Einstein and Psi
Fairy Stories

Sai Baba


So farewell then, Sai Baba. Not immortal obviously, but an extraordinary human being by any standards. Even if what he did was just close-up conjuring, then, as with the most convincing psychics - Uri Geller and Daniel Home, for instance - he took it to new and fantastic levels.

I remember reading books about Sai Baba years ago, at a time when I had yet to make up my mind about psychic phenomena, and being deeply confused. How was it possible that an ordinary person could make things appear from thin air? Sweets, little ornaments, or quite big ones sometimes - he just waved his hand in the air and there it was. As he walked around he would produce these things and give them to people. Of course it can't be done - it's just conjuring. But somehow it wasn't.

Sai Baba didn't do investigations, but in the 1970s Erlendur Haraldsson and Karlis Osis got close enough to observe him in action and to interview some of the people around him. Haraldsson subsequently wrote a book, Miracles Are My Visiting Cards. He carefully considered all the evidence and pointed to some quite serious difficulties for any fraud hypothesis. I don't have the book, but I do have an article which he co-authored from the SPR Journal, April 1995, in which he writes:

Apparently Sai Baba sometimes produces objects in response to specific situations, on demand, or, for example, fruits out of season and not locally available, or rare objects. Sometimes in group audiences Sai Baba may, for example, produce an amount of sweets onto the palm of someone's hand. He then distributes all the sweets until they are finished. Then a new person comes along who was not seen by Sai Baba, or was absent, and asks for a piece. Sai Baba then produces more of the same thing. Haraldsson and Osis observed such an incident.

After being outdoors for hours Sai Baba is reported to produce steaming-hot foods, so hot that those present find them hard to hold. He does this dressed, as always in the hot Indian climate, in one thin robe, which, when there is a breeze, falls rather tight to his body. He also seems to produce his phenomena with the same ease and frequently whether he is in his interview room, travelling in a car or an aeroplane, or when he is somewhere outdoors on a journey.

Haraldsson points out that for over a period of five decades Sai Baba had a number of close associates, who inevitably must have known if fraud was taking place, since they had access to his living quarters and took care of his personal belongings. The guru was constantly handing these objects out - as many as ten or twenty a day - and they would have to be procured and stored. Over the years many of these people left the ashram and some subsequently turned their back on Sai Baba and left his movement altogether. It's difficult to imagine that somewhere along the line one of these people would not have blown the whistle if their former employer was indulging in a tacky deception.

Haraldsson also interviewed a number of people at length for his book and says they all reported that they were as baffled by the phenomena the day they left Baba's ashram as the first day they observed them. Some were highly critical of other aspects of his life or teaching - there have been particularly damaging allegations of sexual abuse, for instance - but this was something they had no explanation for.

So what about the films that claim to expose him. The most ubiquitous of them was made in 1992 by an Indian TV station and shows Sai Baba in front of an audience in a public ceremony taking a large memento of some kind from an assistant and presenting it to an architect. Immediately after handing it over he swirls his right hand in the air and produces a gold chain, which he also hands over.

A newspaper, Hyderabad's Deccan Chronicle analysed the performance and claimed it showed him covertly receiving the chain from the assistant under cover of the memento. According to the paper's "highly reliable sources", the fraud was so obvious that Sai Baba's top staff panicked when they saw the tape on the monitors and ordered all copies of it to be destroyed.

Haraldsson went to India to investigate, taking Richard Wiseman with him to supply his expertise on close-up magic. The pair persuaded the newspaper to dig out the film and show it to them (this was before it was publicly available, obviously). This is from their article in the SPR Journal:

To assess the possibility of sleight-of-hand it is important to study two crucial moments on the videotape. The first is when Sai Baba puts his hands under the memento apparently to support its weight. There is a moment of hesitation as the weight is shifted, during which Sai Baba's left hand and [his assistant's] right hand touch, or nearly touch. At this moment the necklace could have changed hands from [the assistant] to Sai Baba.

The other crucial moment is when Sai Baba lets go of the memento, places his right hand under the memento, and possibly touches his left hand. At this moment Sai Baba could have shifted the necklace from his left to his right hand.

In the Deccan Chronicle it is stated that Sai Baba "takes the gold chain from his personal assistant". However, this definitely cannot be seen on the tape. The chain is not seen until it appears at the end of the swirling circular movement of Sai Baba's right hand.

