Last updated on 29th March 2015
This post was triggered by very anxious mails of an overseas devotee who was worried about the current divisive challenge breaking up UNITY of the Sathya Sai fraternity/organization(s).
My not-so-important take on the general situation now with reference to what I see as the divisive challenge that a rival group is threatening the Sai fraternity with, is as follows (Please note that I currently am not a member of any Sai organization):
The vacuum caused by Swami's physical absence has been traumatic to the Puttaparthi/Prashanti Nilayam ashram system. While the activities still go on in some fashion, the old atmosphere of sanctity, devotion to and, very importantly, fear of, Bhagavan seems to have come down significantly. In my considered view, fear of Bhagavan if one did not do one's job properly or did something improper, kept everybody in the ashram system - manual workers, technicians, teachers, doctors and even ashram administrators - in check (this includes me as I was then a teacher with the Sai university). Now that fear seems to have largely gone and the power structure has changed to a regular human management structure, with its attendant flaws. And this seems to be a common issue with most ashrams in the transition phase after the passing away of the founder. So, in my considered view, one can't really find fault with any particular person or group of persons. C'est la vie - that's life.
[The following four paragraphs have been significantly updated on 29th March 2015]
In this situation, I think some leaders of the Sai fraternity may have felt that something must be done. The initial phase, a few months after Bhagavan's Mahasamadhi (April 2011), was when one such leader started claiming that Bhagavan is giving instructions to him regarding the mission, in his dreams. Most people in Puttaparthi were not willing to accept it but some did, especially a senior administrator in the Sai university (who is no longer associated with it). The senior administrator accepting it, IMHO, seems to have then created what I see as a typical political party problem with those, especially other administrators in the Sai university, who were willing to go along with or not oppose the senior administrator (under the influence now of the Sai fraternity leader's claimed Swami dream instructions) being, in some sense, favoured for positions (teaching and non-teaching positions) in the university. I repeat that I have written , it seems, so I am not sure about the last sentence above. Further, I must also say that I believe that the senior administrator had the good of the university and its staff and teachers, at heart. I don't think he had any personal motive behind all this. He was doing it with noble and good intent but my view is that his belief in the claimed Swami dream (and perhaps other non-dream) instructions of the Sai fraternity leader, misled him into taking some actions which created significant problems for the Sai university and the top administrators of the ashram system, in the traumatic period following Swami's Mahasamadhi.
It must also be mentioned that a few months after Mahasamadhi, the salaries of regular staff (as against honorary and temporary kind of staff), first in the university, and other ashram institutions later on, was significantly hiked to quite well-paid levels (Indian sixth pay commission levels, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixth_Central_Pay_Commission). I personally feel that this move should have been delayed for some time (a year or so) after Mahasamadhi as it was unknown then what amount of donation and other funds would continue to come to the ashram system. I think most staff would have understood a freezing of salaries for a year or so, to overcome the traumatic period following the Mahasamadhi. I mean, one would expect gratitude from existing staff towards Swami being shown by them postponing salary increase for a year. IMHO, that would not have been too much to ask, especially of university staff including teaching staff, who were expected to be the models to be followed by others.
Note that almost all of the other administrators of the Sai university were well known to this (veteran) Sai fraternity leader (getting claimed Swami dream instructions). So I would not be surprised if many of the other administrators had direct interactions, at this time, with the claimed Swami dream instructions Sai fraternity leader. Outspoken veterans who questioned instructions of the new power structure/group in the university were forced/chose to part ways. While I certainly was not a veteran in the Sai university (I had offered around eight and a half years of free service in the university at that time, mainly as a teacher of software lab. courses and as a technical consultant for student project work), I too was not willing to follow instructions which I felt were not in keeping with how the university was being run earlier under the top leadership of physical form Swami. My work, along with students, for an online school education project which was very much favoured by Bhagavan in the last year or two of His physical form, was heavily opposed by the department head, and when things boiled over to the senior administrator, the senior administrator chose to support the department head instead of backing me for doing good work on this project, and that too done for free! [For more details on it, please see my blog post: My perception of senior ex-administrator of a spiritual-cum-secular university being sarcastic about bhajans (devotional songs/singing).] So I too was forced to eventually part ways with the Sai university.
But this confusion that reigned in the Sai university did not seem to have any big impact on the Sai fraternity in India and abroad. The other activities of the group under the Sai fraternity leader (with claimed Swami dream instructions) seems to have been mainly in the area of creating new schools following Swami's model of free value-based education. I felt that was a wonderful activity that this group was doing even though it involved formation of a new trust to fund and manage these activities. Yes, the funds gathering part under the name of Swami and sometimes, I am told, using the claimed Swami dream instructions as messages to devotee-donors who accepted/believed in these messages, did bother some leaders. But I don't think it really impacted the Sai fraternity in a big way, and so was not really getting viewed as a serious divisive threat to the Sai fraternity.
[End of the paragraphs that have been significantly updated on 29th March 2015]
It was in May 2014 that the bizarre claim of a medium that he (and he alone) could see and interact with a special subtle form of Swami based in a particular place, got publicized on the Internet and among Sai devotees in Puttaparthi and elsewhere. This claim was fully endorsed by some Sai fraternity leaders of the rival group, including, very importantly, the Sai fraternity leader mentioned above who had claimed to receive dream instructions from Swami, which lent significant weight to the medium's claim. Some months after this, the rival group activity, including foreign trips which seems to have got them more devotees & donors, has reached levels where it threatens to divide the Sai fraternity. [When a splinter group is a small one it can peacefully and quite harmoniously co-exist with the large parent body. It is when the splinter group assumes a significant size that it becomes a divisive challenge to the parent body, IMHO.]
