Sathya Sai Baba's frequent comment in interviews, "Forget the past", is an old 'penny proverb'... another typically vague and sweepingly general Sathya Sai Baba statement. He never properly makes clear what he means by this, though he sometimes relates ignoring bad memories to forgiveness.
It is obviously advantageous not to be over-preoccupied with past events (especially 'bad' ones), for these can disturb one's perceptions of things and people and overshadow one's life. But to 'live in the present' does not make it any less important to remember one's past. It is in fact unavoidable, for the present is a product of past events and actions. Besides, all self-understanding depends on relating well to one's past experiences and actions. Therefore, 'Do not forget the past' is equally (un)clear and no less sound advice!
Sai Baba does not explain how it is possible to train the mind to forget or ignore the past. He recalls his own past constantly in discourses, so his example does not guide us on that. Besides, it is proven that the brain records all one's memories, whether or not we direct attention towards them. This is one reason why events that have made strong impressions on us, or vivid perceptions - including bad or traumatic experiences - cannot be ignored or forgotten, but must often be dealt with through personal reflection, further understanding and even therapy.
Remembering the past can help avert a recurrence of many ills and evils. This works for the individual as well as for society, especially in remembering such evils as the Jewish Holocaust, disasterous wars and other genocides. It all depends upon how the past is remembered... constructively or otherwise. But Sathya Sai Baba 's 'teaching' of forgetfulness of the past is presented in a vague and arbitrary, one-sided fashion when or where it should apply is very seldom made clear. This simplistic 'teaching' may attract those looking for easy answers, but does not work in practice. By failing to clarify anything adequately, it leads only to confusion and denial.
Sathya Sai Baba has once spoken in favour of the study of history. What is this if not remembering the past? The past can be studied with constructive intent, and sometimes digging out the truth can be very educative for mankind. It is a sine qua non for combatting the traditional persecution of outcast peoples like the Jews, the Gypsies and many other persecuted minorities. Followers of the ingenious developments in historical research are frequently amazed at how the truth of matters long apparently consigned to historical oblivion eventually turns up or is unearthed in the most unexpected ways. The truth certainly does have a way of reappearing when unexpected, overturning old lies and prejudices. Those who forget history and the wrongs of the past are often condemned to relive it again, for they do not see the signs that deep knowledge of past events could have warned them about.
Taken literally, as so many do take Sathya Sai Baba, an individual's past is best put behind one and forgotten. This is in line with the Indian tradition of the sannyasin who tried to obliterate his own identity, take a spiritual name, and drop all former ties so as to become an unattached monk. Many people think Sathya Sai Baba means that we should erase our personal memories. If this is so, then he is one of the worst examples of his own teachings, for he is ever harping on about his allegedly marvellous and unique childhood achievements, not excluding the bad things he survived (at the hands of a demon exorcist). He goes further still, expanding broadly on his alleged 'former incarnations', from Vishnu to Rama to Krishna to Shirdi Sai Baba - (and sometimes he even sticks in Kabir and other former saints as having been 'his previous bodies'). He dwells on and expounds his own life and works in the most glowing terms to the point of onerous repetition! One soon wishes that he would forget the past himself and rather shut up about it! This is all bolstered by huge extremely costly buildings in his honour to preserve his life story etc. On the other hand, it is the darker past of Sathya Sai Baba that he should not (be allowed to) forget his involvement in allowing (and later covering up) the executions in his bedroom on June 6, 1993 and his alleged long history of sexual molestation and abuse of young men and boys. (Of course, sadly misguided devotees of Sathya Sai say that, whatever the facts, all this never happened since nothing ever happens for real in the 'worldly life'... only in some supposed 'eternal divine sphere').
The past has a way of prolonging itself into the present, so that the same abuses that have come to light continue. The majority of Indian gurus known to the outside world in modern times - like the Catholic Church and many Christian sects - have concealed very dark pasts. The light of exposure has begun to shine in the world as regards pederasty and the sexual abuse of minors, and we trust that it will continue until this abomination is finally stamped out, and even in India, where it is not yet even on the agenda!
We can look futureward with optimism using a far better ideal than Sathya Sai Baba 's blanket call to forgetfulness, which makes no proper sense. I would instead suggest, "Do not forget the past, but treasure it while practising forgiveness as and when it is due. Work for the good in the future!"
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