The meeting and touching of Sai Baba's and the assistant's hands would have given the assistant an opportunity to pass an object into Sai Baba's hand. The question is, however, did such a transfer take place? The tape does not contain enough information to assess this question with any certainty. If such transfer did not occur there needs to be another explanation for why Sai Baba moved his hand over to his assistant's hand. Was it to help him support the heavy memento until it was safely in the hands of the architect, or was there some other reason? We can only guess.

Wiseman had the tape enhanced by a specialist fraud-busting company, which made it clearer to view but did not reveal any additional information.

The film certainly provides evidence of the means by which the act of materialization could be faked. What it doesn't provide is any direct evidence that it was faked. As is usually the case that little detail doesn't matter. After it had circulated among sceptics' groups abroad the British press simply declared that the supposed miracle had been revealed as a "tawdry sleight-of-hand".

I wonder if there will now be some kind of reassessment of Sai Baba in the West. The psychic stuff in his biog is hard to avoid and it will be interesting to see how commentators deal with it.

For me the real-fake dichotomy is not the most interesting thing. It's hard to avoid comparing "miracle-workers" like Sai Baba - and there have been others, in India especially - with Jesus of Nazareth, at least in the context of supposed miracles. It's been a cliché in the past century and a half, even among Christians, to overlook the New Testament miracles as a distraction. What made Jesus so astonishing to his contemporaries is to us, in our more knowing, sophisticated times, merely an embarrassment. If we're interested in the man at all it's because of his essential goodness.

I expect that distinction will be made in the weeks to come with regard to Sai Baba. The only obituary I've seen so far is in the Guardian, which one would expect to consider him and his ilk a repulsive throwback to the dark days of superstition. In fact the article was quite balanced, dismissing the miracles as "gimmicks", but recognizing the very considerable achievements of Sai Baba's charitable foundations, for instance the costly feat of bringing a rich new supply of fresh drinking water to Chennai and improving the lives of millions.

But are psychism and spirituality to be separated? Eastern mystical religions have long viewed psychic phenomena - siddhis - as a concomitant of spirituality, an inevitable experience on the spiritual path. We Westerners can call this a "narrative", implying that it's a convention fashioned by the cultural imagination, and we can then slot Sai Baba neatly into it. Spelled out, this would mean he was just faking because it was the way to be recognized as a super-star guru. Doubtless, that's how some secularists would view Jesus too. Conjuring tricks, coincidental healings and other exaggerated claims were a way of claiming the attention of the masses and getting them to listen to his homilies about living a better life.

Twenty years ago I would probably have gone along with that sort of construction. Now I'm not at all so sure.


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"The film certainly provides evidence of the means by which the act of materialization could be faked. What it doesn't provide is any direct evidence that it was faked. As is usually the case that little detail doesn't matter."

Ever since reading Randi's Prize, I've made a point of periodically checking out sceptical articles and websites. I'm amused and amazed at how often their arguments center around what could/might/probably have been an explanation for various paranormal phenomena. Combine that with three other main tactics; concentrating on events that most credible psi researchers don't even take seriously, actually misrepresenting or willfully ignoring evidence, and building strawmen to attack.
The more I read, the more weight their own arguments give to the idea that their criticism's are based on pure materialist dogma. To accept, or even impartially investigate psi would risk upsetting their whole world. Even worse, if the outcome of such investigations went 'the wrong way', it would threaten their perceived superior sanity :-)


As you detail in your book, genuine mediums still often resorted to trickery. Seems really stupid, doesn't it? A good way to destroy one's credibility. And yet they did it.

Sai Baba may well have been the real deal. Producing steaming hot foods from his hands with no container to hold them sounds real to me.

But did you look at the videos? I gotta say, that stuff looks fake as hell.

The ash pills are as obvious as anything. It's barely even a matter of interpreting the video--you just watch, and it's clear what he's doing.

Of course, there are probably videos as well that look real. He was probably "mixing it up" like the mediums.


"When the dark side of Sai Baba began to be revealed to David, at first I refused to listen, unable to bear hearing anything negative about my beloved 'avatar of the age'. This unhappy state of affairs continued for six months, until on our next visit to India, I had my own validation of David's findings. Can you imagine how it felt as I began to see beyond the veil? For years I had enjoyed the privilege of being called to the interview room and had spent every moment there, focused only on Swami's face; until David suggested that I shift my attention to his hands. Watching rings, watches and other trinkets being palmed, or pulled out from the side of chair cushions, and seeing vibhuti tablets held between fingers before being crushed and 'manifest' was a horrifying revelation, a personal catastrophe for me. I had given up my life, my marriage, husband, children, home, career and homeland because of my love for Sai Baba - only to find trickery at the epicenter of all I held dear."

