Did Sathya Sai Baba really transform people? Sathya Sai Baba said (to the editor of his journal, V.K. Narasimhan) that one thing he cannot do is make people be good. So the question as to whether Sai devotees undergo more sound or permanent self-transformation than usual at any ‘religious conversion’ or other types of life-altering event is worth pursuing.
These people are almost never looked at critically by anyone who is allowed to remain within the movement because of the vague but absolute Sai ‘commandment’ ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ and ‘see only the good in everyone’. These are self-defeating practices in real life and – taken too seriously – lead towards such states as undue self-love and self-hate, loss of proper touch with other people and the world. One problem is that the virtual impossibility of this sweeping decree in real life, for most of us who are not in some cocoon are faced with things we must – if we follow our consciences bravely – criticise, condemn (though we may choose not to speak out) and act firmly against. This was reflected in the selfish actions of many leaders in the Sathya Sai organisation, their sheer unwillingness or inability to interact openly and fairly with other people. Following Sai Baba’s instruction, they made rules to stop members from any co-operation with other voluntary movements, even those having equally good or better aims and stronger records of public service. It came out too in innumerable squabbles, let-downs, broken promises and all the detritus of life that persists in all Sai groups I knew about through 18 years and which I have repeatedly been told about from followers from many countries. These matters were even brought up sometimes in mild forms at Sai conferences by speakers (a few of whom dared to deplore the standards of Sai devotees). Those trying to share the fact with ‘their brothers’ (and sometimes even their sisters too) were side-lined at all meetings or excluded outright. This indicated that genuine transformations into good devotees were considerably fewer and lesser than it was constantly made out to be by self-promoting eager beavers and zealots! Further, if one were to judge by the sheer venom in mails from diverse, mostly anonymous Sai ‘devotees’ that I and other critics of Sathya Sai Baba have received, one can wonder how much this movement was a refuge for what Sai Baba calls ‘bad men’ and worse.
Sai Baba’s reported vastly loving nature As to the ‘amazing compassionate love’ and so on that Sathya Sai Baba drummed into people as being his chief quality and which was thereafter said to emanate from him, I have heard many talk about it, but it always seemed so doubtful because the feeling was so evidently self-generated by the person describing it. It was hard for a mature person with much life experience of others, as I was in my 50th year, to detect anything like real love from Sai Baba. He could smile very charmingly, seem to show much flattering interest in people when it suited him.. It was easy – after waiting possibly for months or years – for the wonder-struck aspirant to take his first friendly glance at them as an outpouring of divine love, for by that time many have been reduced by his ignoring them for so long to a feeling of self-doubt, and the relief of his notice would come as a huge boost. In their hagiographic books, many devotees’ descriptions of their trial emphasise this first, all-transforming look. (see Sathya Sai Baba’s charismatic look) Looking back in a balanced reflective mood, I recall that I never simply felt real warmth from him – even in long interviews or private interviews… nor in several hundred darshans. Attention, smiles, soft words (but also grating ones) yes, but caring actions towards many sufferers of awful conditions or towards people in emotional crises, little or nothing. He would make people in wheelchairs stand up and stagger into the interview room on his arm, but they soon had to get their wheelchairs back (which were even taken away directly and donated to others). In mostly failing to follow his promises and flattery up at all, while accepting worship and donations, Sai Baba had the hallmark of the classic psychopath, Most psychopaths have great abilities to make others feel love for them… there are many famous examples of admired charmers who have been exposed and have fallen from their pedestals.,
Sai Baba’s claimed that he tested devotees’ faith in him, such as through ‘sending them hardships’, through withholding his grace and leaving them to face their crises and sufferings. Such tests are described by many writers, and some have told me of the wholly unreasonable ‘tests’ they have had to face. The majority of followers were mostly ignored for obvious logistical reasons, but it was said that this showed one was not ready or was undergoing a ‘test of faith’. In addition, there were many inexplicably untoward things that happened in his sphere, of which Sai Baba could always say (if anyone dared ask), that these were tests of faith. See some of these described here.
