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A letter to SSB Devotee "Selena," from Timothy Conway
Monday, August 6, 2001
(Selena is a fictitious name assigned by Sunrise, replacing the real name of the correspondent.)
Namaskaram, in God's Love... Thank you for your letter. Please convey my best wishes to YYY [a mutual friend]. I read with an open mind and heart your passionate letter [email, Saturday, August 4, 2001]. You wrote:
> Now to my reason for writing: It is ironic, if not absurd that a person who entertains his negative and gross qualities instead of learning and working to rise above them, leads a group calling it 'One Spirit'. It is usually the spiritually infantile, who make spirituality into a form of self-justified goodie-goodiness, who want to lead others.
Please be aware, Selena, that while I am facilitating a Thursday night satsang of Bhajans, meditation, and study of the nondual teachings of great Mahatmas, I do not consider myself "the leader," and I have no desire to "lead" anybody. I greatly revere the all-pervasive Guru seated in the hearts of all beings and trust that this Divine will be the true leader.
> But spiritual vision is to accept everything, good and bad, and see it only as divine.
As I have repeatedly pointed out in early correspondence with our [mutual] friend ZZZ, the greatest sages of India have long cautioned that enlightened spiritual vision must function on two levels: the absolute level of Truth (paramarthika satyam) and the conventional, "relatively real" level of truth (vyavaharika satyam).
Thus, the sages, when speaking from the absolute level of parlance, say that, indeed, everything is Divine, all is Brahman, nothing is wrong (in fact, no-thing is really happening!), it's all the perfect leela of the One.
But, on the relative or conventional level, the level of earthly conduct, these sages strongly uphold the Dharma of righteous action, ahimsa, purity, and so forth. Such sages thus say that, in the absolute view, everything is okay, but on the relative level they are quite adamant that certain behaviors are wrong, sinful, or just inappropriate and should be stopped.
For devotees of the Lord to sit back and just say that "everything is divine," which is certainly true on the absolute level, but then do nothing about evils and injustices that occur within the dream of earthly life because "it is all divine" --is a terrible avoidance of basic duty on behalf of Dharma. With this apathy and flawed attitude, none of the great evils of history would have ever been resisted and overcome.
The abolitionist anti-slavery movements, Gandhi's satyagraha movement, the political independence movements worldwide, the civil rights movement in America and other nations, the battles against fascism and totalitarian communism, the women's rights movement, the liberation theology struggles in Latin America, the consumer protection lawsuits, the ongoing fight for environmental justice and the rights of tribal persons, and so many other social advances never would have happened if everyone just sat around and "accepted everything and saw it as divine," to use your words.
In short, Selena, one can in fact see everything as Divine leela, but still be quite active in an engaged spirituality on behalf of socio-economic justice issues. Sometimes this engaged spirituality must use terms that might seem "negative and gross," to use your opening phrase. Thus, evil, unjust conduct must be clearly identified, labeled, and resisted in no uncertain terms, sometimes using language that might seem very harsh, "negative and gross."
It is quite clear to a growing multitude of former Sathya Sai devotees that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been violated over a period of at least 30 years by Sathya Sai. This is, of course, a "criminal" violation, and criminal violations must be spoken of in harsh language.
The story you kindly sent me about the avadhuta in Kerala cannot apply here to Sathya Sai because none of the leaders of the Sathya Sai organization have ever promoted him as an avadhuta (one who is utterly free in spirit, beyond all human conventions), but they certainly do promote him as an avatar, an incarnation of the purest Love, an embodiment of Truth, Ahimsa, and all other exemplary qualities. None of the male youth or their parents are ever told that Sathya Sai is going to go after the lads sexually in private interviews.
A very simple concern that many of us former Sathya Sai devotees have is that there has been no "truth in advertising" in the Sai organization. None of this would have been such a problem if young males and their parents were ever told by Center officers or official Sai literature, "Sathya Sai Baba is an avadhut, a being who behaves in wild and mysterious ways. If you are an attractive young male, it is likely that Baba may ask you to fondle or suck on his male organ, or he may come after your genitals and rub or suck on them. We do not know why he does this, but growing numbers of cases have been reported wherein he does this. Baba himself won't give a reason for this behavior, but we trust there is a higher purpose in it."
