Following article is abridged from : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/this_world/3813469.stm
Relevant to tomorrows meeting and discussion on the role of leadership, particularly gurus, in religion and spirituality, the article comments on India’s most famous Avatar Sai Baba.
Buddhism too of course, is not free from misbehaving monks – but then monks do not claim to be ‘Avatars’ or incarnations of God:
Basava Premanand is India’s leading guru-buster.
He believes that the country’s biggest spiritual leader, Sri Satya Sai Baba, is a charlatan and must be exposed.
Basava Premanand has been burgled… again.
It is the third time in just one month. But he is in no doubt of the thieves’ motives.
He suspects they were looking for evidence that he has collected for over 30 years against India’s leading spiritual guru, Sri Satya Sai Baba.
Mr Premanand believes this evidence proves the self-proclaimed “God-man”, Sai Baba, is not just a fraud, but a dangerous sexual abuser.
“Sai Baba is nothing but a mafia man, conning the people and making himself rich”
As India’s leading guru-buster, Basava Premanand is the scourge of all miracle-makers.
He is the founder of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations and the editor of a monthly periodical called The Indian Sceptic.
He believes that it is his duty to dispel the “curse of gullibility blighting his country in the form of myth and superstition“, and replace it instead with the “gospel of pure, scientific understanding“. [why do scientists seek to religify science by words like ‘gospel’ or adding choir music to science films – such as S. Greenfield did with her documentaries on neurology or R. Dawkins]
Rumours about Sai Baba sexually abusing young male devotees have been circulating for years.
In 1976 a former American follower,Tal Brooke, wrote a book called Avatar of the Night: The Hidden Side of Sai Baba. In it, he referred to the guru’s sexual exploits.
But Mr Premanand says that there are many Indians who also claim to have been abused but are too afraid to speak out.
It is no surprise that Indian victims are scared of reprisals. Sai Baba’s influence among the power elite of India is impressive.
Prime ministers, presidents, judges and generals, have all come to the ashram (religious retreat) in Puttaparthi in southern India, to pay their respects.
To date, Basava Premanand has survived four murder attempts and bears the scars from several savage beatings.
In 1986, he was arrested by the police for marching to Puttaparthi with 500 volunteers for a well-publicised confrontation with Sai Baba.
Later that year, he took Sai Baba to court for violating the Gold Control Act by producing gold necklaces out of thin air without the permission of a Gold Control Administrator.
When his case was dismissed, Mr Premanand appealed on the grounds that spiritual power is not a defence recognised in law.
In June 1993, the peace of the ashram was shattered when a gruesome incident took place.
Four male devotees, who were close to Sai Baba, broke into their guru’s private quarters late at night armed with knives.
Their motives are unclear. Some say they were going to warn their guru about corruption among the higher echelons of the ashram. Others say they were going to kidnap or even kill Sai Baba.
They were stopped by Sai Baba’s personal attendants and in the violent struggle that ensued, two of the attendants were killed and two left seriously wounded.
Sai Baba managed to escape through a secret flight of stairs and raise the alarm. Just before the police arrived, the four men escaped to Sai Baba’s bedroom. It was there, the police say, they shot the intruders out of self defence.
Today, this sprightly septuagenarian is as busy as ever, collecting and collating more information. Mr Premanand is preparing for another battle.
“This”, he says mischievously, “is going to be the greatest fight of my life.”