Sai Baba is wildly ambiguous about whether or not there is any kind of ‘free will’. Now and again he says that ‘there is no free will’, and contradictorily also ‘only God has free will’. Many devotees conclude simplistically that free will can only be exercised by him (claiming to be the Godhead), even though he is constantly telling people, ‘You are God. You ARE God!’ (I heard him say just this to a devotee at one of my interviews with him). This cannot can have any real practical meaning, it is about as unhelpful as saying such things as ‘the cosmos exists’, ‘the cosmos does not exist’, ‘all is truth’ or ‘all is illusion’. ‘all is energy’, ‘everything is everything’ etc. Contradictorily, he also speaks of us having free will only in our choosing either to do good or bad! Then again he also repeatedly says elsewhere there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ etc., that good vs.bad is an illusion (i.e. maya). If this were not enough he also says that everything is good since everything comes from God! What a confusion he creates, both in his own mind and that of his followers!
Yet it is the complete absence of any free will that generally predominates in Sai Baba’s ‘teaching’. Ironically, a follower who is kept in confusion is much more likely to cling to a master! To assert that humans are mere puppets, “sugar dolls”, as Sai Baba had frequently done, is blatantly absurd. But it is his way of convincing people to submit and surrender themselves to him as the only Doer. The effect on believers in this is to become less motivated, less constructive or vital, it amounts to loss of self-respect and sense of self worth and amounts to inauthenticity and existential alienation from ones living reality.
Some devotees repeat Sai Baba’s words, ‘there is no free will’ almost as if it were like a holy mantra, evidently without understanding how much this vast generalization implies for human life. For one thing, it would make everyone into automatons without any responsibility whatever for anything… Despite this, Sai Baba sometimes speaks of there being some small degree of free will only. No doubt many Westerners would reject his ‘teaching’ if he did not confirm what most people hold to be the case. Sai Baba even proclaims that he does everything, not even a blade of grass can move without his will etc. He proclaims that he alone is the Doer! He follows up by boasting that it is he who builds his colleges and hospitals, and does all “good” works in the world but definitely nothing bad!). This peculiar megalomaniac notion can be seen operating in full force on his followers, especially in his ashrams. One shall ‘See, hear, think, do only what is “good” – no “evil”… despite these being illusory ideas! Devotees praise him endlessly and totally uncritically for everything… some get so confused that they think he causes every tiny thing that occurs and also that anything that ‘goes wrong’ or does not occur as hoped or expected is “a divine lesson from the guru”. These facts also proclaim his movement as an indoctrinating cult of a most authoritarian and unaccountable nature.
The meaning of the words ‘free will’ vary enormously. Some people fall back on fatalism to explain to themselves their own failings and failures, or to avoid responsibility for themselves or for having to take moral standpoints that may prove uncomfortable because they are unpopular, even when right and true. Others accept there is a measure of free will and try to employ it positively. Without faith in human will power and freedom, the world would be a meaningless round, a sorry place where people go through ‘predetermined motions’, believing wrongly that they have no choice to do otherwise. Democratic freedom of choice could not exist, only the tyranny of unavoidable events. This benefits despotic, totalitarian and authoritarian systems. It engenders fatalism where all social freedoms and human rights become like a mere legend, as among most of India’s religious and crushingly poor villagers and town slum dwellers. This applies very much in India, where the oppressive caste system is hardly changed since Independence, still making most of the 160 million ‘untouchable’ Dalits (95% still only in low-caste trades) no better than serfs to the other castes.
The big confusion can very largely be cleared up, but only by a proper exposition of the subject, one which takes account of the entire range of human thought (and misunderstanding) on the subject. I hope my contribution will be helpful. Firstly, it is necessary to point out a conclusion independently of the grounds on which it was drawn: At bottom, Sai Baba does not want us to have any free will (even though we do have some), for he demonstrably wants everyone to do only his will… in short, he is a guru who wants a totally obedient following who see hims as God Almighty and the only entity which can truly exercise Will.
The dangers to ones personal autonomy, destiny and freedoms from not understanding the nature of human free will and willpower but believing in Sai Baba’s main world view are detailed at length in a series of articles here
For those who have a reasonable attention span, read more on free will, choice, determinism and fatalism here
Please go to the Public Petition for Official Investigations of Sathya Sai Baba and His Worldwide Organization