Early Western devotees of Sathya Sai Baba

Series: Westerners in India.

A personalised card (actual size 1″x 2″) materialised by Sathya Sai Baba for Mata Betty, a New Zealand devotee, in 1980.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s (1926 – 2011) early Western devotees and visitors to the ashram from the 1940s onwards…

From The Hagiographer and the Avatar (2021) by Antonio Rigopoulos

“Foreign interest in the guru of Puttaparthi grew rapidly, especially during the period 1965-1975. Through their testimony and books, a few select Westerners, primarily from the United States, came to be co‑helpers in Biographer N. Kasturi’s endeavor of expanding the guru’s fame, paving the way to the ever‑growing “Western invasion” of Prasanthi Nilayam that would characterize the 1970s and even more so the 1980s. By the end of the 1960s, the first Sathya Sai Baba centres were established outside India, primarily in America but also in Europe and other parts of the world, and the year 1971 saw the publication of the first books about Sathya Sai Baba, written by Arnold Schulman and Howard Murphet. The 1970s witnessed a general growth in the number of foreign devotees and the Americans were no doubt the driving force of the guru’s movement.”

The experiences with Sathya Sai Baba are not always pleasant for the recipient. All genuine gurus do the unexpected, to shock and transform people: Neem Kaloli Baba, Nityananda… Even the ‘gentle’ sage of Arunachala, Ramana Maharshi, set up ashram builder Annamalai Swami to be in conflict with the ashram administrative head and told him not to say that he, Ramana, had told him to go ahead with a building project against the official administration’s plan.

French painter Maurice Denis painted what appears to be Sathya Sai Baba in 1894

English Officer 1940s (after October 1943) Puttaparthi

English woman 1946

Argentine Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes 10th November 1948, at a devotee’s house in Bangalore

French Sanskrit scholar Valestin January 1960 Prasanthi Nilayam

Americans Bob Raymer and Markell (Binky) Brooks 1962

American Nirmalananda 1963 Prasanthi Nilayam

Mrs Ruth Wilson 17th January 1964 Prasanthi Nilayam

American Hilda Charlton July 1964 Prasanthi Nilayam

Swiss school teacher Gabriella Steyer 24th December 1964 Whitefield

Howard and Iris Murphet Indian Spring 1965, at the Madras home of G. Venkateshwara Rao

Dr Hernando de la Cuesta from the United States and Pole Marek Tollik from the University of Paris 9th August 1965 Prasanthi Nilayam

Australian Frank C. Becker 22nd September 1965 Prasanthi Nilayam

Mr Harding from London arrived for a short stay 22nd January 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

Swiss Bruno Kueazi 5th February 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

Norwegian Alf Tideman Johanessan March 1966 Bombay

Yogini Indra Devi April 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

American author Opal Macrae (nee Wheeler) 10th September 1966

Americans Mr and Mrs Margolis 28th October 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

Canadian Mrs. Jasmin 10th November Prasanthi Nilayam

French Miss Gena Letang 13th November 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

American Jaclyn Garon 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

Greek Constantine Letnis 23rd January 1967 Prasanthi Nilayam

Julie Taylor and George Reid 29th January 1967 Prasanthi Nilayam

American yogini Judith Tyberg 1967

American Annalisa Rajagopal (nee Beghe) 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

American John Hislop January 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

Australian born American pilot, Charles Penn midnight 9th May 1968 Bombay

Polish Ramana Maharshi devotee Lucia Osborne May 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

Americans Walter and Elsie Cowan 1968

Americans Mr and Mrs Anderson on Baba’s 43rd birthday celebrations in November 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

American Richard Bock on Baba’s 43rd birthday celebrations in November 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

Russian born American Herman 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

Mrs Elizabeth Palmer 1968, again in 1970 and again in 1972 with her family

American playwright Arnold Schulman Whitefield in 1969 and a second visit in 1970

American Lyn Rubenstein (Leela) 1969

English woman Victoria (Vicki) Mills (Later Ruff and then Cruickshank) from London 1969 Prasanthi Nilayam

Honduran Miss Rosa Celeste Ravaneau 1969 Prasanthi Nilayam

American Diana Riordan (later Baskin) November 1969 at the Women’s College in Anantapur

American Yoga Teacher Bittina Biggart 23rd November 1969 Prasanthi Nilayam

American John Moffitt

American Anne Green (known as Janni, who later changed her name to Om) 1970

American Tal Brooke February 1970 Prasanthi Nilayam

Richard Bock’s fiancé Janet attends Shivaratri celebrations at Prasanthi Nilayam in 1970

John Lennon and Yoko Ono visited the Dharmasektra Ashram in Bombay in May 1970, and again in Prasanthi Nilayam sometime in late 1974

American Michele Malvin (married in 1977 Kaplowitz) arrives for Shivaratri, 1st March 1970 Prasanthi Nilayam

Hans arrived for Shivatratri 1970

Americans VJ Supera (Marsha) and sister India Supera arrived for Shivaratri, 6th March 1970

German Beno Wiesner arrived for Shivaratri 1970 and stayed for 2 years.

American Bruce Bradbury April 1970

American Robert Conger (Hanuman) April 1970 Whitefield

American artist Wendel Field 1970

British Martin Stamp 1970

American Dave Walker 1970 stayed for one year

American Gil 1970

Zolt and Sandy 1970

Peter 1970

Jai Devi 1970

Tony 1970

American Howard Levin 5th June 1970 Whitefield

American Heidi King January 1971 Whitefield

Americans Gale Molloy and her sister Nora Oswald and husband David Oswald September1971 Prasanthi Nilayam

American Marc Schles 1971

Americans Sharon and Gary Purcell April 1971

From Honolulu, American architect Steve W.G. Au and his wife Irene Botelho Au 1971 Whitefield

American Psychologist Phil Gosselin April 1971 Whitefield (Gosselin’s sister and her husband would follow later on, and his best friend arrived in January 1972)

Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) 1971 Whitefield

American music group Lightstorm (Johnima and Kalassu Wintergate, Silver and Sui-San) 1971 Whitefield

Americans Cathy and Richard Bayer at a private residence in Madras, Christmas 1971

American Andrea Schles 1972 for 4 months, 1973 second trip

American Psychiatrist Samuel Sandweiss at a devotees apartment on the outskirts of Bombay in May 1972. His Wife Sharon and four daughters would follow in the later years

American Michael J. Hollander August 1972 Prasanthi Nilayam

Venezuelan Arlette Meyer 1972

Mexicans Dr Luis Muniz and his wife Gail 1972

American Lila Youngs 1972 Prasanthi Nilayam

Scot Bill Aitken at his partner’s (The Maharani Prithwi Bir Kaur of Jind – The Phulkian Dynasty) Delhi house in 1972

American Peter Mt. Shasta Indian Fall 1972 Prasanthi Nilayam

Americans Sidney and Phyllis Krystal January 1973 Whitefield

American Swami Kriyananda January 1973 Whitefield

American Leslie Bouche 1973

Americans Elaine and David Gries June 1973 Whitefield

American businessman Isaac Tigrett 1973 Whitefield

German Jew Al Drucker 1973 Prasanthi Nilayam

American Don Heath 1973

Icelandic academic, psychologist and psi researcher Haraldsson and Latvian born Dr Karlis Osis 1973 Prasanthi Nilayam

Americans Franklin Albert Jones (Adi Da) and Gerald Sheinfeld 1973

Australian surfer Peter Rae Whitefield 1973

Americans Bob and Barbara Bozzani February 1974

American Larry Smith 1974?

Bolivian Romero Sotello Murillo 1974

Author Paul William Roberts September 1974 Prasanthi Nilayam

American brothers Michael and Brian Steely arrive for Dasara 1974 Prasanthi Nilayam

Muriel J. Engle of Santa Barbara was among the first Westerners to travel to India to meet Sathya Sai Baba 1970s

Raja Yoga teacher Helene Vreeland was among the first Westerners to travel to India to meet Sathya Sai Baba 1970s

American Creta Schiermann 1970s

American John Moore January 1975

German Adi von Harder 6th November 1975 Prasanthi Nilayam

American Leni Matlin January 1976 Whitefield

American Jack Lenchiner April 1976 Whitefield

American Gary Yoder May 1976 Dharmakshetra for a week and the on to Ootacamund

Hungarian born Suzie Parvati Reeves 1st September 1976 Prasanthi Nilayam

Italians Antonio and Sylvie Craxi 1976 Whitefield

American Patricia Kelly 1976

Ravi Shankar and George Harrison December 1976 at the Dharmakshetra Ashram in Bombay

Ida Marion St. John from California and Gita Orescan from Germany

English musician Dana Gillespie 1978

American Patricia Wing 1978

American attorney Robert Baskin mid February 1978 and stayed until the end of 1979

Canadian musician Walter Maynard Ferguson and his American wife Floralu (Flo) Ferguson (Farmer) April/May 1978 Whitefield

American Professor Frank Baranowski July 1978 Whitefield

American Jack Hawley 1978 Whitefield and stayed for a month

British Peggy Mason and Ron Laing 1978

American Susan Salguero 1978

American Homer Youngs 1978

American Lila Taylor 1978 Prasanthi Nilayam

Danes Hagen and Tata Hasselbalch, Preben Plum December 1978 Prasanthi Nilayam

Art and Gloria Clokey January 1979 Whitefield

Americans Johnathan and Rose Roof January 1979

Americans Robert and Rita Bruce Easter 1979 Prasanthi Nilayam

American Dixie Cooper August 1979 Whitefield

American Bruce Bouche 1979 Prasanthi Nilayam and stayed for 6 months on this first trip

Argentines Ananda Giri, Monica Zocolosky, Marta Basan, and group 1979 Prasanthi Nilayam

American yoga teacher Larry Payne 1979

American Richard A. Nelson 1979

Lucas Ralli January 1981 Whitefield

Dane Dr Thorbjørn Meyer February 1981 Prasanthi Nilayam and then with wife Marianne Meyer and 14 other Danes in December 1981

Argentinian Leonardo Gutter 1981 in the Madras ashram, Sundaram

Italian Catholic Priest Don Mario Mazzoleni August 1981 Prasanthi Nilayam

Dane Birgitte Rodriguez 1981 Prasanthi Nilayam. She lived on the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for ten years before meeting Baba.

Americans Raye and Joy Thomas December 1981 Prasanthi Nilayam

Argentine Mr. Hugo Baldi and family 1981

American Yaani Drucker 1982

Americans Connie Shaw and fiancé Jim Wright 18th March 1982 Prasanthi Nilayam

German healer Kai Kroeger Christmas 1982 Prasanthi Nilayam

Swiss Victor Tognola 1983

American Judy Warner January 1985 Prasanthi Nilayam

Italian author Antonio Rigopoulos November 1985

German author Jack Shemesh December 1987

Americans Charlene Leslie-Chaden and Syd Chaden December 1987

Italian Silvia Spinozzi January 1989

American John Prendergast

French painter Maurice Denis painted what appears to be Sathya Sai Baba in 1894

Maurice Denis (1870 – 1943) was a French painter, theorist, decorative artist and writer, who was an important figure in the transitional period between impressionism and modern art. He founded the Nabis in 1888 and published the group’s manifesto in the magazine Art et critique. His theories contributed to the foundations of cubism, fauvism, and abstract art. Following the First World War, he founded the Ateliers d’Art Sacré (Workshops of Sacred Art), decorated the interiors of churches, and worked for a revival of religious art.

As a photographer, he mostly photographed his wife and their seven children, sometimes experimenting with extreme close-ups. He left behind 2,689 prints and 1,250 negatives. He had his negatives developed professionally; his wife did the printing and stored the images in albums.

As both a devout Catholic and a modern artist of great vision and skill, Denis also helped to redefine Religious art, bringing it back to the forefront of creative advances in the visual and decorative fields, a position it had arguably not occupied since the era of Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Autoportrait devant le prieuré (1921).
Maurice Denis in his studio (date unknown).
Saintes femmes au tombeau, painted by Maurice Denis in 1894 (oil on canvas, Maurice Denis museum, Saint Germain en Laye, France) shows what appears to be Sathya Sai Baba (1926-2011) and the holy women at the tomb.

The work depicts a group of woman, clothed in white robes and piously composed, walking in a garden. They are accompanied by a child, and by two angels who hold their hands up in a gesture of protection. In the background is a vivid landscape, perhaps Italianate, yet strangely otherworldly, composed of small whitewashed houses dotted along a green hillside.

Easter Morning (also known as Holy Women at the Tomb) exemplifies the evermore pronounced integration of Christian allegory into Denis’s work; unlike in Landscape with Green Trees, these themes are not ambiguously or ephemerally expressed. In fact, the title of the work indicates that the women are approaching the tomb of Christ on Easter Morning, in which context the beauty of the landscape comes to stand for the beauty of the women’s souls, and of their spiritual devotion. Other paintings produced around this time focus on similar themes, including the Annunciation, the Madonna and Child, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. The increasingly direct expression of Christian faith through Denis’s work would lead him away from the rest of the Nabi group, and thus away from some of the central concerns of modern art. But his themes were only those that had shaped European Art for centuries. In this sense, Denis was simply proceeding along the course of “Neo-Traditionalism” laid out in his Nabi manifesto of four years earlier.

Oil on canvas – Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée Départemental

English Officer 1940s (after October 1943) Puttaparthi

During the 1940s, one day after Baba had returned to Puttaparthi from Uravakonda (Baba went to Uravakonda High School in early 1943, and left in October 1943), an English officer who was a big game-hunter had gone hunting in the forest on the other side of the Chitravathi River. He had shot a tiger and was driving back to Anantapur. Suddenly for no apparent reason, the jeep stopped right outside the village of Puttaparthi. Despite their best efforts neither the driver nor the officer could get the jeep started.

R. Balapattabi recalls in his book Nectarine Leelas – One day about ten of us were listening to Bhagawan’s exposition of philosophical scriptures, like the Upanishads, when suddenly He left us and went to His room. It was 9 am. Soon, an Englishman entered the Mandir followed by an Indian. The Englishman sat down on Baba’s chair. The Indian explained, “He is the Collector of Anantapur. We went for hunting last night in the forest, and while returning, our jeep was stuck up in the Chitravathi River. Right from 7 am we have been trying to pull it up – but even with four pairs of bullocks, it does not budge. The villagers told us that Baba could help us and we have come here.” Baba came out after half an hour. He said in Telugu, “Alas! You have killed a tigress whose two cubs are not even a month old! First you must arrange to keep the cubs in the zoo and save them.” This was translated into English. The Collector was astounded. He stood up and saluted Bhagawan. Baba materialised vibhuti and gave it to the Collector saying, “Throw it on the jeep; it will move.” That was done. The jeep sprang out of the riverbed. The Collector had the cubs sent to the zoo. He also presented the skin of the tigress he had shot to Baba. The tiger-skin is now spread under Baba’s chair in the Prasanthi Mandir.

Another slightly different version of events is that the driver had heard the stories about the young Sai Baba from the village, so he told the Englishman that there was a boy nearby who could create holy ash by a circular movement of his palm; the ash could cure everything and would probably even cure the jeep. Since he was stranded half-way and at a loss to know what was wrong with the engine, the officer agreed to wait in the jeep, while the driver went into the village to find Baba. The driver wandered through the streets of Puttaparthi for awhile and finally saw the boy and before he could say a word, Baba said, “I am coming to the jeep myself.” Baba walked across the sandy river bed to the place where the jeep had stalled. He looked inside the jeep and saw the beautiful tiger, which the officer had shot a couple of hours before. Baba explained to the men that it was he who made the jeep stop outside Puttaparthi, because the tiger that was now dead, and had been the mother of three two-week old cubs. The cubs were crying, hungry and lost without their mother. “Go Back,” Baba instructed sternly “Get those cubs and give them to a zoo where they will be well looked after. And do not shoot wild animals, for they have done you no harm. Why do you go in search of them surrounding them and laying traps to catch them?” Baba suggested that instead, the officer should shoot animals only with his camera; it was a superior weapon that would not maim or kill animals. The Englishman did just what Baba had said. He took the cubs to a zoo and from then onwards used only his camera for hunting. He discovered that hunting with a camera was even more challenging than with a gun and it was also a more peaceful, nonviolent and virtuous way to live.

The officer was so touched by Baba’s wisdom that he could not bear to look at the tiger skin when it came back from the taxidermist. So he took the skin to Puttaparthi where he met Baba again, and placed it at his Feet. The tiger-skin is now spread under Baba’s chair in the Prasanthi Mandir. The Tiger skin – the tiger is the vehicle of Shakti, the goddess of power and force. Shiva is beyond and above any kind of force. He is the master of Shakti. The tiger skin that he wears symbolises victory over every force.

The tiger is the vehicle of Shakti, the goddess of power and force. Shiva is beyond and above any kind of force. He is the master of Shakti. The tiger skin that he wears symbolises victory over every force.

English woman 1946

There are of those of Western origin who had visited or had met Sathya Sai Baba very early on in the 1940s. The author recalls that one evening in late 1991, while dinning out at Koshy’s in Bangalore with a friend, who recognised one of the patrons, and elderly English woman, that night as one who had met Baba in 1946. Being brought up in India, she had remained in the country after partition in 1947.

Argentine Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes 10th November 1948, at a devotee’s house in Bangalore

Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes (1889 – 1967), widow of renowned Argentine novelist Ricardo Güiraldes, was invited by a Maharani, a Sathya Sai Baba devotee, to meet the twenty-two-year-old Swami. Adelina, wife of Ricardo Güiraldes, famous Argentine novelist and poet, had been living in India for sometime and was dedicated to the spiritual path and to translating Indian scriptures into Spanish. The first meeting between Sai Baba and Adelina occurred on the 10th of November 1948, in a luxurious house in Bangalore.

In 1927, Adelina and her husband travel to India, to the Belur Math in Calcutta. Adelina was a disciple of Swami Viyoiananda, who founded the Ramakrishna Ashram in Bella Vista, Buenos Aires. She also dedicated her life to complete and disseminate the literary work of her husband. In 1938, she began her second trip to India, where she resumed her relationship with the Ramakrishna Order, this time settling in Bangalore.

When she encountered Baba for the first time, she realised, “Here was the One of whom the epic scriptures have been written.” Her heart filled with divine experiences, she returned to Argentina in 1951, taking with her Sai Baba’s materialisations and many thrilling stories.

In those days, Sai Baba would keep in contact with certain devotees by post. So it was with Adelina, whom he affectionately called “Mamina” or “Mamitha.” On one envelope, he wrote in his own hand, “Mamitha” – Pasupathi Kultiram, Sri Sathya Sai Baba High School Committee, Bukkapatnam.” This was a printed invitation, headed by a small photo of him, inviting her to the inauguration of that school.

Baba added, “Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s Blessings to Mamita and Ramu from Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi. How is your health, Mamita?” The date is 8 August 1950. There are a number of letters, all handwritten and addressed to Mamina, dated 22nd January 1949, 11th September 1949, 30th March 1951, 9th June 1951, and 16th December 1951.

Adelina tells her first meeting with Sai Baba in her personal diary in this way:

«…. In the background there was a set of armchairs…”

 … “ Next to my side stood a skinny young man with a baby face dressed in a long tunic with neck-length hair, extremely curly, that haloed his head”…

“…The Maharani places the tray of flowers and fruit at her feet; he bends down and touches them with the tips of her fingers in acceptance. Then they introduce me. The Swami indicates my seat next to him on the big sofa. I am full of amazement; I thought I met a venerable old Swami and it is almost a child that I have before my eyes. (…). They speak in “Kannada”, which I don’t understand, but I realize they speak about me: “South America, Ramakrishna Mission” and my name. I notice that the Swami looks at me askance. Then he starts addressing me in “Kannada,” which the owner of the house translates for me and when I answer they translate for the Swami. My concepts seem to please him. (…) Why doesn’t he show his powers to my friend? A slight frown on Sai Baba’s brow shows his disgust, but at once he smiles with his natural affability. I notice that he continually watches me and picks up my reactions to what he says and does.

Suddenly he says to me “Madam, do you want some vibhuti?” “Yes, Swami, with pleasure.” He raised his hand, did his usual turning gesture, and his little hand was full of vibhuti. He took a pinch and put it between my eyebrows and gave me the rest telling me to keep it. We continued talking and he told me “You are full of bliss and your heart is full of God.”  He raised his hand again, made his gesture of rotation in the air and there was  a small silver image of Krishna as a child.. “That is why I give you this image.” “Thank you very much… but tell me Swami, you are so young man, did you have to do much penance and austerities to have these powers?” “Oh, no, ma’am!” “What is your name?” “Sathya Sai Baba. Since I was born I have known who he was and the powers he possessed but I have not shown it until I was 16 years old. This time I have come into the world to heal the sick and bring the wicked to the path of God. My wonder knows no bounds.”

A short time later Adelina is invited again. She tells it like this “Come on, lady, the bhajans are very nice and they are waiting for you.” Suddenly it occurs to me to ask “Tell me, is there a young Swami there?” “It is he who asks for you, ma’am.” I immediately get ready and go with my boy (Ramachandra Gowda). All eyes were focused on the Swami. Suddenly I see his forehead covered in vibhuti with a thick strip of red kum kum, without him having brought his hands to his forehead. His lips move as if mumbling a prayer and his right hand makes a slight push-up gesture.

(…) After a while, they come to call me on their behalf. “I am very happy that you came, Mamita! Is this your child?” (referring to Ramu). “Yes, Swami.” He blesses him by telling me “Don’t fear anything for him, he has a good future.” (Mamita or Mataji in Sanskrit, is a reference to his status as adopter of the Indian boy, Ramachandra Gowda).

Since then I have seen him often. One day he has come to my house. “OH! what peace and bliss there is in every corner of his house” he tells me. He is pleased, there is no doubt. (…) .A few days later the Swami returns to Hyderabad. “Mamita, for Shivaratri in February you have to come at all costs. It is in Puttaparthi that I am in possession of all my power and I want to give you much needed health, strength and courage.”

In 1951, she returns to Argentina bringing with letters from Sai Baba which have become true relics for the Sathya Sai Baba organisation in Buenos Aires.

In 1952 she entered the ashram of the Ramakrishna Order in Bella Vista, Buenos Aires and stays until 1963.

The link below is a copy of the letter written Adelina where she recalls a meeting with Gabriela Mistral in Buenos Aires, 25 years ago, and points out that Juan Marín visited her. She comments on her personal matters, about her stay in India.


In 1913, Güiraldes married Adelina del Carril and both his life and his career as a writer were going to take a 180 degree turn. Knowing of his great passion for the gauchos and his great pen, it was Adelina who encouraged him so that, two years later, his first two books were published.

Grace Gomez Henriquez writes that Ricardo Güiraldes considered his wife, Adelina, his best manager. A Jealous guardian of her husband’s work and public image, Adelina supported him in all his literary and publicity undertakings, both by transcribing manuscripts and helping to preserve and disseminate his works.

Although a sculptor by profession, Adelina had a more outstanding literary life, especially in the 1920s.

Sadly, Güiraldes passed away in 1927, while in Paris, as a result of terminal lymph node cancer. His body was repatriated to Buenos Aires and is buried in the San Antonio de Areco cemetery.

Adelina decided to go to India after the writer’s death. It was a way of understanding the writer’s concern for ethics and metaphysics, in addition to his strong interest in Hinduism. Adelina found answers by continuing the path that her husband had started, on that path, she found the person she prosecuted, who gave direction to the unknown work of Güiraldes, writings, which from a subversive and libertarian place raised ideas and words of great depth, thoughts of a present full of future.

She meets in Bangalore, Ramachandra Gowda, an Indian, who from the age of three enters her life, she considered him an adoptive son, deposited in him, the work of Ricardo Güiraldes; that of projects, essays, reflections and notes; that of poems and stories with an existentialist content. The mysteries of life allowed a small part of India to reach the far south, to the land of gauchos, to bear witness to what a tireless thinker could not spread before his death. Ramachandra, arrived in Argentina, at the age of 14, from that moment, and together with Adelina del Carril, began a journey through the unpublished writings of the Argentine poet.

Rama Gowda lived until his death in Argentina, continuing the legacy that Adelina del Carril gave him as a child, to perpetuate the light of a brilliant mind.

Adelina del Carril Iraeta de Güiraldes Goñi, Argentine in love with India. She grew up living with her family escaping the winter, six months in Buenos Aires and six in Paris. In 1913 she married Ricardo Güiraldes. One of the laborers who escorted the couple’s car on their honeymoon, in the Güiraldes field, was Segundo Ramírez, who inspired the protagonist of her husband’s masterpiece, Don Segundo Sombra. Together they traveled all over the world, and had several adventures in India. Already a widow, Adelina moved to the city of Bangalore in that country, becoming a disciple of the Great Swami Viyoiananda and Sathya Sai Baba, translating Hindu spiritual works into Spanish, and even adopting an Indian child. Her last years are devoted to finishing and disseminating her husband’s literary work. She is remembered by the Adelina del Carril room of the Güiraldes Museum. Painting by Hermen Anglada Camarasa (1871-1959) c.1921, oil on canvas. La Caixa Foundation, Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes. Photograph taken from Capitulo – la historia de la literatura argentina Issue 42.
Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes.
Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes and her husband Ricardo Güiraldes in Puerto Pollensa, Spain.
Literary contest “Adelina Del Carril.”

Dearest Mameetha and Ramu,

“Throw away all your cares and burdens
Have no doubts about your path
For the path awakens of itself
Under the dancing feet of freedom.”

I am happy to receive all your letters. You had written to me that you were going to Bombay, that’s why I didn’t write to you all these days. Wherever you are, and whatever you are, in your moments of suffering and joy alike, you think of me, I know. You also know that I am always with you as the life of your lives. I know the sufferings they endure, not because of any sin or error on their part, but because of the inhumanity of humanity among whom they live. To those I love I make them travel, to reach me, the path of suffering.

Well, Mameetha, I am somewhat sorry to hear that you are leaving for your country. You have left your people, your wealth, everything, and you have come to India in search of the path that will lead you to God. You have given up material wealth for spiritual wealth, and you have come to India, but I am afraid that India has given you less than you deserve. And now you are returning to your country with your dreams half realized and half destroyed. Yes, Mameetha, I too wish to see you before you leave India. Let me know when you plan to leave for your country so I can come down to Bangalore to give you Dharshan and bless you with Peace.

With blessings to you and Ramu
Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Portrait of Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes, 1918. Press clipping, s/f. AFLN. The whereabouts of this portarit is unknown.
Portrait of Adelina del Carril by Gregorio López Naguil (Argentinian 1894 – 1953) 1925. Ricardo Güiraldes Gaucho Museum in San Antonio de Areco.

From 1925 is the portrait he does again of Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes in a new demonstration of his skill in handling the line. With an extreme synthesis the artist defines the captivating look of the model and reiterates the lush hair as an excuse purely ornamental debtor, formally, of those early portraits. Those portraits from 1915 and 1919 now reappear in an image that pushes his interest in the female prototype of the belle époque

Ramachandra Gowda.

Patricia Di Rado coneys the story about her meeting with Ramachandra Gowda, the child adopted by Adelina del Carril de Güiraldes, in Puttaparthi while visiting Prasanthi Nilayam with a group of Argentinians in 2000.

One evening they decided to have dinner at a Italian restaurant in Puttaparthi. During dinner their guide, Hugo, introduced an Indian man who told them of the story, in English and translated by Hugo, of Madam Adelina and her adopted child, Ramachandra Gowda, who she educated and raised as her own son.

Upon completion of the story, he said in perfect Spanish “that boy was me, grown up in your country, Argentina. I am visiting India.”

His daughter, Maria Kausalya Gowda, writes in 2019 – “Dad was never legally adopted by Adelina del Carril. The document that was signed at the Argentine consulate in India was Adelina’s commitment to return him to her parents within a year. A commitment that her breast cancer and her destiny did not allow her to fulfill… A long story that José Rivarola narrates in his novel Madame Mamita  (still unpublished).

Adelina wanted to legally adopt him in Argentina but my father refused to be adopted, because he had his parents still alive in Bangalore.

He was never a deputy or held any political office in any country! Gowda is a common surname in India and in fact some Gowda were even Prime Minister. But he wasn’t related to us…

Dad first returned to India in 1984 to attend his mother’s funeral (his father Channe was still alive).

He remained in India for a year and shortly after his return to Argentina, he settled in Epuyén. He then returned to India and lived there between 1995 and 2000, the year in which he returned to Epuyén where he remained until a few months before his death, which occurred in Buenos Aires on August 29, 2005.

It is worth clarifying that Ricardo Güiraldes passed away almost a decade before my father was born. However, dad fell in love with the thoughts and poetry of that being whom Adelina constantly kept alive in her anecdotes and in her ‘little pieces of paper’ about her. She declared my father the executors of Ricardo’s work and my father dedicated most of his life to rescuing that thought and the unpublished work of the Argentine writer.

Ramachandra returned to India upon the death of his father Channe Gowda, then settled in Epuyen where his chalet burned down and 8 trunks of unpublished manuscripts by Guiraldes went up in smoke (with the exception of what was in the bank vault in the name of Shatindra Mohan Khana, his friend). After the fire, Ramachandra returned to India for good and was soon appointed as a Federal Deputy. His lifelong companions were his wife and mother of his five children, then Nuggy Saubidet with whom he lived for more than 10 years and finally Ingebor Ringer. 

Ernest-E Lopez-Sanson wites in 2009“I was from the time I met Ramachandra around 1970 until he died, his lawyer and representative. Ramachandra returned to India upon the death of his father Channe Gowda, then settled in Epuyen where his chalet burned down and 8 trunks of unpublished manuscripts by Guiraldes went up in smoke (with the exception of what was in the bank vault in the name of Shatindra Mohan Khana, his friend). After the fire, Ramachandra returned to India for good and was soon appointed as a Federal Deputy. His lifelong companions were his wife and mother of his five children, then Nuggy Saubidet with whom he lived for more than 10 years and finally Ingebor Ringer. The passage through San Telmo was so transitory…. Rama lived first in Mar del Plata, then in Azcuenaga street to finally moved to San Martin street.

French Sanskrit scholar Valestin January 1960 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part II  by N. Kasturi

In January, 1960, a great Sanskrit scholar from Sorbonne (University), France, Valestin by name, who was in India to translate the commentaries on the Vedas into French, arrived at Prasanthi Nilayam. One evening, during an interview with Baba, he suddenly caught Baba’s hands and pleaded “Baba! Vedic scholarship is fast declining in this Holy Land. You must revive it, you must foster it.” I was there, nearby. I felt that East and West were also there, awaiting with palpitating heart, the reply that Baba will vouchsafe. For the Vedas are for both East and West, for all mankind. And Baba did not disappoint mankind. He said, “I have come for that very purpose, for Vedic revival. It shall be done. I will do it. Wherever you are, you will know of it. The world will share that joy, that light.”

Philippe Lavastine (1908-1999), a French freelance Sanskrit scholar and remarkable lecturer, who spent several years at the Hindu University of Benares, become a disciple of Pandits Motilal Sharma and Vasudeva Agrawala, masters of Vedic symbolism. 

He lived in India and wrote about it in Two Vedantas: The Best and the Worst of India. He also recounted in his memoirs incidents that shed light on some of Rene Daumal’s character traits. In 1931, Daumal urged Philippe to accompany him to a lecture given by Alexandre de Salzmann (1874 – 1934). After the lecture, de Salzmann discussed Gurdjieff’s ideas of the cosmos with them until nine o’clock the following morning. Now drawn into Gurdjieff’s work, Lavastine and de Salzmann became close friends. After Alexander de Salzmann’s death, Jeanne de Salzmann led her husband’s groups until 1939, when she introduced the students to Gurdjieff. She had begun meeting with a group at the home of Lavastine. The group consisted, among others, of Henri and Henriette Tracol, Marthe de Gaigneron, Pauline de Dampier, and Bernard Lemaître. In October, Mme de Salzmann presented her group to Gurdjieff.

Philippe Lavastine took part in a French language documentary film Georges Gurdjieff produced by JeanClaude Lubtchansky which was broadcasted on September 22, 1978, on TFI (Institute National de l’Audiovisuel).

In Tara Michael’s biographical notes, it is noted that between 1965 and 1967, she worked as a secretary for Phillipe Lavastine, who had made available a room for her use in the Latin Quarter in Paris. For her it was a great intellectual stimulant, for around Philippe’s dazzling intuitions gathered a circle of friends and eminent intellectuals – Mounir Hafez, Paul Barba-Negra, Dr. Leboyer, Yane Le Toumelin, Michel Random, Jean-Marc Tapié de Céleyran, Ludovic Segarra, and other men of letters. Collecting the notes she had taken at Lavastine’s and all the transcripts of her lectures, she published Des Védas Au Christianisme – Hommage À Philippe Lavastine in 2009 (Editions Signatura).

Des Védas Au Christianisme – Hommage À Philippe Lavastine (2009) by Tara Michael.

From The Sage of Kanchi by T. M. P. Mahadevan M.A., PH.D

We reproduce below the report of an interview which a British author and a French savant had with the Āchārya on the 26th of February 1958, in Madras, as a typical illustration of such meetings:

“The time fixed for the interview was 9 pm. Sir Paul Dukes arrived at His Holiness’s camp at Thyagarayanagar at 8.30. He was conducted to the place of the interview which was an open space beneath a row of palms. There was a spread of hay whereon in the centre was placed a wooden plank which was to serve as the seat for His Holiness. Struck by this, for him, unusual situation, Sir Paul remarked that this was a romantic setting for the new experience which he was looking forward to. Presently, the Frenchman, M. Philippe Lavastine, arrived escorted by a few Indian friends. He seemed evidently moved at the prospect of meeting a great scholar-saint.

“It was a little past nine. Our attention was drawn to the direction from where a mild torch-light flashed. His Holiness was coming slowly, with those unself-conscious steps which are uniquely his. About half a dozen devotees who were following him stepped back, as His Holiness sat on the wooden plank, asking the group that was waiting for him to sit down, by a graceful gesture of hand. The two guests sat at a short distance from His Holiness, with the interpreter in between them. The stage was now set for the interview.

“Sir Paul Dukes was the first to be introduced, as the author of two books whose titles are The Unending Quest, and Yoga for the Western World. His Holiness asked Sir Paul as to what he meant by the unending quest. The Englishman said that in his own case the quest had not ended yet. In the case of the average Westerner, he added, it is thought that the quest ends once a particular church was accepted. Sir Paul’s view was that this was not so. Explaining the meaning of the unending quest, His Holiness observed:

‘If the quest is external, there would be no end to it. It would be like the quest after the horizon – a hallucination. If the quest is inward, then it would end with the discovery of the true Self. In a sense, even this latter quest may be said to be unending in that its object is infinite.’

“The Frenchman was then introduced as one interested in the study of our temples and the purāṇas in connection with his researches into the institution of kingship. M. Lavastine himself explained what his central problem was. In ancient times the temporal and the spiritual were united in the institution of kingship. There was no division of the secular from the sacred. Probably, most of the ills of the modem world are traceable to this division which now obtains. The French scholar thought that a study of the history of the South Indian temples might throw light on the question of the relation between temporal power and spirituality.

“His Holiness enquired if M. Lavastine had heard of the saying: rājā dharmasya kāraṇam (The king is responsible for dharma). As His Holiness was giving an illuminating explanation of this saying, the two visitors were observed moving close to him, with their attention fixed on every word of his. Although His Holiness was speaking in Tamil, he used a profusion of English words to help the interpreter in his task, and also the visitors in their understanding of him. Not accustomed to squat cross-legged, the Western visitors were stretching their legs forwards. The interpreter touched the knees of the Frenchman, in order to indicate that he could fold his legs. Observing this, His Holiness told the interpreter that there was no need for this restraint. It was difficult for the average Westerner to squat. The way in which the visitors sat did not matter. They were like children in this respect. Why restrain them? How gracious of His Holiness to have made this observation! Is this not a true sign of a Mahātmā?

“Explaining the Sanskrit saying, His Holiness said:

‘It is natural that man should seek to satisfy his wants like hunger, thirst, and a place to rest. There are duties which an individual has towards himself, the social group, and the nation. Ordinarily the performance of these duties remains on the level of satisfying the creaturely wants. But there is a way of performing these duties which will elevate everyone concerned spiritually. That is dharma. And it is the duty of the king or the state to see that the citizens are provided every opportunity for spiritual growth and progress. That is the meaning of the saying: rājā dharmasya kāraṇam.’

“The Frenchman said that he wanted to study Sanskrit in the traditional Indian way, directly from a teacher, without the aid of books. His Holiness expressed his appreciation of this wish, and remarked:

‘Even in India that tradition has all but disappeared. The old way was not to confuse the ability to read and write with scholarship. Even the greatest scholars did not know how to read and write.’

(Here, one of the visitors cited the instance of Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa who could not even sign his name properly in Bengali. His Holiness continued:)

“I am referring to even secular scholars. Writing was the special art of a small class of people called kaṇakkars. They were good calligraphers. But the rest of the people, for the most part, were not literate. Eminent mathematicians, astronomers, physicians, Vedic scholars—these could not read and write. Learning was imparted orally and was imbibed by rote. The method has its own excellences, and could be revived with profit, within certain limits.”

‘Would His Holiness favour the revival of all that is old and ancient?,’

asked Sir Paul Dukes. His Holiness replied that what was good and of value was worthy of revival. There was no need for any propaganda. This is not to be done that way. If a few people would set an example in their personal lives, this would catch on; and a time may come when the West also would emulate. And, when there is recognition from the West, our people may wake up and see something grand in their own past.

“‘One last request,’ said Sir Paul, ‘What would be the message from His Holiness that could be carried to the West?’ His Holiness remained silent for a considerable length of time. He was indrawn, with eyes half-closed, and absorbed in contemplation. A t the end of that period he spoke in slow, measured tones:

‘In all that you do, let love be the sole motive. Any deed must be with reference to another. Action implies the acted-upon as much as the agent. Let action be out of love. I am not here referring to the Gandhian gospel of ahimsā. There may be situations which demand violent action. Punishment, for instance, may be necessary. Even wars may have to be waged. But whatever be the nature of the action, the agent must act out of love. Passions such as desire and hatred, anger and malice must be totally eschewed. If love becomes the guiding principle of all deeds, then most of the ills of the world will vanish.’

‘This,’ added His Holiness, ‘you may carry with you as the message of the sages and saints of India.’

“Thus ended a memorable interview with one who is the embodiment of all that is most noble and sublime in the spiritual culture of India. Enjoying the aroma of the virtues of gentleness and courtesy, one could see the light of wisdom beaming forth from those enchanting eyes, as one listened to words which were true and at the same time pleasing.”

Phillipe Lavastine with the Sage of Kanchi in Tyagaraya Nagar, Madras, 1958.

Jacob Needleman interviewed by Richard Whittaker, Parabola, Fall 2012;

RW: There’s an article by Philippe Lavastine called “The Two Vedantas: The Best and the Worst of India” It’s remarkable. He writes that something went awry in Hinduism maybe some hundreds of years ago. It used to be that the search for liberation always took place in the context of the community, in the context of others. But someone introduced the idea of individuals going off alone to pursue this. It became something just for the individual.

JN: He’s talking about how self-­‐liberation became the main aim rather than the integration of the inner life with the needs of the community. It’s a very powerful article.

Philippe Lavastine took part in a French language documentary film Georges Gurdjieff produced by Jean Claude Lubtchansky which was broadcasted on September 22, 1978 on TFI (Institute National de l’Audiovisuel). He also was involved with the films Borobudur : voyage initiatique (1978), Civilisations (1968) and Les Idées et les hommes (1976).

From Hinduism for Dummies – Although books about the Mahabharata have been written over the centuries, the epic did not truly impact the Western world until Peter Brook, working with Philippe Lavastine, a French professor of Sanskrit, and French writer Jean Claude Carrière, crafted it into a spectacular nine-hour drama. In his Mahabharata, Brook transported the battlefield of Kurukshetra to the quarries of Avignon in France to the utter delight of the French, who packed the open-air auditorium for weeks in 1985. Then the play moved to the United States with limited engagements in Los Angeles and Chicago and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

From the Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1987 – For people who like statistics, “The Mahabharata” (the story of the Great Bharatas, a legendary family that by extension is taken to mean the larger family of man) is about 15 times longer than the Bible and eight times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. At more than 100,000 stanzas, it is the longest poem ever written.

Based on historical events of heroic proportions that took place no later than the 10th Century BC, it is heavily laced with legend and was written–or more likely compiled–by the sage Vyasa (“the arranger”), achieving its present form in AD 400.

In his introduction to the French script of “The Mahabharata,” director Peter Brook noted that he and writer Jean-Claude Carriere owed their infatuation with this great Indian poem to Philippe Lavastine, a professor of Sanskrit who, in the course of a memorable evening in Paris in 1975, recounted for them some of “The Mahabharata’s” more remarkable stories.

“We began to understand,” Brook wrote, “why this poem is one of the world’s greatest works and, like all great works, is at once remote and immediate. It contains the most profound expressions of Indian thought and yet, for more than 2,000 years, it has so intimately permeated India’s daily life that for hundreds of millions of people its characters are eternally alive–as real as family members with whom one shares quarrels and problems.

“Standing on the sidewalk of the Rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts at 3 in the morning . . . we made a decision: We would find a way to share these stories with a Western public.”

Philippe Lavastine (R) knew how to free himself from the academic approach to draw from the traditional source. As a result, his teaching disturbs. This is the essence of a philosophy of awakening, Photo; L’Originel, review of traditional sciences N° 5 1978.
André Voisin talks with the philosopher Philippe Lavastine (C) and the ethnologist Jacques Villeminot (L) about the dreaming techniques of the Aborigines. The debate is illustrated by extracts from the film Desert People, a 1966 documentary by Ian Dunlop.
Phillipe Lavastine (R)
Philippe Lavastine.
Lavastine sur Gurdjieff et la puissance des Gurus !

Americans Bob Raymer and Markell (Binky) Brooks 1962

Joseph RobertBobRaymer Jr. (1921 – 2008) of Los Angeles heard from his friend Markell (Binky) Brooks about Sathya Sai Baba. She and Bob would later marry.

Markell Brooks:

Markell had a long association with Anandamayi Ma, from The Holy Chronicle 1958 – 1964 Glimpses of the Lila of Shree Shree Anandamayee Ma there is an entry for the 13th of January, 1961, Varanasi;

Anandamayee Ma came and sat on the veranda of the Annapurna Mandir at 1:30 p.m. An American lady, Mrs. Markell Brooks, and a French lady, Madame Jean Trocume, had also arrived to spend a few days with MA including travelling with HER. Sri Upen Dutta and others were also present.

From Death Must Die: A Western Woman’s Life-Long Spiritual Quest in India with Shree Anandamayee Ma: the diaries of Atmananda

An American woman, Markell Brooks had been only for twelve days in India when she asked Anandamayi Ma:

Question: Since the will of the individual is illusory and one does not know God’s will, how can one lead a purposeful life in this world.

Ma: By contemplating the Self, one will find out. It is man’s principal duty to aspire to Self-realization.

Question: What about self-expression in art?

Ma: This also belongs to that which is fleeting. You paint a picture, but it can’t last. The most beautiful song fades away in a moment.

Question: Presuming that the striving goes on no matter what, how can one know how to live – in relation both to human beings and one’s own creative energies?

Ma: A man who is after worldly things and is occupied with the business of this world gets satisfaction out of what he does, for otherwise why should he do it? He feels he is doing well, he gets praise and fame, money and position and his mind is always occupied with his affairs. If someone is opposed to him and puts obstacles in his way, he gets angry and hostile.

A person who strives after Self-realization will turn to Mahatmas (great souls) for advice, guidance, and company. He will start reading books written by such men. He will admire them and wish to become like them and so, since he is searching for Truth, he will come to be truthful in behavior and speech. The Self is one, so remember the Oneness of all.

Although a dog may bite you, you will not bite back. The man who strives after worldly goods and satisfaction is working for death because everything in the world is constantly dying and something else is born. The child dies to the young girl and the girl to the woman etc. But the man who is after Self-realization is working for immortality. When living and working in the world one’s creative power is exhausted in the pursuit of sense objects so one may come to feel weak, tired or ill.

But by striving after Self-realization one’s creative power is preserved and strengthened.
While the person who lives in the world takes pleasure in parties, meeting people etc, the one who is out for Self-realization will take pleasure in meditation, singing the praises of God, reading books of wisdom, listening to discourses by great souls and mixing with those who are pilgrims on the path.

An intimate first-hand account of a courageous woman’s spiritual quest in close association with several of India’s greatest modern saints. Unfolding against the back-drop of Banaras in the 1940s, where she lived as a teacher and musician, we are given an in-depth picture of her intense relationship with the extraordinary woman who becomes her guru – Sri Anandamayee Ma. Ram Alexander, who was a close friend of Atmananda’s and a fellow disciple of Anandamayee Ma, writes with insight into the guru-disciple relationship and the particular problems that arise when a Westerner enters into this within a traditional Indian context.

*The Harvard University’s Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts, received a unique archive of tapes, slides, and periodicals relating to Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982). The archives were compiled by Gary Empie, a young American who lived in one of Sri Ma’s ashrams for eight years, until his death in 1981. Anandamayi Ma taught by answering questions put to her, and Empie gathered 139 cassette tapes of these questions and answers, as well as films, slides, and photographs of Ma, and magazines and books relating to her life and work. The archives were presented to Harvard by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Empie and Markell Brooks.

Markell and Bob travel to East Africa with Sathya Sai Baba in 1968.

(L to R) Markell Brooks, N Kasturi, Sathya Sai Baba, unknown.
Markell is seen here 3rd from the left.
Markell Brooks seen here in the Pacific Palisades (1976?) with Indian mystic, guru, traveller, photographer, and author Dada Gavand. Photo from Intelligence Beyond Thought: Exploding the Mechanism of Mind (2006) by Dada Gavand. Markell hosted Dada at her home while he was in California.

Dada Gavand writes – The idea of a book Beyond The Mind (1977) slowly took shape. Soon we had many transcripts of talks and personal interviews covering various aspects of life and the challenge of going beyond the mind. It was all important information, but how to make use of it in a meaningful format became the question before me. This being my first book, it proved difficult to visualize its structure and design. I had no one to consult about how to do this, and I pondered over a basic plan to put the material together. Publishing a book would not be an easy or quick job if we wanted to do it well.

Meanwhile, I went back to Los Angeles to stay with a new friend, Markell Brooks, who lived in Pacific Palisades. She had heard me speak a few times in the Los Angeles area at the home of Mr. Chakrapani Ullal, a famous astrologer, where many well-known people gathered to hear me. Markell then invited me to her beautiful and spacious home. She was a potter and pianist, a creative and talented person, with obvious interest in spiritual understanding. She organized several more of my talks at her home.

Markell liked the idea of making a book and welcomed the project. She found people to transcribe more talks and even advertised for college students to come and help us with the work. But the students mostly did not comprehend the subject matter and language of my talks. So that idea of getting help from students did not work. Markell continued to be enthusiastic and was not discouraged by setbacks or lack of help.

One day, I found Markell herself sitting in the kitchen transcribing my tapes by hand. I said that she did not have to do this, but she insisted that she loved the job. She felt she learned much more about what I was saying by transcribing it herself. Soon we found other people, including Sandra Bennett, Ira Flushman and Judith Scott, who were very enthusiastic and capable. They came regularly to do the work and also had discussions with me.

Now many more friends began helping, coming over regularly to plan, edit and work out all the details. One of the main obstacles was how to fund the publication if we decided to self-publish. Amazingly, many supporters emerged to solve this problem as well. Markell Brooks, Bob Hutchins, Helen and Carroll Wright – these and many other friends happily donated toward the publication costs. Some others suggested that we hold seminars specifically to raise money, but I would not do this. I had never charged fees for any talks or seminars, feeling I had no right to put a price tag on my talks and interviews. This understanding which I was talking about was for me to share, not to sell.

