An Open Letter to the Followers of

Sathya Sai Baba

Frank Morales, M.A.
International Sanatana Dharma Society

The one-billion strong global Hindu and Yoga community has been receiving a series of collective shocks for the last several months as it has become increasingly clear that one of its most popular figures is guilty of massive abuse of his followers. Sathya Sai Baba, the famous "guru" known for such supposed miracles as producing Rolex watches out of thin air as gifts for some of his more prosperous admirers, is currently embroiled in potentially one of the most horrific scandals in the history of the Hindu/Yoga community. Accused now by scores of his former and current male disciples of systematically committing both sexual and psychological abuse, Sathya Sai Baba now finds himself exposed as yet one more of a string of false teachers who have plagued Hinduism in more recent decades. With purportedly as many as 40 million followers, many observers are now predicting a mass exodus of these followers from the "avatar". For those who have highlighted the ludicrous nature of Sai Baba's claims to be a miracle-worker and avatara for many years previous to these recent revelations, now is not a time to gloat about having been right. It is now a time for compassion towards Sai Baba's many sincere and dedicated devotees. For those who have previously been - or who still may continue to be - sincere followers of Sai Baba, now is not the time to falter on the spiritual path. For such followers, this is a time for deep and patient reflection, self-introspection and an open-minded assessment of precisely what it means to be a sincere aspirant after Truth.

Sanatana Dharma

While the specific claims to divinity previously made by Sai Baba have been clearly deceptive and false, the spiritual antecedents of the ancient path he claimed to teach are not. The philosophical background of this path is known in the sacred Sanskrit language as Sanatana Dharma and represents the most ancient continuously practiced spiritual tradition known to humanity. Sometimes referred to as "Hinduism" for the sake of convenience, Sanatana Dharma is a world-view that fosters the qualities of compassion, morality, non-violence and truthfulness in its adherents. It is an eternal and natural path that seeks the harmonization of both individual and social interests with those of the greater eternal natural law that is inherent in the very structural constitution of our cosmos. It is a path the goal of which is nothing less than self-realization (atma-jnana) and knowledge of God (Brahma-vidya), along with the joy, fulfillment and happiness that is attendant upon such realization.

Shastra, Acharya, Viveka

The primary concern of philosophical importance that must be answered in any valid spiritual path is that of the ultimate derivation of spiritual authority. Followers of Sanatana Dharma have historically been cautioned to not be swayed by "miraculous" tricks, guided by charismatic charlatans, or to derive their knowledge of the Absolute from "gurus" who are not representing a clear succession (parampara) of authentic teachers that is clearly valid in origin. Followers of Sanatana Dharma derive their knowledge of Truth from, as well as live their lives in accordance with, the divine knowledge revealed in the form of the Veda.

For the followers of Sanatana Dharma, all personal ethical decisions, all philosophical judgements and all spiritual practices (sadhana) must be in accord with three specific criteria. These three are: 1) Shastra: The divine scriptures of Sanatana Dharma (including the Vedas, Upanisads, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, etc.); 2) Acharya: Authentic spiritual preceptors who teach the truths of Sanatana Dharma with uncompromising honesty, in accord with an authentic Vaidika understanding, and who wholly personify what they teach. Such authentic spiritual preceptors in the past have included such truly great acharyas as Ramanuja, Madhva and Shankara; 3) Viveka: One's own inherent capacity for intelligent discernment of truth versus untruth, reality versus illusion. It is only by deriving knowledge of the Absolute in accordance with these three epistemic mechanisms that we avoid being cheated by either our own internal tendencies toward self-delusion, or by external false teachers.


The term "avatara" very specifically denotes a divine manifestation of the Absolute in finite form. The express purpose of such avataras is to reestablish the principles of Dharma at such times in human history when these principles cannot be reestablished by mere mortals alone. Being direct incarnations of God, the activities of such avataras are naturally considered to be divine and transcendental in nature. They are thus called lila, or the divine play of the Absolute. Such divine lila, however, has at no time ever included sexual abuse, manipulation of sincere followers and systematic deception. Anyone who would attempt to excuse the criminal behavior of false teachers as merely being a manifestation of their "lila" is just as guilty of abuse as are the false teachers themselves. Moreover, they will necessarily share the very same negative karmic effect that is due to these false teachers.

According to the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma, such avataras do not appear in a haphazard and random manner, but only when these very same scriptures indicate that they shall descend. The last avatara to appear in our world according to the Vedic scriptures was Bhagavan Sri Krishna (c. 3100 BCE). By the account of these very same scriptures, the next avatara to come will be Bhagavan Sri Kalki, who will not become manifest for over 400,000 more years. There are no hidden avataras. Any human claiming to be such an avatara previous to Kalki is, according to the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma, clearly deceiving his followers. Sai Baba never was an avatara, but was quite obviously a very severely flawed human being.

