The purpose of this study is to present, in summary form, the paranormal claims made about Indian guru and holy man Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and various investigations that have been done of them.
The summary is intended for two audiences: those who have heard of Sathya Sai Baba through the second-hand stories told by devotees, but who have not looked at the original sources of these stories; and those who are familiar with some of the writings of devotees but not with the literature of those who have made investigations of his claims.
For those who have a nodding acquaintance with the claims made by devotees, it may be helpful to have gathered in one place original sources of some of these stories. What follows is my collection of texts referred to by those who promote the claims of Sai Baba's psychic powers. Of course it is an abridgement; and any editor's selection is open to charges of bias. My rationale in selecting just this much of a much larger literature is that I am interested in just the paranormal claims, not the dogma of the religion. For the latter, the reader must refer to the sources listed in the bibliography.
For those who are already familiar with the literature put out by the Sai Baba organisation and his devotees, this abridgement will be useful for assessing the claims made about Sai Baba's psychic powers. It will be helpful to have these writings detached from the theology. If the theology is sound, it will stand on its own. But the psychic claims also stand on their own, in the sense that we can raise the question whether these miracles ever occurred independently of discussing what they illustrate about Sai Baba's theology. And many readers who are familiar with Sai Baba's teachings have not had the opportunity to look at what the investigators have said. So, in this volume they will find a summary of what the investigators have had to say. Readers who wish to pursue these criticisms in more depth are again referred to the bibliography.
There are two distinct questions that should be addressed by those who are familiar with the stories of Sai Baba's powers. Several critics have questioned the occurrence of the miracles described by devotees, and have investigated the original reports. Is there any independent evidence -- ie., doctor's reports, hospital records, etc., for the occurrence of these events? I collate here some of these investigations, along with the original reports of the miracles. Second, where there is no doubt of the occurrence of these events, the explanation of these events has been questioned by some critics. Is there a natural explanation -- including the suggestion made by some that Sai Baba produces these effects in the same way a stage magician does -- or do we have good evidence of genuine paranormal powers from these accounts? By placing the accounts of believers and the investigations by researchers side by side, my intention is that readers will be in a better position to form their own opinions about what really happened in these situations.
There are what seem to be exceptions to the rule about avoiding theology in this collection. Chapter 3 cites Sai Baba's remarks on the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and scholars' interpretations of the Bible. Chapter 7 deals with quotes from Sai Baba which purport to show that the Christian Bible foretells the arrival of Sathya Sai Baba. The point of these sections is not to dispute Sai Baba's divinity, but the evidence he presents for this claim. Those familiar with the complete passages from which our excerpts are taken will agree that Sai Baba is referring to the Scriptures to support his claims. My point in including these passages, and the corresponding analyses by scholars is to dispute his accuracy in reading, and quoting the Christian Bible; not in his claimed first-hand knowledge of the events reported therein, or his interpretation of biblical passages. Readers who agree with Sai Baba's renderings, and disagree with the scholars' interpretations will no doubt have an explanation for why passages referred to by Sai Baba cannot be located, or why fifty generations of biblical scholars have a different interpretation than Sai Baba of the passages that are there. My point in presenting this material is merely to show that there are such disagreements.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba was born in South India in the tiny village of Puttaparthi in 1926. His given name was Satyanarayana and his family name was Raju. At the age of 14 he claimed that he was the reincarnation of an Indian saint who had died in 1918 named Shirdi Sai Baba. Satyanarayana Raju then proclaimed his mission, and began teaching on the basis of his newly announced Divine status. According to his followers there are currently about 6 million followers with over 2000 centres around the world devoted to the promulgation of the message of Sathya Sai Baba. In many major cities in North America and Western Europe there are organized Sathya Sai Baba groups with members often numbering in the hundreds. There are scores of publications associated with the Sai Baba movement. Many of these publications contain records of the public and private talks and discourses given by Sai Baba. But in a good many of the publications paranormal claims are made. What makes Sai Baba particularly interesting is the wide range of claims made about him by devotees, claims which he is, apparently, happy to endorse.
Claims made about Sai Baba are as follows:
Each of these claims will be the focus of a chapter to follow.
A quick note on the format of the material that follows: [This has been changed slightly for the HTML version. --tp] I've presented source material as block quotes (indented left and right), and my own introductions, comments, and notes, as regular text. My adjustments within sources for clarity or explanation are indicated with square brackets. I have emphasized some passages within the sources for clarity of focus. Unless otherwise noted (with `sic') the emphasis is mine, and not the original author's. Each source is indicated by a separate numbered heading, and the citation, including page number, follows. The full bibliographic reference is to be found at the end of this work.
The last page of this work contains a list of people to write to if you wish further information.
I have received information, advice and support from countless individuals for this project. Many do not wish to be named here, because they still have connexions with the Sai Baba organisation, or with friends or loved ones who are still involved. One person, however, who deserves special mention is B. Premanand, editor and publisher of the Indian Skeptic, and convenor of the Indian Committee for Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal, who has done more to investigate Sai Baba than anyone.
Next chapter: Sai Baba: Omniscient and Omnipotent?
Home pages: Sai Baba, BC Skeptics, PSG.