Sai Baba: Divine Pedophile
Wednesday, July 25, 2001
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for Spiritual Seekers"
NHNE: Special Article:
Sai Baba: Divine Pedophile
Wednesday, July 25, 2001
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We published our first report on Sai Baba in February of 1998 (http://www.nhne.com/specialreports/srsaibaba.html).
More recently, in October of 2000, we followed up with a lengthy expose',
published by the Electronic Telegraph, that elaborated on the growing
accusations whirling around the controversial guru (http://www.nhne.com/specialreports/srsaibaba2.html).
And today, another eye-opening report surfaced. Written by Michelle
Goldberg, who recently traveled to India to see what was happening first
hand, the article provides yet another look at how gurus, and their
adoring, often discernment-impaired devotees, can run amuck -- and,
occasionally, also do some good in the world.
Maybe someday, eons from now, there will be no need to be, or follow,
gurus like Sai Baba. Until then, it seems wise to learn what we can
from these larger-than-life dramas. Studying the likes of Sai Baba may
not save us from believing magic tricks are miracles, or inner visions
of dubious holy people are sure-fire visitations from the Divine, but
it can't hurt. And who knows: maybe we'll learn more about ourselves,
and the turbulent, often schizophrenic forces that populate our inner
Thanks to Stephan A. Schwartz for alerting me to Goldberg's article.
--- David Sunfellow
Millions of people worship Sai Baba as God incarnate. More and more
say the Indian guru is also a pedophile.
By Michelle Goldberg
July 25, 2001
PUTTAPARTHI, India -- One of the most powerful holy men in India presides
over the world's biggest ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam, or Abode of Peace,
in a remote town located in a barren corner of Andhra Pradesh, a desperately
poor state in a desperately poor country. The town boasts a shiny planetarium,
two hospitals that treat patients for free, a college, a music school
and immaculate, colorful playgrounds. Luxury apartment buildings are
springing up on land that just a few decades ago was covered with ramshackle
mud huts. And there's a brand-new airport to serve the wealthier devotees
of Sathya Sai Baba, a 75-year-old south Indian man with a big bushy
Afro and a warm smile.
Somewhere between 10 million and 50 million people worship Sai Baba
as God incarnate, and they stream into Puttaparthi from six continents,
sleeping in one of the ashram's 10,000 beds or at one of the town's
many guesthouses. Meanwhile, the growing number of ex-devotees who decry
their former master as a sexual harasser, a fraud and even a pedophile
has hardly put a dent in his following, though their voices are getting
"Sai Baba was my God -- who dares to refuse God? He was free to
do whatever he wanted to do with me; he had my trust, my faith, my love
and my friendship; he had me in totality," says Iranian-American
former follower Said Khorramshahgol. What Sai Baba chose to do with
him, Khorramshahgol says, was to repeatedly call him into private interviews
and order him to drop his pants and massage his penis. Other former
devotees contend Sai Baba did even more. No matter -- in this part of
the world, faith is absolute. Believers don't refuse God, and they don't
On Puttaparthi's outskirts, a Hindu temple has a statue of Sai Baba
among its pantheon of deities, standing right next to Krishna. In the
town, every conceivable surface is adorned with pictures of Sai Baba
wearing an orange robe and a benign smile. There's a photo of him garlanded
with fake pink flowers in my hotel room and a giant portrait behind
the reception desk. Each afternoon, a speaker across from my bed pipes
in music praising the guru. When I buy a pen to take notes, it has Sai
Baba's smiling face on it.
Days at the ashram revolve around an event known as "darshan,"
when Sai Baba walks through an open-air, pastel-colored hall (called
a mandir) and shows his precious self to the assembled multitudes. It
takes place once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and people
line up for hours beforehand. Everyone is desperate to get in first,
because sitting near the front means that Sai Baba might say a few words
to you, accept a letter or even invite you into his special chamber
for a private interview. Private interviews are the raison d'être
of life in Puttaparthi. They're where Sai Baba does most of his famous
materializations -- ostensibly conjuring up objects like rings, watches
and necklaces from the air as gifts for the faithful.
The afternoon I went to darshan, I spent 45 minutes waiting in a line
outside and 45 more minutes sitting cross-legged amid thousands of other
worshipers on the marble floor of the mandir. There were almost as many
foreigners in the hall, which can seat about 15,000 people, as there
were Indians. Dozens of chandeliers hung from the ceiling, which was
decorated with gold leaf. At the foot of the mandir was a stage, with
a door leading into the guru's private interview room.
