Puttaparthi enthusiasm as reported by Salon.com
Posted by robertpriddy on January 28, 2011
As a journalist, Michelle Goldberg visited Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram and made an independent assessment of what she learned there. Among other things she wrote:-
Swami’s job isn’t to make you happy
Darshan is just about the only event that occurs at the ashram. There are no indoctrination or even meditation sessions. Aside from strict vegetarianism, Sai Baba prescribes no particular practices. His teachings are flowery and vague, combining colorful Hindu mythology, a Buddhist focus on transcending worldly desire, the Christian idea of service and an evangelical emphasis on direct experience of the divine. According to “Ocean of Love,” a book published last year by the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, “there is no new path that He is preaching, no new order that He has created. There is no new religion that He has come to add or a particular philosophy that He recommends … His mission is unique and simple. His mission is that of love and compassion.”
This pleasant vagueness allows believers to project anything they like onto Sai Baba. People see his hand everywhere, and in Puttaparthi’s spiritual hothouse nearly every occurrence is viewed as fresh proof of his power. Apart from letters and the coveted interviews, the accepted way to communicate with Sai Baba is via dreams and visions, and thus the town teems with people interpreting their subconscious hiccups as gospel. An American named George Leland said that Sai has come to him in the guise of a Tijuana, Mexico, traffic cop and a Japanese airline passenger. A 32-year-old Argentine woman told me she gave up her Buenos Aires apartment and her medical studies after Baba summoned her while she slept.
Stories of sacred synchronicity abound. A wheelchair-bound cancer patient from Holland, abandoned by her husband and living with friends who were Sai devotees, had a series of dreams in which the guru beckoned to her. She insisted that she told no one about the dreams, yet one day her friends surprised her with a ticket to India. The ring he materialized for her looks cheap to me — one of the stones had even fallen out — but to her it’s a talisman that has helped fight her grinding pain.
To some, Sai Baba radiates love and whimsy, while to others he’s stern and tricky, destroying their relationships or afflicting their bodies in the service of their spiritual advancement. Leland, a big, stately 61-year-old who looks like Hollywood’s version of a powerful senator, told me, “Swami’s job isn’t to make you happy, it’s to liberate you.” In his case, that meant giving up his career as a motivational speaker and then his marriage. “Sai Baba is the most powerful being that ever came to the planet,” he said over breakfast at a popular Tibetan restaurant in town. Leland, who has lived in Puttaparthi for four years, feels he must follow him, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys it. He said sadly, “Even at this moment, my mind doesn’t want to believe that God doesn’t want me to be happy, to have a relationship, to be prosperous, to enjoy life.”
“Sometimes I think the ashram is a madhouse and Swami is the director,” said Rico Mario Haus, a recent 24-year-old convert. I’d met Haus, a Swiss man whose square black glasses lent a bit of quirkiness to his wholesome good looks, two months before in the seaside state of Kerala. We’d both been extras in an Indian musical, and we’d both learned of Puttaparthi from a Sai Baba follower on the set. Ironically (or, as it now seemed to Haus, portentously), we’d played Western devotees of a towering guru who saved the soul of the errant hero. At the time, Haus was a cocky kid planning to ride his motorcycle to Kashmir. Now, wearing white pajamas, he said, “Baba was calling me. When you believe in God, there are no coincidences.” Nevertheless, he’d kept his sense of humor and found a certain subversive delight in telling us about the lunatics he lived with. “When you don’t have problems, you don’t go to the ashram,” he said.
Most of the time, Puttaparthi’s ambient spiritual hysteria is fairly faint. With its good restaurants and relatively clean streets, the town can be quite pleasant. But there are occasional bursts of madness. One afternoon, a young Malaysian woman had a psychotic breakdown, attacked ashram workers and was dragged away by police. I later found her at the police station, half-catatonic, mumbling “darshan, darshan, darshan” over and over again. At dinner another evening, Haus pointed out a wan Austrian woman tugging around a listless little boy. She was frenzied because she’d had a dream in which Sai Baba instructed her to abandon her 7-year-old son and live on the streets as a beggar, and she didn’t know whether she had the “strength” to do it.
(Excerpt from Michelle Goldberg’s report on Sathya Sai Baba) – see the whole article here at Salon.com