Good Guru Guide

Date: 06-15-02

Copied from The Economist December 25th 1993 – January 7th 1994 (vol. 329 nr 7843), p. 26

India invented the word “guru”. Its most colourful living example is Sathya Sai Baba (true and holy father), denounced by many as a shaman but revered by millions as a saint.

Other Indian gurus, such as Bhagwan Rajneesh (deported by American immigration authorities before his death in 1991) and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, went abroad to test new markets. Sai Baba stayed home and succeeded splendidly. His message of peace and love, like his beatific smile, has not changed since he was a child prodigy. Now he is more popular than ever – so much so that his hometown of Puttaparthi, a couple of hours’ drive from Hyderabad, boasts a new airstrip. Disciples say he is richer than the pope – and, you may therefore feel, a better guide through life.

His 65the birthday celebrations in 1990 were attended by a former president of India. The new one is also a devotee. So are Narasimha Rao, the prime minister; Bettino Craxi, formerly prime minister of Italy; and J.R. Jayewardene, former president of Sri Lanka. After an assassination attempt in the summer a senior minister flew from Delhi to oversee the investigation in person.

He has survived many such difficulties, starting with a scorpion bite when he was eight. After that his hands began to drip ash and he was declared the incarnation of a holy figure who had lived earlier in the century. Many more miracles followed. Over the years dozens of implacable rationalists and other mischief-makers have tried to discredit him, but never successfully. Sai Baba has ignored, outlived or outpaced them all.

These days, miracle-wise, he concentrates on holy ash. But he is also a philanthropist, running more than 100 colleges, schools and an enormous hospital for the poor. Judges, politicians, bureaucrats and film starts cringe and crave an audience Tom Peters, eat your heart out. 

Rate: Influence: 5, Originality: 2, Intellectual Coherence: 1, Devotion of Followers: 5.