Just when the boredom was growing interminable, recorded music started
up and a charge went through the crowd as necks craned for a glimpse
of Sai Baba, a slightly frail figure wearing his customary floor-length
robe and fluffy nimbus of black hair. He gave a little Princess Di wave
as he walked from the women's side to the men's side (everything at
the ashram is strictly segregated by sex) and then back again, taking
some of the letters that were fervently offered to him as he passed.
All around me women's eyes were shining, and some of the women rocked
back and forth ecstatically. Sai Baba then exited the way he'd entered,
and it was over -- in less than 10 minutes. An angelic-looking retired
woman from Denmark told me she'd been doing this every day, twice a
day, for three months.
Darshan is just about the only event that occurs at the ashram. There
are no indoctrination or even meditation sessions. Aside from strict
vegetarianism, Sai Baba prescribes no particular practices. His teachings
are flowery and vague, combining colorful Hindu mythology, a Buddhist
focus on transcending worldly desire, the Christian idea of service
and an evangelical emphasis on direct experience of the divine. According
to "Ocean of Love," a book published last year by the Sri
Sathya Sai Central Trust, "there is no new path that He is preaching,
no new order that He has created. There is no new religion that He has
come to add or a particular philosophy that He recommends ... His mission
is unique and simple. His mission is that of love and compassion."
This pleasant vagueness allows believers to project anything they like
onto Sai Baba. People see his hand everywhere, and in Puttaparthi's
spiritual hothouse nearly every occurrence is viewed as fresh proof
of his power. Apart from letters and the coveted interviews, the accepted
way to communicate with Sai Baba is via dreams and visions, and thus
the town teems with people interpreting their subconscious hiccups as
gospel. An American named George Leland said that Sai has come to him
in the guise of a Tijuana, Mexico, traffic cop and a Japanese airline
passenger. A 32-year-old Argentine woman told me she gave up her Buenos
Aires apartment and her medical studies after Baba summoned her while
Stories of sacred synchronicity abound. A wheelchair-bound cancer patient
from Holland, abandoned by her husband and living with friends who were
Sai devotees, had a series of dreams in which the guru beckoned to her.
She insisted that she told no one about the dreams, yet one day her
friends surprised her with a ticket to India. The ring he materialized
for her looks cheap to me -- one of the stones had even fallen out --
but to her it's a talisman that has helped fight her grinding pain.
To some, Sai Baba radiates love and whimsy, while to others he's stern
and tricky, destroying their relationships or afflicting their bodies
in the service of their spiritual advancement. Leland, a big, stately
61-year-old who looks like Hollywood's version of a powerful senator,
told me, "Swami's job isn't to make you happy, it's to liberate
you." In his case, that meant giving up his career as a motivational
speaker and then his marriage. "Sai Baba is the most powerful being
that ever came to the planet," he said over breakfast at a popular
Tibetan restaurant in town. Leland, who has lived in Puttaparthi for
four years, feels he must follow him, but that doesn't mean he enjoys
it. He said sadly, "Even at this moment, my mind doesn't want to
believe that God doesn't want me to be happy, to have a relationship,
to be prosperous, to enjoy life."
"Sometimes I think the ashram is a madhouse and Swami is the director,"
said Rico Mario Haus, a recent 24-year-old convert. I'd met Haus, a
Swiss man whose square black glasses lent a bit of quirkiness to his
wholesome good looks, two months before in the seaside state of Kerala.
We'd both been extras in an Indian musical, and we'd both learned of
Puttaparthi from a Sai Baba follower on the set. Ironically (or, as
it now seemed to Haus, portentously), we'd played Western devotees of
a towering guru who saved the soul of the errant hero. At the time,
Haus was a cocky kid planning to ride his motorcycle to Kashmir. Now,
wearing white pajamas, he said, "Baba was calling me. When you
believe in God, there are no coincidences." Nevertheless, he'd
kept his sense of humor and found a certain subversive delight in telling
us about the lunatics he lived with. "When you don't have problems,
you don't go to the ashram," he said.