No such warning has been given. Instead, there is much secrecy, lying and pressuring others to keep quiet. I found an old set of correspondences from Jack Hislop to the Board of Directors of the Sai organization in the USA, dating from early 1981, wherein Jack basically calls for a policy of "spin" and coverup to keep a lid on the allegations of terrible sexual impropriety by Baba with a minor, a boy of 15 years old. The mother was told that her deeply traumatized boy was a pathological liar and Jack unconscionably implemented a policy of suppression and refused to pursue an honest investigation into what might really be going on. This has all the features of terribly dysfunctional cult behavior.
You wrote: >Not an easy task, for sure, but if we are spiritually inclined we must start somewhere. And that starting somewhere is certainly not in defaming the great simply because their actions are misinterpreted by us, or because we lack the expanded perception to see something deeper.
Well, ZZZ and I have debated via email on this very point. For those who staunchly defend the sexual activities of Sathya Sai, a simple formula is consciously or unconsciously always used: "Sathya Sai Baba is God, therefore whatever he does is Divine activity."
The simple fact is that many of us no longer see Sathya Sai Baba as the pure incarnation of Divinity. Now, I am certainly NOT in that camp of former devotees who see ssb as an incarnation of evil. I have had numerous experiences of the Divine coming through Baba. But there are too many aspects of his mission which have been revealed indicating to me that he is probably some kind of extremely high, powerful, usually beautiful, but seriously flawed "fallen yogi" (yogabrashta). Or perhaps he is a flawed instrument for Shirdi Baba. Thus, to use your terms, he is certainly no mere "ordinary man," but just because he has stupendous powers does not necessarily make him "God," except insofar as we are all Divine incarnations. Frankly, I think that many of ssb's devotees, in their pure-hearted love and complete dedication to seva, are much holier than ssb, even though they may not manifest tremendous siddhis like him.
> When it comes to Swami (Sai Baba) it is simply futile
> and ridiculous to try and interpret him as some
> ordinary man, or a pervert. Dying at will at any
> moment (as he did in 1997 when I was in Puttaparthi),
> is it not ridiculous to believe that he has no control
> of his sexual desires?
Please tell that to many of the young men and boys who have begged Baba to stop coming after them and molesting them. But because their parents are devotees, the boys must submit to Baba's advances.
>When someone mentioned it to him, he laughed so much.
This says nothing. Other serial sexual predators, and serial killers, for that matter, have also "laughed so much" when people tried to draw attention to their behaviors.
> You have written books and all, so you should know
> more than most people that certain siddhis cannot be
> obtained unless sexual desires are conquered
This is a very debatable point. Hitler, for instance, had certain siddhis--such as his ability to mesmerize millions of people to do his will. But he was no celibate. There are numerous tales in the spiritual literature of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Taoism, etc., of very high yogis who have lots of powers but who fall from grace through their unfinished sexual samskaras.
> In Swami's case I can briefly mention that I have spoken to most of the "victims" that the rumors refer to [...]
First, much of this is no longer at the level of "rumor." There are sworn affidavits and written testimony from eyewitness experiences who are ready to state their complaints in a court of law against Baba.
Second, Selena, your letter at this point becomes very vague. You mention that you have spoken to "most" of the victims (let's call them the "experiences"). "Most" would imply a majority of the experiences. But how do you know how many people have had these experiences that you can say that you have spoken to "most" of them?
Have you talked to Said or Jed or Jens or Conny (among several who've come forth publicly) or to many of the youths who have not yet openly revealed their names? This is such a delicate issue: I cannot name many of my sources and I cannot ask you specifically to WHOM you have spoken, because many of these "experiences" prefer to remain anonymous.
>and was even present in some of the
> interviews. First of all, most of them told me
> privately that they had severe sexual problems that
> would have landed them in jail would they not have
> been helped with it, and would it had come out in the
As far as I know, most of the experiences whose cases I know would NOT say this at all.
>They dont want to share with the public their
> problems, which is natural and which is why these
> stories are mostly pushed by third-hand persons.
Again, Selena, you are incorrect here. These stories are mostly "pushed" by the experiences themselves.
> Many of them also told me that what Swami had done to them helped them a great deal and reduced their sexual desires drastically, and not what people portray out of it.