It has always been a pleasure to stay with Markell Brooks near Los Angeles. Her friendship, deepening understanding and enthusiastic efforts to organise talks have always made it important for me to go to her home in Pacific Palisades. Many people in that area have heard me speak, come for personal interviews, and then the word has spread.

(L to R) Markell Brooks, Jean Allen, Dada Gavand. Photo from Intelligence Beyond Thought: Exploding the Mechanism of Mind (2006) by Dada Gavand (Dattaram Madhavrao Gavand 1917 ‒ 2012).

*William L. Hamilton, author of Saints and Psychopaths (1995) acknowledges Markell for providing him with food and shelter while he was writing this book and also participating with the proofreading. Dedicated to Binky who’s support in many ways has made my work possible.

Saints & Psychopaths by William L. Hamilton https://eudoxos.github.io/saints/html/index.html

*In World Wheel, One Woman’s Quest for Peace Vijali Hamilton writes that one evening we went to a meditation at the home of two friends, and as I walked down their hallway, I found on the wall a photo of the woman of my dreams. I immediately asked our hostess, Markell Brooks, about the woman in the photograph. “That is Anandamayi Ma, who lives in India,” Markell said. “She is one of the greatest saints of the twentieth century.” I left the house with a handful of books about her. I gazed at Ma’s beauty in photographs I placed by our bed. I went to sleep and woke up with the image of her face before me. I had the feeling that if I went to India, I would not tear myself away from her.

Benares, India. Later in 1972, Markell Brooks, from whom I had first learned about Anandamayi Ma, had arrived in Benares a few days before Dale and me, and she had arranged for us to have a private meeting with Anandamayi Ma. We entered her small room. A white sheet covered her narrow bed and she sat cross-legged upon it as if she expected us. Although Anandamayi Ma was in her seventies, her hair flowed long and dark over a white sari, a radiant smile was on her lips still full and youthful, and her large almond eyes glowed. She seemed to me the essence of beauty and grace. The hair on my arms stood on end. Here was the face of my dreams, in flesh and blood!

*Vedanta Study Circle Zurich. The German-speaking part of Switzerland did not have easy access to a Ramakrishna-Vedanta Centre. Swami Ranganathananda requested one of the long-time devotees, Gabriella Steyer, to start a Study Group in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. However, it was only in 2013 during the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, where many devotees from different parts of Switzerland gathered for the celebrations in Saas Fee, that this idea could come to fruition.

Bob Raymer:

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part II  by N. Kasturi

“I had read of the great miracle-workers and teachers of India’s past; I hoped that some might still exist today; Yet, hardly dared to hope, that I might even meet one. For, underneath, like all men, I longed for the ‘many- splendoured thing’ that Francis Thompson says; the “estranged faces miss”, says Murphet”. Among the many who came to India from foreign lands on this search were the Raymers, husband and wife, who heard of Baba and came to the Nilayam and stayed there continuously for over six months engaged in Sadhana. When they went back, persons who had already come under the influence of Indian yoga and thought, through the teachings and inspiration of Maharshi Ramana, Aurobindo, Yoganandaji, and Ramakrishna-Vivekananda gathered at their place or drew inspiration from their example, to study Baba’s work and do Sadhana according to His directions. A large number of people have come into his Sathya Sai Sathsangh; a few have come over to India to have Baba’s Darsan and Blessings. Charles Penn is singularly fortunate, because though he has not yet come, he is able to feel the constant Presence of Baba, whether up in the sky searching for fallen aircraft or down on the sea shore collecting shells, or in his prayer room picturing His Form in his heart! Baba sits before him, converses with him, teaches him, answers his questions, as clearly as if He is concretely present, across the seven seas! The lessons are so characteristic of Baba that their authenticity is clear to all who know how Baba elucidates. Moreover, when Penn sends the typescripts to me for perusal or publication, I have often asked Baba for further clarification and never once has He disavowed His authorship; in fact, He has justified certain new examples and parables that He has told Penn at Los Angeles, on the score that He had to explain things that way, since the background of Penn differs from that of His Indian listeners. “I give him the example of daffodils, because there is a bed of daffodils outside the shrine there,” He said once. “I tell him about strong breezes and sails and ships because he knows about them, not you,” He said to me. 

In June 1968, Baba commenced His first and only international tour to East Africa. Bob Raymer was part of the entourage along with a few devotees from India, and managed to take the two photos below.

(L to R) Raja Reddy, Sathya Sai Baba, enroute to Nairobi in 1968, Photo: Bob Raymer.
Enroute to Nairobi in 1968, Photo: Bob Raymer.
On the flight to East Africa in 1968 (L to R) N Kasturi, unknown, Raja Reddy, Markell Raymer (nee Brooks), Sathya Sai Baba, Photo: Bob Raymer.

On 30th Jun 1968, Sathya Sai Baba took his only flight overseas to East Africa, onboard an Air India Boeing 707 to Embakasi, Nairobi. Flying at 590 miles per hour at altitudes of over 35,000 feet, Baba was granting the passengers, (many of whom had boarded the flight on purpose) signs of his grace, such as autographing a book or a photograph, materialising vibhuti, or furnishing illuminating answers to solve personal problems of every kind.

Bob Raymer saw Baba keep both his feet pressed on the slanting back of the empty seat just ahead of him, he did not miss the chance, he clicked twice and managed to get two good photos above.

A former commercial airline pilot, Raymer met Yogananda in the latter years of Yogananda’s life. Yogananda initiated Raymer into Kriya Yoga and made him a minister of SRF. Raymer conducted services in Minneapolis for many years, telephoning Yogananda before each to receive his blessing. Raymer later moved to Hawaii, where he conducted his Clear Light retreats, and then to Song of the Morning retreat centre in Michigan, where he was the spiritual director from 1991 to 2004.

Howard Murphet writes in his 1971 book Sai Baba – Man of Miracles

Two others we met in our early Sai days who have since become our close friends are Bob and Markell Raymer of Pacific Palisades, California. Bob, an aircraft pilot, was the red-haired American who kindly went in search of Baba for me on my first visit. 

Before coming to rest at Prasanthi Nilayam this couple had, like us, conducted their own “search in secret India,” visiting many ashrams and meeting some great yogis. They had gained some spiritual nourishment here and there, but it seems that they have now found their Sadguru and the true glory. Of their inner experiences I cannot speak here, though in confidence I have been told of some. Their outer experiences include a good range of phenomena of the type described in these pages. They have often watched the magic hand stir the air or dig into the sand to produce some charming personal gift, or some confection for the enjoyment of all in the magic circle. And they have seen the same hand transmute one substance to another. Once Baba idly rolled in his fingers a scrap of paper while Bob sat near him as one of a group. Unexpectedly he told Bob to open his mouth, and popped the roll of paper into it. But there was no taste of paper; the roll had changed to a delicious piece of candy. 

Like many Westerners, the Raymers have learned that Baba’s miracles are genuine, varied, of daily occurrence, and yet always unexpected. They have come to accept them as part of his divine nature. 

Soon after our initial meeting the Raymers returned to America, but since then they have flown back on a number of visits to Baba, and they went with him from India on a tour in East Africa in 1968. Just before that I saw them at the Satya Sai World Conference in Bombay, following which they, with my wife and myself, travelled for a while with Swami. It was during this pleasant period that I had the opportunity of learning what sincere Sai devotees, and serious sadhaks (searchers on the spiritual path) they really are. 

Bob Raymer.

Bob Raymer, direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda (1893 – 1952) and Spiritual Director of Song of the Morning Ranch until his passing in 2008 writes;

I met Master in 1951, and I had previously read Autobiography of a Yogi, and the thing that struck me about that book (the whole book struck me, obviously) I felt tremendously uplifted, as most of us who have read it. When I read the book, other than feeling Master’s presence and feeling an awakening, the thing that really struck me was the part about the Kriya Yoga. I had tried to practice meditation before. I hadn’t had any teachers. I just read books. I had studied the Vedanta philosophies, I was very involved with Ramakrishna and other saints like that. I knew I had to learn how to meditate, so I would try to practice. I would try to sit down for 10 minutes or a half-hour a day, at least. That would go on for a while, but my mind was so restless, I couldn’t do it any more. I’d stop, then I’d get mad at myself. I’d write these notes: “I hereby swear I am going to meditate at least 10 or 15 minutes a day, daily.” And then all of a sudden I’d flunk out again. But after reading Master’s book, I thought, “This is the key: Kriya Yoga practice is exactly what I need.”

So I wrote to Him and I said, “Master, please, by return air mail (I was kind of naive,) send me instructions how I may do this Kriya Yoga.” So then, I got this whole packet from SRF – about joining the organization, taking the lessons, and so on. There was no letter from Master, just something from the Headquarters, and I really wasn’t interested in joining any organisations, or having anything to do with Churches. This was back in – it must have been 1949 or 1950, somewhere in there. So then, I sort of dropped the whole thing.

One cold winter in 1951, my wife and I decided we wanted to get out of Minnesota, and to have a vacation in Phoenix. I had an airplane at that time, and we flew out in my airplane and got there on a Saturday. We saw this little add in the paper, SELF-REALIZATION FELLOWSHIP, and that kind of caught my eye. My wife said, “We ought to go to the Church, and see what it is like,” and we had a big debate because I wanted to stay in the sun. We had very little sun in Minnesota. But she directed me to go.

So anyway, we went to Church that next morning. And as the Service started, I started feeling happier and happier. When Herbert Fried, the Minister, started singing, “Door of My Heart,” well, I just felt like my whole heart was beginning to open, and it really was a strange sensation. I just felt something stirring there, I didn’t know what it was. So, I got very interested in what was happening to me.

I was very confused, I never had anything like that happen to me before. I got to talking to Herbert after the Service, and he invited me to come over in the afternoons, and we could start to talk about these things. I said, “Well, I want this Kriya Yoga.” He said, “Well, I can’t give it to you now, without Master’s permission. I’m not qualified to give it. But,” he said, “we’ll just see what happens.”

Anyway, I went over Monday, and I went over Tuesday. And he came out — his eyes were big as saucers. “You’ll never guess what happened,” he said. “Master called me up about 3 o’clock this morning, and he said to bring you and Mrs. Raymer to Los Angeles immediately.” I don’t think Herbert had mentioned my name or anything, but Master just called up and told him what to do. So the next day, we all climbed into my airplane and flew over to Los Angeles. Master wanted both of us, my wife and I, to take a tour. He wanted us to go to the Hollywood Church, He wanted us to go down to visit the Lake Shrine, and also the one in Long Beach. He gave instructions and provided a car, which picked us up at the hotel. After we went to all of these different places, we were to meet back at Mount Washington, for a visit with Master. Well, my wife Betty decided that she hadn’t seen her Aunt Gertrude for a long time, and she didn’t want to go. I think it was about 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We arrived at Mount Washington in the afternoon, so they put me in the Chapel there. They wanted me to stay there, and then “Master will call you.” Well, I went into the Chapel, and I waited, and I waited, and I waited. And I thought, “Oh, my God. He’s clairvoyant, he’s omniscient, and He sees what a mess I am, and He’s decided not to see me.” All these weird thoughts were going around in my head. Just about the time I was ready to give up all hope, somebody came in and said, “Master will see you now.” So, we marched up those flights of stairs to the third floor of Mount Washington, and I was really getting nervous, because my concept of a Master is that He knew everything, and to me, it was even greater than seeing the President of the United States, or anybody I could even imagine in this world. A full blown, honest to God Master! To see a big man like that was almost more than I could conceive of.

When I got up to the third floor, I was shaking. All of a sudden, the door opened, and there was Master! He had a big smile on His face, and He just grabbed me and pulled me into His arms, and I felt such incredible love from Him. He was so beautiful – so incredible. It wasn’t anything He did or said, but it was what He radiated. It was just like He had hit me on the head with a baseball bat, it just about knocked me out.

He sat me down, and started to tell me all kinds of things about my life – some of them I had forgotten. He touched on a lot of different things. He hit the nail right on the head, and some things really hit me deeply. I haven’t spoken about these things, these were things He knew about me that were very private, and, you know, He told me in such a beautiful way that it was just incredible, He kind of shocked me. But He did everything with such love. And then He ordered some tea for us, so somebody brought in some tea with these little biscuits and baklavas – sweets. And He would put these baklavas in my mouth. So, this is how I met Master.

During this conversation we were having, I said, “Master, I want to know how to do this Kriya Yoga, will you teach me how to do this?” And somehow, He just managed to always change the subject. And so I’d ask Him again. And this time, He got a little irritated about this, and I thought, “Oh, boy, what am I going to do?” And then He’d change the subject, He’d get off on something else. Finally, I don’t know how I had the nerve to do it, but I asked Him one more time, “Master, when can I get this Kriya Yoga?” And He said, “All right. Tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.” Master put me down on my knees, and He gave me the blessing. I was right in front of Him. He was sitting on the chair. He grabbed both of my hands together, and He kept repeating “Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Jesus, Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya,” and so forth. He kept repeating those names. He must have gone on I don’t know how long, it seemed endless. And I was feeling this energy in my body, It was really incredible. The next day I had the Kriya Initiation. I had it in the morning – there was a Reverend Bernard who used to be there, and I believe we did it in the Hollywood temple. I wasn’t really bowled over by it or anything like that, and I had a lot of business I was doing that day, so I didn’t practice at all, I just got the Initiation. I decided that that evening I really wanted to be alone so I could do this Kriya practice, and find out about it.

After dinner that evening, we returned to the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel where we had a suite of rooms, and Betty went to the bedroom. I got a chair out, and put a blanket over the chair, and then I started to practice the Kriya – the technique. I started doing a few of these things. Well, all of a sudden, something happened in my spine, and it felt just like a snake was going right up my back, and it was just wiggling, and when it got up to my forehead, my whole forehead opened up. It wasn’t like the spiritual eye, but it was like the sun itself, just like a sunburst. It was an actual experience. It was like a hose with too much power, too much water going through it, would start to wiggle, and this was going up my back, and when it got up to my head, well, then my whole head just exploded and I fell off the chair. That was the first thing. I started moaning and groaning, making these weird noises, and I thought, “Oh, my God. This is what I have been seeking. This is what I have been searching for all my life.

I used to have a lot of ups and downs, like most of us – emotional swings, depression and so forth. And I thought, “From now on, no more of this, all I have to do is a couple of these Kriyas, and that’s the end.” And so, that was my introduction to Kriya Yoga.

American Nirmalananda 1963 Prasanthi Nilayam

The ochre-robed American from Hollywood Nirmalananda (follows Sathya Sai Baba from 1963, ed)

Howard Murphet writes in his 1971 book Sai Baba – Man of Miracles

One day several months after our return a young pale-faced woman wearing the ochre-robe of a monk came on a visit to the Theosophical Headquarters. She was introduced to us by a mutual friend as Nirmalananda, and we took her to our sitting room for morning coffee. She told us that she was an American from Hollywood, an odd place of origin for an ascetic, we thought. “Nirmalananda,” she said, was the Hindu name given her by Swami Sivananda (1887 – 1963) when he initiated her into the monastic life. After he had died she left his ashram at Rishikesh and became a follower of Satya Sai Baba. At Puttaparthi she had witnessed many wonderful miracles. Now Sai Baba was on a visit to Madras (1965) and she was one of a small party of disciples he had brought with him.

This seemed to be our golden opportunity. Iris was not feeling well enough to come, but Nirmalananda conducted me to the place where Sai Baba was staying. It was a pleasant house, standing behind lawns and flower gardens. Later I learned that it was the home of Mr. G. Venkateshwara Rao, the mica magnate who was also a devotee of Sai Baba. The lawns and pathways in front of the house were covered with people sitting quietly cross-legged on the ground – white-clad men to one side and women in saris like bright-coloured flowers to the other. There were hundreds of them, obviously waiting for a sight of the great man.

Nirmalananda led me through the crowd to the front verandah and there introduced me to a pleasant, red-haired American named Bob Raymer.

Sathya Sai Baba’s visit to Swami Sivananda’s ashram on 22nd July, 1957.

Sathya Sai Baba’s visit to Swami Sivananda’s ashram on 22nd July, 1957 which has been recorded in Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part I by N. Kasturi

On the twenty-second of July Baba left New Delhi by car for Rishikesh. Swami Sivananda’s monastic disciples escorted Him from Hardwar. When He reached Sivanandanagar at 6:30 that evening, Swami Sivananda called a special gathering of the disciples at the Ashram and offered Baba a hearty welcome. While Sivananda greeted Baba with folded hands, as was his custom, Baba acknowledged the greeting with His posture of the Hand which means, “Do not fear,” a sign that has given peace to thousands of troubled souls.

He then materialized by the mere Wave of His Hand a magnificent Rudraksha garland of 108 beads, a rosary made from a berry. It was of exquisite workmanship, each bead encased in gold, and all were strung in gold with a five-faced king-bead in the centre. He presented it to Swami Sivananda Saraswati. He also manifested a large quantity of Sacred Ash and applied it to the sage’s forehead. That evening when the Swami entered the Satsang Hall wearing the unique garland, everyone was awed by its lustre and workmanship and the miracle that brought it forth. Swami Sivananda spoke of Bhagavan and His message. He expounded on the efficacy of Namasmarana, the remembering of the Name of God, and appealed as a medical practitioner for a daily dose of dispassion to be taken by every person along with the regular diet of the Lord’s Name.

It came as a pleasant surprise to many in the Ashram when they saw, on the day Baba departed, Swami Sivananda enthusiastically taking Baba around his hermitage, for on the day Baba reached the Ashram, and for a number of days thereafter, the Swami had been pushed around in a wheelchair!

At that time Swami Sivananda was on a wheelchair. Swami in fact had pushed the wheelchair and had spent personal time with Swami Sivananda.

Mrs Ruth Wilson 17th January 1964 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine January 1964

Prasanthi Nilayam News On Jan. 17th, Mrs. Ruth Wilson, of Vienna. Austria arrived at the Nilayam and during her stay of four days, she discussed with Baba various problems of Sadhana as well as the essentials of Sanathana Dharma, which raise it to the level of a Religion, for all Humanity. On Jan. 18th, T R Ganesan from Tokyo, Japan who has inspired a number of Japanese to hearken to the Message of Baba arrived and sought guidance for wider and better service.

American Hilda Charlton July 1964 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine July 1964

Prasanthi Nilayam News July 8th. Mrs Helda Charlton of Pasadena, California, U.S.A. now on a visit to India to practise spiritual Sadhana, arrived at the Nilayam for a few days’ stay to receive the Blessings of Baba for success in her Search.

Hilda writes; Years ago I went seeking those who could take the cork out of me and let me merge with the Ocean of Truth. I left San Francisco on a freighter to see the holy ones of India. As Nityananda, the great saint and my teacher, said, “The mind must come to a certain point of dedication, of mindlessness, before the Masters will appear.” I went to India as a dancer and gave concerts throughout the country. I left here with a one-way ticket, with eighty dollars in cash, and with a million dollars worth of faith. I travelled all over India, and I’ve been going ever since on that eighty dollars. Right? And on the million dollars of faith.

In India I had gone to Shirdi Sai Baba’s shrine, and wonderful things had happened there. Shirdi Sai Baba had said before he passed that he would incarnate again in South India eight years later. When Sathya Sai Baba was a boy, he said that he was that incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.

Well, I was about to leave India on my way home after all those many, many years, almost 20 years there, and I heard somebody say, “There’s a Sathya Sai Baba who does miracles down in South India.” So I went to the stationmaster in this little town and I took that old train. Back then I used to get down to the station very early and go third class and sleep in the luggage racks. I was thinner then. The luggage racks are very narrow. I wouldn’t make it now, I’m telling you. I said to that stationmaster, “I want a ticket back in three days because I am going home to my America.” And he said, “I can’t give you a return ticket. You haven’t seen the Master yet.” The Master was Sai Baba – the stationmaster knew where I was going. I said, “You give me that ticket.” I got a little on the tough side. But he shook his head and said, “You haven’t asked for permission yet from the Master.”

I didn’t come home in three days. I stayed a long, long time over with Baba. He was very, very kind to me.

Hilda Charlton was born in London in 1906, and moved to the United States with her parents when she was 4 years old. She was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Los Angeles, California. At the age of 18, she began performing as a modern dancer. For the next 20 years, she danced and taught in the San Francisco area.

Hilda toured India as a dancer from 1947 to 1950, and stayed in India for fifteen more years, studying eastern mysticism and meditation. She was guided by great spiritual masters and holy people, including Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, Sri Mahadevanansa of Bombay, and Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi. Bhagavan Nityananda, Yogananda, Yogaswami, Ammal, and Baba Muktananda were also her teachers.

Hilda taught and shared with many spiritual teachers including Ram Das in the 70’s, Robert Hansen (Sivaya Subramuniyaswami) and Albert Rudolph (Rudi) to name a few.

She died in New York City on January 29, 1988.

Hilda Charlton and Sathya Sai Baba.

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine July 1965

Prasanthi Nilayam News July 14 Speeches by Hilda Charlton and H. Sunder Rao, M.A

Swiss school teacher Gabriella Arpita Steyer 24th December 1964 Whitefield and stayed for two years

und was sagte Baba dann zu mir… erinnerungen von Gabriella Steyer (and then what did baba say to me… memories of Gabrielle Steyer) by Gabriella Steyer.

In this book (40 pages) the Bernese Sai devotee, Gabriella Steyer, reports on her experiences with Sathya Sai Baba. She met him for the first time in December 1964. She writes about this first encounter:

“So on December 22nd 1964, I simply flew to Madras, where late in the evening I was surprisingly received at the airport by two Sai sisters. Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who was giving speeches in Madras at that time, commissioned Sarjuma and Lily to take care of me at 4 pm on December 24th. The two sisters and I then traveled by train to Bangalore, where I was allowed to stay at their house. The next day we drove to Brindavan in their passenger car, where Baba also arrived by car from Madras at 4 p.m.

The first sight of Sai Baba was overwhelming. When Baba got out of the car, all I saw was a huge face full of love and kindness. I was not aware that this gentleman whom the two sisters worshiped was a known and divine master, since I had not remembered the book hidden in the laundry room at home, let alone its cover. The heavy iron gate of the park garden opened and Baba walked to the spacious mansion with the hosts of the summer residence and with Sarjuma, Lily and me. Christmas Eve was soon celebrated there with singing and merry gatherings, and I was actually allowed to sit at the feet of a great master, although I was not yet aware of his holiness as an avatar. I was just happy and felt comfortable and at home in the presence of this baba from the start.”

In this book, Gabriella Steyer tells what she experienced during this and many subsequent stays with Sathya Sai Baba. Not only does she tell of the daily miracles she was allowed to experience up close, but she also connects her stories to what she was able to learn from Sathya Sai Baba on that occasion. Here’s another quote from the book:

“My wish at the time was to always love God equally, not with all my heart one day and then with less intensity the next. But Baba explained to me that the ups and downs could be compared to water. It rises from a spring, hops over hill and dale, becomes a brook, then a river and finally flows into the ocean. If the water came to a level and stopped flowing, it could stagnate over time and be dried up by the wind and weather and the sun. The ups and downs are necessary because they give the driving force to reach the goal.”

Gabriella further writes in another article My first encounter

It was on December 24, 1964, when I was destined to meet Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba for the first time in a miraculous way.

Three days earlier, in Calcutta, I told my Indian friend that I wanted to spend Christmas Eve either in the main centre of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission in Belur Math (Bengal), (where Christmas is nicely celebrated), or at the feet of a great saint if the two guest rooms in the Ramakrishna Mission were occupied. As the latter was the case, I booked a flight to South India.

Sathya Sai Baba, who at that time was giving lectures to devotees in Madras, heard in his omnipresence my conversation with my friend in Calcutta. He asked two devotee sisters to pick me up on December 22nd at the Madras airport and take me to (Brindavan) in Whitefield on December 24th at 4 pm.

So, on the eve of Christmas, we drove together to Bangalore and reached (Brindavan) where South Indian devotees offer their magnificent summer residence to Sai Baba. This allows the local devotees to meet the Avatar from time to time.

Swami welcomed the three of us with a beautiful smile and led us into the house, where he settled down on a chair in the devotional room and we were allowed to sit at his feet.

Gradually the sun sank behind the horizon and a pleasant, holy atmosphere surrounded us.

Christmas Eve began. Sai Baba sang and spoke with us. I had only just arrived and was not yet aware of his divine qualities.

Baba‘s radiance was so sublime and at the same time so loving that our hearts became very warm.

He seemed like a father and friend to me, which allowed me to feel at home near him and to behave towards him with ease, happiness and trust. So Sai Baba, in his infinite love, fulfilled my heart‘s desire from far away Calcutta.

Suddenly my gifts, which I had wrapped in Switzerland for my trip to India and which were still in my luggage, came to my mind and I presented Swami with a few of them.

As he started to unpack, he rejoiced like a child and added: “Look at the beautiful wrapping paper the Swiss make; we Indians just wrap presents in newspapers!” He also seemed to be impressed by the quality of the Swiss products. No wonder, since his materialised objects are also perfectly beautiful and testify his benevolence and his pleasure in human craftsmanship.

Suddenly, from nowhere, Swami handed me a piece of nougat, neatly wrapped in cellophane. It was exactly the same as it used to be given to me in my childhood at the stands on Petersplatz during the Basel Autumn Fair – or as when I used to buy it myself from my pocket money. Nougat was my favourite speciality back then. I was deeply moved by the fact that Baba materialised this sweet from the ether – after all these years.

On January 1, 1965, he gave us sweets again. Baba surprised us early in the morning with his Darshan. Markel, a young woman from California, and I had just got up when Baba came to us and put a soft and fragrant warm piece of pastry in to the mouth of both of us with the words “I wish that this year is as sweet as this sweet.” At that time, Swami spoke few words of English. But more often, he said: “It‘s easy” especially in those moments when we would be present during his materializations and would open our mouths and eyes wide in amazement.

(From Sanathana Sarathi magazine January 1965 – 4th Jan Baba arrived at Prasanthi Nilayam accompanied by Mr. And Mrs. Jr. Raymer of Pacific Palisades, California, U S and Gabriela Steyer of Burgdorf, Switzerland.)

In the years that followed, I was able to witness many of his miracles and experienced that all his gifts came from the inexhaustible fullness of God. The gifts are signs of his sympathy, joy, compassion, help, grace, and above all of his infinite love.

Later, Hilda, an American, joined our small group of foreigners. After her stay with Sai Baba, Hilda led a yoga school in New York. One afternoon, Baba asked Hilda and me to join an Indian devotee in his car on a little tour of Bangalore and then do some shopping.

We liked that suggestion! “What should I buy? I don`t need anything,” I thought. But then, a wish arose in me: “Oh yes I do, I want some chocolate.” So we patiently drove from shop to shop, but could not find a ‘Swiss chocolate.’ As consolation for my efforts, I bought an English Cadbury chocolate.

Back in Brindavan, Whitefield we had afternoon tea. Swami rushed over. With His lotus feet, He flew over the ground so that we did not hear him coming. Suddenly he was standing in the midst of us. “What did you buy?” He asked innocently, as if He didn’t already know what we had bought. After Hilda had listed her cosmetics shopping, I confessed: “Chocolates, Swamiji, English Cadbury chocolates, as I could not find Swiss chocolates.” When I answered, Baba burst into a hearty, resounding laughter, so much so that we all just laughed along.

From that moment on, Sai Baba gave me the nick-names ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Switzerland.’ When he saw something brown, He would often shout, “Switzerland, Chocolate, come here.” Or He would say, “Switzerland, go there and do this” or “Switzerland, how are you?” It was funny. Swami once gave me a Sari in the colours of milk chocolate.

Sai Baba was always ready for jokes; they were a part to Him. Laughter and jokes, speaking and silence – Swami`s utterances and gestures always had meaning.

Each of his actions contained a deeper message.

Baba was not only a fabulous judge of character, he was also well informed about world history.

Of course, he also knew the common goods of the different countries, such as chocolate, cheese and the world-famous watches with their immaculate Swiss precision movements. So I also realised that the Swiss watch was not missing in Swami’s ‘miracle store.’

Here is what happened. One morning Baba shouted:

“Get ready, we’re leaving right away!”

In his surroundings, you always had to be ready to go – whether for day trips or longer journeys. This was al-ways a great challenge for me, because I had to gather up all my luggage within a very short time, depending on the project. Swami always said: “Less luggage – less worries.”

As a destination of that trip, Swami led us into a distant jungle which included an elephant ride. For us foreigners, this was of course a great treat. In the beginning we could only discover monkeys. But suddenly the elephant guide spotted a group of wild elephants. He told us: “Stand still, don‘t move and don‘t make a sound.” For Hilda and me, it was not easy, we rolled around laughing because of the wobbly seat. At the same time, however, we were overcome with a queasy feeling because wild elephants are unpredictable and can run away impetuously when they see something moving. They are then capable of destroying whole areas with their power and stomping.

However, since our beloved protector Sai Baba was among us, we felt very much at ease in His care. At the end of the elephant ride, which lasted several hours, Baba‘s elegantly circling hand movement brought the elephant keeper a shiny men‘s watch with ‘Swiss made’ stamped on the dial as a tribute to his good bush management.

We were able to experience Baba‘s soothing and fascinating miracle every day in his immediate presence. Baba was not only an actor of God, but also an expression of divine omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence.

He healed acquaintances of mine and appeared to them in his ethereal body in Switzerland, although they neither knew nor revered Him. He simply let me know with his letter that he would take care of them, and his promise came true.

I often wished that Swami would visit Switzerland.

I waited for a long time until he finally came. Not by plane, as I had imagined, but in his own way, in the form of a vision.

He stood on a hill in the middle of the Swiss Alps in His long red robe and in solid mountain boots, his gaze fixed on the magnificent landscape. He rested within himself and blessed our homeland – his Swiss-Sai-Land.

After several years, Baba commissioned his ‘Swiss Sai-land’ to establish a Sathya Sai Baba Centre in Switzer-land, which was opened in 1979 on Lord Sri Ganesha Day in Bern. Since then other Sai Baba Centres have been established in the Confederation Helvetica, from which Swami‘s love radiates all over the world and into the universe.

We can never be sufficiently grateful to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba for all the wonderful things he has given us in his infinite love and kindness.

Gabriella further writes in another article On the banks of the Chitravati River

Before an evening Bhajan chant in the Mandir, Baba announced that everyone should go to the dried out Chitravati river-bed and wait for him there.

This message was auspicious and filled us with a tingling excitement of a special event. I walked down along the devotee stream to the destination and decided to mingle with the crowd so as to go unnoticed.

As I was the only remaining foreigner who was treated preferentially in many things and was usually allowed to sit at the front of the queue, I wanted others to get this privilege. But Swami had planned differently.

Suddenly, an Indian devotee grabbed me by the arm and pulled me literally like a bundle of wood behind her to a point where she ordered me to sit down.

As soon as I sat on the spot of sand, a rectangular, rather high sand hill was built up in front of me. Around the sand hill, a few other devotees were asked to sit.

The full moon rose in the sky. A gentle breeze blew and spread the sound of Bhajan singing that had begun in the meantime in all directions. The hearts of all trembled in joyful expectation of what was to come – but no one could guess. Then Baba appeared in the semi-darkness and sat down on the piled up sand-seat. How happy I was to be allowed to sit directly at his feet and be so close to Him.

With his melodious and powerfully soft voice Baba sang the first line of the Bhajans and the choir of devotees repeated after him in waves of joy and devotion. The atmosphere was enchanting. While singing, Baba raised his right index finger and drew something in the sand with a few strokes. The joined strokes seemed to me like a kindergarten drawing.

Then came the big moment. Baba reached into the sand with his right hand and lifted out two matching silver statues. These statues were of the deities Lakshmi and Narayana.

The statues were then lifted so as to be visible to all – to the delight of the devotees. The chanting continued and hundreds of happy eyes were fixed on Sai Baba.

A second surprise followed. Baba knows how to make his actions always exciting and interesting. This time, the drawing lasted barely two seconds. An oval circle became visible in which Baba again put his right hand through the sand and dug out a silver plateau.

Why did He dig up this plateau?

Baba placed the Lakshmi and Narayana statues on top of the silver plateau in order for them to have a proper base. Again, the devotees uttered sounds of “Ahh’s” and “Ohh’s.” The festive mood continued and the choir sang with increasing strength and devotion. What followed next? The divine Leela had even more in mind. Baba’s index finger again sketched a few lines on the sand, but they were drawn so quickly that I couldn’t guess what they meant.

The object that was born out of the sand this time was a beautifully shaped Kamandalu, a small shiny jug that looked like the Kamandalu that the monks carry with them. The creative artwork of the evening performance was not yet finished. As the last item, Baba dug out a small spoon out of the sand after doing similar sketching. All good omens in India are five and hence this number is considered very special in this sub-continent.

Apparently, the great performances were not yet finished. Baba still sat quietly on the sand cushion and sang with us. Meanwhile it had become dark, but the light of the full moon, as well as Baba’s divine light and the light of the devotees’ hearts sent their blessing rays into the vastness of the universe.

Suddenly I felt as if I was drunk – there was a strong heavenly fragrance – it appeared as if a perfume had been brewed from all of the most fragrant flowers in the world. I looked around me but could not tell from where the scent reached my senses.

Soon the secret was revealed. Baba, in his majesty and beauty, held his right hand over the Kamandalu with the lid back and (who would believe it!) let Amrit (divine nectar) flow from his fingertips into the Kamandalu until it was filled to the brim with divine nectar. The loud Bhajan singing suddenly stopped and reverential silence replaced it.

Baba rose and asked the crowd to return home and to gather the following morning in double rows in front of the mandir. As per his request, everyone sat on the floor in front of the mandir. There was enough space between the rows for Baba to walk past everyone and (which was part of the conclusion of the Chitravati evening) to pour a spoonful of the amrit (nectar) directly into the mouths of each one of us. As he approached me, I noticed that the Kamandalu was almost empty. What did Baba do then? He simply gave the lid of the Kamandalu a gentle tap, and there was enough of the precious amrit for all of the five hundred or so devotees present.


Reading about Amrit in legends and fairy tales is one thing, but receiving nectar from the Avatar personally is an indescribable and unforgettable experience. Prasanthi Nilayam was indeed a daily festival site. What a blessing for all who had found happiness in this place of peace!

Below is a message from Bhagavan Sri which he sent me in His letter in 1966.

It is so beautiful that I want to share it with all devotees.


Feel that every act and activity of yours is for God and of God. Think of every inch of the ground that you tread as the floor of the Temple of God. Remember, that every word that you utter is part of a conversation with God himself. Be aware always that whatever you see are but glimpses of the Body of God. When life is such dedicated, imagine the bliss you will experience.”

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba JAY SRI SAI RAM OM SRI SAI RAM

Sai Ram, Gabriella Steyer – Interlaken

From En los pasos del Señor (In the footsteps of the Lord) by Michel Coquet

It would have been impossible to write this biography without the precious help of the reference works of Sri N. Kasturi, Mr. Indulal Sha, Lucas Ralli, Erlendur Haraldsson, John Hislop, Howard Murphet, J. Jegathesan, Gabriella Arpita Steyer and the many others who collaborated.

A few years ago, we had occasion to meet a friend in India who had been in close association with Sai Baba since 1964, although we were unaware of it at the time. This friend, originally from Switzerland, is called Gabriella Arpita Steyer, and she lived near Sai for several years. She was one of the first Westerners to talk about Sai Baba’s divine games to Howard Murphet when he went to India. During a stay at Sri Ramakrishna’s ashram in Gretz, Gabriella was kind enough to tell us about some of Sai’s divine games, which she witnessed. Her meeting with Sathya Sai Baba was unusual. Without going into details, Gabriella told us that being a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna herself, she was invited one day to the home of a Hindu couple in Delhi. There, he saw Sai Baba’s photo for the first time next to that of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.

After this trip to India, he returned to Switzerland, but two years later, she felt an inner need to return. Her first visit was to Brindavan, where she met Ma Ananda Moyi, a decisive encounter that made her decide to dedicate her whole life to the spiritual quest. Before leaving for India, she had already prayed a lot for guidance in this direction. Later, she had several visions where the face of Ma Ananda Moyi appeared and also that of a older man whom Gabriella later recognised on some paintings in India as being Shirdi Sai Baba. Shirdi Sai appeared to Gabriella in Switzerland, silently inviting her with a mischievous smile in her eyes to come and visit him in India in her present incarnation, that of Sathya Sai Baba.

At that time, while teaching at a school in Bern, Gabriella decided to leave her job to meet the great souls of India. Ma Ananda Moyi travelled often and Gabriella was not always able to follow her. He then decided to take advantage of this period to visit South India and especially the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi, whose teaching suited him perfectly. Christmas was near and Gabriella hoped to spend the eve either at the Ramakrishna Mission in Belur Math or at the feet of a great sage. She then travelled from Calcutta to Madras where she was welcomed by a couple of Indian friends. However, instead of going to their home, they invited her to go with them directly to Whitefield, near Bangalore, where Sai Baba would be staying for Christmas. The rush was due to the fact that the couple had talked about Gabriella’s arrival to Sai Baba andvBaba had asked them to bring the Swiss woman to his house in Brindavan on December 24th at exactly 4:00 p.m. Gabriella and her friends were waiting in front of the grand portico at the appointed time when the car carrying Sai Baba from Madras pulled in.

The first thing that captivated her was his face of rare majesty and his truly divine smile. In 1964, devotees still lived in close proximity to Sai Baba. It was, Gabriella told us, a true family life. The Indian devotees, who were the vast majority, regularly received advice and instructions, sang and ate together, and Sai Baba appeared fundamentally happy and joyful. He was chinchón and playful, and nobody in his presence could be bored. Every day was a reason for a spiritual event and miracles were daily, although he minimized them considerably, emphasising the fact that they had no importance if it was not to make his devotees happy.

A few days after her arrival, Gabriella was sharing a room with a devout American. On the morning of January 1st, they had just got up when Sai Baba entered the room and wished them a Happy New Year, offering them a still hot sweet which, it seems, had just materialized: “I wish this New Year to be for you so exquisite as this sweet.” Gabriella was so taken with her that she stayed at the ashram for nearly two years.

One day, Sai Baba suggested that she go to his ashram in Puttaparthi where she stayed for a few weeks with her American friend. The Puttaparthi ashram was not then what it is today. There were no amenities or toilets and he often slept under the stars.

Gabriella told us that the most captivating thing about Sai Baba was his divine love for everyone, and the most amazing thing was his ability to know everything. His omniscience was such that he seemed to know everything about his innermost thoughts, both past and future.

‘Om Sai Ram’ is mantra is often repeated by devotees of Sai Baba with devotion and sincerity, and is also used as a greeting. Sometimes these sacred words are engraved on Sai Baba’s materialised jewellery. Sai Baba materialised this mantra for Gabriella on a ring made of five metals (gold, silver, copper, brass and iron) with Shirdi Sai Baba’s sphinx in relief. When he materialised it, the ring was too big, but Sai Baba already knew in advance that Gabriella would unwittingly gain weight over the next three months, so from then on, the ring no longer fell off her finger.

Anothetr story told by our friend Gabriella Steyer. In the 1980s, a Hindu couple she knew wanted to give her a Christmas present while they were in Switzerland. Sita, the wife, went shopping in Bern and found three small picture frames. One of them might do, but he searched in vain for a picture of Sai Baba that would fit. Since all the ones he had had to be cut down, he preferred to abandon the idea. The next morning, Sita saw a bag of vibhuti on the table. Surprised, she put it away in a drawer, but in the following days, the same package appeared in other furniture. This intrigued Sita’s husband, who never let such bags lie around, and kept the bag of vibhuti, but it reappeared the next day. Sita, who always had a desire to find an image of Sai, ended up wondering about the mysterious appearance of the package and decided to open it. To his astonishment, the bag, in addition to the vibhuti, contained three images of Sai Baba. And, of course, the photos fitted perfectly in the little frames Sita had bought. Later, the small portrait that Gabriella kept was partially covered in vibhuti for a time.

Gabriella explained to me that she was one of the lucky ones who were lucky enough to be with Sai Baba at a time when devotees still gathered from time to time on the banks of the Chitravati River. She remembers a day when she saw Sai Baba alternately materialise a small pot and a spoon. At that moment, the place that was in the open air was flooded with an incomparable fragrance, like the most wonderful of perfumes. Everyone wondered where it could come from, until Gabriella, who was watching Sai Baba intently, realised that he was filling the little jar with nectar flowing from his fingers. When the jar was completely filled with the scented liquid, Sai Baba asked everyone to go away and get ready because the next day would be a major holiday. He also told them that once everyone was gathered in front of the temple, he would make them taste this elixir of the gods. The next day they were all sitting in a row, the men on one side and the women on the other, as usual; There were several hundred and Sai Baba went through each line, giving each one a spoonful. As she approached Gabriella, she had the thought that such a large crowd could not be fed from the already half-empty little jar. At this point, Sai Baba patted the jar and, in an instant, it was again full to the brim. Quantity is also not an obstacle for Sai Baba. Thus, during one Christmas, he materialised the nectar that he distributed to almost four thousand devotees.

Gabriella told us an interesting story about the law of karma and how Sai can intervene. It is the story of a father who came to Puttaparthi hoping to see his eight or nine year old son recover from a long and serious illness. The father used to carry his son on his shoulders and go around the temple praying very loudly. He did this for several weeks until one day Sai Baba agreed to receive him, welcoming him with great compassion, asking him to choose. He could, if the father so wished, immediately cure his son, but in that case the boy would have to relive this karmic ordeal in his next existence. Or, accept your child’s illness for a few more years, and then your child would be completely debt-free in later life. The father chose the second option. Therefore, let us be restrained before judging the actions of the Lord that, despite our misunderstanding, are always carried out with a view to a greater good.

Indra Devi writes that Gabriella Steyer, a Swiss school teacher sweetly took care of her on her arrival to Prasanthi Nilayam in April 1966, who had by then spent a year and a half there.

The Murphets had meet Gabriella in Madras when Howard was returning the day following his first meet with Baba in Madras. Howard Murphet writes in his 1971 book Sai Baba – Man of Miracles

“The next afternoon found Iris and myself at the same house. In the entrance we met Gabriela Steyer of Switzerland, one of the small western contingent in Baba’s travelling party. She, very friendly and sympathetic, led us to an upstairs room where about a score of women, most of them Indian and all in saris, sat cross-legged on the carpet.”

“Every day now saw the crowd swelling. The buildings were all full and people were beginning to spread their beds under the trees. In this gathering tide of dark-faced, white-robed Indians I was the only western male. Bob Raymer having returned to his home in California. Among the ladies there were only two pale faces left ochre-robed Nirmalananda and Gabriela Steyer.”

“Earlier in the book I spoke of Miss Gabriela Steyer who was living at the ashram when I first met Swami. She stayed there for many months and when I visited Prasanthi Nilayam the first time (February 1966) she told me about many wonderful miracles she had personally witnessed. She had had a very rich experience of these outward signs of power and grace. But, as always, the most important factor was Baba’s love; this was the magnet that held her to the discomforts and austerities of ashram life month after month. Gabriela finally had to tear herself away and return to her own country and profession. But I doubt if her life could ever be the same again after it had once been kindled by the Great Flame. There were many outer signs of the inner glow.” 

Howard and Iris Murphet Indian Spring 1965, at the Madras home of G. Venkateshwara Rao

Howard’s first book Yoga for Busy People sold well for many years. His psychic research led them into the Theosophical Society’s library in the West End which in turn led them to be accepted as students in the School of the Ancient Wisdom at the Theosophical Society Headquarters at Adyar, in Madras, India.

Based at Adyar, they ventured forth and spent time with the young Dalai Lama and met many extraordinary figures including J. Krishnamurti, Swami Ranganatananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Tat Walla Baba, among others.

Then came the truly pivotal event in Howard’s life; meeting Sathya Sai Baba and going to his ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam. This not only opened his spiritual heart to an extent he could never have even dreamed of, but also inspired the writing of his best-selling book Sai Baba, Man of Miracles.

Murphet also wrote biographies throughout 1967 of the two founders of the Theosophical Society, Colonel H.S. Olcott and Madam H.P. Blavatsky. The first of the two, Hammer on the Mountain is a detailed and inspiring account of one of the most outstanding men that ever lived – Henry Steel Olcott.

The second biography When Daylight Comes on the controversial Russian noblewoman, Madam Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

In the midst of writing Man of Miracles from their base at Adyar, Howard and Iris still found time to visit the ashram of the late Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry, thus beginning a life-long study of this great spiritual master’s published works. Then, after the completion of Man of Miracles they set off in the footsteps of that earlier writer/seeker, Paul Brunton, to visit the sacred mountain of Arunachala at whose feet rests the ashram of the late Ramana Maharshi, famed for his teachings on self-enquiry. There they spent time with Arthur Osborne and his wife: “It was this gifted spiritual searcher who wrote the book The Incredible Sai Baba (on Shirdi Sai) which had done so much in our lives”, as well as the seminal work The Life and Teachings of Ramana Maharshi.

First meets Sathya Sai Baba in the Indian spring of 1965 at the Madras home of the home of Mr. G. Venkateshwara Rao, the mica magnate who was also a devotee of Sai Baba.

Howard Murphet writes in his 1971 book Sai Baba – Man of Miracles

This, I thought, might be my great chance to find out if the fantastic tales that have come out of India belong to the realm of fact or fiction. I decided that I must see Satya Sai Baba as soon as convenient. Later, when I heard that his followers regarded him as a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, my desire to meet him became even stronger.

But the bullock-cart safari into the interior of south India would have to wait a little while. It sounded more than arduous, and we had recently discovered on our northern journey that ordinary travel in India saps one’s vitality. On our return, we were glad to recuperate for a time in the tranquil tree-filled Theosophical Estate.

One day several months after our return a young pale-faced woman wearing the ochre-robe of a monk came on a visit to the Theosophical Headquarters. She was introduced to us by a mutual friend as Nirmalananda, and we took her to our sitting room for morning coffee. She told us that she was an American from Hollywood, an odd place of origin for an ascetic, we thought. “Nirmalananda”, she said, was the Hindu name given her by Swami Sivananda when he initiated her into the monastic life. After he had died she left his ashram at Rishikesh and became a follower of Satya Sai Baba. At Puttaparthi she had witnessed many wonderful miracles. Now Sai Baba was on a visit to Madras and she was one of a small party of disciples he had brought with him.

This seemed to be our golden opportunity. Iris was not feeling well enough to come, but Nirmalananda conducted me to the place where Sai Baba was staying. It was a pleasant house, standing behind lawns and flower gardens. Later I learned that it was the home of Mr. G. Venkateshwara Rao, the mica magnate who was also a devotee of Sai Baba. The lawns and pathways in front of the house were covered with people sitting quietly cross-legged on the ground – white-clad men to one side and women in saris like bright-coloured flowers to the other. There were hundreds of them, obviously waiting for a sight of the great man.

Nirmalananda led me through the crowd to the front verandah and there introduced me to a pleasant, red-haired American named Bob Raymer.

“I think Sai Baba has finished interviews for the morning, but I’ll go and find out,” he said.

He took me into a small sitting-room and left me there. Nirmalananda had already gone off somewhere. In the room were only two Indian men, both standing and apparently waiting for someone. I also stood waiting.

After a few minutes the door from the interior of the house opened and there entered a man the like of whom I have never seen before nor since. He was slight and short. He wore a red silk robe that fell in a straight line from shoulders to feet. His hair stood up from his head in a big circular mop, jet black, crinkly, to the roots like wool, and seemingly vibrant with life. His skin was light brown but seemed darker because of the thick beard which, though closely shaven, still showed black through the skin. His eyes were dark, soft and luminous, and his face beamed with some inner joy.

I had never seen a photograph of Sai Baba. Could this be he? I had expected someone tall and stately with a long black beard, and dressed in white robes. I had a preconceived image of what a great yogi or master should be like perhaps derived from early theosophical descriptions of the Masters.

He came swiftly and gracefully across the carpet towards me, showing white, even teeth in a friendly smile.

“Are you the man from Australia?” he asked.

“Yes.” I replied.

Howard and Iris Murphet arrive at Prasanthi Nilayam in February 1966.

Iris, Sathya Sai Baba, Howard.

Dr Hernando de la Cuesta from the United States and Pole Marek Tollik from the University of Paris 9th August 1965 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine August 1965

Prasanthi Nilayam News August 9 Dr. Hernando de la Cuesta from the United States and Mr. Marek Tollik from the University of Paris arrived at the Nilayam and had discussions with Baba on spiritual problems.

Marek Tollik of Gdansk, Poland and girlfriend in 1971.
Marek Tollik, 2016.

Australian Frank C. Becker 22nd September 1965 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine September 1965

Prasanthi Nilayam News Sep 22 Arrival of Frank C. Becker from Western Australia.

Mr Harding from London arrived for a short stay 22nd January 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine January 1966

Prasanthi Nilayam News Jan 22 Harding from London arrived for a short stay.

Swiss Bruno Kueazi 5th February 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine February 1966

Prasanthi Nilayam News Feb 5 Mr. Bruno Kueazi from Switzerland arrived for a short stay at the Nilayam.

Norwegian Alf Tideman Johanessan March 1966 Bombay

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part III by N. Kasturi

Another ‘for-near’ who was drawn by Baba from Shirdi, the arena of His previous life, is Alf Tideman Johanessan of Oslo, Norway. Head of a prosperous company doing business at Bombay harbour as shipping agents, His rivals attempted to ruin his reputation and income, by every foul means that could be devised, including black magic! Some friends of his and a Parsi priest took him to (of all places!) the shrine of Shirdi, to invoke grace to ward off the calamity.

During one of his visits, in February 1966, while Alf was sitting disconsolate before the tomb of the ‘Previous Body’, the present body took over his problems in His inimitable way! A short man in a blue shirt patted him on the back and asked, “Have you ever met Sathya Sai Baba?” Alf had not heard the name before. The short man whispered in his ear, “If God ever came upon the earth, this is He,” and placed in his hand a small locket studded with an enamelled oval piece containing a portrait of a person wearing a robe and having a mop of hair. “This is Sathya Sai Baba,” the short man said, “You can see Him at Bombay on March 14th,” and then left.

Alf asked all those he knew for more details about this ‘God on Earth’, but none of them had heard about Him, nor did they know where He could be found on March 14th. In fact, as he came to know later, it was only a week after the short man in blue shirt announced the date at Shirdi did the Sathya Sai Seva Samithi of Bombay receive information about the date of Baba’s arrival with directions to look for and engage a suitable place in any easily accessible part of the city with plenty of open space around for devotees to gather.

Let it be said that Baba reached Bombay in the small hours of the night on 13th March, and gave Alf the smile of recognition on the 14th, during the Bhajan session in the morning at Gwalior Palace! In the very first interview that Alf gained, consequent on this divinely arranged contact, Baba said to him, “Do you remember the black magician? I helped you then.” Relating to him his triumphs and trials, both in his business and in his efforts at bridging the gap between despair and delight in the realm of the spirit, Baba told him, “From now on, I shall be your guide, in all matters.”

Howard Murphet writes in his 1971 book Sai Baba – Man of Miracles

Here is the story, in condensed form, of how one man of the western world came to Sai Baba and of how it affected his life. 

Mr. Alf Tidemand-Johannessen of Oslo, Norway, arrived in India with nothing but the proverbial typewriter and his own ability, grit, energy and ambition to make a fortune. Within twelve years, that is, by 1962, he had built up one of the largest ship agency companies in India, handling more ships each year than any other individual company. His was India’s pioneer company in grain discharging. It handled more than half of the grain ships bringing enormous quantities of food to India to avoid large-scale starvation there. His big success did not pass unnoticed. Into certain minds entered jealousy, envy, and schemes for getting control of his business. Certain key men on his executive staff were soon actively engaged behind the scenes in misusing their powers to divert the company’s assets into their own pockets. 

“When I found out that malpractices were taking place,” Alf Tidemand told me, “I knew that I would have to face a furious battle with a ruthless enemy. As soon as I took steps to seal the leakages, the executives concerned terminated their services and started a competing company. Their aim was to take away all my business.” 

As part of their scheme his enemies sent anonymous letters to Income Tax, Reserve Bank and Customs authorities indicating that the Tidemand Company was abusing the laws and regulations of the country. Apparently it is customary for such authorities to take action on anonymous letters: they soon discovered who the senders were, and then months of investigations followed during which Alf had to provide documents covering all the past years to prove that the allegations against him were false. 

Naturally his business clients were disturbed at the sudden exodus of his key staff and the rumours that were floating around. To add fuel to the fire his scheming enemies sent letters to all his clients informing them that his company was in trouble with the Government. All this put tremendous restrictions on his business operations, and things looked very black indeed. 

Nevertheless, because of his past integrity, Alf’s clients did not immediately desert him, and the new competing company established by his defecting executives was not doing well. So then they made their next move, a move that is apparently not uncommon in the concrete jungles of modern India. They engaged a black magician to work against him. 

Alf said: “I could handle the other assaults, but was not prepared for this attack from occult black science; nor did I at the time have the slightest idea that such methods were being used. Even if I had known, I would have laughed at it as pure superstition.” 

But Alf’s lawyer in Bombay, who was working on the company’s problems, soon caught a whiff of the black magic. He had known similar cases before. Being a good friend and knowing Tidemand’s innocence and integrity, the lawyer took him along to a Parsi priest who lived in an old temple in Bombay. The priest, who was clairvoyant and had other powers, confirmed that strong dark forces were being used against Alf Tidemand. The latter kept in regular touch with the old Parsi priest and, he says, “By many strange methods he began piloting me and my business through the troubled waters stirred up by the black magician.” 

The magician, himself, now came out of hiding. Discovering that counter forces were being played successfully against him, he decided to strike directly and boldly. He turned up at Alf’s office and by various methods, well-known to students of sorcery, tried to gain dominion over his intended victim. But Tidemand had been warned of this possibility by the Parsi priest, and immediately suspected the evil-eyed old Indian who, by clever ruses, had gained admittance to his private office. 

Alf managed to avoid the initial traps, and then manoeuvred the sorcerer into his car, planning to take him along to the old Parsi priest. On the way, perhaps recognising Tidemand’s strength and also his liberality, he decided to change masters. He admitted involuntarily that he had been employed by Alf’s enemies to destroy him, his family and Company. But he had changed his mind, the magician said, and would work for Tidemand if the latter paid him reasonably well. He would see to it that all Alf’s enemies were completely annihilated. 

“Black magicians are very powerful,” he announced, and added meaningly, “they can even kill a child in its mother’s womb.” Alf had just received that very morning a cable from Norway informing him that his wife had lost her child in its seventh month. This must be more than coincidence, he thought. 

At the temple the Parsi priest immediately recognised the sorcerer for what he was and chased him away, threatening to report him to the police. He warned Alf to have nothing whatever to do with this man of unclean powers. 

Soon after that Alf Tidemand was taken by a business friend, his Taxation expert, to Shirdi. There he had “the feeling that God had opened a door to let me feel his greatness for a blessed moment, during which the great weight fell from my shoulders and my troubles evaporated”. He learned that the old Parsi priest who was helping him was a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba, and he began to understand that it was really the Sai power that was guiding him through the reefs and shoals of strange, difficult waters. 

Soon the black magician gave up the unequal struggle; the Government authorities decided that the accusations were false and baseless and all the intrigues of Alf’s underhand enemies fell to the ground. The difficulties that had threatened to destroy him were completely overcome, and the troubled year came to an end. 

Early in 1963 the Tidemand Company was getting back on its feet and beginning to prosper again. Though the struggle had taken a toll of Alf’s strength, it had also shown him a light. This light, and a power that brought peace and refreshment to his mind and spirit, were at the village of Shirdi over which the spirit of old Sai Baba seemed to brood. It was only a few hours car journey from Bombay and Alf paid regular visits there during the next three years. 

On February 26th, 1966 he was at Shirdi with the friend who first took him there, and the Parsi priest, whom he now addressed as “father”. In front of the temple a short man in a blue shirt walked up to Alf and asked, “Have you ever met Sri Satya Sai Baba?” Alf replied that he had not, and the man went on: “You must see him. He is coming to Bombay on the 14th of March. If there is any God on this earth, he is God.” Then he gave vibhuti from a silver container to each of the party, and to Alf he gave a small locket with a picture of Satya Sai in a blue shirt. 

“Don’t forget to see him in Bombay on the 14th of next month” he repeated, and went away. Later as they were about to leave Shirdi, they again saw the man – by the side of the road. He greeted them, and repeated again the advice to Alf, that he should see Satya Sai on March 14th. 

The Norwegian was at this period in the middle of another deep problem. Because of his wife’s bad health she could not live in India and really needed him with her and the children in Norway. He felt that he must somehow sell his business and return there. But how could he find a good buyer?’ 

He had built the business on his own personal integrity and efficiency. He knew that it depended very much on the goodwill felt towards him personally in the shipping world. Potential buyers would think that with Tidemand himself gone, the business might not be worth much. He had faced many mountainous obstacles in his life, and this was one of the biggest. 

He had learned that the Sai power was very great. If in fact Satya Sai was a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai, and was a divine avatar as people said, he could solve this or any other problem. Alf decided that he must have an interview with this man if he should come to Bombay as predicted by the character in the blue shirt. But deciding such a thing and achieving it are two different things. Most people have to work hard and overcome obstacles to reach Sai Baba. Some have to go through the labours of Hercules; Alf was one of these. 

Certainly Satya Sai was in Bombay by March 14th, just as blue-shirt had foretold. Day after day for many hours the Norwegian sat cross-legged in the broiling sun with the big crowds outside the place where Baba was staying; first the Gwalior Palace and then the house of Mr. Savant, the Food Minister of the Maharashtra Government. Or he sat with even bigger crowds in the Stadium listening to Baba lecture in Telegu, with a translation into Hindi by Dr. B. Ramakrishna Rao. Alf understood neither of these languages. 

During this time he saw the little figure of Satya, with his shining robe and black dome of hair, walking among the people signing photos, blessing objects presented for his touch, producing vibhuti here and there. The big blond Norwegian was favoured with a nod, a friendly smile, a greeting now and again, but there were no signs of the longed-for interview. 

Being one of the very few Europeans in the crowds, Alf was becoming well-known among the Sai following. He was invited to homes of devotees and heard wonderful stories about Baba’s love, grace and miraculous powers. This was all very inspiring, but it did not solve his problem. After four days of trying and getting nowhere, he almost decided to give up. 

It was then that a strange man with a curved nose and black beard said to him: “Would you like to meet Sai Baba?” The stranger said that he could arrange an appointment, and Alf decided to take a sporting chance with him. 

There was still much to go through. Under the direction of this bearded stranger Alf had to buy grass for a cow, give something to beggars, visit a temple and touch the floor with his forehead before an image there, buy garlands of flowers and kan-kans (circlets) of Mogra flowers. Perhaps all this ritual helped, or maybe the stranger knew the right people near to Baba. Anyway, on the morning of March 18th Alf went for his first appointment. Stepping out of the car in front of Mr. Savant’s house, he took off his shoes, and with a garland kan-kans in his hand, began to climb the steps. Suddenly he looked up and there stood Baba as if waiting for him. 

“I am so happy to see you,” Baba said with simple friendliness. Usually Swami will not let people place garlands on him, he merely places it aside. But now before the ministers and V.I.P.s who had gathered in the entrance, he permitted the tall Norwegian to garland him. 

“Please come up,” he said, patting Alf on the back. The latter soon found himself on the first floor of the huge house occupied by the Food Minister. There, sitting on the carpet with about twenty people, he heard Swami give a discourse – again in Telegu with Hindi translation. But every so often during his talk, Baba paused to perform a materialisation miracle. 

In one pause he materialised vibhuti, in another a small locket with a picture of Shirdi Baba. These were for Alf, who writes that “they were taken right out of the air in front of the ministers, who all consider this to be a normal procedure for him”. Then the Master went on teaching, mainly in parables, which were later translated into English for Tidemand. Came another pause in which he autographed a photo for one of the women and materialised for her a locket of Vishnu. Then he got up and put a vibhuti mark on everyone’s forehead. During the talk he had been playing with Alf’s kan-kans. Now he gave the big Norwegian another friendly pat and a few encouraging words before leaving the room. 

Although Alf had at last gained regular access to the house where Swami was staying, the long-awaited private interview and the solution to his big problem still seemed difficult to obtain. But other things happened. Urged on by the man with the curved nose, who also seemed to Alf to have a precognitive nose for Baba’s movements, he even had the temerity to invite the great Master to his top-floor apartment. The latter graciously accepted and came with a small group of close devotees on March 24th, ten long days after Alf had first sighted him at the Gwalior Palace. 

Elaborate arrangements had been made under the direction and supervision of that curved, precognitive nose. These included lavish floral decorations, a children’s band, a young woman (she was supposed to be, and probably was, a virgin) to blow a conch shell and wash Baba’s feet on his arrival. She blew the shell successfully, but Swami would not permit the feet-washing ritual. He was more interested in some sick people who had been brought than the display and splendour of decorations. But he listened to the children’s music with pleasure and “took” vibhuti for each and a nine-stoned ring for the leader out of the fresh sea-breeze stirring the flowers in the roof garden. Most important of all he invited Alf to come to him for a private interview on the following morning. 

During this hard-earned climactic interview, Alf Tidemand discovered, as many have done before and since, that Sai Baba already knew his problems and his past. 

“I have been thinking about selling my business,” Alf said. 

“I have been thinking about the same thing,” Swami answered. 

Then the Norwegian began to explain the difficulties. 

“Do not worry,” Swami told him. “I will help you find a reliable buyer and obtain a good price.” He went on to say that it was now right for Alf to get away from life in the Bombay business circles with all it entailed, and settle down in Norway with his family. In this way his wife’s health would improve. Perhaps to infuse more confidence and dispel any doubts in the mind of the worried shipping man, Baba said, “Do you remember the black magician? I helped you then.” 

In his notes on this interview, the turning point of his life, Alf writes: “He gave me convincing evidence of his divine powers and I was made to understand the purpose of my life. I knew that all the prayers I had made to God during my lifetime, and all the help I had got as a result of those prayers, were known to Baba. I knew too that though there had been many obstacles in the final stage of reaching him – many tests to my faith and courage – he had really called me to him through strange and miraculous ways. The man in the blue shirt at Shirdi, for instance, who was he? I had found on enquiry that none of Sai Baba’s closest devotees, not even Mr. N. Kasturi, knew that Baba would be coming to Bombay on March 14th. 

“Swami seemed to know too that I had long been searching for a living spiritual teacher, and at this first interview he said: ‘You need not look for a guru any more. From now on I will guide you.’ At the end Baba materialised for me a locket with his picture, some sweets to eat and some vibhuti. 

“The next day the manager of the Bombay branch of one of the largest companies in India phoned me to say he had heard I might be interested to sell my company. He would like to talk to me about it. 

“During the negotiations that followed I was in regular touch with Swami, seeing him often. And in my early morning meditations, which Swami had told me to observe with regularity, I received amazing inspiration for solving the complex problems in connection with the proposed selling contract, for which there was no sample precedent of any kind available. After some months of difficult negotiations, helped by the ever-present guiding hand of Baba, a very favourable contract materialised for the sale of my shipping agency business in India.” 

Alf Tidemand returned to his wife and family in Oslo. His early dream had come true; he had made his fortune. But something much more important had happened to him in India. He had found his Sadguru his spiritual guide and mentor, who brought meaning to the chaos and emptiness of life lived only at the material level. 

Talking to him recently, learning something of his eventful and sometimes heroic saga, I came to the conclusion that my friend Alf Tideman-Johannessen will always have hard problems to solve because he is of the type whose spiritual muscles grow through solving such problems. He is essentially a man of action. But in the future his karma will, I feel, be nishkama karma – action without greed for the fruits of action. It will be action that in some way in keeping with his own dharma will help to spread the glory of God and his message of light for this age. All this through the grace of Sai Baba. 

Yogini Indra Devi April 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

Yogini Indra Devi is one Sathya Sai Baba’s first Western devotees, she lived on the ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam, in April 1966.

She writes in a 1967 edition of Sanathana Sarathi magazine – The idea of starting a Meditation Crusade for “Light in Darkness” was born on the dark day of 22nd November, 1963, when President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. I happened to be there at that time and was supposed to be introduced to him, in order to present to him my books on Yoga and to suggest that Asanas and deep breathing exercises would enrich his `physical fitness’ program and make it most effective.

Howard Murphet writes in his 1971 book Sai Baba – Man of Miracles

But among the non-Indian followers of Sai Baba one of the best-known names is Madame Indra Devi, the internationally famous yoga teacher and authoress of several books on yoga. 

Once when she was on a visit to the Theosophical Society Headquarters at Adyar, my wife and I told her some of our experiences with Baba. This was apparently the first time she had heard his name but she at once sensed intuitively his great importance. Immediately she seemed to have no doubt whatever that this was one man in India she must see at no matter what cost in time and trouble. She was scheduled to fly to Saigon for a lecture engagement, and had originally intended returning to her Yoga Foundation in southern California directly from Vietnam. But now she changed her mind and came back to India in order to meet Sai Baba. 

After a mountain of difficulties, because Baba was touring and his movements were uncertain, she finally made the contact at Prasanthi Nilayam, reaching there in the hammering heat of an Indian summer. She seems to have recognised his great spiritual stature from that first meeting, and straight away became a fervent and very active devotee. 

At that time she was just starting on her mission to teach and encourage meditation throughout the world. Baba gave his blessings to this work – her mission of “Light in darkness.” Since then Indra Devi has made the long journey from California to India several times a year to spend a period with Baba at Prasanthi Nilayam and other places. I will leave her, as a writer herself, to tell whatever she wishes of her own spiritual and miraculous experiences. But of the various materialisations Baba has performed for her, and which she has described to me, there are two I would like to record here, for their interest as well as their evidential value, coming from a witness of world renown. 

One is this: in front of Indra Devi and a party of American visitors, Baba “took” for her, from his “land of nowhere”, a long, bulky jappamala – a string of 108 large pearls. She was wearing it when a little later I saw her at Adyar in company with one of the Americans who had witnessed its production. 

Indira Devi narrates her first meeting with the Omnipresent in human frame (as extracted from Sanathana Sarathi, August 1967) – I had never heard of Him before although I still was in Bombay during the first 3 days of His visit there. In retrospection, I am glad things happened the way they did, as otherwise I would not have gone to Puttaparthi to see Him if I had met Him at Bombay. I had first heard of Him only when I stopped off at Adyar, Madras, from Howard Murphet. When, after returning from Saigon to India, I was finally on my way to Puttaparthi, I kept asking myself, why am I going to see Him. I was, after all, not in need of any help or in search for a guru; but the Inner Voice calling me there was so strong that I could not disobey it.

It was a hot April afternoon when I arrived in Prasanthi Nilayam. I was given a room where Gabriella Steyer, a Swiss school teacher sweetly took care of me. She had spent a year and a half there. Listening to her experience during her stay there was like listening to a fantastic fairy-tale. She had witnessed many miraculous cures. She had seen Him multiply food, taking from the air any object He wished to give to His devotees and even produce Amrita by squeezing His hand and giving it to drink to about 500 people without refilling the vessel. Gabriella was not tired to go on with her stories, and I was not tired to listen to them. Finally she suggested that we go to sit outside the Mandir doorsteps. Then Baba appeared in the doorway. Except for the bright orange colour of His robe and the thick crop of His hair standing like a black halo round His head, He did not at all resemble the photographs of Him I had seen. His tiny, slim figure and finely cut features were exactly the opposite of the way He looks in photographs.

“May be, He will see you tomorrow morning before you leave,” whispered Gabriella. A few minutes later, Sri Sathya Sai Baba appeared on the upper balcony and looked down. Our eyes met. Suddenly my heart began beating violently. I was called in for the interview. As I stood up I felt I was growing taller and taller. If Gabriella and other girls had not supported me, I would have fallen down upon entering the interview room, as I did not any longer feel the floor under my feet. Some one switched on the fan, but I was not feeling hot or faint.

“I don’t know why I have come here,” were my first words. “I was already in Saigon on my way home but the pull was so strong that I had to come and see You.” I also told Him about our Yoga Centre in Tecate and showed Him some pictures. “You must come there, Swami,” I said. He took my hand in His and tapped it three times, stating, “I say three times I shall come. I will keep My promise.” I told Him that I was guided here by Swami Vivekananda, who, so I was told by two clairvoyants, is my protector and guardian on the other side. At the end of our interview He asked me what I wanted. “Jyoti,” I answered, “since I want to start a crusade for “Light in Darkness.” He made movements with His hand in the air and handed me a bright little image of Himself. And, although I had been told by the Murphets about His way of taking things from the air, yet seeing it happen with my own eyes did something to me. I kept looking at the little medallion with wonder, when He took it back saying, “Wait, I’ll give you some Vibhuti too.” A light movement of His fingertips and the ashes poured over the little image like a snowfall. Overwhelmed, I had to joke it off in order not to break into tears. “Don’t make it disappear now,” I said “No, no, if I gave it to you……” “I am only joking”. And we both laughed.

“Call Me whenever you need Me and my Grace. I shall be with you,” were His parting words.

Indra Devi (Eugenie V. Peterson) (1899 – 2002), daughter of European nobility, born in Riga, Latvia. She was the Mother of Western Yoga. Eugenie Peterson was born in Riga, Latvia. When she was fifteen, she came across a book Fourteen Lessons in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism by Yogi Ramacharaka (William Walker Atkinson, 1862-1932). Ramacharaka was an American attorney who left his practice to join the religious New Thought movement at the turn of the century. She also read a book by the poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. Eugenie became so excited reading these books; she vowed to go to India someday.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was brutal civil war. Eugenie fled to Latvia, then Poland and ended up in Berlin in 1921. Because she was a trained actress and dancer she joined a theatre troupe and travelled all over Europe. In 1926, she learned there was an upcoming congress of Annie Besant’s Theosophical Society in Emmen, Holland and decided to go there. One evening at the congress, she heard the renowned yoga master, poet and philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti chanting in ancient Sanskrit. She was instantly moved. She was to say later her time at the congress changed her life.

In 1927, Hermann Bolm, a wealthy banker asked her to marry him. She agreed if with the caveat that he pay for a trip to India for her before they were married. He agreed and she spent three months in India. When she came back, she returned the engagement ring, telling Bolm her place was in India. She sold what jewels and furs she had and returned to India. Under the stage name of Indra Devi, she became a rising star as a dancer and actress in Indian films. During a social gathering, she met Jan Strakaty, the commercial attaché to the Czechoslovak Consulate in Bombay. They were married in 1930. Through him she met the Maharaja and Maharini of Mysore, who maintained a yoga school in their palace where Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya taught.

Indra became a colonial socialite attending receptions, balls, and horse races. She tried to meet Indians of all castes and ranges. She became friends with Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru. Her husband was very open and understanding, even though she was violating social convention. This lifestyle soon took its toll on her and she began experiencing chest pains. She spent four years taking unsuccessful treatments for her condition. A yoga practicing friend of hers suggested she try practicing yoga.

She approached Krishnamacharya in 1937. He refused on the grounds she was a Westerner and a woman. The Maharaja finally intervened and Krishnamacharya agreed to take her on as a student, staying for a year complying with the strict discipline, observing a strict diet, eating only whatever the sun shined on. Some of her fellow students were to become the great masters: K. Pattabi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar. She experienced a complete recovery from her heart ailment.

In 1938, her husband learned he would be transferred to China. Krishnamacharya urged Indra to teach yoga. In 1939, she opened a yoga school in Shanghai in the home of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, wife of the nationalist leader and a yoga enthusiast.

Indra returned to India after the war and wrote her first book Yoga, the Art of Reaching Health and Happiness, believed to be the first book on yoga written by a Westerner to be published in India. She was also the first Westerner to teach yoga in India. In the meantime, her husband returned to Czechoslovakia where he died in 1946.

She returned to the United States. About a year later she opened a yoga school in Hollywood. In an effort to publicize and spread word about yoga, she cultivated movie stars and other famous people to come to her school. Gloria Swanson, Yehudi Menuhin, Pandit Nehru, Ben Gurion, Roman Navarro, Jennifer Jones, Greta Garbo and Robert Ryan were just some of her students. She became friends with Elizabeth Arden, the expert cosmetologist who incorporated yoga into her health spa programs. Indra wrote two more books, Forever Young, Forever Healthy and Renew Your Life by Practicing Yoga which soon became best sellers.

In 1953, she married Dr Sigfrid Knauer, a distinguished physician and humanist. She became an American citizen in the mid-fifties and her name officially became Indra. Dr Knauer bought her a twenty-four room estate in Tecate, Mexico where she gave training courses in yoga. She began speaking at conferences and on television and radio to spread word about the benefits of yoga and writing more books. She went to the Soviet Union in 1960 and tried to convince the government that yoga was not a religion and should be practiced there. It was finally legalized in Russia.

In 1966, she became a follower of Sathya Sai Baba. She began calling her yoga Sai Yoga. In 1977, Indra’s husband died. She was traveling the world lecturing and teaching, aided by her fluency in five languages: English, Spanish, Russian, French and German. In 1982, she travelled to Argentina and fell in love with the country. Her popularity was immense and she was to spend the rest of her life there.

In 1988, she created the Fundación Indra Devi which exists to this day. In 1989, the first national conference was held in Russia with Indra Devi, B.K.S. Iyengar and Guru Bhajan. In 1999, over 3,000 guests attended a party celebrating her 100th birthday. As she became older she still travelled but began to slow her pace. In 2002, her health was to worsen and she was to die peacefully in Buenos Aires on April 25, 2002. She was cremated and her ashes scattered over the Rio de la Plata. amazingwomeninhistory.com

Indra Devi and Sathya Sai Baba.
Yogini Indra Devi is one Sathya Sai Baba’s first Western devotees (first visiting the ashram in 1966). She is seen here (centre) with two of her students at her studio in Hollywood, California in 1952 (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images).

Light in Darkness.

Light meditation is a meditation technique that helps you connect with your inner spirit – your essence or core self. It uses the light that is already within you as an object of focus. It’s a fairly simple meditation, but is powerful and potentially very deep. As is clear in the article, the author, Indra Devi, chooses to consciously suppress her ego by using the letter “I” in the lower case when referring to herself. 

The idea of starting a Meditation Crusade for “Light in Darkness” was born on the dark day of 22nd November, 1963, when President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. i happened to be there at that time. i was scheduled to be introduced to him to present my books on yoga and suggest that asanas (postures in yoga) and deep breathing exercises would enrich his physical fitness program and add to its efficacy.

At the shocking news of his assassination, i remained in my hotel room pondering as to what could be done to prevent or lessen crime that is so prevalent in many big cities in the United States. It seemed to me that we must all make an added effort for our immediate surroundings to become a happier and friendlier place to live in. I felt compelled to start a crusade by conducting meditations on the light in one’s own heart, and by teaching that it is a part of the eternal Divine light.

Photo of Sathya Sai Baba hoped it would lead people to  realize that it is important to act, think, and live in a different manner. Sharing a kind word and a smile, treating all living creatures with compassion would make daily living so much more enjoyable and productive. Every evening after meditation, one should ask oneself, “What did i do today to make the light a little brighter and the darkness a little less dark?” This, i hoped, might bring an illuminating and practical message to the fear-ridden, mentally disturbed, and spiritually forlorn world of today.

To carry out this plan, i decided to dedicate the rest of my life to it and to give up teaching yoga, which i had been doing for the past 28 years when i had to leave India for Shanghai.  There i opened the first yoga school, according to the wishes of my teacher Sri Krishnamacharya. I had been living for 12 years in Bombay, where i got married to a foreign diplomat. I am a Russian-born American citizen with an Indian name duly registered in my passport. My plans were noble but the only trouble was that i did not know how to go about starting the crusade. Conducting meditations at our Yoga Centre in Tecate on the border between California and Mexico and speaking to various people about my idea did not get me too far, in spite of every one’s interest and support.

Finally, i decided to start the crusade in my spiritual motherland, India. This seemed especially relevant after Clara Schuff, a clairvoyant in Los Angeles told me that i would be going to India shortly, where i would fulfil my destiny by taking the first step toward my life’s mission. She added that i would meet in India “an unusual Swami of a very high order who will play a prominent part in my life and help me convey a spiritual message to the world.”

Two months later, i was in India, and on March 4, 1966, i presented to the Prime Minister, the Perpetual Flame which we had carried all the way from Tecate. This gave me an opportunity to conduct meditations on light for hundreds and hundreds of people, both in Delhi and Bombay. I was scheduled to leave for Saigon after visiting my old friends, the Yuvarani of Mysore and Dr Sivakamu in Adyar, near Madras.

It was there that i first heard of Sai Baba from an Australian writer, Howard Murphet, and his wife Iris. They were very surprised that i did not know anything about the Sai Baba of Shirdi and His Avatar, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. They immediately showed me His photos and a ring with an image of the late Shirdi Sai Baba, produced by the present Sai Baba and told me many a story about His incredible and miraculous powers to which they were witnesses. However, my prior commitments in Saigon made it impossible for me to stay, and i subsequently left for Vietnam.

Shortly before my departure, my host, the Indian Consul General, suggested that i open a centre in India and offered to me his palace in Kathiawar (he is the Thakore Saheb of Kotda Sanghani). I seized this idea as an opportunity of returning to India – to look at his palace was only a pretext. So, i advised our Director, Mr. Candia, who was accompanying me, to return to Tecate, and he gladly agreed.

From Calcutta, i immediately headed for Madras instead of Kathiawar, as the desire to see Sai Baba became very intense. On the way to Puttaparthi (the village in Andhra Pradesh, India, where Sai Baba was born and has His ashram), we met another car from the same company returning from Prasanthi Nilayam [abode of peace, ashram in Puttaparthi] with Dr Sen, Vice-Chancellor of the Jadavpur University. We greeted each other, and upon learning that this was my first visit to Baba, Dr Sen warned, “You may never want to leave the place once you get there.” “But, you are doing so,” i answered, “i shall have to do the same.”

A charming Swiss school teacher, Gabriella Steyer, gently took me under her wing. My plane was departing the next day, and so i had to leave fairly soon. Baba was gracious enough to grant me an interview. To describe everything that happened during that hour would make a story in itself, and i may relate it at some other time. It will suffice to say that what i saw and heard made an indelible impression upon me—it was more than kindness, more than goodness, more than grace. It was something i could not even name. “Call me whenever you need me,” He said at parting. “I shall be with you.”

Happy to have come to see Him, i left for Bangalore the next morning, feeling fresh and rested. But soon i was seized by a feeling of great longing and i remembered Dr Sen’s phrase, “You may never want to leave the place once you get there.” This nostalgia dulled my senses. I didn’t care to speak to the driver, to distribute sweets to the children, or to feed the monkeys, dogs, and bullocks. In fact, i didn’t care for anything—all i wanted was to be back in the Nilayam and to listen to the powerful chant of Om [the primordial sound] coming from hundreds of throats and to lose myself in the beauty of the Sanskrit Suprabhatham (Morning Prayer).

Back in my room in the Bangalore Palace, i closed the suitcases without thinking, forgetting to pack the rest of my belongings—something that has never happened to me in all my travels. In Bombay, four other places were offered to me for establishing our centres, but my thoughts were still in Puttaparthi. The day before my departure, i wrote a letter to Sri Sathya Sai Baba saying how glad i was to have returned from Saigon to meet Him, but that i felt miserable now, which is foreign to my nature. I asked Him to help me to get over this feeling. That same afternoon, waiting for a taxi on a busy street corner with Enakshi Bhavnani, a long-time friend, i suddenly felt a stream of brilliant light pouring on me and giving me a tremendous sense of .joy. Happiness was filling my entire being. “Thank you, Baba,” i whispered in gratitude.

Carrying this radiant light within me, i left for Hong Kong to conduct meditations and address meetings, before i returned to Los Angeles and Tecate.

Now that i was ready to begin the Crusade for Light in Darkness in April, in San Diego, California, with the co-operation of its mayor, council of Churches and civic leaders, i knew i had to go to Puttaparthi to get blessings from Bhagavan. Without His help i did not want to undertake this mission of awakening the light in the hearts of people so that it may shine on now and for ever.

From the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.

Om shanti, shanti, shanti (peace, peace, peace) ~ Indra Devi

Source: Sanathana Sarathi, March 1967.

Indra Devi and husband Dr Sigfrid Knauer.
Indra Devi with husband Dr Sigfrid Knauer (L) and the below podcast interviewer Francesca Rheannon’s Grandmother, Ruth Taylor (R) at ticket counter for their journey to the East.

Granddaughter of Indra Devi’s friend Ruth Taylor, Francesca Rheannon speaks with Michelle Goldberg about Indra Devi. Her biography is The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West.

From The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West author Michelle Goldberg writes Devi published her own book, Sai Baba and Sai Yoga (1975), which attempted to marry asana practice to Sai Baba devotion. The short volume is divided in half: first comes a hagiographic account of her miraculous encounters with the guru, and then instructions for assuming yoga poses, coupled with messages of spiritual uplift and suggestions for meditation. Sai Yoga, writes Devi, depended on learning the postures so well that one no longer needed to think about the position of the body while practicing them and could instead turn the mind toward the divine. As a Yoga Journal writer described Sai Yoga, “The main pose of each class includes an invocation, so that the fulcrum of each practice involves a meditation in the form of an ecumenical prayer.”

Devi began taking groups of Westerners to India to meet Sai Baba in 1968, and by 1975, nine years after her conversion, she’d made nineteen trips to see him. His followers often referred to her as Mataji, an honorific form of “Mother.” For ashram novices, traveling with her was the easiest way to get close to the guru. Baba was famously capricious and would keep some visitors waiting weeks for one of his coveted private audiences. His followers adored his playful unpredictability, seeing in it a divine whimsy characteristic of Indian gods, but for an impatient American with limited time, it was immensely frustrating. Those traveling with Devi, however, could usually be assured of meeting him. Indeed, at both Prasanthi Nilayam and Brindavan, Sai Baba’s summer residence in the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield, everyone with her would be treated like a VIP.

At the start of her first group visit, Baba sent beautiful new saris to the women in her party of thirteen, saying that the garments were easier to wear while sitting on the ground than Western dresses. Then, during the group’s audience, he produced for Devi a jap-mala (a sort of Indian rosary) made of pearls, which he said she could use to cure others. It was as if he were endowing her with some of his supernatural gifts. “The jap-mala created quite a stir in Prasanthi Nilayam,” Devi writes, obviously proud. Everywhere she went, people would ask to see it, then press it reverently to their faces. Some claimed that, afterward, their physical afflictions were lifted.

Sai Baba visited Devi’s group every day at their guesthouse, giving them private lectures on his reassuringly ecumenical religious philosophy. They must always avoid sectarianism and fanaticism, he said. All those who revere God, however they describe him, are brothers: “God is only one.””

American author Opal Macrae (nee Wheeler) 10th September 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine January 1966

Prasanthi Nilayam News September 10 Arrival at the Nilayam of Mrs. Macrae from New York, via Hong Kong.

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part II by N. Kasturi

The Hospital Day Celebrations in October 1966, were presided over by Opal Macrae, a famous writer and social worker from United States who had come to the Nilayam for her Sadhana. She spoke of her attempts to cure insanity, feeblemindedness and other defects by the therapy of music in New York and Hongkong. Baba said, “Music is the instrument by which passions are sublimated, emotions tamed, and impulses directed to higher purposes. India has recognized the therapeutic excellence of music long, long ago.” Baba declared that medicine and hospitalisation are for those who hesitate and argue in doubt. For those who rely on the Supreme Doctor, His Name is drug enough.

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine January 1966

Prasanthi Nilayam News Programme For Dasara October 15 8 A. M. Hoisting of the Prasanthi flag. 5 P. M. Festival of the Tenth Anniversary of the Sri Sathya Sai Hospital. President: Mrs. Opal Macrae of New York.

From the article Shivaratri of the yesteryears – During Shivaratri celebrations in 1967 in Bombay, Sai Baba placed in his hands the book The divine heritage of Prasanthi Nilayam: Excerpts from the writings of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba selected and arranged by Opal Macrae of New York, who originally published it.

Publisher John Macrae was married on September 20, 1893, to Katharine Green of Virginia, by whom he had two sons: John (1898) and Elliott Beach (1900), both of whom joined his firm (E. P. Dutton & Co) in 1922. In the early years in New York, the Macraes lived on Staten Island; later they moved to Manhattan’s Gracie Square. Macrae’s first wife died in 1913, and on September 5, 1939, he married Opal Wheeler of Beverly Hills, California, the director of Miss Yates’s School in New York City and coauthor of several children’s books published by Dutton.

From Time Magazine – September 18, 1939, in the Milestones section;

Married. John Macrae, 72, longtime president of E. P. Dutton & Co. (books), famed for his white whiskers, pink shirts, and garrulous letters to the trade; and comely Opal Wheeler, fortyish, musicologist and schoolmistress; he for the second time, she for the first time; in Rosebank, Staten Island.

Opal Wheeler Macrae
New York Times, Wednesday, September 6, 1939.

Americans Mr and Mrs Margolis 28th October 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine October 1966

Prasanthi Nilayam News October 28 Arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Margolis from USA

Canadian Mrs. Jasmin 10th November Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine November 1966

Prasanthi Nilayam News November 10 Arrival of Mrs. Jasmin from Canada

French Miss Gena Letang 13th November 1966

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine November 1966

Prasanthi Nilayam News November 13 Arrival of Miss Gena Letang from France, via Hong Kong.

American Jaclyn Garon 1966 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine 1967

Sri Sathya Sai Sathsangh Samachar – Pacific Palisades: (California, USA): Janurary 18: The members of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba group were addressed by Jaclyn Garon, on the “Wonder and joy” of Prasanthi Nilayam which she had visited recently.

Greek Constantine Letnis 23rd January 1967 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine 1967

Sri Sathya Sai Sathsangh Samachar – Constantine Letnis, a Sadhaka from Greece arrived at the Nilayam for a short stay.

Julie Taylor and George Reid 29th January 1967 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine 1967

Sri Sathya Sai Sathsangh Samachar – Hong Kong: January 29: Julie Taylor, Associate Editor, ‘Hong Kong Standard’ and George Reid, Yoga Sadhakas from Hong Kong arrived at the Nilayam.

American yogini Judith Tyberg 1967

American yogini Judith Tyberg visits Sathya Sai Baba in 1967. Judith, along with Charles and Faith Penn they edited a biography, covering the years 1968 to 1971, of Sathya Sai Baba called Sathyam Sivam Sundaram Part III by N. Kasturi.

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part II  by N. Kasturi

Baba reached Prasanthi Nilayam from Brindavan, Whitefield, on the third day of July; the Murphets accompanied Him thither, drawn by the Love that He showered on them. Howard Murphet spoke on Baba at the Prasanthi Nilayam on the 21st and on the 23rd. Dr Judith (Jyothi- priya) Tybarg of the East-West Cultural Center, Los Angeles addressed the residents; she had a long talk with Baba, during which she asked Baba, whether movie films of His miracles can be taken and shown, to convince people of their authenticity. Baba replied that doubts would still persist. It is only by strengthening one’s own faith, by clearing the doubts in one’s own mind, that one can convince others. “Faith travels from one mind to another.” Baba then created some sweets for the group, demonstrating that He had nothing in His hand or up His sleeve. They came, through His “Sankalpa, Resolve.” They were not in the hand, but, “in the head,” He said. He revealed Himself thus to Dr. Judith, for, she was an earnest Sadhaka, soaked in devotion and scholarship. Her arthritis had been miraculously mitigated by Baba, who sent a few packets of Vibhuthi for her use through a person who returned to the U.S.A. from His Presence. He told her, “I am in all hearts. I am one with all. But, yet I never share their pain or their joy. I never experience sorrow or anger. I am Anandaswarupa (embodiment of bliss) and Premaswarupa (embodiment of Love).” No wonder that Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, the chief proponent of transcendental meditation, the holy man who has cast a powerful spell over the youth of the West, (“We who are tired of dead and decayed Western Culture will follow His Holiness, our Master, to the grave,” say, the hippies to him) wanted that Baba should bless the leaders of the youth of the world who are training themselves at Sankaracharya Nagar, Hrishikesh, to become the guides of Youth!

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine 1967

Sri Sathya Sai Satsang Samachar – July 24: Prasanthi Nilayam: Speeches: Dr. Judith Tiberg and Prof. V. K Gokak. Discourse by Baba.

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part III by N. Kasturi

Dr Judith M. Tyberg of the East West Cultural Centre, Los Angeles, writes, “It is now almost three years that I was in Puttaparthi, and had the Divine Blessings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. His help to me on all planes of being is still evident, and I am very grateful.”

Judith Tyberg (1902–1980) was an American yogi (“Jyotipriya”) and a renowned Sanskrit scholar and orientalist. Author of The Language of the Gods and two other reputed texts on Sanskrit, she was the founder and guiding spirit of the East-West Cultural Centre in Los AngelesCalifornia, a major pioneering door through which now-celebrated Indian yogis and spiritual teachers of many Eastern and mystical traditions were first introduced to America and the West.

Many eminent Indians, political leaders and yoga masters alike, were impressed with Tyberg’s scholarship and her feeling for Indian culture: Mahatma GandhiMaulana AzadV. K. GokakB. L. AtreyaAnandamayi MaRamana MaharshiSri Ramdas, and Krishna Prem, and at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Kapali Shastri, Indra Sen, Sisir Mitra, Prithvi Singh, and former freedom fighters-turned-yogis Nolini Kanta Gupta and A.B. Purani, friends she referred to as “the cream of Hindu culture.” Tyberg spent a week with the sage Ramana Maharshi at his Arunachala ashram where he told her “You’re already realized, you just don’t know it.” Another lifelong friend was Swami Sivananda alongside whom Tyberg served as India’s representative to the 1948 World University Round Table. Tyberg was the first President of the International Students Union, founded by S. Radhakrishnan, who called her “a real force in international understanding.” Professor T.R.V. Murti declared “I am convinced that you are destined to play an important role in bringing the West and the East together on a spiritual plane.”

In Autumn 1949, Tyberg went back to Pondicherry for a six-month stay as a disciple at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. During her two years in India, Tyberg had kept up regular correspondence with an extensive network of American seekers. When certain people criticized this as unyogic, Tyberg asked The Mother for her view. Her reply was “How do you think the Divine works if he doesn’t work through people like you?” and she repeated what she’d told Tyberg at their very first meeting: “You have chosen it, to serve, long ago.” After a final reverence to Sri Aurobindo on February 21, 1950, Tyberg recorded her impressions: “Vast deep calm with a mighty wisdom … his consciousness seemed infinite … such currents!”

Judith Tyberg.

American Annalisa Rajagopal (nee Beghe) 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

Annalisa Rajagopal (nee Beghe, December 21, 1922 – March 29, 1996) is one Sathya Sai Baba’s first Western devotees, she lived on the ashram in 1968.

Annalisa married Rajagopalacharya Desikacharya (commonly known as D. Rajagopal) who was an early associate of Jiddu Krishnamurti, and for decades edited Krishnamurti’s teachings and helped manage his foundation.

At that precise moment, a photographer on the men’s side felt compelled to take her picture. This photo (above) reveals that this is not the face of a 66-year-old woman, but most certainly the face of light and joy: ageless, and beyond time.”

Her daughter Diana Baskin writes of this moment when the photo was taken in her 1990 book Divine Memories of Sathya Sai Baba “For about two years, at the conclusion of the puja to the lingam, my mother would pray for the welfare of the world. At the very end of the prayer, she would ask Swami to bless her and her family: Raja, Diana, Robert, Christina and David, in that order.

At darshan in Brindavan, as soon as she arrived, Swami greeted her, then put his hand on her head and said something she did not understand. He repeated the gesture a few times. Each time he would lightly touch her head and say; “I bless…” (The remainder of the long statement was not discernible to Mother). Since the procedure was most unusual and took quite a bit of time, my mother was perplexed by the length of the blessing, and wondered what the words were that she could not grasp. After some thought, she concluded it was simply a unique greeting.

The next day at darshan, Swami repeated the whole procedure He put his hand on her head a few times and again said words she could not understand. A very unique blessing indeed! She was certain now that it had great significance, but what?

On the following day, Swami came over to her at darshan and put his hand on her head once again, and it was obvious he intended to repeat the procedure, but there was a difference. This time she heard every word. Touching her head with his hand six times, he said; “I bless you, I bless Raja, I bless Diana, I bless Robert, I bless Christina, I bless David.” In that moment she understood Swami was repeating the names in exact order that she said them in her daily prayer. He was acknowledging and fulfilling her prayer! A joyous thrill swept over her and a realisation of complete happiness came over her face.

From the ashram magazine of Sri Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai, The Mountain Path Ashram Bulletin January 1969

Mrs. Annalisa Rajugopal of Ojai, U.S.A., a life member of the Ashram and life-subscriber to our journal, and a staunch devotee of Sri Bhagavan, came with three of her friends and spent a few days, in the course of which all of them went round Arunachala and visited the places sacred to Sri Bhagavan.

American John Hislop January 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

The first visit of Dr John (Jack) Hislop (1904-1995) to Sathya Sai Baba was in January 1968, after being told of the guru of Puttaparthi by Diana Baskin’s mother, Mrs Annalisa Rajagopalacharya. He taped two deeply spiritual conversations with Baba who, he immediately felt, was the true source of wisdom. At that time there were only a few foreigners in Puttaparthi and Hislop was especially privileged to have daily meetings with Sathya Sai Baba and receive visits from him, lasting up to two hours per day (My Baba and I, p.15). The results of these long conversations (mainly question and answer sessions) were later published in California (in 1978) as Conversations with Sathya Sai Baba, a book which offered many invaluable insights into Baba’s teachings and revealed to foreign devotees and others his opinions on many topics. As a result of many further visits and periods of residence in the ashram, Dr Hislop later wrote My Baba and I, which, like the first book, has been instrumental in the US and around the world in increasing knowledge about Sathya Sai Baba and drawing devotees to him (especially foreigners).

Jack and his wife Magdalena were prominent devotees.

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part III  by N. Kasturi

John Hislop’s wife Magdalena was drawn towards Sai Baba quite early in her life. Baba had to appear in Havana, Cuba, years ago, concretely before her, to imprint on the immaculate mind of the child, just a year old, the shining splendor. She was just learning to walk, says Hislop, when she saw the Sai Baba of Shirdi (Baba assumes that form too to bless and confer grace) standing in the corner of the garden! She started to toddle towards Him, saying, ‘Dada! Dada!’; then, confused, she stopped. For her real daddy was standing at the entrance to the house. “Wonder of Wonders,” Hislop writes, “last year while we were in India, Baba confirmed to Magdalena her experience was a fact; He described the costume He wore then and how He was standing in the corner of that garden, 35 years previously!”

Australian born American pilot, Charles Penn midnight 9th May 1968 Bombay

Australian born American pilot, Charles Penn first meets Sathya Sai Baba in Bombay, midnight May 9, 1968 after first having heard of him in June 1965 when he read Sathyam Sivam Sundaram by N. Kasturi. “Touching that book Sathyam Sivam Sundaram, was for me like touching the fingers of God’s outstretched hand. That momentary action changed my entire future.”

Together with Faith, who he married in 1970 with Sai Baba’s blessings, visited many times over the years.

Polish Ramana Maharshi devotee Lucia Osborne May 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

From The Hagiographer and the Avatar (2021) by Antonio Rigopoulos

As the call for a world conference indicates, by 1968 Westerners had begun to be increasingly attracted to the ashram of the guru of Puttaparthi.

For the first time, the Sathya Sai Organization welcomed foreign delegates from all over the world – Ceylon, 2 Singapore, the Philippines, Kuwait, Dubai, Casablanca, Mombasa, Nairobi, Kampala, Hong Kong, Fiji, Tehran, Tokyo, the West Indies, Peru, Brazil, and the United States and Kasturi remarks that among them were Indra Devi and Charles Penn, who was to be the editor of the American edition of Sathyam Sivam Sundaram. He also mentions the presence of Lucia Osborne (1904 – 1987), the Polish-­ born wife of Arthur Osborne (1906 – 1970) who in 1957 authored a biography of the saint of Shirdi titled The Incredible Sai Baba, which for the first time made him accessible to the Western public.

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part III by N. Kasturi

Mrs. Osborne addressed the gathering in English. She was introduced as the wife of the author of the book ‘Incredible Sai Baba’ written about the previous incarnation of the Inexplicable Sai Baba now with us!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is osborne-lucia-in-garden.jpg
Lucia Osborne.
Lucia Osborne at home in Tiruvannamalai in the bungalow she designed, January 1981.

The photo is from New Lives: 54 Interviews with Westerners on their search for spiritual fulfilment in India Compiled, Edited and Mainly Photographed by Malcolm Tillis. Although the 54 Interviews were recorded in India as far back as 1980 – 81, the ageless life-enhancing spiritual wisdom which was discussed and explored (the purpose behind collecting the Interviews) is even more appropriate today. A small selection of 21 interviews was first published in book form under the title Turning East in New York in 1989. A fuller selection of 50 was printed in Varanasi, India in 2004 by Indica Books under the collection’s original title, New Lives.

Americans Walter and Elsie Cowan 1968

A  friend who had been to the East West Cultural Centre, gave Elsie a book about Sai Baba. That evening, Elsie intuitively felt he, Sathya Sai Baba was the one who had returned her to her body the previous evening when she was unable to do so while travelling around the “inner planes of consciousness.” Elsie and Walter then made a quick secret trip to see Sai Baba in India.

Sathya Sai Baba with Walter and Elsie Cowan at the Brindavan ashram in Kadagodi, Whitefield.
The Cowan’s speak of their unusual experience with Sathya Sai Baba at 09:38 in this 1975 film Man of Miracles by Don C. Como.

Hosted by Rod Serling. You are about to witness the apparently spontaneous manifestation of objects from thin air or, perhaps, another dimension. This particular phenomenon is only one among many attributed by his followers to a man of extraordinary mystical powers, an Indian mystic and guru known throughout the world as Sathya Sai Baba. Some of the psychic powers reported by his followers are the ability to read minds and see into the future, to cure disease by miraculous means, to project his astral body anywhere in the world and to adopt other forms, both human and animal. In this film you will witness events which may be unbelievable. However, try to keep an open mind, for some of this man’s feats have been captured on film, and you will see them now as they actually happened.

Americans Mr and Mrs Anderson on Baba’s 43rd birthday celebrations in November 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part III by N. Kasturi

While Indra Devi was placing a few drops of oil on His Hair with a flower dipped in the cup I was holding, Baba saw a certain Mrs. Anderson who had come from the United States. She was a chronic invalid, unable to walk or use her lower limbs, being helped around by her husband in a wheeled chair. As soon as she came to Prasanthi Nilayam, she was admitted to the Hospital so that she could be nursed there by professional hands. Baba presented her, and all other ladies from beyond the seas, saris on the 22nd, so that they could wear them on His Birthday; He deputed some ladies to help this one to wrap it around her. On the 23rd, she was brought down from the Hospital hill and allowed to watch the function from the far end of the dais, where she sat on her inevitable wheel chair, which had become more or less a part of her anatomy!

Baba turned to me and said, “That lady in the wheelchair will be happy if you take the cup to her, and get a flower dipped by her in the oil, which can later be placed on My Head.” I was thrilled by His compassion but, there was more to follow.

Before I could turn to the left and proceed towards her (the distance from the silver chair of Baba to her wheelchair was over 40 feet), Baba stopped me and said, “Wait! I shall Myself go to her!” People were astonished when they saw Baba descend from the chair and proceed towards the invalid lady, with me holding the oil cup. Baba bent His Head before her, so that she could place a few drops of oil on His halo of glorious hair! The gathering was overwhelmed with grateful joy, when they saw this spontaneous flood of Divine Mercy, and the happy glow of ecstasy on the pale face of a foreign invalid! She applied the flower three times. The third time Baba held her hand, saying, “Stand Up” … and she stood!

The gathering was amazed with delight! “Come with me!” Baba said. And she walked the forty feet, towards the silver chair, keeping pace with Baba! I was so overcome with joy that I ran towards the mike and announced to the entranced gathering that Mrs. Anderson, who had not walked for years, was cured of her illness, and that she has risen from her wheeled chair at the bidding of Baba and got her limbs back in perfect condition. Every one was thrilled by this miracle of healing. “Normal feet” was the Birthday Gift she received from Baba.

Mr and Mrs Anderson with Sathya Sai Baba; on the far right is Richard Bock. November 1968,

American Richard Bock on Baba’s 43rd birthday celebrations in November 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

Richard Bock joined Indra Devi in India for Baba’s forty-third birthday in November 1968, and returned with eight millimetre film and the recordings of Baba which became the LP entitled, Sathya Sai Baba Chants the Bhajans.

Richard Bock was the Founder-President of Pacific Jazz and World Pacific Records. Through a long personal and professional relationship with Pandit Ravi Shankar, the world renowned sitar maestro, Mr. Bock was instrumental in introducing classical Indian music to large audiences in the West. He has produced several films on Sathya Sai Baba.

This article by Richard Bock was originally featured in Golden Age, a compilation of devotees’ experiences, and published in 1980.

Modern technology has made it possible for the voice and likeness of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba to be spread over the face of the earth through films, photos and tape cassettes. For those outside of India and, indeed, many within India as well, the first memory of contact with Bhagavan has been a photo or film. This was my experience also.

In early 1968, after some years of practicing meditation and reading philosophy, I began to ask seriously to be shown who my true guru was. A few weeks later Ravi Shankar, the renowned musician who recorded for my company, World Pacific Records, and was and is a very close friend, mentioned the name Sathya Sai Baba to me.

Shortly afterwards Mataji Indra Devi played a tape recording of Baba singing bhajans and showed me a film she had brought from India. I was fascinated by the sound of Baba’s voice and asked if she thought it would be possible for me to get permission to make a recording of Baba in India.

A few weeks later I saw another friend named Ivan Markov, a hatha yoga teacher, who asked me to read a manuscript he had just finished. It was a biography of Baba, the first written in the West, but never published.

At that time (1960s) only a handful of people in the United States even knew of Baba and books and photos of him were unknown there. So it seemed extraordinary that within such a short time after asking the question, I had heard his name, listened to His voice, seen Him on film, and read His life story.

Now I was eager to see Baba in person. Having received permission to bring my recording equipment, I flew to India in mid-November of 1968 to record Bhagavan’s bhajans at the Birthday celebrations. During a brief stop-over in Tokyo, casually, and without any indication of its future role in my life, I bought a Super-8 movie camera and a few rolls of film.

I arrived at the ashram and soon was standing at the edge of the crowd waiting for my first darshan. Baba appeared on the verandah of the mandir. A path of flowers had been carefully laid for him to walk from the mandir to the auditorium and devotees were crowding on either side of it.

Baba looked in my direction and motioned for me to come out of the crowd with my camera.

Following His direction, I soon found myself preceding Him along the flower strewn path, walking backwards and filming as He walked through the crowd.

Mr. Kasturi was holding aloft the ceremonial umbrella, and Baba’s mother followed just behind. My field vision, circumscribed by the camera’s view-finder, was filled with the enlarged image of Baba’s smiling face as he turned from side to side acknowledging the crowds who strained towards him with out-stretched hands.

Earlier that day I had set up recording equipment on the auditorium stage where Baba was to speak. When he arrived he took a garland of flowers and wrapped it around one of my microphones, as if to reassure me that I had his permission and everything would be OK.

After speaking, Baba sang bhajans for almost forty-five minutes. That tape became the first long playing record of His bhajans released in India and the West.

In retrospect, I can see how those moments with Baba signalled a turning point for me, the beginning of the process of acquiring faith and developing the discrimination which has led me to follow Baba’s beckoning hand out of the chaotic world of corporate business which at that point had already caused me to suffer one heart attack.

Actually, it was immediately after the heart attack that I made the journey to Him. By the time I got to the Ashram, I was feeling fine. I couldn’t believe that I’d ever been sick. I had my interview with Baba and he materialised some Vibhuti for me, opened my shirt and put it on my chest. I hadn’t told Him anything, but the next thing He said was that my heart was not damaged. (I had the attack in September and I was in India in November). “Good heart, don’t worry. Why fear when I am here?” Then He materialised a ring and said, “Wear this, I will always be with you.” I had a likeness of Baba in it. That gave me a connection with him and it started to change my life.

It is a practice in the world to attach names and credits to the results of efforts of individuals, as though they were the creators, rather than the Lord working through them. The fallacy of this practice is never more apparent than when we complete a project knowing that the inspiration, the energy and the results are all His. The only thing to do then is to pray that the instrument has not distorted the melody and message He wishes to convey.

It was so natural that I didn’t even have time to be shocked about it. I had heard that he did this. In fact, it was one of the things that kind of concerned me. Before going to the Ashram, I told Indra Devi, “Everything but the miracles, I can accept.”

Those miracles bothered me because I had read from Ramakrishna that you have to beware of the siddhi powers; they will lead you astray. So, I was afraid that showing off this power was somehow egotistical and not on the highest level of expression. Therefore I had doubts as to his motives in doing it.

But when I got closer and began to experience it, I realised that it was so natural to him, and the reason behind it so sound, that I realised he was coming from a different space. He was not becoming something; He was that already. And so there was nothing that could spoil him.

Baba is here to try to evolve people out of the insanity they have created for themselves, into the Light. For anybody who comes into his orbit, who is willing to meet him half way, he is going to do everything He can to help, because that is his mission, that is why he is here. With a Westerner it usually takes something to blow his mind to get out of the material world that he is trapped in, and out of his idea that everything can be figured out scientifically.

So Baba creates something out of time breaking what looks like scientific natural laws and creates a so-called miracle. That is very hard for someone steeped in the intellectual world to handle. They have to confront it and question it. And the only answer is, God. And most of the time, people who are intellectual cannot get to God, because it doesn’t work for them.

It is the simple-minded person, who has faith and love that can embrace God without having to understand God. But it is the intellectual who has to understand God before he can embrace Him. And the understanding of God is impossible! There are millions of people out there trying to figure out and going bonkers, because they can’t. And, an act of suspension of time is going to stop people and make them pause and think.

Russian born American Herman 1968 Prasanthi Nilayam

From Tal Brooke’s Avatar of Night

Herman disclosed his story in snatches. He had been an Olympic swimmer in the late 1930’s, and soon skipped the country to go to America.

“When I come to Baba a couple a’ years back, he tellz me it’s no accident. He bringz me. He treats us real special; me, Cowans, Charles Penn, Indra Devi, Murphets, just a handful of older Americans. Then there wasn’t so many big crowds. Baba, he talkin to us individually each day alone. Sometimes he come to my room several times a day. But you don’ find him doin that now. One day he tell me I was a yogi in former life, that’s how come I go to India.”

Mrs Elizabeth Palmer 1968, again in 1970 and again in 1972 with her family

Elizabeth Palmer had learned of Sathya Sai Baba from Indra Devi and visited him in 1968. On the second visit in1970, she had the fortunate experience of riding in the car with Baba. She also knew what to take, such as foodstuffs, sleeping mats and kitchen utensils, since living conditions those days were still quite primitive for foreign travellers. Because of her prior visits, Mrs. Palmer was given a flat in the ashram in 1972, which everyone somehow managed to fit in. She had travelled with her family and Arlette Meyer. There was no western toilet, but such inconveniences were part of the game of adapting to a culture far different from the West.

American playwright Arnold Schulman Whitefield in 1969 and a second visit in 1970

Arnold Schulman met Sathya Sai Baba in Whitefield in 1969. He returned in 1970 to write a book, Baba was published by Viking Press in New York in 1971.

On his arrival in Prasanthi Nilayam in the interview that followed Baba told him “I did not call you here to write a book for my publicity. I wanted you. I wanted to bring a change – a spiritual change in your life. It is not for nothing that I cured your wife’s tumour and looked after your family till now,” ‘If it is so then please give me proof!’ said Schulman.

“Very happy,” said Baba. Then Baba created Vibhuti, opened his shirt and applied it on his chest. Schulman experienced an indescribable feeling. He was electrified.

“You write only what you have seen and got convinced,” said Baba. Schulman stayed for three months attending all interviews and witnessing all wonders directly. He was convinced that Baba was an incarnation of Divinity.

Schulman describes in his book, his first meeting with Sathya Sai Baba in the late 1960’s.

Baba was on a thin mattress supported by a simple frame and four wooden legs, which served both as a studio couch during the day and his bed at night. He was leaning against a few small pillows propped against the wall. Before he looked up to note the writer’s arrival he continued to go through his mail, looking at each letter, still unopened and in its envelope, until a thought formed in his head, then he put it on top of the stack of letters on the couch to the left of him before reaching to take another letter from the stack on the couch to the right of him.

After a minute or two he looked up and smiled at the writer. “Come in,” he said. “Come in.” The writer stepped into the room and bowed slightly, both palms together on his chest just under his chin. “So,” Baba said. He paused to look directly into the writer’s eyes. “So, you have seen enough.” “Too much. I don’t understand anything I’ve seen.” Baba laughed. “Appearance is not different from emptiness,” Baba said struggling for the words in English.” Yet within emptiness there is no appearance.”

The writer felt he should smile or nod or indicate in some way that he understood what Baba had said, but he did not understand and he resisted the temptation to pretend that he did. Baba nodded. “Life is only the memory of a dream,” he said. “It comes from no visible rain. It falls into no recognizable sea. Some day, not for a while yet, you will understand how meaningless it is to spend your whole life trying to accumulate material things. I have no land, no property of my own where I can grow my own food. Everything is registered in the name of someone else, but just as those people in the village who have no land wait until the pond dries up so they can scratch the land with a plow and quickly grow something before the pond fills up again, I grow my food which is joy or love. To you the words have different meanings, but to me both words are the same. But I have to do it quickly, quickly in the hearts of those who come to see me, quickly before they leave.” He looked up again into the writer’s eyes. “The kind of belief in me I ask of people is more, much more than most people think is faith or love,” Baba said. “That’s why many people who come just to see the miracles stop loving me the minute I stop entertaining them and giving them presents. No. What I ask you to do is give me everything. Not fruits or flowers or money or land, but you, all of you with nothing held back. Your mind. Your heart. Your soul… ” He stopped and paused, then nodded to himself. “But those are just words.”

They were silent for a time. The writer stood behind the couch and waited. There was nothing he could say. A kind of warmth and closeness he had never known before was spreading through his consciousness and it frightened him. He felt in danger of being smothered by it, but it wasn’t just the intensity of the feeling that disturbed him. It was the sudden realisation that this feeling of love – he thought it was love – was different from any other kind of love he had felt or heard about or read of before. It may have been this inability to define what he felt that caused him suddenly to panic. In less than a minute he had become a displaced person, emotionally, isolated in the dark unknown, and to cope with this puzzling anxiety the only defence he could find was to turn it off. Baba watched him for a time with intensity. “You cannot run away from me,” Baba said. “As I told you, no one can come to Puttaparthi, however accidental it might seem, without my calling him. I bring only those people here who are ready to see me, and nobody else, nobody, can find his way here. When I say ‘ready’ there are different levels of readiness, you understand.”

Baba laughed. “You wonder why I called you here instead of millions of other people because you don’t like the way you feel for me. Isn’t it? And it makes you worry why I called you.” The writer laughed, his tension broken, and Baba laughed with him. “It worries me,” the writer said. “When you ask me to give myself to you completely. I can’t do that. I spent too long getting control of my life to just blindly become somebody’s slave, even if you’re God, or not God, just a man with superhuman powers of yoga. I don’t trust anybody that much.” “Do you trust yourself?” Baba asked. The writer smiled, “Not much.” “I know your past and I know your future so I know why you suffer and how you can escape suffering and when you finally will.”

“When I die?” The writer was being half-facetious. “Yes, I know,” Baba said. “In all your past lives too, you were always afraid of death.” “I’m not afraid of death.” “That’s all you are afraid of,” Baba said. “You think death is something bad, but death is neither bad nor good. Death is death.” “What purpose does it serve?” “Why does a person die?” Baba took a moment to reflect. He looked at his finger. “So he won’t die again. He is born so he won’t be born again.” “I don’t understand,” the writer said. “Life is only relatively real,” Baba said. “Until death it only appears to be real. And, after all, the only part that dies is the body, not the person who lives in the body. When a cat or a dog dies he leaves the world the same as before he lived in it, but a man should leave the world a better place then when he came into it. For no other reason was he born, for no other reason does he die.”

“Are you God?” The writer heard himself say. He had not planned to go into that subject at all. “Why do you waste your time and energy trying to explain me?” Baba said, with a trace of irritation. “Can a fish measure the sky? If I had come as Narayana with four arms they would have put me in a circus, charging money for people to see me. If I had come only as a man, like every other man, who would listen to me? So I had to come in this human form, but with no more than human powers and…” he groped for the word, “wisdom.”

“Then you are God. Is that what you are saying?” “First you have to understand yourself. I told you that. And then you will understand me. I’m not a man, I’m not a woman. I’m not old. I’m not young. I’m all of these.” The writer laughed, without quite knowing why. He was embarrassed for having asked the question and unnerved by the answer. Here was a human being, or what looked like one, curled up on a studio couch, his legs tucked beneath him like a teen-age girl, and there was nothing the writer could think of that would allow him to accept the idea that this person with the Afro-hairdo and the orange dress could actually, literally, be God. “Some people think it’s a beautiful thing,” Baba said, “for the Lord to be on the earth in human for, but if you were in my place you would not feel it’s so beautiful. I know everything that happened to everybody in the past, present, and future, so I’m not so quick to give people the mercy they beg me for. I know why a person has to suffer in this life and what will happen to him the next time he is born because of that suffering this time, so I can’t act the way people want me to. They call me cold-hearted one time, soft-hearted the next. Why don’t I do this? Why don’t I do that? Why don’t I stop all wars forever and get rid of all disease and suffering? What they don’t know is I’m not responsible for suffering. I don’t cause suffering any more than I cause happiness and joy. People make their own palaces and their own chains and their own prisons.”

“Can I write about that in my book?” the writer asked. “What do you know about me?” Baba asked. “Do you believe in me the way I said you had to believe in me?” “Not yet.” “Then how can you write about me? You’re like a child. When I give you what you want or make you laugh, you love me, but the next minute when I’m too busy and can’t see you the minute you want me to, you want to kill me. Isn’t it? You listen to me with respect, but then in private you laugh at me. What kind of book can you possibly write about Me?”

“That kind of book. Exactly.” “For what purpose? Publicity? I don’t need publicity. I’m not your Mahesh Yogi, don’t forget, on television with the singers.” “What are you telling me? I can’t write the book?” Baba laughed. “Write it. Write your book. That’s your duty, dharma. But write the truth. Only what you saw here. Only the truth. How you laughed at me, hated me, that’s part of it; and if you want to, how you loved me, the few times you let yourself love me.”

Baba took both of his hands and rubbed them as hard as he could on the writer’s chest, massaging it vigorously as if to stimulate the writer’s spiritual circulation. “I’m always with you,” Baba said. “Even when you don’t believe in me, even when you try to forget me. Even when you laugh at me or hate me. Even when I seem to be on the opposite side of the earth. But you need material things to remind you, isn’t it?” He pushed up his sleeves and rotated his open palm as he closed his fingers. When he opened them he was holding a gold ring with his picture painted on a porcelain in the centre, surrounded by sixteen stones which seemed to be diamonds. He put the ring on the writer’s finger. It fit perfectly. The writer laughed. “How can I ever get this through customs?” “Don’t worry,” Baba said. “I’ll take care of it.” He touched the ring with his fingertips. “I am in you,” Baba said, “You are in me. Don’t forget that. We cannot be separated.”

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part III by N. Kasturi

Arnold Schulman, a screenwriter and playwright of repute, favourite of Hollywood and New York, met Baba once at Whitefield and returned to America. “One-day,” he says, “for no reason I could discover, I realized that I had somehow developed a compulsion of my own, which I could not suppress or shake off or overcome or rationalize; I wanted to write a book about Baba!” Later, when he came to India and Baba called him into His room, He told him, “When the time comes, I call all those who need Me, to Me. It was I who told you to write the book, because I wanted you. Understand! I wanted you, not the book.”

Arnold Schulman.

American Lyn Rubenstein (Leela) 1969

Lyn Rubenstein (Leela) is a high school friend of Michele Kaplowitz (nee Malvin), she writes to her friend to say that she should come to India to meet God. Leela first went to India in 1967.

English woman Victoria (Vicki) Mills (Later Ruff and then Cruickshank) from London 1969 Prasanthi Nilayam

Early Days with Baba by Victoria Cruickshank.

The autumn of 1969 found me in Kerala, South India, studying and travelling with Swami Chinmayananda, fulfilling the desire that had brought me overland from England to learn more about Vedantic philosophy. But, sadly, the teaching programme came to an abrupt end when this saint had a heart attack. It was whilst enquiring after his health at a devotee’s house that I first made contact with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. There, on the walls, were pictures of this strange-looking person with large amounts of hair. When I asked why they had pictures of this Holy Man, when Swami Chinmayananda was their guru, I was told that ‘Yes, Chinmayananda was their Guru, but this was God Himself!’

They took us down the street to another house where there were many, many pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and also of Sai Baba.

Extraordinary things were happening underneath the glass of these pictures. The ones of Sai Baba were covered in ash with only the eyes showing, large, beautiful jewels had appeared on foreheads, but most memorable of all was the picture of Krishna holding a pot, out of which streamed honey that was seeping through to the outside of the glass. We tasted it, and it was like no other honey. Everywhere, a sweet smell coupled with a sense of serenity that seemed to be “other” worldly. The elderly couple, who lived there, took us upstairs to a bedroom where we were allowed to look from the doorway at a rumpled bed with footprints on the floor in ash, and the same sweet atmosphere. They told us that at night Sai Baba would come and sleep on the bed and leave footprints; before going to bed the wife would straighten the bed clothes and they would find the bed rumpled again the next morning. So we decided that a visit to “God” must be made, and set off for Puttaparthi. Eventually, a couple of hours after nightfall, we arrived there. No electricity in the village then and apart from the moon and stars, and small kerosene lamps in a few little shops all was dark and silent. It felt like the heart of the continent.

I will never forget waking up to the sound of the mandir bell and Omkar the next morning, and joining the couple of hundred people for darshan. Despite the wonder of the place, the next few days were somewhat difficult (and) there were no other western women for me to talk to, the sexes were segregated.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba Himself seemed enigmatic but distant. After a few days of feeling quite confused and physically under the weather; I decided to leave when He caught my eye at Darshan. At that moment when He looked at me I knew, that whoever He was, He had always been with me, had experienced everything I had experienced, knew everything about me, and the look just said, “So now you know.”

Next day we were called for an interview, and Baba told us to stay.

It was soon Shivarathri and some more westerners turned up. It was after the festival that we all went to Brindavan in Whitefield, Bangalore, and then followed three extraordinary months. We lived in Kadugodi village, and Swami used to call us in to His house in the evenings and talk and sing with us. We were a group of about seventeen, all in our early twenties or younger. He used to tell us again and again, “Swami’s love is like the love of a thousand mothers.”

Another time, all dressed up in the uniform Baba had allocated to us, convict style pyjamas for the boys, and brown and green saris for the girls, we were whisked off to the opening of the Joy ice cream factory near Bangalore, following Baba in and out of the enormous freezers, singing bhajans and eating too much ice cream cake!

Many extraordinary things happened at that time. We were treated like children in the way He kept us close to Him, and there was a feeling of safety and belonging which can only be described as a sense of “coming home.” He used to say that most of the westerners came to Him because they had never really known a mother’s love!

“Ladies must have nerves of steel, and hearts of butter”, was one of the important remarks He made to me personally; and when someone asked Him what is the best way to pray for others, He said, “Pray that they may find good work to do”. But for me the most profound words were said one evening when He came up behind me as I was sitting, no doubt waiting for Him, He took me by surprise, tapping me on the shoulder said, “Don’t worry, the ONLY thing that matters is your contact with the God INSIDE.”

These words, combined with the practice of Namasmarana have been my life raft over the past twenty five years. It is an initiation into the heart of religion, which is the prayer of the heart as practised by Christians, Sufis, Buddhists and Hindus. Whether you call it chanting a mantra, or saying the rosary, it is, according to Baba, the only safe way in this polluted century to purify the mind and eventually attain the mystical union with God.

(Reproduced from the Sri Sathya Sai Baba monthly magazine, Hatfield Centre, Oct. 2001).

Vicki, taken in approx 1970.

Honduran Miss Rosa Celeste Ravaneau 1969 Prasanthi Nilayam

Miss Rosa Celeste Ravaneau was the first person from Honduras to visit Sathya Sai Baba, in 1969. Originally from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, she was living in New York. She narrowly missed death or serious injury when, one day in 1969, her Volkswagen van rolled over in an accident. This brush with mortality prompted her to begin questioning herself, “What if I had died? What is this life all about? Am I wasting it without knowing why I am here?”

These thoughts led her to read different spiritual texts, and at one point her roommate remarked, “Why don’t you go to India, you’re reading so many books from there.” Rosa wanted to go to Russia, but when she called her travel agent, he told her about a $400 round trip available for India. This was too good to pass up.

The Eventful First Journey

An artist friend called and advised her to go to Goa and Puttaparthi, without mentioning Sai Baba. When Miss Ravaneau was traveling in India, she met a Mr. Gupta and his family in Madras (now Chennai). They were en route to Puttaparthi the next day and offered her the one space available in their car. Rosa recalled the name Puttaparthi from her friend and agreed to go along. The Gupta family were travelling in two cars and Rosa rode with the ladies, who did not speak English. Only Sri Gupta spoke English, but he was in the other vehicle.

So she came to Puttaparthi without any idea about Sai Baba and, arriving late at night, found rooms in the village. In those days there were no facilities for visitors, people used the Chitravati River for bathing, used the hill for a bathroom, and slept on the floor in a rented room in the village. No one sold mattresses, and food other than South Indian spicy fare was difficult to come by. The only thing in abundance were the mosquitoes.

At that time, a total of five foreigners were at Prasanthi Nilayam. When Miss Ravaneau arrived, she thought she made a mistake, but there were no buses or taxis, so she had to live with her supposed blunder. Soon, however, she saw Swami as an enchanting personality. She wanted to talk to Him and approached Professor Kasturi (Baba’s biographer) while he was at his ancient typewriter. He explained it was up to Swami to call someone in.

Rosa thought that if she could find Swami’s cook, she might help her get an appointment with Baba while He was eating. She found the cook in a tin hut behind the Mandir. The lady was very nice and said she would help. Over the following days, she told Rosa to come in the morning or afternoon and that Swami said He would see her. However, all the appointments were canceled.

Finally, she was escorted into a small room at the end of the Mandir where the lady indicated she was to wait. There was only one chair, so she sat down. Of course, it was Swami’s chair. She waited more than an hour until Professor Kasturi came to report that Swami was tired and had retired for the evening and would not be seeing anyone.

She visited many more times in the following years and, in 1972, came with her husband and mother-in-law to Whitefield to attend the first Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality on invitation. Maurice, her husband, wore his hair long. After the first day of the Summer Course, Dr. Gokak, a senior devotee close to Baba, called Maurice aside and told him how Indians were conservative and not used to western styles and men with long hair. He suggested it would be a nice gesture to get a haircut.

At first, Maurice thought this old fellow doesn’t understand or respect our culture. The next night, Dr. Gokak again asked him politely to trim his hair. However, Maurice was still in rebellion. But then the next day, the thought came that it would be an indication that he could become Swami’s devotee if he had his hair cut. He then had his head shaved and now looked like a monk. When he was walking in front of Baba’s residence, Swami came out on the balcony, looked at Maurice, and said, “Very nice, very nice.”

That year, the Summer Course was held in a big tent. After the course was over, Swami called Rosa, Maurice, and his mother for an interview, during which He materialised a small silver medal for Maurice’s mother. When they left the interview room, Rosa said, “What a cheap medal. He should at least have made something from Tiffany’s.” Next day, to their surprise, Baba called them in again. Rosa stood at the back because she was embarrassed about what she had said regarding the medal.

Baba saw her immediately, and asked, “How did you like your mother-in-law’s medal?” Rosa said, “Oh, it is very beautiful Swami.” Then Baba waved his hand through the air as if to say, you don’t really mean that, but at the same time a similar medal flew across the room. Without realizing it, at that moment Rosa put her hand up and the medal landed in her palm. It was identical to her mother-in-law’s and she has it to this day.

All these divine experiences instilled a lot of faith in Rosa and her husband, and eventually they started a Sai Center in their apartment in New York and have been holding meetings there now for many years.

Swami’s Leelas In My Life: Experiencing Sri Sathya Sai Baba by Rosa Celeste Raveneau was published in 2010.

Rosa and Maurice.

American Diana Riordan (later Baskin) November 1969 at the Women’s College in Anantapur

Diana (d 2014) travelled to India with her mother Annalisa Rajagopal (1922 – 1996) to see Sai Baba. Diana’s memoir of her time with Sathya Sai Baba is captured in her books Divine Memories of Sathya Sai Baba (1990) and Divine Lessons from Sathya Sai Baba (2009).

Annalisa Rajagopal (L) seen here with Sathya Sai Baba and her daughter Diana Baskin (R) and grandchild Christina at the Whitefield ashram – Brindavan.

American Yoga Teacher Bittina Biggart 23rd November 1969 Prasanthi Nilayam

Bittina arrived with a group of eleven lead by Indra Devi.

From The Goddess Pose by Michelle Goldberg

There was a schedule at the ranch, but it wasn’t rigidly enforced. Time and again, Devi would spontaneously propose various health regimens. “Who wants to do a watermelon fast?” one of her yoga students, Bettina Biggart, recalled her asking. Everyone would be put to work. “She always had a group of people at her beck and call,” said Biggart. “Darling, you do this, you do that.” When Biggart first went to Rancho Cuchuma, she was a yoga teacher in her thirties who had studied with B. K. S. Iyengar. Arriving for a one-month teacher-training course, she was assigned a room with an older German lady who was being treated by Dr. Knauer. The two women immediately bonded, and when Devi swanned in and saw them talking, she said to Biggart, “Darling, she’s sick. You just give her a coffee enema.” “Mataji,” Biggart replied, “I don’t know how to give enemas.” Having none of it, Devi fetched the enema bag and gave her pupil a quick explanation. “Here’s this stranger that I’ve been asked to give an enema,” said Biggart. “Somehow I did it, and the next day she was well enough to come to the class.” Under Devi’s guidance, both women became Sai Baba devotees.

American John Moffitt (1908 – 1987)

John Moffitt (for a time, Swami Atmaghanananda), disciple to Swami Nikhilananda. American novelist J.
D. Salinger, who sought spiritual guidance from Swami Nikhilananda and was a friend to Swami Atmaghanananda, inscribed one of his books to Moffitt thus: “To Swami Atmaghanananda. Old pilgrim and true friend. How
much his friendship means to me!”

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part III by N. Kasturi

John Moffitt from New York (a member of the Ramakrishna Monastic Order for over twenty years) sought out Baba at Prasanthi Nilayam. After meeting Baba, he wrote to me from Bangalore, ‘I can never forget that talk – infinitely profound, infinitely playful, infinitely simple. I was reminded of what it must have been like to sit at Sri Ramakrishna’s Feet… I just drank in His sweet, loving, playful Self. When I asked for His Blessings so that I could come there again, He said spiritedly, “Why here? There’s no need. I am always with you. I will be in your heart.” If ever there was proof that Christ is working outside Christianity, it is in Babaji, and, before Him, Sri Ramakrishna. My mind is clear now; my doubts are resolved; I want to do His Will.’

John Moffitt.

American Anne Green (known as Janni, who later changed her name to Om) 1970

Baba had two names for Anne, Ahjanni (away from knowledge) and Hysteria.

Anne Green (known as Janni, who later changed her name to Om) was the daughter of professor parents who taught in Ivy league colleges in the USA. She spoke with a cultured American accent. She  had obviously, at one time  enjoyed a very intellectual lifestyle and was a literati. No one is really sure how and why she came to visit Sathya Sai Baba. Her story is an interesting one and yet hardly a word has been written about her. Om enjoyed the casual ashram in Whitefield in the 1970s, where she had many close experiences with Sathya Sai Baba. Sometime afterwards she was made persona non grata, and prohibited from entering all of the Sai Baba ashrams. A fellow devotee recalls her saying that Sai Baba had told her at darshan one day, that although she was a graduate, and clever, he was going to change all that. He did. Banned from the ashrams, she was devastated. Sai Baba had obviously done an egodectomy on her, and was left wondering what to next. She visited Ramana’s Maharshi’s ashram for a time to think it over. Being quite ill, she did not function well and was thought to be a little odd being there by Ramana devotees.

After reflecting her position, she made the decision to stay in India to become a Sannyasin. She threw away her passport, clothes and all other possessions and took to wearing a simple orange robe. She later returned to Puttaparthi where Sai Baba’s main ashram is, and began a life of total austerity. It became apparent to others that her dismissal had not soured her in the least, she was full of love for Sai Baba.

Her eyes, great orbs of blue, appeared innocent and childlike. She lived from day to day on very little. Several years ago another devotee had a long talk about her life in Puttaparthi, she said that she lived in one small room without a fan that was in the summer, burning hot. By this time she had suffered many tropical illnesses, had troubles with her legs and feet, and was walking with crutches. Her once rich blondish hair was shaved. When asked why she stayed on she replied “Oh, I stay because that is my karma. I love Swami. I have given my life to him. I do not regret one single day here, despite the hardships.” She always appeared positive and despite her illnesses, managed to look after herself pretty well.

The local authorities recognise Om as being a Sannyasin and she had a certificate to say that she was a sadhu. She is allowed to live in Puttaparthi without either passport or visa, perhaps was the only Westerner was allowed to.

She became ill with dementia around the time Sathya Sai Baba died, and had little or no help as she was considered difficult to look after. There were some efforts, but was largely left alone as she was a Westerner.

Source: sathyasaimemories.wordpress.com

American Anne Green (known as Janni, who later changed her name to Om), 1970.

American Tal Brooke February 1970 Prasanthi Nilayam

Richard Bock’s fiancé Janet attends Shivaratri celebrations at Prasanthi Nilayam in 1970 and stays for a month

Taken from an article Janet Bock Bicker wrote;

I was born in Los Angeles, California. My father, Erik Albert Westin, was from a timber-producing region of Northern Sweden, where he was a founding member of a men’s choir. I developed an ear for foreign sounds that helped me learn to sing bhajans in Telugu and Sanskrit. My mother, Edit Gunhild Saud, was also an immigrant, whose family farmed in Nebraska.

At the Vedanta Temple bookstore, I became absorbed in Ramakrishna and the writings of Swami Vivekananda. While working at Liberty Records, I met Richard Bock who was producing records of Pandit Ravi Shankar (Sitar maestro). Our common interest in things Indian led us to a lecture given by Indra Devi where she told of her experiences and showed black and white newsreel films of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I had one photo and a few borrowed books from Markell and Bob Raymer, who had just returned from travels in Africa as part of Baba’s party. Richard joined Indra Devi in India for Baba’s forty-third birthday in November 1968, and returned with eight millimetre film and the recordings of Baba which became the LP entitled, Sathya Sai Baba Chants the Bhajans. We joined with Indra Devi to start the SAI Foundation in 1969 and opened the Sathya Sai Baba Centre of Hollywood in October that year.

My desire for Baba’s darshan intensified until I chose to stop waiting for others and go on my own. After I returned, Richard and I married and went on to make extended trips and more films about Baba, such as, His Life is His Message, Celebration, Aura of Divinity, The Universal Teacher (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3), The Endless Stream, until Richard passed away in 1988. The Shivaratri account I wrote was later published in The Jesus Mystery, Of Lost Years and Unknown Travels, which Bhagawan inspired and blessed, about the years in Jesus’ life between the ages of twelve and thirty, which are not spoken of in the Bible.

I married Dennis Bicker in 1989.

Baba has continued to guide my life, through graduate school for a Master’s Degree in psychology, and through my twenty-five year marriage to Dennis Bicker, my partner in the creation of the SAI Foundation film, audio and photographic archive which now resides at Prasanthi Nilayam.

My final physical darshan of Bhagawan occurred when Dennis and I made our ‘gratitude pilgrimage’ in Nov. of 2010, just months before his Mahasamadhi. The power of His glance was as strong and life-enhancing in 2010 as it was the first time in 1970.

Richard Bock, Sathya Sai Baba, Janet Bock, Dharmakshetra in Bombay, 1976.
Sathya Sai Baba’s biographer, Professor N. Kasturi and Janet Bock, 1973.
The Jesus Mystery: Of Lost Years and Unknown Travels by Janet Bock.

Dick and Janet Bock, whose painstaking research bore fruit in a film, The Lost Years (1978), and a book, The Jesus Mystery (1980). “It gradually dawned on us that those years were missing because someone had taken them out of the records, out of the Bible. We could not imagine Jesus would have appeared in Galilee at the age of 30 and hidden the major part of his life from his disciples whom he loved and asked to follow him.”

“In examining historical records of the early Christian Church, it became evident that early Church councils, especially the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, changed many points of doctrine.”

It is common scholar knowledge that the gospels were assembled by committee in 325 AD, who chose which histories would – and would not – go in.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono visited the Dharmasektra Ashram in Bombay in May 1970, and again in Prasanthi Nilayam sometime in late 1974

In 1970 John Lennon and Yoko Ono visited the ashram, Indra Devi was given the job of chaperoning them while there. Devi says “I remember introducing John Lennon to Sathya Sai Baba and called him ‘Lemmon’ by mistake. I confused him with a movie star. That shows you how much I know about these things.”

Yoko Ono said Lennon and she had visited the ashram during their visit to India.

“We had been in Bombay for a couple of nights and gone on all the way to the mountains to the camp of Sai Baba. it was an incredible experience…. We felt it was important to sit in his lecture and John insisted that we sit together despite women and men not being permitted to sit together.”

Her first trip to India in the late Sixties, ended early. “The four boys (The Beatles) had so much fun during an earlier trip that John thought it would be a good idea to come back. We went up to the (Sathya) Sai Baba camp near Mumbai, but they wouldn’t let the men and women sit together. I like to be honest about everything. Perhaps, it was rude, but John and I insisted on being together, and he couldn’t keep his hands off me. In the end, they asked us to leave and we went back.”

Author Paul Robert Williams recounts in his book Empire of the Soul that during his stay in Prasanthi Nilayam in 1974 – “One day John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting in the sand with the rest of us, next day it was the president of India, a producer of the James Bond films, the photographer David Bailey, or some high-ranking Italian politician. Yet there was only one star in that small world, and he seemed unimpressed by those who walked tall in the world beyond, often paying more attention to some ragged group of peasants who had walked miles for his blessing than to those who had arrived in air-conditioned limousines. Ignored, John and Yoko left in a huff.”

November 19, 1969, John and Yoko stay at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Bombay, India. They spent some time with an 80 year old woman whom John said to be someone who was supposed to be a “miracle worker that didn’t work miracles.” Hotel staff claim that they rarely left their hotel room.

American Michele Malvin (married in 1977 Kaplowitz) arrives for Shivaratri, 1st March 1970 Prasanthi Nilayam

Michele’s high school friend Lyn Rubenstein (Leela) writes to her in 1969 to say that she should come to India to meet God. Leela had recently arrived on the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba after having first going to India in 1967.

Before Michele was about to embark upon her journey to India, she received a call from Jimmy Hendrix’s manager while she was working at the film company Leacock-Pennebaker, to ask if they would be interested in filming Hendrix’s proposed visit to Sathya Sai Baba. Hendrix died months afterwards in September 1970.

The young 25-year-old Michelle arrived after receiving three telegrams from Baba in response to her request to come to the ashram. Baba gave permission to come with two others for a minimum period of six months for ‘spiritual solace and sadhana training.’

Michele’s Mother, Libby, arrived the following year in 1971. Michele’s father and her sister, Dr Ronne Marantz (author of The Power of Love: A Teacher’s Life with Sathya Sai Baba) with her two children arrive in 1979.

Baba sent her back to the US in 1973, but returned every six months for brief visits.

After she, Heidi King and VJ Supera where sent home by Baba in 1973, they decided to go and visit Neem Karoli Baba (1900, Akbarpur and died 11 September 1973, Vrindavan) before leaving India.

Before their departure, Baba had asked her how many bhajans she knew, to which she replied that it was perhaps 50 or 60. Baba then corrected her by saying it was 200. After her arrival, Neem Karoli Baba asked Michele for some of Sai Baba’s vibhuti and told her that she knew 200 bhajans!

Afterwards, she visited the ashrams Muktananda and his guru Nityananda before leaving India.

In 1976, Baba interviews her five times and suggests she should get married. In July 1977 Michele and Richard were married by Baba on the Brindavan ashram in Whitefield, and they remained in India for the next three and a half years.

They returned to Prasanthi Nilayam in 1985 with their family and they lived there for another ten years, raising their two daughters Sumana and Sujana before returning to the States.

Husband, Richard Kaplowitz first went to the ashram in September 1973.

Michele Malvin, outside the Prasanthi Nilayam accommodation for Westerners early 1970s.
The Prasanthi Nilayam accommodation for Westerners early 1970s.
Outside on Baba’s verandah in Whitefield, Michele can be seen with the harmonium, to the left is Blanca and Suzanna who is holding Blanca’s baby, Prema.
Ronne Marantz Ed.D is the author of The Dharma of Education: Where Western Knowledge Meets Eastern Wisdom and The Power Of Love: A Teacher’s Life with Sathya Sai Baba .

Hans arrived for Shivatratri 1970

Americans VJ Supera (Marsha) and sister India Supera arrived for Shivaratri, 6th March 1970   

VJ undertook a few journeys while in India, with her younger sister India (1946 – 2019) they visited different ashrams. VJ and Michele Malvin travelled at one time to Puri together, and throughout the years that VJ lived at Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram (1970 – 1973) many of the Western devotees did visit Varanasi at different times.

The two sisters in Varanasi.
(L to R) Sisters VJ and India Supera wearing eight rupee saris, standing beside the Shanti Vedika, Hill View Stadium, Prasanthi Nilayam.
The streets of Puttaparthi, outside the ashram in 1970.
The American devotees living in Sathya Sai Baba’s house in Whitefield, taken on the roof in 1970. Standing L to R, VJ Supera, Sandy (Baba had given them all saris, Sandy did not want to wear hers on the day like the others did in the photo), Sathya Sai Baba, Janet, Michele Malvin (who married Richard Kaplowitz at the ashram in 1977, they remained in India for the next three and a half years. Returning to Prasanthi Nilayam in 1985 with their family where they lived for another ten years, raising their two daughters Sumana and Sujana before returning to the States). Seated L to R, Vicki (Victoria Mills from London), India Supera, Anne Green (known as Janni, who later changed her name to Om). The photo was taken just before they all departed for Prasanthi Nilayam.
Sunset in Whitefield. Devotees, the Gopal Swami Group!, after an interview with Sathya Sai Baba in the early 1970s L to R, Cathy Bayer (married to Richard), Gale Molloy, VJ Supera, Richard Bayer, Faith, Nora Oswald (Gale’s sister), India Supera, Dave Anderson.
Sathya Sai Baba giving prasad to Western devotees, Christmas 1971 in Madras.
Delhi 1972.

India Supera (Laurie Beth Supera was nicknamed India as a young child, 1946 – 2019) writes – during the Nixon years I decided that living in America might bring about bad karma, and I could not cope with the ramifications of an event like Vietnam. So I decided to travel and find a spiritual teacher, to retreat to a cave someplace like in the Himalayas, and pray until the world changed (possibly a long wait).

I began my journey in 1965. I traveled the world, ending up in India in 1968. Finding a teacher or guru was no easy task. I had already been sick and near death for almost a year in Pakistan and had walked another year and a half around India looking for a guru. I was ready to give up and return to the USA, get a job at the phone company and settle into oblivion. But fate decided differently.

A good friend sent me to to Satya Sai Baba’s place. He turned out to be a perfect teacher for me. I stayed there happily for over two years thinking I would stay forever, become enlightened and perhaps save the world. (There is a saying I heard once: If you want to make God laugh, tell Her/Him your plans.)

About this time, my teeth started bothering me to the extent that I would pass out from the pain. I had gone to dentists, etc., to no avail, and Baba suggested I return to the States to have them fixed. I had no idea what I would do as I had no money or work training. Sai Baba said not to worry, that he would take care of me and that he had trained me for the work.

Meanwhile, a close friend from the ashram called and invited me to Montana, where she had bought a ranch to create a healing center. This friend, Jermain Duncan, was a healer and studied with Olga and Ambrose Worrall before coming to see Sai Baba. After having been in Montana for three months and with my teeth fixed, I planned to return to India. But my plans changed when Jerry (as we called her) was diagnosed with cancer and asked me to stay on as her nurse. I thought this would be a good way to even up my karmic debt to her. She had paid for my ticket to the U.S.A. and my dental repairs.

The unfortunate part of the story is that at age 39, Jerry passed on, giving me my first experience with conscious death. She willed me the Feathered Pipe Ranch to carry on her vision.

When I returned to Sai Baba to offer the ranch as a Sai Baba center, he told me to make an educational centre to create world leaders. He said there are too many followers in the world. I thought that I would always be living a simple life in India, instead I was to start an educational center in Montana!

Of course, I could not have done this alone. Jerry’s mother, Millie Duncan, helped me through the first years financially and gave me plenty of moral support. Also, a community of people began to grow around the ranch vision and worked beyond human capacity to make the ranch support itself and all of us. This was a nearly impossible task, as none of us had any financial backing nor any business skills beyond common sense (which was frequently ignored because it didn’t fit our vision). The vision itself kept changing as new people added to it, and things got confusing. But we persevered.

By 1979, I was ready to give up the ranch and go back to a peaceful life in India. All the community members were fighting, and I was becoming more and more confused. We were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and things seemed to be getting worse by the day. I decided to go back to Sai Baba and ask him what to do. To my amazement, he said to keep going, that it would work.

I came back from India with new energy. As it happened almost all of the original 13 people had decided that the Feathered Pipe Ranch could not support them and had gone on to seek other employment, leaving the craziest of us to pursue the vision.

Fortunately, there are such things as miracles, crazy wisdom, and the greatness that comes from not realizing you are trying to do the impossible. And of course, we were never alone. The power and beauty of this land have inspired the aspirations and self-sacrifice of many hundreds of people who have contributed to the Feathered Pipe Ranch.

By the grace of God, for more than 40 years, we are happily continuing to offer health, wellness and yoga retreats at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. We are the leading educational center in the sense that we are taking people who, for the most part, have already “grown up” and “succeeded” and are looking for something higher and better in life.

To you, we offer the beauty and serenity of Nature and food for the mind, body, and soul.

The young American and other devotees in the early 1970s were allowed sometimes to travel with Baba. These photos were taken between Puttaparthi and Chikballapur on the way to Bangalore.
The young American devotees had frequent and intimate contact with Sathya Sai Baba in those early years. This photo was taken by one of them in Baba’s dinning room in 1971.
There was plenty of construction going on within the ashram from the early 1970s onwards.