Most of the time, Puttaparthi's ambient spiritual hysteria is fairly
faint. With its good restaurants and relatively clean streets, the town
can be quite pleasant. But there are occasional bursts of madness. One
afternoon, a young Malaysian woman had a psychotic breakdown, attacked
ashram workers and was dragged away by police. I later found her at
the police station, half-catatonic, mumbling "darshan, darshan,
darshan" over and over again. At dinner another evening, Haus pointed
out a wan Austrian woman tugging around a listless little boy. She was
frenzied because she'd had a dream in which Sai Baba instructed her
to abandon her 7-year-old son and live on the streets as a beggar, and
she didn't know whether she had the "strength" to do it.
Of course, outsiders expect insanity in fringe religions. But Sai Baba
isn't just any cult leader. Because he isn't well known in America,
it's hard to convey the awesome power he has in India. In addition to
the droves of foreigners who flock to see him, Sai Baba's acolytes include
the cream of India's elite. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is a devotee,
as is former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. A 1993 article in the
Times of India counts among the guru's followers "governors, chief
ministers, assorted politicians, business tycoons, newspaper magnates,
jurists, sportsmen, academics and, yes, even scientists."
Even if you don't believe in the miracles he's credited with -- resurrections,
faith healings, materializations -- his phenomenal popularity in India
is easy to understand. Just outside Puttaparthi is an enormous hospital
he helped build that provides free cardiology, optometry and nephrology
care to all comers. It was funded in part by a $20 million donation
from Isaac Tigrett, co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe. The pink facade
looks like a cross between a Mogul palace and a wedding cake. One enters
into a domed hall with marble floors resplendent with images of Sai
Baba and other deities -- Jesus on the cross, the Buddha, the elephant-headed
god Ganesh. Yet for all the architecture's Las Vegas excess, especially
in a country where many can't afford even rudimentary medical care,
the hospital claims impressive figures: 10,594 free cardiac surgeries,
9,090 kidney operations, 382,328 outpatient consultations.
A host of other charity projects has also won Sai Baba favor with the
masses. One of his projects installed 2,500-liter cisterns in several
villages in Andhra Pradesh. Indian children who might otherwise never
have access to higher education covet spots in his free colleges. Though
rumors of chicanery and worse swirl around all these ventures, even
Sai Baba's critics admit that he has eased some of the region's suffering.
"God or a fraud, no one doubts the good work done by the Sai organization,"
wrote the Illustrated Weekly of India.
All this helps explain why there has never been any official action
against Sai Baba in India, despite the dozens of ex-believers who insist
that his claims to divinity mask a wholly human craving for the bodies
of the ashram's young men and boys. The evidence is strong that Sai
Baba uses his power to get in his followers' pants. It's also strong
that life is slightly less brutal for lots of poor Indians because he
exists. Some call him a saint and some call him a lecher. Possibly he's
something of both.
The stories about Sai Baba's sexual misconduct are all remarkably similar.
"During my 'private audiences' with Sai Baba, Sai Baba used to
touch my private parts and regularly massage my private parts, indicating
that this was for spiritual purposes," wrote Dutchman Hans de Kraker
in a letter sent to French journalist Virginie Saurel. In December 1996,
when de Kraker was 24, Sai Baba allegedly asked him to perform oral
sex: "He grabbed my head and pushed it into his groin area. He
made moaning sounds," de Kraker wrote. "As soon as he took
the pressure off my head and I lifted my head, Sai Baba lifted his dress
and presented me a semi-erect member, telling me that this was my good
luck chance, and jousted his hips towards my face." When de Kraker
reported to others what had happened, he was thrown out of the ashram.
American Jed Geyerhahn, who was 16 when Sai Baba started coming on
to him, echoes de Kraker's account: "Each time I saw Baba, his
hand would gradually make more prominent connections to my groin."
The stories are endless, and endlessly alike, concerning mostly boys
and men from their midteens to their mid-20s.
They're not new, either. In 1970, Tal Brooke published a book called
"Lord of the Air," later renamed "Avatar of Night,"
(http://www.endrunpublishing.com/AvatarOfNight.html) a vivid, detailed
account of his mind-blowing days as a questing young acolyte and his
total disillusionment on learning of his guru's sexual rapacity. Yet
it's only recently, thanks in large part to the Internet, that various
victims, their parents and defecting officials from within the Sai Organization
(http://www.sathyasai.org/organize/content.htm) have banded together
to direct the energy they once poured into worshiping their master toward
bringing the man down.
