Fresh Light on Sai Baba's Discourses
Document date: 02-05-02
Just over two months ago, I opened this website to share with others the detailed evidence behind the re-assessment of my attitude to Sathya Sai Baba's claims to be God Incarnate (Sathya Sai Baba: God or Guru?).
In Chapter 3 of that study (The Packaging of Sathya Sai Baba's Discourses), I presented some strong circumstantial evidence which suggests that there is a very significant difference between the language of Sai Baba's frequent public Discourses (which are usually delivered in his native Telugu language) and the subsequently translated, edited, and printed form of those Discourses. By default, it is this edited form, the only one which is officially circulated by the Sai Baba Organisation, which is accepted by the majority of Sai Baba's overseas devotees (who are NOT Telugu speakers and many of whom may never be able to visit his ashram in India) as the authentic version of Baba's public teachings, and, indeed, as the true expression of his OWN WORDS and personality. But available evidence suggests that such a belief may need to be re-assessed.
My initial hypothesis was based not on a knowledge of Telugu but simply on hearing the sentence rhythms of a few Discourses and of the simultaneous translations into English which usually accompany them. After further research, I developed a strong impression that there was a significant (and unacknowledged) discrepancy in language and style between the simple, rambling repetitive-sounding Telugu speeches (aimed mainly at unsophisticated and uneducated listeners) and the heavily edited and more sophisticated form printed and distributed in many languages by Sai Baba's Organisation (in the monthly magazine, Sanathana Sarathi and the (more or less) annual volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks).
It became more and more apparent that the person who delivered the real Discourses was in fact rather different from the image projected to the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of readers of the printed words.
Even if this is true, why should it matter? Nowadays public figures are aided more and more by a staff of aides, advisers and speechwriters. No one criticises President Bush for reading speeches written mostly by other people, which often include clever sound-bites, 'spin', appealing phraseology and images, all intended to produce a particular effect on the audience. Moreover, editors perform an important professional function in all forms of communication. For instance, a writer's work can benefit greatly from the editing process.
However, in the case of Sai Baba and his Discourses, the apparent packaging of his message takes place after he has delivered it in public. The resulting edited product is still labelled with the date of his original Discourse, with no warning that the form of those original words and sentences have been significantly amended. These enhanced versions of his lengthy speeches or informal 'chats' (in view of the available evidence, the term 'Discourse' seems an overstatement) present quite a different picture of Sai Baba from that which might be glimpsed if we were able to penetrate the barrier of the unfamiliar Telugu language and understand the original speeches.
The concept of a more 'basic' Baba persona than that presented by the Sathya Sai Baba Organisation would also fit in with other evidence of niggling discrepancies about his claimed Divine nature and abilities. Equally importantly, significant differences between the original and the edited Discourses would cast a heavy shadow of doubt over the millions of spoken and written quotations to be found in the vast Sai Baba literature.
Since I had already come across other evidence which suggested that not everything about Sathya (=Truth) Sai Baba rang true, I had to try to investigate further. Although it was very difficult to find corroborating written evidence of these discrepancies, I managed to find more than enough to prove the prima facie point that sophisticated associates and assistants in Sai Baba's entourage and Organisation have been presenting to the world a much more polished and literate image of their guru than the language reality appears to support. (Unless Sai Baba is his own editor, which seems unlikely in the face of the available evidence about his use of language.)
Since finishing that earlier study, it has been brought to my attention that at least for the past two years there has been an excellent (and completely reliable) Internet source of literal translations from the original Telugu recordings, not only into English but also into several European languages.
This priceless windfall for researchers comes to us from a very dedicated ashram-resident group of (youngish?) faithful devotees and translators who are so enamoured of their Swami that they wish to preserve what they describe as the original "Telugu poetic style" - which by implication suggests (interestingly) that they too have not only noticed but probably object to the heavy post-editing of Sai Baba's words in the official printed versions of his Discourses.
The website on which this welcome bonanza can be inspected in multiple European languages is http://www.internety.com/premsai.
