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When a person joins the Sathya Sai Baba movement or makes some personal commitment to Sathya Sai Baba, all that this involves gradually assumes a more and more important role in one's personal belief system, on the basis of which one increasingly tends to perceive and interpret everything. Sathya Sai Baba becomes, as he most explicitly tries to become in his constant assertions, the focus of a person's whole life. Therefore, any information that would upset this belief in a radical way would be felt at once as a threat to one's very identity. This is achieves largely through the manipulation of group effect by his organization, which is the ruling force that sets the norms he dictates on the international Sathya Sai movement.

Many persons arrange their lives around Sathya Sai Baba as an avatar and supreme teacher/guru, meditating on him and saying his name at least daily. They often change their courses in life, workplace, profession, place of residence, vacations, and donate large portions of their wealth, time and energy to his various institutions. A number are married with his blessing or even on his advice. sometimes by him personally. It is well known from the study of similar movements and cults of a more restrictive kind that these kinds of attachment are very difficult indeed to break or reverse. Not only is there a constant group pressure at many levels to conform in basic belief, but many people have few other close contacts than Sathya Sai Baba devotees remaining. In any organised spiritual or religious context, 'faith' is usually seen to amount, in practice, to willingness to follow and obey, the gullibility that is accompanied by passive acceptance and an accepting, non-inquiring mentality. Add to this the sense of security, belief-wise and social, that is experienced in such movements when all is well and no disturbing factors become predominant... it can often afford much pleasure, peace and relief from the conflicts and pressures of the 'outer world'.

All these powerful moving and sustaining factors are present in many retreats, monasteries, nunneries, religious orders and also in religious and church organisations. This powerful identification depends upon belief, and belief reinforces the identifications... therefore the age-old truth that 'people believe what they want to believe' and reject what they do not wish should disturb their minds still has great relevance. In all this, however, certain facts easily get buried and some aspects of truth often get lost.

Another factor, well known from history as well as many societies today, is coercion by psychological and social means - with the fear that is its counterpart. That coercion has been used at Sathya Sai Baba ashrams is a fact, such as against those who refuse to observe certain rules or directions. There have been, moreover, a number of cases of very arbitrary banning from the ashram, some known well to me personally. The allegations against Sathya Sai Baba officials contain some reports of a degree of coercion only associated with very authoritarian sects, such as the scientologists. Even murder as a means of silencing others is alleged. The first resort of despots and other potentates, and even the last resort of many 'civilised' states and societies, is the fear of being punished for leaving the faith is a very powerful motivator. This has been demonstrated in many well-known historical precedents. It is found within churches of many denominations, and in 'spiritual' sects and cults. That it always proves eventually to be self-defeating, this does not make it any less oppressive while it lasts.

Publicising matters that could be at all damaging is usually both impossible and dangerous within such a system, which always erects its own wall of positive propaganda. All public debate has to take place outside. With the coming of the Internet, the spreading of information - both true and false - it has also fortunately become far more difficult to stop or even ignore what critics say and the control of what information the public can obtain by select committees is no longer so easy. At the same time, it is easy to assert much on the Internet which is doubtful and false with virtual impunity. This was ever to, many a faulty and false account has been published in all other media too. The chief antidote to this, of course, is to remain as inconclusive as possible until amassing evidence lends decisive weight to one side or the other.

The problem becomes how to test the one view or its opposite. In the case of Sathya Sai Baba and the facts of his life, this test is extremely complex indeed, for we are dealing with something very largely beyond our reach, both observationally and as to phenomena for which we have no definitive worldly or scientific explanations.

We have here in one person nothing short of a mixture of the numinous and amazing with cover-ups and wilful unaccountability as to his involvment in major crime and despicable sexuality, for which much evidence is available. Moreover, Sathya Sai Baba mixes scriptural truths with ignorance and deception, and apparent high-mindedness with uncomplaining acceptance of corrupt worldly dealings.

