How donations are encouraged and devotees are manipulated - with negative experiences reported

Sizing up likely donors, and diamond gifts to soften them up?

Most Western followers of Sathya Sai Baba are doubtless basically honest and unsuspecting people are unused to rampant corruption and trickery. They are therefore easily taken in by relatively simple trickery. Not to ask for donations, but to give what seem to be valuable gifts instead (supposed 'diamond' rings - which are actually only cheap synthetic gemstones) creates a feeling of intense gratitude by those who believe that this is genuine and moreover also a divine blessing from an Incarnate Divinity! The natural reaction is to wish to recompense the gift, to donate money for the service projects to help uplift the poor and suffering, about which Sai Baba talks so often. Undeniably, there are also many visible results of good use of money in educational, health and infrastructure projects, which are convincing of good works. However, the Sathya Sai Baba coin has another side, and that is corruption, embezzlement, waste about which it is strictly taboo to speak. In addition comes the promotion of his own name and fame through a large media apparatus, even though he insists time and again that he needs no publicity and cares not for name or fame.

To pretend that 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. There is no reasoning with a person who is ensnared in the system of excuses that surrounds Sai Baba and absolves him of everything imaginable in advance! (I was once rather like that too.)

The whole attitude expected of those given access to Sai Baba is one of 'lying flat at his feet', even literally (and kissing them too, if one should be granted such a boon!). The belief is that Sai Baba owns everything, as being the Creator of the Universe. Returning one's acquired wealth to him, the Divine benefactor, seems all the more desirable, when one believe he can reward one with yet greater riches of a heavenly kin (an unspecified fate after death - believe to be the be-all and end-all of the Cosmos!) Incredible as it may seem to sane outsiders, this cult of credulous humility involves believing that all devotees (if not all other persons alive) are only acting on God's behalf and carrying out his divine instructions (i.e. in his avatar, Sathya Sai Baba), whether or not one knows that such instructions were ever given. I could never manage to credit this far too extreme claim. However, any signs of apparent 'grace of the Lord' are taken as marvellous boons, especially so in the zealous and charged atmosphere of his ashrams. Many feel they have not earned these favours, and this creates the right attitude for wanting to compensate somehow. Sai Baba's many remarks about sacrifice as a prerequisite to 'realisation' and a righteous (dharmic) life, lead followers to think that they will gain spiritual benefits through shedding their excess properties and monies. After all Sai Baba's talk (on the lines of rich men not getting through the eye of the needle into heaven) saying how too much money is a burden, a millstone and how property is not a 'proper-tie', the blessed devotee is soon softened up to donate, the more the better (both from his/her viewpoint and that of Sai Baba too!). Sai Baba is clever enough to give boons before the money is offered, for he has a sharp eye for who is who and he doubtless knows more than he lets on! He certainly has all the means to invest with! In this way, no one connects their donations with the grace they feel they are receiving (and maybe even have justly earned)... and they are hurt to be told that they could be victims of an extremely clever and typically Eastern form of milking!

I think it likely now that I was sized up in advance by Sai Baba as a possible donor of more funds than I had already sent in (£3000.- by mail cheque in 1983, about which he knew since he countersigned all cheques from donors) as I now know without doubt that Sai Baba is most interested in getting hold of people who are thought to have important roles or influence in society, or are wealthy.

Further, his staff assiduously collect information on all registering visitors to his ashrams. VKN was asked to make lists when Sai Baba was indisposed, and on request I provided VKN with a list and professional details of the group I was leading on that visit. The names were sifted and my wife and I were called to the interview, but not the rest of our group (who were not professionals. Incidentally, Narasimhan remarked in admiration of the democracy demonstrated by the fact that one member of the group was a hairdresser, because, he said, it would be unthinkable in India for an academic to be in the same group as a hairdresser!). VKN was used occasionally before for this, when he selected an Australian friend of ours. This removes some of the mystification about how Sai Baba chooses people and groups for interview (i.e. many devotees believe that he is acting out a preset cosmic plan about who to call and when).

