Philosophical analysis of an eclectic collection of numinous Indian ‘spiritual' ideas: Sathya Sai Baba's ‘teachings'

"Whatever is not in man cannot be anywhere outside him. Whatever is visible outside him is but a rough reflection of what really is in him." (Sathya Sai Vahini - para. ii)

In Sathya Sai Speaks we read: "…the world is but a mental image of the individual.” ( Vol.9. p.168) and “the world is a structure raised on one strong pillar, 'I'. For, when this 'I' is dormant during deep sleep, there is no world as far as you are concerned.” ( Vol. IV Ch.48).

The drawing power of this teaching –like any other supposed spiritual doctrine - is the human desire to know… especially get answers to eternal enigmas about existence, the self and creation. The key with which one opens the Sai Baba trap-door and so enters this labyrinth of smoke and mirrors is contained in the quotations above. According to Sai Baba, then, each person lives within what amounts to his own hall of mirrors, isolated from any external reality – because reality is only what is within him. This means, one is trapped within one's own mind. According to this, what I see and think is only the reflection of my own mind, so I see what I choose to see and think. I cannot know any reality ‘outside' myself. How Sai Baba appears to me is simply a reflection of how I perceive him – choose to perceive him. Taken as valid, this is the ultimate conversation stopper, so to speak… allegedly one cannot know what is not oneself. Nor can one know anything which is not created by one's own mind! If that were valid, one could happily conclude ‘why say more?' and ‘why say anything since only I can ever be listening?' It is highly amusing that proponents of this kind of ‘theory' who are found on the lunatic fringe here and there can be bothered to try to communicate their ideas, when they believe only they exist! See an amusing example here)

Philosophy for rank amateurs!

Baba's peculiar solipsistic ideas lead into a circular mental and emotional trap, ultimately to cutting oneself off more and more from a normal mental, emotional and social way of life. If one truly accepts the belief that nothing is real or exists (objectively) other than one's personal experience and memory – which is the unavoidable bottom line of Sai Baba's teaching, the route to cognitive derangement and even genuine madness is laid out. This led Sai Baba to a primitive Pollyanna view of reality for, since he thinks the mind creates everything , then it is best to think, hear and see no evil but rather ‘wear rose-tinted glasses'. The naive idea is that then one's own whole reality will be nothing but good.

However, if I project good onto him whatever he does and whatever evidence defies this, then it is still only my own good I am projecting. It says nothing of him. Likewise, if I project badness onto him or anyone, then – according to this fallacious theory - it is only my own badness I am observing. The same applies to everything else I seem to know outside of me; they are not outside of me - nor do they have any real existence, independent of my mind. Therefore Sai Baba claims one only ever knows anything properly through self-examination!
It is hard to emphasize enough the narrowness and cussedness of this attitude or the sad and bad consequences it engenders in believers and those whose lives are affected by them. Fortunately, I never could adopt these ideas except tentatively because their practical consequences would lead to absurdity and impossible situations.

A medley of attractive but vague and inconsistent ideas

When I first entered the Sathya Sai Baba labyrinth, the problematical nature of such a convoluted ‘teaching' – one which almost entirely lacks empirical founding or scientific validity - was already familiar to me, having researched and lectured in (Western) philosophy and science for many years previously and also having studied a wide variety of philosophical cosmologies, including Indian philosophies and the writings of mystics and several widely acclaimed ‘spiritual masters'. I had already been involved with an Indian swami/yogi of the Ramakrishna Math for years. Further, I had reason to believe that I had been out-of-body and even beyond individual mind on occasion, and completely so, while yet remaining in conscious awareness. However, I did not fully realize at the time how this conviction (or assumption of supra-mental perception) would lead me right on further into an age-old kind of religious and spiritual mental trap. My decision to investigate these matters by plunging wholeheartedly into the ‘spiritual search' led me into deep and virtually endless labyrinths of Indian (speculative) beliefs - which are pervasive and subtle – cost me many years (also in spiritual practices). Having invested all possible faith in that search - meanwhile checking every nook and cranny for the promised land of spiritual liberation - I could not therefore realize the fuller nature of the cosmological trap until I finally emerged from it and saw it for what it was: a largely irrational and groundless perspective, one which is deeply intertwined with age-old superstitions and beliefs which ultimately cannot be tested by any known means.

