The truth will prevail...
A Sai-devotees struggle for disenchantment
By Matthijs van der Meer
Published in Spiegelbeeld October issue 2000
Initially I didnt see the point of it: I wanted a guru with small circle of followers and not one already trailing 30 million behind its robe. But the unlikely was to be: I found myself persuaded to act against the inclination of my ego and became a Sai-devotee.
Once being it I tried being it to the full. Having faith didnt turn out to be that difficult to me. Primed as my mind had been by authors like Spalding and Yogananda, the influence of Sai-VIPs like Sandweiss, Krystal and Murphet soon made me consider the miracles of Sai Baba a matter of fact'. Given that premise, I couldnt conceive of Sai Baba not operating in good faith. Whomsoever was capable of performing miracles was in any case speaking the truth. For, as I reasoned, on such a level no being would be stupid enough to squander its own spiritual capital by telling things untrue. So if Baba declared himself to avatar, God in human form, this had to be the case. And why not after all? If God was to be almighty, assuming a human form couldn't possibly be any trouble to Him. And once doing so, He might as well tell straight with it who He was! Consequently I was puzzled by peoples lack of tolerance for me being a devotee. Because to me it seemed I didn't have much choice: could one after all expect me not to follow God?
Still apart from the lack of tolerance, I was even more amazed at peoples lack of interest. While to me it seemed just inconceivable to assume so many authors, of which several made clear to have set out as sceptics, should in their findings all be supposed to have fallen prey to the same kind of deceit so many stories, and often of such compelling authenticity... And wasnt it downright fabulous that Sai Baba indeed seemed willing to show us that mind was potentially capable of presiding over matter and that miracles were indeed possible? Just this aspect in itself ought to have been of shocking significance to at least the establishment of theoretical physics! But no response whatsoever came about from such directions. Hence I had to arrive at conclusions for myself relying on the reports of those who (in times of smaller numbers of devotees) had preceded me:
He moved his hand in the mode he has adopted to create objects and there appeared a white soft mass about the size of half of a closed fist. He extended his hand and showed it to us. "It is sugar candy", he said. Then, in a childlike voice of wonder, "Look, you can still see the process of creation."
In the palm of his hand there was water slowly disappearing into the mass of sugar candy. [.] By the time we arrived in California, the sugar candy was quite hard and brittle (Hislop 1985, 44).
For whomsoever bothered to look at it, there hardly seemed to be room for doubt. It were the details which convinced. And what was more: Sai Baba promised anyone sincerely tuning in to him to be guided on lifes way! I myself had been in pinching trouble for years (of which even chums knew little) and had been setting my heart on the least speck of hope. So naturally I soon, that is, in the summer of '89, at the age of 19, was to travel to Baba.
An interview (group-meeting) followed and for the first time I saw the miracles at close range. Also, Baba shortly took me aside in the adjacent room behind the curtain. "How do you feel?" he earnestly asked, subsequently, before I could say anything, summarizing my problems like an express-train. "Dont worry", he emphasised, "Ill help you!". After that he unknotted my pants and took a look at the luggage in my underwear. He thereupon made a materialising movement after which a sticky liquid appeared on his fingers, which he smeared on my belly. Afterwards my euphoria knew no bounds. Soon I burned with restlessness: I hankered after the sequel of the story (an escape from my life situation). And therefore I would not disappoint Baba. I would make sure to serve him to the best of my capability this was a chance I was not to miss! I had, in short, truly become a devotee.
Prick of the needle
After years of intensely sweet hope in February '93 the dream got disturbed. Of course, there had been instances for reading negative opinions on Baba before. But the study by Dale Beyerstein was the first sound of criticism sufficiently substantiated to be taken seriously. The sense of acute dilapidation which then took hold of me will remain with me for life.
Here as well it were the details which convinced. For instance with regard to Babas supposed creation of a so-called lingam (an ovally shaped smooth stone), which he annually coughed up from his throat with Mahasivarathri. Among others, Beyerstein quotes the devotees themselves: "Baba has said He often finds it difficult to postpone or prevent the formation of lingams within Him". (N. Kasturi, quoted in Beyerstein 1992, 71). Remarkable of course: God finding something difficult... While vomiting up a lingam is a fairly common feat among Indian holy men' in general, as tells us the great Houdini by another quotation. It is done by just (be it after some training) swallowing one in advance with the proviso that regurgitation of the lingam is to take place within due time after that... Another example concerned the American Walter Cowan, who by Baba's grace was supposed to have been resurrected from the dead a story which both personnel concerned as well as the doctors in question forcibly refuted.
