SAI BABA (1926 -    )

(Investigator 88, 2003 January)


Sri Satya Sai Baba was born in Puttaparthi, India, in 1926, and even as an infant showed a strange ability to produce sweets from an empty bag. At the age of thirteen he was allegedly stung by a scorpion, and from that day on seemed to be imbued with even more remarkable powers, calling himself Sai Baba. As his psychic abilities increased he became known as Sai Baba, Man of Miracles.

The original Sai Baba was a Hindu holy man who came from Shirdi and is alleged to have performed many miracles during his life. When he died in 1918, he told his followers that he would return. Many now believe that Sri Satya is the holy man reincarnated.

Satya Sai Baba's following is now worldwide, with 3,000 centres of learning in India, including five universities to promote his teachings, and another fifty centres overseas. It has been estimated that his teachings have won him over 50 million devotees.

Among his many alleged feats Sai Baba can produce large quantities of vibuti or holy ash from an upturned empty urn, or materialize it from his fingertips; give birth to lingams or egg shaped objects from his mouth; materialize gold objects, jewellery, gems and coins from thin air; turn water into gasoline; make flowers thrown haphazardly onto the ground form perfect words; produce a large glass bowl from nowhere, cause statues to appear from the sand, and at times cause a light to shine from his forehead.

Apart from these miracles, Sai Baba allegedly resurrected a man pronounced dead by a doctor; has complete telepathic knowledge of all his devotees undertakings; has performed countless healings and rescues at a distance when devotees have been in danger; claims to be omnipotent and omniscient, and that his life fulfils ancient prophecies.

Although Sai Baba claims that he does not read books or meditate and has had little formal education, it is alleged that he quotes from the Bible, the Koran, Socrates, Kant and Karl Marx, and has an extensive knowledge of the ancient Hindu scriptures.

Many religious teachers come to him to be enlightened on abstruse theological conundrums that have perplexed them, claiming that he has a genius for lucid explanation.

In October 1988, the parents of murdered Sydney nurse Anita Cobby made the pilgrimage to Sai Baba's ashram to purge their grief. Mrs Lynch said, "it was a very spiritual experience for us" and that "he (Baba) gave us new hope and helped us come to terms with the loss of our Anita." Mrs Lynch added, "Although we didn't get to talk to him personally, I think he knew we were there." Mr Lynch said that the guru's teachings were hard to explain but gave new meaning to their lives.

Is Sai Baba really a reincarnated godman? Can he really perform miracles? Did he resurrect the dead? David Hume, (1711-1776) the famous English philosopher had this to say about miracles:

"A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm an unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined."

Like the miracles recorded in the Bible, Sai Baba's are performed in a similar unsophisticated environment, its people steeped in superstition and a belief in the supernatural, and his followers willing to exaggerate and even invent in an effort to promote their master.

To critically examine Sai Baba's claims of being a "godman", it is only necessary to expose his and other godmen's "miracles" for what they are – simple magic tricks performed by magicians world-wide.

Mr B Premanand, the convener of the Indian Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and a former devotee of Sai Baba, has spent most of his life investigating Indian godmen, holymen and gurus, and can replicate well over eleven hundred of the "miracles" attributed to Sai Baba and others. The following are but a few, and should suffice to show that in accordance with Hume's reasoning, there is a rational explanation for any supernatural claim.
 

Stopping the heart beat.

The heart beat can be made to appear as though it has stopped by breathing in deeply and trying to exhale without exhaling. But what is generally done by godmen is only to slow the pulse rate at the wrist. This is done by restricting the flow of blood to the hands by concealing a small ball under the armpit and pressing. Doctors in the confusion are persuaded only to check the pulse and being barely perceptible, believe that it has stopped.

Another way is to surreptitiously pinch the tube of the doctor's stethoscope so that the heart beat cannot be heard. They do this trick to make people believe that by practising yoga and pranayama a person can stop breathing and the heart from beating and still be alive – proof that they are above normal human beings.
 

Making vibhuti from air.

Producing vibhuti, or holy ash, apparently from thin air, is a favourite Sai Baba trick. No one can create matter from nothing except by physical and chemical reactions of a matter which can only transform one matter into another. The phenomenon of creating something from nothing is contrary to the theory of conservation which teaches that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. To get ash one has to burn wood, paper or cowdung, the ash so made has no smell unless perfume is added to it.