Another Sai follower of about my age - Mr. Richard Friedrich, a businessman from Austria who is the national leader of the Sathya Sai Organization there, informed me at the time that he told Sai Baba that he wanted to make a donation and he was also asked openly by Sai Baba while sitting at the front of the crowd at darshan how much money he would donate. He named a fairly large sum (around US $10,000.), and offered the cheque at darshan on his 50th birthday. Sai Baba took him in to an interview, where he eventually produced for him a standard silver and enamel ring with the Sai Baba face and torso.

Richard Friedrich, Austria

In another instance, I was asked by V.K. Narasimhan if I knew a Danish man, Mr. Kaufman, and whether he had arrived, because Sai Baba kept asking VKN if he had come. Probably Sai Baba had received a letter from Mr. Kaufman in advance, quite possibly also indicating a desire to donate. Later during that visit, Mr. Kaufman sat beside me at an interview where Sai Baba produced for him one of the standard smaller sized gold rings with an alleged 'white diamond'.(Apropos the monetary value of what Sai Baba gives to satisfy donors, that 'diamond' was virtually identical to the one Ron Laing had, which I once examined closely. Laing's 'diamond' was so worn that it reflected no light at all. But it is impossible for a diamond to be worn or scratched in that way, but somehow rationalised away even that! Likewise with a very worn and dull green 'diamond' worn by Mrs. Ferguson, the wife of Maynard Ferguson the trumpet-player.) 

Sai Baba is most interested in getting hold of people who are thought to have important roles or influence in society, and he has used his staff to collect information on people. VKN was asked to make lists when Sai Baba was indisposed - the names were sifted for profession & we got interview, but not rest of our group (who were not professionls but more ordinary workers). VKN was used before for this, when he had selected an Australian friend of ours. This removes some of the mystification about how Sai Baba chooses people and groups for interview. Devotees are made to believe he chooses them through being omniscient, but he is an accomplished trickster, his abilities in this direction not merely limited to sleight-of-hand and employing undercover informers and plainclothes security staff of all kinds.

The following scan of a blog by an Indian ex-follower summarizes the technique of deception by Sai Baba:-

What is Sathya Sai Baba's actual relationship to money?

"When money comes, morality goes" says Sathya Sai Baba. And money has certainly come to him in billions. What of his morality? Well, he is no exception to the rule he states. In my participant-observer sociological study of the International Sathya Sai Organisation, recorded mainly in 2000, I concluded that one of the main functions it actually fulfils, although in theory it should not, is to channel money from the widest possible catchment area of devotees in rich countries. This was implied by the collected data and analyses of its various practices which I interpreted on the basis of my wide-ranging experience - and increasing distaste - of how matters were handled at Organization meetings I attended in various countries. In stark contrast to Sathya Sai Baba pretends, his organisation contributes, indirectly and increasingly more and more directly, to the funnelling of donations in huge amounts into his account and under his control. Why does Sai Baba 'allow' this discrepancy between his word and action? The simple answer would be because money is a necessary ingredient of improving education, health and living conditions for the poor. To support this, Sai Baba points to the institutions like colleges, hospitals and village projects he has provided (as if it were not all from his devotees). So why then does he constantly boast that he has no connection whatever with money - saying as but one example, "Where money is present, there I am absent"? Obviously, it is a very clever device to hide the real situation and seem to put him apart from other money collecting 'men of god'. Money gurus awaken much skepticism, especially among Westerners nowadays, it being known very widely that so many have been defrauded.

Sathya Sai Baba tries to pretend that there is a great mystery about him, the holy avatar whose ways are inscrutable. He promotes himself as if he were a self-sacrificing renunciant (a holy sannyasin - which his saffron robe announces, while anyone with unclouded eyes can see the luxury, opulence and security he enjoys - never has to lift a finger for himself! (see scan on right). There is a strange dualism indeed - the supposed 'divine' aspect is pure without cash or sexual desire, and the human one, which is quite a different matter altogether! It is no myserty, at best a case of serious personality split (ordinary villager and possessed medium) and at worst a Rasputin-like duality - public saint and private sinner.

