01 January 2006

A Serpentine Revelation by Arnold Schulman

A torturously pedantic critic recently argued with an editor of Exbaba.Com about an entry on the Wikipedia page about Sathya Sai Baba, claiming that the editor had improperly represented a quote by Arnold Schulman. This critic also uploaded a scan of the relevant page from Schulman's book in order to show the quote in full.

Personally, I thought that the argument was extremely petty and inconsequential since the difference in the quotes was minimal; since the Editor was being unfairly accused of various things relating to deliberate misrepresentations in order to feed negative ideas, intellectual dishonesty and the like, I thought that I had better put my views forward since it was claimed that the "erroneous" quote originated from an old essay of mine. For reference, here is the quote in full as provided from a colleague's scan:

"For every story of Baba's childhood there are any number of conflicting versions and, at this point, the writer discovered, it is no longer possible to sift out the facts from the legend. For one thing Baba has forbidden his family and devotees to talk about his childhood and 'they all live in terror of Baba,' as one of his most devoted followers told the writer. 'When they do something wrong,' the devotee said, 'he won't look at them or speak to them for days and it's agony for them ...

"In the beginning the writer was suspicious about the reasons for which Baba had imposed such severe restrictions to his followers, in referring episodes regarding his childhood, but afterwards he was brought to believe that it was not Baba's intention to suppress some information because he didn't wanted them to be revealed. On the contrary, that was the better way to prevent that Baba's followers, even the good-determined ones, could distort the truth. A little exaggeration here, a retouch there could have definitely polluted his own ‘reservoir of credibility’.”

It is clear from this that critics cannot claim to know very much about the mentality of Sai Baba's devotees, what to speak of the denial, rationalisation and cover-up that they regularly indulge in. I am unaware if Arnold Schulman was a Sai devotee, but his speculations as for why Sai Baba aggressively scotched discussions of his own past - even to the point of physical violence - sounds awfully similar to rationalisations and justifications of the Baba's "quirks" that are offered by various devotees. As for why Sai Baba indulged in such suspicious behaviour, I have discussed a few ideas and explanations in my essay with a couple of lesser-known stories from the early years.

If Schulman's speculations about avoiding distortions of the truth were correct, then I stand and mournfully observe how it hasn't worked very well given the fact that the current hagiographical ballyhoo contains a veritable pot-pourri of strange stories and assumptions. Just one example of this relates to the tale of a cobra, which allegedly appeared miraculously after Sathyanarayana Raju (Sai Baba's birth name) was born. As Schulman noted:

"One of Baba's two sisters, however, who claims to have been present at his birth, says that the cobra was not found under the blanket, but several hours after Baba was born a cobra was seen outside the house, a sight not uncommon in the village."

It is curious to see how this significantly differs from several "official" accounts of the cobra event. At the time of writing, I am aware of three major pieces of Sai literature that treat Sai Baba's birth with considerable depth:

  • 'Baba Satya Sai' by Ra. Ganapati.
  • 'Easwaramma - The Chosen Mother' by N. Kasturi, and
  • 'Sathyam Sivam Sundaram', also by N. Kasturi.
Whereas the former two publications deal with multifarious subjects related to Sai Baba's life, we can confidently treat 'Sathyam Sivam Sundaram' as proper source material, given that it was penned under Sai Baba's direct order and approval.

Here is the relevant passage from the text:

"Indeed the village which bears the name, 'Anthill Prosperity' gave the child an appropriate welcome! A snake was there in the lying-in room! The women did not notice it for long; but, when the baby, laid on a bed of clothes, was being moved up and down in a peculiar way by something underneath, they watched with bated breath and when at last they searched, they found a cobra below the bed! The snake was acting the role of Sesha to the Seshasayi!"

The funny thing about this is how N. Kasturi claimed to have collected his material by interviewing various family members and villagers. Here is how he described his appointment in his autobiography, 'Loving God' (p. 89):

"He placed his hand on my shoulder. He stood facing me. I could see my image in those eyes. 'Have the wedding at Puttaparthi. Come and tell me whatever you need. And.... after retiring from the University, stay with me. You can write my Jiva Charithra, Biography,' He said. 'Me?' I ejaculated.
"'Yes I shall tell you whom to consult for details - parents, brothers, kinsmen, neighbours, teachers etc. I shall also help.'"

Kasturi dated this incidence as happening in July 1948, and later reveals that the book was finally published in 1960. Assuming that he included Baba's own sister in his research project, that left a comfortable twelve years for compiling and publishing an authorised biography with the input of Sai Baba and several contemporaries. How fascinating it is to observe a close member of the Baba's family disagreeing with a staple of the Sai mythos, leading one to wonder why Kasturi's little anecdote was allowed to be left in at all?

For me, the reason was clear; the propaganda machine thought nothing of overblowing this out of all proportion in order to promote the idea that Sai Baba is an incarnation of Vishnu.

As well most know, the Hindu god Vishnu is traditionally depicted reclining on a huge snake. Another god, Shiva, is depicted as having a cobra twirled around his neck and other body parts, and there has been no dearth of linking this to Sai Baba either.

As these pictures show, Sai Baba clearly doesn't mind playing along to the myth. And what does this say about purposely misrepresenting events to feed a positive idea, to paraphrase the criticisms of the critic? Given the known fact that Puttaparthi was a snake-infested area in those early days, spotting one outside the house after Sai Baba's birth, what to speak of it wriggling underneath him, does not prove anything about his supposed divinity. If it was so, then I humbly consider the possibility that every child born in the vicinity of poisonous snakes is a potential avatar.

In conclusion, we can carefully consider that there is a huge gulf between facts and interpretations of those facts. If anything tangible is to be gleaned from Schulman's quote, it is that Sai Baba aggressively halted discussion about his past for a clear reason; the stories of all or most of his early escapades are probably untrue.

Afterword: When all of these reasonings and arguments were placed in front of the critic, all he had to offer in solid response was a sarcastic jibe about how I had nothing to say about the ExBaba.Com Editor's supposed misquoting. He removed his scan of Schulman's book shortly thereafter, which perhaps serves to prove the truth of the adage: 'It is easy to wake a sleeper, but difficult to wake a pretending sleeper.'

Copyright © Sai Baba EXPOSED! 2005-2007. Discuss this post!

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  • I am very grateful to my upaguru
    Arnold Schulman whose book Baba
    by Pyramid led me to go to India.
    I became a devotee immediately upon
    reading screenwriter Schulman.

    His self deprecating sense of humour,
    his brilliant writing style (he made
    a half million each for screenplays)
    and his compassion were touchstones.

    That was 28 years ago.

    By Blogger Ahimsa Network, at 11 November, 2006 18:17  

  • Thank you Arnold Schulman for
    your beautiful book which made me a devotee
    of Baba since 1978.

    Schulman with his brilliant writing
    style which has made him .5 million
    for each screenplay.. has self deprecating humor and compassion.

    By Blogger Ahimsa Network, at 11 November, 2006 18:20  

  • Baba about His attackers:

    Diamonds shine more brightly foiled
    by black velvet

    By Blogger Ahimsa Network, at 11 November, 2006 18:21  

  • Hello Sylvia (Ahimsa Network), how have you been? Still a devotee, so I see.

    Never mind. It's a shame that Arnold Schulman unwittingly exposed an eye-opening flaw in Sai Baba's hagiographical history, which is hardly that much of a surprise when you consider the prevalance of snakes in that area.

    Too bad, Sai Baba is not an avatar and there was no snake under his bead.

    By Blogger Swami Saiexposedananda, at 17 November, 2006 05:19  

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