Some supporters of the rival group may feel that there is no effort to divide the Sai fraternity. But I think it is an inescapable fact now that there are two divisions in the Sathya Sai fraternity: one that believes in medium(s) of the rival group who claim to interact with a special subtle Swami based in a particular place, and one that does not, with the official Sai organization being part of the latter. I too am part of the latter group i.e. I don't believe in medium(s) who claim paranormal connections with subtle form of Swami (different from inner voice/conscience/inner Swami), and this disbelief is based on advice/instructions given by physical form Swami.
But significant number of people now seem to believe in this medium(s). The group also seems to have done a good job in recreating the sanctified atmosphere of darshan of (and, I am told, interviews with) Bhagavan. So some people are getting attracted to it. Further, as they are a small start-up kind-of group they seem to show good material results in terms of beautiful buildings/facilities constructed, for the donations they receive. Perhaps they have many Tyagajeevi (persons willing to dedicate/sacrifice their entire life for a cause and who live a simple/inexpensive life) type volunteers which brings down the expenses of their service activities significantly as compared to other organizations who rely on reasonably well paid staff. So donors may feel that their donation money is being put to good and very effective use by this rival group. I see this as a positive feature of the rival spiritual group for which they should be appreciated, and other spiritual organizations may benefit by learning from them.
How does one counter the divisive influence of this rival group on the Sai fraternity? My view is that directives issued by the Sathya Sai organization heads are and will be heeded by most office bearers and paid officials/workers. Non-office-bearer devotees are not bound to follow such instructions and some may be curious to see what the medium experience is all about. So some will surely continue to go to the rival group centre to see and decide for themselves.
I think devotees should be provided clear information about the claims of this rival group and its means of attracting devotees based on reports from Sai devotees and organization members who have been there in the past. The notices already issued by organization heads on (physical form) Swami's instructions about such matters should be made easily available to devotees (also be put up on Sai organization websites perhaps) [- see updates of 14th and 15th March 2015 towards the bottom of this post]. Q&A sessions like the one Prof. Anilkumar Kamaraju recently had with Malaysian and perhaps other overseas devotees (whose youtube video clips have the aggressive plea from him to the rival group leaders to come back and be united) may be very effective in letting devotees understand this matter.
Beyond that, I think nothing much can be done. I mean, if devotees still want to go there and are happy there, it is their life and their choice. The organization cannot dictate terms to non-office-bearer devotees. [Office-bearers who associate with the rival group should be asked to relinquish their position in the official Sathya Sai organization. Otherwise there will be no value for the words of the organization heads.]
That's my take on this matter. Hope it helps :-). But, I repeat, I am not part of the Sathya Sai organization now and so these views of mine are just a devotee's views, and so, not so important.
Update on 6th March 2015
Prof. Anilkumar Kamaraju responded to the above blog post contents sent to him over email, as follows:
"Thanks for the information .Comments are very apt precise and to the point .
Quest for truth is noblest of all and the publication of it is one's own duty .
You are doing that sacred important duty and I fully endorse hundred percent your views ,"
"Thank you so much for your encouraging words, sir."
Update on March 7th 2015: What is the responsibility of us Sai devotees who have been blessed to have experienced (physical form) Swami directly and who choose to follow Swami's instructions/advice regarding mediums, when we are asked about the rival group by others (Sai devotees or non-Sai devotees)? Others may have heard about the activities of the rival group and may be asking us based on that info. BTW here is an article dated today from the Deccan Chronicle website, Karnataka ashram rivals Puttaparthi, http://www.deccanchronicle.com/150307/nation-current-affairs/article/karnataka-ashram-rivals-puttaparthi. The info. in it is not accurate but certainly conveys the main issue about a Karnataka rival trust & ashram with a former Sai university student claiming to be (to have access to subtle form of) Swami, and doing things similar to what Swami did like receiving letters and giving interviews.
My view is that it is fine if one mentions that the activities of the rival group in terms of maintaining a sanctified atmosphere in their ashram, deep devotion to Swami, and establishment of free Sathya Sai system of education institutions and free Sathya Sai system hospital(s), are commendable and deserve praise and even emulation. But if one stops there and does not inform the inquirer about the vital aspect of the rival group which is about medium(s) claiming access to special subtle form of Swami (Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) based in a particular place, NOT being in accordance with instructions/advice of physical form Swami then one is failing in one's duty to Swami. One need not impose one's view on the inquirer. Just inform him/her that this is what physical form Swami has said on the matter (to NOT believe in such mediums) in various public discourses. After that, in my considered view, our job is done and our conscience can be clean in this matter. If the inquirer still chooses to go to the rival group, believes in the medium(s), and is happy there, maybe that is the path for him/her. Who are we to judge?
Update on 14th & 15th March 2015:
Here is a note issued on this matter on 11th June 2014 by the chairman, Prashanti Council (International Sathya Sai organization head), http://www.sathyasai.org/files2014/20140610FollowtheDivineMaster.pdf.
Here is the "Cautionary Note" issued on this matter on Nov. 28th 2014 by the All India President of the official Sai organization, and this note states that it is approved by the Board of Trustees of Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (Puttaparthi/PrashantiNilayam): http://www.srisathyasai.org.in/Pdf/Cautionary%20Note%20to%20Devotees.pdf.