Some of the translations offer this (or a similar) guarantee of the authenticity of the product:
"The following translations were made from Swami's Telugu Discourses which were taken from the audio-cassettes available at the ashram. All efforts have been made to keep Swami's Telugu poetical style as much as possible."
What more could one ask for! With these serendipitous 'Premsai' translations we at last have the opportunity to appreciate the true nature of the original Telugu Discourses. They are like the answers to a researcher's dream and any interested, or puzzled, reader can now compare for himself or herself these translations of selected Discourses into English, French, Italian, etc. (mainly in 2000 and 2001, and continuing) with the official versions printed in Sanathana Sarathi and Internet sources of official translations, for example http://www.eaisai.com/baba, http://www.sathyasai.org, or the newer official site, http://www.srisathyasai.org.in
After examining some of these translations, I find my original suspicions of heavy editing confirmed. I strongly recommend that readers should see these translations for themselves. All I wish to add here, since these translations were not known to me when I wrote my book, is a brief new set of basic proofs of the sort of packaging of Sai Baba's words that appears to go on within the Sai Baba Organisation. The examples chosen may also contribute to the composition of a slightly different 'identikit' picture of Sai Baba himself. Eventually, I will incorporate some of this evidence directly into Chapter 3 of Sathya Sai Baba: God or Guru?
For the Yugadi Discourse on 5 April 2000, the Premsai website gives the following literal translation of the first few paragraphs:
"Embodiments of Love!
"As long as man has ego and pomp, no one will love him. His own children and his own wife will not love him. Ego and pomp-and-show make love distant from man. The day that this ego and pomp-and-show is gone from man, the whole world will love him.
"Therefore, every single man who wishes for the world to love him has to put ego, pomp-and-show distant. The man who is full of anger will not see happiness anywhere. He is always in sorrow. Both outside and inside, the fruit of anger is only sorrow. It cannot be anything else. Therefore, the main reason for the sorrow of man is anger only.
"Embodiments of Love!
"As long as there are desires, man cannot see happiness. The day man destroys desires, that day every happiness will be experienced by him. As long as greed is there, man cannot be happy. Only when greed is lost, every happiness will be attained. Therefore, by having desire, anger, greed and infatuation, man will get sorrow, grief, and lack of peace."
In these 3 paragraphs, there are 14 sentences and 176 words. The style is noticeably extremely simple, with many repetitions. The thoughts are obviously spontaneous, but somewhat long-winded.
In the later official translated English version, we are offered a single paragraph with 7 sentences and a total of only 99 words, a reduction to just over half of the original length.
"A person having ego and pomp will not be loved by anybody, not even by his own wife and children. Only when he gives up these evil qualities, he will be loved by one and all. Anger is one of the main causes of man's misery. A man filled with anger can never experience happiness in his life; he will always be drowned in misery. So long as one is filled with desires, one can never attain peace. A greedy man can never be happy. Therefore, ego, anger, desire and greed are mainly responsible for man's misery, anxiety and restlessness." (Sanskrit Verse) (http://www.eaisai.com/baba)
It is still a simple message and the concepts of the original have been preserved. But the meaning is more easily grasped and retained because the style, the personal character of the passage, is now very different. It is no longer Sathya Sai Baba's repetitive and rambling style but that of the editors, who have improved significantly on the original, making it clearer and more effective; Sai Baba's words have been packaged.
In a second example, I wish to draw attention to another editing characteristic which I mentioned in my original book: the editing of Baba's IDEAS either by the systematic deletion of material presumably seen as superfluous or inappropriate, or (less often) the apparent insertion of material or details by the editor(s).
In the Guru Purnima Discourse for 16 July 2000, a section of the Telugu original is translated on the Premsai website as:
"Love is the natural name that you were born with. Love is the name given to that with which you were born. The Love given to this body is already given, whereas other names are later christened. So, the names that have been given may be changed. They are that which changes. But the nature of Love does not change. God's Love will never change.