Many years ago I read a book on Sai Baba and was impressed. Then I wondered if it could be true so I did some internet research. I found many people accusing him of trickery, sexual abuse, and financial fraud.

You can say it's like Eusapia Palladino - she had real powers verified by qualified investigators but cheated also. I would accept that argument for her because there are qualified investigators such as Pierre Curie who said he saw her powers worked in broad daylight while here arms and legs were held by invesigators.

However there are no really comparable investigations Sai Baba. The video's I saw on the internet clearly showed him using slight of hand and I don't see any convincing testimony that he has real powers.

In your short quote the candy example can be explained with slight of hand, he produced some candy distributed it, then produced some more from the same way. Who's to say he didn't keep some in reserve just in case someone else showed up.

The other examples are second hand reports not observed by the "investigators".


It's not enough that you have reliable witnesses, you also need sufficient information about conditions under which the phenomena occurred in order to rule out conjuring tricks.

<<<< "As you detail in your book, genuine mediums still often resorted to trickery. Seems really stupid, doesn't it? A good way to destroy one's credibility. And yet they did it.">>>>>>

Both Drs. Gustave Geley and William Crawford claimed that the fraud cases in those days were greatly exaggerated. Most of it was unconscious fraud, i.e., the medium was in a trance state and her body was being controlled by a spirit entity who was trying to accomplish something by using the medium's hands or feet. However, the observers took it to be conscious fraud and few mediums supposedly caught in the act were given a second chance.

I apologize in advance for offending any devotees of Sai Baba, some of whom I know.

From what I have read, Sai Baba was routinely caught in the act of conjuring, frequently by followers. He would accidentally drop vibhutti (sacred ash) tablets. He would pull watches and things out of the folds of his robe or chair. It seems like common knowledge that the cheap trinkets he passed out were manufactured locally. They are virtually gumball-machine quality. Maybe he did some real psychic feats, but it seems clear that trickery was the order of the day.

Far more serious, of course, are the allegations that have independently arisen from numerous first-hand sources that he was a prodigious pedophile, who used his claim to be God, along with the privilege bestowed on the families of his victims, to pressure boys (always, it seemed, of a certain age range) into sexual activity with him.

I started out with a lot of admiration for him. I knew a man who taught at his college there for many years who would tell miracle story after miracle story.

At this point, I'm sorry to say, I think the world would have benefited from the statement made by him spending his final years behind bars. It's no different than justice catching up to the priests in the Catholic sex abuse scandal.

If anyone is interested, here is a resource page:


This site is particularly eye-opening:


Robert, that's interesting. My knowledge of Sai Baba is from the mid-eighties, and I haven't updated at all since then. Seems I have some catching up to do.

I do wonder about the PK claims, though. I respect an investigator like Haraldsson, and if PK is a genuine phenomenon then one might surmise that he fell to faking things he was once able to do for real. Not something I would want to defend very far though.

As for the sex abuse, it's disturbing the way that supposedly religious types see nothing wrong with it.

Robert, on that last note, I still retain in my mind a letter I got from someone who had attended a number of my Course in Miracles workshops and was also a devotee of Sai Baba (and claimed to have achieved total egolessness herself). I brought up the allegations of sexual abuse with her. She completely acknowledged them, but then said that if Baba is God, then anything he does is for the benefit of everyone. It's all for the good of the world. She then ended the discussion with "LOL!"

Along the lines of what you say, it seems so odd that, here we are on the spiritual path, trying to become perfectly loving, and in the pursuit of that we find ways to justify and even celebrate sexual abuse.

"...was also a devotee of Sai Baba (and claimed to have achieved total egolessness herself)..."

Some folks may attribute this to my Western worldview, but it seems to me that toleration of sexual abuse of the very young, or the absence of even feeling compelled to come to their defense is the antithesis of 'total egolessness'. Or if that really is egolessness, I rather keep my ego. Guess I'm just weird like that.

I think that Sai Baba used ghosts to produce his siddhis. But also his status as a reknowned God man produced faith in God in other people and so his appearances to them miraculously and the appearance of honey and vibhuti on pictures was produced by their faith and had nothing to do with him.

And there were lots of occasions when devotees faked miracles to impress friends etc. So if you got to know about this from personal accounts you could have been easily fooled.

Robert, this is off topic, but I thought you should be aware of this:


I recall reading about Sai Baba in a Time-Life book series on 'Strange Phenomena'. It was such a wonderful, naive time in my life (age 12), believing that all these strange things, like ghosts, psychic phenomena, and monsters, were real. Now, many years later I weakly cling to just a few of them. And when they eventually die as well, I don't think I'll be sad. Life, and the world around us - even if there's nothing 'more' to them than meets the eye, is still very interesting.

