Thursday, March 5, 2015

How did the current divisive challenge to Sathya Sai fraternity come about? How to counter it?

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.

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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 ,"

I responded:
"Thank you so much for your encouraging words, sir."

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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?

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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.

7 comments:

  1. Just stay FOCUSED ON BABA. Once u loose that, it may take time to come back or it's too late. REMAIN BLESSED AND FOCUSED TO SWAMI OUR MASTER. There can be only one captain in the the ship.

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  2. Though I do agree, Swami neither comes nor departs, and is ever-present, the life after Swami's physical departure seems so meaningless really.

    I am sure the times after Rama's or Krishna's return to Vaikuntha would have been the same. Swami Himself mentioned that once Krishna left His physical body, Arjuna forgot all the mantras of archery (Asthras) and was easily defeated by normal people in fight, while he killed earlier several great warriors when Krishna was beside him in His physical body.

    I am sorry if my tone is of hopelessness but I feel without the physical presence of Paramathma, the physical appearance of Prakriti (current earth) appears like that of a widow. Nothing matters anymore, one way or the other. Puttaparthi or Muddenahalli or Whitefield.

    Blessed is Sai Geetha, who left her physical body, saying she could not exist in a Mandir where Her Lord is not present. (You can see a youtube video of Swami's Discourse where He describes these sacred feelings of Sai Geetha). How can lover have any meaning without the existence of Beloved?

    We are eternal too, like how Swami is, at the level of Atma. But at physical level, we are incomplete without His physical presence. As long as we are in physical form.

    I could not convince myself otherwise however hard I tried since 24th Apr 2011.

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    1. I think I can empathize with your feelings. For us at Puttaparthi/Prashanti Nilayam, who had taken His darshans almost every day for granted, the void was terrible. Perhaps for persons like me with a strong leaning then to meditation and Advaita it was not as bad a blow as it was for people who were mainly on the Bhakti margam and who had lot of physical proximity to Him. But even I was totally lost for around 3 months after Mahasamadhi, just going through the motions of my activities (at that time I was offering Seva as a teacher at the Sai university at Puttaparthi). We also had to endure the commotion and confusion of the post-Mahasamadhi transition phase in Puttaparthi which was like salt being poured on our open wounds.

      Over time, for me at least, one thing emerged very clearly. Bhagavan was devoted to His mission of re-establishing Sathya, Dharma, Shanti and Prema in the world. The way to repay Bhagavan for all that He did for us devotees is NOT to get lost in sorrow and trauma. Instead He would surely have wanted us to pray for mental strength to His formless aspect now and contribute to His mission in whatever way we could. At the very least, we could try to share with others, irrespective of whether they are Sai devotees or non-Sai devotees, in at least some part of our daily life, the selfless love that He gave us. That may then help us get closer to realizing/experiencing the formless Swami who has always been, continues to be, and will always be in the depths of our hearts/consciousness.

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  3. SwWami is always the Sun shining from Prashanthi Nilayam ..Ofcourse the void of physical absence is not at all easy to deal with !
    We wonder some times if Swami withdrew his physical form in silence just becoz he was aware that people would terribly miss him and if he had issued a warning that he was to depart then people would sink into permanent depression !!!He did not want to make u anyone unhappy at any time hence he shed his physical form like a flash !!!!
    Leave alone spirituality Swamis service actieies are unparalled in Human history!!!Central trust can never match him in any way ....But they are trying their level best!!! Of course there would always be comparsions and criticisms ..Ther would be frictions between members/tensions etc It is very understandable There are only human beings and sai devotees who long for swamis darshan and there is no physical motivation from swami either!It is tricky situation for them!
    But what needs to be appreciated is that central trust is managing it quite well till now in the absence of physical Swami which is a big void which could never be filled!!In swamis physical absence everyone knows that donations and funds wont be coming in the same manner as it was earlier! With all such difficuties Central trust is really doing a good work!Swamis grace is defintely there for the trust othrwise simply it is not possible ! Present age where every thing is doubted and viewed with suspicion..Hence some times even central trust would come under scanner and members tormented but swami's grace would always protect them/gude them and guard them becoz swamis mission needs to go on for the benefit of the universe!

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    1. I agree that Puttaparthi Central Trust is doing a great job in Swami's physical absence and, as you put it, even when "there is no physical motivation from swami". But I think it must also be said that in the immediate aftermath of the Mahasamadhi (for maybe a year or so), at least a few senior people in ashram institutions seem to have become power-crazy and seem to have behaved in very arrogant and aggressive ways. [I have had some personal experience of such behaviour :-) which led me to part ways.] That naturally resulted in a suitable reaction with many talented and capable people choosing to part ways as now there was no physical form Swami to keep them glued to the ashram system.

      However, a year or so after Mahasamadhi, I think the situation had stabilized as even those in powerful positions in the ashram system realized that if they continued to behave arrogantly, talented and capable people will stay away from them, and that would impact the output of the area they were managing. And I think that such a traumatic transition period was perhaps inevitable. After all, it was the most powerful avatar (god-man) in Hindu scriptural history (and perhaps other religions' scriptural history too) who had given up His body leaving behind an enormous power vacuum.

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  4. Ravi, I tried to post a few days ago but I'm not sure it went through. I just want to say again that I enjoy reading your insightful blog. The comments seem very level-headed and are clearly presented. As far as I can see, you are among the very few who are even attempting to dialogue on this important issue - an issue it seems all devotees at some point need to consider and weigh in on. As long as all are willing to communicate and put Swami first, we can hope for a dynamic resolution and not merely dark divisions; at least, that's what I'm hoping for.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Old Manavantara, and I am glad to know that you enjoyed reading my blog.

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