"We have to love that kind of Love whose nature is changeless and does not waver. We have to love that kind of Love. That is true devotion. Devotion is a synonym of Love.
Bhakthi or Devotion
"From this devotion you will develop many kinds of Shakthi (powers): Out of this Love many types of Yukthi (discrimination, the knowledge of how to love all) will come. Many kinds of Rakthi (affection or attachment; likes or preferences) will also develop from this devotion and many sorts of Virakthi (cessation of desires; detachment) will also develop.
"Rakthi, Virakthi, Yukthi, Shakthi, all of these come from the one Bhakthi. In all of these the letter 'kthi' is common." (www.internety.com/premsai)
In the official printed version, this is whittled down to:
"The names given are bound to change, but love is changeless. You should aspire for that love. That is true Bhakti (devotion). Bhakti confers on you Yukti (discrimination), Virakti(detachment) and Mukti(liberation)." (In other words, two and a half lines replace eleven of Baba's original words. We 'lose' nine lines of his words, but they do not seem necessary.) (http://www.eaisai.com/baba)
The reader will have observed that in the original paragraphs Baba is simply rambling on and presenting a rather muddled set of concepts. Finally he indulges in another of his favorite, but occasionally inaccurate or inventive, pastimes (which I have also examined in the God or Guru? book): the derivation of Sanskrit words. The editors have decided to improve on both of these communication deficiencies in their efficient, pragmatic way, but by doing so they have suppressed, or camouflaged, Sai Baba's real spoken style.
The editors continue in the same professional way by totally DELETING the following self-indulgent and inventive passage (of fourteen lines) which is in the Premsai (literal) version:
Name of Krishna
"Now, here is a small example of Divinity. Krishna. Many people have different kinds of Asha (expectations), different kinds of Love. How many letters are there in the word 'Krishna'? Most people would say that 'Krishna' has two letters ('Kri' and 'shna' of all Indian languages including Sanskrit and Telugu). But no! There are five letters in the word 'Krishna.'
"We have the sound of ka, rru, a, sha, and a. Krishna. Ka - rru. Do you see? What does 'ka' stand for? 'Ka' is the name of Rama Devi (Goddess of Wealth). 'Ka' means Rama Devi. 'Rru' is Sita. Therefore, each letter has a meaning. 'Sha' is for 'Shanti' (Peace). Then, this 'a' is for 'Adi Shakti' (the Primordial Power).
"If you look at it like this, the five elements and the five senses are contained in the name of Krishna. They defined the name of Krishna as Karasha Teeti Krishnah. Karasha means 'ploughing the land'. So it means the one who ploughs the field of our heart is God. When the field becomes soft, the one who sows the seed of Love is only God. Therefore, Karash Teeti Krishanah. Kushu Teeti Krishnah. (The one who makes the effort also is Krishna.) Aakaarsha Teeti Krishnah. (The one who attracts is Krishna)." (www.internety.com/premsai)
And who can really blame them for concealing Sai Baba's self-indulgent garrulousness? Baba seems to be talking carelessly, to put it mildly, and, by censoring these ill-considered remarks, the editors are simply attempting to protect his august and 'divine' reputation. But surely a person who claims to be GOD should neither give cause for nor condone such severe censorship! To put it slightly differently, when one sees the full extent of the editors' actions (in this Discourse and in others), is one not tempted to begin to question the judgement and the knowledge of the original speaker!
According to the valuable Premsai evidence available, this sort of editorial intervention happens constantly, with the frequent effect (as with this Discourse) that the official version is much shorter than the original. So what readers often see in print is a very condensed version of what Sai Baba chose to say.
In the passage immediately following the one above, the final official version reported on http://www.eaisai.com/baba has simply:
"Human heart is full of love. Many students write to Me, "Swami, I love You." They use the symbol of Hridaya to denote love. This means Hridaya is that which is filled with love and compassion. Hridaya is the very form of God." (3 lines)
But the original (Premsai) translated version contains the following seven and a half lines:
Heart and God One
"The heart in everyone is the form of Love. Many children write, "I love you." They put 'I', then they draw the shape of a heart like this. (Swami draws a heart shape.) Then they put 'you'. What is the meaning of drawing like this (with the heart shape)? They write 'I', then the heart shape, then 'you.' This is Hridaya (heart). "I love you" means Love is the heart. Love is the heart only. The heart is the Love of God.
