An Indian swami (Ambikananda from Mauritius) who I knew in the 1970s who I gradually came to see as my guru enabled me to learn quite a lot about gurus' techniques and their agendas in relation to devotees. [This was long before I met Sathya Sai Baba.] I did not enter the relationship to the swami with an unduly skeptical mind, not least because I had already grown very skeptical of gurus I had been looking into - such as Trungpa Rinpoche (when he came to UK and Scotland), then Maharishi Mahesh Yogi around the time of the Beatles, and Swami Nayananda of Copenhagen, Hare Krishna's Swami Prabhupada and yet others. So, once I sought to meet Swami Ambikananda (not an easy task, as he remained very private and coy), I was ready to believe much of what I was told about him by devotees who I already knew. I took what he said, also about himself as genuine, but he was not easy to figure out. He hailed from Mauritius and was more at home in French than English, but much of what he said was so unusual and somehow disjointed and incomplete that his circle of followers spend much time and energy trying to figure what mysteries these his words and actions concealed. Later I was able to observe the same kind of behaviour in Sathya Sai Baba... as though gurus had learned set games - like chess moves in communication - opening gambits, misleading feints, checks and often the sense of being checkmated.
These 'techniques' are certainly the result of eons of development of the guru-chela relationship, and they are backed up very strongly by the whole culture of gurus and how they are to be approached, how their devotees must behave to gain their grace and so forth. This is embodied in many scriptures (eg. the Krishna-Arjuna relationship) and the entire Hindu doctrine is a suitable background for this kind of master-servant relationship.
Swami Ambikananda enrolled me as his follower without my saying anything. I did not hear him say that he was God, but heard that he had said this to others, and I did not think it feasible as such! However, there came a time after about 9 years since first I met him, when a number of the glorifying tales about him and some of his own more concrete claims began to look decidedly shaky compared with what I could observe myself or was informed about frankly by devotees. I did not set out to challenge this guru, but found that I just had to question him so as to clear up my doubts, which had become unbearable! I wrote him a letter expressing some of my worries, that I was in doubt about the validity of some things he had said and done. I was expecting some kind of helpful reply, some explanation.
Instead of any aid to me in regaining full faith, I received a very pointed censorious letter - like the reply to a challenge - which ran on into irrelevancies and at last petered out in half-intelligible wanderings and childish scribbles! It was written in the hand of the swami himself, instead of a dictated letter - which he often got some of his devotees to write for him instead of having to pen it himself. In hindsight I can see that he did not want his actual reply to become known to the devotees and he counted on my not showing them the letter, as I in fact never did (my being in another country for all those years). The reason for his reticence was most likely that he sensed that he was revealing in the letter his own lack of understanding of me, or of normal compassion and - not least - he showed how stung he was by my mild questions and the fact that I even dared to ask them! (His devotees always treated him like a regal lion among mice, hardly able even to squeak). He must have realised then the swami had to explain to them why I had left, but this he could do verbally on his own ground and in his own terms for their consumption. This is quite typical of many gurus, and Sathya Sai Baba is a 'perfect' example of this authoritarian non approachability once anything he says or does is questioned or doubted... but this kind of fact about a guru' personality is often only learned after a lot of contact... and to have any personal contact with Sathya Sai Baba took me a couple of years even when there were still only a few thousand around him daily.
Swami Ambikananda had surely understood that I was not so easy to submit to blind subservience - which I thought rather demeaning in an enlightened society - and he saw that I would be a disturbance to his community because of my ability (unlike any others) occasionally to stand up to him without any special ego feeling or wanting to assert myself, but in the interests of trying to understand and buttonhole hin. Though he used the usual obscure methods to bamboozle me, including into getting me to marry, I later thought it fine to follow his advice (which was my own desire anyhow) and so I more easily convinced my present wife to agree. Previously she had considered marriage an unnecessary formality. Later I found that there were other matters involving unfulfilled promises and predications and this - combined with his apparently capricious behaviour and non answerability on many matters (not least financial) I came to the conclusion I had to break off the contact. Unless one thinks I considered him a bad person, let me add that he was rather unique and had many positive sides, a very religious and high-minded person - a spiritual renunciant in many ways - and one who had grown up as a budding yogi and who at times exhibited quite a lot of the so-called shakthi and blissful states of awareness found among such.
Sathya Sai Baba's 'double-binding' teaching
The traits I have outlined were observed by me time and again in Sathya Sai Baba and his followers. I recognised this most sharply only in retrospect, for - at the time - I was enchanted by Sathya Sai Baba 's reputation, his persona and his considerable psychic powers (or call them what you will). The whole apparently beneficial and professedly near-saintly three-ring circus that is the Sai movement is fascinating - if only as a social phenomenon - even though it is far from being what it is made to seem to be. I have heard any number of people's stories and experiences that are like those I have described earlier. Sathya Sai Baba has often harangued people not to talk behind people's backs (back-biting) calling it a most heinous sin, even the greatest of sins! (My ex-guru supposedly sinned thus against me, and Sai Baba has done the same about his critics in recent years) Everyone with eyes that can see (i.e. un blinkered, without rose spectacles etc.) knows that Sathya Sai Baba uses powerful exaggerations and self-propaganda all the time... and his hate of gossip, back biting, slander and criticism is well designed to stop followers from criticizing HIM too! (This he has rated as THE major demonic act!). Sai Baba does not list sexual abuse of minors as a sin, he never ever mentions it anywhere, and many agree that there is one very good reason for this! He does not even list cold-blooded murder as a sin either (it would remind of the executions in his own bedroom while he stood by and condones it and helped cover it up). But to doubt the guru or to criticise him, that is sufficient, he has said (in his notorious, damning discourse on Xmas day, 2000) to cause one to have to live through many successive lives of shame! Who can really believe such? I cannot... it is just too patently a case of threatening, spiteful pique at having had his bluff called and his own blatant and really iniquitous sins exposed!
The special Janus-faced nature of the Sathya Sai Baba teaching attributes all
negative events to human activity and all positive ones to God (i.e. to Sathya Sai Baba himself!). This is the Janus-faced style of Sathya Sai Baba showing, as in many other connections. Anything that seems good to any devotee is programmatically seen as
the result of Sathya Sai Baba 's actions - often on an intangible (extra-sensory) and so uncontrollable 'level'.
This doctrine also provides the ultimate convenient excuse for anything incomprehensible, unpleasant or wrong done by Sathya Sai Baba. A fail-safe
system of this sort double-binds everyone to criticism only of oneself, never of Sathya Sai Baba. It is a true Catch 22. Even mentioning
negative events or doubts about Sathya Sai Baba leads to being peripheralized and ostracized by followers and by Sai baba himself. By spreading 'stories' of Sathya Sai Baba miracles and good works- whether true, doubtful or
out-and-out inventions - the movement grows among all those who are looking for stimulation and mystery.
For many examples of this, see Sathya Sai Baba Promotes and Thrives on Rumours