The relative unavailability of information is itself a feature of the Sai Organization, which minimizes internal discussions on controversial questions and releases few facts about its decision-making. It makes no overview public on the specific activities of Sai Organization centres around the world and works largely clandestinely to effect it’s decisions and policies. Study and analysis of the Sathya Sai Organization is made is based on available source materials, documents, various reports and participant observations. I can confirm that the conclusions by the academic, Donald Taylor, are completely in accordance with my own experience and knowledge of it. He published his finding in his book “Authority in the Sathya Sai Baba Movement”, Hinduism In Great Britain, Tavistock, London, 1987 p. 130. Donald Taylor wrote:-
“Although the Sai Council is in legal-rational terms an autonomous body, Council members believe themselves to be influenced by Sai Baba’s miraculous powers of omniscience. All decisions of the Council are believed to be known by Sai Baba at the moment of their being taken, and thereby making a pure formality f the administrative procedure of sending reports back to the World Council of Sai Organization in India . Members believe too that Sai Baba visits them in dreams and advises them how to vote or act, so that ‘right’ decisions are taken by the Council. Once again charismatic authority supplants the emerging legal-rational authority of the movement.
There is evidence however, that this charismatic authority is in the process of being routinized. For example, in June 1985 at an audience given to a group of devotees from Great Britain, Sai Baba materialized a crystal lingam which he gave to the leader of the group (Editor’s Note: it was Victor Kanu, formerly of Senegal) . He instructed him to pour water over the lingam and to give the water to the sic, as this would do them good. Every week at a certain Centre in London where the leader of the group is the president, the ritual is carried out by him. He is the only person allowed to touch the lingam. The water is distributed to the many sick people who come to the meeting, and gathered into containers to be distributed to those who cannot be present. Here the powers of Sathya Sai Baba are tacitly being routinized in ritual, and the person who performs the ritual is gradually being given the status of a ritual functionary. This is one case that I know about from first hand; there are others that I have been told about.
In sum, the primacy of Sathya Sai Baba’s charisma is assumed by almost everyone in the movement. He is regarded as the founder of each trust that is formed, as well as the governor of the whole movement. His divinity transcends the legal-rational organization of the movement. Yet his charismatic authority is open to routinization and this, in turn, suggest the eventual ascendancy of legal rational authority.
Challenge to Authority
Muted challenges from within the movement sometimes result in the withdrawal of membership. Dr Bhagavantham, formerly on the Council of Management of the Central Trust (also formerly scientific adviser to the Government of India), has recently left the movement; and another, Dr Gokak, formerly in charge of the education programme, has tried to demolish the myths that surround Sai Baba. Other Indian academics have also left; and it is claimed that ‘many more devotees including most foreigners have already deserted the flock’ (Rajghatta, 1985: 48).
The legal rational structure of the movement is still, however, secondary to the charisma of its founder Sathya Sai Baba. The case of the presidency of the Sai Council of Great Britain is an example. Mr Sitaram had been made first president of the Sai Council, set op by Indulal Shah in 1975. However, for personal reasons, Mr Sitaram stepped down from office in 1976. Sathya Sai Baba was displeased, and refused the appointment of a new president. This state of affairs continued until 1982 at which time he called for the names of candidates; and in that year a new president was appointed and Council constituted. Throughout the entire six-year period of administrative vacuum the devotees continued to meet in Sai Centres and, indeed, some were the recipients of the miraculous powers of Sai Baba in their own homes. Because of the devotees’ compliance with Sai Baba’s charismatic authority, the movement was perpetuated in Britain .
Other challenges within the movement are more subtle, and also result in some devotees exhibiting miraculous powers, such as producing holy ash and bringing about miraculous cures. So far these powers are claimed to be derived from Sathya Sai Baba. But it is not difficult to see that such activities are challenges to Sai Baba’s authority. Unless they are met, the movement could disintegrate into numerous thaumaturgical sects centered upon charismatic individuals. One of the ways to meet this sort of challenge is to routinize charisma, thus transforming the structure of the movement to a legal-rational type.
Another way in which Sathya Sai Baba has met these challenges has been to secure his position at the Centre, by claiming to be the incarnation of the universal godhead, such that devotion to Christ, Allah, or whoever automatically comes to him. This sort of claim is not altogether unusual in Hinduism. It is interesting to note, however, that the Sai Baba advanced this claim in 1968, at a time when the movement was expanding into foreign countries, such as the United States, Australia and Britain , and recruiting membership among emigrant ethnic Indians as much as western people.
A further way in which Sai Baba has met a potential challenge to his authority is to thwart any discussion about his succession… In 1963 he announced that he was the second incarnation in a series of three. The first had occurred in the human form of the Shirdi Sai Baba who was the incarnation of Sakthi. The second, himself, was the incarnation of Siva-Sakthi; and the third would be the incarnation of Siva as someone called Prema Sai to be born in Mysore State eight years after his own death. By defusing the problem of succession, he also defused the problem of authority. All authority remains firmly in his hands as long as he lives. Anyone else who claims this authority in Sai Baba’s lifetime will be recognized as a usurper or impostor.” (Excerpt from ‘Charismatic authority in the Sathya Sai Baba movement’ by Donald Taylor in Hinduism in Great Britain, Richard Burghart (ed.), 1987, London/New York: Tavistock Publications, pp. 119-133.)