Further than this, however, I hear from reliable people that a number of Indian devotees regard this, as well as homosexual and even paedophile acts, as nothing to condemn in a divine avatar, whose power is claimed to be infinite, motives far beyond human understanding and so on. This is really too much to accept, considering Baba's teachings on chastity, sexual purity, lust, sense control, never harming and much else. I know that the Hindu pantheon includes divine murderers like Parasurama and Kali, but to add to these a Paedophile Avatar goes just too far! Those devotees who consider Sathya Sai Baba to be Rama (as he is ever saying he is) and who pray to him with the name 'Sai Ram', should rather consider whether he does not fulfil the qualifications of the mythical Ravanna, who Sathya Sai Baba is ever repeating was a Mahatma, a master of all the same disciplines as Rama, but who was ruined because he was unable to overcome his lust.

Painting oneself into a corner with the Sai Baba belief system: It is quite common to paint oneself into a corner with a belief system by absolutising it. Some teachings and theories lend themselves to this more than others. It is well known how Marxism, Freudianism, fundamentalist theories and many another ideology entrap their followers in an almost unbreakable web of explanations and doctrinal rules. Some idea systems are looser than others, some more inclusive and flexible, yet almost all are based on some inviolable suppositions, axioms or beliefs.

As soon as one ‘absolutises’ a faith, a process is begun from which extrication becomes progressively more difficult. In the case of Sathya Sai Baba , this is done by adopting the belief that he is the one God, omnipotent, omni-benevolent etc., as he constantly insists he is. The assumption, once made even tentatively, gradually makes us change all one's perceptions and interpretations of most things in our lives. Some teachings and theories lend themselves to this more than others. Even some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century did this in adopting Marxism-Lenist Communism as the absolute truth. The names include H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Arthur Koestler and countless millions of people worldwide.

It is well known how Marxism, Freudianism, fundamentalist theories and many another ideology entrap their followers in an almost unbreakable web of explanations and doctrinal rules. Some idea systems are looser than others, some more inclusive and flexible, yet almost all are based on some inviolable suppositions, axioms or beliefs. The same applies to the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba , which combine positive axioms about religious and social tolerance and respect, non violence and love-inspired thoughts, words and acts with a considerable number of fundamental prohibitions on fairly common ideas, speech and behaviour of kinds that are regarded as bad and even as 'evil' and 'demonic'. This teaching is really very demanding indeed on followers, setting up ideals that are so high and difficult to fulfil for most people that considerable guilt feelings are almost universally engendered in persons who are introspective and sensitive by nature.

The power of social conformism, based in strong subliminal pressure known in psychology as ‘group effect’, is the chief tool in covering up anything that might reflect on the reputation of religious communities and cults. This power is weaker on the periphery of a group, and strongest near the centre - making it all the harder for insiders to speak out or break out. Peripheral persons and newcomers may leave with negligible visible effect on the group as a whole, for they have no vested interests to forward and no organisation to forward any protests they may have. It is well-known that many who go to see Sathya Sai Baba , already convinced that he is a Divine being, are intent on taking everything they see or experience in the ashrams as having deep meaning, truth and goodness. Some very mistakenly believe that all events that can occur at the ashrams are a result of Baba's personal will. Some see the failed logic in this, but the extend this omnipotence to anything that happens anywhere! At the ashrams and overwhelmingly in the Sai movement, the bottom line is how much personal attention a person gets from Sathya Sai Baba , either at darshan, in terms of interviews or other privileges and offices he grants. Because this is taken by the mass of followers as virtually the measure of a person’s degree of spirituality and/or place in the pecking order, it is literally visible at darshans how many followers are driven by the push-pull cocktail, hopeful faith alternating with pain and desperation. All this is the effect of the underpinning belief that "he alone is God, knows all etc. ad. inf."

