Thursday, July 24, 2014

Claimed paranormal connections via mediums to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba; Splinter devotee groups

Last updated on July 29th 2018

As this is a sensitive matter related to faith in mediums who claim to have the power to interact with/talk to Sathya Sai Baba in some manner, I want to be very careful in my comments. I will just say that so long as the teachings of Swami in such interactions are in line with the teachings of Swami that we were blessed to receive from his physical form, the teachings part of these interactions will not cause any harm to the Sai mission and it may contribute to better dissemination of the Sai teachings. But there may also be a very sensitive instructions/advice part in these interactions applying to specific individuals who approach (or have been approached by) the medium. I personally would very much hesitate to follow such instructions/advice delivered via a medium. If Swami came directly to me in a dream and gave me some instructions/advice, I would certainly consider them seriously, perhaps getting into deep prayer and meditation sessions to get clarity from the inner voice/conscience/inner Swami on such dream instructions/advice. But through a (human) medium? I don't think that is the path for me. However, I respect the choice made by people who are willing to follow the instructions/advice delivered through these mediums. Essentially, it is their life and so it is their choice.

Update: The post, A more nuanced view on medium messages related to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, is a more nuanced view of mine on this topic.

[I have never had a Swami vision, i.e. appearance of Swami in the form of Sathya Sai Baba in waking state (apart from his physical body prior to his Mahasamadhi), so far at least :).]

In this context I felt it appropriate to share my experiences in a Maharashtra Sathya Sai samithi regarding such matters when Swami was in his physical form itself. I came to know of Swami through Sai literature. Sometime around 1992-93 when I was living either in a company provided flat or (later) in a rented flat in Andheri (E), Mumbai which was very close to Dharmakshetra (Sathya Sai organization centre in Mumbai, http://www.dharmakshetra.org/), I happened to wander into Dharmakshetra on one of my walks (I used to do a lot of leisure walking on holidays typically) and was very taken up by the sayings of Swami put up in the Dharmakshetra main hall. In a short time I was in the Dharmakshetra bookshop and then the great treasure of Sai literature there, available at a very cheap price, cast a tremendous spell on me. [Note that I was initially an employee of a company when I was staying in a housing society (Takshila) in Andheri (E) but later quit that company, and became an independent consultant. I continued to live in the same housing society (Takshila) but in a different flat that I rented.]

Not very long after this I decided to move back to Dombivli, in Thane district (Maharashtra), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dombivli, on the outskirts of Mumbai, where we (my mother & I) and others of my family (brother & family) & friends circle lived, prior to mother and me moving to the company flat in Andheri (E), Mumbai.

After resettling in Dombivli I decided to look around for any Sathya Sai devotee group in Dombivli (this would be around 1993-94 if I recall correctly). I had no knowledge of the Sathya Sai organization and did not know that there are official Samithis as venues/platforms for devotees to gather and conduct Sathya Sai organization/movement activities. [These were pre-Internet search engine days. Yahoo search started as small directory index to the world wide web in 1994, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Yahoo!, and Google came on to the web scene a few years after Yahoo, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Google.]

One day, in one of the commercial buildings close to Dombivli Railway station, I found a board having the name Sathya Sai associated with a Blood Bank. I went up there, came to know that there were regular bhajan sessions on a particular day (I think it was Sunday) and soon I became a part of that friendly and welcoming community which was being led by a medical doctor (a specialist -  pediatrician, in fact) who was also leading the Sathya Sai blood bank charitable activity. This doctor, who I will refer to as D, was quite a charismatic personality besides his quite towering intellectual stature within that group which was quite a small but well-knit group maybe of around ten to twenty regulars.

