The Legacy of Sathya Sai Baba

Recent demise of Sathya Sai Baba caused a plethora of emotions among people who knew him; some were very derisive of while the others were very sympathetic towards Sai Baba. Perhaps, it is still too early to look at the legacy left by Baba. However, it is very appropriate to discuss Baba’s legacy in these pages as he provided a central theme for the present authour’s book, the lure of noma. There are many facets to what Baba meant to various people.  For some he was a God-incarnate; for others he was a cheat who faked miracles and implicated in homosexual  encounters and deaths at Prashanthi Nilayam – his Ashram; some saw him as a philanthropist.; others were concerned about the so-called empire worth billions of dollars. My effort here is neither to defend Baba nor to condemn him on the alleged misdeeds. Even though I will discuss some of these, the thesis I build here is a personal one which simply try to explain what Baba’s life and legacy means to me.

Furthermore, I don’t try to hide the fact that I followed Baba for a few decades at a distance. I have visited his Ashram several times though never had any close encounters with him. Apart from his Vibuthi production which I saw from a distance, I have never seen any of his ‘miracles’. I do not have knowledge to denounce him as a cheat pretending to be God or support the thesis of him being the God-incarnate.  However, over the years, I have read about him and his teachings and observed the functioning of Sai Baba’s organizational structure. If I would be deemed to be partial towards him by the readers of this article, I can fully understand their concerns. However, the ideas that I would try to explore are not dependent on being a follower or non-follower; they are logical questions that I would ask myself from the standpoint of a person who wants to believe in the belief and the enormous importance of unity of faiths to the modern world. My conviction in writing this article is to show the importance of a unifying force regardless of personality cult.

Sathya Sai Baba – the godman

Many people have written about Baba and I do not wish to repeat his life story here. Instead, I am devoting this section to discuss many allegations against Baba and show the readers that there is more than one angle to look at them.

No one can deny the fact that he was a human being.  But Baba claimed him to be God-incarnate who is aware of being God and the rest of humanity though being God themselves are not aware of it. He said “God is Love; God is in you; God is with you; God is around you; God is above you; God is below you; you are God; realize it[1].”His God is somewhat similar to God defined by Spinoza.  Proposition 15 of the part 1 of Spinoza’s masterpiece, Ethics states ‘Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God[2]’.   Naturally, Baba’s view is far more aligned to Vedanthic tradition where God as Brahman is also the Creator. Kathopanishad says “Brahman is one. It is the Ruler, the internal Atman of all living beings[3]”.  This is the idea expressed in Bagavad Gita as there is “nothing else besides” Krishna. This view embodies the idea of non-dualistic universe which was created by God who ought to be morally neutral[4].  It is also said that Baba was a keen promoter of the idea of a non-dualistic universe[5] with respect to atma and God.

By adopting the above stance Baba had somehow made an extremely smart choice.  If Baba claimed himself to be the son of God, then that implies a female consort. If God is the only true existence, there cannot be a female consort.  Thus, the son or daughter of God is against the very premise of the existence of a supreme God.  The only possibility then is the son or the daughter being a part of God or in essence, God himself. If Baba called himself a messenger, can there be a messenger without being part of God in the light of Advita philosophy? This argument brings about the question why people believe Sai Baba, if he is God incarnate as claimed, should only do ‘good’ while God as the Supreme Being can only be morally neutral.   According to Bagavd Gita, Krishna was the main driver behind the war in Kurukshetra.  Krishna as the incarnate of Vishnu had an affair with a married woman and was said to have had enjoyed 16100 women in all[6]. The point I make here is that divinity, Baba’s as claimed or someone else’s should not be confused with goodness.

Sai Baba called his ‘miracles’ his visiting cards[7].  There are so many websites discussing these ‘miracles’[8].  For some these are out-right sleight of hand trickery[9].  According to Priddy, many devotees have seen him faking the ‘materializations’.  Another savant who claimed to have proof for Baba’s faked miracles is Basava Premanand , a disciple of the well known rationalist, Abraham T.  Kovoor[10].   Though the rationalists such as Premanand, other intellectuals and ex-Baba devotees are considered by themselves and their followers as the people on the side of the truth who look down on largely illiterate Indian population as gullible, the point they missed when claiming Baba’s miracles fake, especially faking the materialization of Vibuthi, is the validity of the experimental methodology used.  Showing a possible mechanism of making Vibuthi is not same as showing what Baba did was trickery.  Employing such simulation is useful in engineering where you have ‘full’ theoretical grasp of the situation but it is not true in disproving paranormal claims which might be due to a glimmer of psychological condition.  I would rather be called a man of lesser intellect, perhaps, by admitting that I would wait for someone to definitively prove, using the available footage or other means, that Baba consistently tricked us.  Until such time, only serious attempt at an investigation, despite all the criticism aimed at it, was done by Haraldsson who concluded “[W]hat we can squarely state is that in spite of a long lasting effort, we found no direct evidence of fraud[11].”  All other claims of debunking are based on assumptions, allegations, low quality video footage and rather poor simulation models.  We should remember that the proof of burden is on us as we are the doubters. Apart from the intellectuals who are trying to catch a trickster, there might have been other hundreds of smart devotees who have witnessed Baba’s “miracles”.  Did he manage to fool all of them over about seventy years?   It is also important to consider that many of the ex-devotees wrote glowing references about Sai Baba’s powers before falling out with him[12].