Pat, thanks for pointing that out - I may leave a comment

As RobertPerry and dnhg9t.. put it, I gotta agree with them, Sai Baba was a fraud and worse. Never mind his fakery was fairly obvious even to amateur magicians, that's the least of it, he was a well-known pedophile. He surrounded himself with handsome teenage boys for a reason. He was as much of a fraud as Osho/Rajneesh and Adi Da. Given his pedophilia, he was even worse than the latter (who were also guilty of odious sexual abuses with their followers though).

As is pointed out above, David Bailey's
'Findings' remain a definitive exposé of his sexual predation on teenage boys and other followers of his. There are a lot of other sources as well, many of his former followers lost faith in him and would later expose him, including at least one follower who wrote one of the early books praising Baba as a god-man.

It gets worse, there was an incident in which several Indian boys threatened to expose him, the police came to his ashram, there was a violent altercation, at least one or even two boys were killed by the police in the ensuing struggle. It was all hushed up. Sai Baba and those protecting him knew how to butter the bread of all the people in high enough places, also he remained a sacred cow, too much of an untouchable. Plus have you read some of the things he said, his supposed pearls of wisdom?

I thought I had tons of stuff on that conman on my hard-drive, including a source for the murders and cover-up of the Indian boys and some of his "pearls of wisdom", but it's clear that I had it all on another computer and I don't have the time to research it all again. It's all out there..

re Robert Perry's comment on one of Baba's devotees engaging in the most bizarro doublethink, he was a sexual abuser but also a god-man!! Yes you see this so often with people caught in any kind of cult, following their messiahs. Same thing with Osho/Rajneesh. I have read one follower justify Rajneesh's Rolls-Royce collection as his way of mocking the materialist values of the West! And the rest of us are just too stupid and unenlightened to get it.

Cognitive dissonance taken to the limit perhaps.

I took a look at the link purporting to answer Robert's book, and it's weak skeptic tea indeed!

Well Matt what did you expect it was written by skeptics. If they could engage in critical thinking they wouldn't be skeptics :)

I visited the ahsram in the early 90's.
Followers had told me that after meeting
Sai Baba that they lost their jobs. Ironically both my husband and I also fell into this category. We never really recovered financially from the loss of these positions. I was not really a follower, and the second day at the ashram was sitting outside of the temple where followers were singing Bajas. Sai Baba was sitting at the opened window staring directly at me. I had the most terrifying feeling of pure diabolical evil emanating from him.
We left immediately. A well known painter
Joan Brown was a follower. She had visited
with him and then went to work in India
at a temple with an assistant. There was
a terrible accident and she died.

Additional information regarding Joan Brown's death -
". . she was only 52, vitally alive, and the accident was freakish: a turret in the ashram's new museum, then under construction, fell on her and her two American assistants as they worked. She could have left the installation to others but was determined to do it herself."

Satya Narayana Raju aka Satya Sai Baba could get away with the things that he did because he was in a country like India where you can get away with anything if you have the proper contacts in high places. Another thing he relied upon was the gullibility of the people including highly placed politicians, officials and even so called scientists. His was a combination of a Rotary club, an old boys club and a currency exchange. People put it to all these three uses. Again, it was a place of worship, exhibition of his wealth and an abode of 'peace'.
In a poor country where education and health care are not available to lots of people he took up giving them with the obvious intention of covering up all the sleaze that was happening there. Under the pretext that he was 'materialising' gold he was able to smuggle gold into a country where import of this metal was very restricted at one time. As for his pedophilia he covered it with excuses of setting right karma and what not. When there were murders in his bedroom they were not investigated under his instruction that it was an internal matter as if his place was an enclave above the laws of the land.
he has never traveled outside India except to Uganda under Idi Amin which was allegedly to bring the money involved in a shady deal with the disposal of some old military tanks which were actually in working order as scrap.
As for his supernatural materialisations we have been doing those since three decades as well as or probably better than him since we are younger! We have trained thousands of volunteers to do these tricks in an attempt to expose him to the people. Now that the members of his trust have started quarreling among themselves for taking control of the spoils of his wealth it shows clearly as to how effective his so called 'selfless' service was. Anyway this votary of selfless service had no qualms about getting himself conveyed on golden chariots, traveling in posh cars and in short exhibiting his ill gotten wealth in a vulgar display.

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