German Beno Wiesner arrived for Shivaratri 1970 and stayed for 2 years.

American Bruce Bradbury April 1970

Bruce Bradbury, 1970.
Bruce Bradbury, 1996.
Film about Sathya Sai Baba by James Redmond. A group of five of Baba’s earliest Western devotees speak movingly of their experiences with Him in the late 1960s and early 1970s when it was much easier to get close to Baba. One of them, Howard Levin the author of Good Chances, tells some unique and very funny stories, and Bruce Bradbury who wrote “Love is my Form” describes how Baba inspired him. As they speak, we can see the love and reverence Baba inspired in them still glowing in their faces. Film taped in June 1996 at the Feather Pipe Ranch in Helena, Montana, U.S.A. “The Rowdies” is an affectionate name Sathya Sai Baba often calls young men. (L to R) Martin Stamp, Robert Conger, Howard Levin, Wendel Field, Bruce Bradbury. Vimeo https://vimeo.com/132006361

Bruce Bradbury appears often in this 1990 Documentary about Sathya Sai Baba https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFZoK7dKqQo

American Robert Conger (Hanuman) April 1970 Whitefield

Robert Conger speaks of Ahimsa during a reunion of early devotees in June 1996. (L to R) Martin Stamp, Robert Conger, Howard Levin, Wendel Field, Bruce Bradbury.

American artist Wendel Field 1970

Abul Kalam Azad writes in 2014 – Today, I would like to present Wendel Field, an American painter who has spent almost 15 years in India. Wendel Field is born in Indiana, United States. Wendel’s mother was an artist and his cousin was an art historian… the inherited art legacy was palpable in Wendel at a very young age, and he started painting when he was just 4 years old. Wendel didn’t opt for a formal art education until he was in his late 20’s and studied art in Indiana University. Meantime his passion for art grew exponentially and he says with a chuckle, “I can’t stop (painting)”. In 1970, Wendel visited India for the first time. He says, “Making a very long story short, one day, somebody came to my home and said, here is the money… Go to India … I came to Pondy and then heard of Sri Ramana and came to Tiruvannamalai. I stayed almost 9 months and didn’t return until 1990s. Since then I visited Tiruvannamalai every year. In 2012, I moved to Tiruvannamalai.”

During his first visit to India, Yogi Ramsuratkumar became Wendel’s best friend. They used to hang out every night. Those times Yogi Ramsuratkumar was living in the streets. Most often he hangs out near the temple. Almost everyday Wendel used to meet Yogi Ramsuratkumar and often travel with him to nearby villages. He fondly recollects, “Yogi never used to talk about spirituality. He was very funny, innocent like a child. He has the best laugh I have ever seen and heard…. Whenever people ask questions about spirituality rather than giving a straight response, he used to poke them. People often miss the pun.” When asked about Yogi’s interest in art, Wendel said, “He used to see and enjoy my paintings. I remember one of his comments. Once I was doing a painting of spiritual images of different religions.. he looked at it and said, ‘actually you should make those tits bigger.’ Although I had a hearty laugh, it did make sense to me, as the full image of that woman goddess would look much better with his suggestion.” Wendel’s experience with Yogi along with one of his painting has been featured in a chronological book on Yogi done by a community in Arizona. The first four chapters discuss Wendel’s memoir of the Yogi. https://ekalokamtrustforphotography.wordpress.com/tag/wendel-field/

Wendel Field in 2013, Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Photograph courtesy EtP Archives / 2013.
Wendel in India, Photo; (C) Abul Kalam Azad.

British Martin Stamp 1970

American Dave Walker 1970 stayed for one year

American Gil 1970

(L to R) In the front row, Sathya Sai Baba, Gil, Peter, Tal Brooke, Bruce Bradbury.

Zolt and Sandy 1970

Peter 1970

Jai Devi 1970

Tony 1970

American Howard Levin 5 June 1970 Whitefield

Howard Levin visited India during the late 1960s and while on his travels, he heard about Sathya Sai Baba from others who had visited his ashram in South India. Howard decided to visit. He enjoyed many interviews with Sai Baba, and also experienced other phenomena that took place around the ashram. His book, Good Chances is an account from those days. Toward the end Sai Baba said to him “You must remember these days we’ve spent together. Now it is outside, next memory goes into your mind, then a permanent picture is there. When you all go back to America, if you think of these ‘good chances’ with Swami, it will be the same as meditation.

From Good Chances by Howard Levin

A taxi driver approached me and asked, “Regent Guest House, sir?”

“No, Whitefield, Sai Baba ashram.”

“Six Rupees drop!”

I had only 100 Rupees left in the world, but what did I care. I was on my way to see Sai Baba. “Sure,” I said, “Let’s go.”

Whitefield is less than 30 minutes from Bangalore Airport, but it seemed like hours as we drove through the rural countryside. The taxi finally passed through a large gate over which was a sign, BRINDAVAN. I had just entered Sai Baba’s ashram. After motioning for the driver to stop, I stepped out and stood gazing about the grounds. It wasn’t as beautiful as Manali, but almost instantly a new sensation came over me. I felt that I had truly entered a holy place. My heart began to flutter. I could actually feel something around me in the air, something I couldn’t define. I knew this was it. How and why seemed irrelevant.

An Indian lady approached me. “Please remove your chappals (sandals) sir,” she said, rather abruptly.

I took them off and carried them in my left hand.

“The Americans are there.” She pointed to a one-story building that appeared to be part of a school.

I walked along the tree-lined driveway, with red flower petals gently floating down in the breeze from the branches above. I came to the verandah of the building and looked inside a classroom. There sat a male Caucasian, meditating inside a mosquito net. he sat motionless, a frown on his face, eyes closed. Nobody else seemed to be around. Just then a tall, thin, young English-looking lady approached me.

“Hello, I’m Vicki. Did you just come?”

“Yes, I’m looking for India and her sister Marsha.”

“Oh, you must be Howard,” she said. “We are expecting you. India’s told us all about you. Come, they’re all in the kitchen.”

Vicki led me to another building which was smaller and painted dark green. Inside, in a room with a concrete floor, were about ten other Westerners preparing lunch. India was sitting cross-legged on the floor rolling chapatis (Indian bread). She didn’t look surprised when she saw me.

“Howie appa (expresses friendship) you made it, Sai Ram,” she said very lovingly. “Marsha’s here, and Beno and Hans!”

I sat down on the floor next to India and lighted one of my beedi cigarettes. India looked surprised for a moment.

“We don’t smoke here,” she said softly.

I was very embarrassed and quickly put out the cigarette. We exchanged a few words, then all of a sudden an American girl dressed in a white sari came running into the room.

“He’s leaving, He’s leaving!” she said excitedly. Everyone else in the room became very excited too and started running towards the driveway. What was going on? I could not just sit there so I hurried along with the crowd.

A white Italian Fiat, a 1960s model with orange curtains in the rear window, was driving away. All I could see was a little hand waving from a darkened glass window that was partly rolled down, and then, just for a moment I caught a glimpse of an Afro hair-do between the curtains. I stood motionless watching the car drive away, and a voice inside me was saying, “stay, stay, stay.”

“He’ll be back tomorrow,” everyone was saying. “He’s gone to Prasanthi Nilayam. The windows of the Mandir were left open and there was some damage due to rain.”

India led me back to the kitchen and explained where Sai Baba was going. She said that Prasanthi Nilayam was Sai Baba’s other ashram about 90 miles away. It was a large parcel of land with his residence (Mandir) and accommodation for visitors. It was located in the village of Puttaparthi where Sai Baba was born.

She then described Brindavan, named after the village in the north where Krishna lived as a child. Inside the walled compound was a small, all-male college named the Sri Sathya Sai Arts and Science College. As it was summer recess Sai Baba had given three spare college rooms to the foreigners; one for the ladies, one for the gents, and one for a kitchen to be shared by all. Inside a second gate at the end of the driveway was Sai Baba’s bungalow. What seemed odd to me was that there was no wall separating his bungalow garden from the college grounds, only a gate. The large area between Sai Baba’s gate and the main gate was hard bare earth. Just inside the main gate was a large banyan tree under which Sai Baba gave darshan (sight of a holy person) every day.

My arrival increased the total number of Westerners to 20. There were thirteen gents and seven ladies. Amos and Vickie, Zolt and Sandy were married couples. Amos and Vickie were very kind and made me feel right at home. Zolt and Sandy were lighter than air and seemed to be gentle as new-born deer.

Gil, an American, would meditate continually in his mosquito net. On numerous occasions when we disturbed him he would come out of his little sanctuary and tell us to shut up. Peter was warm and friendly. Robert was so-so. Jai Devi would take a whole book to describe. Bruce was unfriendly at first, but later warmed up. Beno, Hans, and Tony were old friend from my travels in India, and it was an incredible surprise to find them at Brindavan. I had met Beno and Hans in Nepal two years before, and Tony and I knew each other from Almora. Beno was one of my very dearest friends. I had spent a whole winter with him on the west coast of India. Leela and Michele were friends in New York, and it was Leela who convinced Michele to join here in her trip to Sai Baba. As it turned out, Michele became completely devoted to Sai Baba. And , Jnani, she would also require a book to describe.

Then there was Tal, another American, He frequently took one or two people aside and talked endlessly about someone named Dr Richee. I never did know where the doctor fitted in. Another important subject to Tal were the Revelations of St. John.

Howard’s sequel to Good Chances (1985) is Heart to Heart (1996).

Devotees of Sathya Sai Baba in 1970. A group photo of the first wave of Westerners to Prasanthi Nilayam, some of who stayed on for years. Standing L to R, Howard Levin (author of Good Chances), Martin Stamp, Peter, Bruce Bradbury, Ganesh, Beno Wiesner, Arnie. Seated L to R, unknown, Anne, unknown, Michele Malvin, Janet, VJ Supera, Indira Devi, unknown, Chris, India Supera, Alice.
Singing at a 1971 Dussehra festival in the ashram, (L to R) Beno Wiesner, Martin Stamp, Eddie Flure, Pete, Howard Levin, VJ Supera, Bruce Bradbury, Vickie (Victoria Mills), Tal Brooke, Larry, Janet, Sal.

American Heidi King January 1971 Whitefield

American artist Heidi King was introduced to Sathya Sai Baba by Indira Devi during 1969/1970. She went to visit Baba in Whitefield in January 1971, and stayed on with Baba in India until October 1973. She has made two more trips in 1979 and 2003. Her parents visited in January 1973.

(L to R) Suzanna, Heidi King, Nora Oswald (Gale’s sister), Gale Molloy, Blanca and her daughter Prema who was born at the ashram.
On his 1973 visit, Heidi’s father took this photo inside Baba’s house on the Whitefield ashram, Brindavan.

Americans Gale Molloy and her sister Nora Oswald and husband David Oswald September 1971 Prasanthi Nilayam

Gale arrives with Nora and David after a six journey overland from Germany in van that they had purchased there along with fellow traveller Robby Levin. Robby was enroute to Nepal to sell the van at the time of their arrival in the ashram.

The young American devotees had frequent and intimate contact with Sathya Sai Baba in those early years. In Anantapur, Gale Molloy is seen here with Sathya Sai Baba.

American Marc Schles 1971

Marc Schles (1946 – 2021) was a seeker of spiritual truth and became part of the vibrant spiritual scene in New York City around Hilda Charlton in the late 60s. She eventually sent him to India to see Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in 1971.  Sai Baba and his teachings became the guiding spiritual force of Marc’s life.  Between trips to India Marc attended Sai Baba centers in Nassau County, NY and eventually the Flushing Sai Baba Center in Queens, NY.

During another trip to India in 1974 he met his future wife Andrea, another young Westerner staying at Baba’s ashram. They married in 1981.  

Americans Sharon and Gary Purcell April 1971

From Honolulu, American architect Steve W. G. Au and his wife Irene Botelho Au 1971 Whitefield

From Sanathana Sarathi magazine 1975

He at the Helm – It was exactly one year ago that the sequence of events became even remotely perceivable. Swami Paramahamsa Muktananda of Ganeshpuri was scheduled to arrive in Hawaii, on the return portion of his American tour. With the multitude of hotel accommodation available and the innumerable homes that abound the slopes of Honolulu, it was a little surprising when Baba Muktananda accepted the invitation to stay in the `shell’ of our new home, still very much under construction!

November 1970.

The invitation had been extended significantly, seemingly on impulse, partially based on Irene’s steadfast devotion to Baba Muktananda as her Guru (even though she had never met him) and partly on my reluctance to have any one, including the illustrious personage of a Holy Man, to intrude into my life and the small flat we were than renting.

All doubts and hesitations associated with meeting a ‘realised being’ for the first time welled up. How should I act? Will he see through me? The expectation of his arrival in itself was fraught with discomfort. But, from the instant of his arrival, Swami warmed our hearts. With affectionate smiles and embraces, he melted away the walls of resistance; with his discourses, he removed doubts and with firm mandates, he instilled discipline. The darshans he held and the Shakti of his presence permeated the atmosphere with Prema and Shanti.

Physically, it has changed the ‘outcome’ of the house itself! Aspects of finish-design were obviated and the building took on an air of simplicity and informality quite unintended initially. More importantly, the visit initiated a change in our lives, which at that moment, we could little comprehend.

In quick sequence, other Swamis travelling through Hawaii further graced the home with bhajans and discourses. Swami Satchidananda of the Integral Yoga Society accepted an invitation, again seemingly offered on impulse and added his grace and his lessons to the house. The ‘net’ was closing in on us; but, we had yet to understand its basic implications!

Then Indra Devi, beloved Mataji, on a brief stop-over from India to Tecate (Mexico) delivered, to a small gathering at the “Church of the Cross-Roads,” a testament in words, and a film of her love for her Bhagavan, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. We had decided to attend the lecture, simply because the name ‘Sai Baba’ denoted yet another Guru. The culmination of that evening left us with a sense of amazement at what we had seen and heard, but, with a knowledge that this Baba was something quite different from all that we had previously encountered or read about. This was an Avatar; of this, we were sure!

The following day, Mataji arrived at the house quite unexpectedly and with more words of reverence for Sai Baba, she related the Leelas of Baba and the supreme love he bore towards his devotees. Books followed Mataji; we were inundated with tapes of bhajans recorded at Prasanthi Nilayam, and more printed material. The waves of Sai Baba rolled over us and washed us, until it was all that we could to contain within us, the need to travel to India; but, this was yet to be.

Numerous attempts were made, all meeting with obstructions. Some seven months later, all conditions jelled – visas, passports, finance – and, we journeyed via Australia to India! Though all this took place, it must be said, that the impetus of Baba’s calling us, and all that had transpired during the past year, still remained vague in our minds…

We arrived in Madras, and after a three-hour lay-over, boarded a DC-3 for Bangalore arriving at 10.00 in the evening. The next morning, a call was placed to our only contact in India, Mr. K. Bhirumal, a devotee of Baba. He recommended that we journey immediately to Whitefield.

Another taxi; and, then, the pure delight of watching Baba grace the rows of ‘royal poincianas,’ lined thick with devotees.

Upon reminiscing on our impressions later, we were struck with the feeling of complete familiarity that Baba imparts, to even those seeing him for the first time! The figure, replete with silken dress, the gentle smile, and, of course, the halo of hair were exactly as we had known it would be. We handed over a letter that Mataji had given us, somewhat awkwardly and in full awe. Baba commented, “Mexico! Indra Devi!” and passed on. Word came soon after, that we were to follow him! Baba had blessed us, with an interview; the total time that had elapsed since our arrival in India was 18 hours!

The little Interview Room was crowded and Baba launched into a general discourse with specific comments directed towards some, but, seemingly applicable to all. Then… the Individual Session, in which he quickly cut into the secret depths of one’s own being, the problems, of health, the previous meetings (!) where he had contacted (!) Irene via a dream, and the specifics of that dream and another (!), the difficulties of individual Sadhana, the particular desire of each of us and our internal turmoil’s. Vibhuti, sacred ash, was manifested. All this… quickly, naturally and spontaneously delivered and conferred, with a love and understanding which rendered new meaning to those old words.

Here was a CONFIDANTE, GUIDE, DOCTOR, FRIEND, FATHER, MOTHER and GOD, rolled into ONE! Here was the culmination of those past events within this lifetime and all the previous ones, Manifest, All Knowing, before us!

It would be naïve to say that either one of us can, even in a small measure, understand the Divine nature of Baba’s Calling, much less understand Baba Himself. It is readily perceptible, however, that the culmination of events leading to our arrival in Puttaparthi is in reality a point of conscious embarkation, (in essence, a New Birth), knowing that Baba is at the helm.

Ours, of course, is hardly a unique story. There were no spectacular occurrences; there were no manifest Leelas. Yet, all this is, in reality, his Leela. Each one called to Prasanthi Nilayam comes on a wave of `seeming circumstance.’ Names, times, places and events vary from person to person; but, the story remains ever the same – the directional moment towards Baba is unmistakable and constant. As has been stated to us, the subtleties of man’s ascent towards God pale and wane, when compared to the subtleties of God’s descent to man. Bhagavan’s Call is the subtlest of subtleties; but, come, we must, when call beckons! There are no accidents, no circumstantial happenings. But, how it is all integrated how it is all fits together, is best understood by Baba Himself.

Once touched by Baba, once the bond is established, we can only venerate Him, prostrate before His Loving Grace and tireless generosity, and pray that he will continue to bestow his multitudinous Blessings and unerring control over all aspects of our existence and sadhana. By His Grace and His Grace alone, we are here. Jay Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Sai Ram Sai Ram Sai Ram. Steve W. G. Au, Honolulu; Hawaii.

Irene Botelho Au.
Steve A.G. Au.

American Psychologist Phil Gosselin April 1971 Whitefield (Gosselin’s sister and her husband would follow later on, and his best friend arrived in January 1972)

Phil Gosselin spent two years in Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram in the early 1970s. Once a yoga practicing backpacker who has had the good fortune to live in the ashram from 1971 to 1972 and again in from 1974 to 1975.

Dr Phil Gosselin worked on Wall Street for a number of years, before switching his profession to Clinical Psychology. Currently he lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA. An account of his professional life on Wall Street is described in the 1995 book The Dharmic Challenge: Putting Sathya Sai Baba’s Teachings into Practice by compiled and edited by Judy Warner.

Phil Gosselin, Prasanthi Nilayam.
Sathya Sai Baba and Phil Gosselin.
Phil, 2020.

Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) 1971 Whitefield

From Good Chances by Howard Levin

Ram Dass showed up, and with him came his entourage. It bothered me when I saw the group for I felt they brought drugs with them, and a too-free life style. But it was none of my business, for Swami is here to correct. So we invited Ram Dass and his group in for the evening bhajans. That evening Swami came early and sat in his chair.

Ram Dass was leaning against the wall to Swami’s left, and to our right. He asked Ram Dass “Who are you?”

“I’m Ram Dass” was his reply.

“No, no, who are you?”

“I’m a psychologist from Harvard University.”

“No, no,” Swami went on; Ram Dass looked flustered. “You are not the body. You are not the mind. You are not the intellect. You are not the brain. You are Atma, you are God!” Sai Baba spoke about the nature of the Atma and the spiritual path. He concluded by telling Ram Dass not to teach before he is ready. “Don’t gather disciples too soon. First do your own sadhana. Realise the goal, then show others the way.”

Swami materialised a locket; it was a five-pointed star set in a circle, with Swami’s picture in the middle. “See, there are the five senses. In the centre is Baba. Keep Baba in your heart and always love will radiate through your five senses.” He gave the locket to Ram Dass with a loving smile.

Ram Dass spoke, “Swami, Swami Muktananda is in Bangalore. May I bring him here to see you tomorrow?”

“Oh yes,” was Sai Baba’s exuberant reply.

The next morning I was sitting next to Tal in the darshan line. Swami came near us. Tal spoke, “Swami Paramahansa Muktananda is coming today.”

Baba looked quizzically, “Who?”

“Paramahansa Muktananda is coming today,” Tal replied.

“Who told Paramahansa? Ramakrishna was a Paramahansa! Muktananda’s not special. Ordinary man.”

Considering the reputation of Muktananda, we were surprised to hear this from Sai Baba. What did he mean by ordinary man?

That evening as Baba was finishing darshan, stopping now and then to speak or glance at a longing heart, Swami Muktananda arrived in a big blur Mercedes. He was accompanied by three or four carloads of American devotees. Muktananda, along with his Western followers, walked straight up the driveway with no regard for any of us who were sitting and waiting. Some of the men walked through the seated ladies, and the women pushed through the gents. Then Muktananda walked up to Sai Baba and caught him up in a big bear hug. Sai Baba, smiling, gently pushed him away, turned and finished his darshan. Then he went through the gates which closed behind him. A lot of confusion followed.

Many of us saluted Muktananda as the volunteers tried to show him over to the gent’s side. Others wondered who he was, clad in his orange silk.

Tal grew anxious. He went to Sai Baba’s residence to get instructions as to what to do with Muktananda. Finally a message came… Let him wait in the classrooms, Swami will come.

All of us followed Muktananda into the classroom, where we milled around wondering what to do. Muktananda was speaking through a translator to Eddie when finally, Swami came in. He went directly to Muktananda’s disciples, materialising vibhuti for one of them while speaking to others. He was definitely ignoring Muktananda’s presence. It was very strange.

Finally, after several minutes of Muktananda speaking to Sai Baba’s devotees and Sai Baba speaking to Muktananda’s people, they met in the middle of the room. Muktananda took Baba’s hand and sang something in Sanskrit. Then a few words were exchanged in Hindi, and Swami left the hall. Muktananda slowly made his way back to his car, distributing sweets to all from a basket as he made his way through the group. With a big smile and a lot of waving, he left.

To me it seemed like a game, a dream staged to play with the American minds. I did not realise then how disturbed some of the Westerners were over the incident with swami Muktananda.

Muktananda and Ram Dass on their way to meet Sathya Sai Baba at his Brindavan ashram in Whitefield on the outskirts of Bangalore in 1971. Muktananda had Sathya Sai Baba’s darshan, embraced him and offered a jasmine mala. Seated in the left of the photo, second to the right is Eddie Flure from New York and behind him is the bearded Beno Wiesner from Germany.
Muktananda and Sathya Sai Baba, Whitefield 1971. Muktananda walked up to Sai Baba and caught him up in a big bear hug. Sai Baba, smiling, gently pushed him away, turned and finished his darshan. American devotee and ashram resident at the time of the visit, Om, said to a New Zealand devotee later in 1982, that Muktananda had felt all his yogic powers leave him when they were embraced, and were then restored by another touch from Baba.

According to author Tal Brooke and one time Sathya Sai Baba devotee, the meeting took place as an expression of ‘cosmic politics.’ Ram Dass had arranged this meeting as an encounter between the world’s two greatest ‘siddha-yogis.’ The meeting is described in the book Lord of the Air. The meeting, which was repeatedly on the point of collapse, apparently ended in a sort of working alliance similar to the outcome of another meeting between Muktananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi which took place in 1976.

During an interview, Sai Baba’s chair suddenly turned away from the women’s half of the room and faced directly head-on towards Ram Dass and Tal Brook who were sitting side by side. Baba materialised a very large pendant with a pentagram in the centre and gave it to a stunned Ram Dass. Baba then agreed to meet Muktananda the next day.

The next day, Muktananda had was waiting in the outer court for Baba. To ensure the meeting would take place, Brooke, violating all protocol, entered Baba’s inner chamber where he was conducting an interview with devotees.  Baba then left the interview and walked with him to the large group surrounding Muktananda. He seemed to do it in part to satisfy Brooke’s desperation, which had been added to by Ram Dass’ own desperation and embarrassment. The next day’s meeting between Baba and Muktananda resembled a bizarre scorpion dance between the two as Muktananda forced Baba into a bear hug. Sai Baba, smiling, gently pushed him away, turned and resumed that evenings darshan.

Before Muktananda left the ashram there was a follow up meeting, where Sai Baba spoke directly to Muktananda’s devotees and Muktananda spoke to Baba’s devotees. The two then talked to one another on a level that no one could follow, not even the oldest Indian devotees who knew all the languages. Tal Brooke writes in Riders of the Cosmic Circuit, “It was even baffling for the Indian inner-circle translators, as they tried to disentangle abstruse and ancient poetry that resembled the playful stanzas of the gods to one another in some bygone time (Muktananda sang a cryptic song to Sai Baba about one who fell in love with his own reflection – an Indian Narcissus). There was a moment when the two gurus complimented each other on their respective disciples. Ram Dass was singled out. Baba was finally given a standing invitation to grace Muktananda’s ashram.”

American music group Lightstorm (Johnima and Kalassu Wintergate, Silver and Sui-San) 1971 Whitefield

The story of Lightstorm’s meeting with Sathya Sai Baba can be read in their 1992 book Ten Steps To Kesava, which is a free PDF download from their website;


The music group Lightstorm with Sathya Sai Baba. (L to R) Kalassu Wintergate, Sui-San, Sathya Sai Baba, Silver, Johnima Wintergate.
Kalassu Wintergate, Sathya Sai Baba, Johnima Wintergate.
Kalassu Wintergate, Sathya Sai Baba, Johnima Wintergate.

Americans Cathy and Richard Bayer at a private residence in Madras, Christmas 1971

Cathy and Richard arrive at friends house in Madras, who they had met in Rome and had lent some money to. The neighbour, who was a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, invited them over. Baba then made a visit to the house. They later followed Baba to Whitefield by taking the Brindavan Express to Bangalore, along with other devotees. The train made a stop at Whitefield where the devotees got off. They then stayed in Kadugodi for six months, where the Brindavan Ashram is, near Whitefield.

Cathy Bayer receiving a sari from Sathya Sai Baba.
Cathy Bayer receiving packets of vibhuti from Sathya Sai Baba. Victoria Hislop, wife of Jack Hislop, is on Cathy’s right.

American Andrea Schles 1972 for 4 months, 1973 second trip

Andrea meets Mark, another young Westerner staying at Baba’s ashram during another trip to India in 1974. They married in 1981.  

American Psychiatrist Samuel Sandweiss at a devotees apartment on the outskirts of Bombay in May 1972. His Wife Sharon and four daughters would follow in the later years

In 1975 Samuel Sandweiss publishes The Holy Man And The Psychiatrist that tells the story of an American psychiatrist in the 1970s who suddenly realises that he doesn’t have all the answers for his patients, or himself. This leads him on a journey of discovery at the feet of Sathya Sai Baba. Dr Sandweiss writes in an easy-to-read personal style about his initial resistance to the idea of divinity in human form, and his transformation after meeting Swami. The author’s moving and compelling description of his spiritual awakening as he comes closer to Swami, as well as his ability to relate it with devotion and humor, account for the book’s worldwide success.

In 1985, Spirit And The Mind is published. This book is about Sai Baba and the relevance of his life and message to Western psychology. It is comprised of personal experiences with Sai Baba, and a serious inquiry into how the integration of spiritual insight into Western psychology would broaden the view of this young science and give it soul. An in-depth case study showing how Baba’s message affects Western treatment approaches, and an interview with a prominent psychoanalyst, which shows the roots of Western psychologists’ resistance to spirituality and to considering man as immortal.

Sandweiss’s third book is With Love Man Is God published in 2005. The author covers personal experiences in the company of Sri Sathya Sai Baba and how Baba’s teachings are put into practice in daily life.

The Sandweiss family with Sathya Sai Baba.

American Michael Hollander August 1972 Prasanthi Nilayam

Michael J. Hollander has written three books about Sathya Sai Baba; Advent I (1999), Advent II, Advent III (2005). Advent III gives a brief biographical sketch and talks of Hollander’s early years with Sathya Sai Baba, starting in the summer of 1972. The author shares some of his experiences with Sai Baba and His universal teachings that relate to all, regardless of one’s religion or cultural background.

Venezuelan Arlette Meyer 1972

Arlette Meyer along with Mrs. Elizabeth Palmer (who had previously visited in 1968 and1970) and her family visited Sathya Sai Baba in 1972.

Because of her prior visits, Mrs. Palmer was given a flat in the ashram in which everyone somehow managed to fit in. There was no western toilet, but such inconveniences were part of the game of adapting to a culture far different from the West.

Arlette had only read one issue of Sanathana Sarathi and still did not know much about Sai Baba, but when she saw him giving darshan from the balcony after the evening arathi in the temple, she felt a wave of energy pass through her and began to cry.

The following day, December 24th, 1972, Baba gave his famous discourse in which he declared that he was the one of whom Jesus said, “The one who sent me will come again.” The next evening, a foreigner came to the flat and asked if the translator was there. Arlette said she was a translator by profession.

The person said, “Good, then you can translate Swami’s books.” He suggested Sai Baba: Man of Miracles. The idea began to take form, but she thought she should ask Baba’s permission first.

During an interview, Baba asked her, “What is your name?” When she answered, “Arlette,” Swami joked, “Arlette, not omelet,” which made everyone laugh. She asked Baba if she could translate the book into Spanish, and He said, “Yes, do it, it is your duty.”

Ten months later, Arlette was back in Prasanthi Nilayam with Sai Baba: Man of Miracles translated into Spanish, but without knowing how to publish it. She ran into Gail and Luis Muniz from Mexico, who were there to ask permission to translate and publish some of Baba’s books into Spanish. She handed Luis a photocopy of her translation and told him, “Here’s the first one.” In 1974, during an interview, Sai Baba blessed the first published Spanish translation about him and told Arlette to continue translating the Sathya Sai Speaks series.

Mexicans Dr Luis Muniz and his wife Gail 1972

Gail Muniz from Mexico (left) and Arlette Meyer from Venezuela.

American Lila Youngs 1972 Prasanthi Nilayam

Lila Youngs from La Jolla, California first visited Sathya Sai Baba in 1972.

From Living Divinty (1983) by Shakuntala Balu

“It is not science. It is a miracle by Baba,” say Lila and Homer Youngs of La Jolla, California. It happened in 1972 when Lila went to India to see Sri Sathya Sai Baba with a group of devotees led by Indra Devi. Homer had remained in the U.S.A. Lila had the great good luck of meeting Sri Sathya Sai Baba in group and private interviews.

When she returned home, her husband told her that he had a surprise for her. He had asked EROS (Earth Resources Orbiting Sensor), an American satellite orbiting the globe, to take a photograph of Puttaparthi while Lila was there. He had learnt that the satellite organisation would willingly photograph any part of the world if provided with its exact longitude and latitude.

Homer could not find a map of India showing Puttaparthi, but in expecting to see the ashram, the mandir, the apartment blocks but saw nothing but a barren landscape, pitted and scarred like a moonscape. She asked Homer how much they had cost him and he replied sixty dollars. She was furious: “You spent sixty dollars on these stupid photographs when you know that we need every single cent for our own needs! Anyway, what is Baba going to do with these pits and holes? If he is God, he knows what the Earth looks like and if he isn’t God, these photographs won’t help him.” Silently, Homer gathered the photographs and put them away in his office.

The years flew by. The Young’s finances improved, but they were still not rich. Lila, impetuous as ever, asked Sri Sathya Sai Baba about their financial situation the next time she saw him. He laughed and said, “You have not too much, not too little, just enough money. Is that not so?” Lila gasped, for this was exactly their situation, which earlier when they had less, she had asked for in prayer. Gradually she had begun to feel Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s presence everywhere, even in her thoughts. She wondered whether the finances would improve. Sri Sathya Sai Baba assured her, “Everything will be alright… these things take time.” It surprised Lila to think that even divinity needs time and cannot make all things happen in the twinkling of an eye.

Lila still could not forgive Homer for wasting sixty dollars on the useless satellite photographs. They still sat in Homer’s office.

A few years later, guests on their way to Tecate, Baja, California for the wedding of Indra Devi’s daughter stopped at the Youngs’ home. The Youngs’ ran a Sai book centre and also had a fair selection of Sai photographs. The guests pored over the photographs, commenting and appreciating and acclaiming the beauty of some of them, as is the way of eager devotees.

Suddenly, Homer said, “I want to show you the satellite photographs,” and dashed off to get them, while Lila protested in vain. The guests looked at them politely, and remained silent. “What else can you except when people are shown a lot of holes and pits like on the moon?” thought the embarrassed Lila.

One of the guests who had been turning a photograph this way and that suddenly shouted, “There is Sai Baba!” Every one looked. There he was, his profile clearly visible with his halo of hair and even the mole on the left cheek. Homer peered incredulously. Where had this picture been hiding? It had not been there before, surely. Perhaps he had not looked at them from every side. That must be it, how else was it possible that all four now bore Homer, however, wanted to check further to see if the profile was a reality or a miracle. He contacted the satellite organisation and asked for more copies of the photographs. Normally, it is easy to obtain any number of copies through the computer system. But, in this instance, Homer was told that these particular pictures were not available any more and were officially classified lost. This effectively meant that the only photographs were the four that Homer had and that no more copies were available from any source.

The EROS image.
Sathya Sai Baba and Lila Youngs.

Scot Bill Aitken at his partner’s (The Maharani Prithwi Bir Kaur of Jind – The Phulkian Dynasty) Delhi house in 1972

Author and travel writer Bill Aitken (William McKay Aitken) spent seven ascetic years at the Mirtola Ashram, founded by Sri Yashoda Ma, a housewife turned ascetic in 1929. At the ashram, he met and fell in love with The Maharani Prithwi Bir Kaur of Jind. The Mirtola teaching was, “Love is the guide” and this love brought an end to his restlessness and wanderlust. Aitken found a home in Oakless, her private residence in Mussoorie’s Bala Hissar neighbourhood. Their guru Sri Krishna Prem told Aitken that Prithwi could teach him more than he could. The Maharani was also a devotee of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. In 1982, Sai Baba spent two nights as her guest in Oakless. The Maharani eventually became Aitken’s guru. The most extraordinary thing about their 38-year relationship was how quickly the time passed. He was able to take her to the ‘off the beaten track’ places where royals were unaccustomed, they trekked to all the holy sites of Uttarakhand twice and on separate trips twice to Sri Hemkund Sahib and to the Valley of the Flowers. The Maharani died in 2010. Aitken is also the author of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A Life (2004).

The Scottish-born Bill Aitken was drawn from Britain to India over many years ago, at first to research for his MA degree on Gandhi, and subsequently to settle for life and become naturalised. His future partner’s husband, the Maharaja of Jind, died the day Bill Aitken entered India on September 7, 1959. Fate and destiny were already working in the peculiar ways that bring the unlikeliest of individuals together. A spiritual lady, educated in London, she had walked out of her estate because of property feuds in 1960 and came to the ashram in 1968. “That was when I met her for the first time. It was a meeting of the East and West,” says Aitken. He experienced twelve years of the rigours of real ashram life before abandoning that path and settling down as the partner of the Maharani, a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. He is the highly considered author of a dozen books on travel and spirituality in India.

Bill Aitken, 2017, Photo: Seema Pant.
Sathya Sai Baba seen here with The Maharani Prithwi Bir Kaur of Jind (on the ashram, and in some of the literature, she is known as Rani-Ma) at her home (Jind House, Mussoorie), where he stayed for 2 days in April 1982.
Sathya Sai Baba seen here at the home (Jind House, Mussoorie) of The Maharani Prithwi Bir Kaur of Jind and Bill Aitken, where he stayed for 2 days in April 1982.

American Peter Mt. Shasta Indian Fall 1972 Prasanthi Nilayam

Peter Mt Shasta journeyed to India in 1970 and spent time with Ram Dass and his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, eventually traveling to the Himalayan foothills to live briefly with Gangotri Baba, a disciple of Babaji. He also had transcendent experiences with Anandamayi Ma and other saints. Later he traveled to Tibet and Egypt but did not find his true path until Sathya Sai Baba instructed him to meditate on the I AM – which leads to the True Self.

Returning from the East, the Ascended Master Saint Germain materialised before him in Muir Woods near San Francisco and told him to go to Mount Shasta, where he would meet the teacher who would prepare him to work with the Masters in their quest to help humanity. This teacher was Pearl Dorris, a former assistant to Godfre Ray King, author of Unveiled Mysteries. Vowing to accomplish the training that was offered, he went through years of instruction, initiation, and adventures at the hands of the Masters, who occasionally appeared in physical form. These adventures are described in his best-selling book Apprentice to the Masters: Adventures of a Western Mystic, Book II.

He is working now under the direction of Saint Germain to bring the ancient teachings of Tibetan Buddhism on the nature of mind into the I AM Teachings of mastery. His book Search for the Guru: Adventures of a Western Mystic, Part I, describes his visit to Prasanthi NIlayam. His other books are, Apprentice to the Masters: Adventures of a Western Mystic, Part II, “I AM” Affirmations and the Secret of Their Effective Use, I Am the Violet Tara: Goddess of Forgiveness and Freedom, I AM the Living Christ: Teachings of Jesus, It Is What It Is: Further Adventures of a Western Mystic.

Vrindavan in Jan 1972. On the left is Kathleem Haley, Dada Mukerjee, Peter Mt. Shasta, Jai Uttal, unknown, Ghangadhar (Mark Gerhard), squatting is Ram Dass; back to camera, Maharajji.
Peter Mt. Shasta and Sathya Sai Baba photo at the German Bakery, Puttaparthi, India, 2007, Photo: Peter Mt. Shasta.

Americans Sidney and Phyllis Krystal January 1973 Whitefield

Psychotherapist Phyllis Krystal (1914 – 2016) writes – “On our first visit to Bhagavan Baba in 1973, He set the stage for the teaching He would be giving me. At our farewell interview, I asked Him when He would like us to return. Instead of directly answering my question, He said, “First, remember that you do not need to come back to see this little body,” pointing to Himself. He watched my reaction and then continued, “Find Me in your own heart. “After another pause, to determine if I had fully understood his important message, He added, “But you will come back to be re-energised.”

Phyllis Krystal’s book book Sai Baba – The Ultimate Experience (1985) describes her experiences with Sathya Sai Baba. She has also written Cutting The Ties That Bind (1982), Cutting More Ties That Bind (1990), Taming the Monkey Mind (1994), Re-Connecting the Love Energy (1995), Cutting the Ties of Karma (2001), Let’s Thank God (2003), Ceiling on Desires (2009).

The Flight of the Phoenix to Liberation (2017) is Phyllis Krystal’s last book completed at the end of her 102 years and 8 months of life. In it she describes her experience of arising from the dark night of the soul and transcending the old attachments of her egoic personality and following explicitly the demands of her Higher Self or Higher Consciousness. 

Born in Highgate, London, England and graduated from Bishop Otter College, Chichester. She immigrated to the United States in 1937. She married Sidney Krystal, a prominent Los Angeles attorney.

Sathya Sai Baba and Phyllis Krystal, 1970s.
Phyllis Krystal.

American Swami Kriyananda January 1973 Whitefield

Swami Kriyananda (James Donald Walters 1926 – 2013) was a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda.

Swami Kriyananda’s sacred experiences and insights many of India’s Masters during two visits in India from 1958 to 1962 and again during the Indian winter of 1972 to 1973, are chronicled in his 1973 book Visits to Saints of India. Several of the saints featured or mentioned in the book were first introduced to Westerners through Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, first published in 1946.

As far as it is known, Paramahansa Yogananda never made any public comments about Sathya Sai Baba. This may be because Sai Baba’s public work had not begun when Yogananda returned to India in 1935 – a time when Sai Baba and Yogananda could have met – and there was very little public awareness of Sai Baba outside of India by the time of Yogananda’s Mahasamadhi in 1952.

From Visits to Saints of India by Swami Kriyananda.

From Bangalore. January 30, 1973. I came down here on the 26th I am the guest of Sr N. Keshava, a former member of Parliament and the first mayor of Bangalore, who took Kriya initiation from me in 1961 in Delhi. I has been so nice seeing him again.

But my visit here has turned out to be only an incident in a program of daily visits to Whitefield, a suburb of Bangalore, where Sri Sathya Sai Baba has been staying.

I wasn’t actually expecting to have much contact with Baba. Everywhere I’ve gone in India people have told me that vast throngs always surround him, and that it is almost hopeless to attract his personal attention. Crowds of a hundred thousand are quite usual. People told me of waiting weeks to talk with him, then giving up and going home, or perhaps exchanging only a couple of hurried sentences with him.

But I have been more fortunate. To begin with the crowds these days have numbered only one or two thou sand, not a hundred thousand or more

And secondly, though I couldn’t have done it myself, and in fact tried to stop him, Shri Keshava (that old political leader!) stepped boldly up to some official and asked him to tell Baba that Swami Kriyananda from America has come to see him.”

I was meditating, partly to rise above my embarrassment at having special favours asked for me. Suddenly I felt as though Baba’s mind were touching mine. After some time he came out. He saw me right away, and came over with a childlike smile.

Just a minute, please. I am coming. All right?”

He went around among the other devotees, blessing them, then returned and invited me to come into his house for more private discussions. With that he disappeared into his private grounds. A number of people went with him. When I tried to follow them, a couple of guards” tried to stop me, but Baba called out. “It’s all right. He can come in.” Shri Keshava. using me as his cover, came in also.

Sathya Sai Baba is known throughout India. Some people consider him God incarnate. Others consider him a fraud. Just about everyone I’ve met has had strong opinions either for him or against him. He isn’t the sort of person that one accepts casually.

Most of the opinions relate to his miracles, which are nothing if not spectacular. One man met at Whitefield, a physicist (Dr S. Bhagavantam), was converted when Baba poured a little sand into his hands. only to have it turn into a printed copy of the Bhagavad Gita. This isn’t the sort of thing one turns away from with a stifled yawn. One may believe in it, or one may doubt it one may say that this isn’t what religion is all about; but one will hardly respond to stories like this by saying something like. “Oh, well, easy come, easy go.

Baba’s most common feat is to produce out of thin air all sorts of objects: candy, ash for medicinal purposes, necklaces, rings. He does it all the time, there’s no way he could hold that many objects up his sleeve, or select from among them just what he wants – especially the little spoonful’s of ash that appear, unpack. aged in his palm.

As a matter of fact, such powers are not unique among yogis. Nor, for that matter, are they necessarily a sign of high spiritual attainments. Materialisations rarely serve any real spiritual purpose. But before we consider their place in Baba’s life and mission, it would be well to ask first how they might be possible in the first place.

The entire physical universe is, as physicists have discovered. a sort of ocean of energy. Material objects are only vibrations of this energy. Differences of vibration cause some vortices of energy to assume the form of a bar of steel, others to appear to our human senses as a loaf of bread. Physicists claim that it should theoretically be possible to dissolve a bar of steel into its essential energy. then re-manifest it again as a loaf of bread. If they cannot yet perform such feats, it is only because science is not yet sophisticated enough for the task.

One of the stumbling blocks of modern science is its vision of reality as an endless series of separate, static events. It hopes by mastery of all the stages in a particular operation to be able to achieve total mastery of the operation itself. But science is finding that every such stage can be further divided into sub-stages, then sub-sub-stages. In every field nowadays the greatest obstacle to integral vision is the growing emphasis on specialisation, as each segment of a whole is found to contain a virtually infinite number of sub-segments of its own, each one apparently demanding mastery before the whole can be mastered.

Baba only waves his hand, and before one’s eyes physical objects appear. If anyone wants to read accounts of these miracles, there are available in the stores in several well-known books about him.

Yet in fact, manifestations of this sort are not necessarily the result of yogic materialisation. Once one gets into such abstruse subjects as energy and magnetism, a whole universe of possibilities opens up. Yogis tell us that it is possible by various means to transport already existing material objects from afar. Rani and Indu told me of a yogi they know in Delhi who can produce medicines out of the air, but they said the medicine bottles all have labels printed in Tokyo, or New York. There are ways of transporting these objects. The most usual method (if something so uncommon can be called usual!) is through the agency of some disincarnate entity.

For the saints of all religions tell us that there exists an astral, or energy universe in which beings like ourselves live much as we do here. Human beings too go there between physical incarnations. It is a real universe, having many levels of manifestation from the lowest hells to the highest heavens. Yogis who call on the services of beings from this universe rarely get the help of highly advanced souls. Some in fact control “elementals.” as lower astral beings are sometimes called. To keep the control of such entities requires anything but a high level of consciousness. Though certain powers of concentration are necessary, not every yogi who pulls objects out of the air is a saint.

Most true saints, moreover, are not a bit interested in pulling objects out of the air. They devote their lives to awakening divine love in people’s hearts. This indeed is a much more meaningful sort of materialisation!! Usually, in fact, they belittle all public manifestation of miraculous powers as a distraction from the spiritual path, the whole purpose of which is to find God.

Yet to say that anyone who performs such miracles can’t be a saint would be to overlook the fact that many great masters have performed public miracles. Consider Jesus’ feats of turning water to wine at a wedding, and of multiplying a few loaves and fishes into thousands at a large public gathering. God works through His messengers in many. and often unexpected. ways. The real test of perfection is the motive behind one’s actions, not the actions themselves. If a saint performs miracles with no thought of personal motive – not even with the thought, I want to help so-and-so” – but only because the divine impulse in him has chosen to act in that way, he is above reproach.

On the subject of Sathya Sai Baba, India seems fairly evenly divided. Some say his miracles are a purely divine work. Others claim they are ego-motivated. In the latter group. explanations range from suggestions that Baba is a great yogi whose desire for name and fame are obstructing his further spiritual progress, to claims that he controls, and is in turn controlled by some low elemental. Many also, of course, accuse him of outright fraud.

I myself am not in India on a spiritual fact-finding mission. It is not vitally important to me whether Baba is genuine or not, or whether he is a great yogi or a fallen one. Moreover, I’m not at all sure that I’m actually qualified to judge him. Not wanting to be in volved in this controversy, in fact, I very nearly decided not to come to Bangalore at all. But Shri Keshava would have been hurt had stayed away: he has been expecting me since November. And many people, both here and in America, have begged me to give them my impressions of Baba.

I have, besides, had still another reason for coming here. Baba, who. I am told, never has any time for writing personal letters, wrote me an inspiring letter a year ago in his own hand. Even though so many people assured me he wouldn’t have time to talk with me. wanted at least a chance to express my appreciation to him. And I figured that if he truly is a saint, outward conversation would be unimportant compared to inner. soul-communion.

The letter received from Sathya Sai Baba in 1971, prior to Kriyananda’s visit in 1973.

1-9-71 Dear Kriyananda: why fret and worry? O dear, none, none but your own self has an exclusive rule over the universe. Realization is not a thing to be achieved; you have not to do anything to gain God vision; you have simply to undo what you have already done in the way of forming dark cocoons of desires around you.

Dear! It is easy to drive people but it is hard to lead them. Do not place your centre outside your-self. This will make you fall. Place all your confidence in your-self; remaining in your centre nothing will shake you.

You are the embodiment of God. Fill yourselves with the thought of your almightiness, your majesty and your glory. Impurity is a mere superimposition under which the real nature of man has been hidden. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all else shall be added unto you. The refinement of an individual is measured by the yardstick of sense control.

What the world wants is character. The world is in need of those whose Love is one burning selflessness. What love will make every word tell like a thunderbolt: Awake, Awake, great souls! The world is burning in misery. Can you sleep? Open the gates of wisdom. Tear the veil of egnorance. Enter the abode of bliss. Rest in peace forever.

Kriyananda! God is with you, in you, around you. Be happy and pure. Don’t worry!

With Love, Baba

The worst charge that I heard against Baba, before coming here, was that he materialises objects with the help of a low elemental. This could only mean that he is himself on a low level of development. But in answer to this charge I thought, He does many other things besides materialize things. There are countless reports of miracles of spiritual help and healing that could come only from a high level of Self-realisation. He has changed hundreds. perhaps thousands of lives for the better. He has saved innumerable people from tragedy. oftentimes when they only prayed mentally to him from a distance of hundreds of miles. Miracles such as these are simply not possible for someone who works with a low elemental.

