Our Experiences as Donors to Sathya Sai Baba
Note: My wife and I donated over £13,500.- to the Sathya Sai Central Trust (more or less, at exchange rates at the time- amounting to more or less 1 million Indian rupees - see here) If one also includes a £1,000.- donation to a Sathya Sai Seva project, which later proved to be fraudulent, and other extras, the total amounts to over £15,000.-
In 1986, my wife and I had interviews two mornings running (22nd & 23rd December). During the first private interview with us two, Sai Baba remarked to her, "He worries about money." True enough, at times, I admit, but then who doesn't sometimes have money worries? I was not worried then, however, for I replied, "Swami, I have so much money now, more than I ever had". This was so, for I had recently inherited some money from my mother, but rich by common Western standards we certainly were not. I told him I wanted to donate money. He said I could choose what for, the medical or educational trusts, "It is not for me, but for my students," he added. Shortly after, he pointed to me and told my wife, "Good, good... very good man"! (Could it be that he wanted to ensure I came up with a donation?) Then he took my hand and examined it, asking if not the ring I had was my wedding ring (it was on the right hand 3rd finger, but it was not the usual type - being of silver and gold with small inset malachite stones. A skeptic would say in retrospect that Sai Baba had been sizing up the thickness of my finger for the ring to be 'produced' next day). A minute later he said he would call us for another interview next day when he would give me a ring. (Perhaps he did not have one handy that was the right size?). Shortly after that he waved his hand before my wife as she exited from the private interview room and a silver medallion with his head embssed on it appeared, which he gave her (old devotees call them 'Sai dollars' and often regard them as holy amulets with magical powers). I have described the main part of that and the following day's interview at length in my book where I did not mention the financial aspect, for I had been led to believe that any talk about such matters involving Sai Baba was very wrong.
That I had already donated by post £3000 before his 60th birthday- was discreetly not mentioned by me, nor did Sai Baba mention it. In my desire to believe in his omniscience, I thought that he must already know! It seems likely to me now that he did not or - if he did - he could have been informed by his staff that the Priddy's who donated this sum were presently visiting the ashram. In that case he could have given us interviews because he reckoned there was a chance of another donation. I do not say that he did so, but it is far from impossible.
The leader of the Danish group which we had been asked to join, the veranda-VIP Thorbjørn Meyer spoke with Sai Baba a few times about our group and a possible interview before it took place. Meyer is a most gullible and not very astute person who swallows whole anything he is fed by Sai Baba. This leader was always very tight-lipped and guarded whenever asked questions - a conniving, manipulative person in the view of numerous other members of the Organization, and especially by others in his own Centre, who have complained to me about him. Since then he has continued thus and firmly proved his active engagement in the cover-up of scandals surrounding Sai Baba. He has passed the guru's 'test' of total credulity and reliability for Sai Baba alone. Therefore, I since came to suspect that he would have provided information about me and my profession, my wife etc. to Sai Baba (even unwittingly), which was then used in the interview by Baba to show he knew all about me. In short, there is no evidence whatever to suggest that Sai Baba had any data from 'omniscience' in this instance. Sai Baba could also have been informed by others, not least his servitors in the public relations office (who take in passports and have forms one must fill out etc.)... and I had also written letters to him from which he can have gleaned information, as he surely does in many, many instances.
During the first interview, Sai Baba had said to me twice, "Be Ready!" However, this is apparently one of his stock phrases, but I did not know to what he was referring. What transpired causes me now to realise that he was eager to secure the donation and I should be ready to make it! Next day in the private interview, Baba he asked me what my plan was, but I did not understand to what he was referring. He said, rather impatiently, "How much money are you going to donate?" I had not considered any particular sum, but a sum came to my mind - £6000.- (knowing that this would make our donation altogether £9,000.- supposedly the 'holy number'). This amounted to well over half of my inheritance. I made a quick decision and said "Six thousand pounds, Swami". He was clearly pleased and said, "It is not for me but for my students". I said I knew that. I added that the money came from my mother. He asked what her name was and I told him. He said, "I will build an indoor sports hall for the students and her name and yours will be put up on the wall." At that time I believed in Sai Baba's claim that - due to his being omnipresent in the inner heart of everyone - he knew (or could know) all things. It never occurred to me to question his asking me my mother's name. The typical devotee will assume that Sai Baba was just pretending that he didn't know her name, that he does such things just to give the illusion that he does not know, and to have something to say. What a contrived rationalization and denial of common sense! This is one of Sai Baba's smartest way of duping people, to pretend he knows all but behaves as if he does not. But the problem is that he pretends so much about so many things so often that he loses all credibility. I admit, however, that I was victim of such ideas myself as I did not then know how fallible he is in so many things. Eventually the extent and absurdity of his mistakes began to convince me that he errs like all humans do, and more tha many educated persons.
