The Elusiveness of International
By: Brian Steel
Copyright B. Steel June 2002
Food for thought:
In spite of 60 years of Mission, a few million followers (mostly in India), multiple Website references (both for and against), as well as several hundreds of books and articles written about him (mainly by unconditional and totally uncritical devotees), the Indian Guru, Sathya Sai Baba, self-styled Full Avatar (Descent of God on Earth) with full Divine powers, still falls far short of receiving 'rave reviews' in major international reference books.
In the 1997 printed edition of the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, neither Sathya, nor even the more (academically) established Shirdi, score a mention in the Index.
In the CD-ROM version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, one has to search a little before coming across a short reference, under 'Hinduism Abroad', where Sathya is linked with the fallen star, Rajneesh (Osho) - who at least merits a 'Bhagwan' title:
"In recent years, many new gurus, such as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Satya Sai Baba, have been successful in making converts in Europe and the United States. The very success of these gurus, however, has produced material profits that many people regard as incompatible with the ascetic attitude appropriate to a Hindu spiritual leader; in some cases, the profits have led to notoriety and even legal prosecution."
On that same page of the Encyclopedia Britannica, however, the Hare Krishna Movement is given 8 lines of space.
In the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, edited by John Bowker (1997), on p. 838, the heading 'Sai Baba' is followed by:
"1. Hindu spiritual guide and miracle (siddha/siddhi) worker. He died in 1918 and was recognised as one who had direct experience of reality and truth - so much so that many regard him as a manifestation (avatar) of God. He lived by paradox - e.g. neither writing nor reading, yet displaying mastery of texts- and exhibited the characteristics of a holy fool. He is known as Sai Baba of Shirdi to differentiate him from the following:
"2. Sai Baba (b. 1926) of the asrama Prasanti Nilayam, who is believed by his followers (now worldwide) to be a reincarnation of the first Sai Baba. He too is a well-known for his miraculous powers."
[Without those 'miraculous powers', one suspects that there would be no reference at all!]
(For those interested, on p. 438 of the Abingdon Dictionary, 'holy fool' is defined as: "Figures who subvert prevailing orthodoxy and orthopraxis in order to point to the truth which lies beyond immediate conformity. ... "
Then in Contemporary Religions. A World Guide, ed. Ian Harris, et al, London, Longman, 1992, on p. 311, we find the following entry:
"Satya Sai Baba Satsang"
"Satya Sai Baba claims to be the reincarnation of the nineteenth century mystic Sai Baba, and also an avatar of the Indian God Vishnu. His teaching is traditionally Hindu, However, he is best known as a "miracle worker" or magician who regularly "materializes" sacred ash and other objects ..." [NB. Here they add "(including gold watches)"] "There are many tales of his supernatural powers, such as telepathy, precognition, and weather control, but some of these have been disproved."
Note: As usual, the spectacular really STICKS!!! There was only ever one major gold watch claim, as far as I am aware, hotly and publicly disputed by B. Premanand of the Indian Rationalists. As for 'weather control', there were a few mythical early stories of this put out by Professor Kasturi, Indulal Shah, et al, but like many of the early alleged miracles (including resurrections and surgical operations), these alleged weather interventions seem to have 'dried up' as the crowds began to flock to Puttaparthi in the 1970s and 1980s.
As for the large three volume Catholic Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion (1979 USA), there is NO mention of the Sai Babas at all.
The massive 16 volume Encyclopedia of Religion, by Macmillan of New York (1987) manages Vivekananda and Ramakrishna, but of SB, not a trace.
In the very useful Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions (Nashville, Abingdon, 1981, p. 659), Satya Sai Baba is slightly better served by the researcher, Dr. Charles S. J. White who (according to his sober but basically favorable 1972 scholarly article on SB) seems, like many others before and since, to have been rather overwhelmed to receive a handful of vibhuti from SB during darshan one day in the 1960s). In the whole column he is allowed to devote to SB on this page, he says, amongst other things:
"More than through his teaching, Satya Sai Baba is famous because of his miracles " and "... he has an international following - including Westerners - for many of whom he resembles the Christian Savior. These followers seem drawn as much by his dynamic attractive personality as by the uncanny happenings which occur around him."
"It would appear that for his followers, Satya Sai Baba assumes the combined role of deity, guru, and saint not bound by the Hindu tradition alone. Worship focused upon his portrait or idol is the practice of Satya Sai Baba groups scattered around the world."
But, as far as I can see, outside of India, that is about it! There is not even a mention of Sai Baba on (the late) Swami Sivananda's Website's comprehensive list of saints and godmen, running to a total of 24 for the past 150 years. And yet we were told by Kasturi and Sathya Sai Speaks that Swami Sivananda was so grateful for a healing he received during the 1957 visit by the young SB to his Rishikesh ashram.
Not much to show, is it, really, for 60 years of unrelenting work, so strenuously and rapturously praised by his hundreds of less than objective devotee writers - and by the SB Organisation? In those reference works which do mention him, SB is either overshadowed by his alleged alter ego, Shirdi Sai, or inextricably associated with "miracles". It will be very interesting to see how this situation, and other perceived slights and injustices, will be dealt with in the SSO's advertised (July) Guru Purnima book launch (or publicity campaign) promoting the SB cause to world governments.