Moreover, Baba’s teachings are all of divine love, service, humility, surrender to God’s will.

“But anyone can say such things was the stock answer. “Our Scriptures are full of them.”

My first impression of Baba, when I saw him, was of a person extraordinarily childlike, loving, full of joy, quite fearless, and completely indifferent to the opinions of others. A tiny man, little over five feet tall, he exuded strength and indomitable courage. Hardly the sort of person. I thought, to indulge in low psychic practices! Everything about him expressed openness, mental freedom, and not the kind of mental bondage that would follow inevitably from consorting with base spiritual associates.

There was a group of about nineteen students from a college in Simla, in the Himalayas. Baba has a special interest in education of the young. He sees in it the key to India’s upliftment. (He is also engaged in building a number of model colleges, but more of that later.) Baba called this group into his interview room, and asked me also to join them. Shri Keshava came with me. Though a native of Bangalore. this was the first time he had ever got a chance to meet Baba!)

Baba spoke partly in Hindi, which I know slightly. and partly in English, which he knows slightly. I could make out most of what he said. It was fresh, original. and wise – certainly not the mere series of frayed Scriptural quotations which his detractors had promised me. Only a keen intelligence and an interested mind can take old truths and put them in a new way.

Pleasure is only an interval between two pains. Baba said, referring to the timeless principle of dwaita (duality) on which the manifested universe rests. “Pain also is only an interval between two pleasures. Be always non-attached to all opposites if you want to be truly free.”

“Happiness lies not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one has to do.”

A student tried to touch Baba’s feet. Baba discouraged him. That’s just a waste of time,” he said with an attractive smile that implied a mixture of scolding and affection. “Devotion must be inward. It must not be an outward show.” (So much, I thought, for the claim that all he wants is adulation.)

Baba turned to the teacher who had brought the group. What time do you get up in the morning?

“About seven, seven-thirty.”

Baba wrinkled his nose. That is too late! Get up at four, four-thirty. Have more time for God.” (So much, I thought, for claims that he is not interested in people’s spiritual development.)

Baba materialised some candy for us. He did it so matter-of-factly, no one looked astonished. It was as if he had taken the sweets out of a bowl. Later, a woman who was also present complained of some physical ailment. A necklace suddenly appeared in Baba’s hand.

“Here,” he said. sympathetically. “wear this. It will help you.”

He also materialised a handful of little photographs of himself. and passed one out to each of us.

With each of these materialisations, and with every other that I’ve been a witness to since then, I’ve observed no evidence of desire on Baba’s part to impress others, no glance about him as if to say. “How do you like that, eh?” He appears only as if he were passing candy out to children. My impression is that his entire thought is cantered on giving to them, not on receiving anything – even thanks – in return. Close disciples of his have told me Baba considers his materialisations quite insignificant – almost as if to say. “Look, how easily material objects can be brought into manifestation. Why consider it worth your while to run after them?” He stresses renunciation, non-attachment – attitudes, in short, that are incompatible with an excess of joy in material objects, even in freshly materialised material objects! His own object does not appear to be to excite others with their new possessions any more than it does to impress them with his power to produce the possessions. And it isn’t only that he doesn’t seem to want anything in return; he won’t even accept anything

“Come to me empty-handed,” he tells people, that I may fill you with what I have to give you – divine love.”

To give with a pure motive is, of course, one way of emptying the heart of selfishness, but Baba probably feels that too many people approach the saints with worldly gifts in the hope of bribing them for divine favours.

Several disciples have told me that Baba’s materialisations, by themselves, would not have impressed them. Repeatedly I’ve heard the statement from them: It is his love that converted me.”

The only time during my brief stay here that I’ve seen Baba evince any interest in the impression he was making was yesterday afternoon. He had given a teacher of his local college a letter that he’d composed to the students in English. He wanted to know if his English passed muster. For one whose miracles have made him world-famous. I thought this interest in how well he expressed himself in English was rather touching.

After talking to the students awhile, he turned to me with a loving smile.

“Kriyananda, are you well? Happy? How long can you stay?”

“Only three days, Baba. I’m afraid. I wanted to come sooner, but had to go to Delhi about my visa. Now my time in India is running out.”

“Oh, too bad.” Baba frowned sadly. But then, in these three days come inside and be here the whole time. We’ll have time for private talk, too.”

“Baba, bring you love from many fellow devotees in America, and also in Rome.”

Baba smiled gently. Then his look changed to one of indignation.

Very bad!” he said. “Very, very bad! So many people have tried to hurt you. But don’t care for them. Just selfishness and jealousy! Don’t care for them. You are on the right path. And you are working selflessly! Oh, very, very bad! Even in religious work there is so much selfishness and jealousy. But you are pleasing your Guru. He is always in your heart. Just go your own way.”

I was deeply touched. I don’t suppose any constructive work is ever done without obstacles of various kinds, including a certain amount of opposition and misunderstanding. I have certainly found it so in my life, particularly in building Ananda. But it is nice sometimes to receive reassurances from people whose opinions are based on deeper-than-usual insight. And Baba has repeated his reassurances every time we’ve met during the days that I’ve spent with him.

At the end of that first interview I asked Baba if he planned to come to America.

“No. Too many have gone there in recent years to make money!”

“Then perhaps you could go and help to correct the bad impression.”

First one must put one’s own house in order.” Baba replied, referring to his present work of building colleges for the upliftment of his own country.

Baba told me he would be going out later that day, so he suggested I come again the following day. I did so. and got in on another group interview. Later. I and several others were invited to have lunch with Baba. And later that same day he granted me a private interview. The third day was pretty much the same, including another private interview, except that it ended with a movie of the opening of a new women’s college that Baba has founded.

I was most impressed by this movie. The college buildings are really lovely, and so also are the grounds. Baba is trying by means of these model colleges to influence the educational system of the country, through which he hopes to uplift the general consciousness of the people. He feels, and strongly agree that the emphasis in education has become too secular. All his teachers are devotees, not teachers only. And as proof of the all-round merit of his ideals, the students in his institutions score much higher averages than those in other colleges in the country.

I should add too, that I am impressed with the students as people – with their seriousness, with the respect they show Baba, with their good humour and poise.

This is the direction in which most of Baba’s energy seems to be going these days. He has little time left for visitors, except to see them briefly en masse every day and bless them. Even though I’ve had more time with him than most, he has spent the main part of each day in conference with teachers. Students, architects, and planners of various kinds working out the details of some new institution.

In our private interviews I didn’t actually have many questions to ask. One of my first related to an interesting incident that took place in Sacramento, California, in the spring of 1970.

After one of my yoga classes there, one of my students claimed she had seen Baba sitting with the class. I hadn’t seen him, but now I asked him if he had actually been present.

“Yes, definitely I was there,” he replied. “That was not imagination.”

I also asked him if perhaps now is the right time, with so many of my outward works finished, for greater concentration on my inner life, and for more rapid spiritual development. Baba answered:

“Definitely. Now is the time. Now is the time! That is why you have been drawn here to India, and to see Baba. Baba will flood you with blessings. Before this time you couldn’t come. Just see – for ten years you tried to return! But the time was not right. Now it is right.

He materialised a necklace for me. One moment his hand was held out, the next moment, it held the necklace. Wear it always,” he said. “It will help your body, and also your mind. It can also be used to heal others.” (I’m informed that he has told only two others that the necklaces he has given them can be used to heal others.)

I asked him to bless the members of my community. Baba replied with a sweet smile:

“Of course. That is my duty. I must bless them!” He gave me a large envelope full of sacred ash to give to everyone there.

During these three days Baba has shown much love and attention to me – more so, probably, than to anyone else. But what has impressed me most has been the inner consciousness that I’ve felt from him. And when he put this necklace on me. I at once felt blessings permeating me. I realised that the necklace itself was nothing: it was given me only as a vehicle for more Subtle blessings.

My meeting with Baba has been an inspiration. I am more than glad I came.

American Leslie Bouche 1973

Leslie Bouche made her first trip to India to have Baba’s Darshan was in 1973, and travelled to India many times since then. In 2003, Leslie and her then fiancé Bruce travelled to India to give thanks for bringing them together, and to their surprise, Baba called them in for an interview and married them. They made many more trips together to the ashram, including after Baba’s Mahasamadhi in 2011.

Leslie is seen here kneeling during darshan (the black Ambassador car behind her) in Whitefield, 1973.
David Bouche, Sathya Sai Baba, Leslie Bouch, 2003.

Americans Elaine and David Gries June 1973 Whitefield

Elaine and David first met Sathya Sai Baba while they were in Bangalore, David had been invited in 1972, by the Institute of Science to teach a three week Computer Science course. Elaine’s book Essence of Divinity was first published in 2003. Elaine majored in mathematics in college and worked as a computer programmer until the birth of her twins. She later completed Masters degrees in Sanskrit and Social Work, as well as certification as a yoga instructor. She has been an active community volunteer.

David ansd Elaine Gries with Sathya Sai Baba.

American businessman Isaac Tigrett 1973 Whitefield

Isaac Burton Tigrett and Sathya Sai Baba.
Isaac Tigrett, the Werner Herzog Interview 31st August 2009.

German language interview with Werner Herzog;

Transcript of a speech given by Isaac Tigrett in Singapore, 2007;


German Jew Al Drucker 1973 Prasanthi Nilayam

Al Drucker compiled and edited Sai Baba Gita, published in 1993. In August and September of 1984, there were extensive riots in South India. There were shootings not far from Sai Baba’s ashram and the ashram gates were locked. Armed soldiers were patrolling outside and escorting the college students into the ashram for the evening meetings. For 34 days during the height of the tension, Sai Baba spoke in daily discourses to the students on the Gita. He spoke in Telugu, his native language. These talks form the chapters of this book. Drucker was living in Baba’s ashram at the time and teaching in his university. With Baba’s permission, he used these powerful Gita teachings over the years as the basis for his scheduled talks to visitors who came to the ashram from all over the world.

SAI BABA GITA The Way to Self-Realization and Liberation in this Age (1993) Compiled and edited by Al Drucker. Published by Atma Press http://bababooks.org/Downloads/sai-baba-gita-P1.html

Bhagavad Gita for Today: Self Knowledge and Awakening to God, Teachings by Sai Baba (1995) Edited by Al Drucker.

A 1999 interview with Al Drucker.

David: I would like to begin by asking you about your spiritual background. What were your spiritual understandings before you came into contact with Sai Baba?

Al: I was brought up in a Jewish home in pre-war Germany. As a little boy I was a very pious kid even though my family was not particularly religious. It was really an opportunity for me to get away from my family. At the time I felt overpowered by all the women in my family. They all loved me and fluttered around me so much that as a little kid I just couldn’t take it. So the only way that I could become free of all of that was to become so religiously inclined that their needs wouldn’t prevail over mine. I think that I began studying the Torah when I was only three.

David: But was there any one factor or incident in those early days that awakened your spiritual consciousness, that started you on your spiritual quest in this life?

Al: Well it seems to me that my interest in spiritual matters was always there. I have some intimations of having been a Ramakrishna sannyasin in my last life. I believe that I spent that life in France. I have some remembrances of it. I also feel that I have spent many lifetimes in India, living in caves in the Himalayas. In this life I did not pursue a spiritual path until well into my adult years. After going to university I kind of got lost in the world for a while. I joined a select group of engineers and physicists who were responsible for the technical management of the U.S. ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes. However I soon got an inner message that working on these weapons of mass destruction was not right for me and so, on a spiritual impulse, I quit the programme very suddenly in the late 1960’s and went to live at the Esalen Institute, a centre for growth and transformation in Big Sur on the Pacific Coast, south of San Francisco. The contrast from my previous lifestyle could not have been more dramatic.  I radically changed professions, to become in succession a massage therapist, a Rolfer, an acupuncturist, a homeopath, a gestalt therapist and, finally, a teacher of alternative medicine. Now Esalen is just across the mountains from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre, it is about fifteen miles as the crow flies, and I used to hike across the mountains to meet a wonderful teacher, Shunryu Suzuki-roshi. He was really a great saint and it was through him that I became interested in Zen. I have also had a long time interest in Taoist teachings, having spent some time in China as a young man. So it seems to me that I have always been interested in spiritual matters, but Spirit didn’t really become the major focal point in my life until my aeroplane experience, in which Swami saved my life and thereafter led me to him in India.

David: The greatest obstacle that I had to overcome in establishing a relationship with Sai Baba was the concept of God incarnating on the Earth. To me God was always separate from His creation and never incarnated in form on the Earth. When did you accept this reality?

Al: Well, you see, even as a kid we would sing a song in Yiddish about the time when the Messiah would come on Earth and we would all be happy. I have always believed that the Messiah was just around the corner and that the Messiah was God on Earth.  So I have always been waiting for him and rather than being surprised that such a thing could actually happen, I was surprised that it hadn’t happened yet. So I didn’t have that prejudice against God being in form.

David: In the talk that you gave yesterday, you related the story about meeting the SS colonel in the railway carriage, as you tried to escape from persecution in Nazi Germany. This impressive figure, dressed in the black uniform, must have absolutely taken your breath away, and yet he talked to you about the Bible and made that amazing statement, “There is no Moses to save you this time”.

Al: I was just a kid of nine and, of course, I was terrified. I was frightened out of my wits when he came into that train compartment. I lived in Cologne and I was travelling across Germany to Poland and had stopped off in Berlin. In Berlin I had some well-to-do relations and they had decided to put me into this first class compartment, but unknown to me, Jews were not permitted to be there. I had the compartment to myself until the train stopped some twenty-five miles outside of Berlin and that was when this SS colonel appeared. So I sat there, petrified, expecting to be arrested, but he was charming He loosened his jacket and took off all of his imposing paraphernalia – the cap with the skull emblem on it, the black leather belt, the gun, the dagger, the leather gloves, the monocle and the big black leather boots.  He made himself comfortable and told me to sit comfortably and not to be afraid of him. So, in a sense, he became an ordinary guy for me. He talked to me about God and the Jews, quoting extensively from the Old Testament. He warned me that the Holocaust was coming and advised me to escape westwards not eastwards which, of course, is what I eventually did.

David: You said that you felt that the SS colonel was Sai Baba, that he manifested as that colonel to warn you, in fact, to save your life. Are you really sure of that?

Al: It is very clear to me now that the colonel was Swami. He simply didn’t fit the SS character at all. There was no way that man would have taken the chance in Nazi Germany at that time of saying the things that he said to me, even if he felt that way.

David: The SS colonel came out with this amazing statement “There is no Moses to save you this time. You will have to be your own Messiah.” What do you think that Swami meant when he said that? How do you view that message in the light of what eventually happened to the Jews? What would be the purpose of the Jews being subject to the Holocaust? Was it to prove to them that there is no Messiah?

Al: I wish I even had the beginning of some answers for that. I have no idea, David. But two world wars in two successive generations, which destroyed or uprooted hundreds of millions of people, and then the development of atomic and hydrogen weapons that promised to snuff out all of civilisation, and God knows what other insane weapons of death are in the offing to destroy Mankind, only proves what madness has come upon us in this Kali Yuga, and how absolutely vital it was in this time of darkness for the Avatar to come and rescue Mankind from itself. The genocide of the Jews is just an outward symptom of the genocidal feelings of hatred and mayhem inside all of us. Swami has come to correct that. As for the Messiah, I once had the chance to ask Swami whether he was the Messiah for which we had long been waiting. He answered “Not one Messiah. You are all Messiahs. You have the power to save yourself and to save others also.” In other words, he will drive the chariot, he will direct us from within, but it is our job to save ourselves and we have been given the full power of God to transform the internal enemies of greed, hatred and jealousy, etc. which are polluting our hearts into the divine love that is Swami. For me, personally, Swami gave me the chance to clear up most of my haunting memories of Nazi Germany. It relates to the first time I had to leave India very unexpectedly.  Let me tell you the story.

In 1981, after I had made some fifteen or so trips to Sai Baba, he directed me to come and live at Prasanthi Nilayam. So I went back to America and gave up everything. I sold or gave away all of my possessions and I was back at the ashram within a couple of months. At his direction I was to give up my U.S. citizenship and become an Indian citizen. My life in America was to be finished! So I started the process of Indian naturalisation and I arranged that I would become an Indian citizen on my 60th birthday, because that is a particularly auspicious day. I planned to go to Bangalore that day to be sworn in and also, a few days later, to deliver a paper at a conference of the heads of all the Indian universities on the Awareness Programme, six courses unique to Swami’s University, which covered the whole range of human knowledge – the humanities, the sciences, the arts, and the spiritual and religious history of the world – which all undergraduate students were required to take. I had had a hand in formulating the programme. Now at that time Swami was in Whitefield.

So that morning I was sitting in my room, working on my presentation, when a policeman knocked on the door and informed me that I was under arrest! Well, you call imagine the shock and disbelief that I felt. It seems that they had decided that I was a CIA agent and would pose a threat to the country if I became a citizen. The policeman had orders to take me to Anantapur. I insisted that I had to go and see Swami first. Well, amazingly, I got to see him. It’s a wonderful story and I cannot tell it all now, but I got to see Swami and he told me, despite my fervent objections, that, yes, I was CIA, and it would be best if I left the country! Then he explained that CIA really meant Constant Integrated Awareness, and that I should call the headman in Anantapur. I called this officer and to my astonishment he directly answered the phone, which is most remarkable in India. When I told him that Bhagavan had advised me to leave India, he gave me eight hours in which to leave the country. Now this is the day, my 60th birthday, on which I am supposed to become an Indian citizen and give up my U.S. citizenship and, in a moment, my life was totally turned around! I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have a ticket, I didn’t have an exit visa yet, somehow, Swami miraculously arranged for all of that and I ended up by flying to Germany, of all places. That was as far as I could go at that time with the funds that I had available. I stayed with some German Sai friends that I had met at the ashram. Now the husband was in the Wehrmacht, the German army, during the war and his wife was a leader of the girls’ side of the Hitler Youth movement. We spent an intense month together discussing the war and clearing out all our old karma. It was totally finished for us and we became very close friends. We put the whole war experience to rest.  In my talk yesterday I referred to the pure light that shines in the eyes of the children in Swami’s schools and I have a clear sense that many of these kids are the reincarnated souls of the beings that died in the gas ovens of Auschwitz, and that they are now with Baba and so have forgiven all that was done to them in the past!  I am really clear in my own mind that even if Adolf Hitler were sitting here in front of me now I would forgive him and see only the wholeness and the completeness and the perfection of his being, and not dwell on the horror of what he, in his madness, perpetrated on the world.

David: How long did it take you to recognise Sai Baba’s divinity. My path was a very slow one, requiring many visits, with much doubting and testing.  How was it for you?

Al: I loved Swami the first time that I saw him. I just loved him. As I said yesterday, the very first time that I saw Swami was in the Poornachandra Auditorium on the day of Mahashivaratri.  Just before he came out, I had this very powerful deja-vu experience of being back in Nazi Germany. There were the massed flags and the swastika symbols, which of course was the symbol of Nazi Germany, the slogans and banners on the walls, similar to what the Nazis used to do, and when Swami started speaking he was saying the same things that Hitler said! Then I woke up and realised that here was the ultimate of goodness that had come into consciousness, the ultimate in the totality of the history of the world as it is known in the West. There had not been a full avatar on the Earth since Lord Krishna, over five thousand years ago. I recognised that I had experienced both the ultimate of divine goodness and the ultimate of evil in my life. They both used some of the same outer forms, they both used some of the same expressions, they both used some of the same symbols and slogans, and they both used similar mannerisms. In the talk that Swami gave that day he said that it does us no good to go around digging ten metre holes in a field in our search for water. We can dig holes all over a field and still find nothing. He said that we must dig one hole, but dig it deeply, in order to find pure clear water. If we want to know the reality of this Sai Avatar, we must come close to him and dig deeply. The intensity of that experience was so powerful that it has remained with me ever since.

David: You’ve been so close to Swami, do you think it is because of your actions in past lives or in this life?

Al: I really do not know.  All I can say is that there is nothing that I am aware of in this life that would relate to that extraordinary privilege.

David: We both know of people, such as yourself, who were very close to Swami and then have suddenly fallen from grace and been banished from the ashram. I have this feeling that it is safer not to get too close to Swami. It’s almost like getting too close to the fire and getting burned. What are your feelings about this?

Al: When the devastating moment of incineration comes it is almost always totally unexpected, like the incident on my 60th birthday that I just spoke about. In some ways, it’s a lot like death. We think that death is something that happens to everybody but us! Here is another story with an unexpected result. One morning I got a message to report to the head office of the ashram. Remember that at the time I was a lecturer in the Sathya Sai Institute and, in fact. I was the only Westerner there. Swami also had told me to do study circles for the residents in the ashram and for the staff and students at the University. I also gave talks to the Westerners who visited the ashram. So there were many opportunities for me to slip up and to make a mistake, but in this particular incident even the mistake was missing. I had done nothing wrong. Anyway, I went down to the office, it was just before morning darshan, and waited for the manager of the office to arrive. He was coming straight from seeing Swami, since they have breakfast together. He walked up to me and said, “Pack up your things and leave. You have to be out of here by noon!” I said, “Out of here, what do you mean?” He replied, “You are being told to go. You’ve got to go.”  Now this is after I’ve been there three years.  I asked, “What is this all about?” but he replied, “I’ve been instructed not to tell you.”  So I returned to my flat and said inwardly “Swami, what have I done? I don’t understand it. I have to leave and my whole life is here. This is where all my things are.” At that time I had an extensive library of over five hundred books. I began packing and choosing a few favourite books to take with me I picked up a book of Shankara’s poems, opened it and read ‘Mother, how could you be so cruel to your only son, you’re my Mother and how can you not love your son?  Somehow I knew that it was no accident that I was looking at this poem. Just then a message came for me to go and see Dr Gokak, who at that time was the vice chancellor of the University, and who was also my boss. He told me that Swami was very unhappy with me and I had to leave. I said, “What is this all about, Dr Gokak?” He replied that he had been told not to tell me, but that Swami was unhappy with something that I had said at a public meeting. I returned to my flat and continued with my packing when Professor Kasturi called for me. Now Kasturi and I were like father and son. I spent much time with him. He said, “Drucker, you’ve done it.” I said, “What is it that I am supposed to have done?” He replied “Swami says that you were cracking dirty jokes in your talk to the foreigners” I said “That’s just not possible, Kasturiji, that’s totally incorrect.” Kasturi said that Swami had received a letter from a German lady who had reported this fact to him. He also said that he (Kasturi) had received a letter from the same German lady asking for an introduction to me.  I have no idea who this lady is. So I went off for my last darshan and as I’m sitting there in darshan Swami comes up to me and says “You are a Surpanakha.” Now Surpanakha is the name of a demon in the Ramayana.  She is the sister of Ravana and when she discovers Rama and Lakshmana she desires them so much that, in a jealous rage, she tries to kill Sita.  Lakshmana intervenes and with his sword disfigures her, first cutting off her nose and then her ear. She runs back to her brother Ravana in order to raise an army of demons and so avenge herself. Ravana is amazed that she stayed around long enough to have both a nose and an ear cut off, and he asks her why she did not run away. She replies that they were both so beautiful she couldn’t take her eyes off them! So when Swami called me “Surpanakha” and jokingly said that he was going to cut off my nose, I responded by saying “0 Swami, you are so beautiful, I’ll have to stay around until you cut off my ear too!” Apparently, that was the right answer. Swami told me to take padanamaskara. I kissed his feet and that was the end of the incident. It was over, and I stayed at the ashram. But it was a warning to me that at any moment I could be thrown out, with or without good reason and, as you know, later on it did indeed happen to me. I have always recognised that God can take anything that He likes away from me. I have heard Swami talk of the three zeros, of reducing a true devotee to nothing, of taking away their wealth, their health and their name to prepare them for liberation. I am ready for that.

David: Obviously the fact that Swami did eventually throw you out of the ashram must be for your highest good, but what, do you think, was his reason for doing that?  Do you think that he is preparing you for liberation?

Al: I had always believed that the meaning of the three zeros was that God can take any material thing away from me, but that He could not take God away from me. I worshipped Swami as God and here I was getting thrown out of the ashram. So I felt that even God had now been taken away from me. I felt totally devastated, without roots of any kind. I believed that there was no existence left, but then I discovered something. There is no way that God can be taken away from me. The form of God was no longer in my eyes, that was all.  Now that discovery was not immediate.  It took me about a year to get over the feelings that something horrible had happened to me. Nevertheless, during this period of time, I experienced many remarkable acts of grace, including being in the interview room with Swami every day for some weeks.  It was a direct experience.  It was not a dream.   It was a state of awakened consciousness. I was sitting there and Swami would be sitting here and we were talking. It was no less real than the exchange that we are having now. I realise now that Swami will never take himself away from me.

David: Ann and I have always created a separation between the forms that we call Sai and Super Sai. We love to go and visit Sai, that is to say the physical form of Sai Baba, but we also recognise that Super Sai, that is to say the omnipresent form of God, is with us every moment of our lives and, indeed, is here right now. It is Super Sai that is for us the God in which we trust and in which we believe and with whom we have no conflict. It seems to me that conflicts such as you have experienced only arise when you get close to the form and have to relate to the form!

Al: Well, David, we have to be willing to get close to Swami and even to risk being thrown out, but even if that happens we will discover that nothing really has happened. How can anything ever come between Swami and his devotees? He is pure love and he yearns for all of us to come very close to him. One reason Swami gives us vibhuti is to remind us that ash is the only thing that survives in a fire. We have to be willing to do what it takes to be consumed in his fire and to realise the truth of who we really are, which cannot be affected by anything.

David: What has been your experience of being nine years in the wilderness, of being removed from Sai Baba for so long a time, after being so close to him?

Al: During the eight years I was at the Ashram I did indeed feel very close to Swami. In the first years Swami would speak to me every day. So I was treated like I was a very special person. But what has come to me in these years of being in the wilderness is sanity. I thought that I was special, but it is now very dear to me that I am not special, none of us is special, and I don’t want to shock your readers when I say this, but even Swami is not special. There is nothing special about anything in this world.  Underneath we are all exactly the same, one unchanging divine essence; on the surface there is just the changing names and forms of maya, the veil of illusion.

David: When you say Swami, you mean the form of Swami?

Al: Yes, absolute truth does not have a form. It cannot be seen with the eyes, nevertheless, some forms can be used to point the way to the realisation of our true reality. Such is the form of Swami, but we must go beyond that stage to the direct experience of the formless divinity as the truth of our being.

David: Professor Kasturi was always having a hard time with Swami, even though he was very close to Swami. Swami sometimes did some harsh things to him, didn’t he, to crush his ego?  Is this the price that you pay for being that close to him?

Al: No, I don’t think that it’s like that; I don’t think that it’s a price you have to pay for being so close to him. I think that it’s the price you have to pay for having chosen to be on the fast track to liberation. You have to pay that price if your ego is to go.  The sense of individuality has to go and all that Swami is doing is to help you to realise that all forms of individuality are a mistake. So I think that this sort of thing happens to all people who have made the commitment to liberation, no matter what. There is only one interest in my life and that is the path to liberation, so anything which blocks that path has to be removed, and quickly, because I am not prepared to wait for another five lifetimes. Ann, in her talk yesterday, said that the Book of Brighu astrologer had told you that you were going to incarnate again with Prema Sai and live in his ashram for most of your next life and would die at ninety-five. This, apparently, was confirmed to you at Shivaratri when you did not see the lingam emerge. You have now accepted this as a fact.

David: Yes.  That is true.

Al: I think that’s a terrible mistake. Excuse me, David, but I have to tell you that that is very foolish. Don’t accept anything like that. Your mind has the power of God and you can change destiny by changing your consciousness. You can, I know that! You have the power to do this unless you have talked yourself into wanting to be around for another one hundred and fifty years or so.

David: I have no desire to be here again, even for a life with Prema Sai.

Al: Then don’t accept it. Don’t accept it and Swami will not support that mistake. It really is a mistake. He would not support it unless that is your wish. So make that decision now and even if the three zeros and all that stuff follows, so what? This world isn’t worth anything anyway, so why invest in it?

David: May I ask you a personal question now? Was your decision to marry Yaani, the decision which directly led to you being thrown out of the ashram, made from the heart or from Swami?

Al: It was not from the heart, it was clearly from Swami, although now it has become a thing of the heart. You know, it’s an interesting fact that that was the way of most marriages until this century. Parents or preceptors usually arranged marriages, because it was in the best interest of the individuals concerned in their journey to God. The love, which was often very deep, usually came afterwards. I would say that I’m a very reluctant husband.  I went through sixty years of life without ever having contemplated marriage and just at the time when I am supposed to give up everything I get married!

David: What game do you think Swami is playing with you with regard to your marriage?

Al: Well this marriage has been my principal sadhana for the past ten years and in retrospect I can say that nothing else that I can think of has been as valuable as this marriage in terms of personal growth and development. From a worldly and a cultural sense we are totally opposite! There is a constant opportunity for friction between us. We have Swami in common, as our common love. Other than that we have few other common interests. What a grand opportunity this presents for self-interest, for ego, to expose itself and to be seen and set aside! It is something of a challenge. Swami has presented us with a final challenge to enable us to finish this silly game.

David: Life is a game, as Swami says, and we must play it, but now that you are allowed back in Prasanthi Nilayam can you tell us about your more recent experiences?

Al: Well, my first impression after nine years absence is that nothing has really changed. Everyone says that the ashram has totally changed and, of course, from a physical standpoint that is true, but I didn’t pay too much attention to that. I was just aware that Swami had not changed one iota in some twenty-five years. He is the same beautiful being, he expresses the same immeasurable kindness and concern; he emits that same unfathomable unlimited love. There is that same awesomeness and magic when he comes out to give darshan. He inspires us with the same hopeful message of redemption. He coaxes us in the same way, to rise above desire and temptation, to realise our incredible divine inheritance.  Swami is totally unchanged. He is still saying what he said when he gave his first discourse, namely, my life is my message. He is teaching us to follow his example of raising our thoughts to heaven above and of using our bodies to serve mankind below.  Now recognise that we also haven’t really changed. We go through these histories, these life-stories, and we think that so much has happened but, in fact, we are still as we have always been, even before we came into this birth and even after the death of these bodies. We are always whole and perfect and one with Sai Baba. We are love itself, and that is why Swami has always addressed us as Premaswarupa, as embodiments of pure divine love. This is now becoming my direct experience. I can relate one experience that came up for me during the Paduka festival last year at the ashram. They brought out this golden chariot for Swami to ride in and out of nowhere all this judgement came into my mind. Good heavens, I thought, Swami, what are you doing? What have you got to do with this garish obscene thing, this huge golden chariot? Would Jesus or Saint Francis ride in something like that?  I was very troubled by it, but at the same time, I was also very much the witness of my trouble. Where did all of these feelings come from? Why should I care what ever this chariot looks like? But still I cared. So I had to quiet myself down. I just had to close my eyes and shut it all out, become very silent and very quiet and, then, when I opened my eyes, Swami was sitting in the chariot and this incredible feeling of love gushed out of me. I started crying. I was just overcome. It was as if I had put on these glasses of love and everything was just pure love.  Wherever I looked, at the people, at the chariot, all I saw was pure love. It was a wonderful experience.

David: The chariot was a donation of love, wasn’t it, but Swami did point out that he had no need of it and he did give it away, didn’t he?

Al: I don’t know and to tell you frankly, I’m not particularly interested in the chariot. I mentioned this incident to show how Swami takes something about which we have made some negative judgement and turns it into an experience of love. Swami tells the story of Jesus walking with his disciples on a road, when they come upon the stinking decomposed carcass of a dead dog. The disciples try to lead Jesus away from the gruesome sight, but Jesus bends down very close to the remains and says, “Look at the beautiful teeth of this dog. How much it must have been loved by its master.” So Jesus saw the one beautiful thing in that otherwise unpleasant sight. That is Swami’s message to us. Give up your judgements. Put on your love glasses and see the face of divinity, in other words, see Swami’s unbounded love in whatever you see.

David: My last question, really, is in the light of all your experience with Swami and the suffering that you had to endure, what do you think is the purpose of life?

Al: Well, it depends what you mean by life. You see, I believe that life is eternal. Life has no meaning outside of truth, outside of oneness, outside of unity, and so the purpose of these earthly lives is to awaken and to realise true life. Life on this Earth is not life. This is death. To live in these bodies and to grow old and to get sick and to suffer and to die, that is an investment in death, that has nothing at all to do with life. Life is when you are free, life is when you are the light and give that light to everyone. Life is when you become an overflowing cup of pure love, a cup that has to be constantly shared. That’s life. If there ever was a purpose for this human life, it is to drop all these insane ideas about life on Earth and to return to true life. That is Swami’s mission as I see it.

Source: Ramala Centre Newsletter, September 1999.

Alvin Drucker.

American Don Heath 1973

Don Heath, Christmas 1978.

Fred Greenberg interviews scientist Suri Bhagavantam, author Howard Murphet, Larry Smith, Dr Samuel Sandweiss, and Don Heath in Prasanthi Nilayam at Christmas time in 1978. Video by Jack Lenchiner.

Icelandic academic, psychologist and psi researcher Haraldsson and Latvian born Dr Karlis Osis 1973 Prasanthi Nilayam

While Erlendur (1931 – 2020 ) and Karlis Osis (1917 – 1997) were researching deathbed visions in Indian hospitals, they heard about Sathya Sai Baba, who was reputed to produce miraculous phenomena. They visited him twice in South India. Although they could not persuade him to take part in experiments, they heard of many strange events associated with him and made some puzzling observations of their own. Erlendur made a more extensive study of Sai Baba during later visits to India, leading to the book, Miracles are my Visiting Cards: An Investigative Report on Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba (Modern Miracles, in its American edition), in 1987. The book was issued in an updated edition by Hastings House in 1997 and reprinted by White Crow Books in 2013 as Modern Miracles: Sathya Sai Baba: The Story of a Modern Day Prophet.

Erlendur Haraldsson and Sathya Sai Baba.
Erlendur Haraldsson and Sathya Sai Baba, 1980.

Americans Franklin Albert Jones (Adi Da) and Gerald Sheinfeld 1973

In the article Trip to India – Taxis, Temples and God Gerald Sheinfeld writes that we left Bombay for Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram. The first day there we joined about two hundred people sitting on the grass in front of his house, which is also the temple. The people formed a semi-circle and waited. (It still amazed me how Bubba (Franklin Albert Jones / Adi Da 1939 – 2008) would sit this way in front of so many limited people who call themselves guru.)

After a short time Sathya Sai Baba came out. I looked to Bubba. He was very intense and concentrating on Sathya Sai Baba. Sathya Sai Baba walked in front of the people and occasionally stopped to touch someone on the head or the third eye. Occasionally someone would give him a note. Then he did it, his big smack. He materialized vibhuti, a ceremonial sacred ash used in Hindu rituals. He moved his hand around a few times and then from his fingers there appeared a white powder. He placed a little on different people’s foreheads. I enjoyed the show and was impressed with the unusualness of it, but it had no profound effect on me at all. Sathya Sai Baba kept walking and didn’t acknowledge Bubba in any way.

We stayed there four days. Bubba enjoyed the layout of the hills surrounding the ashram, but he said, “There is no sense of God at this ashram. It is a place of fascination, a place of magic,” He said there was no true devotion or love between the disciples and Sathya Sai Baba, because their attachment was motivated by fascination. Miracles don’t create true devotion.

That night, Bubba told me that the next day when Sathya Sai Baba materialised something, I should stand up and ask him to do a baseball or a hot dog. Preferably a hot dog. Bubba said Sathya Sai Baba doesn’t actually create anything, he simply transports it from one place to another through subtle siddhis, or forces. He dressed in orange robes which were well tailored casements of silk and other fine fabrics. Bubba said he liked the way Sathya Sai Baba dressed – his tailor was good.

Another day at Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram I was trying to take a picture of a hawk in flight. As it moved, I kept resetting the camera and refocusing. Bubba was watching. After a few minutes or so with no picture taken he asked for the camera. With complete confidence he pointed it and took a picture. No hesitation. He said this wishy-washy oscillation is a waste of energy. Just do it. Bubba’s photo came out perfect, naturally.

There were a few Americans at that ashram and some of them had heard of Bubba. One of them in particular, a girl, kept asking me if she could meet Bubba. I told her that he wasn’t there to teach or meet with people, but that she could ask me what she wanted, and if I didn’t know I would ask Bubba for her. This didn’t satisfy her; she simply wanted to be near him. But Bubba didn’t want her around. One night I returned to our room from a trip to the local store and found her sitting with Bubba in our room. Without asking and in the middle of her sentence, I took her arm and asked her to join me outside. Once on the porch I told her not to bother Bubba with anything. If she had something to say to him, she could deal with me.

Bubba didn’t want to have to deal with people other than the ones he had special reasons to see, and most of them were dead. By this time, something different was happening with Bubba. The purification of karmas over the past few weeks was becoming evident. Bubba, who was then known as Franklin, was acting more in his identification with God and less as the man, “Franklin,” or anything like that. It was very subtle. His presence was very proud, very upright.

While we were there several people mentioned Neem Karoli Baba and asked if we would see him. The Raja of Bhor had mentioned his name also. Bubba asked me to get his address and sometime later in the trip we would visit him. Before we left L.A. this was the only address Bubba didn’t have. He said to me, “See how things always work out?” One night while still at Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram Bubba had a subtle contact during sleep with Neem Karoli Baba, and afterwards Bubba felt it was unnecessary to visit him physically.

Gerald Sheinfeld met Adi Da in February 1972 prior to the formal opening of his ashram and was with Adi Da throughout his formal teaching and Blessing years. Gerald’s direct service included attending Adi Da on His trip to India in 1973. Over the years Gerald was the head priest of each of the Adidam Sanctuaries and served as manager of the guild of head priests in Adidam for over twenty years. He was a member of the Dasya Mandala as one of Adi Da’s personal attendants. He published a book of stories that cover over 45 years with Adi Da, At the Feet of the Spiritual Master. Stories from my life with Avatar Adi Da Samraj (2017).

(L to R) Gerald Sheinfeld and Franklin Albert Jones (Adi Da).

Australian surfer Peter Rae Whitefield 1973

Peter Rae from Australia was a world surfer, but one day while passing through India on a photography assignment, in search of newer and better surfing waves, he encountered Sathya Say Baba. From that moment forward, Peter’s life was changed forever and he never surfed again.

Peter stayed for 3 months on that first meeting.

Peter can be seen here filming in the Sai Kulwant Hall that is attached to the Prasanthi Mandir in Prasanthi Nilayam.
Peter Rae’s 1994 film Pure Love

Americans Bob and Barbara Bozzani February 1974

Barbara Bozzani (1931 – 2018) writes – I attended classes given by Indra Devi, who instructed us in the ancient, classic postures and later astounded us with stories of her spiritual preceptor, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Her stories created a longing within me to to to exotic India and see this reputedly amazing being. The longing became an obsession. In the later part of 1973, I convinced my husband that we should travel with a group of Westerners to see Baba at his ashram near the small village of Puttaparthi in South India. Sai Baba had reportedly performed wonders such as Christ had done. My curiosity could not be assuaged; I had to see for myself.

My husband was going through a rather difficult period in his life and was less than enthusiastic about taking a trip to India. Nevertheless, in February of 1974, off we went, with about twenty other curious pilgrims, for an unforgettable journey.

The 1978 Christmas Day marriage of the Bozzani’s daughter conducted by Sathya Sai Baba was captured in this film;

American Larry Smith 1974?

Larry Smith, Christmas 1978.

Bolivian Romero Sotello Murillo 1974

Author of Empire of the Soul Paul William Roberts September 1974 Prasanthi Nilayam

Paul William Roberts (1950 – 2019) was a Canadian writer who spent many years in Toronto before moving to the Laurentians in Quebec. Born in Wales and educated at Exeter College, Oxford, where he gained a second in English Language and Literature, Roberts moved permanently to Canada in 1980. He lived for several years prior to this in India, where he taught at Bangalore University and studied Sanskrit at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi.

Empire Of The Soul was really written from the heart, a love letter to India,” Paul William Roberts (1950 – 2019) said of the book, drawn from extended visits in the early 1970s and early 1990s, that has been an essential item in the backpack of many a subcontinent traveller. “When you love a subject, it changes everything. Although I predicted India would soon amaze the world, I didn’t think it would be so soon. I often feel I should update some parts to reflect a country on its way back to where it was before the invaders and colonizers stole everything and crushed a great civilisation under their boots. The wounds of colonialism are now healing fast, though, and the book needs to show an India that made it, rather than one trying. It is the only country where I kiss the ground upon arrival and feel I’m home at last once more.”

Roberts was a writer of fiction (Palace of Fears, Homeland) and of several non-fiction books (Empire of the Soul, Journey of the Magi). He was also a literary journalist and a war correspondent, as well as a TV producer for BBC, Citytv and TVO. His coverage of the two Iraq wars for Harper’s magazine was expanded into his book A War Against Truth, which won the PEN Canada/Paul Kidd award (2005) for courage in journalism. Born in Wales in 1950, he studied at Oxford, and taught in India, before moving to Toronto, Canada, and working as a journalist and a television producer.

In 2015, Paul Roberts writes – Puttaparthi in the early seventies was a newish small ashram, housing possibly 100 or so, on the edge of a thatched-hut village, by a river that dried up every summer, and far from even a small town. During darshan once, Baba told the few devotees around him: “One day this will be a great city and millions will come to visit Swami.” Almost everyone laughed; the thought was ridiculous. Where I live now is actually smaller than Puttaparthi was, yet if I announced it would become a great city no one would even listen. Yet Puttaparthi is now a city, and there were an estimated two million devotees at the last festival I attended.

He ignored me completely for several months. It was not the guru-chela welcome I had read of and expected. He began to irritate me – though whenever he was close my heart opened and ached for him. I had presumed there would be teaching, yet all we had was the chanting of bhajans. I also expected peace and tranquility, such as I now have, but the ashram was frenetically far from peaceful. I also noticed I was forming close friendships that would suddenly evaporate, always leaving a sense of something learned. An ancient Indian woman, Sudha Mazumdar, adopted me like a son, and I still miss her, miss her instructive advice, and her stories of first meeting Swami – for, in youth, she had been a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba, and was thus very dubious about this man claiming to be a reincarnation; she needed to be convinced, and she was. I will tell you her story later.

One day, sitting waiting for darshan, I noticed a young western man who had just arrived. I watched him walk to find a seat and had the vividly irrational feeling that I hated him. Just his strutting walk infuriated me; his smug class-nerd’s face needed punching; even his hair was annoying. How could one hate a complete stranger? For weeks thereafter I was always thrown into his company one way or another, until I grasped the fact that I had to learn to love him. I soon found qualities I liked, but during the process Swami always paid him special attention in my presence. He was a lawyer, for example, but Baba said, “Not lawyer…lover…” As soon as I began to see his soul was one with mine, our paths rarely crossed again. This process of drawing out personal faults until they were identified was intense, and the ashram was unlike any other place I have been. The energy seemed fiercely tangible, almost visible. It was still a while before I realized that this was in fact the potency of Swami’s teaching: a complete environment where souls were smelted, with the crap rising up to be scraped away. A 100 years of life’s lessons passed in months. I became painfully aware of the karmic flaws in my character that were so deeply embedded they were more like animal instincts: a cat does not choose to chase the rustling leaf or bird. There is no space between sense perception and action. Lust seemed like that to me. Certain western girls there evoked an instant response: I want, I want, I want… They seemed to know it as well, one always pulling her sari up until only her eyes were visible – and eyes don’t lie. I was always able to discern a woman’s sexual interest from her eyes, but in India the secret of concealing in order to reveal is still understood, and ought to be studied by western ladies who think a man is attracted by virtual nudity. After a while in India ankles would light my fire – and the women know this too, wearing jewelry and bells above the heel. It went without saying that Indian women were unattainable, virgins until the wedding bed; thus the westerners were more troublesome, a tempest rocking the frail raft of my inner work. I also found myself becoming friends with men even more lust-afflicted than myself. One, a tailor named Khan, even assured me that sex in the astral planes was even better than down here. “You get a hundred wirgins,” he said, “and no matter how much you do this-thing they are still remaining wirgin. You tire of these, you get one hundred more, all too much beautiful – for the God is too much good, isn’t it?”

Paul William Roberts.

From Empire of the Soul Paul William Roberts writes – ‘I Am Always with You’ PUTTAPARTHI, 1974-75

Beyond Bangalore’s sputtering, inchoate suburbs you descend toward mountainous plains, a primeval landscape of stark, rocky outcrops, palm-cluttered desert, and outrageously fertile paddies that look as if some Titan had mischievously plugged them into the smouldering wasteland for the sheer hell of it. A ragged blue ribbon of road snaked through haphazard villages of thatch and palm that seemed to exist solely because of the trade this crumbling shred of asphalt brought their way. As predictable as small towns in the American Midwest, though with barely a fraction of the opulence, these outposts of humanity elicited first despair, then, finally, abject boredom. They were anonymous, miserably interchangeable.

I was travelling with a nineteen-year-old girl from Arizona who called herself Joy but had once been Betty. She had been in India for over two years, and had put me on to our driver, a shifty-looking character named Abdul. Joy wanted to ‘share’ the cost of paying him for driving us in his taxi to Puttaparthi. Her notion of ‘sharing’ meant I’d share her company in return for paying the taxi fare. She was a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, and had followed the holy man around for two years now, dumping her passport in the Ganges at one point, and writing to inform her parents that she was no longer their daughter – she was the bride of God. Gopi was the term she used for herself – gopis however, in this case at least, being one of the horde of sixteen thousand nubile milkmaids who are often portrayed as the god Krishna’s harem. She believed Sathya Sai would one day marry her.

‘He provides for his own’ was all she would say about how she financed herself without parents.

With little conversation to interrupt the silence between us, I studied the passing landscape. Recently crippled two- and three-wheeled vehicles stood propped up by piles of rocks. Rusty engines leaned against huge roots, wild and naked men smashing stones against crowbars and levering up blasted carburettors, pulverised gearboxes. And in countless ditches between these desolations, mangled remains of entire burned-out vehicles were being cannibalised by hunter-gatherer mechanics for parts. Nothing is wasted in India, where recycling has long been essential common practice.

‘Detroit in the Stone Age?’ I commented to Joy at one point.

‘It’s all His will,’ she replied, her right leg bouncing through layers of sari cotton to some private inner beat.


‘Everything is His will.’

A handpainted sign read ‘Now enting Anda Pradess.’ The disastrous road seemed to have given up, exhausted. We bumped and lurched over entire miles of bare dust, suddenly rediscovering briefly a blistered and forlorn metalled track. The air buffeting my face now was as hot as that pouring from a bread-oven door. We had certainly quit Bangalore’s air-conditioned plateau. Andhra Pradesh knew no winter; besides the monsoon – if it came – there were only varying calibres of summer, usually with a heat that left you breathless and speechless. Maybe Joy had been here too long?

Twisting around one especially drastic corner, Abdul gnashed down through objecting gears to bring his car to an unsteady halt beneath a spinney of huge overarching trees. In the enormous shade below, there squatted one lonely, lurching thatch-roofed shack, with a tell-tale collection of handmade wooden benches and tables spewed out in the mottled dust from its dim and smoky maw. It was a commercial enterprise.

‘Chaichai?’ the pathologically untalkative driver inquired. He’d extracted the bald ignition key and opened his squeaking door.

Some relative or dear friend must have owned this excessively humble rustic joint, plunked down at the edge of burned mountains, stacked and verdant paddies, and flailing groves of tall palms.

‘What a landscape!’ I remarked to my companion, who slurped a stained glass of milky chai, absently pulling her choli down, putting it in its place. ‘God keeps the best for Himself,’ she announced.