On the second day's interview, Sai Baba simply took a ring with a white (clear) stone from somewhere (sleight-of-hand most likely). It was of the size of perhaps a 3 carat stone (the Sai Baba standard 'smaller diamond ring'). He tried to put it on my finger, but it was too small. This he often does, causing merriment among devotees who expect him to play around with too small and too big rings, interpreting this as having to do with the size of the persons' ego and other such rubbish ideas. My wife and I were then taken into the private room again with Sai Baba. There
Deception with fitting of rings on fingers: When we came out of the private into the group interview room, Sai Baba brought out the white stone ring he had tried to get me to force onto my finger again and sent it around for some ladies there to examine. He asked an Indian lady to describe it and she replied that it was a diamond set in a gold lotus ring. He confirmed both points. He then asked what I wanted and - though I had originally intended to ask for some spiritual promise - I felt it might be too much to ask so I said "I don't know, Swami". At this point I recall that he fumbled about in the chair behind him while he said unhesitatingly, "I will make you a better ring". He closed his hand and blew three times into his closed fist - in which he had been holding the white stone ring - and when he opened his fist, another ring with a larger green stone was there (about 5 or 6 carats). This was most likely a manipulation he did, for - being a believer in his powers - I was not watching him for any signs of fraud or legerdemain. These green stones in Sai Baba rings are believed by the great majority of devotees to be extremely rare and valuable diamonds. In the 1980s Robert Bruce told me he had an Australian dealer in opals value his virtually identical 'green diamond' and he reckoned US$ 5 to 6 million. I have since carefully checked diamond values and this figure it a total absurdity even for a genuine 6 carat green diamond! At the time of writing the above, I had not yet been to the Queen of Denmark's jeweller in Copenhagen, Mr. P. Hertz, who tested the stone and found it to be a cheap synthetic sapphire with tinfoil behind it to enhance the reflection of light and values the stone at about US $10.-! See my account)
It did a bit later briefly cross my mind whether Sai Baba may have been deceiving me in eagerness to draw me into donating - a street smart Indian set-up, but I immediately rejected the thought as sinful! After all, I thought, does not Sai Baba do so much for the poor, his students etc. (Since then, I have also come to know that his students are mostly from well-to-do middle-class, and often power-broking rich, families, not least sons of 'top people' from abroad). No, I put all my trust in Sai Baba and his assurances that "not a single naya paise is ever wasted". Again, I now know this was unquestionably a lie, and one repeated brazenly even after the Central Trust was found sadly wanting in its incomplete accounts in 1993. Later during this visit which lasted for 3 months until March 1987, I came to know quite well a genuinely honest elderly gentleman of the Seva Dal who was working in the ashram. He told me how various workmen (eg. those who were re-painting the temple (mandir), easily swindle sums from the ashram through overpricing materials used etc., which my friend was ever trying to stop and therefore he went to Bangalore to buy paint for the temple himself eventually. How naive I was, misled by all the books and fine talk to think that the massive corruption and dishonesty that marks
Indiaout among big nations were magically absent from anything to do with Sai Baba!
Having received by post from my bank in
Norwaythe cheque for £6000.- I brought it with me to darshans to 'be ready' whenever there would be a chance to hand it over. By accident I left the cheque in a plain envelope behind at darshan one day. It was collected up and delivered to the public relations office as lost property where it was returned to me when I went there searching for it.
The follow-up: There was a follow-up to this. I went to check with the head of the ashram (Kutumb Rao) on whether my former donation of £3000 had been received. I had received no confirmation by post, no receipt. He told me that they did not issue receipts, but to come back later and he would tell me if the money had been registered! He borrowed my own bank's receipt for in payment of this previously-sent cheque to help him see whether the donation was registered. When I came to check this, he told me he had lost my bank's receipt. But I produced another (which he had evidently not suspected could exist) and yet another I happened to have received from my bank. This Kutumb Rao also 'borrowed' and 'lost' before I finally got a positive (verbal) reply. He had most likely been hoping he had destroyed my evidence of having sent that cheque. (But unknown to him, my Norwegian bank would supply any further copies I may request). It was said by Sai Baba once that receipts are always given by his officials for donations... but they were not in my case!