I have since observed how many such committed ‘spiritual seekers' have not been able to free themselves psychologically or otherwise from such a quest, even when they are confronted with faith-destroying facts… denial, rationalization and avoidance kick in. I cannot but think that there has to be enough energy and genuine self-confidence – along with other crucial circumstances – before one can smash one's way out of the hall of mirrors one has painstakingly internalized. That process is based on ‘teachings', ‘stories' and experiences which are considered para-normal plus self-programming and indoctrination extended further by one's own mind, emotional dependencies, and changed way of life. It takes years gradually to wean the mind of cherished notions, detach from all that went with these, and so reorient oneself to doctrine-free perception and saner rationality.

The 'Innernet' an the Internet: When the Internet was used by critics of Sai Baba to spread the many credible accusations of his sex abuses, and also his fraud, deceptions and murder involvements etc., he warned his followers not to go on the Internet. "Today people are ready to believe all that they see on television and internet but do not repose their faith in the Vedic declarations. Internet is like a waste paper basket. Follow the 'innernet,' not the internet." ( His main motive was that he wanted to hide of all the deceptions and crimes of which he stood accused on the Internet. So he warned his followers to stick to the 'innernet' of the subjective mind, which meant they should not take in any new knowledge, but recycle their already indoctrinated beliefs. He and his devotees believed one can find the true self - an eternal divine being - through meditation, but it actually only leads one to restrict oneself to a solipsist cocoon, cut off from all reality. Meditation activates what is already in the conscious and unconscious mind and, as the mind also works in dreaming, imaginating and 'hallucinating', whereupon it produces all manner of weird and wonderful fantasy combinations which the subjective meditator usually takes to be true knowledge or relevant 'information' on the 'path to true knowledge'. To withdraw from the world into meditation too much is to isolate oneself in a cocoon of mental solipsism. (However, note that meditation need not have any religious content whatever – and it has been scientifically proven to have effect in reducing stress levels, which are very widespread in the world and are a major cause of a range of illnesses. Thus, meditation has even been shown to have effects on recovery from a range of physical illnesses and some research also shows that it also effects considerable changes in the genetic code.)

Sai Baba's hall of smoke and mirrors

As said, many persons – especially those without analytical minds - cannot get out of Sathya Sai Baba's complex labyrinth of smoke and mirrors once they have ventured inside. He uses the analogy of a mirror many times in many connections, and this forms the basis of his solipsistic and narcissistic Weltanschauung . His idea that the world is a mirror of our minds, not vice-versa – that there is no real or ‘external world' (and many other of his mental ‘mirror tricks') is not really worth considering or exposing in detail, but those who wish may follow up the mass of references listed at the end of this article. This so-called ‘spiritual teaching' draws followers into self-indoctrination – the search to ‘find the true Self'. – which ultimately proves to be highly confused and contradictorily, which makes the whole so confusing and impenetrable to all but those who are very assiduous and trained in clear thinking through logic and philosophy. However, most rather lose themselves in the hall of Sai Baba's distorting mirrors, giving up autonomy and any real independence of thought and opinion.

While I was still deeply involved in studying the very voluminous writings and discourses in trying to make full sense of them and discover how properly to practice them, I wrote the following in one of my many truth-searching articles in Sai Baba's journal Sanathana Sarathi, in which, in eagerness to make Sai Baba's ideas more accessible, I came perilously close to asserting Berkeley's idealism and the ultimate ‘subjectivism' that is Sai Baba's forte. Fortunately I pointed out that ‘what is within is also without', thus avoiding the worst subjectivism, since it also implicitly accepts there is an outside reality:-

‘What is within is also without. A mirror reflects what images it receives, only in reverse and according to its clarity. This world around us, this interminable universe registers itself in our awareness as inconceivably intricate, eventful and whole. It appears to be massively 'material', not mental; it seems to be objective to consciousness and not to be conscious itself. The mind seems powerless to command it or even to penetrate its vastness, limited and localized as we (seemingly) are by the body. Yet because it is 'absent' for the mind which does not cognise it, we cannot be fully certain that it is not somehow a projection of mind.' (Inquiry into the Self - by Robert Priddy in Sanathana Sarathi , Apr, '91, p. 101ff).