What can be wrong with people giving money freely to projects that Sathya Sai Baba's servitors run for him? Are not the educational, medical and various other social facilities and programmes sufficient to put him beyond all criticism? They have to be financed and why should not Baba interview those who are able and willing to contribute? The problem with this excuse is that Sai Baba had time and again said that he has nothing whatever to do with money, that not a figurative penny is every wasted (not true at all) and that his Central Trust is totally beyond all suspicion (which it is certainly not).

Firstly, he has firmly stated about cheques to the Sathya Sai Central Trust in a discourse: "On every cheque, nobody can sign without my signature on it." (Sanathana Sarathi July 1993 - see scan here - and Sathya Sai Speaks Vol 26. p. 261). He claims that he countersigns every donation cheque personally, which means that the money MUST be in his name and hence his property! On a visit to his nephew, who was manager of the State Bank of India in Puttaparthi in 1986, I was actually allowed to flip through a wad of about 200 cheques to the Central Trust all signed by Sai Baba with his easily recognisable signature.

Secondly, he claims to be omnipresent, so how can he ever be absent where money is, or anywhere else? The answer to this is straightforward, he speaks with two tongues and confounds himself, whether he realises it or not. Yet an omniscient God should realise everything and so avoid such revealing self-contradictions.

Third, but above all, an increasingly obvious fact is how his sheer financial power exerts huge influence on Sai Baba's behalf in India, which is seen in the way all the rich and politically powerful flock to his throne, and with them come the corrupt and criminal elements. Anyone who follows events around him has seen how all are made welcome! No waiting (or less than an hour, at least for the sake of appearances) for the very wealthy or powerful! There can be no doubt that money, which alone oils the wheels of politics and privilege in India , buys many favours. That Sai Baba was able to escape scot-free from the investigations of the police and the CBI into the murders under his very nose, and that the many sworn affidavits of victims of sexual abuse by him can make no headway in India , speaks its own language. That language is the one that talks loudest in India !

The biggest change in Sai Baba's relation to money seems to be his open acceptance nowadays of donations from known criminals. Formerly he was offered huge sums from disreputable people like a famous Mr. Singh, a Calcutta racehorse owner, which he gently refused (I know this from V.K. Narasimhan who told me the details as he had to write the letter declining the donation). The change in this policy became fully evident since about 1990, for he is now giving interviews to Indian power-brokers, including embezzlers and Mafia-connected politicians. A reliable informant, a good and tried person of many years' ashram experience, related what Swami said to a lady at an interview. When asked why he allows so many bad persons to occupy positions and receive what seems to be or most people regard as 'Grace' (i.e. his physical presence) etc., he replied that at the foot of a lighted candle there is darkness.

True Believer Devotees as Easy-Touches for Money

All who donate have to have complete faith in Sai Baba's control over everything and that he does, as he claims, what is for the best in every instance. Devotees accept unquestioningly that Sai Baba's motives and designs are infallible (as he claims they are) and that they are simply too ignorant of his inscrutable and Divine Plan to have any critical opinion on them. Sathya Sai Baba's claim that he knows everything - past, present and future - makes those who believe it confident that he handles all money matters impeccably. Devotees never question about Sai Central Trust or ashram finances for, were they to do so, they would soon find that they would be ostracised by Sai authorities and his Organization. In the entire Sai Baba movement, no one has right to know anything about his finances, there can be no going through the accounts, no seeing who donated how much or what the money went to (unless Sai Baba decides to announce some things, as he has done now and again, as at his 70th birthday celebration. The Sathya Sai Central Trust is the ultimate in unaccountable tax- and duty-free charitable goldmine.

