Self confidence versus denial of selfhood: Due to the use of a very ambiguous word – ‘ego’ – which is held in most Eastern-influenced ‘spiritual ways’ to be the cause of virtually all the ills of humankind, people subject themselves to doctrines which can only undermine true self-confidence. The human ego can refer to the what results from the development of an independent, secure and self-sufficient personality or contrariwise to the unmitigated selfishness of people who put their desires and interests before almost all else. True self-confidence belongs to the well-rounded and balanced personality or ego-identity and not at all to the selfish egomaniac. Preaching about the need to ‘kill the ego’ or ‘surrender of the self’ is well-known from many religious movements – due to the misunderstanding about what ‘ego’ means. If the word refers only to the possessive and self-seeking “me and mine” aspect of a person, to try to help people limit and contain this is acceptable. However, this goal is all too often connected to the subjugation of people under authoritarian gurus, church or other spiritual organizations and cults. One aim in preaching ‘surrender of the ego’ is the humbling of people – such as before a supposed perfect God, or – what is yet worse – ‘holy’ representatives of this or that deity in the form of gurus, swamis and priesthoods of all kinds. This submission to authority figures as superior figures is also a form of dependency – a ‘spiritual crutch’ – and involves the gradual loss of self-determination and a creeping inward self-depreciation or inferiority which are very difficult for its victims to recognise. It usually comes along with living mostly within a belief community or limited circle of more or less like-minded people, trying to follow strictly moralistic ideals and overly self-denying precepts.
“A particular form of seduction that the group participates in with those flirting with joining is similar to sexual conquest. The group pours an enormous amount of focused energy and attention into potential recruits until they surrender to the group’s authority, which of course has the guru and his belief system at its center. When someone does surrender, everyone celebrates the new bonding. This is a bit like a new marriage, and for the recruit, it is the honeymoon phase. This lasts as long as it does, and then the focus of the group shifts elsewhere. (This also happens in romantic love, for after the conquest the wooer’s interest and focus often move somewhere else.) When the honeymoon is over, the new converts must shift roles – from being the wooed to being the wooer.” (from ‘The Guru Papers’ by Joel Kramer and Diane Alstead p.79)
Those who experience a conversion to a divinity, sect, doctrine, guru and so on often seem to get a surge of self-confidence, one which may last for years until the lifestyle and beliefs become habitual and worn. This is often seen in keen missionaries and promulgators of their faith. The apparent self-confidence is however based not least on the strength of belief in a kind of superiority derived from having joined the community of the saved, the holy, or perhaps the prospective saints. This is hardly the result of a secure and balanced personality, it is rather pseudo-self-confidence which is frequently recognisable in signs that it is an adopted role rather than an expression of genuine insight and knowledge. Such people usually come across as too over-emphatically convinced, too masterful, patronizing or otherwise semi-fanatical in their opinions and approaches to other people.
The monastic type of detachment from worldly things may be less troublesome to more elderly persons who have already lived themselves out in an engaged and active life in the world with broad experience, for they are often less affected by the desires and life-seeking tendencies that are only natural and indeed necessary to real health and personal security in younger persons. But for anyone whose life’s meridian is not well passed and who is not psychologically very robust, the Sathya Sai Baba doctrine will in most cases hinder personal growth (IF it is possible for one to adhere to it to any large extent). A main reason for this lies in the feeling of impotence instilled by Sathya Sai Baba’s constant talking-down of people as imperfect (sometimes he calls people worse than dogs, or cawing crows etc.)… and his corresponding admonitions to focus all ones thoughts and desires on him alone. He teaches that everything stems from him, the creator of the universe from whom only good things come! Yet he also says, conflicting as usual, “everything that happens comes from God”, think about that!. His insistence on the super-importance of concentration on repeating his name, inwardly worshipping his form (and his person in actual practice at endless darshan sessions etc.) works effectively as an opiate that dulls personal reflection and living self-awareness, which is the true basis of genuine self-confidence and personality growth.
