An Open Critique Of Brian Steel: A Stronger Case
Brian Steel Menu (click on a link to go to relevant section):
- Information About Brian Steel
- Brian Steel’s Comments About The English Translations To Sathya Sai Baba’s Telugu Discourses
- Brian Steel Completely Contradicts Himself
- Translation Considerations And Hermeneutics
- The English Translation Is The Proof Plate For Other Languages
- “On-The-Spot” Notes And A 0.04% Error Rate
- Brian Steel Attempted To Cite “premasai” As An Authority
- Brian Steel And The Sathya Sai Baba Birthday Debate
- Brian Steel - Email Correspondence
Brian Steel is a Spanish translator and editor living in Australia. He is currently an ex-devotee of the Indian Guru, Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, India. While a devotee of the Indian Guru, Brian Steel wrote the following books favorable to the guru’s cause and movement:
- A Basic Dictionary for Sai Baba Devotees and Others
- The Sathya Sai Baba Compendium. A Guide to the First 70 Years
- The Powers of Sathya Sai Baba
Although ex-devotees refer to Brian Steel as a “scholar” and a “linguistics expert”, he does not list any credentials on his websites (nor have any publishers made mention to any credentials he may possess). Therefore, the “scholar” and “expert” claims attributed to Brian Steel are unsupported, subjective statements not rooted in fact.
Brian Steel is the webmaster for the following two websites:
His “briansteel.net” domain resolves to:
4/15 Napier Street
61 3 5977 2568
Brian Steel wrote a long-winded article about the “packaging” of Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses. While wading (knee deep) through Brian Steel’s article, I discovered that his entire argument is inherently flawed. To prove my point, let us look at some actual quotes from Brian Steel regarding the English translations to Sathya Sai Baba’s Telugu discourses:
Brian Steel: “SSB’s actual words, sentences, and speaking style, have often been submerged in a heavily edited, polished and sophisticated written version.”
Brian Steel (Regarding The Editing Of Sathya Sai Baba’s Discourses): “1. Change of sentence style from simple to more complex and sophisticated; 2. Condensation of the spoken original; 3. Enhancement or clarification of sentences or paragraphs; 4. Relocation of information to an earlier or later paragraph, making the whole Discourse more cohesive and stylistically sophisticated; 5. Omission of words, sentences, pages, or facts; and 6. Editor’s additions and adornments.”
Brian Steel: “The changes are such that the two products, while conveying (more or less) the same spiritual concepts, are very different sets of communications, as if from two different persons. As has already been hypothesised, this calls into question the exact nature of SSB’s words, for those devotees who wish to quote from written sources alone, or to study the precise words of wisdom in Study Circles. (That, in fact, is ironic: Devotees in SSB Centres all over the world spend regular hours minutely analysing and commenting on short sections of SSB’s Discourses. The concepts, sentences, and phraseology are commented on in minute detail and squeezed for deep spiritual meanings, in the sincere belief that the words and style (as well as the concepts) are SSB’s!”
Brian Steel: “It is not therefore surprising that many (perhaps most) devotees seem to regard the volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks reverently as ‘Gospel’ truth. However, it may come as a surprise to them (they may even be offended) to be told that they are NOT being given a close translation of SSB’s words in these official magazines and printed volumes, but a very highly edited version (with significant additions and omissions, as we shall see), produced by Organisation editors - initially Kasturi himself, later other equally erudite close associates of Baba.”
Brian Steel: “Have the printed Discourses always been so distant from the original spoken versions in both style and content?”
Brian Steel: “In view of the minute attention accorded by devotees to all of SSB’s words and actions, we may ask once more: How is it possible for SSB’s ‘words’ - as opposed to his teachings - to be quoted with any accuracy?”
Brian Steel: “However, as we are now beginning to see, particularly with the ‘Premsai’ evidence, what is eventually printed for wide circulation really becomes more of a hybrid form, a condensation (and sometimes a selection) of SSB’s words, ideas and concepts, significantly enhanced by the editors’ language and stylistic skills.”
Brian Steel: “Glib spokespersons and devotees-in-denial should compare these 8 official literal translations with the official packaged versions to get further evidence of the degree of packaging of their guru’s words.”
Based on the quotes cited earlier, Brian Steel clearly stated that the English translations to Sathya Sai Baba’s Telugu discourses are not what Sathya Sai Baba actually and literally said in Telugu. Brian Steel cited about a dozen examples to illustrate his point. The examples that Brian Steel used do show that those particular English discourse sections were heavily modified and/or edited. Consequently, according to Brian Steel, the English translations are not the actual words and phrases used by Sathya Sai Baba in his original, Telugu discourses.
It is Brian Steel’s opinion that Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses are “packaged, highly edited, polished, condensed, enhanced, inaccurate, distant, different, adorned, significantly added to, snipped and hybridized”. These points are important to remember, because after Brian Steel made his case against the integrity of the English translations, he flip-flopped and cited these very same flawed English translations (yes, the ones he said were “packaged, highly edited, polished, condensed, enhanced, inaccurate, distant, different, adorned, significantly added to, snipped and hybridized”) to attribute literal inaccuracies and discrepancies directly to Sathya Sai Baba!