It all started with a document called "The Findings," (http://www.geocities.com/the_sai_critic/findings.pdf)
published in late 2000 by long-term devotees David and Faye Bailey,
whose marriage was arranged by Sai Baba. Part of the nearly 20,000-word
piece is given over to evidence that Sai Baba fakes his materializations
and doesn't magically heal the sick -- revelations that seem self-evident
to nonbelievers but provoke fierce debate in devotee circles and blazing
headlines in the Indian press.
Most of "The Findings" consists of testimony of sexual harassment
and sexual abuse. "Whilst still at the ashram, the worst thing
for me -- as a mother of sons -- occurred when a young man, a college
student, came to our room, to plead with David, 'Please Sir, do something
to stop him sexually abusing us,'" Faye writes. "These sons
of devotees, unable to bear their untenable position of being unwilling
participants in a pedophile situation any longer, yet unable to share
this with their parents because they would be disbelieved, placed their
trust in David; a trust which had built over his five years as a visiting
professor of music to the Sai college." These pleas eroded the
Baileys' faith and finally made them go public.
Since then, the movement against Sai Baba has been snowballing. In
the past few months, ex-devotees have contacted the FBI, Interpol, the
Indian Supreme Court and a host of other agencies, hoping for help in
their battle against the guru. A California man named Glen Meloy, who
spent 26 years as a Sai devotee, is trying to organize a class-action
lawsuit against Sai Organization leaders in America, modeled on the
one recently launched against the Hare Krishnas (http://www.salon.com/people/feature/2001/07/02/krishna/index.html).
His faith was shattered when he was shown excerpts from the diary of
his close friend's 15-year-old son, detailing several incidents of molestation.
The child of devotees, the boy had been raised to worship Sai Baba as
God, and obliged when the master reportedly ordered his disciple to
suck his penis. "You've got all these kids who are scared to death
to do anything that will do disrespect to their parents, in a room with
someone they believe to be the creator of the whole universe,"
said Meloy, his voice choked with fury. "This isn't just any child
abuse; this is God himself claiming to do this."
Hari Sampath, an Indian software professional now living in Chicago
and a former volunteer in the ashram's security service, is petitioning
India's Supreme Court to order the central government to investigate
Sai Baba. His greatest concern is for Sai Baba's Indian victims, who
generally have a much more difficult time speaking out than Westerners
do. During his time at Prasanthi Nilayam, he said, many students at
the ashram's college told him they were pressured to have sex with the
guru. "I've spoken to 20 or 30 boys who have been abused, and that's
just the tip of the iceberg. There are 14-year-old kids made to live
in his room and made to think it's a blessing. In most cases, their
parents have been followers for 20 years and are not going to believe
them," Sampath said by phone from Chicago. "Westerners have
little to lose by coming forward. The Indians have to go on living among
Sai Baba devotees."
Sampath also wants the American government to intervene, on the grounds
that "American citizens have been knowing about this abuse and
taking American boys to Puttaparthi and feeding them to him."
So far, the anti-Sai Baba forces have scored a few victories. Many
senior devotees have defected. Last September, UNESCO yanked its cosponsorship
of an education conference in Puttaparthi, explaining that it was "deeply
concerned about widely reported allegations of sexual abuse involving
youths and children that have been leveled at the leader of the movement
in question, Sathya Sai Baba."
Late last year, after Conny Larsson, a Swedish film star who once traveled
the world speaking of Sai Baba's miracles, went public about his coerced
sexual relations with the guru, the Sai Organization in Sweden was shut
down, along with a Sai-affiliated school. A cover story in the weekly
magazine India Today reports that following a story in England's Daily
Telegraph, "Labour MP Tony Colman raised the issue in Parliament.
A former home office minister, Tom Sackville, also took up the matter,
saying, 'The authorities have done little so far and that is regrettable.'
There is a movement now to urge the British Government to issue warnings
to people wanting to visit Baba's ashram."
Given all this, one might suspect that Sai Baba's following would be
in decline. Yet when one looks around Puttaparthi, there seem to be
enough bright-eyed converts to replace every defector, enough denial
to obscure even the most well documented allegations and, perhaps most
of all, enough fierce belief to trump ordinary moral judgments.
