Sai Baba maintains his ‘mystery’ by avoiding giving straightforward answers
Sai Baba is a practiced master at seeming to answer a question or tell something while expressing it so ambiguously or obliquely that it amounts to saying as good as nothing. Every now and again he suddenly breaks off mid-sentence and turns his attention to something else or another person. The disappointed person soon contrives an explanation, for this omniscient God must be telling something deep and subtle through this behaviour. There is much talk about how to understand in a positive light things that it would be glaringly evident to independent persons are avoidance or manipulations by Sai Baba. I have to admit that I was taken in for a long time by some of his clever comments and half-spoken sentences…
I too spent much time searching to explain his words and acts. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack, and the results were seldom too convincing when I did find any. I even wrote articles in his journal Sanathana Sarathi at the behest of its editor (V.K. Narasimhan), all precisely to try to clear up some of his vague or contradictory statements. I now conclude that he mostly avoids really telling anything when he is may be trapped into an easily unproven answer, meanwhile leaving the devotee at least an illusion of having the attention of God Himself and a response the meaning of which will make itself known in good time. Those he talks to (very seldom more than one or two sentences) are told by yet blinder followers that they should be pleased, even grateful, for this divine blessing! Many are overwhelmed with gratitude for this audience which it is said by all devotees to be something one has striven towards through many previous lives packed with good actions! Many people want to believe such things and the more difficult their lives are, the more they apparently do. In the ashrams one believes in ‘thinking with the heart, not the head’. No one seems to realise that the heart (i.e. the emotions and irrational impulses) can deceive as much or even more than the head. The so-called ‘heart’ can be filled with feelings of inferiority, intense unfulfilled longing for love and further, bitterness and hate. Not exactly an infallible inner guru to rely on blindly in the face of common sense and informed reason, as most gurus including Sai Baba insist it is!
There is no doubt that the subjective experiences of interviews are felt as very good by most people (though not all, for some are told off strictly too). One can read hundreds of accounts that use superlatives beyond all reason. I can now see myself as misled and so ‘naively guilty’ of a much too one-sided and gold-tinted account of interviews in my book (‘Source of the Dream’). Therefore I choose to describe my summary of Sathya Sai Baba interviewees’ from the cold clarity of my eventual disillusion with them.
After attending several interviews they tend to become an anticlimax to persons who have still have a mind of their own, because so little can really be learned about anything from Sathya Sai Baba. He just reels off his usual imprecise spiritual directions and follows – with few variations – a set of routines he has practised and perfected through thousands of interviews. Sometimes it is like a routine he enters, regardless of who is present. But this is certainly not how one’s first interviews seem! Interviewees are often so worked up after months or years of his ‘Wait! Wait!’ instruction – and who can count what sacrifices and efforts many have made- and are mega-relieved (as if they were pools’ winners). In interviews, many behave as if in a daze, there is often a sense of staring, hypnotic happiness. Especially ladies, mostly having been constantly starved for the slightest attention at darshan, often give themselves over to an orgy of gushing words about it afterwards, like ‘blissed out’, ‘spaced out by divine love’ and ‘eternal moments of realisation’ and what have you. All of this remind of some psycho-social orgasmic release of pent-up doubts and worries in surrendering to the delightful conviction, ‘So I am really one of God’s chosen children after all’. This conviction is always insecure, however, and Sathya Sai Baba will shake it time and again with his famous hypothetical ‘tests of faith’, i.e. his indifference, his neglect and much more besides until death… of that one could invariably be convinced and confident, at least!
From about 10 hours altogether in the various interview rooms with Sai Baba and from hearing and reading at least 100 accounts of interviews from other devotees (often noted in papers they circulate or in articles and books) and after countless hours of private discussion with Sai Baba’s translator at many interviews, V.K. Narasimhan, it is fair to say that Sai Baba seldom responds openly and frankly to what the questioner really wants to know, but turns the question back at the questioner or spins the matter around somehow. If he does reply (rather than, as often, turn to another person instead) what he says is frequently elliptical and off the point. He treats all questions or comments which he does not like in what my elderly colleague Prof. Erlendur Haraldsson characterised to me very fittingly as follows:
“I recall when Karlis Osis and I had our first encounter with Sai Baba we both felt that he, apart from his great charisma, was a great prima donna, with a tremendous ego, and also kind of a Napoleon, with a ruler’s mind and tactics. Boasting, and illusions about one’s true characteristics is a part of such a psychological makeup, and in Sai Baba this is to a psychopathological degree unless one assumes the split-personality model to explain him, which I find tempting.”
What we would not accept as a valid or relevant answer from other people, many devotees will immediately accept as profound when it comes from the one they believe to be omniscient. For example, when asked by a friend of mine from Copenhagen why it was that Jehova (i.e. God, i.e. Sai Baba) had not told the Jews about reincarnation, but asserted the contrary via the Bible. Sathya Sai Baba simply did not understand the question and asked to have it explained. (A divine joke that he can’t understand? I think not!). My Jewish friend said that the question was about reincarnation and intended to specify, but – without waiting to hear the actual question again – Baba replied brusquely, and in so many words, “Oh! Reincarnation! You cannot understand it. Do not try to think about it. It is like the seed and the fruit.” I saw that this answer was just a brush off, but afterward my friend claimed that it was a perfect answer! His view was that, because the question was one that his Jewish wife considered very important, Baba was telling that they should rather concentrate on other more important things. This is not untypical of Baba’s way of answering questions.
Sai Baba frequently replies so obliquely that no intelligible sense can be made of his words, or he changes the subject unexpectedly, or brushes it aside and the person concerned often takes whatever comes as a significant teaching or even a spiritual directive. This is also typical of evasive deceivers hoping to maintain others’ false perceptions, or to avoid being unmasked or incriminating themselves. In short, whatever Sai Baba replies, or however he avoids replying, is taken by devotees as a profoundly meaningful matter! If what he says seems plainly mistaken, based on a misunderstanding or factually wrong , the devotee will twist and turn the words in every possible way and relate them to all manner of events past present, dreams, imagined things and so on until some kind of sense can be derived from the words… however unsatisfactory. This is also the case when he does not reply or is gruff, or gives the brush off. It becomes a subject of constant meditation or worry, self-examination and self-doubt. I have witnessed this on many occasions. What hardly ever seems to occur to the poor person who is struggling with these challenges is that Sathya Sai Baba might be wrong, might not know what he is talking about, may be bluffing or may simply be inadequately equipped to deal with the question. Only after realising that Sai Baba is not at all what he claims to be does all this gradually become as apparent as the sun in daylight!
See also how Sai devotees are induced into the cult of systematic rationalization through re-interpreting Sathya Sai Baba’s words and vague statements