Part Five
Sai 'Group think' & Dominance through Psychic Manipulation

It has been shown indisputably here and elsewhere that the Sai movement relies very heavily on what are known as 'group effect' and 'group think' in its efforts to avert realities and avoid external (or internal) criticism,and reject witnesses and any evidence contrary to its beliefs about facts. As is evident, the single keystone tenet upon which everything depends and which therefore must be enforced as a condition of membership in the Sai Organisation - and for one's acceptance in the movement - is that Sai Baba of Puttaparthi alone is God Incarnate, the all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent Avatar of the Age come to save humanity from itself and destruction. (Hilariously, one studiously avoids mentioning that Sai Baba is documented in his own literature as saying that - similar to his alleged former incarnation Krishna - he will have to lift an entire range of mountains single-handedly to avert a vast catastrophe).

'Group effect' is an experimentally-proven source of wrong decision-making in a group due to the tendency and desire to conform. What others in a group think quite easily influences persons who have different ideas and perceptions into denying their own conviction. Similarly, 'group think' - a concept introduced by Irving Janis in Victims of Groupthink (1972) - is a process whereby a group under pressure to make decisions arrives at false conclusions due to the group itself.

'Group think' results from selectivity of information, avoidance of criticism of the groups' integrative ideas and from not studying enough alternatives. This is accompanied by a false sense of security/being invulnerable, strong belief in the group's ideals and shared stereotypes, suppression of one's feelings and sustaining illusory unanimity such as though defensive rationalisations. Group pressure to conform is involved - whether subtle or blatant, implicit or explicit. (see also Tim Borchers of Moorhead State University)

Group entrapment: Those who have become deeply involved and who live and move socially almost only within the confines of the Sai Baba ‘mini-world’, are psychologically debilitated in their reality judgements, and their wills have been weakened so that they are psychically incapacitated for investigating the various serious allegations and massed evidence against SSB. The blinkers result from a long process of 'spiritual double-thinking', mostly carried out by themselves by following the teaching of SSB. To ‘internalise’ the ideology through personal self-censorship and self-denigration is truly 'the essence of what is commonly called brain-washing'. The mass of Sai followers know roughly as much - and as little - about SSB's life and doings behind the scenes as your average Soviet citizen did about their leaders. They also awaited utopia endlessly and praised their leader to the skies as the infallible saviour.

The need of anyone who is sufficiently entrapped in the beliefs and the supporting stories, is for an often false sense of worth and meaning it engenders (especially at the outset) as a servant of someone higher. Such a need ensures that they soon cannot do without the Sai community. This is similar in numerous ways to Soviet citizens' dependency on the totalitarian State and the Great Leader's carefully-manicured personality cult, so often seen in the 20th century. Many of the limitations they must accept are also similar, from censorship to totally uncritical subservience and de-individualisation to quite rigorous thought control... even though other conditions are, of course, far less severe for most devotees (if not all, such as those who have been murdered).

The inter-personal competitive mentality The teaching runs that one must overcome one's ego through self-sacrifices and service of others, never criticising anyone or even thinking anything negative about them. Selflessness is the ideal, putting oneself last and never talking oneself up or taking advantage of others in any way. Devotees are always going on about it in talk and in print. But many visitors to ashrams have noticed how this applies less so in their observable actions. Coming to the ashram for the first time is a shock for many, because people are really hardly different to others... except, that is, in the degree of pushiness where any opportunity arises to get ahead of others to obtain supposed blessings. This is taken by the great majority to be a question of getting as physically close to Sai Baba as one can... front row at darshan if possible, interview if it can be arranged, whether by hook or by crook and so on. This jostle of aspiring souls (or shall we say 'egos'?) never stops, and it can become quite relentless on occasion. It is soon met in the ashram, where push comes to shove in the canteens, in shop queues and not least in the punishing hour-long invalid queues for a darshan seat.

It was illumining to note how persons who are given special status by Sai Baba are prone to mentioning (mostly in an offhand way) the blessings that have been conferred on them. While it is natural to speak to some people about one's positive experiences, some do it in an unassuming way, while others manage to demonstrate their pride or prominence through this. These persons stand out because of their self-advertisement, while there are doubtless many who do not make much of themselves or keep themselves to themselves. A small example: one top Danish leader (now a Central Coordinator) flaunted the fact that he had been given 'special prasad' by Sai Baba by announcing it to a large group who were waiting for him to conduct them on a visit - then making them wait while he shared it with another VIP and relished it together with their wives in front of about 20 persons. These prominence-seeking people make sure that everyone possible gets to hear of their interviews and importance in the scheme of things, though they pretend to be unassuming.

Among those who take interviews and other visible signs or supposed Sai blessings to be of lesser importance are often far less pushy or self-important. In my experience, the main body of followers who live according to spiritual ideals in simple everyday and, for example, who do the real grass root service work, seldom aim to be noticed. They tend to be undervalued and their opinions are invariably ignored by officials. They also tend to be more percipient and have learned more from life experience. People of qualities that are not superficially visible or easily observed by others are also well-represented among those who fall away from the organisation or movement after a decade or so.