Now among devotees it was common practice to interpret anything about Baba appearing controversial or just remarkably human, as the expression of his maya, his (divine) identification with the reality of being human. Thus apparent falsifications could always be explained as a purposely orchestrated test of a devotees faith. But of course in such a way one could put oneself up with anything! This whole line of reasoning could all things considered only be tenable as long as at least one irrefragable miracle was kept standing by which a devotees trust could be put to begin with. Should that foundation fall away, it would leave us nothing but the possibility of blind faith - and just that was the one thing I had thought to have been safeguarded from with Sai Baba!! My world shook, once this foundation of trust had (at least to myself) become doubtful at best. With the logical implication that Babas good faith had to inevitably become a matter of uncertainty just as well. And so I came to remind myself of a story in the Dutch magazine HP/De Tijd of January '92: the story of the London Keith Ord who declared Sai Baba had repeatedly sexually intimidated him.
Initially I had put it aside. Even though I had sensed the probable truth of the story, because I myself had in fact experienced something which (if one chose) pointed in the same direction... It was just that for myself I had never had that much suspicion about it. I had assumed Baba, who after all proclaimed to be omniscient, therefore also knew what he could and could not do to me. But on closer examination, as it appeared from the story of Keith, there were also devotees who had reacted differently. Because they had been involved by Baba in truly sexual activities. As it turned out when I finally brought myself into contact with the people interviewed in the article, one of these devotees had been Keiths friend Michael Pender. Within one-and-half month after a journey to Baba and 10 interviews, he had committed suicide. Besides that, a mediumistic message turned out to have been published in response to the consternation that had arisen among Dutch devotees - a so-called Sai-message by Lucas Ralli. Ralli lived close to Keith and had therefore have him pay a visit. In the message thereupon, all that Keith had come up with, had sharply (in Keiths direction: humiliatingly) been denied.
To me such a reaction just didnt tally with the core of Babas teachings: satya, dharma, shanti, prema (truth, righteousness, equanimity, love). Werent we as devotees supposed to be loving with regard to Keith especially, counteracting any possible propensity for presumptuous conclusions and make sure to in all righteousness face the truth? Was being open to (the epitomy of) reality after all not the essence of all spirituality?
With the silent hope of being bound to eventually fathom Babas divine play, in November '93 I wrote Keith a letter in which I proposed to travel to India with a group of other incest-victims and, in a situation in which he would not be in a position to deny things, ask Baba for an explanation. "Your proposal [.] both terrifies and exhilarates me simultaneously" Keith answered, apart form that expressing pleasant surprise at the receipt of my letter. But my hope for a positive explanation of Babas intimidations he didnt share. He had left the Baba-episode behind and the idea of a return deterred him. "Why risk your life for nothing?" he was to finally impress on me. He must have sensed my desperation pretty well, for quite unexpectedly he called me up. In the conversation that followed, the more shocking details concerning Baba's abuse came to the front - among which Michaels hesitant confession that Baba had made him perform oral sex on him. "He, he... wanted it..." Michael had brought out to Keith. And out of pure uneasiness they together had burst out laughing; Keith had had difficulty believing him. Shocked by the suicide that followed, he would decide on a trip to Baba to search for an answer resulting in him too becoming a victim.
It just seemed to atrocious to be possibly true. Meanwhile many months had elapsed since I had begun to turn myself to whichever Sai-author into whose hands I could manage to play a letter. John Hislop for instance, had already filed past with just one little sentence of baked air he had sufficed. So in utter despair I now undertook a more seriously lived through attempt at Samuel Sandweiss (who, after all, was a psychiatrist). But no answer was to follow. Meanwhile between me and the devotees known to me, an abyss formed. Until on the 13th of May '94 I finally had to realise that I myself no longer was a devotee.
In June '95 I visited Keith. He turned out to be an exceptionally beautiful negro boy. We talked and talked and I made recordings on cassettes. From one detail to the other Keith related what he had gone through at the time. About the vilification by devotees after he had finally opened his mouth while still being there. About a moment at which he found himself being threatened to be stoned to the ground. About the initial envy for the interviews he got. About Babas hugs and touches. About the despair, the loneliness, the fear... And finally, in more detail, about Babas striking signs of excitement. Worst of all possibly was the fact that while after the first palpations Keith was pulling up his trousers, Baba, putting a finger to his lips, had summoned him "Dont talk!" it completed the incest-analogy and made the rottenness of this whole thing inevitably clear.
At the same time especially this situation got stamped with Babas overpowering leela, his (supposed) play with the laws of nature. Right through the thin cloth of his robe in a subsequent private interview he had his manliness felt. In order to just a little after conduct the same hand once again, but this time scanning the surface of what suddenly appeared to be a female sex-organ... And while Keith felt in bewilderment, Baba swift and softly moaned: "Good-good-good!" Subsequently adding: "This is divinity. Is that what you want?"