The Sai movement and “critical mass”: All in all, there are very large numbers of people who have become so attached to Sathya Sai Baba emotionally, mentally, socially and even in material terms, that the movement has developed a strong inertial impetus, certainly among Indians in the diaspora and their personal contacts world-wide. The belief system has reached 'critical mass', certainly among Indians world-wide, and so the chain reaction works to increase numbers among millions who have no means whatever of testing anything, but only of believing whatever they have heard or are told 'officially'. The number claimed by Sathya Sai Baba , however, and parroted by all who reckon themselves believers, are certainly inflated by anything up to the power of ten! (See exaggeration of number by Sai Baba)

The special nature of the Sathya Sai Baba teaching , which attributes all negative events to human activity and all positive ones to God (i.e. to Sathya Sai Baba himself!) means that every positive event that happens anwywhere is seen as the result of Sathya Sai Baba 's actions (on an intangible and thus uncontrollable 'level'). The doctrine conveniently also provides the ultimate excuse for anything whatever that Sathya Sai Baba may do that is incomprehensible, unpleasant or wrong. Mentioning negative events or doubts about Sathya Sai Baba soon leads to one's peripheralisation and ostracism. By propagation of stories of only positive Sathya Sai Baba miracles, nothing negative is attributed to him (at least, prima facie). Whether these are true, doubtful or out-and-out inventions - the movement grows among all those who are open to exciting, mysterious influences.

The stories accumulate like flies around a jampot. One small example: a Canadian devotee I met had fallen on hard times and prayed to Sathya Sai Baba to make it possible for him to buy a house and perhaps start some educational project. One day he happened to find out that he was the lucky winner of a hundred thousand dollars due to a petrol receipt number which had been chosen by lottery as the winning number. This he was certain was Sathya Sai Baba 's miracle. Has not Sathya Sai Baba said "Consider everything as a gift from God" and 'I always look after my devotees' etc.? But someone was to win the lottery anyhow and there is no proof, only subjective conviction, that there was any specific connection of the prayer and the event. Of the many positive things that happen on average to almost everyone now and again, all those occuring to Sai devotees will be attributed to Sathya Sai Baba ! The same kind of good things that happen to the other 99.99% of people are not seen in this way by those affected. Meanwhile, the many bad things that happen to devotees are not usually put down to Sathya Sai Baba , though some regard them as 'lessons' from the master which it is exclusively their job to find out about and give some meaning (i.e. no guru guidance here)!

Even when some reports are based on substantial testimony that can be followed up by interviews, by analysis and cross-checking, there is a tendency for all kinds of bogus claimants and unsubstantiated 'stories' to sneak in and become part of the main body of beliefs. There are any number of such instances in connection with Sathya Sai Baba , some of which he himself and/or his various servitors have seen necessary to quash by public pronouncements. The investigator is faced with a tantalising and beguiling mixture of fact and fiction, truth, half-truth and lies. To penetrate into these and come through with a relatively balanced overview takes deep engagement and certain qualities or abilities of the personality that have to be developed through rigorous work and often painful experience.

In the case of the Sathya Sai Baba phenomenon, more and more sound documentary evidence is becoming available to show that there is 'sand under feet of clay' in this case. Crucial dates celebrated for decades in the movement, such as Sathya Sai Baba 's birthday and the day he declared his mission, are now seen to be quite different from those recorded in official registers. Other such claimed facts about Sathya Sai Baba 's schooling etc. are also contradicted by documentary evidence. That this is occurring now for the first time and on such a scale while the Sai movement is reaching for world influence bodes badly for its future, certainly among modern educated populations. Objective evidence, when made available widely enough, tends to stultify and stifle all such cultlike movements whose inner circles are so unaccountable and secretive. That the SSO's long-term International Chairman and Central Trust member, Indulal Shah, has publicly lied about UNESCO participation in Sai educational activities, and has informed the press that he wants murders to be merely an internal matter for the ashram are clear signals that this movement lacks the policy and quality of staff to make the much larger impact now sought.

