pretending his actual person and behaviour is an inscrutable divine role perceived only by reflecting back the minds of devotees themselves, not his real being

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The doctrine of most Hinduism is that all perception, everything we experience is ‘maya’ or ‘illusion’ projected by the mind onto what appears to be separate or ‘objective’ reality. On this view, anything a devotee tells about personal experiences can be refuted by the guru on the premise that it is “just a trick of the mischievous mind, the maya of illusion”. In this way, one is side-tracked from all common sense into the guru doctrine of what alone is real – namely the (invisible, unknowable) spiritual or divine realm of the spirit or soul where bliss and love reign supreme… and that towards which the guru pretends to be qualified to lead his disciples.

The ultimate deceit, successful whenever a person accepted that Sai Baba genuinely was Divine or God on earth (etc. etc.), was that everything he did or said was merely a show or ‘divine play’ put on so devotees might relate to him as a human being with human qualities. Thus, he was unaccountable for nothing he did in reality… if he seemed to be angry, to lie, to be hateful, to be heartless, to punish, to be nervous, to act against all decency or to preside over cold-blooded murder… that was only an illusion, the ‘maya’ of the Lord, testing his devotees’ faith in him, their willingness to accept whatever he did or said without criticism or ‘bad thoughts’. Anyone who spent any length of time at his ashrams would know that this worked perfectly for the huge majority of those present there!

A Sai Baba ashram at the height of his popularity could have up to 300,000 visitors at his birthday. The event was perhaps the biggest exercise in mass projection that was to be found. All who had sufficient belief and aspiration to attain to spiritual experiences were there to relate to the guru, and everything that happened within that environment – or did not happen as expected - was taken to be set up purposely by Sai Baba himself for the direction and correction of devotees. People there who were mostly so totally involved in the whole narrative about his life and the Golden Age it would bring that they accepted virtually anything, most often third-hand (or n’th hand) rumours, since one could get so little confirmed or denied by him or his official apparatus.

The big question for devotees was – and is – whether Sai Baba did have divine control of the environment and full awareness of each of the thousands there (as he claimed he did). Only fully signed-up ‘blind believers’ accepted that “Swami knows everything and everything about everyone through all time.” Not to accept this means that the entire ashram showpiece, the entire doctrine of his omniscience and omnipotence is a mere sham. The whole movement is then seen to be a mass projection – a scenario created by the beliefs of those involved, reinforced by constant exercise of these projections onto the figure of the guru which develop the neuronic patterns of the brain into a more and more unrealistic interpretation of the situation and its consequences – painful or pleasurable – for oneself and ones self-image. After some years the pre-structured, unthinking perceptions became immediate evidence of his all-knowingness!

Sathya Sai Baba did have a huge measure of control of the environment nonetheless, but in the mundane sense. That he was omniscient and omnipotent (as he claimed time and again) was impossible to believe once one came to know about the constant mistakes he made, and how many of his plans fell through. He learned a lot about devotees from his staff and many other informers (including those who did not realise they were informing him through letters and talk that was picked up), through his servitors and officials, his security staff, much of it undercover, and through the local police (who were totally under his control. All of these had to be willing to do his bidding whatever it was, including bribery, persecution, violence and even murder! He had a large measure of control over many governmental officials, High and Supreme Court judges and important persons generally who worshipped him, including a whole series of India’s Prime Ministers and Presidents who endorsed him, protected him and worshipped his feet!


In order to avert comment and criticism from people, Sai Baba very often SAID things to reverse the facts and draw attention away from the obvious explanation of what was otherwise glaringly observable in his actual behaviour. This ability is what some call ‘chutzpah’; to beggar belief with surprising turnarounds and contradictions that leave most people confused or gaping in surprise. He played upon uncertainty and disbelief in a masterly fashion… calling black white and white black, turning things around to make himself seem above and beyond all criticism, while doing most of the things for which he was ever warning others not to do. For example, he firmly warned against criticising others (i.e. himself thereby criticising those who criticise). He also put people down in interviews with belittling comments which always raised a laugh in the group of interviewees too… ‘you are a mad girl’, ‘you have a mad money mind’, ‘you fight with your husband’, ‘you have a bad temper’, ‘you are mixing with bad people’ and so on. This is quite simply criticism – and not even subtle or realistic, because he repeated the very phrases to almost anyone in interviews . He would comment on a woman’s marital life even to women who did not have husbands, or ask unmarried ladies ‘Where is your husband?’ ). All that was taken to heart as divine teaching by all believers. (Perhaps, one would speculate, he meant your future husband).

How he managed to keep so many people spellbound in a trance of denial of facts was quite extraordinary. He had been training for guru status it since his earliest years when his grandfather told him (reported Prof. Kasturi) that he was a wonderful and divine soul. Explanations of his charisma must include the ‘aura’ of the massive legend built around him, his use of subtle appeals to spiritual pride with personal flattery and golden promises of grace and salvation. At the same time he dispensed most bitter pills of criticism and ridicule to many who had to swallow them in good faith! He had a set repertoire of ways of replying to questions without actually answering them, changing the direction normally taken by thought onto a quite different tack and confounding expectations and often using one or another of his stock of English phrases which are supposed to carry unique, deep meaning in each new situation. He also avoided answering people’s questions by speaking to others instead, interrupting the questioner by waving his hand to ‘produce’ a trinket, or staring silently at the questioner and even angrily telling off the questioner! He could shift his captive audience’s attention at will, using the vague and unspecific to leave people wondering what he meant. This worked well when the person involved was under the assumption that Sai Baba was all-knowing or infallible… it caused the person to search for some explanation in the words, the way they were said etc. that would fit with their own preconceptions so as to find a “solution” with which he could live. The solution was invariably not genuine and only led further into a morass of misconceptions, reinforcing the inability to comprehend so inscrutable a master as Sai Baba insisted all must realise about him.

He played cleverly on devotees’ fears of ‘blasphemy’ in questioning any motive or act of ‘Lord Sai’. He repeated a range of stories and parables that played upon traditional human anxieties about the unknown, death, a coming after-life, some having to spend time in Naraka (hell), divine retribution in the form of rebirth with ‘bad karma’, fear of black magic and demons. Of course, these latter guru-traps are part of the stock-in-trade of nearly all priesthoods from time immemorial in order to gain ascendancy and keep power over people.

Edward de Bono has defined his coined term ‘Lateral thinking’: It “is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perceptional and interpretational part of thinking. This is where we organise the external world into the sensory pieces we can then ‘process’ (i.e. interpret, make some sense of).” This helps one see how Sai Baba manipulated people into thinking that he is not what one sees and hears, and that his reality was something invisible and divine. Most important in his agenda of deceit was confusing people into NOT thinking what he really was and did.

(RP - October 12)

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