Over time (some months, if I recall correctly) I came to know that this group was a parallel/splinter group and that there was an official Sai organization samithi as well in Dombivli. Destiny had taken me first to a parallel/rebel Sathya Sai group! Eventually I started attending both groups. The official samithi group was much bigger (maybe around hundred members then) and had many rules and regulations to be followed (quite naturally as it was part of a big Sathya Sai organization). The splinter group led by D was more dynamic in terms of the service activities it accomplished with a small group of regulars. However, over time, I came to know that D, the leader of the splinter group, claimed some sort of spiritual type powers/insight especially in terms of healing. Further he recommended that people need not visit Puttaparthi as Swami was everywhere (this was in the mid-1990s when Swami was quite active in his physical body). In other words, D was like a spiritual leader with some claimed mystical powers, who also was a practising pediatrician (the bhajan sessions would be held in his clinic waiting room on Sundays, if I recall correctly, when the clinic was closed for his medical practice work). And most of the members in D's group looked up to him as a spiritual Guru (with some healing & other powers) kind of person.

I very much wanted to have Darshan of Swami in physical form, and there were many in the official samithi who were very encouraging of that and even offered to take me along. Further the samithi offered a chance to do Prasanthi Seva where, at the end of the Seva offering, we got the chance of having Swami walk amongst us allowing Seva Dal (us) to take Padanamaskar (reverentially touch his holy feet). Eventually there was a personal incident I had with D which led to me, politely and peacefully, parting ways from his group after which I concentrated only on the official Samithi events.
[A former student of the Sai university (SSSIHL) Prasanthi Nilayam (Puttaparthi) campus, who along with his long-time Sathya Sai devotee parents, provided me lot of information and guidance about Swami and the Sai organization, took me along with him for my first (remembered) darshan of Swami in Brindavan (Whitefield, Bangalore ashram) maybe in 1993-94. (I say remembered darshan as my elder sister (elder to me by 10 years) told me that our family had had darshan of Swami in a public meeting in Bombay/Mumbai when I was a child (must have been in the 1960s) - I have no memory of that as I would have been a toddler then.) This first remembered darshan of Bhagawan had a very strong and positive impact on me. During our visit, Swami attended a function in the Whitefield college auditorium (or some building like that). The former Sai student who was knowledgeable about Swami's typical routine in such visits, positioned me and himself outside and below a balcony/sit-out of this building at around first floor level (if I recall correctly). He said there is a good chance that Swami may come to the balcony/sit-out and give Darshan to devotees assembled outside. Swami did come to the balcony/sit-out and I was thrilled to have a long eye-to-eye contact with Swami from a distance of around twenty or thirty feet perhaps (if I recall correctly). I have a clear memory of that first long eye-to-eye contact I had with Swami even to this day. Somehow that made a deep impression on me. BTW I had got into a fair bit of meditation and deep prayer with my Ishta Devata (favourite God) being Lord Krishna, perhaps a year or so prior to me getting exposed to Sathya Sai Baba through Sai literature.
This first darshans trip led to strengthening of my faith in Bhagawan and also the Sathya Sai organization which eventually resulted in me moving to Puttaparthi in Oct. 2002 and being given the wonderful and blessed opportunity to serve Swami as Honorary Staff/Honorary Faculty/Visiting Faculty from Jan. 2003 to March 2012 in SSSIHL Prasanthi Nilayam (Puttaparthi) campus. This service gave me the blessed and rare good fortune to receive, at physical body level, Swami's Grace in general and his spiritual guidance through his discourses and, very importantly for me, through his looks & gestures during the regular darshans I would have of him.
I am very grateful to this former Sai student and his long-time Sai devotee parents for the wonderful exposure they gave to me of Bhagawan and the Sai organization, which was an important step in bringing me directly to the lotus feet of the physical form of our beloved Bhagawan.]

Today, with the passage of around two decades, I have a far more emotionally balanced view of the Dombivli splinter group matter (though I must say that some conflicting views of the two groups did confuse and disturb me a lot then as I was a novice to the Sathya Sai movement). Now I am grateful to D (who sadly, I was informed, passed away some years ago) and his group who were my first exposure to congregational Sathya Sai bhajan singing and congregational Sathya Sai service activities. They gave me a lot of encouragement and were very polite towards me even when I decided to stop participating in their activities. I have only good wishes and prayers for their happiness, towards them.

