How the Sathya Sai mythology emerged beyond India
Posted by robertpriddy on March 4, 2009
The ‘first wave’ of publicity in the USA about Sathya Sai Baba came via Bob Raymer and associates. Australian Howard Murphet (author of best-selling ‘Man of Miracles’) heard of Sai Baba from Bob Raymer and a second wave came to the USA via him and the yoga teacher Indra Devi and her friends. Other early US devotee proselyltizers who wrote hagiographies were Indra Devi, Arnold Schulman, Charles Penn, Hilda Charlton, Bob Rayman, Elsie and Walter Cowan, and Howard Levin (in the 1990s). Fellow American Arnold Schulman’s 1971 book (‘Baba’) attracted much attention in USA, but he shows reluctance to see Sathya Sai Baba as God and never became a devotee. Tal Brooke wrote pro-Sai materials but later became the first well-known ‘defector’ and critic of Sathya Sai Baba as a sexual abuser.
Most important in building the mythology – and the contact net for the Sathya Sai Organization in the Americas was Dr. John ‘Jack’ Hislop. His associates and readers have long recirculated his stories and ‘incredible’ claims, which are packed with gullible zeal, spiritual ambition and naive humility. Among the most noteworthy implausible stories of John Hislop is the claimed resurrection from the dead of the US millionaire Walter Cowan, which has been thoroughly disproven by Professor Erlendur Haraldsson and Basava Premanand.
The Walter Cowan resurrection story has been one of the most influential of Sathya Sai Baba’s claimed miracles, and as Brian Steel writes: “For decades, John Hislop and many other major and minor other spokespersons and devotees have boldly promoted and advertised as absolute proof of the Divine Powers of Sathya Sai Baba the most improbable story of the Hislop Crucifix, the picture of the predicted Prema Sai Baba on Hislop’s ring and the completely unsupported claim of the “resurrection” of Hislop’s friend, Walter Cowan. The authority and influence of such Sai celebrities has played a major role in the success of the international SSB Mission. The numbers of foreigners attracted to the Sathya Sai Baba fold since 1971 by this persuasive promotion is incalcuable.
Hislop states that in a conversation with Sathya Sai Baba at distant Prasanthi Nilayam a week later, the latter made this claim: “Mr Cowan died three times. I had to bring him back three times” (Ruhela, 240). What the story lacked from the outset was medical proof of the death. .. ” ( see Brian Steel’s thorough analysis of Hislop and the Cowan myth)
Sathya Sai Baba, who never shuns publicity when it is under his own control or that of his minions, encourages devotees to share their experiences of him, by which they are led to believe they obtain ‘holy grace’ and not least privileges when visiting the ashrams.
Perhaps the other single most influential book in promoting the fantastic claims about miracles which surpass in number and inventiveness anything attributed to Jesus, was the first volume of the “official Sathya Sai Baba biography” by Professor N. Kasturi, ‘Sathyam, Sivam, Sundaram, Part I!’ was largely the result of post factum reconstructions of events related by impressionable and uneducated villagers’ stories and general hearsay about his ‘major miracles’. Kasturi faithfully internalised all of Sathya Sai Baba’s so-called “teachings’ and repeated completely uncritically whatever Sathya Sai Baba said to him, in this way spreading and virtually endorsing the truth of it all.