Before we left the ashram in March 1987 I was given a chit by the public relations office to sit in the front row (they knew, of course, about the present cheque that was still to be delivered and most likely had studied it and discovered that only I could cash it, which I did not reaslise as I thought a crossed cheque could be cashed by the named recipient). Sai Baba came by me that day and took the letter, but as he took it he had one of those quite ugly facial expressions that is often seen. He produced some vibuthi for me (I do not say materialized'), probably not wanting me to go back on my offer.
A few days later I inquired whether the latest cheque was in fact cashable by Sai Baba, since it was actually made out to me and countersigned by me, (I admit that I had been rather amused by his fumbling and unconvincing behaviour), whereupon he reacted most angrily and half-shouted that my current donation cheque would not be accepted but he did not give me the cheque back when I asked for it either, but waved me off just like he would do to a troublesome coolie. But I persisted and asked, "Did Swami say so?". "'Yes!" he blurted, apparently taken aback at my impertinence for asking this (I felt he was lying.)! I do not believe Sai Baba actually did reject it, for there was another problem: the cheque was made out to me, not Sai Baba or the Central Trust, and - though I had countersigned it - it was probably not cashable into another account! That would explain the anger of Kutumb Rao, there was no way they could cash the cheque... only I could do that. However, I did not trust the local banks in Puttaparthi (from experience and also information I had from a Danish devotee who was a banker himself with experience of Indian banks). So I did not draw the money myself. It was a mess up.
Upon return to Oslo, my banker was very agitated about the irregularity when I told them I no longer had the cheque (Mr. Kutumb Rao had refused point blank to return it, even though he would not accept it either (Probably, Sai Baba still had it). Such good manners from the head of the ashram called 'The Abode of Supreme Peace'!). My Oslo bank set about investigating, and - more to their relief than mine - got the money refunded and changed back from sterling to Norwegian kroners again. (I had, in the trusting foolishness of a devotee, resigned the entire matter to the 'all-knowing, all-powerful Swami's will'! All this was registered by me at the time as a typical Sai Baba leela or 'divine sport'.). Incidentally, the exchange rate between sterling and the kroner had improved while the money was in sterling and I received back the sum plus the equivalent of the interest I would have lost had the money not been otherwise. The very fact that my money had been returned - and my not realising that it could only have been drawn out in India by me - made us the more keen to donate it later, which we did! The former security guard employed in ashram security, Hari Sampath, who had many contacts withy top officials in the ashram and Central Trust at the time, made clear that it was a standard practice of Sathya Sai Baba often to refuse money first... thus increasing the eagerness to contribute (and usually more too!). This kind of 'double-bottomed' scam is typical of clever crooks in
India, where no outsider can easily fathom the depths of trickery in this land where a constant desperate fearful struggle for survival is all too common.
If one has reasons for suspecting that officials have embezzled one's donation one is expected to accept it as “part of Baba's plan. Only He knows the why and wherefore of all things.” In short, if you feel reason to question almost anything said or done by officials - and certainly by Sai Baba himself - you will often be put off gruffly, if not in worse fashion. The attitude required of those who receive access to Sai Baba is one of 'lying flat at his feet', (even literally so - supposedly a great boon!). This cult of servile humility is extended by many to anyone apparently acting on Baba's authorisation (is 'instruments' of his 'divine will'). It is easy to imagine how this attitude is misused by frauds of all kinds who claim to be inspired by Sai Baba, empowered by him to heal people, give advice or even do miracles!
Of course, Sai Baba never did keep his word and put my mother's name - or my name - on any wall in the sports hall that was constructed I have never regretted it, for I was not at all keen on the idea. I believe in the rightness of his constant admonitions against publicising one's own good works. Like many other devotees, I would only have accepted it 'if Swami himself wanted it'! I have always disliked and have myself all my life strictly avoided boasting and self-promotion... as Sai Baba advised and at one time almost followed himself. Now, however, he has demonstrated firmly that he is the biggest braggart in the world!
As to where our money actually went I could never get an answer. Even if you have sound reasons for suspecting that officials have embezzled your donation – such as by avoiding or – if asked – refusing to give a receipt or in other ways you are supposed to accept it as “part of Baba’s plan. He knows.” In short, if you feel reason to question almost anything said or done by officials (not to speak of by Sai Baba himself), you will often be put off with a gruff affront or a threatening hiss (as if from a snake).
Only in recent years were any kind of receipts issued for donations received. Incidentally, it was said by Sai Baba in discourses that receipts are always given for donations, but we did not get any until in 1998, when we registered as flat-donors and received proof by receipt from the European Sai Org., which by then solicited for and handled all such donations!
