IN WORSHIPPING GURUS
EXEMPLIFIED BY THE SATHYA SAI BABA CULT
Part Six - Fundamentalist tenets & their psychological effects
The fuzziness and ambiguous elasticity of much of the 'Sai teaching', with its wide and inaccurate generalisations and many uncontrollable explanations, makes it too hard a task for most to master. His assertions in one place are trumped or contradicted by counter-assertions elsewhere. Matters he cannot explain he says are 'beyond the human mind' and can only be understood when the mind is killed off... or by God. Thus he avoids facing any difficult questions. The extenuated fabric of truths, half-truths and contradictions is very difficult to penetrate and see for what they are, especially for those who themselves are fully enrolled in the web of deceits. His teachings are so largely 'black-or-white', and so sweepingly generalising and lacking in nuances and depth, whether psychological or philosophical, that they amount to a mostly rigid religious fundamentalism. (See, as one example, his statements about what he calls demonic sins)
I feel sympathy for those apologists for Sai Baba who are beginning to discover - as I had to do - that SSB's teachings become problematical and turn out, in many vital respects, to be built on shifting sand. This is not least also due to the deceitful practices of Sai Baba which make a mockery of his oft-quoted words (egs: 'My Life is My Message', as copied from Mahatma Gandhi via Sathya Sai Baba's advisor and his chief teacher of English etc., Prof. Kasturi and not least: 'Hurt never, help ever', while he indisputably allowed the execution of four devotees in his own bedroom and refused to give any evidence).
A mixed menu of conflicting teachings: As already briefly touched on, Sai Baba asserts wholly incompatible doctrines about the same matters. Most people do not study the teachings enough to see this clearly, and so most people find something which already fits with their existing beliefs or prejudices. Any dispassionate overview of his teaching shows many glaring discrepancies...
Some small examples: Sai Baba speaks of human freedom in many places but also denies repeatedly elsewhere that we have any at all! Then he says we must act as if we have freedom, though it is an illusion... but again remarks that there is one thing he cannot do, and that is make people do good or act according to dharma! (Even though he claims he is omnipotent). He holds that the human will is partly free, then that there is no free will whatever, then again that free will only belongs to the mind & not the body... and so on. He says there is no good or bad whatever, but continually declaims what is bad and what is good, who is a 'bad man' and who a 'good man'. He holds that absolutely everything is good, but also that bad only comes to being when one thinks something good! Above all, he maintains that neither good nor evil exist.
He says the only way to liberation is repeating the name or worship of a divine form, then that is said to be futile and only selfless service of others can succeed, then neither of these are any use whatever, for it depends wholly on God's grace, then it depends entirely on one's own actions, on self-realisation through discrimination and then again on various other absolute but indescribable requirements. He holds, too, that every word proves that whatever it represents exists... using as his example the 'God'. But no trained philosopher can agree, since very many words do not represent existents of any kind!
His discourses even contradict themselves with the same breath at times! He repeatedly advises one thing to others and yet does another himself, for example: avoiding name and fame, wasting resources like money, observing chastity, speaking truthfully, not allowing violence and so on. (He breaks every one of these ideals). Literally scores of examples can be given, and have been, not least in my recorded observations! Since the world-wide exposure of SSB's sexual molestations of young men drew attention to some of the many and deep contradictions of his words and behaviour that took off around 2000, he said he would stop letting people allow the touching and kissing of his feet so they should not feel any difference between themselves and him. However, this he has evidently not done and the differences are truly glaring as regards the luxuries and service he enjoys at every turn.
He calls human birth a tremendous gift, and claims to be the giver himself! Yet he also speaks of it as the one thing to avoid as it simply begins ‘a life sentence’. One of his sayings is, “Life is a prison”, another is “Life is love, enjoy it.” So he can hardly claim to be such a consistent teacher! It seems from what he says about himself that he is ever in bliss, nothing troubles him or gets to him in any way… which would mean that his own birth would be no such burden to him. But then he claims to be the exception to everything, every rule, all reason etc. He has even insisted that he has no real idea what suffering is because he is ever the same, totally untouched by it! So if this were true, would he not have much more reason to be grateful than anyone else?
