How Can We Tell Them They are Mistaken?
Copyright © Brian Steel 2003
By: Brian Steel
If you were convinced, really convinced, that you knew that God had incarnated on this planet and that he had announced and demonstrated the fact to all who cared to listen, would you not be ready to spread this joyous news? Of course you would. So it should really be no surprise that this is what countless spokespersons, devotees, writers, and New Age practitioners have been doing for decades now in relation to the guru Sathya Sai Baba, who began his Mission with frequent claims to be God Incarnate.
In an increasingly more sceptical and Internetised world, some of these divinely inspired proselytists, including one or two whose names are too well known to be repeated here, have taken it upon themselves to act as Defenders of the Faith on several websites and Bulletin Boards - as one would expect in a Divine cause. A similarly protective zeal has been shown by members of the SSO, and in particular by certain Area Coordinators, those of USA, Australasia (and Papua New Guinea), Latin America, and Europe, who are ready, at the drop of a criticism or inconvenient publication, to spring, or travel, to the defence of the alleged Divinity whom they worship, publicly and categorically branding any criticism as "malicious gossip". As any defender of God would gladly do.
In addition to the hundreds of writers who have published adoring books about SB (mea culpa too), and a handful who have shared in print their personal visions of the Divine, there are a few very select devotees who have felt very special Missions, delegated personally by none other than SB himself (or Himself). I am personally aware of only three of these special cases, but other devotees and ex-devotees will know of more.
The most self-assured example I met in the late 1990s was a devotee in Mexico (but not a native Mexican), who suddenly began to announce to all and sundry that, since the flock was growing so enormous all over the world, SB, in his Divine wisdom, had decided that there would henceforth be Special Representatives in 5 regions of the world (Area Coordinators obviously didn't count), and that this fortunate man had been appointed (along with his wife and son) as Supreme Rep. for the Americas. His alleged communications with SB were by almost daily visions and visitations. The local congregation grew rapidly. Whereupon, with the sort of donations which often flow to such speakers, he proceeded to set up his Latin American Headquarters in South-Western Mexico and to preach the SB Gospel to his adoring congregation who were thrilled to be able to have such close access to Divinity. Who can blame them?
The trouble was that his story didn't exactly stand up to a careful examination, and, since it threatened the local official SB hierarchy, the Coordinator for Latin America was eventually obliged to pay this "representative" a visit and tell him and his followers that his claims were not supported by the SSO and that he should henceforth desist from using the name of SB in his pronouncements and publicity material. In other words, he was now persona non grata for the SSO. Nevertheless, since charisma is charisma, he probably kept most of his congregation, and, for all I know, may still be there preaching the SB Gospel and, in his and their eyes, representing Latin America.
My second case of alleged Divine inspiration is that of an Indian lawyer (or government official?) who decided he had been personally contacted by SB to represent him to the poor people of the Rishikesh area. For a few years, with donations from well-wishing SB devotees in Delhi, and maybe $20 from me (which the experience was well worth), this man performed his basically self-appointed task and spread the Gospel to the Dalits of that area. He eventually disappeared, to the annoyance of at least one of his Delhi financial backers.
The last of my three cases of Divinely inspired missions on behalf of SB, is that of a man I met in Puttaparthi in the late 1990s. This forty year old was distributing candles of peace and healing to all he could. For his air travel to the ashram and for his sustenance (as well as for that of his family of three, including a severely handicapped baby, he received modest financial backing every month from the members of his Bhajan Group back in Australia, and possibly from devotees who received his healing candles.
Faced with these inspiring stories, how is one to begin to broadcast to sympathisers (and to other SB devotees who still believe him to be Divine), that, after decades of wide acceptance, the Divine claims of the embodiment of their inspiration are being seriously challenged (and refuted) as mere pretensions by an increasingly close, non-blinkered, and wide-ranging examination from many people, including ex-devotees?
All the excesses of enthusiasm and zeal listed above can be understood in the light of what we can now categorise as excessive and unjustified Divine claims made, from 1943 onward, by the guru Sathya Sai Baba himself and repeated by others.
If you wish to read more on this topic and related themes, please see:
Devotees and Their Contributions to the Purna Avatar Myth Surrounding SSB
Notes on the Responsibility of Writers of SSB Books
SB and the Psychics: A Case of Mistaken Identity?***