The Culture of Victimization

Whether we speak of such religiously corrupt individuals as "Osho" (a.k.a., Rajneesh), "Da Avabhasa" (a.k.a., Franklin Jones), or the many various fallen ISKCON "gurus", Sai Baba is certainly not the first false teacher to abuse his unsuspecting disciples. Indeed, one of the most common pit-falls that every spiritual aspirant has always had to be wary of has been that of the false sage. This has always been true both historically, as well as among all spiritual traditions - whether Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Islamic. Despite this universal prevalence of false teachers, however, quite often, disillusioned followers of a false teacher will wish to insist that their own individual experience of betrayal is singularly unique. While such horrible experiences of betrayal may seem to be unique, however, in actuality they are not. In the world in which we live, tragically, everyone is going to experience being cheated at one time or another, at the hands of someone or another. At this confusing time in the lives of so many millions of former and current Sai Baba followers, it is crucial to remember this: The fact that we have been cheated by one false teacher or another is not what distinguishes us from the bulk of humanity. Everyone has been cheated. Rather, what truly distinguishes us is what we then chose to do with our disappointing experience.

Once we discover that the person whom we trusted with our spiritual fate is in actuality a spiritual abuser, there are then only two options open to us. We can either: a) chose to allow our negative experience to overwhelm us, and thus use this experience as a convenient excuse to then fall away from the spiritual path altogether. Or b) we can refuse to see ourselves as victims and instead to allow our negative experience to help us continue on the path in a much more discerning way. The choice, of course, is always ours to make. Rather than unthinkingly rejecting the whole of what Sanatana Dharma has to offer due to what is beyond doubt a very legitimate crisis of faith, I urge all followers of Sai Baba to instead use this terrible experience to inspire you to explore to a much deeper degree the profound teachings of authentic Sanatana Dharma. The existence of a fake diamond does not negate the reality and worth of real diamonds. In the same way, the existence of a fake "guru" does not ever negate the life-affirming reality of Sanatana Dharma.


There are many spiritual qualities that the Yogi, or serious follower of Sanatana Dharma, must possess in order to ensure her or his continued progress on the path toward the Divine. Among these many personal qualities are included: constant practice (abhyasa), detachment (vairagya), compassion (daya), as well as the yamas and niyamas of the classical ashtanga yoga system. In addition to these, one of the most important personal spiritual qualities that the Yogi needs to develop is known as sthiti-sthapaka, or a deep sense of resilience. Like the strong and mighty tree that can patiently bend in the wind, endure the ferocity of the elements and remain steadfast in the face of all changes around it, the followers of Sai Baba too must now reestablish their profound commitment to the eternal truths of the path of Sanatana Dharma - even in the face of this most painful of all challenges.

You Are Not Alone: An Invitation to Sanatana Dharma

Sanatana Dharma is, by its very definition, a way of living that is eternal in nature. It is a path that offers the most rational, systematically comprehensive and joyous means of attaining liberation from the illusion of what we are not, as well as knowledge of what we truly are in our essential Self. More, it is also a loving family one-billion strong. I urge all followers of Sai Baba at this time of confusion, pain and disillusionment to please remain a part of the family of Sanatana Dharma. It is your family. I urge you to use this terrible experience with a clearly false teacher to strengthen your resolve to understand the Truth in an even more authentic and meaningful way. Resolve to turn to the ancient spiritual roots of what you have sincerely practiced up till now. Learn the authentic teachings of the acharyas by reading the works of Ramanuja, Madhva and Shankara. At this time of doubt, study the pristine teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and Mahabharata and discover the incomparable wisdom that they contain. I invite you to explore the authentic teachings of Sanatana Dharma. Though a cloud will periodically obscure the brilliance of the sun, the light is only temporarily hidden from our sight. Though Truth sometimes eludes us, it does in time make Itself known to those who persevere in its service. Please know, you are not alone.

Satyam Eva Jayate ("Truth alone prevails"),

Frank Morales, M.A.
Satya Dhama Ashrama (Abode of Truth Sanctuary)
International Sanatana Dharma Society
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
December 25, 2000

For further information:

International Sanatana Dharma Society
P.O. Box 46003
Madison, WI, USA 53744-6003
(608) 288-0266

"Divine Downfall",  London Telegraph, Oct. 28,  2000: