Previous chapter: Editor's Introduction
To be omniscient is to be all knowing. Such a claim is impossible to confirm with certainty, for it would involve testing the person's knowledge about absolutely everything! But it is very easy to refute if it is a false claim. All that is required is to show that the person making the claim lacks some knowledge that it is possible for a person to have. For example, one who is omniscient will know all the human languages of the world. But Sai Baba, by his own admission and that of his followers, only knows two or three Indian languages fluently. And in a country where vast numbers of people speak fluent English, Sai Baba's English is too broken and unsteady for use in public discourses! In his letters to devotees, Sai Baba makes no pretences about this, and, for instance, excuses himself to one disciple for not having written earlier, explaining that he had no translator about so he could not get his letter translated:
Hislop accept this shower of Love and Joy. I received all the letters you wrote, and felt happy, reading them. Since I could not get a moment of leisure, due to the various items of work connected with the Whitefield College, and since the hurdle of language had to be crossed that is to say, since I could not write to you directly in Telugu, and I did not have with me persons who could correctly translate what I write I had to send you this letter after so much delay.
Sai Baba's Letter Quoted in Hislop, My Baba & I, p. 235.
Hislop, accept my blessings. The letters you sent have all been received. I have read them all...but, I was not able to send you replies, immediately. Many thousands of devotees had gathered during Dasara, the Birthday, and the All-India Conference of Office Bearers of Sathya Sai Organizations; and so, I could not avail myself of even a moment's leisure. Besides, since the building of the college has started, I have been at Bangalore, for about a month. Kasturi was at Prasanthi Nilayam, and letters to you had to be translated, and typed. So, the delay lengthened. This is what happened. Therefore, do not imagine that I have forgotten you. I shall never forget you...
Letter of Sai Baba quoted in Hislop, ibid., p. 238.
So, in Sai Baba's own words, he lacks the knowledge to do certain things--in short, he is not omniscient! How do we reconcile this obvious contradiction? One possibility would be for Sai Baba and his followers to show us that they mean something different by the term "omniscient" than the definition offered at the beginning of this section. In fact, there is evidence for this: V. K. Gokak, who for many years was a close disciple of Sai Baba, and an official interpreter of the Sai Baba message to the world, talks about the various false expectations Westerners are likely to have about Eastern gurus. One of them is put as follows:
The idea that a Master is all-knowing is taken to mean that he must know every thing trivial about everything and every one beforehand and that he should be able to act on it.
Gokak, In Defense Of Jesus Christ And Other Avatars, M. Gulab Singh & Sons P Ltd Publisher. 1979, p. 17.
The definite implication is that for Sai Baba to claim omniscience is not to claim omniscience or complete knowledge in the ordinary sense. Elsewhere the same author states:
Baba is not learned or highly educated. He is a non-matriculate playing with undergraduates in the Sathya Sai Colleges.
V K Gokak, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, The Man and The Avatar, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1975, p. 97
Of course, it would not be surprising to discover that someone who was omniscient was not educated in the usual manner of mere mortals; but the implication here is that Sai Baba behaves like the unlearned undergraduates in his college. If Gokak's interpretation is to be accepted, then at least we can be sure that Sai Baba's claim of omniscience, whatever it means, does not mean that he knows everything or is omniscient in the ordinary sense. It is clear, however, that most of Sai Baba's publications present his claim to omniscience as a claim to knowing everything in the ordinary sense. For example, Kanu, in Sai Baba, God Incarnate, states that Sai Baba as a boy had no need of schooling--he already knew everything:
At eight ... he was sent to the Higher Elementary School two and a half miles away from his house.... He attended the school solely to please his parents, and not because he needed a school education, for he was all-knowing.