Modern psychology has developed and tested against experience many conceptual devices for tracing the multiplicity of personality traits, the growth of the ego and the influences operative on emotional and mental conditions of all kinds. Sai Baba hardly ever refers to any of these discoveries and is very evidently not conversant with their theories or terminologies. Though claiming to be in complete touch with the psyche of anyone, knowing it in and out, his discourses repeatedly demonstrate that he suffers from many of the most common fallacies about nature of the human mind and psyche, and this shines through even his words have been heavily edited and sanitized as far as reasonable by editors who are rather more knowledgeable.
In brief, one may say that his teachings on psychic development and spiritual behaviour rely wholly on Indian religious tradition and are primitively fundamentalist, set in black-and-white terms with an iconography and ideology of ‘gods versus demons’, a world view applied ad lib to the present almost without nuance or proper factual basis. He almost always speaks in the most sweeping terms and is prone to almost hair-raising over-generalisation about the nature of people, governments, world conditions and on any number of issues. The degree of exaggeration and factual inaccuracy is quite extraordinary for a supposedly intelligent teacher!
Sathya Sai Baba’s recipe for anti-living: I have shown something of how Sathya Sai Baba’s directions for living are so demandingly puritanical and unrealistically idealistic that most of his followers seem to end up living a virtual non-life. There is much more in his recipe to break down not only the objectionable egoism of morally primitive persons, but the entire personality structure of a democratic and effective civil citizen. One can meet many such cases (especially foreigners) who reside at the ashrams but are doing no work, no ‘active service’. Often they are virtually just existing in limbo, coping only with the constant daily problems of subsistence there, and waiting for grace and blessings to fall into their laps. Some have said this to me quite openly!
If you manage to get rid of most or all of your personal desires, as Sai Baba insists everyone should immediately or – failing that – as soon as possible, then existence loses much of its meaning (let alone charm) and the desire to live is itself seriously weakened in the process. It is hardly surprising that constant Sai devotees, esp. single foreign ladies at the ashram, tend to be suicidal. One such a suicide took place while we were visiting in 1990 (covered up by the PN officials immediately).This resulted in the ashram accommodation office not allowing any woman to have an apartment on her own. Various other suicides of disappointed devotees are documented elsewhere, including one involving most members of a large Indian family. There are numerous reports of suicides, of which not more than a handful have reached the press in any country. The ashram authorities enforce immediate damage limitation precautions as soon as anything untoward happens there and very short shrift is given to anyone who persists in inquiries. In this respect, the Sai Baba ashrams are indistinguishable from totalitarian mini-states.
One Sai Baba follower, Mr. Kanheia Jee , a retired Indian army major who had become more or less socially and mentally trapped for 30 years and more as Head of the Administration at Vidyagiri in Prashanti Nilayam together with his leading Seva Dal worker and wife (Mrs. Caveri), put it very succinctly: “If you try to do even half of what Baba says you should, you’ll go stark raving mad!” Looked at in sane social terms, these attitudes develop the basis for despotism and repression, ignorance and weakening of the individual human spirit to stand up for what is right and true. There is no more ingenious way of taking away people’s freedom than teaching them that they cannot control their fates except by prayer to him, that only God is free and decides all in his inscrutable way. It is despicable! Thus making people obey and censor themselves entirely so as to give up more and more autonomy and all normal rights, while it works as the subtlest known means of gaining power, fame and wealth by Sai Baba and his men.
Manipulating vulnerable consciousness: Though his extremely puritan moralism and demands for massive self-denial, Sai Baba develops a ‘vulnerable consciousness’ in many people, particularly those who are vulnerable from before for reasons of repressive childhoods, social discrimination, personality problems etc. His doctrines lay much weight on ideas which are nothing short of self-destructive, though they go under the emotively acceptable label ‘removal or destruction of the ego’ . Even while he outwardly says some positive, supportive things about how to relate to oneself, they are mostly tied up with expectations of a (better) life in the hereafter. Meanwhile, he asserts all kinds of things which mainly bring a person down, cause them to feel low self-esteem or reduced worth… the typical self-denigration spread by all fundamentalist sin-oriented religion and sects.
Projecting one’s whole autonomy onto Sathya Sai Baba … the enthusiasm wears off after the famous ‘honeymoon‘ period is past. Such phenomena are well known…