Brian Steel On Sathya Sai Baba’s Credibility Gap. John Hislop Contributions
Posted by Barry Pittard on July 16, 2009
In some ways, it is regrettable that scholarly habits can limit readership. It is fortunate that Brian Steel writes clearly. Now retired, his background is in academic studies and teaching at a leading Australian university. His fairly lengthy January 2009 piece Sathya Sai Baba’s credibility gap: Contributions by John Hislop deserves to see light of day. One might well think that thoughtful readers who still adhere to Sathya Sai Baba would, nonetheless, still be among Steel’s appreciative readers. They certainly appreciated his writing when he followed Sathya Sai Baba and wrote notable works in that area. Other readers who likely to find value in Steel’s writing would surely include those who have left the Sathya Sai Baba fold who appreciate historic overviews of the movement of which they have been a part. The calmness and balance of the writing are key strengths.
“For many Sathya Sai Baba devotees, Dr John Hislop (between 1965 and 1995), the Australian devotee, Howard Murphet (between 1965 and 2004), and the American psychiatrist Dr Samuel Sandweiss (1971-), are the three foreign (non-Hindu) devotees who have contributed the most to the propagation of SSB’s teachings and stories, both through their passionate books on SSB and their enthusiastic talks and lectures to devotee groups all over the English-speaking world and beyond. However, it was the mild, humble but spiritually questing Hislop who achieved the closest personal rapport with his “Swami”. Sathya Sai Baba, in return, responded fully to his devotee’s constant respectful and appreciative questioning and performed some of his most sensational (and, it must be added, least credible) ‘miracles’ for Hislop’s benefit. Therefore, Hislop’s individual influence in disseminating these extraordinary aspects of the SSB story and his teachings is incalculable.
The proselytising work of all three of the above-named foreign devotees (along with other spokespersons and writers) is also of considerable interest for the study of the development of the Sathya Sai Baba Mission, as I have attempted to explain elsewhere on this web page. Between 1943 and approximately 1965, SSB had concentrated on his Indian “constituency” (which remains, and will continue to be, the largest). With the formation of the first Sathya Sai Seva Samithisin about 1963, and the Sathya Sai Organisation in 1965, when Indulal Shah became a prime associate and organiser, a major expansion began (coinciding also with the sudden Western interest in India marked by the Beatles and “the Maharishi”). In 1969, after 26 years of Sathya Sai Baba’s close association with the name of Shirdi Sai Baba, this familiar name disappears from his Discourses (though not from worship within the SSB ashrams and Centres) for about twenty years and quite suddenly (as I have also documented), Sathya Sai Baba develops a strong interest in discoursing on Jesus Christ and the perceived similarities between the two teachers. As I show more fully in my companion article, the American interest in SSB had become quite strong during the period 1965-1970. By 1971, the following Americans had been attracted to SSB and were already publicising his name back in USA:
Indra Devi, Arnold Schulman, Charles Penn, Hilda Charlton, Bob Rayman, Elsie and Walter Cowan, Dr John Hislop, Tal Brooke and Howard Levin. (All, except Schulman, became devotees and proselytisers, although Tal Brooke was also soon to become the first ‘defector’ and critic.) 1971 saw the publication of the first books about SSB by foreigners: (American) Schulman (Baba) and (Australian) Howard Murphet (Sai Baba [sic]. Man of Miracles). The 1970s would see a strong growth in foreign devotee numbers and SSO Centres.
Following the creation of SSB Centres in New York and California and the opening of Elsie Cowan’s Sathya Sai bookshop in Tustin, California, the American Sathya Sai Organisation was formed in 1974, with Hislop as President. (It may be of interest to point out that the creation of the US SSO was largely carried out by Christians, Jews and New ‘Agers’ rather than by Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) as was the case in some other countries, notably UK, which had a growing NRI population including recent refugees from East Africa). The U.S. Sathya Sai Organization was quickly to become by far the largest and most influential – and independent – of all the overseas national SSOs. Although a promised visit from Sathya Sai Baba to USA did not materialise, his close associate Dr Gokak toured U.S. (and UK) SSO Centres in 1974″.
Select writings from Brian Steel’s Extensive Opus
Sathya Sai Baba can be documented by any conscientious reader as having made contradictory statements and egregious historical and scientific blunders. These include his remarks on Jesus Christ and Martin Luther . For Steel’s detailed and sharply contextualized discussion, see: Sai Baba and Christianity. Some Observations (2002). Steel remarks here the alarming “extent of Sai Baba’s inventiveness”. This can be instructively read in concert with his Basic Notes On Sai Baba’s Credibility Problem (2004)
Brian Steel Indexes
Barry Pittard On Brian Steel
on William Aitken’s book, ‘Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A Life (New Delhi, Penguin Books, India, 2004. Paperback edition, 2006)