He says one should on no account make publicity for 'his' hospital service projects, meanwhile speaking of how great exactly these projects are through loudspeakers so that thousands can hear him, and is captured on film too, and also recorded so it can be sent on the Sai radio station world-wide. He knows full well that what he says will be printed and published on the web too. Complete opposition between word and action!
The near-impenetrable labyrinth of mirrors: There are numerous ways in which Sai Baba confounds people. Perhaps the most important of which is that he claims (as being the Godhead) that he draws a veil of unknowing over us by his power of Maya (or 'Illusion'). Note that this is essentially just what any deceiver aims to do! Literature from the pens of hundreds of devotees describe very many instances of SSB's ability to confuse and mystify them. He is admittedly in possession of some inexplicable 'psychic powers', communicating to people in unusual ways, through dreams, synchronicity and through the appearance of vibuthi and other 'holy' substances on his pictures (scientifically uninvestigated and hence an unexplained phenomenon of uncertain cause, so one cannot even therefore exclude fraud). The huge Sai Baba hagiographic literature is choc-a-bloc with examples of SSB's alleged 'maya' power. Many of these accounts attribute things to the mystical powers of Sai Baba which are only subjectively confirmed...such as by his simply agreeing about them when he is asked whether he was the cause of this or that…whether he saved them from illnesses, accidents or other ills. Obviously, it is so easy to say 'yes'... it costs so little.
From Sathya Sai Baba's claim to be God Almighty he continues to say that all he does is to engage in 'divine play' (leela), a mischievous-seeming sport by which he both entertains and educates us (often causing illness, suffering even disaster and sudden death in some recorded cases, for the edification of all!). When someone is killed in the ashram by an accident (as in the 1990 Museum dome collapse deaths or a fatal road accident in which students of his were killed) , or murdered there (as on several separate occasions, the biggest being 6 killings in his rooms in 1993), this is taken equally as a part of the 'divine drama' whereby he teaches and tests. According to this claims and all the mythology developed around it, anything can be interpreted in almost any way, for we can never know' the inscrutable ways of God'. Sai Baba has practiced this typically Indian 'spiritual smoke and mirrors' teaching more ably than most 'spiritual masters' and is indeed masterful at not saying what one expects or by turning things around in every which way so as to suit every occasion and avoid giving answers that would give himself away.
Sai Baba is known usually to throw every serious query back onto the questioner and thus to avert criticism, avoiding explaining himself by putting the burden back onto his devotees. Apportioning absolutely all blame for anything not perfect to others, he presents himself as totally faultless. His converts always put any errors, misunderstandings or blemishes down to themselves rather than to him, for it is taboo to suspect him of anything and it is thought it might bring the wrath of God down. Sai Baba employs veiled statements which tend to encourage vacillation and self-doubting in most of his humble followers. The many challenges to common sense that his ambiguous language invites to excuse or conceal his observable behaviour helps him maintain some semblance of credibility. One must grant him that he is most unusually clever at creating these false appearances. So his followers speculate constantly over far-fetched explanations, whereby any words can be suggested as meaning almost anything by scouring the whole of their memory for some linking event or other possible connection. I have done it myself earlier, but will no longer now! It is amazing what ingenious thoughts the concentrated mind can wring out of any words he utters, and not least out of the all-embracingly vague and unverifiable 'spiritual truths' that make up the key part of the teachings. Many just give up all efforts to understand any of it and just 'surrender' all reason out of mental and spiritual exhaustion. They then become life prisoners of their own self-defeat.
The movement around Sathya Sai interprets everything doubtful so as to make it seem wise, even at the cost of all common sense and reason. The whole teaching is built upon on the assumption of Sai Baba's 'divine infallibility' (supposedly far greater than any Pope's) which may not be questioned and which generates a self-reproducing system of delusions, of preconceptions and subtle discriminations against those who reject it.
Nullification and 'casting into outer darkness'
Who most needs a religion? Experience shows that it need not be only good persons seeking the truth and wishing to serve and advance society or who feel that they recognise a worthwhile teaching. Religion is also for those who feel spiritually weak or without sufficient faith in themselves, who doubt but hope that they may have a 'divine spark' in them. Religions may cater to those who lack spirituality in their daily lives, and ideally perhaps for those who need to be taught basic morals, not least also to 'fundamentalists' and extremists of all kinds who are looking for a motive to carry out terrorist or other such acts. Therefore, religious movements attract those who have strong, unsatisfied social and emotional needs. It is a desire to belong somewhere, but often also the wish to preach to and teach others, as well as use religion as a vehicle to impose their will.