Such facts as I have outlined cannot but fail to shake the confidence of any independent person who has the least real knowledge about Indian corruption, double-accounting tricks, pay-offs, kick-backs and ingrained financial corruption.Sai baba ashrams are far from being free of the usual Indian corruption and embezzlers, just as they are places where cheats and outright thieves operate too.

Many believe, with considerable justification, that donations can lead to interviews, being blessed by Sai Baba (i.e. qua God Almighty), to gaining good karma and even liberation from the wheel of life. The rich are always milling close around Sai Baba's feet and it is well-known how he gives much of his time to certain millionaire donors. To reinforce the feeling of the usefulness of contributing money, Sai Baba often underlines that there is absolutely zero waste of funds in his ashrams and his Central Trust. But this is definitively an untruth, as will be shown.

Westerners are often quite aware that most so-called voluntary charities have employment costs, publicity costs, and any amount of overheads and other drains on their funds. Often they deliver less than half of the money contributed to the actual projects for which money was given. Sai Baba claims that 100% is used, and that it is due to the wholly voluntary labour of his service organisations like the Seva Dal and the Sathya Sai Organisation. This is a tasty bait, but there is a hook too, as will be seen! There are admittedly doubtless many persons without large funds - or even much willingness to contribute anything financially or in kind - who get to interviews and who even receive materialisations from Baba, but this does not alter the observable drift of Sai Baba's affairs towards massive funding, great expenses to promote his person, plus wasteful projects and embezzlements which no one can gain full information about. One clearly observable fact supporting this are the ladies who usually occupy the first couple of front lines at darshans. They are preponderantly Indians, and are mainly dressed in very expensive silk saris and are loaded with jewellery, far more so than the average Indian can afford. Some are rich foreigners who adopt Indian fashions, such as the Iranian 'princess' and her various super-rich US relatives often seen there. Such persons can be seen to go up for interviews much more often than those in simple clothing. They are seated in the front lines well before those who have queued up for hours are allowed in to find a place.

Soliciting Devotees for Major Funds

The museum built to attract Chinese and other Eastern followers, 'Chaitanya Jyoti', required a fund-raising campaign, instigated by Sai Baba himself through his International Chairman, Indulal Shah. Dr. Goldstein suggested the following methods for meeting the cost which were discussed and finally approved, and we quote: "To organize 100 donors for accommodation in Building No.8 and 9 and for which each coordinator gave their quota for the region which they will fulfil before March 2000. Dr. Goldstein was requested to be in charge for follow up with the Coordinators in this regard. The estimated cost was placed between US$3 million to US$5 million. Dr. Goldstein suggested the following methods for meeting the cost which were discussed and finally approved."

Dr.Goldstein suggested the following methods for meeting the cost which were discussed and finally approved.

" To organize 100 donors for accommodation in Building No.8 and 9 and for which each coordinator gave their quota for the region which they will fulfill before March 2000. Dr.Goldstein was requested to be in charge for follow up with the Coordinators in this regard. the estimated cost was placed between US$3 million to US$5 million. Dr.Goldstein suggested the following methods for meeting the cost which were discussed and finally approved."

I still have full documentation of these directives, sent me while I was still a Sai Org. 'emeritus member' in Norway (see Solicitation for US $6 million donation for glorifying Sai Baba- the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum)

Ashram apartment 'donors' - deceptively called 'owners'