According to some devotees, some of the gifts perceived as ‘materializations’ he offered his devotees might not have been true materializations[13] but tricks to test their faith.  This is not a reasonable enough explanation.  If someone tells me Baba lost his ‘special powers’ over the years and to continue the ‘myth’, he was forced by his associates to fake materializations, it would be more logical to accept.

There had been killings that took place at the ashram in Putta Parthy and there are many looming allegations about Baba molesting boys and men.  The stories about cover ups by Indian Government and Organizations run by Sathya Sai Baba have filled the internet for a long time.  Instead of alleging the sexual molestation by Baba it would have been very fair by the community at large for them to take the matters to the courts.  Among the people who accused Baba are many Indians a few of whom we mentioned in the previous paragraphs. The claim that the Indian Judicial system and Government are biased towards Sai Baba and thus, the victims never could take the matters to the Indian Courts is not only a lame excuse but also a blatant misrepresentation of World’s largest democracy, its people and processes.  It is not a secret Basvas Premnand took Baba to the courts on violating Gold Control Act[14]. A petition prepared by ex Sai Devotees is only a futile exercise which can be seen as mere propaganda as it doesn’t take the matters to the judiciary.   India is not full of Baba devotees.  Apart from the rationalists, many purist Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians do not see eye to eye with Baba for his views about unity of religions. It was in India a Hindu shot dead Mahatma Gandhi, who himself was a Hindu, for fighting for religious tolerance. It is not winning the case against Baba which would have mattered but bringing the solid evidence to a court might have done a big service to the people with faith who are Baba devotees as well as people who are spiritual in general.  If Baba devotees start claiming that the ex-Devotees could not take their case to the Courts due to a Baba’s miracle, what would be the rational argument against it? It is not very different to accepting Baba was God and couldn’t do any harm. Now Baba is no more and the case for such an action is purely for monetary gain and cheap propaganda.

There are questions being asked about Baba’s date of birth. Some believe that they have evidence to show Baba was younger and the date of birth was made up to coincide with Sri Aurobindo’s and Shridi Sai’s declarations about the advent of Sathya Sai Baba[15]. The explanation given by one publisher of a Baba’s biography sounds reasonable as Baba’s parents might have used a more recent date as his date of birth for schooling to increase his chances of finding employment after school[16].  Sometime ago, forging birth certificates for similar purposes was known to be relatively wide spread exercise in the country – Sri Lanka where I grew up. Thus, the explanation by the publisher is not improbable. Similarly, people argue that Baba passed away at 85, ten years before he said he would take leave from his body.  Some devotees try to twist Baba’s age by using lunar calendar.  As they believe, Baba’s date of birth might have been manipulated. Do these discrepancies really matter in the context of bigger picture? Historically, Jesus Christ was not born on the 25th of December.  Similarly, Lord Buddha left this world at least forty years before he was expected to[17]. These are pedantic scholarly issues which are not relevant to what I consider as Baba’s legacy. It is only futile to engage in these explanations as one popular quote states “Never explain. Your friends don’t need it; your enemies will not believe it”.

Sai Baba – The Activist

One aspect of his life Baba was trying to show the world after the above allegations started to go around was his community activities[18]. According to his biographers, Baba has been an activist since his youthful days. He declared himself Shirdi Baba Avatar and left his school and home to stay with his followers[19].  Since then he lived for his followers deciding to spend his life as a ‘Baba’.  He spent money from the donors[20] on water projects, hospitals, and educational institutions.  He was also far-sighted enough to tie all the donations into several trust structures holding billions of dollars so that whatever work he started can be carried out into the future even after his demise. His hospitals should still provide free medical care; his university and educational institutions should still provide free education.  Water should still be supplied where it is needed.  It may need billions of dollars for the long-run maintenance of these activities.