I also am of the view now that it is not uncommon for energetic and inspired individuals to break away from an official spiritual group and start a new splinter spiritual group. Even Mother Teresa essentially parted ways (with permission from church authorities) from her original Christian convent to form a new organization which eventually made a great impact worldwide. The important thing is that the parallel organizations should not fight each other and have turf wars. Give people the choice to go to whatever group they want. I think Dombivli samithi as well as the splinter group did an overall pretty good job in co-existing peacefully, even if there were some reports of criticisms hurled at each other by leaders of the two groups at times. I mean, it was just verbal or written criticism, nothing really serious like a police complaint, lawsuit or violence of any kind. In fact, sometimes, to some members at least, it was an entertaining diversion :).

Then there was another interesting and controversial happening in Dombivli samithi. This dealt with the claimed manifestation of vibhuti on Swami's photos in a devotee and samithi member's house as well as letter responses claimed to be from Swami. Devotees would place letters at the altar in this devotee's home (devotee is referred to as X) and some of them (a few, I was told) would receive written responses from Swami later on (next day/next few days, I guess). This was a sensation! This controversy too got handled quite well in Dombivli samithi, I feel. The leaders ensured that samithi events were top priority and so long as X did not hold events at his house that clashed with samithi events, he was free to hold the events and samithi members were free to attend those events. X himself would attend samithi events including bhajans where he was a lead singer. The samithi did not publicize the claimed happenings in X's home in any way and its leaders, when their advice was sought on the claimed letter responses from Bhagawan matter, said something to the effect that the organization view is that Swami does not interact with devotees in this fashion.

But, as far as I can recall, they did not go to the extent of publicly criticizing those devotees who chose to believe in the claimed letter responses received in X's home though they surely would have publicly announced in the samithi quoting from Bhagawan's public discourses and statements which strongly discouraged devotees from believing in such claimed responses from Bhagawan. However, such announcements would have limited impact on those devotees who were caught up in the new sensation :). I should also mention that, as far as I know, there was no written material or any organized publicity by X (or others) of the claimed letter responses from Bhagawan - it was mainly a word-of-mouth spread sensation. Had there been any organized publicity of these claimed letter responses from Bhagawan appearing in X's home, I am quite sure that the samithi leaders would have pointedly and publicly criticized it.

At that time I did not know X very well. However, I felt that I simply did not know enough to believe in the letter responses part or to deny it. I preferred to go by the organization view and did not give much importance to the claimed letter responses. However, I respected the choice of some devotees to believe those letter responses. Again, their life, their choice, was my view. Over the years I came to know X much better. I think his devotion/Bhakti was and is very deep. I have been more inclined towards the spiritual philosophy part of Advaita (as mentioned in the Upanishads) and the Bhagavad Gita from a very young age (including during my adult agnostic days as it was an intellectual sort-of view not needing faith in an interventionist God). Devotion and faith in a God who responds to prayer and intervenes in human affairs (interventionist God) was something that I started developing much later on in life. I tried to strengthen my devotion and faith by learning from/observing the faith of others in the Sathya Sai samithi as well as other theists in general (like a Christian neighbour of mine in Dombivli).

My view now is that X's deep devotion may have resulted in some paranormal events in his home then. I certainly will not say that such events are not possible. Somewhere down the line, I believe, these occurrences in X's home either stopped or he stopped letting people know about it.

I hope this post will contribute in some small way to ensure that there is peaceful, harmonious and maybe even synergestic co-existence between main Sathya Sai organization(s) and any splinter Sathya Sai devotee groups in this post-Mahasamadhi phase of the Sathya Sai mission. Live and Let Live, as an email correspondent put it.

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The post, A more nuanced view on medium messages related to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, is an extension of the topic covered in this post.