Flat donors at the Prashanthi Nilayam and Brindavan ashrams once used to pay a relatively moderate sum (by Western standards in the 1970s) and were, usually after some years, mostly given the temporary use of a small unfurnished concrete-blockĀ flat consisting of one room, a bathroom and a kitchen. If they had paid the full sum they were allowed to use the small kitchenas a permanent lock-up for their possessions while they were not in India (while the visitor tenants who filled the apartment when they were away were denied the use of the kitchen facilities). The right to be such an 'owner' was far from automatic... one had to wait for Sai Baba's personal blessing for this before being allowed to 'buy in'. Many waited for years, and some without getting permission even when others 'behind them' did. However, they actually owned NOTHING legally. The right to use the flat could - and still can - be terminated by the ashram authorities without recourse to any hearing, so 'owner' is a highly misleading term. A more accurate way to say it would be 'lease-holder without any ownership rights'. The idea was that Sai Baba granted the grace of tenantship of his property until such time as he saw fit to terminate this, whether due to misdemeanour or for any other reason. One could also lose one's flat if ashram officials saw their way to accuse you of some breach of rules. Some devotees have simply had their flats taken away from them for some misdemeanours in the eyes of the accommodation office. In once case of which I know the details from the owner, a man with serious heart problems, the head of accommodation took over his ground floor flat which he had furbished at considerable expense - without any compensation whatever - and it was given to an official of the ashram. He was given temporary flat use on the third floor, to which he could not climb. No amount of pleading, talking with Col. Joga Rao, the Sathya Sai Org. leaders, letters to Sai Baba etc. had any effect whatsoever. The price of these flats (i.e.of insecure tenantships) spiralled, and by 1990 they cost far more than their building cost. By this time, donors were welcomed with open arms and were recruited actively by the Sai organisation. No more waiting for the Lord to select you personally! However, the office bureaucracy has to be negotiated to obtain a key to a flat. If one abuses the rules in any way - such as by trying to misinform to keep the flat for a few days more than 2 months per annum, all rights can be lost permanently by the mere rubber stamp by an accommodation official!

There are two entirely different perceptions of the situation. Devotees used to see the hard-won privilege of tenancy as major grace from the Lord of the Universe... or as the bogus monopoly contractor who pretends to be the overall creator and owner of the entire universe!

Donors Recruited under False Pretenses

Originally one could stay in the so-called 'sheds' (a word that was banned by the ashram authorities because it sounded primitive - instead the word 'hall' was to be used!). However, the title was most fitting as the accommodation consisted in very large hangar-like sheds with barred windows and without any furniture whatever and only concrete floors. One had to provide whatever one could to sleep on during one's stay. Common wash basins and toilets were in an annex. The sheds were once gratis to visitors, but by the 1980s a small daily fee was required which rose and rose as they years went by. The crooks in the ashram administration were known to manipulate the donors and owners of rooms (donors had no rooms of their own and had to take pot luck, 'owners' had a key to a kitchen in their apartment for which they had paid a sum far in excess of the costs of building and maintenance). Those in charge were known to and draw of a profit wherever they could, such as when Sai Baba invited everyone possible to visit during his 70th birthday with free accommodation. Once there and installed in a room or shed, however, one found that it has been decided that a considerable daily sum had to be paid anyhow! A very devoted young US lady known as 'Divya' (Eileen Weed) lived for long periods in the apartment of Sai Baba's sister Venkamma. Since her disaffection in 2005 after two decades of living in India, mostly at the Sai Baba ashrams, she published a long series of letters she wrote from 1984 onwards to her parents. Here are some excerpts:-

I received the following letter from a mature, and evidently very sensible lady in the Netherlands:

"There is something I wanted to let you know for a long time. It is not that important as the sexual behaviour of the s.b. But it fits into the criminal organisation - as always: if there is something wrong, there are a lot of things wrong. The financial situation: Sai Baba always said: come to me with empty hands etc..... In 1994/95 our chairman- Mrs. Anne Marcelle van Weereldt- told us very excitedly, as if she were giving us a huge present, We have an opportunity to set up a Holland House in the ashram in PN. -Location: the stinking sheds on the North side of the ashram. We need as many participants as possible. And we can stay there for 6 months every year! It looked very good for elderly people. Minimum donation HFL.13.500 which was about US$ 6.000.- Lots of us -including me- participated in the "Holland House". The only thing we got was a short note - and the bank statement of course - which said that we had paid the sum necessary for a room in a North building under a certain number. Later on we got a plastic card with our photo, with the amount of the donation on it. After a few months we were told: It is not a Holland House, it is a Holland/Switzerland House. This sounded very good, people from Switzerland are also clean and quiet. When the first buildings were finished, we got the message: You can only stay for 6 WEEKS every year. Well, this is a very clever concept; there are 4 levels in every building. Each level has about 25 rooms. Which makes the whole building good for 100 rooms. Each room is good for about 6.500.- US dollars x 100 =3D US dollars = 6500.00.- BUT: if we can stay only 6 weeks a year, it means that every room has several 'owners' because 52 weeks shared by 6 is at least 8 possibilities to give out to someone somewhere in the world a certificate that says that he/she has given a donation under a certain number... This gives only the right to have a private room - not to be shared with others, during only 6 weeks a year, and that is always possible. But the concept is so very very clever, because there is no limit in getting donations this way. And by now the TENTH -10th- North building has been finished!!" (Stijntje Riemersma)