Kanu, Sai Baba, God Incarnate, p. 28
And it is also to be observed that Sai Baba himself when asked about these matters confirms what Gokak says is the erroneous interpretation! For example, Hislop, as Sai Secretary for America, asked Sai Baba why Sai Baba needs to have his disciples actually write letters informing him of the various goings on in the Sai Centres. At this point it would have been a simple enough matter for Sai Baba to clarify, stating that daily matters are not known to him. Instead he denied lacking the knowledge, and justified the letter writing on the grounds that it was good for the disciples to write these letters, and, for example, to clear their conscience by writing. Here is the exchange reported by Hislop (JH is John Hislop, and SAI is Sai Baba):
JH: This question will sound silly to Swami, but it is serious to me.
JH: I write many letters to Swami about activities, problems and accomplishments in the American Sai Organization. But often I think it is silly to describe problems and events, since I know from my own direct experience that Swami is omnipresent and knows all about the events.
SAI: There is much nonsense about Swami being omnipresent and omnipotent! People start to think they need do nothing, that Swami will do everything! Then they do not bother to do even their daily duty. In spiritual life, the relationship between you and Swami is heart to heart. But in worldly life, Swami has given you work to do. This requires work in the world, activity in the world. You are required to do your duty to the very limit of the task. So far as writing is concerned, the writing of letters to Swami is for your satisfaction.
JH: For my satisfaction, Swami?
SAI: Yes, for your satisfaction. You write to Swami, and your mind is then free of the matter. It is not that Swami does not know. Suppose you withhold some troublesome point, you then have a guilty feeling. But you tell Swami, and there is no guilty feeling. Do your duty fully and completely in the work which Swami has given to you.
Quoted in My Baba and I, pp 214, 215.
And this sort of remark by Sai Baba is not unusual. In a speech reprinted in the official organ of the Sai Baba movement, Sanathana Sarathi, Sai Baba states:
Remember that Swami knows all that is happening though He may appear as if he knew nothing. Recognise the difference between the Divine and the human. Divinity, although all-knowing and all-powerful acts as if It does not know anything. The human being, though he is totally ignorant and incompetent, pretends to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Students should realise that Swami knows all about their misbehaviour...
Sanathana Sarathi, Vol 32, No. 8, Aug l989, p. 211, quoting a speech given by Sai Baba on June 19 1989.
This last quotation is useful for the purpose of getting a sense of the reliability of Sai Baba's explanations of matters such as these. Consider Sai Baba's statement that "The human being, though he is totally ignorant and incompetent, pretends to be all-knowing and all-powerful." The reader need only ask, which human beings are totally ignorant and incompetent? Is that an accurate description of what it is to be a human being? "Totally ignorant and incompetent"? Also, which human beings actually pretend to be all-knowing and all-powerful? Isn't it true that most human beings recognize themselves as limited creatures, creatures who are not all-knowing, and not all-powerful. It is only a human being who pretends to be Divine who can be described this way.
As far as omnipotence goes, Sai Baba, as we've seen, says "I was not able to send replies". This is not the statement of an omnipotent being. Also Sai Baba writes to Hislop to excuse himself for not being able to fulfil his promise to travel to America, and explains his inability saying that he had to attend to various matters in India:
Hislop, though I wanted to come to America, there were some urgent matters in connection with the development of the Colleges here, that I had to attend to. The Colleges have correlations with the Government of India, and so, they have to be equipped accordingly; ...Therefore, I had to look into all these matters myself.
Sai Baba's letter quoted in Hislop, p. 235.
The only explanation given by Sai Baba himself or his devotees as to why someone who is omniscient and omnipotent doesn't know English well enough to translate his own letters, or give public discourses in English, is that Sai Baba is merely pretending to be ordinary in these respects! This can hardly be counted as evidence of omniscience or omnipotence. Although we have yet to consider various specific paranormal powers claims, there is decisive evidence from Sai Baba's everyday behaviour that he is neither all-knowing nor all-powerful in the ordinary sense, the sense in which both he and his disciples (other than Gokak) claim he is.
Next chapter: Did Sai Baba Resurrect Someone From The Dead?
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