Sai Baba claims to be able to create anything from nothing, he accomplishes this by mixing perfumed ash with a starch solution into small balls of dough and allows them to dry. These balls are hidden between the thumb and index finger and after circling the hands palms down and while raising the hand to produce holy ash the balls are bought to the fingers tips, powdered and sprinkled on the devotees. If it were possible to create something from nothing one need only hold one's hands palms upperwards and wait for something to appear, it is not necessary to wave one's hands around to distract and to conceal. It should be noted too, that the expensive objects manifested are only given to the rich and influential devotees, the deserving poor get the ash!
 

Producing fire by mental power.

An impressive little trick guaranteed to fool even the most intelligent unless they are conversant with the reactions caused by an admixture of chemicals. The godman prepares a pile of wood chips and on to it pours a spoonfull of ghee (a solid white oil used in soap and ointment manufacture). He then sends his "mental powers" through his eyes and circles his hands over the woodchip pile which starts to smoke and then catches fire.

What he has done is to secretly hide potassium permanganate below the woodchips and pour onto the wood a little glycerine. When the two come together, oxygen and heat is generated and smoke and fire is produced.

Piercing the tongue.

Wherever there are no bones and if one has a reasonable tolerance for pain, piercing the tongue or other parts of the body with sharp sterilised needles is not a supernatural feat. Women who pierce their ears, noses and other parts of their bodies to beautify themselves with gold ornaments testify to this. However piercing the heart, neck or organs is done by using gimmicks.
 

Walking on hot coals.

There are three factors that enable people to walk across hot coals without getting burnt, the breeze, the coolness, and the dampness. If rock salt is first sprinkled on the hot coals it attracts moisture and so there are no sudden burns if one walks across within three seconds. The usual procedure in places of worship, is to wash the feet and body with lots of water in front of the hot coal bed, and then walk around it several times while praying. The feet get coated with wet clay and until the water evaporates won't get burned.
 

Cutting off the tongue.

An old trick of the muslim saints. One first makes the tongue supple by pulling it daily for about fifteen minutes and then curling it back into the throat. After practising this position one places the tongue of an animal in the mouth, and as if it is cut remove it, and curl the real tongue up inside the mouth. People really believe that the tongue has been cut off. Then as if refixing the tongue, palm the animal tongue and bring back the original tongue to its usual position.
 

Removing the eyes.

Similar to the above, Muslim saints (appear to) remove their eyes, show them to the audience, then replace them. This particular trick is performed by a guru in Kerala, Southern India, who lost an eye some years ago. He simply inserts a sheep’s or goat's eye into his empty eye socket and removes it at the appropriate time.

Sai Baba's claim to have resurrected the dead has been exposed as false by those who have taken the time to investigate it thoroughly, and he was caught red-handed on Indian television cameras performing one of his miraculous manifestations seen later by millions to be a simple sleight-of-hand trick.

On August 29, 1992, the Indian Prime Minister Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao and many other dignatories gathered at Hyderabad to celebrate the inauguration of Sri Satya Sai Baba's kalyana mandapam, the largest in India. During the celebration Sai Baba presented a memento to the architect and "produced" a gold chain from "thin air." To Baba's followers this was just another miracle but frame by frame the TV cameras disclosed Baba's assistant secretly passing him the chain.

Bibliography:

Beyerstein, Dale. 1993. Sai Baba's N4iracles – An Overview. Indian Skeptic, July.

Brookesmith, P. (Ed.) 1984. The Unex-plained. (Vol.2.) Orbis Publishing.

Kovoor. A. Gods Demons and Spirits. Jaico Publishing House. Bombay.

Narasimhaswamiji. Life of Sai Baba. (Four vols.) All India Samaj. Madras.

Narayanan, P.K. 1977. Psychosomatic Structure of Miracles. The Indian Rationalist Society. Madras.

Nicholas, M. 1986. The World's Greatest Psychics and Mystics. Oc-topus Books. London.

Osbourne, A. The Incredible Sai. Somaiya Publications. Bombay.

Premanand, B. 1976. Lure of Miracles. B. Premanand. Publisher. 10 Chetti-palyanan Road, Podanur. 641023 Tamil Nadu. India.

Premanand, B. Indian Skeptic. May 1988, June 1988, July 1988, August 1988, October 1988, November 1988, January 1989, October 1989, April 1990, October 1990, November 1990.

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Sunday Mail, 22 Cawasji Patel Street, Bombay. November 29, December 5, 1992.

[From:  Edwards, H.  A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age]


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