Sathya Sai Baba pronounces himself entirely certain that everything real is merely a projection – as a film seen on a screen, where only the screen is real (which screen he identifies with ‘universal consciousness)'. In that he promotes a strange version of fallacious philosophy - ‘solipsism' (from Latin solus ipse). Because of this – the idea that ‘only I exist' – one is led into contradictions and the piling up of perplexing convolutions. Solipsism has been soundly refuted from philosophical and scientific viewpoints. Socrates and his successors demolished it when put forward by the Sophists, and all modern Western philosophers reject it. One exception, Bishop Berkeley, was soon refuted through his self-contradictions and so forgotten.

The 'ultimate conspiracy theory' as pseudo-philosophy?

The Western journalist and spiritual seeker, subsequently a pseudo-guru and bogus ‘doctor', Paul Brunton, called this kind of standpoint ‘mentalism', which he tried in vain to defend on the basis of the Bhagavad Gita. Because God supposedly has created the universe and made it appear totally other than it actually is, where anything and everything is an illusion (maya) this pseudo-philosophical religious solipsism amounts to the ultimate in conspiracy theories. The total deceit of all human beings, which can only be penetrated by worshipping its Creator, doing whatever this 'God' demands so as to gain his favour and so be free of the delusion!

Still, due to the Indian speculative religious doctrine of advaita , it is quite alive in Indian spiritual-religious belief, as represented by many of the supposed ‘illumined masters' and yogis of India . Sathya Sai Baba has employed advaitism a lot, but along with a mixed selection of other Indian philosophical notions which are incompatible with such advaitic solipsism. Sometimes he preaches a version of monism ( advaita ), mostly he preaches dualism ( dvaita ) but now and again he presents a mix the two ( vishtadvaita of the Ramanuja type). He holds that these are three different approaches which are designed for three different levels of understanding, the highest being advaitic solipsism. This attempt to have one's cake and eat it is highly unsatisfactory in philosophy, where logic requires that a theory held to be true cannot allow the acceptability of theories which do not accord with it. But Sathya Sai Baba invites support from believers of all kinds, whichever theory, whichever religion, so he asserts as many beliefs and faiths as he can in a grand eclectic pick-and-mix “teaching”. Most followers are unable to appreciate this since very few actually study the body of his teachings… and yet fewer do so with a single critical thought in their minds.

Where Sai Baba deception works to protect himself

"God is like a mirror. What you see is only a reflection of your own action and posture." ( Sathya Sai Speaks - Vol. 23, p.9)

To add to the confusion, Sathya Sai Baba - as a living person in the real world – puts himself beyond our minds and totally beyond everyone's understanding. Famously he has often boasted that no one can understand him, his inscrutable ways, or his mystery… not even if all humanity combines in the effort for thousands of years (check this out here). At the same time he explains that everyone's real nature is truly Divine and one's true, full 'Self' is God, which can be realized fully by anyone who does spiritual practices. These two standpoints constitute a contradictory howler, if ever there was one! The supposedly intangible truth that can be realized, he further claims, can be known only through ‘his divine grace'. So we are on our own and ultimately powerless to know even by our own efforts, which are required anyhow and to the utmost degree! Yet another contradiction piled on top of the rest!

He has further baited the traps with the following assertions:- Sai's every gesture, word, act etc. has purpose (p.213, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol.. 7b and p.70 Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 11) and Sai's one word/glance can grant all riches/boons (p.88, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 16)