My own study of the Sathya Sai Organization, after trying to function within it for 18 years, came about after my last hopes that Sathya Sai Baba was innocent of the many charges laid against him were destroyed finally. I had accumulated more than enough experience and also had preserved a considerable amount of documentary evidence, including the Charter of that Organization (which, incidentally, it is strictly forbidden to give to non-members!). The full overview of the Sathya Sai Organisation is available here. Some points extracted from that extensive material show the validity of Donald Taylor’s much earlier analysis:-
The illusion of democratic decisions:
1) A small example illustrates how ‘democratic decisions’ are made locally, but are easily circumvented: one meeting I attended discussed a request from a Jewish member to allow the Jewish Star of David symbol to be used in the Scandinavian Sai Organization’s logo, as it is officially used in the USA. The entire meeting agreed that it should be allowed, apart from the Chairman (T. Meyer), who at least promised to put the matter before Baba. This was not done, but the minutes of the meeting later informed us that devotees should not concern themselves with such matters, but rather spend their energies in self-examination, good work etc.
2) The coordinator of Scandinavian and some European countries in the 80s & 90s, T. Meyer – widely known for never answering even important letters before it is too late, if at all – roundly criticised the Oslo membership before the collected representatives of other European national organisations without having any current information about us or our activities where we had been unable to send any representative. Our members naturally voiced their disappointment with this by letter, if in all too mild and friendly terms than were justified. We were answered in a most hypocritical way, that Baba told him to tell everyone that there are three types of leader, those who explain themselves, those who complain and those who inspire! This message through a man – unsuccessfully explaining his faulty criticisms of us away – who was so uninspiring and difficult to communicate with that he had been rejected as Scandinavian coordinator by the three countries in the early 1990s with the aid of the upright Central Coordinator, B. Gruber. (Unfortunately from the viewpoint of the functioning of Sai work in Scandinavia), T. M. was later reinstated in the same role by his patron and collaborator, Mr. Indulal Shah, who clearly had no adequate conception of Scandinavia or the cultural differences within it. Since then there has been a virtual dilution of the working membership in Sweden, Norway and Finland. (In Norway it has collapsed and the remaining stragglers in the Oslo group have left the Organisation. Only a few semi-active volunteers remain in the entire country.) All this is typical of how the organisation is run in many countries, which I know from personal contact with five national leaders who were subsequently sacked by Shah for not fully toeing his line or else resigned… and from any number of other office-bearers. Not surprising that the Sai Organisation is far smaller than the well-cooked statistics claim!
Chain of command & ‘leadership culture’ One example by a close devotee of Sai Baba who resides in Prashanthi Nilayam is given by the ex-Indian army officer, M.I. Chibber, in his book Sai Baba’s Mahavakya on Leadership, Education in Human Values (M&M International Publishers, New Delhi, 1994). This book was much blessed by Baba, not least with a foreword and an afterword, followed up by a world tour of workshops by Chibber, also blessed by Sai Baba. He projected a quasi-military mentality of the sort known to be operative in Sai Baba colleges, ashrams and the Sai Organization. The workshops were based on the much-flawed book, which is full of parroted and superficially discussed ideas, numerous glaring factual errors and unsubstantiated statements, a largely ambiguous and amateurish questionnaire on leadership qualities (pps.74-9), many misspelled names of famous men etc. There Chibber quotes how determination and persistence are wholly superior to any talent or skill, and character is 90% of leadership, while knowledge rates only 10% (p.79)! Chibber praises the supposed selfless excellence of the generals of the German General Staff during WWII, apparently blind to the fact that the same High Command simply carried out the orders of the violent murderer and meglomaniac, Adolf Hitler and itself also committed war crimes on a huge scale, quite independently of the SS. For the considerable percentage of the Indian populace who are still evidently badly misinformed about the 2nd WW and fascism see War Crimes and the Wehrmacht
Sai Organization’s chauvinist and vertical structure: Alejandro Agostinelli was a TV producer (America TV) and editing secretary for Descubrir magazine. Presently he is in the Multimedia Area of Editorial Perfil in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He said in 2001 on a TV programme entitled ‘Divine Sin’ that investigated Sai Baba:
“I have Monica Socolowicz, the woman who introduced the Sathya Sai Organization to Argentina, in front of me. I am at her Foundation for Practical Spirituality. Monica’s first visit to India was in 1979, when Sai Baba greeted her in a way that made a deep impression on her: “You came at last!” he said to her. The teacher asked her to start the first Sai Center in Argentina and so she did. For a period of ten years she took more than 400 groups of Argentineans to Puttaparthi, the village in the south of India where Baba’s ashram is located. In 1992 she left the Organization because she didn’t agree with its “chauvinist and vertical” structure.”
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