Sai Baba – the teacher

I believe that the most important Sai Baba is Sai Baba, the teacher or Guru. He brought together people of all faiths from all over the world. Sai Baba never asked people to leave the religions that they believe in, to come into his fold.  Following Shiridi Sai’s example, he embraced both Hindus and Muslims who constitute major demography of the Indian sub-continent. As the front page of online edition of The Hindu acknowledged, “When the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy was at its peak in the 1990s, Sai Baba refused to buckle under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to issue a public statement favouring the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. VHP president Ashok Singhal made at least two trips to Puttaparthi in this endeavour but failed to extract any assurance from Sai Baba. He chose to remain neutral.[21]

Sai Baba born as a Hindu seemed to have shown equal respect to all religions as he drew his followers from so many backgrounds.  Some of them are from Jewish, Buddhist or Catholic backgrounds; some are devotees of Guru Nanak or Zoroaster.  Some were super rich while others were dirt poor; some were rulers while others were the down-trodden.  The devotees came from all walks of life and many countries spread across the Globe.  Sai Baba also acknowledged the equality of men and women; he saw oneness of God across such boundaries. “The atma is not different in man or woman. The atma is eternally conscious, pure and self-effulgent. The atma is neither masculine nor feminine, nor yet neutral.[22]

Many sources of information covering a vast cross section of Sai Baba followers can be found on the internet[23].  He in essence was against seeing God in the image of ‘man’. He endeavoured to bring together many facets of God in people’s minds to the ultimate God as God should be. For him, there was neither Hindu God nor Muslim God; neither Christian God nor Jewish God. He saw God or all religions as emanating from human need for the enhancement of spiritual qualities to stir the innate goodness of human beings.  He wanted humanity to transcend the externalities such as caste, creed and race and the internal qualities such as anger, hatred and apathy to human suffering. Thus he made us look above the divisions and war towards the unity and peace.

He asked followers to see God living inside them and convinced them to treat humanity as they would treat God. In his words, “Serve Humanity, Serve God”.  He asked his devotees to “love all and serve all[24]”. What profound message beside that there can be! It is his love of humanity which he tried to instil in his followers should be taken as his key message. At various times, there had been many others who tried to get the same message across but weren’t successful as Baba.  The simple reason is, perhaps relevant to both Shirdi and Sathya Sai Babas; “They used parables to make their message clear and ‘miracles’ to make it forceful[25].”  I am ready to pardon Sai Baba even if he used ‘trickery’, so convincingly, to convey a message that helps uniting the divided humanity.  The challenge to the people who try to discredit Sai Baba as a cheat is to achieve at least a significant fraction of what he achieved through trickery, immorality and other misdeeds of which he is accused.

Sai Baba & NOMA

NOMA (Nonoverlapping Magisteria) is the conceptual framework proposed by Stephen Jay Gould which allows religion and science to co-exist.  Sai Baba was never against science even though he always thought spirituality is far more important than science.  He once said “Science is below senses; Spirituality is above senses”. From a point of view of a spiritual person, this is not remarkable. What are remarkable are his building schools, universities and speciality hospitals where science is taught and practised.  Baba acknowledged the inquiry as the beginning of both science and spirituality and welcomed science for its service to humanity[26].

Sai Baba’s Legacy

The following quote from The Hindu again, this time from an editorial, succinctly encompass the essence of what Sai Baba’s legacy should be;

“In a country that has never been short of self-proclaimed godmen peddling spiritual succour with commercial motive, Sri Sathya Sai Baba,……, stands out as a rare phenomenon — a spiritual leader whose mass following transcended linguistic, national, and religious boundaries, who channelised the fervour and quest of millions of devotees into giving and sharing, who steered clear of divisive political and communal activities all his life[27].”

These few sentences summarises the essence of Sai Baba’s life.  It is not his materializations, other miracles or splashing of the money from his trust funds to the uplift of poverty-stricken communities of Southern India which should survive as his legacy.  His legacy is definitely not of the humbug of a godman, full of alleged tricks, highly publicised sex scandals or the clouds hanging over his head over the murders at the ashram, into which his detractors, the ex-devotees and the widely publicised BBC documentary “Secret Swami” try to portray him.  As humans it is always very easy to find faults with the other people, especially when they are well-known and hold different opinions to us.  But it is also our duty as a progressive people to see whether he or she had a view which is worthy of consideration.

It is not surprising that an Indian IT engineer wrote in his blog;

‘Nowadays we need godman who are secular rather than those creating religious fights. He was being forced by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to issue a public statement favouring the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. He chose to remain neutral[28].’

