans to use modern means of transportation to contact his organisation.

         She told Sharon about all the negative stories concerning Sai Baba on the Internet and  how her husband, who was an intimate friend of Iris and Howard Murphet, had been asked by Sai Baba to go back to the USA to study and get all the necessary credentials and experience to be Baba's personal aeroplane pilot. This came as a shock to the young man, who at the time was thinking about becoming an accountant. But because this was a direct request from God Almighty, the young man spent thousands of dollars and for 10 years invested all his energies and money into becoming qualified to be the personal aeroplane pilot for Sai Baba.

         When he returned to India, he was on the front line trying to tell Sai Baba that he had done what Sai Baba had requested and that he was now returning to be his pilot. After completely ignoring him, the day finally arrived when he stood up and waved all of his credentials at Baba and then came the incredulous words from Baba's mouth......."WHAT CAN I SAY?.............NO PLANE!"

(, section «Articles», «Sharon Purcell relates her story after 32 years» by Glen Meloy)


         (6) Sai Baba runs service projects independent of the SSO.

         It is an interesting fact that none of the major charity projects in India connected with the name of Sai Baba, such as the water supply project in Andhra Pradesh state, the Super Speciality Hospitals in Puttaparthi and near Bangalore, the colleges in Whitefield and Anantapur, the Institute of Higher Learning (deemed University) in Puttaparthi, - are projects of the SSO. (For example, in a booklet about the water supply project it is stated that this project is a joint venture of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, The Government of the Andhra Pradesh state and the company Larsen & Toubro Limited). These projects are conducted under the personal control of Sai Baba.  Though some members of the SSO can take part in these projects (for example, as volunteers in hospitals), in general the SSO has never taken part directly in the fulfilment of these projects. These projects are financed from special trusts (Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, Sathya Sai Medical Trust, Sathya Sai Education Trust), which accumulate donations from all over the world. It is extremely difficult to obtain any information about these trusts. They do not publish any statistical data about their activity and are not accountable to any body or board in the Sai Movement. (Note: in India, a registered trust fund reportedly is not required to present any public accounts or pay any taxes)

         The only large service project aimed at the development of Indian villages was launched by the SSO in 1982 as a direct instruction from Sai Baba.


On this birthday I have only one desire. I am desiring this only to promote your ananda. You are planning programmes for the coming 60th Birthday. Even before the 60th Birthday, you must adopt at least 6000 villages and improve them through proper means into ideal villages. (23.11.1982. SSS XV, p.310)


         As the information about this project can hardly be found anywhere and few members of the SSO have ever heard about it, we assume that this project most probably ceased its existence.
(Note: V. K. Narasimhan personally informed Robert Priddy that it petered out very soon after the first
and only conference about it at Puttaparthi in connection with the 60th birthday. It was started on Indulal Shah’s initiative so as to please SB)

         The only exclusion might be the work in the field of education in India and to some extent abroad that is run by the SSO and only in rare occasions by outsiders. Unfortunately, reliable statistical data about this activity can be found nowhere. 




         From above it is clear that Sai Baba has shown much concern in the SSO and no one can deny his role as a formative factor. But due to his contradictorying remarks, the result might be termed as a “divine tool with serious side effects”.

         The analysis shows that the SSO has been criticised repeatedly by Sai Baba practically since its beginning, despite the fact that Sai Baba himself has been guiding and inspiring its work and officially considered as its spiritual leader. Sai Baba’s praises and criticism are often too general and contain no criteria to realise what real problems or achievements they reflect. That means that the SSO members can’t use their own judgement to evaluate the work of the SSO and have to be dependent on Sai Baba’s opinion completely. This is supported indirectly by the fact that impartial analysis of the SSO’s work has never been an agenda among its members. This situation can be used very easily for psychological manipulation. It is a very suitable situation for rationalisation when all achievements are ascribed to Sai Baba and all shortcomings to human beings.

         Even if someone assumes that Sai Baba is an Avatar, we have to admit that his divinity does not influence the work of the SSO. From the point of view of management style, work efficiency, and relationships among its members (especially top officials) the SSO is far from reaching existing standards for such sorts of organisations. It is ridiculous to think that the SSO in its current form can be a model or example for any other organisation in the world. As the SSO plays no active role in Sai Baba’s charity projects and has no control over funds it seems often to be just a tool for publicity. 




         I would like to express my gratitude to Robert Priddy for his informative subject index for Sai Baba books and discourses (