July 5 was a festival day at the ashram, a day when Sai Baba addresses
his devotees. The faithful started queuing before 4 a.m. to get into
the mandir. Arriving at Prasanthi Nilayam at around 5:15 a.m., I had
to walk for 20 minutes to get near the end of the ladies line. Women
were running and jostling from every direction to join the queue, and
I'd have been pushed back about 150 feet if a pretty Indian girl in
white hadn't yanked me in front of her. In the end, after waiting for
more than an hour, I didn't get in, and ended up sitting outside the
mandir in a crowd of hundreds who kept shoving to be closer to the gate,
nearer to their lord's sacred energy.
Many of these people believe the official line that the charges are
all lies. They're "completely false," said the director of
the Sai Organization, a tiny, ancient man who, like every other Indian
official I spoke with in the organization, asked me not to use his name
because "nobody here works on an individual basis. There is no
spokesman besides Sai Baba." He speculated that the accusers are
driven by "jealousy or frustration. Maybe they are very ill and
not being cured, or they have desires that are not being fulfilled."
Sai Baba, who hardly ever grants media interviews, alluded to the allegations
himself at an address last year, saying, "Some devotees seem to
be disturbed over these false statements. They are not true devotees
at all. Having known the mighty power of Sai, why should you be afraid
of the 'cawing of crows'? All that is written on walls [or] said in
political meetings, or the vulgar tales carried by the print media,
should not carry one away."
But the guru's alleged interest in his followers' phalli is pretty
much an open secret among old hands at the ashram. The eerie thing about
this story isn't just the evidence of widespread sexual abuse in one
of the world's biggest cults -- after all, between the Roman Catholic
Church and the Hare Krishnas, one is seldom surprised to find perversity
in the shadow of piety these days. What's also strange is that many
of Sai's followers seem to accept that their chastity-preaching guru
takes young men, including minors, into a private chamber, asks them
to drop their pants, masturbates them and occasionally demands blow
jobs. They believe the stories, and they believe that he's God.
In an online essay called "Sai Baba and Sex: A Clear View,"
(http://www.saibaba-and-sex-aclearview.com/) an American devotee named
Ram Das Awle says, "First of all, I believe that Sathya Sai Baba
is an Avatar, a full incarnation of God ... AND, from what I've read
and heard, I'm inclined to think some of the allegations about Baba
are probably true: It appears likely to me that He has occasionally
had sexually intimate interactions with devotees." After several
rambling paragraphs, the essay concludes that Sai Baba touches men to
awaken their "kundalini" energy or to remove previous bad
sexual karma, and that "any sexual contact Baba has had with devotees
-- of whatever kind -- has actually been only a potent blessing, given
to awaken the spiritual power within those souls. Who can call that
'wrong'? Surely to call such contact 'molestation' is perversity itself."
According to Leland (the American ex-motivational speaker), "when
he does it, he has a purpose." Leland says he knows a boy of 15
or 16 who was asked to touch Baba's "genital area" during
an interview. "Then Baba beckoned him to touch his feet. When the
boy looked up, Baba had his robe lifted and a big boner -- a Shiva lingam.
Not much else happened." Leland suspects such incidents are part
of Sai Baba's plan to spread his word. "Probably more people are
going to know about you if there are allegations that you're a pedophile
than if you say God is incarnated on earth."
Sai Baba has also been called a second-rate magician. Even some of
his believers say they've seen him faking materializations, though to
them it's part of his playfulness and ineffability. Yet there's nothing
amateurish about his genius for suspending disbelief. Haus, the Swiss
follower, seemed to have an open mind and didn't mind discussing the
charges against Sai Baba, but he didn't believe them. "I think
this is a projection of his devotees' problems," he said. "You
hear a lot of rumors here, but for me it's not important. When you're
happy, why doubt it?"
He's probably lined up outside the mandir gates right now, one of thousands
of men hoping for a talk with God.
PREVIOUS SAI BABA NHNE POSTS INCLUDE:
Sai Baba: Divine Downfall:
OTHER SAI BABA LINKS & RESOURCES INCLUDE:
Sathya Sai Baba [official site]:
The Sai Critic:
The Neural Surfer Website:
Sathya Sai Baba Exposed: Cult, Magic, And Brainwashing:
Beyerstein's Critique of Sai Baba's purported miracles:
Freedom of Mind's "Sathya Sai Organization" Resources:
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