This is a very big endorsement of what Baba stood for by an ordinary Indian; this is the message Baba strived to convey to his followers through his teachings. He brought all other religions under his umbrella so that his ‘non-denominational’ spirituality is treated by some as secular. At the end, after his departure, it seems his message is to be permeating to the populace. Thus, there is a big chance that Sathya Sai Baba’s legacy will survive.  As some believe Sai Baba movement embodies the flavour of future religion which accepts the diversity of religious views[29].


[1]Sai Baba Interview 1978 (Part 1), You Tube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_x44mpk_V2U

[2] p519,Classics of Western Philosophy edited by M. Cahn, Hackett Publishing Company,           Inc, Indianapolis / Cambridge (1990),

[3] p56, Essence of Principal Upanishads, Swami Sivananda,The Divine Life Society, Himalayas, India, 1980

[4] p15-16, The lure of NOMA, D. Arachige, Ocean Publishing,  Australia, 2009

[5] Issac Tigrett – Dallas 2009 (Eng), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTFuGRXsS8E

[6] p146, Ibid.

[7] p144, The lure of NOMA, D. Arachige, Ocean Publishing,  Australia, 2009

[8] Gallery of Miraclse,http://www.saibabamiracles.com/index.html

[9] Sai Baba miracles, Robert C. Priddy, http://robertpriddy.wordpress.com/2007/07/16/sai-baba-miracles/

[10] Basava Premanand, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basava_Premanand

[11] p222, Miracles are my visiting cards, E. Haraldsson, Ph.D. , Sai Tower Publishing, 1983.

[12] Exposing Critics’s Smear-Campaigns Against Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, http://www.saisathyasai.com/baba/Ex-Baba.com/ex-devotees-critics-skeptics.html. This site is highly recommended given its rather balanced presentation of information for and against Sai Baba

[13] False Materializations?,R.D. Awle, http://www.saibaba.ws/miracles/materializations.htm

[14] Sathya Sai Baba,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sathya_Sai_Baba

[15]Chapter 5, Omniscience and Truth, Brain Steel, 2002  http://bdsteel.tripod.com/More/Omnitruth.htm

[16] Exposing Critics’s Smear-Campaigns Against Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, http://www.saisathyasai.com/baba/Ex-Baba.com/ex-devotees-critics-skeptics.html.

[17] Lord Buddha was supposed to live a ‘Kalpa’ which is usually interpreted as 120 years.

[18] Rao, Manu (26 December 2000), Sai Baba lashes out at detractors http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/534425761.cms

[19] p60, Sai Baba – Man Of Miracles, Howard Murphet, 1971, The McMillan Company of India Ltd

[20] I had been participating in some activities at Sai Centres in Melbourne over a long period. I never ever felt compelled to contribute. However, I donated very small amounts and dry food whenever I could. The merchandise such as books which are at sale are available for the interested devotees.

[21] A Secular Spiritual Leader, Online edition of India’s National Newspaper – The Hindu of 25th Apr 2011,  http://www.hindu.com/2011/04/25/stories/2011042559932100.htm

[22] Sri Sathya Sai Baba Teachings, http://www.saibaba.ws/teachings/answerfromthedivineguru.htm

[23] Ted Henry & Jodi Cleary’s Videos,Vimeo , http://vimeo.com/souljourns/videos/

[24] This is what influence Issac Tigrett to use this as motto for his Hard Rock Cafe chain. See Ted Henry & Jodi Cleary’s Videos,Vimeo , http://vimeo.com/souljourns/videos/

[25] p149, The lure of NOMA, D. Arachige, Ocean Publishing,  Australia, 2009

[26] Sri Sathya Sai Baba Teachings, http://www.saibaba.ws/teachings/answerfromthedivineguru.htm

[27] Sai Baba, His Life & Legacy, Opinion – Editorials ,Online edition of India’s National Newspaper – The Hindu of 26th Apr 2011,  http://www.hindu.com/2011/04/26/stories/2011042653851000.htm

[28] Varun’s Blog, https://varunl.wordpress.com/tag/ram-temple-at-ayodhya/

[29] p150-153, The lure of NOMA, D. Arachige, Ocean Publishing,  Australia, 2009

(Copyright: www.thelureofnoma.com,, May 2011)

(Referencing: Arachige, D (2011) The legacy of Sathya Sai Baba, www.thelureofnoma.com)

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The website aims to show the possible origin of religion through a ‘uniquely’ human process which has links to the seclusion of girls at puberty. It also advocates the view that the Paleolithic Venus figurines are related to these puberty rites and hence, the prehistoric Venus figurines may carry a much larger meaning. Thus, Religion is something more than a throwback from our animal past.
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