Two days afterwards I met the man who had brought forth the denial: Lucas Ralli, who especially emphasised that last little part. As if the rest hardly mattered. As if it wouldnt have made any difference, would Baba instead of his genitals have offered a machinegun: "This is divinity. Is that what you want?" One hour, he had reserved for me. An hour that seemed in need of being filled with miracle-stories; before I could even attempt to formulate my point, more than 25 minutes had elapsed. Groping for an opening, I reminded him of having stated he had thought to have helped Keith at the time. In order to subsequently point back at the Sai-message in case: "Im sure Keith wouldnt agree with this text" "No, I understand what youre saying", he admittingly interrupted. "Because..." I continued, with implicit reference to Keiths story, "it is denied flatly." And with careful emphasis I added: "Its a very hard thing for someone who has experienced that thing..." Suddenly Ralli kept silent for a while. In order to subsequently cautiously bending our line of conversation in some other direction. I recaptured my track and quoted his message: "No such improper acts have ever taken place to me, to me, to me... that is a lie!" He interrupted: "You form your own opinion" Silences followed; Ralli stared at his writings. "I cant understand", I pleaded, "because, well, de rest of the message is about truth: the truth will prevail, concentrate all your efforts on spreading the truth. But this same message contains a lie..." All the same Rally refused to admit to his responsibility: he stated to have been "just an instrument" in the hands of Baba. But once I told him about my own experience and about the things I knew, I was toned down with the affirmation that no doubt such a thing (as sexual intimidation) had indeed taken place... And with regard to the reason why he declared to be just as curious as I was. "But Baba knows what we want and gives us what we want", Ralli argued. Apparently a hidden sexual desire with regard to Baba had been there with the devotees involved and Baba, in his inexhaustible compassion, must have fulfilled that desire. Or maybe precisely by the grace of an even traumatic experience Baba had guided people towards leading a more normal life. "Then what about the suicide of Michael?" I countered. "Well, after all we all have free will, dont we?" was the response. "And didnt he have AIDS too?" I became dumbfounded. But Ralli sustained: "Ive written it down: this boy was HIV-positive and came back very ill."
Notice this: the only one whom he could ever have spoken to about Michael was Keith, who described him as "so vital". So what was I to make of this? But I wasnt left in doubt for long. Keith and I were invited to have dinner with his mother, who showed me many pictures of Michael: a handsome white who had had himself snapshot naughtily smiling almost without exception. Sometime afterwards I was to see how for a moment tears of anger sprang into her eyes: "It is such a damned fact that had Sai Baba not been there, Michael would still be alive today."
I felt powerless. Time and again my thoughts went to Babas students; during the time I spent in India, twice a day I had seen them marching up the temple-square. I thought of how intensely I had envied them. And of devotees mellowed reactions when Baba once again had been stroking the cheek of a little schoolboy... I realised what it must have meant "My students are My property", Baba had said somewhere. It oppressed me. How long would it take to make the iceberg surface? What would be needed for that?
When in May '96 Sandweiss visited the Netherlands I took the opportunity to personally thrust a copy of my former letter into his hands. But still he wouldnt answer. Yet the trouble was not taken in vain. Some people from the organisation spotted my action, and as if by the grace of Baba in october '96 a meeting with the then 81-year old Phyllis Krystal was arranged for me. She affirmed to both Babas intimidations and the cover-up of it by the organisation. With the proviso that she refrained from drawing any conclusions. It could be sensed how she groped for clues with regard to the divine explanation for which I myself had once been looking so hard as well. And so I contended that all things considered, no rational support whatsoever was left for distinguishing Sai Baba from a criminal (for how was one to escape the implication that on the given basis even Hitler and Nero could have been avatars!). "Even if in our hearts we believe Swami", I argued, "in our behaviour we should doubt Swami because thats our moral duty in a situation like this." But even though she admitted to the logic of my ethics, Krystal kept evading to take the consequences of it.
While saying goodbye she promised to let me know as soon as any further insights would come about. Yet of the gruesome insights to which revelations would give cause in the years to come, she was not to give notice. Even though she hardly could have missed the work by David Bailey, a Sai-VIP from her own circle of acquaintances. Anyhow, Bailey himself tells us to have kept her well up in the matter. What began as a dream, with a position as a voluntary teacher of musical history at Babas university, had to give way to brewing uncertainty once he became part of the privileged inner circle. From there, to his unavoidable dismay, he would not only to get on track of the truth of everything, but also, given his personal involvement, be bit by bit uncovering the whole of it. Finally he and his wife Faye would compile a collection of juridically verified testimonies in their report The Findings a sample from the nightmare of conjuring tricks and deceit, killings and disappearings, financial trickery, execution of students by the Indian police, bribery, blackmail, compulsory group sex and anal penetration of kids. Parallel to this, in the Indian Skeptic of August '99, a sickening report was published on the systematic selection of cute little boys by the Indian Sai-organisation.
Initially all of these developments had escaped my attention. Until unexpectedly I got phoned up by a once staunch devotee who years before, after my over-emotional insistence on Babas abuse, had finally stopped maintaining contact. "You wont expect why I call you" he began.
Beyerstein, Dale, Sai Babas Miracles; an overview, Dale Beyerstein, Vancouver 1992.
Eijk, Piet van der, De wonderdoener, HP/De Tijd, 31-1-'92.
Hislop, John, My Baba and I, Birth Day Publishing Company, San Diego 1985.
Premanand, Basava, The Sai Baba and his students, Indian Skeptic, augustus 1999.