Well, you say "many"... What about the many other youths who don't say this? I have not heard anything along these lines that ssb "reduced their sexual desires drastically." If anything, we know from well-documented cases of sexual abuse that many if not most victims will find that their sexuality becomes psychologically very disturbed and complicated. For instance, male youth who are homosexually abused often turn around and become sexual abusers themselves.
>It seems to be mostly third-hand parties who
> are the most upset lot announcing this to all and
> sundry and not the persons concerned apart from a few
> cases (there are also some who have had no encounters
> and lied about it).
Selena, in case you have not heard, there are LAWS in almost every civilized country REQUIRING people to expose the molestation of children if not the sexual harassment of adults by a powerful figure. These are called the "mandatory reporting rules." Certainly teachers and psychologists and medical professionals are strictly bound by these laws to report sexual abuse when there is "a reasonable suspicion." As someone who publicly teaches comparative religion and values, and who has openly promoted SSB in the past at Sai Centers, other spiritual gatherings, and in the classroom, I feel it is my civic duty to balance the presentation by saying that recent revelations indicate something disturbing going on.
>Some have been depressed, but
> people dont know that they have suffered from
> depressions and suicidal tendencies long before their
> association with Sai Baba.
This sounds like mere rationalization to me, something that ssb's defenders are getting very good at doing. Rather than publicly demand a simple hearing about what is going on, Baba's defenders prefer to "blame the victim," gloss over everything Baba does as "divine activity," slander the good name of some of his critics (like maliciously and falsely claiming that David Bailey, author of "The Findings," has been incarcerated for homosexual behavior, which he has not been), and saying and doing everything except face head on the fact that ssb appears to be obsessed with young males penises.
Sathya Sai is certainly not doing his "sexual healing" or "raising the kundalini" with older males or females. No, in the pattern of a homosexual predator, he goes after attractive male youth.
And then SSB has the audacity, in his Christmas 2000 discourse, to use the same words from J. Jagadeesan's October letter in denouncing his conscientious, concerned critics as "demons," "Judases," "cawing crows," "grievous sinners," and threaten them with eternal damnation while egotistically trumpeting his own seva projects. This is the "purna Avatar"? Frankly, I don't think so. I will reiterate that I think Sathya Sai is a very high, powerful being, who has a talent for channeling beautiful "Divine" energies; but he also has a seriously flawed shadow side. On the conventional level, we must see him in a balanced way, the good and the bad tendencies. (On the absolute level, of course, Baba, like you and every other sentient being, is God incarnate.)
You will greatly benefit by reading the account of ssb by M. Krishna in chapter 17 of Erlendur Haraldsson's excellent book on ssb, "Modern Miracles." Krishna was closer to ssb than any devotee has ever been allowed to get (Kasturi and Hislop included). Krishna was allowed to ride on the palanquin with ssb during devotional processions and have a huge amount of private time with SSB. And Krishna does NOT consider SSB to be at all "Divine." In fact, he thinks Baba is deeply flawed, a manipulator of people's minds and hearts who shows no real compassion but likes to surround himself with sycophant "yes men." Krishna finally sums up his period with SSB as a "nightmare."
Selena, you and other defenders of ssb have to sincerely ask yourself why so many long time devotees, among ssb's MOST DEVOTED devotees, all left. Why did Bhagavantam leave? Why did Janet Bock (who narrated all the early Baba movies) leave? Why did Dr. Bhatia leave? Why have so many center presidents and regional directors left?
Because they are all ignorant and have giant egos? No. The simpler, more painful but honest truth is that they discovered too many unwholesome aspects to ssb's personality.
> Swami told us already in 80's and early 90's that the day would come when people would scandalize him and leave him. Amma has said the same thing: crowds will grow and become real big around her and she will be respected everywhere - then comes to scandals and many will leave. It's the way of humanity. reading the lives of great masters, we cannot find one single case where they have not been a subject of hatred from the masses.
Now, Selena, this is patently UNTRUE. Ramana Maharshi, Anandamayi Ma, Ramakrishna, and many, many others have NOT been "a subject of hatred from the masses."