Most of his followers accept that they can never know him as such, but can only have their own subjective ideas, feelings, and thoughts about him. They submit to his demand that it is futile even to try to investigate him, the only way ahead being to investigate oneself and to learn to control one's own mind, perceptions and desires. Whether or not he was himself intentionally engaging in promulgating a deceptive chimerical entrapment, he came to use these ideas more and more to protect his real self from devotees' investigations and criticisms by putting himself supposedly beyond all human inquiry and criticism! He enforces this doctrine wherever he goes in imperiously towards all who try to question him in the slightest critical manner. By this subtle and time-worn ‘ teaching' – however aware he may or may not be of its' effects on people - he deludes his devotees into trying not to think or be willing to think anything negative, more especially about himself. All facts about his real person which do not fit with the pure and divine image of himself as the God of love and goodness which he implants in people's minds are, however well documented and certain - are considered to be slander and products of impure minds and ‘bad people'! At the same time he claims to be present in - and aware of everything in - the heart of every being. What a subtle way this is to decoy people into the binds and bonds of being a passive worshipper of Sathya Sai himself and to be held (by him) entirely to blame for all the bad experiences they have. Meanwhile, ‘God' goes Scot free and ever invisible beyond the borders of the mind and, so to speak, “on the other side of the mirror”! Make sense of this ‘teaching' those who can… This central part of Sathya Sai's ”teaching” makes each person's “true self “ completely transcendent of the mind (call it ‘eternal spirit' or ‘heart' or ‘universal consciousness' or what you will. Nonetheless, consciousness must always be consciousness of something, or else it is not consciousness, so anyone's guess is as good as another's on how it could be ‘universal'. Even when we may seem to experience that we are somehow ‘beyond mind and in pure spirit' - as can occur in many ways from extreme meditation and asceticism, extreme induced trance, ritual blood-letting, the ingestion of opium or of psychedelic substances, and in near-death experiences – the brain/mind is still always the medium of experience (since it cannot be recalled without the mind's activity). The only reasonable and empirical accounts of the mind and the brain in which it arises require this. So however much would-be spiritual teachers try to negate the mind, stop it, and struggle to ‘cleanse' it of all worldly aspiration and thoughts or otherwise deny its presence, it remains the medium of all of it. And for as long as there is life. [Note that claims presented so as to refute this - that consciousness persists after clinical death, and that people have been literally ‘resurrected' in surgeries after total brain death – are so far not properly documented or scientifically proven].

The basic failing of solipsism - that it invariably cannot explain how communication is possible - is also discussed and illustrated in my article: Individual human subjectivity, solipsism, computers & communication

Further references to Sathya Sai Baba's published discourses which promote his ‘mirror' confusions and solipsism:-

1. Mirror: God seen through a mirror appears as 'I': p. 153, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 7a and p.153, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 9
2. Ignorance of self inborn (analogy: mirror in room): p. 173, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 4 and p.40, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 4
3. Nature is a mirror (of divine forms): p. 295, Sanathana Sarathi November 1988 and p.223, S Vol. 21
4. Time; a mirror revealing our fancies & fantasies: p. 284, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol.11 p.299, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 15
5. Universe like a city reflected in a mirror: p.78, Indian Culture and Spirituality 1990
6. World as a mirror reflecting the Divine in all beings: p. 119, Kodaikanal 1998
7. World recedes as in a mirror when one turns to God: p.60f, Conversations with BSSSB by Hislop and p.73, old ed.)
8. God is like a mirror: p.177, Sanathana Sarathi July 1990 and p.92, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 23
9. God is mirrored in Nature; man sees only mirror: p. 211, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 11 and p.198, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 15
10. Lord: reflects your thoughts as unblemished mirror: p. 79, Summer Showers at Brindavan 1978
11. Maya: flawless mirror reflecting mind's quality: p. 243, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 10 and p.159, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 14
12. Maya's result; dog in a room of mirrors (analogy): p. 29f, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 3 and p.97, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 3
13. Seeing God (analogy: mirror that needs coating): p. 138, Sanathana Sarathi May 1995 and p.114, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 28
14. All you see outside is reflection of inner being: p. 374, Sanathana Sarathi December 1999
15. External only a reflection of the internal: p. 324, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 5 and p.16, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 7
16. External world created by our consciousness: p. 30, Upanishad Vahini
17. Good & Ill seen in others only own reflection: p. 58, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 6 and p.117, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 7
18. Outer world as a reflection (etc.) of inner being: p. 228, Sanathana Sarathi October 1992 and p. 296, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 25
19. Reflection: the image is you, but you are not the image: p.12, Sanathana Sarathi p January 19 93 and p. 214, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 25
20. Reflection/resound & reaction, everything is: p.119, Kodaikanal 1998
21. In the outer world only a reflection of the self is seen: p.290, Sanathana Sarathi November 1994
22. World is a mirror & life a reflection of God: p.68, Conversations with BSSSB by John Hislop

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