How many million Sai devotees?
Posted by robertpriddy on June 6, 2008
Grossly Exaggerated Numbers of Followers of Sathya Sai Baba
Though claims as to how many followers Sathya Sai Baba has vary from only a million or so through to a billion, there is no known basis of measurement for either of these figures – not can one identify who is a follower or not. A majority are still Indian villagers, of whom very many have probably no strong attachment to him but have visited out of curiosity (to see the luxury and showpieces, including light shows, free meals or for a jaunt on a festival day. Total membership of the Sathya Sai Organization is a tiny fraction of the number of followers claimed, but due to the criticism of the inflated estimates usually published, the organization no longer published any data on this for public consumption. It is apparently now a ‘trade secret’. Part of the reason would be the considerable fall-off in non-Indian devotees since the exposure of Sai Baba through many sex abuse allegations from 1999 and a range of damaging facts about him, his impossible claims and failed predictions etc. Sathya Sai Baba exaggerates figures wildly (see here) and his minions take after him. They have been successful through constant repetition in getting much of the media to reproduce some of these fantastic numbers.
For some unknown reason, the number of Sai devotees claimed in literature about Sai Baba has often begun with the number 6 – from 60 million to 600 million. Odd it also is that there was a village regeneration project which was first announced for 600 villages, later this grew to 6000 villages. .. but in neither case was there any programme in more than a handful of villages, since it folded soon after it was publicised.
Why the unreasonable fixation on numbers of adherents?
To argue, as Sathya Sai Baba followers (and others) do, that millions of adherents is a guarantee of the figurehead being genuine, good and true is major fallacy – a non sequitur. Were it so then Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and countless others through history would be included. Also, there have been and still are billion-earning sect leaders in several major religions. Personality cults are mainly the crutch of the downtrodden, the weak, the desperate hopeful and those who want to join a gravy train. Hindus should rather stick to the sanathana dharma without the miraculous overtones and leave belief in its mythology as being historical fact well behind them. Handed-down legends and miracle stories provide a rich tapestry of symbols and ideas and are a fruitful as a cultural asset, but only as long as they do not hinder human rights and the common human values these represent. India is capable of great cultural and scientific achievements where the yoke of bogus religiosity is removed.
When approaching new religious movement or sect which offers salvation, healing and even miracles, it is a recipe for trouble if one does not seek out the other side of the coin. Since 2000, the veil of secrecy about Sathya Sai Baba has been pierced and dark facts made public. It is naive not to realise that anti-sectarian indoctrination can easily affect people of apparently sound mind – when they come to need hope, when they convert during an emotional or mental crisis – but even by gradual involvement and induction by very subtle methods developed over millennia. These are advanced means to control and manipulate people into servitude of one kind or another, often with underhand financial agendas – whether it is called ‘spiritual’, and is connected for the person with combinations of financial, social, psychological, and political motives.
If one is impressed by Sai Baba’s occasional ‘thought-reading’ or influence on other people’s minds and other feats that seem ‘miraculous’ just view more and better demonstrations under controlled conditions by the skeptic Derren Brown on his several Channel Four TV series – which he explains as being merely done by suggestion, cold reading and another range of techniques he has developed. These abilities can be learned – and many gurus hand them down to one another. (One can see many of his videos on-line by searching on Google)
The otherworldly longing of persons unable to cope positively with life conditions and the world is a strong human tendency based on handed-down beliefs and theologies which are wholly untested and almost entirely speculative. No wonder India has millions of followers of their gurus who promise (under strict conditions) a better future. It was ever thus… from bread and circus to a most uncertain ‘liberation’ from suffering through death and the promise of an imaginary paradise.