Also, please be aware that I and many other former devotees of ssb do NOT HATE HIM. We are simply deeply concerned that a criminal behavior, the repeated molestation of minors against their better will, has been perpetrated by Baba and, in a conspiracy by the Sai organization leadership, been actively suppressed by those who should be doing the opposite: enquiring of Baba what is really going on. Baba recently told Phyllis Krystal, who weakly tried to ask Baba about the allegations, that the allegations were "Lies, Jealousy." This answer betrays Baba as someone who is accusing his victims of being liars. This is the pathological response of a serial sexual abuser.
> Swami has said that the forces of opposites cannot be
> avoided by anyone: if ten people love us, know that we
> have ten enemies as well. This law of nature is
> ineviatble and cannot be escaped.
Well, in the case of Ramana Maharshi and Anandamayi Ma and Ramakrishna and many other truly holy, spotlessly pure Mahatmas, this was simply NOT TRUE. Sathya Sai says this as a rationalization to excuse his own behavior. When you look at it objectively, such statements have the ring of paranoia to them. A paranoid schizophrenic is obsessed with his own delusions of grandeur and also obsessed that others are out to get him.
Let's look at something else here: Ramana Maharshi, Anandamayi Ma, and Ramakrishna (like Ammachi, et al.) have all had the beautiful power of being able to simply look at someone or touch them on the head or chest (like Ramakrishna and Ammachi) and put them into the deepest states of samadhi. Yet what is SSB doing in interview rooms with so many young men? Going after young men's genitals, apparently with lustful moans and manipulative language ("this is your great good chance," "don't pass up this great opportunity").
There are no reports by anyone I know that such behavior has put anyone into deep samadhi- states of God-absorption. And just how many truly enlightened disciples does SSB have? Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna had dozens of apparently fully enlightened disciples. SSB has many millions of devotees, but I venture to say that a disappointingly small number are truly enlightened sages who've burnt up all their samskaras.
No, too many of the inner circle around SSB in India and abroad are petty, unenlightened persons (the "sycophant yes-men" that M. Krishna described), and most of his adoring hoards think only of getting some personal contact with Baba. Very few have actually gone deep into the classic Advaita Vedanta teachings that SSB has given lip-service to as his main teaching. (Incidentally, are you aware that SSB has plagiarized many of his most commonly known teachings? He has primarily stolen his well-known sayings ["Love All, Serve All," "There is only one religion, the religion of love; there is only one language, the language of the heart; there is only one caste, the caste of humanity; there is only one God, and he is omnipresent," etc.] from Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh and from Vivekananda. Plagiarism, as you may know, is an act of intellectual dishonesty, using others' uncredited words to promote your own reputation as a great orator or writer.)
> Whatever the details may be, and if one is upset about
> these issues, people should at least have enough
> humanity to allow those concerned to handle their own
> process - whether it is to keep their experiences to
> themselves, or even if they genuinely feel like filing
> criminal charges against Swami!
Well, Selena, please know that the situation is more complicated than this. The experiences/victims have come forward begging for assistance from longtime devotees and former devotees because SSB has been operating with impunity above the law. With so many powerful VIPs on his side, the chances of launching a lawsuit against him are almost nil. Therefore, they have had to bring forth their stories to the court of public opinion, first via the democratic forum of the Internet, and, since then to several journalists, such as Mick Brown for the Daily Telegraph and Michelle Goldberg for the online Salon magazine published by Microsoft.
Remember, the campaign for social justice always involves people beyond the limited circle of victims working in solidarity to help end the evil. Thus, for instance, you had white persons marching with their oppressed black brothers in the American civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, and people in many nations fighting apartheid policies in South Africa through demonstrations, boycotts of corporations, etc.
Similarly, many of us feel the need to be more or less involved in helping bring the lamp of investigation and clarity to what is happening around SSB.
So, Selena, please do not tell us to mind our own business. Indeed, to use your word, it is our very "humanity" that is affirming this solidarity with the victims of SSB's sexual molestation activity. We simply want it to stop, and we want SSB to make amends to his victims, if only with a clear public statement as to why he has been behaving this way. No more excuses, deflection strategies, or accusing his critics of "sinful" behavior. Some of us would also like a chaperon to be present with SSB whenever he takes male youth into private interviews.
> It is not for people like yourself to go on a campaign, under the false pretence of spirituality, and defame Swami and turn people away from him who may find solace and comfort in his guidance.