'Hri' plus 'daya' equals Hridaya, meaning that which is full of compassion is the Hridaya or heart. That which has Love is the heart. Therefore, Love is the heart and the heart is Love. Therefore, that heart is the very form of God. So, God only is the form in the heart." (www.internety.com/premsai)
Again, Sai Baba in expansive, rambling, repetitive mode, with a few confusing elements thrown in. In fact, the more one sees of the original Telugu content of the Discourses, the more surprise one is likely to feel at the frequent evidence of Baba's repetitions, confusing sequences, inventions, and lack of coherence or organisation. The enraptured translators' phrase "poetic style" would surely not be the description that most people would associate with such characteristics.
Such is the unconditional and unquestioning worship by most of Baba's devotees of what they perceive as his divine perfection that there is never a hint of criticism of the style or content of his Discourses, in spite of the sorts of anomalies documented above. As we have seen, the group of translators at the Premsai website worship what they see as Baba's "poetic style" and they are making strenuous efforts to make it known to other devotees.
Consequently, any analysis which suggests weaknesses or redundancies in the original Discourses and any critical stylistic comments on them may strike many devotees as being tantamount to sacrilege. But why? If the idiosyncrasies are so self-evident, and, with Baba's advancing age, perhaps more blatant, why should they NOT be pointed out, particularly if they seem so oddly inappropriate for a being who claims to be (and is widely accepted as being) super- and supra-human? Sooner or later, Sai Baba's devotees may need to face these inconvenient realities.
The Discourses tend to last for about an hour. Sai Baba's commentators and hagiographers often remark, in tones of awe, that he has no script and delivers his speeches extempore. This is quite true. But as we have seen, for those who are present on the occasions of the speeches, the content is SO spontaneous and repetitive that it is often difficult to catch the exact meaning or to detect a logical progression of ideas or topics. However, since the Discourses are much more widely read in (edited) translation than heard, most devotees tend to pick out and benefit from the spiritual 'gems' and probably 'skip' or ignore the extraneous bits and, often, the frequent simple parables and homilies from Hindu scriptures.
Over the years, Sathya Sai Baba appears to have basked in the total adoration and uncritical indulgence of his devotees. (See Chapter 4 of Sathya Sai Baba: God or Guru?) During the delivery of each Telugu Discourse, his personal charisma carries him along as he freely improvises his rambling spiritual teachings. It is not certain whether Baba himself contributes to the subsequent editing process but what seems to have become standard practice within the Organisation is that his associates will thoroughly tidy up ("package") each speech in their usual professional way. For their part, his editors are used to Baba's oratorical modus operandi and, although they may cringe slightly here and there in temporary embarrassment as Baba delivers another tediously repetitive (or 'rambling') paragraph or another confusing remark or reference, they are probably secure in the knowledge that they have carte blanche to expunge the undesirable bits and to condense the repetitions into a reasonably clear message.
However, as we are now beginning to see with this new 'Premsai' evidence, what is eventually printed for wide circulation really becomes more of a hybrid form, a condensation (and sometimes a selection) of Sai Baba's words, ideas and concepts, significantly enhanced by the editors' language and stylistic skills.
SO HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR "SAI BABA'S WORDS" TO BE ACCURATELY QUOTED?
There is no need to proceed any further along this path since the reader can now freely choose any of the available literal translations in his/her preferred language and match them with the official written versions. I recommend the Christmas 2000 Discourse to start with (as well as the full versions of the two we have just sampled). If she/he has not been faced with this sort of evidence before, she/he may be in for a bit of a surprise.
For those with plenty of stamina, or insatiable curiosity, there is also a rather long Appendix in the God or Guru? book.
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