A blind beggar with empty eye sockets that were as dry and black as a dead dog’s nose approached us, urgently wailing, ‘Sai Ram, Sai Ram, Sai Ram!’ He held a kind of theatre vendor’s tray, with a garlanded portrait of Sai Baba propped on it against his chest. Some coins were scattered on the otherwise empty surface, to give you a hint. He smiled and intoned, sensing where we’d sat and picking his way over. I placed a rupee under some coins.

‘Sai Ram! Woh, Sai Ram!’

It was a phrase I’d come to be very familiar with, connecting Sai Baba’s name with the god Rama, and used as a mantra, greeting, and all-purpose response to almost anything by those around him.

‘Baba says you shouldn’t give money to beggars. It teaches them that begging is a profession,’ Joy said loftily.

‘The guy’s blind, Joy. I think begging probably is one of his few career options.’

‘He’s a millionaire. He’s not even a devotee of Baba.’

Joy was putting me off the spiritual life of Sathya Sai Baba before I had even met the man. I had no idea what a ‘spiritual life’ was then, of course, or what it entailed.

Returned to the unyielding rear seat of Abdul’s car, I watched our vehicle oscillate through what increasingly seemed a paradise untouched by everything but searing heat since time began. This heat was a third passenger. It slapped my cheeks, eventually embracing my whole damp body with fierce, hot, and powerful arms. Joy fanned her face with a slim paperback of Hermann Hesse.

‘Sai Ram,’ she mumbled constantly, like the blind man. ‘Sai Ram.’

When the huddle of sparkling domes, stunted gopura, and scattered concrete and palm-thatched bungalows of Puttaparthi eventually came into view, ‘Sai Ram’ was all she had to say.

It was indeed one of the most exquisite stretches of land I’d ever seen: the majestic, parched, and barren mountains, the profound and stubborn boulders that seemed their offspring, the fertile groves and paddies, the broad, mercurial river. And, in the midst of it, a small, relatively prosperous South Indian village where life had changed little in seven hundred years.

In those days Puttaparthi started as yet another unplanned, cluttered community, but rapidly became something more as you drove in through the dust, something you hadn’t seen before. After eight hours of careering through rural eastern Karnataka and south-western Andhra Pradesh, I felt I’d seen all there was to see, which had not amounted to much. But Puttaparthi, where this road literally ended, more than fulfilled my expectations for the home of a great holy man.

Cupped in the muscular brown palm of black-capped mountains – mountains whose peaks were burned, as legend had it, by the monkey god Hanuman’s blazing tail as he flew down to Lanka to do battle with the demon king, Ravana – the village had an elegance about it that reminded me of some unspoilt spot in the Greek islands. Everywhere were whitewashed mud-brick houses, many boasting the novelty of terracotta-tiled roofs and neat, cool courtyards. The broad Chitravati River flowed past these dwellings, its waters swollen deep and heavy that September, a month or so after monsoon season, a tide of liquid turquoise beneath an enormous blue sky, a sky more exposing than sheltering.

In the centre of it all, the ashram: an enclosure surrounded by thick twenty-foot high walls that contained a domed temple made of sculptured concrete as ornate as a gigantic wedding cake. This extravaganza of Dravidian rococo was offset by banks of three-storey buildings that would not have looked out of place in Warsaw. Yet the temple’s riotous opulence somehow granted them respite from this blast of industrial ugliness, as did the magnesium flares of fierce sunshine that flashed red from their whitewashed walls and made them at times seem like monoliths carved from solid light. There was more than enough beauty to go around here. Immaculate combed ochre sand filled the spaces between these structures and their temple hub, holding tall, majestic palms that stood like wild sentries, flailing their arms, turning their heads to see who came, who went.

Immediately outside the ashram walls, lining the dust road we drove along, was a strip of ad hoc bamboo lean-tos of varying structural ingenuity. Brahmin Meels Hotele proclaimed a clumsily handpainted board outside one; next to it was the Military Meals Hotell. The former catered to India’s vegetarian priestly caste, while its neighbour sought business from the carnivorous Kshatriya, or warrior caste – not that Brahmins are necessarily priests, or Kshatriya soldiers these days. There were other, less specialised restaurants, as well. Virtually all the other precarious structures appeared to deal exclusively in the Sai Baba souvenir trade: cheaply framed and frequently garish photographs of the curious figure, with his orange robe and black halo of incongruous Afro hair, peered out from stacks of Sai Ram Incense; coils of sandalwood or rudraksha bead rosaries held enamel lockets emblazoned with his image; heaps of shoddily bound tomes typeset by dyslexics dispensed his wisdom. There were Sai Baba calendars, Sai Baba pens, Sai Baba dashboard magnets, and thousands of Sai Baba bumper stickers – the kind that required glue to stick. Almost any object that could be retailed for less than ten rupees seemed to be available with the holy man’s likeness stuck, stamped, or painted on it. Near the main gates of the ashram, however, this explosion of spiritual materialism was tempered by the more pragmatic appearance of a laundry that specialised in white garments, and a tailor who appeared to manufacture such white garments exclusively. These were, I soon found, the all-but-mandatory uniform of the male Baba devotee.

‘No rooms available,’ snapped Mr Nithyagiri Rao, supervisor of accommodation. Short, muscular, nervous, this supervisor was swathed in pristine white homespun, or khadi. Somehow just being near him made me tense.

‘But I’ve come all the way from England,’ I told him, unable to believe there was no room at the inn.

He avoided my eyes, pretending to deal with papers piled on his desk. ‘No accommodations available,’ he muttered.

The ashram was named Prasanthi Nilayam – Abode of the Highest Peace. As was often and eagerly pointed out, ‘Jerusalem’ has an almost identical meaning.

Joy had vanished the moment Abdul heaved on his handbrake. I tracked her down in a dingy café full of Westerners hunched over chai. Everyone wore hybrid Indian outfits: saris with straw hats and tennis shoes; dhotis with denim vests. Most looked as if they also had American Express cards tucked away somewhere, too: Don’t renounce the world without it.

‘Sai Ram,’ she said, hearing my plight.

A kindly old woman from New York with white hair and a necklace made of large nuts offered to show me where I could rent a room. Beyond the ashram walls, at the foot of a steep hill, I found Nagamma’s Hotel: six ten-by-six-foot concrete rooms off a bare corridor, sharing a toilet without running water and without any fixtures or fittings except for a hole in the floor. The rent was five hundred rupees a year. I handed over the full amount. I planned to stay a year.

Sathya Sai Baba was born Sathya Narayana Raju on November 23, 1926, to a family of pious Hindu farmers. By our standards, they were comfortably middle-class. His brother and sister still, in 1974, lived in the same little house off a dusty lane in Puttaparthi village. They were their brother’s devotees now, but apparently enjoyed no more privileges than anyone else in the ashram that had sprung up on the outskirts of the village. They occupied their days more with teaching, agriculture and animal husbandry than with devotions.

As a small child, Baba had exhibited magical powers, his school friends reporting that he materialised sweets and other objects for them out of thin air. In a land soaked with superstition and supernatural yarns, these antics were a cause more for concern than for celebration. The family called in exorcists and pundits, often subjecting the strange little boy to painful ordeals in an attempt to make him normal. For days on end, according to a village elder who had witnessed it, Baba would sit in trance, chanting verses in Sanskrit – a language he had never studied, which was by then the sole preserve of Brahmin scholars.

On March 8, 1940, at around seven in the evening, so the story goes, Sathya Narayana was stung by a big black scorpion. No one else ever saw a scorpion or snake. In any case, the boy then fell stiff and unconscious. A day or two later he revived and began to act in an even more bizarre manner.

His parents were completely exasperated by now. On May 23 that same year, his father demanded to know who or what he was. ‘I am Sai Baba,’ the boy calmly replied. ‘I shall not remain in your house any longer. I am no longer your Sathya. I am Sai. I don’t belong to you. My devotees are calling me.’ With that, he left home, sitting in a nearby garden and ecstatically chanting spontaneous hymns to the small group of locals who revered him even back then.

Having named his son Sathya Narayana, his father was understandably perplexed to find the boy calling himself a name that then meant nothing to him. It turned out that Sai Baba had been the name of a holy man in Shirdi, a town weeks away from Puttaparthi and some days’ journey north of Bombay. This Sai Baba had died at the beginning of the century, and had been a low-key, enigmatic figure to whom miraculous powers were attributed by a small circle of devotees. No one even seemed too sure if he was a Muslim or a Hindu. His starkly unadorned message had been one of love and the unity of all faiths, his dress ambiguous, his home a ruined mosque. To his followers he had announced that he would be reincarnated in the South eight years after his death. He had died in 1918.

Someone once told me a story that appeared to confirm this. M. K. Raman was ninety-seven when I met him. He’d been an ardent devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba, one of those who’d personally heard the holy man announce his next incarnation. Nearly half a century elapsed before he learned of a South Indian guru who claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba and thus felt ‘mildly obliged’ to set out for Puttaparthi. He did not really believe he’d find any truth to the outlandish claim.

When they first met and before either had spoken a word, Sathya Sai Baba waved his hand and materialised two coins for M. K. Raman – four annas in the old and long-obsolete Raj-era currency. ‘I knew then that it was true,’ Raman recalled, his creaky old voice quavering with emotion. A lifetime earlier, he told me, just before his death, Shirdi Sai Baba had mysteriously demanded of Raman four annas. As this old Sai Baba, like the new model, never asked for anything, and rarely even accepted personal gifts, the incident had stuck in Raman’s mind for fifty years. Such stories are common to the point of cliché around Sathya Sai Baba.

From 1940 on, Baba devoted himself exclusively to spreading a simple message of love and selfless work to a burgeoning horde of followers from all walks of life, from numerous religions, and from the four corners of the earth, as well as the humble villages of India. He also continued to display apparently miraculous powers: usually materialising sacred vibhuti ash, sweets and small objects, but occasionally performing far more extravagant acts. Incidents, some well documented, a few even on film, have him creating fairly large objects, substantial amounts of food, raising the dead, healing the sick, appearing in two places thousands of kilometres apart at the same time, and altering at will the laws of time, space and basic physics.

Having announced that he was the reincarnation of a holy man almost no one in South India had even heard of, Baba gradually elaborated on the issue of his identity, claiming at various times to be an incarnation of the god Vishnu or the god Siva – the two poles of the Hindu trinity, which is completed by Brahma, the Creator, the Formless One.

Vishnu is the Sustainer of Life; Siva is the Destroyer of Worlds, the one who paves the way for new creation. According to Hindu lore, Vishnu has appeared on earth throughout history in various forms, including Rama, Krishna and, some say, the Buddha. There is no account of Siva ever having assumed human form – although he has appeared as himself occasionally – yet it is an avatar of Siva that Baba has most frequently hinted himself to be.

At times, the claim has included more complicated details: Shirdi Sai Baba, says Sathya Sai, was a manifestation of the pure Siva force; he, however, is an incarnation of the Siva-Shakti force, a combination of the Destroyer of Worlds and his terrifying consort, also called Kali and frequently depicted wearing a necklace of human skulls while feasting on someone’s head. There will be one more manifestation in this series of avatars, Baba has often declared, and that will be the incarnation of Shakti alone. After he dies, this to be at the age of ninety-six in the year 2022, Prema Sai Baba will be born four years later also somewhere in South India.

A Californian called Jack Hislop showed me an enamelled ring that Baba had materialised for him, bearing the image of a shaggy, vastly bearded man. This, he’d been informed, was Prema Sai Baba. The image was rather terrifying. Prema means love. Sathya Sai’s version of the Hindu theory of avatars, which itself became very confused after the Buddha’s appearance, would be heretical in any other religion. But since the incarnations of Vishnu range from a large fish through a turtle, a boar, a humanoid lion, and a dwarf – easily suggesting a parable of evolution – Baba’s additional confusion is hardly noticed. All agree, however, that there is one avatar left to come: Kalki, who will orchestrate the end of all creation.

Sathya Sai’s message, though, is devoid of apocalyptic overtones. Indeed, his is a vision of the coming golden age, a heaven on earth brought about by man’s return to the cardinal rules of Truth, Selfless Work, Peace and Love. This is what he has emblazoned on his logo – a lotus with the sign of Om, the primal word, surrounded by the symbols of all the major world religions.

At least that’s how the logo was explained to me. Jews who came to Baba were openly hurt or offended by the absence of any Magen David on this logo, which included the cross, the star and crescent moon of Islam, the Buddhist wheel of dharma, and the Om. There was also another symbol few Westerners recognised: a burning Olympic-style torch. This turned out to be the Zoroastrian fire. It was not, of course, all the major world religions that Baba had on his emblem, but rather all the major Indian religions. While India has never persecuted Jews, and it surprises many to learn there are still a few exceptionally beautiful synagogues functioning, the Jewish population, never large, has now dwindled to fewer than a hundred. Most Jews have left for Israel, which came into existence at the same time India achieved independence.

Besides preaching universal brotherhood and religious unity, Sathya Sai Baba and the huge organisation that gradually evolved around him embarked on a programme of building schools, colleges, and hospitals that spans the subcontinent today. His legion of critics, however, maintain that his real intention is to found a new religion with himself as God. I personally could never see this. In a self-published book called Lord of the Air, an American ex-devotee claimed Baba was Satan incarnate and fed on the love of those he trapped with his lies. The Bible warns us of this, of course, of the devil disguised as the Messiah. With so many messiahs around these days, one is more inclined to wonder which is or was the devil. The tradition of saints and holy men in the East, however – and the lack of any devil – seems to make this a non-issue to Hindus.

I once heard someone ask Baba if he was Christ. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘I’m the One who sent him.’

Inmates of the ashram sat daily in the sand around the central temple, where Baba lived in a tiny room, waiting for darshan, the blessing they believed emanated from his presence – even the mere sight of him. As in all strict Hindu arrangements, the sexes were separated in the temple compound; something Westerners always had trouble with. It reminded me of primary school.

The birds, the palm fronds, the high blue air: it was a tranquil, idyllic scene, yet the atmosphere always seemed to border on the hysterical, the anxious, the expectant, and even the desperate. It seems that peace and quiet and inner calm are the last things you find in an ashram with a living guru in residence. These are places where hard work is done, inner work. You don’t go there for a holiday; you go there to confront yourself and change. Transformation is the one true goal of spiritual work. I came to liken the process to smelting metals: when it’s hot enough, the crap rises to the surface and can be scraped off. Squatting on the warm, smooth sand, constantly shifting to ease aching bones and numb flesh, I recognised my own excitement, expectation, even awe. For the first time it dawned on me that everything said about Sathya Sai Baba might actually be true – and if it was, what would it mean to me? When he finally appeared, without warning, a tiny figure with a huge, frizzy bonnet of hair and an unadorned orange robe that covered his feet, I experienced an extraordinary sensation. It was love, certainly, but more being loved than being in love. So unexpected and so strong was this feeling that tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched Baba’s slow, graceful movements. Later I put this down to all the hype I had heard beforehand. Later still I found it increasingly less easy to explain away.

Baba stood swaying slightly, gazing dreamily out over the semicircle of devotees, whose palms were now pressed together as if in prayer, all eyes on him. He raised one hand as if testing for rain and appeared to stir the air with his middle finger. Then, with his other hand, he made a gesture that looked as if he were writing on something invisible with his forefinger. Someone told me later that this was how he rewrote destiny. His presence seemed suddenly vast and remote, not connected at all to anything around it. There was an aura of stillness combined with majesty that I have never since encountered in any other person, no matter how famous or powerful. He looked like someone in absolute control of all.

After some minutes, he moved slowly along the rows of adoring faces, pausing to take a note, bless a child or some religious object held up for his attention. Then, fifteen feet away from me, he stopped by an old man in a wheelchair, made a curious polishing motion with his right hand, palm down, from which suddenly poured a quantity of greyish powder into the waiting cupped hands of the man, who sobbed in gratitude. Baba pressed his thumb on the man’s forehead, leaving a chalky mark there, and moved on.

As he drew still nearer, I trembled with almost painful emotions. My heart beat faster and faster. His dark, remote gaze swept over the people on all sides. Then he passed and was gone, without so much as a glance my way. I felt oddly humiliated, spurned, jilted.

Remote as Puttaparthi was, there were times during those months I spent there when it felt like the centre of the world. Life in the ashram never varied in its routine, while the people who came and went could not have varied more. One day John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting in the sand with the rest of us, next day it was the president of India, a producer of the James Bond films, the photographer David Bailey, or some high-ranking Italian politician. Yet there was only one star in that small world, and he seemed unimpressed by those who walked tall in the world beyond, often paying more attention to some ragged group of peasants who had walked miles for his blessing than to those who had arrived in air-conditioned limousines. Ignored, John and Yoko left in a huff. Indira Gandhi apparently cried when Baba refused to meet her privately.

Sathya Sai continued to ignore me, so I settled into the ashram’s routine, increasingly enjoying the tranquil, pastoral life of the village around it and my walks in that elegant countryside. I also enjoyed observing the devotees more than emulating them. Fast friendships were formed. Some have continued half a lifetime, some turned inexplicably into bitter enmities.

I returned to my rented cell from a typically fruitless meditation session one morning as the Klieg light sun rose above the hills yet again and shadows slid like deadly serpents from rocks and scrub. Pacing down the winding path toward me strode a fearful sight. A young blond man, close to seven feet tall, with a vast, flowing beard and two yards of hair coiled into a turret above his head. Powerfully muscular and certainly not fat, he possessed a belly like a witches’ cauldron, bulging over a faded orange loincloth that barely contained a set of male equipment a stallion would have envied. In one hand he grasped a massive trident, like Neptune’s but swathed in dangling coloured ribbons that held little stones and carved talismans; in the other was a kamandalam, a sadhu’s begging bowl carved from wood. Despite these features, what I first noticed was the necklace of nine human skulls hanging from his neck. It was fairly noticeable. The clacking noise he made as he strode forcefully through pebbles and dust was caused not by crania knocking together, however, but by wooden sandals, the kind held on only by a mushroom-shaped peg clasped between the toes. They are often made of sandalwood – hence the name.

‘Bum-bum bolo!’ he roared at me.

‘Sai Ram!’ seemed a better response than ‘Top o’ the mornin’ to you, squire.’ Bum-bum bolo, or something like it, was, I found out later, a phrase popular with hard-core devotees of Siva. That morning I was perfectly prepared to believe this apparition could well be Siva himself, come to personally bring creation to an end. But he swung on past, pale blue eyes flashing in the sun’s first rays, bearing down on an unsuspecting bazaar.

Kali Das was his name, although you could apparently call him Klaus without getting a trident plunged through your heart. Never allowed through the ashram gates – not just because he looked the way he looked, but because he looked the way he looked and he was a Westerner – he seemed not to mind this affront at all, hanging around for many weeks and reportedly living in a cave up in the hills, when he wasn’t living in Joy’s little gopi’s cell, that is.

Klaus, unsurprisingly, turned out to be German. He’d been in India since 1964, studying tantric yoga, apparently with a guru up in the Himalayas. He’d then married a Bengali girl, made himself a dugout canoe, and sailed down the Ganges. Somewhere along the way he’d managed to lose both the canoe and the Bengali girl, proceeding on by foot. He must have walked over two thousand miles already, I estimated, but since he was in no hurry and not going anywhere in particular, this meant nothing to him. Tantric yoga has a lot to do with arcane sexual practices – which probably explained why Joy was seen following Klaus Kali Das around the village from the moment he appeared. She was also soon announcing to anyone who’d listen that he was some kind of stand-in for Baba.

I knew that Klaus, whatever else he was about, was definitely into some fairly arcane practices when I stumbled across him up in the hills one afternoon. He was standing on one leg with a large rock tied to his penis, which hung well below his knee and was a bright, mottled purple. His other foot was wedged into his groin, his palms were pressed together above his head, and he was repeating ‘Om Siva,’ over and over in a voice that rumbled up from the kettledrum of his belly like a military tattoo. I thought better of interrupting him.

There is a pervasive belief in Indian mystical schools that male semen and the life force itself are one and the same thing. Thus, ‘squandering sperm’ is a concept that, in the Indian male, often develops into an obsession and even goes on to blossom into a full blown mental illness. Throughout history, ascetics who ‘raise the seed upward’ through celibacy and meditation have been deeply revered. But, as the distinguished psychoanalyst and scholar Sudhir Kakar points out in his fascinating study of Indian sexuality, Intimate Relations, there is an area where celibacy, in its ‘ultimate if ironic refinement,’ becomes tantric sex, ‘where the aspirant is trained and enjoined to perform the sexual act itself without desire and the ‘spilling of the seed,’ thus divorcing the sexual impulse from human physiology and any conscious or unconscious representation of it.’

Dr Kakar terms such a ritual of sex ‘unbelievably passionless,’ explaining that it is thought to stir up the semen and evoke ‘energetic forces that can be rechannelled upwards.’ He also points out that Mahatma Gandhi, who was rumoured to test his celibacy in old age by sleeping with one or even two young naked women, was just the tail-end of a tradition that goes back many centuries. On one hand, Gandhi could resemble Chaitanya, the fifteenth-century founder of the Vaishnavite (Vishnu-worshipping) sect to which Gandhi belonged, and who once banished a devotee distracted by a woman, saying, ‘I can never again look upon the face of an ascetic who associates with women. The senses are hard to control, and seek to fix themselves on worldly things. Even the wooden image of a woman has the power to steal the mind of a sage.’ On the other hand, however, Gandhi could also resemble Ramananda, Chaitanya’s devotee and constant companion, who ‘used to take two beautiful young temple prostitutes into a lonely garden where he would oil their bodies, bathe, and dress them while himself remaining ‘unaffected.’

Not only is this sex-within-celibacy deeply embedded in the Indian psyche, but the concept of celibacy itself is, curiously, both lauded and derided. Even the Kama Sutra, that often graphically illustrated hard-core manual of seduction and copulation, portrays the truly skilful lover as anything but a hot-blooded ladies’ man. Instead, his talents come from being above passion, his sensuousness from having mastered the senses through austerities and meditation. As in Eden, the woman and her devious ways challenge the man to overcome desire. No culture on earth ascribes such power to female sexuality as the Indian. Countless myths and fables revolve around men fighting over a woman; and that greatest of all Indian epics, the Ramayana itself, unfolds from and around this theme.

In many tales the gods find themselves threatened by a mortal who has seemingly mastered his desires and now progresses up toward their immortal realm by a kind of point system of selfless achievements. Usually, the solution to this cosmic social climber is beaming down a heavenly nymph he cannot resist. Like Olympic judges, the gods gleefully look on as some poor ascetic who’s spent his life in a lonely cave eating weeds and meditating suddenly has the equivalent of Uma Thurman in a gossamer sari draping herself over his bony old body. Even the emission of a single drop of semen is deemed a catastrophic failure, banishing him back into the communal cesspit of carnal humanity.

More popular as subject matter than accounts of successful ascetics, these tales of the noble male finally succumbing to lust include even the Creator himself. In the Brahmavaivarta Purana, we read:

The heavenly nymph Mohini fell in love with the Lord of creation, Brahma. After gaining the assistance of Kama, the god of love, she went to Brahma and danced before him, revealing her body to him in order to entice him, but Brahma remained without passion. Then Kama struck Brahma with an arrow. Brahma wavered and felt desire, but after a moment he gained control. Brahma said to Mohini, ‘Go away, Mother, your efforts are wasted here. I know your intention, and I am not suitable for your work. The scripture says, ‘Ascetics must avoid all women, especially prostitutes.’ I am incapable of doing anything that the Vedas consider despicable.’ Mohini laughed and said to him, ‘A man who refuses to make love to a woman who is tortured by desire – he is a eunuch … Come now and make love to me in some private place,’ and as she said this she pulled at Brahma’s garment. Then the sages bowed to Brahma, ‘How is it that Mohini, the best of all celestial prostitutes, is in your presence?’ Brahma said, to conceal his scheme, ‘She danced and sang for a long time and then when she was tired she came here like a young girl to her father.’ But the sages laughed for they knew the whole secret, and Brahma laughed too.

Rumours of lengthy tantric rituals involving Klaus Kali Das and Joy abounded among the gossip-prone Westerners of Puttaparthi. It was said he wore a jade ring at the base of his penis to prevent any possible loss of that vital fluid, and had trained himself to perform intercourse uninterrupted for twelve hours at a stretch. By the look of Joy during those weeks, such rumours seemed entirely believable. There was, however, something about the gigantic German that made it difficult to believe he derived a purely spiritual satisfaction from this tantric jamboree. He swaggered around Puttaparthi like a stud horse, terrifying the struggling celibates among the women, and tantalising those men who had often wondered if the tantric path might well be a more pleasurable shortcut to the nirvana they were seeking.

Clearly Joy was not the only eager disciple Klaus acquired during his stay. When a vicious cat fight broke out in the village bazaar between her and a New Yorker renamed Bliss, Klaus must have decided it was time to move on. He’d often talked wistfully of hacking himself out another canoe and sailing off down the Chitravati; but the river had dwindled to a stream about a foot wide and an inch deep by now, and whatever else he did, wherever it was he went for days on end, boat-building was not a part of it. He finally left on the dawn bus for Anantapur, still wearing his skulls, the begging bowl and trident his only luggage. A month later Bliss left for New York, carrying inside her what she firmly believed was the son of Siva. Two years later I heard she’d miscarried a girl in the fourth month and committed suicide two weeks later.

Joy herself, perhaps feeling her reputation as Baba’s bride-to-be and chief gopi was a little tarnished by the whole Klaus episode, left for an extended holiday in Bombay. To those who would listen she explained that Klaus had been Baba in another form, come to elevate her consciousness in a way the guru could not, for obvious reasons, manage to achieve in his usual form. She never returned to Puttaparthi.

‘Many come for miracles, petty cures, worldly things,’ Baba once said. ‘But few of you come for the gift I am here to give you: bliss.’ This seemed true, and he wasn’t referring to Klaus’s unfortunate girlfriend. We Westerners were full of intellectual theories, eager for answers to issues of predetermination versus free will, and so on; the Indians sought blessings for businesses, marriages, babies. I once looked at the childlike quotations from Baba painted on tombstone-like slabs of granite planted all over the ashram grounds and felt very sad that so few of us paid attention to his simple message. Start the day with love; spend the day with love; end the day with love. This is the way to God, read one. And another: Love is selflessness; self is lovelessness. It was the very simplicity of Baba’s teaching that was sodisconcerting.

Yet as the days and weeks and months passed, it was all too easy to sink into petty concerns, all too easy to accept Baba’s presence as yet another mundane reality. Seeing him materialise vibhuti, rings, lockets, rosaries, with a wave of the hand – and often so close I could actually watch the moment when an object glittered out of thin air – I still found myself forgetting what it was I really saw: the mastery over laws of nature that made nonsense of contemporary physics. I’d come to think of Baba as the tiny form in an orange robe. It was all too easy to do, and it was a trap.

As the eminent Indian literary scholar, Vinayak Krishna Gokak, wrote in his book Sri Sathya Sai Baba: The Man and the Avatar: An avatar is always at work and always at rest. His vision is worldwide and it embraces all the dimensions of Time. He has an effortless command over metempsychosis, parathahkarana pravesh or entry into the innermost hearts of others, the power toopen up new channels of thinking, the power to exercise the will for the benefaction of individuals or the race, and the power to restore life to the dead. An Avatar is an integral manifestation of the Divine.

Without Dr Gokak’s patient encouragement and example, I doubt I would have had the fortitude to persevere with the enigma of Sathya Sai Baba. To see this venerable grey-haired figure, this man of immense erudition, author of some sixteen books, chancellor of a university, sit like a child at Baba’s feet or openly weep with emotion when talking about him – this gave me pause whenever I was irritably about to write the whole thing off to experience. Gokak’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Indian philosophy also helped me free myself of the narrow Christian dogma that prevented my acceptance even of things I’d actually experienced myself.

The Sivarathri Festival, the Night of Siva, is held on a full moon sometime in late February or March. This had always been the most important holy day of the year for Baba’s devotees, one connected exclusively to the Siva avatar, and one where what most considered Baba’s most significant miracle was regularly performed before hundreds of people. As it turned out, I was among those who saw this public miracle for the last time. Baba had often said that the phase of miracles would pass. He also told the early devotees that Puttaparthi would one day be a great city. That seemed absurd for a place barely a village, not even on any map. He also said that there would come a time when the crowds around him would be so large that people would be happy to see a glimpse of him from miles away. On days when there were often no more than thirty or forty people in the ashram and he regularly talked and even sang to us like a friend, this too seemed far-fetched.

A huge crowd gathered in the Poornachandra (literally Full Moon) Hall as darkness fell. People had been arriving from all over India and beyond during the previous days. The atmosphere crackled with expectation. Brahmin pundits chanted the Vedas as drums thudded and discordant reed horns wailed. The drums and pipes reached a deafening pitch when Baba himself finally entered the packed hall, accompanied by a procession of priests. He looked different, somehow swollen and pained, the way an expectant mother can. Taking his seat behind a little desk on the stage, he seemed uncharacteristically withdrawn, preoccupied, as various students from his colleges and sundry devotees delivered very boring speeches. Finally, he rose and spoke in Telegu, pausing while Dr Bhagavantham, a dry and pompous old man who had been an eminent nuclear physicist before retiring to the ashram, translated what he was saying into what was just about English. The translation was so tedious that Baba frequently interjected straightforward little phrases to hurry along Bhagavantham’s rambling and ponderous paraphrases.

As usual, the speech summed up the significance of the holy day, pointing out that the act of creation was the merging of the material with the divine and that we should all try to do the same, blending our lower natures into our higher ones. Be good, do good, see good – the message was so ridiculously simple I wondered how Baba found the patience to keep repeating it. Just as his speeches always seemed to begin at no particular point, so did this one actually stop in the middle of a sentence, as Baba suddenly began singing a bhajan. The entire hall echoed his lead, repeating each phrase, the tempo growing toward restrained frenzy until the bhajan abruptly stopped. The chants had quite a rigid form when sung by devotees, but Baba, who had composed them all, prolonged or curtailed them at will. There was a plaintive and honeyed sweetness to his voice.

That night the mood was more subdued than it usually was, as if all of us were less preoccupied with our egos and trying to out-sing one another. After a mere three or four bhajans, Baba began one that consisted entirely of the phrase Om Sivaiah, Om Sivaiah, Shambo Shankara Om Sivaiah – a great booming hymn to Siva, Destroyer ofWorlds, Cosmic Dancer. Unlike the previous bhajans, this one appeared to have no ending, and Baba sank into his chair and fell silent, letting the chorus continue without his lead.

A sense that something immensely important was happening descended. The crowd continued to repeat the one phrase in low restrained voices. Baba conducted with his finger, his body occasionally contracting as if in pain. Om Sivaiah, Om Sivaiah – the throbbing chant continued with solemn power, every eye in the room fixed on the tiny figure. After some fifteen minutes he suddenly clasped his throat and convulsed, rocking back and forth in his chair. Only fifteen feet away, I thought I saw a kind of dreamy agony in his eyes. There was something truly awesome, rather than frightening, about this spectacle. The bhajan was gradually increasing tempo now, the entire hall thumping with it like the great heart of some vast machine. Then Baba lurched forward, opening his mouth. Inside it I glimpsed an odd green glow. He heaved violently, his eyes closing as if he were in pain. Then, with one hand, he began to pull from his mouth what looked like a large, crystalline egg. Indeed, so large was it that blood appeared at the corners of his lips as the object came through. Like a new baby, it was suddenly out. He caught it in a handkerchief, wiped it clean, then transferred it to his other hand as he dabbed at the blood around his mouth and smiled, every bit the proud new mother.

The crowd roared. It was such an extraordinary sight that I felt no one seemed quite sure how to respond. Baba stood, holding up this egg of greenish crystal, inside which a light pulsed like a heartbeat, like something alive. Then something burst inside my heart and I started sobbing uncontrollably. At that moment it was exceedingly hard to doubt that Baba was indeed who he said he was. Here was the symbolic re-enactment of Creation itself: the Siva-Shakti force, the yin and yang, the mighty opposites, the bisecting circles giving birth between them to the lingam that represents life itself, life plucked from nothingness. Because of what I felt and saw, I have never for a moment thought that he had swallowed the object earlier and then regurgitated it.

Long after Baba left, leaving the glowing, pulsing lingam in a little stand on his table, everyone sat, as if held like spokes on a wheel to the hub of creation symbolised before us, chanting bhajans until dawn broke. It seemed the only conceivable response to what had happened.

Seeing the rose, separating it from the thorn and the shrub, is Concentration. Plucking the rose, separating the heart from the mind and all else, is Contemplation. Offering the rose at the Lord’s feet is Meditation. – Sathya Sai Baba

One day, several months after arriving in Puttaparthi, I suddenly felt it was time for me to leave, that I’d learned all I could in Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram, and that the path of devotion was not to be my path. From all I now understood, God lay within, and that was where one ought to start looking for any truth. The holy man’s presence seemed to stand in the way of this. Here he was God. I’d decided to travel around the country, to study, to listen, to learn whatever there was to learn from whoever was willing to teach me. But I was also feeling the seductive pull of the material world, I must confess. My idyll was over. On the day I made up my mind to leave, Baba told me he would talk to me. I was shocked.

Finally I found myself walking over the compound to the door of Baba’s living quarters. I had wondered for months what was behind it. I stood looking into a tiny and virtually bare concrete room. It smelled nice, at least, smelled of the incense that burned in the temple. I’ve never encountered that fragrance anywhere else.

Several people sat beside me; no one spoke. Baba appeared from the compound outside, at the end of the darshan, as he must have done every day I’d been there. He stood looking at us. He said something about seeing God in everyone, and then, rolling up a sleeve, waved his hand and slowly produced a huge rosary of pink stones. It seemed to emerge from a hole in space just below his palm, swinging in a circle until it was all there, all present in its new dimension. I was no more than a yard from his hand. He presented this sparkling japamala to an old Chinese woman, beckoning her and her husband to follow him through a door covered by a cloth flap.

Soon – or maybe not soon – the couple emerged in a daze, followed by Baba, who beckoned someone else inside that other room, the room that was always referred to as his living quarters. Muffled grunts could be heard, and then this person would emerge as if stunned. What was he going to say to me? I didn’t want to leave anymore.

Finally I was inside that room. I recall being amazed by how small and bare it was. My room at Nagamma’s was bigger and more comfortable, and I had regarded it as a penance. This was also the first time I had ever really stood beside Baba. Like the room, he was unbelievably small. As I looked down into his eyes, trying to think of something to say, I began to shake, gasping with emotion. Quite involuntarily, I said, ‘I love you, Baba,’ over and over and over again.

He hugged me, his hair soft as lambswool in my face. This surprised me. I’d imagined it would be wiry. Ba-ba, I thought absurdly, the Lamb of God. Looking down at him, though, I had the odd impression that I was really looking up at him.

‘Baba love you, too,’ he said.

He meant it – I could feel it. To be loved: That was not the same as to love. I had never let myself be loved before, I realised.

And I was so grateful that I merely wept more. It was all I could do. Baba then proceeded to basically deliver a summary of my life and a breakdown of my personality in machine-gun bursts that had me reeling, nodding humbly, speechless. With all my faults, there I was, ‘the thing itself.’ It seemed to be his way of reassuring me that there was nothing he did not know about me, and that none of it bothered him. The sum total was, as he usefully confided, ‘much confusion.’ I had to agree. He reassured me that he would sort things out. It was a workmanlike statement. ‘Thanks,’ I managed.

He’d moved back by now, and was circling his hand in the space between us. Expecting some trinket, I was surprised to see a white, oily substance appear in his palm. Somehow, I knew what he wanted to do, so I lifted my shirt and let him rub this substance into my chest.

I kept thanking him profusely. Then he said, ‘Don’t worry. I am always with you. Baba loves you.’

Next thing I knew, I was back in the antechamber.

The subsequent few days are a blur. I recall walking around in a daze, so happy that I couldn’t speak. It once crossed my mind to start walking out across the great subcontinent and never stop, never question again what was undeniably true.

Perhaps I should have done that, but I didn’t. When I eventually tried to tell people what had happened, I found I was not even sure what had happened. Words failed, simply did not adapt to the feelings I wished to express. A week later, I could no longer return my consciousness to wherever it had been at all. It was like waking from a beautiful dream and realising that you could never ever explain why the dream was beautiful. I was only certain of one thing again: I should leave Puttaparthi. As soon as possible.

As my bus finally turned onto the Bangalore road, I felt an enormous sense of relief. As if I’d survived some dreadful test, as if I’d passed through the fire. I hardly knew that person who had arrived there the previous September. Something of him had been burned away, some part I didn’t miss. Even the searing air now seemed kinder and cooler. As many have attested, before and since, Puttaparthi is a crucible. It would be twenty years before I physically saw the place again, although in dreams I returned often.

The works of Paul William Roberts – River in the Desert: Modern Travels in Ancient Egypt (1992), The Palace of Fears: a novel  (1994), Journey of the Magi: In Search of the Birth of Jesus (1995), Empire of the Soul: Some Journeys in India (1996), The Demonic Comedy: Some Detours in the Baghdad of Saddam Hussein (1997), Smokescreen: One Man Against the Underworld (2001), A War Against Truth: An Intimate Account of the Invasion of Iraq (2004), Homeland: a novel (2006).

American brothers Michael and Brian Steely arrive for Dasara 1974 Prasanthi Nilayam and stayed for 4 months

American brothers Michael and Brian Steely arrive for Dasara 1974 in Prasanthi Nilayam. They stayed for 4 months, they return two years later for another 4 months, and Brian has done many other trips since.

Brothers Michael and Brian Steely travelled from Oregon to India to meet Sai Baba after feeling inspired by George Harrison and the Beatles. “I was curious enough to accompany Michael on the trip, but I had plans to take the train to Kashmir soon after because I had a healthy dose of skepticism about it all,” says Brian. “When I first saw Swami materialise something during darshan, I thought he must have a tube up his sleeve. Then he came over, rolled up his sleeve and materialised vibhuti for the person sitting right next to me – all the while looking at me, as if to say, “Believe me now?” Of course, I stayed after that and got to know his teachings. He’s been my teacher ever since.”

Muriel J. Engle of Santa Barbara was among the first Westerners to travel to India to meet Sathya Sai Baba in the 1970s.

Raja Yoga teacher Helene Vreeland was  among the first Westerners to travel to India to meet Sathya Sai Baba in the 1970s. She was also disciple and colleague of Indra Devi.

American Creta Schiermann 1970s

Creta and her husband with Sathya Sai Baba, who arranged their marriage in the 1980s.
Creta and her son with Sathya Sai Baba.

American John Moore January 1975

John Moore can be seen in the right of the photo.

German Adi von Harder 6th November 1975 Prasanthi Nilayam

In autumn 1974, I spent several months in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. German friends who had been living in the ashram for ten years invited me. Though Mother had passed away in 1973, I felt very very near to her. For many years, She and Sri Aurobindo had been an inner Guru to me. Home again in Hamburg, in February 1975, I made up my mind to return to Pondicherry at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, a friend gave me the book Sai Baba, Man of Miracles by Murphet of Australia. She said, “Perhaps, you may see him in India.” I was strongly impressed by the book and I decided to see Sai Baba.

While at Pondicherry, I prayed to Sai Baba for help. An American lady who visited the ashram met me by accident. She told me that I could try to reach him from Bangalore. Very soon, a member of the ‘Servas’ organisation to which I belonged came to my room; we had not met for ten long years. She wrote to another member, Mr Sharma, in Bangalore, to receive me there and help me.

He was at Vallabh Niketan, Bangalore, and to my surprise I was told that Sai Baba devotees had their gatherings in that very place. So, I could join a party of devotees proceeding in a private bus, on November 6, to take part in the World Conference of Sai Baba Organisations as delegates, at Sai Baba’s own place.

Arriving at Puttaparthi, I was cordially received by a young man. He asked me, “Are you a delegate?” I replied, “Oh, No. I only got here by accident!” “Then, you must indeed be blessed,” he said.

In the afternoon, I was sitting in the darshan line. Sai Baba came out of the temple in a dark orange robe. Slowly he came nearer. “Oh! I should paint Him.” This wish came into me spontaneously. When He passed by, he gave me a deep look, smiled and inclined his head slightly towards me. Happiness flowed through me. I had found the living Guru for myself.

Since the place was filling up quite fast, I felt that I should not stay, since all available accommodation was reserved for delegates. But, the young man who had met me on arrival advised, “Not so quick. You have to seek and secure Baba’s permission to leave!” Half an hour later, he told me that Sai Baba wished me to stay for the Conference, and for his Birthday! My heart was full of joy and gratitude.

Happy at the turn of events, I sat on the darshan line. Swami came out, turned toward me and gave me vibhuti, created by a circular movement of his palm.

Someone told me of a lady devotee who was expected to arrive for the Conference as a delegate. I had read about her in the book by Murphet, and admired her as the first German lady who had experienced the Baba miracles on the sands of the river Chitravati. My room could well take another occupant and I prayed within myself to Sai Baba to give the place to her. Her name, I remembered, was Gabriella Steyer.

At 1600 hours that day, a lady came in, looked around and departed quickly. At breakfast the next morning, we sat next to each other. She told me, “I was asked to share your room; but, it seemed too damp for me. I found a place in the second floor. But, it was a terrible night for me. Some one was snoring and sneezing. I could not get a wink of sleep.”

We found that we both were talking German! I asked her, “Do you, perhaps, know Gabriella Steyer?” She replied, with a laugh, “Oh, yes. That’s me!” “Then,” I said, “Sai Baba sent you to my room, as I prayed to Him to do. Since you did not follow his response to my prayer, he gave you that terrible night.” Needless to say, she came into my room and we became good friends.

The World Conference! What a flood of happiness and spiritual inspiration! The Poornachandra Auditorium was filled up to the very last row! Many interesting and informative speeches! Unforgettable were the Bhajans sung by Baba. Also, his materialisations, such as a Japamala for an old Vedic scholar.

On his Birthday, Swami came round on a helicopter, circling the Stupa of all Religions, waving his white handkerchief at us – a new kind of Darshan!

After his Birthday, I decided to leave; so, I sat on the darshan line, and prayed to Swami within myself, “You have brought me to your presence in a quite unforeseen way. Please send me back now.” At once, I heard his voice, “Adi! Come in.”

I woke, as if from a dream. “Yes! Adi! Come in,” he repeated. So I did. He was giving interviews to many. He materialised a beautiful golden chain for a young Indian lady and gave it to her saying, “No depressions any more. This will guard you.” Then, Baba turned to me. At the end of a short talk, He told me that he had arranged a bus to take me and others to Bangalore!

On December 24, when I went to Whitefield to have darshan, Swami was leaving for Puttaparthi! He told me to follow Him. At 9 pm the taxi arrived and, through the clear star lit night with a shining white half-moon lying on his back, off we went to Puttaparthi.

I joined the morning Omkar for the first time; I was so taken by its strong vibration that I felt myself dropping in the ocean of God’s Love. In the afternoon, Baba spoke of Christ and on the true significance of his words which the world has missed.

Far far away from home, that day gave me all the happiness and bliss of Christmas. The warm hearted greetings from devotees made me feel at home.

On the last day of the year, Swami called me for an interview. “What do you want?” He asked. “Oh, quite a lot!” I replied. “But, my main wish is that you look at the watercolour landscapes I painted for your Birthday… Chitravati with the hills beyond, and the expanse of sand where you thrilled your devotees with miracles.” He looked at them and said, “Oh, I am very happy,” He went through the pages of my sketch book and all the little drawings. At this, I mustered enough courage to ask, “Would you allow me to paint you?” “Yes! I would be very happy. Do it when I am back at Whitefield.”

Then, he looked into my eyes and said, “But, first let me set right your physical condition. Your health is not quite what it ought to be.” Then, he materialised a little OM locket for me. For me it was the happiest day of the year; I felt overwhelmed with joy.

I am leaving for Germany, thinking of all the months spent in the presence and omnipresence of our beloved Swami. He has taught me many lessons, easy and hard. I know that I have changed a lot and I plan to change and develop further. I am taking with me the picture of Swami, in my sketch book as well as in my heart. I hope to accomplish my wish painting a fine picture for Him and becoming a fine picture for him, of purity, humility and love, which he will bless.

American Leni Matlin January 1976 Whitefield

Leni Matlin’s account of his time with Sathya Sai Baba is chronicled in his 2000 book One Soul’s Journey.

Leni Matlin seen here in the far right of the photo, seated wearing a japamala, Hyderabad, 1976.

American Jack Lenchiner April 1976 Whitefield

Jack Lenchiner filmed this interview on the 24th of December 1978. Not good quality, however, it is believed to be the complete tape.

The next day Lenchiner films two weddings performed by Sathya Sai Baba.

American Gary Yoder May 1976 Dharmakshetra for a week and the on to Ootacamund

Gary made his first of six trips to India, in May of 1976, first spending a week near Sai Baba at the Dharmakshetra in Bombay, and then attended Sai Baba’s first Summer School at Ootacamund. Gary studied
Hatha Yoga with Indra Devi, taking her last teacher’s course in the summer of 1978.

Gary Yoder, April 2021.

Hungarian born Suzie Parvati Reeves 1st September 1976 Prasanthi Nilayam

In this video interview by David Kashtan, Ms Suzie Parvati Reeves describes her spiritual journey to Sathya Sai Baba.
Reading an article about him in the December 1975 issue of Vogue Magazine and she then decided to travel to India for a six month stay. She remained for 24 years. In the interview she also relates her traumatic memories as a child survivor of the Holocaust in her native Hungary. She presently lives in Israel.

Italians Antonio and Sylvie Craxi 1976 Whitefield

Economist Antonio Craxi (1936 – 2017) was the younger brother of former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi (1934 – 2000). Craxi, with his second wife, the former French model Sylvie, lived in Prasanthi Nilayam from 1978, six months after their daughter Ananda was born, until 1986 before returning to Italy to his estate in Pontevecchio di Magenta.

A Bocconi University graduate, Antonio Craxi caused a sensation when with his second wife Sylvie he became a follower of Sathya Sai Baba by moving from Pontevecchio di Magenta to India, definitively after the death of their eldest son Andrea. The children born after Andrea were Bettina, Sandra, Ananda and Victory, who joined the two children from their first marriage. The Craxi children speak Sanskrit like Italian.

Prasanthi Nilayam, on the official visit of the Italian Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi to India in 1987, (L to R) Antonio Craxi, his brother Benedetto “Bettino” Craxi the Prime Minister of Italy, Beneditto’s wife Anna Maria Moncini Craxi, Sylvie Sarado Craxi, wife of Antonio.
Sathya Sai Baba, Benedetto “Bettino” Craxi the Prime Minister of Italy and his wife Anna Maria Moncini, November 5th, 1986, Prasanthi Nilayam. After completing official business in China, the flight was diverted to India for a strictly private visit.
Benedetto “Bettino” Craxi the Prime Minister of Italy and his wife Anna Maria Moncini, November 5th, 1986, Prasanthi Nilayam.
Antonio Craxi caused a sensation when with his second wife Sylvie he became a follower of Sathya Sai Baba by moving from Pontevecchio di Magenta, where they lived, to Prasanthi Nilayam. In the photo is daughter Ananda, her autobiography is Fuori Posto (Out of Place). She began and completed her academic career in South India. She holds a BA in English Literature specialising in literary criticism. She is passionate about Indian classical dance (Bharatanatyam) which she learnt and practiced in India for twenty years.
Sathya Sai Baba and baby Ananda.

American Patricia Kelly 1976

Patricia Kelly (1933 – 2013) from Santa Barbara was a concert violinist as a teenager, and played until she was 35 years old. She was a seeker of truth. When her boys were very young, 4, 3 and 2, she began to take yoga classes and learned to meditate with Helen Vreeland. It was then that she learned about Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and took him as her spiritual guru. She took her first trip to India at the age of 43 with her son, Sean, who was age 10 at the time. She returned to India several more times, including two trips with her son Rob. Patty always considered India to be a magnificent and beautiful place, a place where yogis and other holy ones had divined the path to enlightenment.