Some time after the incidents described at length above, we re-donated the £6000.- by sending it from
Norway, but did not get any note of receipt from the ashram. However, since I thought it wrong not to follow up whether the money actually arrived where it should, I asked the new Head of the Ashram, Mr. Narayanan, about it several times during our next visit there. At length he gave me a verbal confirmation. Apropos, when years later I asked V.K. Narasimhan why Narayanan was not any longer head of the ashram, he told me of his being 'sacked' from his post and from the Central Trust in 1994 by Sai Baba due to having built a luxury villa for himself in Bangalore with undisclosed funds. This was also told me independently by a VIP, the honest and decent Robert Bruce, whose word I do not doubt, and who knew this from top USleaders 'in the know', such as John Hislop or Michael Goldstein.
Donations to Sai Publications Trust embezzled by Mr. P. Suri, the Convener
In 1994 we donated 900 copies of the first edition of my book to the Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust (see here the receipt as proof that they sold it from the official bookshop). However much I tried, I could not ensure that the money was delivered to the Central Trust this time either, despite having written to them on the advice of V.K. Narasimhan to avoid embezzlement by The Convenor, by Mr. P. Suri. Shortly thereafter, when the press descended on Prashanthi Nilayam after the murders in the ashram and began to dig into things, The Convenor, Mr. P. Suri, was caught with the exactly equivalent sum in rupee notes in his rooms to the total price of my books sold from the Prashanthi Nilayam bookshop (mainly sold 'under-the-counter' due to demand and scarcity)! Mr P. Suri could present no accounts for the Publications Trust whatever when questioned by journalists and also by V.K. Narasimhan (who had warned me that he was a petty crook well in advance)! Mr. P. Suri was one of the best known scoundrels who milked the system for years. No accounts were presented to me or anyone else, though V.K. Narasimhan tried to obtain such from Mr. Suri, but in vain!.
Other authors of books donated to the ashram, including Al Drucker, Rita Bruce, and UK based Mr. Taylor (publisher of the 'Gufa Narayana Ashram' books) all suffered similar or worse treatment from Mr. Suri. He would accept money for printing a book, then not print it and not refund the money given for the purpose (Al Drucker also experienced this but, in his extreme blindness, put it down to Sai Baba's mysterious, inscrutable will!). He accepted printing plates of 'Vision of Sai II' from Robert and Rita Bruce for making an ashram edition (profitable for the Book Trust), but he did not use them, claiming he had lost them. The plates had to be made again in Bangalore by the Bruces at their own expense.
Further, Mr. Taylor, a Sai Baba servitor who voluntarily managed the ashram sweet and soft drinks shop for years, arranged for an English translation and the publication of 'Gufa Narayana Ashram' by Swami Maheshvaranand. That short book sold out 10,000 copies within days of its appearance. Taylor offered the second volume to the Sai Book Trust for further (lucrative) publication by the Book Trust, giving Mr. Suri the only manuscript. Suri held onto it but did not publish it, nor would he return it when asked repeatedly. It appeared that he hoped to publish it by an independent printer and take the profits himself. Mr. Taylor told me that he eventually asked Sai Baba about the matter and Suri thereafter returned the manuscript. The second volume appeared (and later a third), but how this all ended is unclear since Mr. Taylor left the ashram not long thereafter. Such is the corruption right under the nose of the 'omniscient avatar'! It is curious to note that various devotees in the ashram were telling that Sai Baba's head cook in the Indian canteen (a very long-standing devotee and right wing Hindu) had asked Sai Baba why he allowed bad people to swindle him. He told that Baba answered saying that God allows his cows to shit where they will. Evidently, Sathya Sai Baba does not constrain his 'cows' most of the time.
Still not having learned the lesson that all the irregularities and known embezzlements would have taught anyone who did not trust Sai Baba, my wife and I in 1998 donated a further US$ 6,000.- for the 2 month-per-annum use of a room at the ashram. It took such a long time before the meaning of what I had found out sank in! (See proof of this donation here - the first receipt ever received for a donation by me and my bank's documentation!)
I only hope that at least some reasonable proportion of what we and uncounted others have donated actually does go to the needy and suffering in
India. Some evidently does... but no one can estimate the wastage in the form of paying for useless buildings, statues, solid gold and silver cricket cups, free education for sons of very rich Indians and all the other underhanded 'overheads' that have become more and more a feature of the ashrams and the Central Trust.