Persons who have been feted with interviews etc. by Sai Baba - as well as 'unfortunates' who have given up hope of getting any such actual contact - will sometimes speak with an implicit 'holier-than-thou' attitude. For some such devotees, the competition for worth and grace is simply shifted to another plane. For them, the real grace is supposed to be what the 'inner self' experiences. In 'Prashanthi-speak' it is called 'Not inter-view but inner-view'. There is an evident need to be looked on as someone acceptable... and that means acceptable in SSB's. This need for personal confirmation is very marked in many devotees, and not a few do actually imagine blessings of a most unlikely kind... and some have been shown to invent events and experiences, sometimes incredible and even laughably naive. When found out, these persons may be blacklisted by the ashrams and told never to return, some denounced in the monthly journal, Sanathana Sarathi (names are not used, but no doubt who they are is left to those who know them or about them).

The pressure to conform to the group and compete in holiness - so widely known from many other religious or 'spiritual' cults - grows very strong in time. Only those unusually robust of psyche or the very mature can remain fully unaffected by this climate of competitive pressures. Though Sai Baba in his talks discourages competitiveness , he strongly encourages it by his behaviour, whereby he uses rewards and punishments, and strong 'push and pull' psychology, to keep people jostling one another, yet while keeping them well in their places. One of his ever-repeated themes is that he has never yet seen a real devotee... no one is good enough, in fact he is ever telling how ignorant, selfish, egoistic, and sub-human everyone is, including the majority of his followers and not excluding his college teachers and the Seva Dal servitors! So there are plenty of opportunities provided for looking down upon oneself and comparing with others (which one is warned by him never to do), while all manner of subtle and blatant discriminations are practiced to encourage it. Nearly all the women are treated as second-rate persons in actuality, though they are lauded in a discourse once or twice yearly. Invalids are invalidated as 'sick persons' ( 'rogi', that is not good enough to be a 'yogi'), so they are increasingly placed at the rear and noticed less and less by Sai Baba (he can easily afford this nowadays as his 'great compassion' is already an established byword among the determined believers.

Repression of experience through self-delusion: A Dutch Sai devotee, Ms. Titia Boelens, who is involved in Sai Baba educational work wrote the following to me:-
I love everyone because Sai Baba teached me with His program that I am my own master. So I blame myself when I blame others. What do you think about this?

Well, here is my reply. To say one loves everyone is easy, to do so is another matter. Can this person really love, say, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden or thousands of other horrendous killers, rapists, indescribable sadists, torturers? In fine talk, yes. But how would she love them in real personal interaction or in any decisive situation? For all the idealism, if she were a victim in one of the many terrible torture chambers that exist today,her self-mastery would probably have to exceed even that attributed to Jesus on the Cross.

I am of course sceptical of her claim never to blame anyone for anything, as her wording indicates. To blame is to assign responsibility to a person for a wrongdoing. How this can be avoided is a mystery to people who live in human society. The idea accords with Sathya Sai Baba's insistence that one must carry out self-examination rather than blame others. Genuine practising psychologists will tell you that this is a guilt-creating and - if carried too far - self-nihilating programme. It is a plain recipe for all kinds of emotional and mental health crisis. Do I not detect a note of blame somewhere in Titia's comment to me? It implies that I need to learn that I am blaming others, for which I am to blame. No, I believe this is the same kind of hypocrisy I have met so often in the Sai Baba movement, on the lines of if you find anything wrong (with Sai Baba or anything to do with him, at least) then it's all your fault. Examine yourself, exchange your dirty-glasses for rose-coloured ones.

As Andries Krugers Dagneaux of the Netherlands forwarded from an acquaintance of his who is also known to others ex-devotees (but who would remain anonymous):

On the subject of improving vs. not improving while a devotee, one has written: I was one for nine years. During the first few years I would say that I improved as a person in many ways. I concentrated on developing the qualities that I thought raju wanted in his followers: patience, willingness to serve, equilibrium. For example, I wouldn't go into an emotional tailspin if my feelings were hurt as I often had prior to that. I became more accepting of other people as they were. I also became more creative, as I was so inspired by my guru. I sometimes spontaneously felt what seemed like bliss.
After a few years, however, I began to feel physically weak and debilitated. I was tired all the time and felt that I was aging rapidly (I'm in my late 50s). I was more psychically open than I ever had been before, which I thought must be a positive thing, but it was as though my energy was being syphoned out of the top of my head. I had little desire to take part in the world, like working at a job or interacting with anyone outside of the raju group. I was increasingly depressed but didn't know why. Looking back, I think (but can't prove) that this is the course that a lot of devotees take. Enthusiasm, almost euphoria, in the beginning, and a desire to do everything right, followed by a gradual downhill slide into rigid thinking, mindless rule following, self-enforced separation from those who don't agree, aversion to work, and so on. It's as though all their personhood is gradually drained out of them.
I had one friend who once proclaimed with a sigh, I used to love to play Scrabble!. In other words, she couldn't play Scrabble any more because the avatar wouldn't approve. On another occasion 2 long-time devotees told me that if raju told them to commit suicide, they would do it. Sick!

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Continue to last part - Part Six - Fundamentalist tenets & their psychological effects

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