PERSONAL REFLECTIONS OF A DOUBTING DEVOTEE (1)
First of a series of three (1, 2, 3) postings by Reidun Priddy, former founder member of the Sai Org. in Oslo, Norway in 1983 and active worker until 1999.
By: Robert Priddy's wife Reidun
These personal reflections arising from the many allegations against Sai Baba were written ca. one year ago (November 2001). At that time I did not wish to publish them because a vestige of hope yet remained. Since then, the last shreds of doubt about the truth of the accusations against SB's sexual abuse of male devotees have long since evaporated completely. Seeing and hearing the young American man, 'Sam', and his father in the Danish documentary 'Seduced', made a deep impression on me, for that was the first time I heard directly someone telling about being abused by Baba. Never once did 'Sam' give the impression of exaggerating anything, quite the contrary - he told everything in a neutral and matter-of-fact way. His father sounded more emotional about it all, in fact, and this I can understand very well. Fortunately, I still have enough self-confidence to trust my ability to sense when someone is lying or telling the truth, and if I had had more opportunities than at five interviews to be close to Baba and talk to him directly, maybe I would have seen through his lies sooner, who knows?
Personal Reflections - No.1 On the sexual abuse of children
During all the time since we started hearing about and getting really disturbed by accounts of Baba's sexual behaviour with boys and young men (summer 2000), I have only been able to think about it for short periods of time. Bewilderment and a form of spiritual apathy have characterised the way I have felt, except for moments of despair or rising anger which have passed over before coming to much. It feels as if I'm trapped in the catch 22 syndrome of always having only myself to blame: either it is all my own karma, or, in the case of the 'advaitic' point of view, nothing matters anyway for it is all passing clouds, nothing in this world is real or lasting and the Self remains unaffected.
But it feels as if some things matter very much and from my limited viewpoint it doesn't help to pretend otherwise. Even if there is no 'other' to blame, does that also mean the responsibility is all mine? Am I responsible for Baba's actions, good or bad? Is he not responsible? Just as I cannot take the credit for his good deeds, neither can I be responsible for the bad ones, so if he has lied about who he is, one might say that I was a fool to believe he is the avatar, and so I can be said to be a fool, but certainly not a liar.
Am I angry? I don't know. There is no point in being angry, of course, but then that's not why one gets angry. The trouble is that I can't be absolutely certain about whether Baba really is a liar or not. How can I have been so wrong all these years, how is it possible that he can be sexually using and abusing male devotees and even minors to satisfy himself?
In what I regard as my first Seva project (about 1983), I was working with a new project (Red Cross telephone service for children who felt the need to talk to adults, just for contact or about problems) where for the first time the extent of sexual abuse of children in this country (Norway) started coming to light. It makes it all the more shocking to me and almost unthinkable that Baba should now be under suspicion for this very thing. He is under such a heavy cloud of accusations from many different people, in different countries, stretching over a long period of time, that it simply cannot be disregarded. How can he, his name and form be a source of truth, goodness and beauty when there are such terrible stains staring me in the face every time I think of him now? How could I regard myself as a seeker of truth if I turn a blind eye to those things that don't fit in with what he says or with my own beliefs? I have sought answers or explanations but nothing satisfactory has come forth so far. I thought other devotees who seem undisturbed by the stories of Baba's sexual abuse maybe had understood something which I hadn't, but so far none of the explanations stand up to scrutiny.
Several devotees have said that they stick to their own experiences of Baba, letting that be their guiding light. But how do we define what is our own experience? If we read a book or hear about somebody else's experience, then we have our own experience through the reading of the book, or the hearing of what others tell us which may make a strong impression on us. In fact, most of what we know about Baba has been learned via others through books or by word of mouth. This has in most cases formed the very foundation for our own experiences with Baba. So when somebody comes along with a nasty story, how can we just dismiss it saying it is not our experience, without doing the same with all the positive stories?
When I hear that argument these days I cannot help remembering a verse from a long poem by the Norwegian poet Arnulf Oeverland published in 1936. It is called "You Must Not Sleep!" (Du maa ikke sove!) and is a call to people not to turn a blind eye to atrocities and injustice: "You should not bear so heartily well// acts of injustice not striking yourself!// I am calling out to the end of my breath// You must not just live on and forget!" (My amateur translation of the original: "Du maa ikke taale saa inderlig vel// den urett som ikke rammer deg selv! // Jeg roper med siste pust av min stemme:// Du har ikke lov til aa gaa der aa glemme!")