The passing of a popular billionaire Indian guru in the age of social media

It started as a passing conversation this week. I like to dialogue with folks from various faith traditions. This weekend, I focused on folks from the Eastern contemplative traditions. A friend told me that Sathya Sai Baba passed away. The passing date was April 24, 2011.

Sathya Sai Baba University, Puttaparthi A.P., ...

Image via Wikipedia

This wouldn’t normally be a big occurrence, if it were just anybody. But it was a very “controversial” figure, whom has been around for decades, has millions of worldwide followers and a massive array of humanitarian projects – costing millions or possible billions. This is also a figure whom is said to work miracles, has been the subject of inappropriate sexual overtures, and other waging controversies.

I actually met this controversial figure in the early seventies, after I finished Peace Corp teaching in Liberia, West Africa. I got a good deal on a flight to London, via a German mining company in Liberia. From there, it was easy to travel from London to India. I wanted to visit Indian holy people, to see if folks described in books like Be Here Now by Ram Das or Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda really existed.

Now other controversial figures existed at the time. Folks like “the sex guru” Osho (aka Rajnesh), was popular at the time. But I did end up meeting “interesting” folks like Dhyan Yogi Madhusudan (Dhyan Yoga Center i.e. in book entitled This House is On Fire), Ram ChandraMission (Ram Chandra Mission), Swami Munktananda ( Wiki on Swami Munktananda i.e. in book entitled Play of Consciousness) and Sathya Sai Baba.

I will make a few observations in passing of Sathya Sai Baba, based upon personal experience.

Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital in Bangal...

Image via Wikipedia

  • Since he believed he was an incarnation of God, he would draw attention to himself. This differs from Biblical accounts about Christ, who liked to defer attention to himself and focus people’s attention on the ‘heavenly father.’
  • He did know some things about me I told noone else there. While he didn’t mention me by name, he did say things that only I would know about.
  • I did witness the materializations. But to give the counter view, there are stage magicians who claim to be able to duplicate these events.
  • The workers of true miracles would criticize displaying any abilities in a public way.
  • If Sathya Sai Baba “claims” to be an incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, then what good are the promises after death of Shirdi Sai Baba? Wouldn’t this constitute a logical contradiction (i.e. following philosophy’s branch of logic)?
  • A contemporary Indian holy person said to have  duplicated the feats of Sathya Sai Baba can be found at Dadaji

The different Sathya Sia Baba humanitarian endeavors are impressive. The only two contemporary Indian figures reaching such a scale are Karunamayi (Karunamayi) and Ammachi (Ammachi) . While searching the Internet, I did find some interesting observations by someone spending time with Ammachi, Karunamayi, and Native American spirituality at Amma’s hugs

Let’s look at some Social Media outlooks – shall we?

Sri Sathya Sai University, Puttaparthi, A.P. India

Image via Wikipedia

There’s a facebook fan page at Facebook fan page Sathya Sai Baba. They only have about 200 thousand followers. This is a fraction of the estimated 10 million followers wordwide. On the other hand, the Shirdi Sai Baba facebook fan page at Facebook fan page Shirdi Sai Baba, has a million followers. Now Sathya Sai Baba “claimed” to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. It’s safe to say that the majority of Shirdi Sai Baba followers don’t accept that claim.

Now let’s go over to Twitter search at Search Twitter. If I type in Sathya Sai Baba, I find several real-time tweets. You will see a similar trend with figures like Shirdi Sai Baba.

Sathya Sai Baba was “controversial”. He’s as controversial in his own way as folks like “the sex guru” Osho (aka Rajnesh), the holy spirit healer Pastor Benny Hinn, the pastor Marie Exley Predicting Doomsday on May 21, 2011, pastor Fred Phelps protesting at gay military funerals, pastor Terry Jonesburning of a Koran, Islamic clerics preaching death and destruction, or the sex scandals of the Catholic Church.

It will be interesting to see how social media and history portrays Sathya Sai Baba, in the next few years.

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Charlie Ali’s African Marketing Lessons

Have you ever met the perfect marketer?  Would you believe they might exist in Africa’s darkest jungles?

One of the best marketers I know came from the remote West African jungles.  It was situated in Pleebo, a village in Liberia, West Africa, right near the Ivory Coast.  His name was Charlie Ali, an Islamic trader in African artwork.  I met this fellow when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. He could sell ice cream at the North Pole.

I had two friends at college.  Let’s call them Dick and Jane.  As a teacher, I get the summer off, and went to Sierra Leone to see Jane.  But Jane took off – got jungle phobia – went back home.  So I hang out in this strange African village, with Jane’s strange roommate.  Then Dick stops by, looking for Jane.  He came to the US shortly after Jane goes back to the US.  It reminds me of the Door’s song “People are Strange.”

Charlie Comes Knocking

I invite Dick back to Liberia, to stay with me a spell.  He meets fellow Peace Corps volunteers, African students, Assembly of God missionaries, Roman Catholic priests and nuns, African merchants, and Bridgestone executives.  We have tea with the priests, southern food with the missionaries, go fishing with the executives, drink beer with the Peace Corps volunteers, and fight off students trying to hook Dick up.

Then along comes Charlie!

Charlie’s customers are the well to do, which in his eyes includes all the folks Dick hung out with.  He has his customers profiled – along with the proper merchandise – to appeal to their desires for exotic African artwork.  Charlie presents his merchandise, along with his sales pitch, while Dick sits in awe.  Dick turns to me and asks me about the price.

What side would you take?  Would it be with the marketer, or a former school classmate?  I took the middle road, and said something like this: “The items will be more valuable, when you return to the states.”

What makes Charlie a good marketer?

Charlie knew all the psychological hot buttons to push.  He knew his target audience.  He spent time learning what they desired. If he could write copy, his stories would be legendary.  Yet there’s one element we could learn from Charlie Ali – along with third would countries.  That’s the practice of bartering.  It’s reminds one of the current auto industry, where the sticker price is inflated.  Then the buyer needs to balance this equation:

The Best Money Value = Price paid for new car +
Price dealer offered on trade-in +
Percentage on auto loan, along with loan terms

Charlie was an expert at negotiation, and how to put “value added” to the offerings.  It goes something like this.

“These items are in high demand, and I can’t keep up with getting enough from local merchants.” – translation: scarcity.

“If you buy these items at this price, I’ll throw in this 2 extra figurines, absolutely free.” – translation: value added – infomercial rip-off.

Don’t try to outdo Charlie

The best lesson came from my friend Dick, who attempted to barter Charlie’s price down – with dismal results!  At the end, Charlie appeared to cry genuine tears, when he echoed these words: “You’re trying to cheat poor Charlie Ali.”

I returned to the states.  What happened to Charlie?  If he connected with international business in West Africa, I’m sure he would succeed in the sales and marketing ranks.

Charlie Ali, where are you?

Randy Kemp