Attempts to convert
others to a religious belief often fail to respect divergent opinions or
the integrity of those who hold them because they are unwilling to enter
into genuine dialogue, which requires hearing both sides of the matter and
not least, self-reflection. Those who pretend to some kind of spiritual
and moral leadership tend to talk down to others, lack genuine self-irony/
Such lack of self-reflection is seen widely in the Sai movement when speakers
and writers almost only parrot Sai Baba and so hide themselves behind his perceived
name, fame and power. That kind of behaviour is what necessitates the present
author's questioning of this doctrine and practice which shuns most pointed
questions in public discussion and allows no critical examination.
Sai Baba talks a lot about gratitude, how important it is to be grateful to God… that even dogs show more gratitude than men and so on. He clearly expects, too, that one should be everlastingly grateful to him for anything he might do or seem to do for us... and even for one's personal existence! Yet he only expresses gratitude to followers most sparingly, and chiefly to those who he has chosen to execute his wishes or to donors of very large sums of money. I have been grateful to Sai Baba in that he has appeared to give me various kinds of support, and I have shown it in action in various ways, including writing many articles for his journal, a book praising him and making what were, for me, major financial contributions. But I am most ungrateful for his heinous deception, misuse of funds, fraud and other yet worse things he is known to have done. He has not asked the forgiveness of anyone for anything, nor is it likely that he has stopped doing wrong things. What Divine Person would ever speak or act like him?
Getting off the Hook at the End of the Long Line: One of the most common and overrated occurrences among Sai followers is the 'first glance' they receive from SSB. Prior to this they will mostly have read much about him, have prayed to him, have even begged and importuned privately for blessings or boons! They will have built up a tremendous expectation and hope, while suppressing anxiety that their hopes even of being noticed may be dashed. They mostly travel far and at much expense to see him, and wait for almost innumerable hours either standing in queues (esp. if an invalid!) or seated humbly on the ground in long lines waiting to get into the darshan area.
Few are noticed by him at first, in many cases it takes weeks... many other are never even looked at by him during a long stay. Imagine, therefore, the relief and intensity of the experience when his glance happens to catch yours! He is able to look quite penetratingly at people (this is not so unusual, but becomes invested with utter significance to those who more or less believe in advance that he is God, or at least a very holy person). Add to this the fact that there are a number of very unusual people about - not least Indian yogis, nagas and Tantrics, whose looks can variously seem like 'burning embers' or some inexplicable intensity like fire or bliss. Though I have never seen any such look from Sai Baba such things are definitely possible (as I have experienced with others). Sai Baba is extremely psychically sensitive to people and can respond to their feelings and thoughts with many and varied expressions. This is enough for most followers who remain deprived of any closer contact than what one can get at the brief darshan... especially for Westerners, who are mostly inexperienced concerning even mild paranormal phenomena.
It is very difficult for anyone who has not gone deeply into the Sai Baba phenomenon, teaching and movement for many years, to have any genuine picture of how things are likely to develop in one's life. This is one chief reason for me to write at length about the range of experiences that are likely to befall many - if not all - devotees. Another reason is to communicate with those who have their own experiences and - like anyone who has given a chunk of their lives to this cult - are still reintegrating their lives after the great disaffection. Here is some of various positive feedback received about my descriptions of the cultish conspiracy, sent by a lady whose name I do not make known:-
The problems that are inherent to Sathya Sai Baba's sphere tend at some point to boil over for very many people... an uncounted mass who once got involved but who simply slip away and are seldom heard of again. The number of defectors must be well over a million, judging by how many can have visited through the decades (several millions). The frequent falling away after some time has even been mentioned by Sai Baba in a discourse: "I have been asked often why some persons who have associated themselves with Prashanthi Nilayam for years leave off and do not appear again!" (Sathya Sai Speaks. Vol. 11, p. 86). Of course, his fatuous answer to this puts the blame on them all, the great 'Sai lie' all over again. It is only designed to direct attention well away from his own failings and the sheer boredom of his discourse, the boasting falsities, the cover-ups, and other much worse things.
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