When it comes to Brian Steel’s “packaging” sermon, the English translations are inaccurate, changed considerably and do not reflect what Sathya Sai Baba literally said in Telugu. However, when it comes to perceived contradictions and inconsistencies, Brian Steel cited these very same “packaged” English translations as accurate and factual references to critique what Sathya Sai Baba actually said in Telugu. Brian Steel is trying to have it both ways. He can’t.
As if Brian Steel’s contradictory argument is not embarassing enough, he does not speak, understand or write Telugu. Consequently, Brian Steel is at a sore disadvantage in that every single fault he finds in the English translations are implausible guesses as to what Sathya Sai Baba might have said in Telugu.
Brian Steel is basing his critiques solely on the English translations. One would think that the only rational approach to critiquing Baba’s discourses would be to have a person who is fluent in Telugu to point out the alleged discrepancies. However, Brain Steel does not know Telugu. Therefore, Brian Steel’s entire works of contrasting, comparing and critiquing is of little practical value. This sums up my entire argument against Brain Steel’s “packaging” sermon.
Brian Steel has personal problems with the way Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses are “packaged”. Brian Steel casually dismissed the intricacies and perplexities that often face language translations. There are many devotees and ex-devotees, students and ex-students (for example, Meenakshi Srikanth) who have claimed that Sathya Sai Baba is a brilliant and excellent Telugu orator who’s simple, poetic and elegant style reveal a profound mastery of the Telugu language. Anyone who is bilingual can clearly understand the translation obstacles in maintaining the purity and essence of the original written or spoken word. This can clearly be seen in the Old Testament where there are numerous contradictions that must be reconciled with the original Hebrew words. However, even then, Hebrew scholars disagree with each other on hermeneutics. Such is the case with the translation hurdles that must be overcome when translating Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses from simple, poetic and elegant Telugu (which are full of subtle, complex nuances) into English.
There are two times when Sathya Sai Baba’s Telugu discourses are translated into English. The first time is when a translator gives an on-the-spot translation while Sathya Sai Baba is speaking. The second time is after the discourse when the original Telugu discourse is re-translated (from audio tape) into English for publication. This accounts for the discrepancies between what one hears during the discourse (on-the-spot translation) and what one reads after the discourse (examined translation). Apparently, Brian Steel does not understand this.
The English translations are proof plates for translations made into other languages. Consequently, the English version must be edited so that it presents the most direct and concise version of the discourse. This allows for a more accurate and consistent translation into other languages.
Brian Steel also faulted the translations because they present “an inaccurate picture of Baba’s public speaking personality and style”. No translation can convey a person’s “public speaking personality and style”. If people want to know Sathya Sai Baba’s “public speaking personality and style”, they should watch a video or watch him in person. No one can accurately assess a person’s “public speaking personality and style” by reading his/her words on paper.
Brian Steel cited devotee’s “on the spot notes” made during Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses. This goes from bad to worse. Anyone who has ever heard one of Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses knows that many times Sathya Sai Baba cuts off the translator before he finishes translating. Not only that, but Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses are fast paced (something Brian Steel acknowledged). To keep up with the English translation (or make one’s own translation) is a difficult thing to do! Making notes is bound to result in profound errors on the part of the person who is trying to keep up with the discourse.
On Brian’s appendix page (at bdsteel.tripod.com/SSB/apx.htm) one will find comparisons between various versions to Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses. One of the examples used by Brian Steel is a Yugadi Discourse that was translated from Telugu into Tamil and then translated again from Tamil into English (talk about being desperate to find errors). This is bound to end up with substantial errors. These are the extents to which Brian Steel is willing to go to prove that there are alleged discrepancies in Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses.
It isimportant to point out that out that there are approximately 1,200 discourses published between 1953-1997, hundreds of discourses published between 1997-2003 and about 90 discourses published between 2003-2004. There are also over a hundred Vahinis and hundreds of discourses given during the Summer Showers. Conservatively, there are 1,600 discourses and speeches given by Sathya Sai Baba from 1953-2004. Brian Steel has found discrepancies in three full discourses and snippets from other discourses (not numbering more than 60 on his and other Anti-Sai websites). This would comprise discrepancies in 0.04% of Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses! Even so, I have not seen how any of Brian Steel’s cited discrepancies detract from Sathya Sai Baba’s main message.
Brian Steel cited what he contended were “literal translations” taken from the internety.com/premsai website (which is no longer online). This site was run by unnamed devotees who published “thoughts for the day” and Sathya Sai Baba’s discourses in nine languages. Brian Steel argued that these premasai translations were “literal translations” based on the authority of unknown devotees who made that claim. Brian Steel knows nothing about the translators (including their names). Since Brian Steel does not speak, write or understand Telugu, he cannot say, with any certainty, that the translations on the “premasai” website were “literal translations”. How does Brian Steel not know that these devotees may have enhanced or edited the translations to reflect their devotion to Sathya Sai Baba? How can Brian Steel accept the word of devotees when he considers them mislead, given to excessive exaggerations, belonging to a cult and being brainwashed? These are the un-scholarly standards with which Brian Steel attempted to make a case against Sathya Sai Baba.
Click Here to view my email correspondence with Brian Steel and his immature reactions to my article about him. Brian Steel is a person who is highly critical of others. However, when others write something critical about him, he hurls insults and throws flaming hissy fits without even being properly or fully informed (admittedly)! One would think a so-called “scholar” and “linguistics expert” would respond more intelligently and soberly. Apparently that is not the case with Brian Steel.