Poor verbal communication skills: I have observed at a series of interviews how Sathya Sai Baba was most definitely not very insightful or full of genuine understanding when talking to people even, in my experience, because he invariably answered obliquely or even failed to understand what he was being asked. Most of what he said weree phrases heard many times by many others, whether nice or nasty ones (i.e. I have heard him tell various clients: “you argue a lot”, “you fight your wife/husband”; “you have a (mad) monkey-mind”; “you’re a mad girl; crazy man”; “I will see you”; “you are (very) depressed”; “where is your husband/wife/daughter/son?”;”when did you come”; “when are you leaving?”; “Very happy”, “I will find you a husband” “he is a bad man” plus many a well-worn set piece from the Sai phrasebook. Meanwhile, all this was interpreted by devotees in terms of his great cosmic pretensions and was twisted and turned in the hope of getting some clue as it its hidden ‘divine’ meaning or auspicious import. A sad scenario! This became an obsession among the more frequent interviewees, while those who got little or no interviews did just the same with many ordinary daily events in their lives… attributing them to Sathya Sai Baba ‘s hidden influence and stretching their own credibility far beyond what could possibly be true or even could accord with what Sathya Sai Baba had taught many times. Few devotees indeed actually studied his writings and discourses in any depth or breadth.
Cheap trinkets as panaceas Among Sai Baba’s wide range of devices and expedients to gain devotees and keep those who were useful and wealthy, he would give some tangible ‘blessing’, perhaps some privileges or even a free room at his ashram, or supposedly manifest some trinket that seemed very valuable – but was very seldom better than a paiste gemstones set in a silver or sometimes gold ring or other trinket. He might ask a person to give a lecture to his students or to speak in his auditorium, (inevitably taken naively as a blessing and sign of one’s own spiritual maturity and goodness). ‘Oh such divine love’, many would emote, but I couldn’t detect it.. His big bag of tricks was a useful fall-back for reconciling those followers he had continually disappointed, as so many eventually confided to me that they were because they learned almost nothing in interviews and got no real response to their concerns to help.Trickery is hardly genuine love, I’d say… and I have established beyond all possible doubt that the ‘green diamond’ he claimed to materialise and gave me was an almost worthless fake with silver paper behind the stone to enhance its brilliance! Even when he did listen a bit to someone, I have often seen SB brush the questioner’s concerns aside with some quip (to raise a laugh), some irrelevant answer or some facial expression that tells one nothing (and tells he gives nothing). Was all this love, then? To pretend it is anything special, one must become an emotional chameleon, or some mentally boneless contortionist. It is truly remarkable how many people achieved this!
Healing as a sign of love? The many alleged miraculous healings claimed by – or for – by Sai Baba cannot ever be satisfactorily proven as being miracles or his doing. Improvements that take place (or may temporarily seem to do so) can be due entirely to other causes. It is known how placebos can work wonders, and how the person’s emotional state can have huge effects on health, with frequent turnaround triggered by anything from strokes of very good luck to sudden infatuation or requited love. The intense desire for release from pain and suffering – prayed about constantly – can have strong effects when one suddenly gets convinced that God is caring, and this may seem to be proved by being granted at long last a meeting with “God Incarnate Himself’. Compare this undoubted phenomenon to other sects like the evangelicals, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Pentecostals and hundreds similar where ‘miraculous healings’ are supposedly regular occurrences (though often temporary highs after which a relapse soon follows) and are attributed to whoever is seen as the instruments of God (Jesus, Allah etc.). Add to this ‘healing’ by shamans in many cultures in the world, the powerful trance effects of African and voodoo ‘witchcraft healers’. All this shows how little importance need be attached to the person involved, or to which ‘ishta’, ‘ikon’ ‘idol’ or ‘healer’ one appeals. One can project one’s energies towards anyone and even any object regarded as powerful – it appears – and through such a catalyst, genuine results can sometimes occur. It is in this non-miraculous context that I see Sathya Sai Baba ‘s alleged ‘miracles of healing’, along with all healings that are attributed to people of both the profane and sacred sort.
The whole construction of a ‘spiritual dispensation’ by the all-powerful ‘avatar of the age’, so widely claimed yet reported by so many and so credibly to be built on the sands of sexual abuse will most certainly topple over like a tower struck by lightning in the glare of considered opinion. Much of Sai Baba’s carefully guarded reputation is already ruined long since… a comical tragedy of errors and misplaced trust.