The above is quite correct! Many other foreigners who paid the full sum - already $6,000 by 1996 - were shortly afterwards informed that they were not to have the grace and privilege of a flat of their own, but instead the right to stay for up to two months per year in one of the new kitchenless one-room/one shower room flats, all having an absolute minimum of (metal or plastic) furniture and virtually no fittings. A number of devotees from the USA and other countries complained about this sudden change in rules of which they were informed AFTER they had paid their donations, but they were powerless to change anything. One has to accept divine commands, even though it was actually Col. Joga Rao and Indulal Shah who instituted this regime. The amount of money that the ashram could thus obtain per flat was multiplied by at least six! In addition, the donor also has to pay a constantly increasing sum of 'rent' while occupying them. Flat donors can actually outnumber the several thousand flats at PN by anything up to ten to one, for many do not use their full quota (which can be calculated on average). Donors have not always been guaranteed flats at all times (esp. not during festivals or conferences). For 10 blocks of 100 rooms each (= 1000 rooms), giving at least 6,000 donorships and US$6000.-, the capital gained amounted to income in all up to US$ 36 million! The total cost of construction was but a small fraction of this sum. So at last, one can say that donors really are making large donations, no longer just buying fairly cheap rights to two rooms!

I was informed that in 1991 there were 8,000 would-be apartment donors on the waiting list. Even if we use the price per donor family from 1996 (US$6,000.-), the total potential donation resource this represents is US$ 48 million. But the number of rooms actually required at the maximum would be 1/6 th of 8,000 = 1330. Hence the ashram stands to make very large profits indeed. It will be argued that the excess goes to good works, the water project etc. But the fact remains that these figures are never presented to the donors or made public. One cannot but wonder why the secrecy. Those who know the state of India and corruption today have some idea of what can be siphoned off.

As if to ensure maximum benefit for ashram/Trust finances, the authorities run a constant campaign to hinder foreigners buying property of any kind outside the ashrams, such as within Sathya Sai Taluk or in Whitefield. Since the mid-1980s, at least, ashram officials tell newcomers at information lectures the many pitfalls of buying property in India. The information is certainly not all incorrect, for few without deep local knowledge and the language can negotiate a secure purchase! The lecturers emphasise that only by donating for an ashram accommodation is one secure, a direct deception, as seen from the above! Further, many 'owners and donors' have left their flats permanently for one and another reason, not least due to the contiuing exposé. However, there are no refunds!

Prashanthi Nilayam has one golden rule that is never broken by its officials: there can never be a cash refund! This is taken to such lengths that, if one pays in too much for books or other goods by mistake, no cash will be returned - however large the sum. If one complain even a few minuteds after discovering a mistake (however large) it is refusred. One is told that it will in time - and if fully documented - be added to one's credit on a personal account, but not refunded! Money cannot never be taken out of any account one has deposited it in, even to close down the account. It must be used! That is illegal practice - a real scam, but devotees do not want to cause waves or go to all the trouble involved in exposing it.

This is how Sai Baba's proclamation of neither needing nor ever taking anything from his devotees is followed up in practice! (Or doesn't the "omniscient" God notice that this is happening under his holy nose?)

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