5 comments:

  1. Good to know about your background and how you came to Swami. It is always interesting to know what draws devotees to the Lord like bees to the nectar. Organisation is a very generic word which means many different things to many different people. Depending on who is in-charge and what kind of mindset they carry, the being part of an organisation can sometimes become detrimental to one's spiritual growth. Such organisation can also turn vicious if someone dares to question any policies or question the leadership about why they are not following Swami's teachings both in word and spirit. There is no dearth of like-minded people who are on spiritual quest holding similar outlooks and values they cherish. So instead of arguing and quarrelling all the time, it is better to distance yourself from the organisation and attend informal meetings or so called splinter groups you refer to in your post. Of course you have to exercise your good judgement to see the motive and energy behind all activities carried out by such splinter groups. Sai belongs to whole humanity and each and everyone can connect to him either as an individual or as a group of like minded people. You don't need a big organisation run by some very egocentric individuals trying to boss over everyone in order to gain some self-importance. In such cases a small splinter groups with the right energy is the way to go.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I tend to agree with your views.

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    1. A comment from Tagless Kaiju on April 1, 2015 at 1:24 PM, had a lot of blank lines at the bottom. So I deleted the original comment and have provided the same comment minus blank lines, below:

      Thank you for posting this – I found the article to be a very well-written and well-balanced piece; it is also very mature. Swami’s devotees have come (and continue to come) from many different backgrounds and cultures. The perspective of each and every one of us is unique. The Sai Organization certainly has provided a comfortable enough home for many, but it was never likely to be a home for all at any given time (I myself wondered in and out of organizational activities and affiliation; only my faith in Swami was a constant). Organizations are made up of people and those people have conflicts; even our own minds can be divided on some topic or other. When Swami was in physical form, I sometimes wondered what would happen once he was gone, and honestly, we have only to look around at other faiths to see how their human elements behave when the Leader has gone – they always splinter off, and then the splinters splinter off. One size simply isn’t going to fit all, not ever (not so long as we remain human :) As you say, the key would really lie in our ability and willingness to work harmoniously, and not to wish ill-will on anyone, to create scandal, or engage in any activity that would encourage dissent. Swami’s passing was (and remains) a very, very hard pill to swallow. Surely our very foundations were going to be shaken - and Swami knew this. The task of the Sai Org’s elder leadership was to present a strong unified front in the face of devastation, and it remains so. Hence, understandably, newer groups will come under a wary eye and be scrutinized. But that doesn’t mean they should not exist. What should exist is dialogue and an open mind, because there is little to stand in the way of these groups existing as long as individuals have a will to be part of them. If we can connect to our inner Sai, we can do this successfully. Again, thank you for providing excellent details and insight.

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    2. Thanks for your kind words, Tagless Kaiju. Thanks also for your well written and interesting comment.

      I tend to agree with most of your comment. However, I have a dissenting view on the dissent part :-). We have seen (and I have some personal experience of it too) how some dictatorial leaders of some Sai institutions including break-away Sai institutions, after Swami's Mahasamadhi, have tried and succeeded to impose their vision and ideas on Sai institutions or the part of the institutions they head. And these visions and ideas, in my considered view, are quite different, and in some cases, very different, from Swami's vision as seen in how he (physical form) managed the Sai institutions at a top-level but with accessibility to any member of these institutions at Darshan time.

      Therefore, today I am of the view that while Swami was in physical form, his Divine insight enabled him to manage the Sai institutions without having a need for dissenting opinions to be aired, except in private. But, after his Mahasamadhi, in the name of discipline and unity, the leaders who are in positions of power, have become all-powerful. Very unfortunately, such absolute kind-of power leads to power-craze and abuse of power, which ultimately damages the institutions and parts of institutions that such leaders manage. Recovery from the damage caused by power craze and power abuse to institutions and/or parts of institutions, can take years!

      So I think in this post-Mahasamadhi phase, the Sai mission should bring in a mechanism to encourage some level of dissent, as that will act as a check/brake on power-craze and dictatorial attitudes. This mechanism of encouraging dissent should not be unbridled as that may lead to unbridled mud-slinging like in the democratic political arena :-). Perhaps an independent and powerful Lokpal (ombudsman) or grievance redressal mechanism may do wonders in bringing down power craze and power abuse in the Sai mission.

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