Reviewing some of the movements of Indian, Tibetan and other gurus with world-wide followings in the 20th century that reached what I call 'critical mass', we observe how this has sustained them even after they were internationally discredited. This applies especially to those which accumulated vaery large amounts of money and built up some system of ashrams and/or organised membership. One sees how one after the other of their gurus and/or chief acolytes were exposed as being involved in all kinds of sexual excess, often also murders and shady dealings. Despite the starkest of revelations, they managed to retain substantial numbers of active participants and - having considerable funds, properties and businesses - they survive today, though mostly much reduced in size and influence. One might name as examples, the Ananda Marga movement, Prabhupada's 'Iskcon' Hare Krishna sect, the boy Maharaji's huge sect, Trungpa Rinpoche's Tibetan cult, the 'Moonies', the Rajneesh (now aka-Osho) cult, Mukthananda's Siddhi Yoga cult, the Scientologists and so forth. All are alive, most are failing or at least not expanding. These are largely underpinned by wealth, property and entrapped followers. Therefore, one may confidently predict that theSSB sect will also survive long after the much fuller exposure of Sathya Sai Baba that is doubtless on its way.

Prashanthi Nilayam the hub of the world? Many ashramites have grown up never doubting that Sathya Sai Baba is everything that he says he is, and they form the backbone of the community of believers. For them to entertain doubts would be like submitting to a personal earthquake, a soul-shaking catastrophe that leaves the survivor in a state of depression, sometimes suicidal. This is well known from those who have disowned or been disowned by strong sects the world over, like Jehovas Witnesses, Pentecostials, Seventh Day Adventists, Moonies and any number of others. But in Prashanthi Nilayam it becomes feasible even for outsiders to come to believe that it is the real hub of the world - no, the Universe, where God Himself resides and from where he steers everything, without the tiniest exception. However, to my knowledge there have been several independent suicides in Prashanti Nilayam, including one by a whole family (a few survived). All such events are hushed up immediately if possible, such as by sending all visitors away immediately and without explanation.

Conformity to the group ideology and its requirements hinders development of independence in thought or action. It is not surprising that intellectual thought is virtually non-existent in such a place, Sathya Sai Baba has no respect or patience whatever with genuine intellectuals, which concurs with his advice to everyone to rid oneself totally of the mind as quickly as possible!. So even the many persons who sport rows of more or less obscure letters after their names and work as professors or scientists, turn out to be second-rate thinkers, which usually becomes obvious soon after they have opened their mouths. They are repetitive and must operate within the known and set doctrinal and informational limits. Paradoxically, very much fuss is made of anyone who claims to be a scientist, a doctor, and educator or the like there... but those who remain there almost always turn out to be rather naive persons who have a tendency to publish books that fail to meet even the lowest standards of accuracy, fact and intellectual insight of comparable kinds of Western publication. Westerners who become Sai devotees very seldom demonstrate anything like excellence in their talks or wr  itings, rather the contrary. Sathya Sai Baba has invited certain Westerners to hold lectures for foreign visitors - but these are not lectures in any known sense of the word, more like declarations of faith backed up by anecdotes and often by simple-minded theological chestnuts or parroting of Sathya Sai Baba 's own words.

One astute observer of this fact was V. K. Narasimhan - not himself a scientist or philosopher, as he freely admitted - but an economy graduate and world-travelled journalist. He told me that the students that come out of Sathya Sai Baba colleges and 'university' are not capable of a single independent thought. Pose them a problem that they have not learned the answer to and they are simply at sea. This is also rather the norm in Indian education, with its origins in Macaulay's "clerk-factory" educational methods, influences which are still potent and a dead weight on Indian life, along with the total subservience towards those above one's station that lived on unaltered after the British left and which kind of hierarchical nepotism marks the whole Sathya Sai Baba movement through and through, as the liberal-minded Narasimhan was painfully aware.

Robert Priddy

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