Rigorous security checks, body searches (sometimes invasive), strict and bossy orders that must be obeyed, undisciplined and most pushy crowds, minimum space, and very long waiting are all features of the Sathya Sai Baba ashrams.
The ashram is a place where the newcomer is largely left by other devotees to fend for him or herself. Seldom have I seen residents go out of their way to help new arrivals, and invalids are often treated with less than compassion or understanding about their difficulties. Many residents behave and speak as if they ‘have arrived’, and shall have all privileges over others. Many use their long familiarity with the system there to take advantage wherever they can, and even many of the so-called ‘selfless servers’ of the Seva Dal (esp. the women) manipulate things – or even push and shove quite relentlessly – to their own ends. It is known to residents how vehemently Sai Baba regularly harangues the Seva Dal in private sessions about their laxity and lack of good qualities, and also ridicules them for storming forth “like wild horses” to obtain a front seat etc. However, improvements are hard to see and one naturally wonders why Sai Baba – as an all-powerful avatar – cannot at least attract more persons of a kinder and civil nature. Their behaviour certainly reflects on him, their great and supposedly infallible teacher! Recent reports from Westerners make clear that they are being harassed more and more – particularly over visas – and given far fewer opportunities than Indian visitors.
I used to have to sit on a chair due to back problems (and later on the new hard stone uncomfortable ‘torture-benches’), I came to meet many invalids of all kinds, some with horrendous conditions who sat there year after year without any improvement. The invalids are certainly not given any special attention by Baba, and though they were once allowed to sit in places where he fairly often went at darshan, this was discontinued in the 1980s. All invalids at Prashanthi Nilayam are at the very back of the mantap and Sai Baba seldom gets within speaking distance of them, and particularly seldom on the ladies’ side. At Brindavan, the female invalid section is visited much more often, while the men are again relegated to the very rear of the mantap. To obtain a place on the invalid chairs, one is forced to stand in a queue, often for over an hour, before one can sit down. The severity of an invalid’s condition makes no difference whatever. This is how Sai Baba enacts his ‘perfect example’ of compassion for the suffering in actual practice!
Obvious invalids are, however, allowed to go to the front of food queues. So are Sai Baba’s so-called ‘special guests’ or VIPs, who visibly take full advantage of their privilege, however long the queue may be or however long it has been standing. Prashanthi Nilayam is above all, a place of elbows.