Patricia Kelly.

Ravi Shankar and George Harrison December 1976 at the Dharmakshetra Ashram in Bombay

Ravi Shankar and George Harrison receive the darshan of Sathya Sai Baba in December 1976 at the Dharmakshetra Ashram in Bombay. Having finished the first leg of his “33 1/3” promo tour, George now headed off to the Seychelles islands for a couple of days and then onto Bombay, India to spend a month with Ravi Shankar and his family. Whilst there he attended the wedding of Ravi Shankar’s niece and also the spiritual festival of the Kumbh Mela in Benares that is held once every twenty years. This is an excerpt from the film ‘In The Light Of Prophecy’ by Richard and Janet Bock (who had earlier in 1972, introduced Ravi Shankar to Sathya Sai Baba).

A few days later George and Olivia went to see Baba at the Whitefield ashram, Brindavan, near Bangalore for a few days. George was seen on the ashram for a couple of days by devotees. They were staying at the Hotel Ashoka in Bangalore and commuting to the ashram each day for darshan.

“My Sweet Lord” from the triple album All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, was released on the 23rd of November 1970, Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday.

In 1970 John Lennon and Yoko Ono visited the ashram, Indra Devi was given the job of chaperoning them while there. Devi says “I remember introducing John Lennon to Sathya Sai Baba and called him ‘Lemmon’ by mistake. I confused him with a movie star. That shows you how much I know about these things.”

Yoko Ono said Lennon and she had visited the ashram during their visit to India.

“We had been in Bombay for a couple of nights and gone on all the way to the mountains to the camp of Sai Baba. it was an incredible experience….We felt it was important to sit in his lecture and John insisted that we sit together despite women and men not being permitted to sit together.”

Her first trip to India in the late Sixties, ended early. “The four boys (The Beatles) had so much fun during an earlier trip that John thought it would be a good idea to come back. We went up to the (Sathya) Sai Baba camp near Mumbai, but they wouldn’t let the men and women sit together. I like to be honest about everything. Perhaps, it was rude, but John and I insisted on being together, and he couldn’t keep his hands off me. In the end, they asked us to leave and we went back.”

Author Paul Robert Williams recounts in his book ‘Empire of the Soul’ that during his stay in Prasanthi Nilayam in 1974 – “One day John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting in the sand with the rest of us, next day it was the president of India, a producer of the James Bond films, the photographer David Bailey, or some high-ranking Italian politician. Yet there was only one star in that small world, and he seemed unimpressed by those who walked tall in the world beyond, often paying more attention to some ragged group of peasants who had walked miles for his blessing than to those who had arrived in air-conditioned limousines. Ignored, John and Yoko left in a huff.”

Ida Marion St. John from California and Gita Orescan from Germany

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part IV by N. Kasturi

Dasara 1977. The seven-day Vedic rite of Jnana Yajna, (see Esoteric Significance of the Veda Purusha Jnana Yajna) which forms an important part of the Dasara festival, was inaugurated by Sri Govinda Narain, the Governor of Karnataka. An indication of the surge of devotion to the Avatar, which binds human hearts ‘though they come from the ends of the earth’ was the joint recital of songs on Baba, both in English and Sanskrit, by Ida Marion St. John from California and Gita Orescan from Germany.

English musician Dana Gillespie 1978

Dana Gillespie is a singer, actress, and song writer and blues diva. Her first performance in Prasanthi Nilayam was at the time of Sathya Sai Baba’s 70th birthday. Although her life has become synonymous with her music, in the 1970s, she became well known for her appearances in London’s West End theatres. She played the original Mary Magdalene in the first London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

In a 2011 interview with Radio Sai, she said – When I first read a book on Sai Baba, which was Man of Miracles, it was about 31 years ago, then I did something I never do. I instantly went to get a ticket. Actually, my father bought it for me. He said, “I have a feeling you’re meant to do this.” So three weeks later, I leap on a plane and head to India.

I had this feeling that Sai Baba was going to say when I got here, “Hello! I’ve been waiting for you. You are the chosen one.” But of course, not a bit of it. He ignored me for 12 years. I slept in the sheds, got eaten alive by mosquitoes, had extraordinary experiences, coincidences, things that a non-believer will go, “Well, that’s just a coincidence!” But you know, when you have Baba in your heart and you have faith, then you realise that nothing is a coincidence. I had quite a few unusual experiences.

And they were enough to keep me coming back sometimes twice a year to sit and be crushed at the back. My leg was bad. So, the first time I came here, I actually walked into the place and left in a wheelchair instead of being the other way around, because I was determined to sit cross-legged.

American Patricia Wing 1978

Patty (1942 – 2020) worked as a school nurse for the majority of her career in Ojai, California where she lived from 1983 onwards. She was very interested in Eastern philosophy and religion, mainly the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba who she would come to see as her spiritual guru for the rest of her life. From 1978 she would travel to India to see Sathya Sai Baba over 10 times, sometimes staying for months. His teachings and the community of loving people she met through this organisation were a central part of her life up until she passed.

1978, (L to R) Robin, Jackie, Patricia in the centre.
Puttaparthi 1978, (L to R) Susan, Patricia, Robin, Jackie
Patricia on her way to India in 1982!
Patricia in Prasanthi Nilayam, 1982.
On Chitravathi Road, Puttaparthi, at the base of the track leading to the Wish Fulfilling Tree (Kalpavriksha) early 2000s (L to R) Patricia, Jennifer.

American attorney Robert Baskin mid February 1978 and stayed until the end of 1979

Sathya Sai Baba and Robert Baskin, Prasanthi Nilayam. This photo is from his wife Diana Baskin’s book Divine Memories of Sathya Sai Baba (1990).

Canadian musician Walter Maynard Ferguson and his American wife Floralu (Flo) Ferguson (Farmer) April/May 1978 Whitefield

Walter Maynard Ferguson (1928 – 2006) was a Canadian jazz trumpeter and bandleader. His marriage to American Floralu (Flo) Ferguson (Farmer) (1929 – 2005) in 1956 lasted until her passing.

Maynard writes “At the Summer Course in 1978 at Brindavan my wife and I first came to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Baba allowed me to perform a concert with Vemu Mukunda and his Indian musicians at one Summer Course session. At the climax of my main solo, Baba sitting in the centre of the stage, rose to his Feet and holding out his arm with palm down, while the audience cheered, materialized a beautiful jewelled necklace, paused, then made it larger to accommodate my neck size, which swells when I play. With the crowd still applauding, Swami garlanded me with this necklace. As he did so he smiled, close into my eyes, and said, whilst holding before me the gold medallion hanging on the necklace, “On this I give you Krishna because he played a wind instrument.”

“We both laughed. The audience was thrilled. I was ecstatic. Someone in white asked, “Discourse, Swami?” I heard Swami’s voice say, “Already had discourse.” And taking my hand, He led me to the front of the stage, and following his direction I bowed to the audience. Then Baba, being the perfect master of ceremonies, held out His other hand for Vemu Mukunda to join us for a final bow. This was my first experience with Swami. It was fun, joy, mystery, excitement and sweetness too. That is what Baba meant to me that first day – and still does, plus much more.”

Maynard and Flo, Photo: maynardferguson.com.
The first concert in Whitefield, 1978 (L to R) Vemu Mukunda, Sathya Sai Baba, Maynard, Photo: maynardferguson.com.
Maynard Ferguson and close friend Vemu Mukunda rehearsing for a concert in India, Photo: maynardferguson.com.
The 70th Birthday celebrations of Sathya Sai Baba, 1995.

Maynard Ferguson’s life and music were greatly influenced by the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba. Maynard had lived in India for a short time and returned for two months each year to teach music to the Indian students at Baba’s ashram. Influenced by the music of India with all its expanded time signatures and unique instruments as well as a new spiritual path of oneness.

A jam in the Institute foyer, Maynard and student Hari Abburi still in marching band attire after the Opening Ceremony of Sports Week. October 1991.
One of the practice sessions in the Administrative Block of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

American Professor Frank Baranowski July 1978 Whitefield

Professor Frank Baranowski (d. 2002), a psychologist and regression therapist, specialised in research on auras, the energy patterns that surround all living beings, and worked at the University of Arizona. He was an expert in bio-magnetic field radiation photography. He photographed and interpreted the auras for numerous men and women using the ultra-sensitive Kirlian camera.

Professor Baranowski had read several books about Sri Sathya Sai Baba, including Dr Samuel Sandweiss’ Sai Baba, the Holy man and the Psychiatrist. He wondered whether such a person could really exist and whether all that was written about him was factual. As he was, at that time, writing a book on reincarnation based on case studies and other findings, he was interested in Sathya Sai Baba’s claim of being a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.

During Christmas 1977, Professor Baranowski was a guest at a home where a Bhajan (devotional songs) session was in progress. A stranger to this form of worship, he withdrew to a room upstairs. He was resting there quietly in the dark room when, to his astonishment, a candle on the table suddenly burst into flames. The bright flame illuminated a nearby picture of Sathya Sai Baba. He could not understand who could have lighted the candle. He was alone in the room. There had not been any sound and no one had come in. How could a flame appear all of a sudden on the wick of the candle? He stared at the picture and it did many things to him. It seemed to penetrate into him and to beckon to him. To a man of science, this occurrence was totally inexplicable.

The thought of Sathya Sai Baba lingered in him long after the candle experience. He decided to go to India and visit Sai Baba. Here is the account of his encounter with Baba for the first time, in his own words:

“Sathya Sai Baba? Yes, I had heard of Him but with a lot of mixed emotions. The stories that were attributed to this man bordered on the incredible. As a man of science, I am aware of psychosomatic healings, and I have seen miraculous healings done by such notable personalities as Olga Worrell, and at such famous places as Lourdes. Yet, here were rumours of a man from India who could heal people by His mere touch. The story hinged on the unbelievable.

In July of 1978, I found myself at the first World Peace Conference at Bangalore. I had heard that Sathya Sai Baba resided in a place called Whitefield. This small community boasts of a college founded by Sathya Sai Baba and dedicated to science and commerce. As I arrived by taxicab, the first thing I noticed was the refreshing cleanliness of the area.

Though hot and stiflingly humid, hundreds of Indians and foreigners crowded the grounds surrounding Sathya Sai Baba’s ‘Ashram’ or residence. I joined the patient assemblage, sitting squat-legged among the Eastern visages. I didn’t have to wait long until Sathya Sai Baba appeared. I must confess, this first time I saw him I was not impressed.

He was of small stature and walked among the people as if he were distracted. He would hardly take the time to look at a person or to talk with them – then he would suddenly turn his head as if looking for someone else. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realised I was seeing an individual who possessed gifts beyond description.

It was about five o’clock in the morning, and the followers had been singing their devotional songs and chanting during a parade around the compound at Whitefield, when Sathya Sai Baba came out of his residence.

Now, I have always been able to see the human aura. The auras around average people extend as much as three to five feet. Auras are composed of every imaginable colour and these colours change as a person’s emotional, physical and mental states change. In general, whenever the colour blue is evident in a person’s aura, it is an indication of deep spirituality; green is a healing color; yellow indicates high intelligence; and red means anger or frustration.

The colour pink, which is rarely seen, typifies a person capable of selfless love, and this was the colour that Sathya Sai Baba had around Him. The aura around Sathya Sai Baba went beyond the building reaching thirty or forty feet in all directions. Never having seen any aura like this before, my first reaction was to look for fluorescent lights, which may have been shining on him. But as I watched, the beautiful pink energy pattern moved as he moved; there was no doubt that this was His aura.

Entranced by this remarkable sight, I barely heard the devotional songs that were being sung, and before I knew it, Sathya Sai Baba had gone. The crowd settled in the now-familiar cross-legged positions and prepared themselves to wait until Sathya Sai Baba’s next appearance, four hours later.

I have had the pleasure of meeting such personalities as ex-president Gerald Ford, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, and Pope John Paul II, and I have studied their auras as well as tens of thousands of others, I say this not as a testimonial but as a fact; not one person I have ever seen has an aura to compare to the size and colour of Sathya Sai Baba’s aura.

The heat was remarkable; the humidity hung like a wet cloth over the gathering. Amid chanting, a few anxious eyes watched the threatening skies, Dark clouds gave foreboding signs of torrential storms, but all around me devotees were assuring each other “Sathya Sai Baba won’t allow it to rain.”

Then, there he was again, I felt my heartbeat quicken as he turned in my direction. Soon he stepped beside me, looked at me, and then made a quick motion to the man seated beside me. Suddenly crushed lilies began to appear in the palms of His hands, and as they poured forth, the petals filled the cupped hands of the seated man. But the flower petals didn’t stop coming; they went on to fill the waiting hands of a second, a third and then a fourth person!

As this great man turned away, he glanced in my direction as if to say, “Have you noticed what I have just done?” I couldn’t have helped witnessing what had happened. To answer possible arguments, Sathya Sai Baba’s sleeves reached his elbows. So it was not by magic tricks that these petals appeared. And I was not hypnotised into believing I was seeing them, for I am a licensed hypnotist myself and am very difficult to hypnotize. Within my limited understanding, it was difficult to believe I had just witnessed this miraculous demonstration. I sat there, in that same position, for a very long time, dumbfounded by what I had seen.

The very next morning I felt myself drawn back to the very same compound, sitting in the lotus position and waiting for Sathya Sai Baba to appear once again. As I sat quietly, I heard a voice in my mind tell me that I must cross the field, walk through the area where the women were standing and talk to a man who was standing against a building there. I did not feel comfortable approaching a stranger, especially in a strange country where there is a language barrier, but I could no longer ignore the voice in my mind. I went across the field and found a man standing against the building. I spoke to him.

“I hope you speak English. I have a voice in my mind that says I must speak to you”. He introduced himself as Professor Narender, and he said, “You must be the lecturer Sathya Sai Baba said would speak to me today.” I am a lecturer; I have given approximately 9,000 lectures all over the world. But how did this man know that?

In the next four days I watched Sathya Sai Baba with his people. He calmed them; He gave them hope. As he walked among them, the beautiful pink colour in His aura permeated the violent red colours in the crowd. His selfless love transcended their fears and worries. Perhaps you have to meet this man to understand his gifts. He gives of himself to thousands of people from all around the world who await his blessings.

Professor Narender’s message to me proved to be that I was to speak to Sathya Sai Baba’s College on Friday afternoon. 800 students and later 100 teachers listened to my lecture. As I stood next to Sathya Sai Baba, I could see his aura reach beyond the platform. It surrounded all the people in the room. Soon his love – and that’s the only word I can use for the warm, buoyant, totally immersing emotion we experienced that evening – reached each and every person in that room and they began to sing and chant devotions to this man.

The word ‘Avatar’ is often used when referring to Sathya Sai Baba, meaning one who has Christ-like powers, or God-like power and one who may even be God Himself. Now, I am a devout Catholic. Yet I would be a fool if I did not recognise the powers this man has. Amidst the singing and chanting, the Avatar turned to me and said, ‘Because you are a man of such great love….’ and he showed me the empty palm of His hand. He circled his hand in the air three times and produced a ring with the nine precious gems of the world embedded in gold. He said, “It will only fit the first finger of the right hand.” And indeed, that is the only finger it fits. It’s magnificent! It’s a beautiful ring! But it holds special meaning to me because this great man, this Avatar, graced me with His words: “Because you are a man of such great love…. “

The next day I was once again honoured by Sathya Sai Baba as I was granted a private audience with Him. I was anxious to discuss not only reincarnation with him, but also my grandson. The boy was born with a heart defect. At the age of one year he weighed slightly less than seven pounds. Numerous operations left him with little hope for a normal life, even if he survived at all. But before I could mention this to Sathya Sai Baba, he told me that there would be an operation on the day I arrived home (in Arizona) and that the baby would be well. I said, “You must be wrong. The baby is not old enough to have this operation. The physicians said the minimum age for the operation would be at age two, even two and a half.” Sathya Sai Baba just smiled, and said, “No, it will be on the day you arrive home.”

He was right. On the day I arrived in Arizona, the baby was operated on. The doctor who performed the surgery gave my grandson little hope of survival. When my daughter introduced the doctor to me, I discovered he was from India. I told him I had just returned from there, and mentioned some of the places I’d been to. When I mentioned Whitefield he interrupted me and asked, “That’s Sathya Sai Baba’s country, isn’t it?”

I said yes, and showed him the ring I had been blessed with. The doctor looked at me with the eyes glowing, and said, “The child will live,” as if all that was needed was the mention of Sathya Sai Baba’s name.

The child did survive. Perhaps of all the miracles I witnessed in my ten days in India, no miracle is as great as the miracle of one man giving so much love to so many people. In my estimation and experimentation, Sri Sathya Sai Baba is, aura-wise, exactly what he says he is and what he asks everyone to be. He is love, pure and simple. He is love walking on two legs. Such unselfish love is nothing other than Divinity.

His own words say it best: “Love. Continue to love and all will be well.”

Sri Sathya Sai with Professor Frank Baronowski.

American Jack Hawley 1978 Whitefield and stayed for a month

Jack Hawley, PhD, has emerged as one of the preeminent teachers of the Bhagavad Gita in the world today. Each year, he and his wife Louise spent six months in India studying and lecturing at a spiritual community, and six months in the U.S., living and teaching the wisdom of the Gita, one of the greatest spiritual works ever written.

Jack Hawley is also a business consultant, currently the president of Jack A. Hawley Associates and founder of Team Climate Associates (a consortium of consultants in effective work environment); prior to this, Hawley spent ten years as an executive in the high-technology and service industries. In 1978 his search for new approaches to individual and organisational transformation took him to India to study with Sathya Sai Baba. The one-month trip grew into a deep, lasting relationship with Eastern wisdom and a new career as writer, lecturer, and teacher. His graduate work was done at Cornell University in Industrial and Labor Relations, and at Columbia Pacific University. He holds a doctoral in organisation behavior and has taught part time at several universities including Cornell, University of California, Pepperdine, and the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in Puttaparthi, India. When not traveling, Hawley and his wife Louise live in Southern California.

Jack Hawley PhD is the author of several widely read books: Reawakening The Spirit In Work – The Power Of Dharmic Management, Roadmaps to Self-Realization, Essential Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita: Ancient Truths for Our Modern World, The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners.

Jack Hawley’s website is GitaWalkThrough.com.

Paradigm Shifters Presents a Tribute to Sai Baba by a Jack Hawley;

British Peggy Mason and Ron Laing 1978

Peggy Mason was an actress in her young days, and a writer later on. During the second half of her life, she had been writing on spiritual and metaphysical themes, for renowned journals like Two Worlds. She and her husband Ron came to India to see Sathya Sai Baba in 1978. At the first private interview the Masons had, Baba materialised a rosary of 108 crystal beads and put it around Peggy’s neck. He also produced a Baba ring and put it to Ron’s finger. He let the aged couple to embrace Him, and spent almost a full hour with them, speaking kindly and enlightening them on many spiritual points. Man and wife were overwhelmed. They were satisfied that their journey to India, so difficult at their age, had been more than fully rewarded. After that, they had many more private interviews with Baba.

 Sathya Sai Baba. Embodiment of Love (1982) by Peggy Mason and Ron Laing.

Peggy Mason.

American Susan Salguero 1978

Susan Salguero wrote When God Came Walking: 1978-1980 with Sathya Sai Baba (2014) after a life-altering three-year stay in Baba’s ashram in India. The book is a firsthand account of the majesty and wonder of this miraculous being as seen through the eyes of an ordinary American woman who lived in his ashram for three years. This is a journal for anyone on the path of devotion towards enlightenment, known in India as the path of Bhakti.

Susan Salguero.

American Homer Youngs 1978

Homer compiled Translations by Baba (1975), an early useful reference book of translation definitions taken from the edited English translations of Sathya Sai Baba’s Discourses. This ‘dictionary’ contains over 2,000 terms, with definitions from Sai Baba’s own writings.

American Lila Taylor 1978 Prasanthi Nilayam

Danes Hagen and Tata Hasselbalch (1920 – 2012), Preben Plum December 1978 Prasanthi Nilayam

Samuel Sandweiss writes; Professor Preben Thorvald Paul Bretteville Plum (1906 – 2002) is the head of the Danish Paediatric Clinic of the University Hospital in Copenhagen. As a well-known and respected personality in the medical community, he has devoted his entire professional career to treating and rehabilitating crippled children. He was chairman of the Danish Medical Research Council and influenced the direction of research in his country. Now at the age of 72, in the face of impending retirement, when he read my first book Sai Baba: The Holyman And The Psychiatrist, He directed his interests to spiritual matters . He contacted me. He said, “I would like to see Sai  Baba, and I wonder if I could make an appointment with you on any day.”

We met at  the ashram one rainy day in December 1978. Plum was in the company of his friend Hagen Hasselbalch (1915 – 1997), who had been making documentaries for forty years. Plum apologized for the inconvenience and hoped it wouldn’t take too much for a place in our modest room with a concrete floor. He had unfolded an air mattress and sat down on the floor.

Two psychiatrists accompanied me on the journey. However, Baba did not pay attention to us until Plum  appeared. Then he invited Plum, me and Hagen for an interview.

Baba sat on the footstool in front of us, I sat on the floor to His left, the professor in front of Baba, and the filmmaker to the back to the left of the professor. There were about ten more people in the room sitting against the wall. Dr S. Bhagavantam, a well-known Indian physicist, former chief adviser to the Indian government and now Baba’s best translator, approached the door. Baba said, “We don’t need you. Sandweiss will translate.

This was surprising for me. Though dazed, I chuckled because I find it difficult to translate English into Telugu or Danish. Luckily Baba chose to speak English and he allowed me to develop some topics – he would take breaks when he knew I could add something. In a sweet and gentle way, he gave me a chance to feel really needed.

Baba looked gently at Professor Plum. What a sight it was – this older professor, now at the end of his career, sitting humbly before the Master. Everyone was silent with due respect when Baba began to say to Plum “What is science? Who is a scientist? Professor Plum hesitated so Baba continued, “Science is a way of looking at the world around us through the mind. The nature of the mind is duality; he divides reality into various names and forms – he thoroughly analyses, compares, contrasts, separates, categorizes – tries to define and define reality using words and concepts.

“The entire cosmos – the whole material universe, this vast space – looks like a foam bubble in the ocean of reality. The mind that is watching he asks for it through the senses, I try to comprehend and understand everything – this mind is even bigger than the cosmos; he could even contain it and understand it. But even this enormous mind is like a tiny wave in the ocean of reality. You are the ocean. You are not a sea foam bubble, nor are you a wave – you are beyond separation. You are everything – you are the ocean.

“The mind perceives separation, duality; but it is possible to demonstrate reality in a different way – as one . It is possible through heart and love. Love seeks to connect with others; two become one. Love sees one thing. In order for a limited little wave to understand that it is an ocean, it must reconnect with the ocean through love.

Scholars ask, “What is this something that is found in the outside world and is perceived through the senses?” The spiritual aspirant says, “What is that something above the material world and senses, beyond duality and beyond mind?” That “something” is the ocean from which it all comes.

Baba paused for a moment and then cheered up more. “My name is Sathya, the Truth. I represent what is beyond the mind. I have come to show you who you are – the reality that is beyond the mind. How can a scientist understand Me? I am in every place, at all times – I am all that has been and I am thanks. I can transform earth into heaven and heaven into earth. He paused and, looking at us with amused eyes, said, “I don’t do this very often because it causes some people a problem.”

Everyone was laughing , and Baba was very happy that we were feeling happy. He continued: “How can a scientist know My reality? How can you explain it? Baba became even more animated and in the air began to circle his hand in a large circle. In one surprising moment a beautiful, silver ring appeared in his hand. It appeared as if in a flash of light and at such a moving point in spiritual discourse that we took our breath away and were bewildered. The mind simply becomes humble and confused in the face of a wonderful miracle. This is because he comes face to face with the creative the power that created all matter.

At that moment, Baba beamed with happiness. He showed everyone a beautiful ring and then looking at the professor said, “How can you explain it?” When he took the professor’s hand, Plum became like a little child. It is amazing to see a human being transformed instantly, even transformed the strongest and most reluctant unbeliever, into an innocent, giggling child.

Baba slipped the ring on the ring finger of Plum’s right hand. The ring fit perfectly.

Preben Plum.
Hagen Hasselbalch.

Americans Johnathan and Rose Roof January 1979

Jonathan Roof is currently retired and living in Tucson, Arizona. Jonathan first visited Sathya Sai Baba in India in 1979. As a result of his interactions with Sai Baba, he wrote the three volumes of Pathways to God. The first volume came was released in 1991 and the third volume in 2004.

Art and Gloria Clokey January 1979 Whitefield

Art Clokey’s clay-animated Gumby had for a long time been a staple on television since the character’s debut in 1956 on the Howdy Doody Show. Clokey maintained a deep interest in the world’s religions, and was particularly involved with the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He attributed much of the regenerated interest in Gumby to the 1979 darshan where Sri Sathya Sai Baba blessed the Gumby doll they had brought to India with them.

In a 1986 interview with The Miami Hurricane, Gloria attributed Gumby’s new found success to otherworldly forces.
“One thing that was significant,” she said “in 1979 we faced foreclosure and a $40,000 debt, we were on the verge of being broke. We went to India to see a holy man “Sai Baba was giving Darshan and he materialised the sacred ash Vibhuti and put some on Gumby. We came back to a revival. Gumby rescued us from this horrible thing that was happening.”

Gloria Clokey, just inside the main gate of Brindavan, Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram in Kadugodi, Whitefield near Bangalore.
Art Clokey.
Art took this photo of Gloria and Sathya Sai Baba during darshan.
Art Clokey (L) sitting just inside the main gate of Brindavan, Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram in Kadugodi, Whitefield near Bangalore.

Americans Robert and Rita Bruce Easter 1979 Prasanthi Nilayam

Rita is the author of five books that Sathya Sai Baba has personally named: Vision of Sai I (1993), Vision of Sai II (1995), Sathya Sai Parenting I, Sathya Sai Parenting II, and Love of Conscience (2003).

Robert and Rita Bruce.

American Dixie Cooper August 1979 Whitefield

Dixie (1937 – 2020) felt inner peace on her first trip to India to see Sathya Sai Baba in 1979. She wrote a book of her life and spiritual journey called From Darkness to Light published in 2009.

Dixie Cooper.
Dixie can be seen here immediately on Sathya Sai Baba’s right.

American Bruce Bouche 1979 Prasanthi Nilayam and stayed for 6 months on this first trip

Argentines Ananda Giri, Monica Zocolosky, Marta Basan, and group 1979 Prasanthi Nilayam

Ananda Giri first heard about Sathya Sai Baba in 1969 from Indra Devi, when he lived in the Los Angeles ashram of Paramahansa Yogananda. It was there, in 1978, that Richard Bock gave him a copy of Aura of Divinity, one of the first films about Baba, shortly before he returned to Argentina.

Ananda Giri, a yoga teacher, settled in Villa Carlos Paz, in the lovely Mediterranean-like region of Córdoba. Inspired by his friend Kriyananda and the personality of Paramahansa Yogananda, he decided to organize a spiritual tour of India in 1979, with one stop at Prasanthi Nilayam. He screened Aura of Divinity in Buenos Aires and Córdoba. Two seekers on this pilgrimage were Monica Zocolosky and Marta Basan. Eventually, it would be Monica who started the first Sai Center in Argentina, while Marta remained in India and lived in Prasanthi Nilayam for fifteen years.

Prior to the organised the trip to India, Monica Zocolosky had experiences of Sai Baba. One day, she came across a pamphlet about Baba in Buenos Aires, but there was no photograph. She began having dreams of a man in orange, who she thought was her guardian angel. Later, Monica heard of a divine incarnation in India named Sathya Sai Baba. Shortly after, she was in a bookstore when a book fell on her head. It was Sai Baba: The Holy Man and the Psychiatrist, and it opened to a page with Sai Baba’s photograph. She instantly recognised Baba as the one who had been appearing in her dreams.

Monica joined the group in the hope of securing an interview with Sai Baba. After reaching Prasanthi, days passed with no interview, but she had a dream in which Baba told her she was to help him in Latin America and that he was going to give her instructions and promised her an interview the next day. As promised, she was called in. Baba indicated she should return to Argentina and open a Sai Centre in Buenos Aires.

American yoga teacher Larry Payne 1979

While on a year long sabbatical in India from 1979 to 1980, Larry Payne met with BKS Iyengar, Yogi Bhajan, Sathya Sai Baba, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), Swami Vishnu Devananda, and TKV Desikachar, the son of the father of modern Yoga – Sri T Krishnamacharya.

Sathya Sai Baba and Larry Payne, 1979.
(L to R) T.K.V. Desikachar, Larry Payne, Indra Devi.

American Richard A. Nelson 1979

Always a seeker, Richard (1922 – 2021) went on pilgrimage to India in 1979 and met his kindred spirit, Terry, where they were married by their spiritual teacher, Sathya Sai Baba at his Whitefield ashram, Brindavan, near Bangalore. They lived in Santa Barbara, California.

Richard A. Nelson.

Lucas Ralli January 1981 Whitefield

It was not until January 1981 that I made my first pilgrimage to find Bhagavan, although by this time I was in daily contact with him in meditation and through the messages. We spent two and a half weeks in Bangalore as Bhagavan was at Brindavan, and we attended darshan there twice a day. I was longing for an interview, but although Bhagavan looked at me and right through me on several occasions, there was no interview. Then Bhagavan left for Madras and was due to go on to Bombay. In a message, He told me to go and wait for him in Bombay which is what we did. Then He arrived and we had the most wonderful darshans at the Dharmakshetra. Again Bhagavan looked at me and right through me. And on the last morning, just before he left Bombay, he called our little group of four people for an interview. Once inside the interview room, time became timeless and it seemed as though Bhagavan enjoyed playing with us, his children, and would give us anything we wanted. The whole atmosphere was utterly divine.

We returned to London but knew that we would be back in India before the end of the year. And in October 1981, we arrived at Puttaparthi just in time for the Dasara festival.

Lucas Ralli with Sathya Sai Baba.
This entire 1995 interview can be viewed on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/132992951

Dane Dr Thorbjørn Meyer February 1981 Prasanthi Nilayam and then with wife Marianne Meyer and 14 other Danes in December 1981

Thorbjørn Meyer.
Marianne Meyer.

Argentinian Leonardo Gutter 1981 in the Madras ashram, Sundaram

Leonardo Gutter and Sathya Sai Baba.

Italian Catholic Priest Don Mario Mazzoleni August 1981 Prasanthi Nilayam

Mario Mazzoleni is the author of three books about Sai Baba A Catholic Priest Meets Sai Baba (1991), The Interview (1998), The Wish-Fulfilling Tree (2002).

This interview by Ted Henry of former Catholic Priest, Don Mario Mazzoleni (left) was recorded in 2000, just before he died. Because of Don Mario’s feelings towards Indian Holy man Sai Baba, he was excommunicated by the Vatican. Don Mario is the author of the book, The Catholic Priest and Sai Baba, must reading for those interested in spiritual growth. Don Mario’s translator for this interview (and for his book) is Dr Christian Moevs (right), Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Notre Dame, he is a leading world expert on Dante. His own interview can be seen here at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJgIdbzY-1k

Silvia Mazzoleni Spinozzi and Don Mario Mazzoleni.
Don Mario Mazzoleni as a young boy.
Don Mario Mazzoleni at the Wish Fulfilling Tree (Kalpavriksha) in Puttaparthi. As a young boy, Sai Baba used to climb this hill by the Chitravathi River with his devotees to get to this old Tamarind Tree. He would often ask them, “What do you want?” Baba would then pick from the tree sugar candy, rosary, peppermint, or any of the fruit that they had requested. There is a cave here too that Baba would use at times, the entrance to which is next to the green concrete canopy.
Darshan outside the Prasanthi Mandir sometime around 1989, not long after the sand was replaced by concrete, Photo: Silvia Mazzoleni Spinozzi.

Dane Birgitte Rodriguez 1981 Prasanthi Nilayam.

Birgitte Rodriguez lived on the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for ten years before meeting Baba.

She wrote Glimpses of the Divine published in 1993. It is an account of one devotee’s spiritual odyssey through Catholicism, Zen Buddhism, and Sri Aurobindo to the Feet of Sathya Sai Baba. There are many personal recollections written in an easy to read, yet reflective narrative. 

Birgitte Rodriguez.

Americans Raye and Joy Thomas December 1981 Prasanthi Nilayam

Joy Thomas wrote five books about Sathya Sai Baba – Life is a Game. Play It (1989), Life is a Challenge. Meet It (1991), Life is a Dream. Realize It (1992), Life is Love. Enjoy It (1994), Life is Awareness (1995).

Argentine Mr. Hugo Baldi and family 1981

After Hugo Baldi and his family returned to Argentina in 1981, together with other new devotees, he began undertaking extensive social service. Hugo relates, “When the devotees decided to buy an abandoned mechanic’s shop on Uriarte Street and move the Paraguay Street Center there, I was initially opposed to the idea, until I had a dream in which Swami and I entered the workshop and he began to dance. This confirmed to me that the Uriarte Street building was the appropriate location.” The workshop required a great deal of remodeling, but it has since become the largest Sai Center in Latin America, often with 400 devotees in attendance.

American Yaani Drucker 1982

Yaani Drucker says that Sathya Sai Baba has led her through an inner journey, which she says has synthesized his teachings with “A Course In Miracles” and the Bible. All her experiences and interviews with Sai Baba support her conviction that he is the world teacher who has come to lead all humanity back to its divine source. Her book Not Guilty – Undoing the Illusion of Separate Existence was published in 2008.

Americans Connie Shaw and fiancé Jim Wright 18 March 1982 Prasanthi Nilayam

Connie Shaw is the author of Wake Up Laughing: My Miraculous Life With Sai Baba (2000).

German healer Kai Kroeger Christmas 1982 Prasanthi Nilayam

Sathya Sai Baba visited Kai Kroeger and spoke with him in his house in Germany in 1982. Kai’s first journey to Baba was later in the same year, arriving for Christmas celebrations.

Swiss Victor Tognola 1983

Victor Tognola is an internationally known creative, who expresses his talents in many fields, radio, journalism, television, cinema and commercials. More recently he has directed numerous documentaries based on anthropological research and on the collective memory. The video of two interviews with Sathya Sai Baba in Brindavan (the Whitefield ashram) and Prasanthi Nilayam is from Tognola’s 1990 documentary Who is Sai Baba?

Victor Tognola.

American Judy Warner January 1985 Prasanthi Nilayam

Judith Warner Scher (1939 – 2021) graduated from Columbia University and started her work life as an actress and model for TV commercials. She lived in London during the 1970s where Judy sang in clubs and acted in lunch-time theatre. As a composer and lyricist, she wrote three musicals, one produced as a showcase off Broadway. Jazz saxophone player, Illinois Jacquet, recorded one of her songs. Judy sang with Illinois at Ronnie Scott’s music Club in London.

She then left the theatre and became a book editor and occasional writer. She compiled and edited Transformation of the Heart (1990), The Dharmic Challenge: Putting Sathya Sai Baba’s Teachings into Practice (1994), Inspired Medicine (2000) and Let the Clock Run Wild (2014) as well as edited other people’s books and stories.

Judy moved to Santa Barbara and travelled extensively with her second husband, Jack Scher. After 16 visits to India and Sathya Sai Baba, Judy shifted her life’s focus to service and spirituality.

Husband Jack died in 2003. After he sold his medical publishing business, he became a spiritual book publisher of Sathya Sai Baba books. 

Transformation of the Heart (1990) is a collection of stories by people whose lives have been transformed by Sathya Sai Baba. These stories provide a unique and personal glimpse of Sai Baba, the Avatar of this Age and are a few examples of what happens when Sai Baba touches our lives.

Inspired Medicine: Sathya Sai Baba’s Influence in Medical Practice (2000) narrates the experiences of physicians inspired by Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the reader sees how both the patient and the doctor are transformed.

Judith Warner Scher.

Italian author Antonio Rigopoulos November 1985

In 1985, young Italian researcher Antonio Rigopoulos conducted field research to Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh during October and November for the preparation of his BA thesis on the life and teachings of the Indian saint Sai Baba of Shirdi (d. 1918). In Shirdi and surrounding areas, he was accompanied by a local interpreter who led me from house to house and who translated the words of the respondents from Marāṭhī into English. Published as The Life And Teachings Of Sai Baba Of Shirdi by Sri Satguru Publications in 1993. It contains oral testimonies on Sai Baba. The interviews of each day are preceded by excerpts taken from his personal diary.

While at the ashram I carried with me in a small cellophane package the eight mini-cassettes with all the interviews I had collected in Shirdi, Sakuri, Bombay, and Prasanthi Nilayam – including this one with Professor Kasturi – hoping that Bhagawan Shri Sathya Sai Baba might bless them during darshan. On Thursday afternoon of November 14, during bhajans, I was sitting in first line in front of the Mandir and it so happened that the guru came out of his room for one more darshan. He walked straight toward me and graciously blessed me and my precious envelope. On this occasion he played a līlā, i.e. a trick. He repeatedly asked me: “What is this?,” and when I replied: “Interviews with old devotees of Shirdi,” he remained silent for a few moments and slapped me on my left shoulder. Unexpectedly, he then took the package from my hand and asked: “For me?,” and while saying so he turned and started moving away. I had not anticipated that he could do this and for a second – a very long second! – my heart sank and I thought I had lost my invaluable ‘treasure.’ Terrified at the idea of losing the tapes, I loudly replied: “No, no Swami, for a blessing!” He then stepped back and, with a benign smile, returned the package to me with perfect nonchalance. It was a real lesson in detachment and a most powerful exchange which I will never forget.


Antonio Rigopoulos at the ashram of Panchlegaonkar Maharaj in Khamgaon 1985.
Antonio Rigopoulos with his guide and main interpreter Swami Shekhar Rao and a village boy.
The Life And Teachings Of Sai Baba Of Shirdi.
Oral Testimonies on Sai Baba (2020).

The interviews and audio recordings comprised in this volume are the outcome of a field research to Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh which took place in October – November 1985 for the preparation of the author’s BA thesis on the life and teachings of the Indian saint Sai Baba of Shirdi (d. 1918), discussed at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice in June 1987 (Un maestro dell’India moderna: il Sāī Bābā di Śirḍī. L’uomo, l’ambiente, gli insegnamenti). The conversations of each day are preceded by excerpts from the authorʼs diary. These testimonies record the words of various people in the village of Shirdi and other locales, among whom are the last old men who knew Sai Baba: Balaji Pilaji Gurav, Bappaji Lakshman Ratna Parke, Martanda Mhalsapati, Pandharinath Bhagavant Gonkar, Tukaram Raghujiv Borawke, and Uddhavrao Madhavrao Deshpande. While in Shirdi the author was also able to interview Uttamrao Patil, son of Tatya Kote Patil, and in Mumbai he had the privilege of meeting Swami Ram Baba, who first met the saint in 1914. Taken altogether, these conversations are primary sources for the study of Sai Baba and may help to contextualize Shirdi as a pilgrimage place in the mid-1980s.

Download: https://edizionicafoscari.unive.it/media/pdf/books/978-88-6969-447-9/978-88-6969-447-9_9R4GWgW.pdf

The Hagiographer And The Avatar: The Life and Works of Narayan Kasturi (2021).

This book explores the seminal roles played by a hagiographer in the making of a charismatic religious movement: the post-sectarian, cosmopolitan community of the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba (1926–2011),
the centre of which is the ashram of Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi, in the Anantapur district of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The case study’s protagonist is Narayan Kasturi (1897–1987), a distinguished litterateur and the holy man’s official biographer, who first met Sathya Sai Baba in 1948 and who lived at his hermitage more or less continuously from 1954 up until his death.

My contention is that in order to deepen our understanding of this pan-Indian hero and his movement, attention must especially be focused upon Kasturi’s background, worldview, deeds, and overall aims and expectations. This is all the more necessary given the almost complete lack of research on this figure. Despite the influence exercised by the four volumes of his hagiography titled Sathyam Sivam Sundaram -venerated as a sacred text by all devotees and covering Sathya Sai Baba’s life from his birth in 1926 up to 1979 – little scholarly notice has been paid to this truly remarkable intellectual. My study is therefore intended as a biography of Narayan Kasturi, sharing heretofore unknown or little-known information. There being no English-language academic studies on Kasturi and his significance in the construction of the Sathya Sai Baba organisation, I hope that the wealth of data on him will be appreciated by both scholars and general readers.

German author Jack Shemesh December 1987

Jack Shemesh writes; In 1987, while I was meditating on the form of Jesus, a very old monk dressed in saffron politely intruded and asked me to come to a specific place in India. He vanished and I awoke from the meditative deep-sleep trance. I arranged a flight to India for Christmas Day 1987.

After the longest flight of my life, I reached the designated ashram of a renowned Spiritual Master by taxi and was fortunate to get an accommodation floor-space in a shed. Christmas was in the air. I went to the Temple grounds and saw a few other men leaning against the compound wall. Suddenly an Indian man in a white uniform with a blue scarf told us all to sit down in the lines. I just plunked down where I was standing, the front person in my line. The uniformed Indian spoke English and passed by me smiling, holding a bag up to my face. I put my hand in the bag and pulled out a token. It said, “number one.”

When number one was called, I proceeded towards the Temple Gates and my line followed in step. On entering the Temple Gates, I was able to have a front-row seat, so I sat on my cushion and crossed my legs to peacefully watch the event unfold. As thousands of people rushed in to grab their seats, the commotion grew, until everyone was seated. The noise of chatter faded as disciplinary silence played into everyone’s thoughts.

And then I spotted him. I saw the monk who appeared in my meditation and asked me to come to India. He was over six feet tall, 97 years wise at that time and was the chief pundit to the Spiritual Master. He walked in steady pace behind The Master along the Temple veranda and took a sneak-peek at me.

Suddenly, The Master turned to face me. He stepped onto the hot compound sand and walked straight to me, smiling with a gleam in both eyes. He stopped and stood right in front of me with both feet touching my toes. I looked down at those feet and suddenly felt my heart being pulled into them. The Master swerved His hand and out poured sacred ash over my head. I fell at His lotus feet, touching them with due reverence and then I kissed them and placed my forehead on them knowing in my heart that The Lord of Lords and The Father Jesus said he would bring me to, were One and The Same.

Ever since that day, my life took on a new meaning and though I saw miracles being performed right in front of my eyes, I learned from my Spiritual Master lessons which only a Guru will demonstrate to teach and discipline a devotee. I knew Him as a fun and even playful Master, but shrewd to the core when the rules that govern the universe and codes of conduct over humanity come into play.

Jack wrote When God Walks The Earth (1992). This devotee’s learned treatise has analysed thoroughly the divinity of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Sai Baba’s mandir in Prasanthi Nilayam is a replica of creation and reveals all Vedic truth.

Jack Shemesh.
When God Walks The Earth (1992) by Jack Shemesh.

Americans Charlene Leslie-Chaden and Syd Chaden December 1987

Charlene compiled A Compendium of the Teachings of Sathya Sai Baba (1996) and wrote Your Life Is Your Message: Life Before and After Sathya Sai Baba (1999).

Italian Silvia Spinozzi January 1989

Silvia Spinozzi Mazzoleni was born in Argenta, a small town near Ferrara, Italy. After being in business and working in the fashion and entertainment industry, in January 1989 she travelled to Prasanthi Nilayam. In 1994 she marries Mario Mazzoleni, former Catholic Priest and author of three books about Sai Baba.

Silvia Spinozzi Mazzoleni in Prasanthi Nilayam.
On the ashram Prasanthi Nilayam in 1989, residing in the Womens Sheds, Silvia Spinozzi Mazzoleni can be seen in the centre.

American John Prendergast

John J. Prendergast Ph.D is the author of The Deep Heart (2019) and In Touch (2015). He is a retired adjunct professor of psychology and a soon-to-retire psychotherapist in private practice in the Bay Area. Inspired by a leading Indian guru of non-dualism, he has studied extensively with spiritual masters including Jean Klein, a master of Advaita Vendanta and Tantric Shaivism, and Adyashanti, a trained Zen Buddhist teacher.

From Sathyam Sivam Sundaram – Part IV by N. Kasturi

John Prendergast of the California Institute of Asian Studies has written an article Swami Dreams, focussing more on their instructional value and less on the paranormal processes. He says, 

The overall aspect of these dream-experiences with Sai Baba is difficult to gauge, but my own relationship with Baba has deepened immeasurably. I would characterise the primary influence as being the opening of my spiritual heart, of beginning to balance the intellect with the values of love and compassion. Between the spring of 1977 and 1979, Sai Baba has appeared to me during the dream-state nearly forty times. These have profoundly affected my spiritual awakening and the quality of my relationship with Him. Sai Baba has said that it is impossible to see Him in dreams without His willing it. My own experience of active guidance, chastisement, healing and ecstatic states conferred by Him during the dream-state tends to confirm this. My relationship with Sai Baba is, in fact, more intimate in the dream than in the waking state… As the dream-state relationship grows and deepens, my own inner strength and confidence grows and manifests itself in the waking state. In addition to this effect of the dream-reality nurturing and supporting the waking reality, the distinction between the two realities has softened. Increasingly the two blend, so that dream-images rise in the waking mind like distant clouds.”

John had a dream involving Nisargadatta Maharaj, which was “remarkable because I didn’t know who he was.” Although he has a somewhat “skeptical doubting quality to my mind,” he was open because the dream “had such a numinous sand powerful quality to it” and the sage knew details of his life. In the past, when having big openings, “my mind would come in and say, are you fooling yourself? You know, are you just wanting to think well of yourself or you think you’re further along than you are? And so, that skeptical attitude continued for some years.” But “in this case, it didn’t. For some reason the channel was open to receive that particular experience.”

Preeta Bansal writes in 2021 – In the dream, he found himself in a poor area in Mumbai standing outside of a simple apartment. He looked inside and there was a sage with luminous eyes. “And as soon as I looked into his eyes, I became lucid in the dream. I was aware of this was dream state, but the dream continued and there was a communication that happened.” Nisargadatta telepathically asked “can you be my translator? And I thought, ‘but I don’t know your language.’ … But he came out of his apartment, took my arm. And at the time I was studying with Sai Baba and he said, ‘I know you’re a student of Sai Baba, but you can spend some time with me.’”

After John woke up, he asked his housemate who had been to India about the sage that his housemate had visited in Bombay. And he said Nisargadatta and pulled out a picture, and John realised it was the same person. His housemate gave him the sage’s “very famous book of inner dialogue, mostly with Westerners. And it really had a profound effect. I was in a more devotional kind of practice and orientation at the time. And I remember reading one particular sentence, which was ‘the seeker is the sought.’ The one who is looking is what is being looked for. And something in me said, ‘yes, I know this is true.’ And there was a huge internal shift. That’s when self-inquiry began.” For two years, Nisargadatta’s writings became his “Bible” for two years.

And it turned out that Nisargadatta died a month after the dream.

Podcast interview – 73. Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy: Interview with John Prendergast, PhD Part 1


John Prendergast.

Sai Baba Devotees Reunion at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, Montana, USA, 2019. An eclectic group of doctors, psychologists, painters, designers, travellers and business owners in their 60s and 70s, many with short white-grey hair, glasses and smiles ear-to-ear as they squeal in excitement at the sight of old friends. These people are no strangers to arduous journeys, each one having made the pilgrimage to India over land and sea decades earlier, in search of community and a place to belong when their home countries became too harsh for their young, idealist souls. They were the hippies of their time, leaving home after high school – or halfway through college – with a few backpacking essentials and a dream of finding a peaceful existence, enlightenment and adventure.


The Bombay Ananda Bhavan Hotel on Grant Road in Bangalore was used for many years by devotees of Sathya Sai Baba.

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