I beg to differ. The duty to Dharma and Ahimsa and, yes, Satya, truth, in fact DEMANDS that we go on some kind of campaign to try to bring light to what is happening. For many of us, this is simply not a "choice." We feel as inwardly called by the Divine to do this as we felt called to go to Prashanti Nilayam or to Ramanashram. It's all the leela of the Lord.
Along this line, why should you or ZZZ or Jagadeesan be so resentful of our activity? Is it not also all part of the Divine Play? I haven't thus far used this line of debate with ZZZ or anyone else, but because you have adopted the same low-level strategy of accusing myself and others of being somehow less spiritual than yourself, I will ask you point blank (and please forgive the apparent harshness of my words):
Why are you so spiritually immature and incapable of seeing our (the critics') behavior toward the SSB controversy as also "divine activity" if, in fact, "everything is divine"? You are willing to excuse Baba's behavior and your rationalizations of him as divine activity, but not the conscientious campaign of Baba's critics who are, after all, only seeking answers and clarity. Why such inconsistency on the part of you and ZZZ and others who have been striking out so vehemently against the conscientious critics? Why are you so intent on seeing us as evil-doers?
We simply want to know why Baba should be so obsessed with the sexual organs of male youth, and so apparently unconcerned with the well-being of those whom he molests? Why is our humble request, motivated by compassion for the tormented victims, such a great sin?
> This is far more evil than anything.
Again, I beg to differ. Again, please notice your tendency to demonize those who disagree with you. This is not Dharmic behavior.
> Over the years in Puttaparthi I have seen many people act like you: getting a fixed idea in their mind, they live and breath to destroy someone else.
Selena, I do not "live and breathe to destroy someone else." You are raving here. In fact, your behavior, like so many of those who deny or rationalize Baba's behavior and lash out against his concerned critics, bears all the tragic hallmarks of those who suffer from the psychological condition of cognitive dissonance: having invested so much time and energy and emotion in SSB, and having completely identified with him, you now feel egocentrically threatened when people dare to question his divinity. Please, I humbly beg you, examine your own fears and vulnerabilities here. Some psychologist friends of mine, former devotees of Baba, have been greatly concerned by the narcissism that characterizes many of Baba's devotees who childishly identify with him and go ballistic now that Baba's divinity is questioned.
>What sort of
> truth and justice does such a person follow? I have
> seen many innocent people being victims of such people
> as well and it has been horrible to see the
> consequences of what evil people can do.
You are speaking so vaguely here, Selena, trying to paint with one brush all of us as part of one big evil mass.
Please carefully examine your thinking here, and your penchant for trashing other human beings. Again, I must humbly ask you (as I must always ask myself) to try to be more compassionate.
> In Swami's case it is most sad to see that his traitors and enemies are not outside people, but his own devotees.
Who else but longtime devotees should come forward to ask what is going on and request greater accountability and honesty and justice? The longtime devotees are the perfect persons to engage in this thankless and unpleasant task. Believe me, none of us WANTED to become critics of SSB.
>Irrespective what people will say of Sai
> Baba, his divinity is too obvious when one spends time
> in his presence (especially in close presence) that
> one cannot take heed to the opinion of others.
Well, again, Selena, I would only refer you to M. Krishna's eye-opening account of Baba in Haraldsson's book (Haraldsson, of course, is a longtime devotee of Baba, but he is also a fairly objective scholar, and so he responsibly included Krishna's observations of Baba, along with another former devotee of Baba in chapters 17 and 16).
Selena, I sincerely wish you full God-realization, whether through the form of Sathya Sai or through the form of another Mahatma or through the formless. Let there be no hard feelings between us. Please be aware that many of us former devotees are well aware that multitudes of people come closer to God through their association with Sathya Sai, although we now feel it our clearcut sacred duty to also speak out about the sexual improprieties. Until SSB clearly speaks out and explains just how his sexual interactions with male youth are truly "healing their sexual energy" or "raising the kundalini," we can only surmise that nothing of the sort is happening and that, more realistically, SSB is not flawless.
Best wishes to you,
Om Tat Sat!
Timothy (P.S.--Please feel free to share this email with YYY).
A reminder that Selena is a fictitious name to protect the identity of the correspondent.