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Religion is generally thought to consist in many separate cultures: Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic and so forth, with many a sect and sub-sect (among Christians, for example, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist, Evangelistic and so on into hundreds more differing or opposing cults). In Sathya Sai Vahini, Baba refers to this situation: "The seeming contradictions have to be interpreted as incidental to the need to inspire people with varied intellectual, moral, economic and social backgrounds." (p.13).


We continually tend to forget that nothing in the world is as it appears to be, but Baba is constantly reminding us in various ways. He asked a devotee during an interview to identify the material in a ring he had 'borrowed' from a lady there. 'Silver' was the reply. 'No, it's not. You don't know. But I know!', said Baba. Probably the ring was made of platinum ('white gold'), but we were not told. This just shows how many of the simplest judgements even about ordinary things can be wrong. How much more room for error there is in considering more complex matters like human activities and beliefs! How then could we believe that we have all the right beliefs or alone can rightly interpret the scriptures', or the reality underlying the world's appearances? Probably we should only be sure, at best, that our beliefs are 'right' for us at the time, but not whether this is so for others.

As Baba has said about devotion: "Though each interprets it differently, all interpretations are correct, for they are all based on actual experience which cannot be negated." Prashanthi Vahini, p. 22. Yet how to know the difference between one's own actual experience and illusion or self-deception is not always so easy. There is a psychological condition which affects most people who are converted from a previous state of uncertainty, disappointment or despair to a new belief of great optimism... whatever the kind of belief. People can react like this to religious sects that guarantee salvation, to political ideologies that promise utopia, to scientific 'theory' and to many another kind of illusion.


Baba teaches: "Each must interest himself in understanding the practices and beliefs of the others." Sutra Vahini, p. 39. and "Tolerate all kinds of persons and opinions, all attitudes and peculiarities." Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol I (new ed.), p. 36.

The condition of new zealots is often like that of people falling in love, which makes them feel invulnerable to difficulties or doubts while feeling and reason seem at last to be in full harmony. The world looks rosy, things falls into place like a solved jigsaw puzzle to provide an answer to everything. While this rosy honeymoon mentality lasts, it is usually futile for an outsider to try to inform or caution in any way which does not fully accord with a person's particular beliefs. He or she is all too happy no longer to be among those who don't know.

Only time and further educative experience can effect sobering changes of mind. For example, many famous thinkers converted enthusiastically to communism in the world depression of the 1930s (it then did genuinely seem to many persons devoted to humanity to promise a better world) only to be terribly disillusioned at some point later on. Dear illusions are eventually worn down or punctured to make room for a sounder faith, better practice and a new equanimity of mind which reserves judgement on matters known to be beyond human ken. "An unruffled mind is very necessary for every aspirant who is marching forward" (Prashanthi Vahini, p. 13.)

To try to convert others in matters of faith is very often not to respect them, and so adult re-education in matters of faith is mostly counter-productive, not least through lacking the spiritual power of perfection oneself. Moreover, the psychology of the converted shows how it is largely futile to try to influence people by preaching different beliefs at them. If others are not attracted by our own practice to do likewise, what then is to be gained by persuasion? Mostly only a change in mere externals, words or the acceptance of certain alleged historical facts, which may or may not be wholly right. Baba makes clear on numerous occasions how true spirituality has to be developed by oneself, not through imitation of others.


Social groupism or sectarianism is invariably involved in causing or maintaining their recruits' peculiar state of insulation from the world we live in. These movements usually preach some 'closed system' of thought; a view of the world which is set up as the one and only true explanation and means to human salvation. Such 'total explanations' mislead people into narrowness, exclusivity and even into forming totalitarian societies. A closed system can be further imposed by making it a taboo even to think anything critical, however constructive, true or necessary for real welfare such thoughts may be. All closed systems have a built-in arsenal of ideas to suppress any questioners: communism branded doubters as revisionists, some psychoanalysts and psychiatrists makes criticism seem the result of a person's deep-rooted psychological conflicts, while various kinds of priesthood expel critics as evil-minded heretics or condemn those of other faiths to perdition. Such attitudes obviously cannot be squared with any religion of love.

Western educational systems are still today based firmly and increasingly on the scientific approach. Apart from a small minority of spiritually-oriented scientists, the dominant attitude remains one of narrow 'scientism': belief in materialism and the fact-focussed scientific method as the only possible standard of truth in any matter worth considering. This is also a self-defensive closed system, the frequent doggedness of which shows how firmly people cling to beliefs once they are formed. The anxiety about losing one's convictions must be respected too, though any 'science' that is closed to rational critique is eventually doomed. This situation has arisen despite the famous 'spirit of science': seeking truth and reserving judgement.

Some major world religious institutions and 'fundamentalist' sects, insist that they represent the only truth or way to salvation. They reject those who are all-inclusive and tolerant, as the perennial philosophy of Sanathana Dharma teaches. Concerning this, Baba has said: "The I or ego should not be moulded or enclosed in an "ism"; then, it becomes harmful as egoism." Sathya Sai Speaks Vol XVI (new ed.), p.3. At the same time, of course, we must try to understand their right to undergo their own learning processes, even despite intolerance. Sathya Sai has made it crystal clear that spirituality does not really exist where the practice of all-inclusive love is lacking.


All exchanges of opinion as to what is true and good are obviously not unhealthy. Though much criticism may be an expression of ego, envy or anger, there is a kind of critique which is constructive and is motivated by both good intentions and higher values. If it is not intended personally, but is directed instead at the best outcome of the matter in hand, those willing to put aside any pride or self-importance and listen may benefit.

However, the outlook and attitudes anyone adopts is surely influenced by many outward conditions interacting with the person's inner condition - all of which may be summarised as the karmic result of both one's worldly and spiritual inheritance. A strong ego also makes people choose to believe whatever suits them on almost any subject! In the light of this fact of life, it seems that to expect people willingly to accept corrective ideas and comments rationally may be mostly wishful thinking.

Baba has said: "In India... there are, since ages, many faiths and many paths, reflecting all the urges of man which lead him inward and upward. Hence, there are manifold alternatives from which man can choose the one that suits his stage of spiritual growth and with his feet firm on that step, he can raise himelf up to greater heights." Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 10 (new ed.) p. 87


We are eager to share Sathya Sai's self-transforming and inspiring teaching with those who have not yet found the guiding star. The natural wish is to inform others for their sake, for ourselves, and for the world in general. But those who lack faith are not usually amenable to talk about Divinity, in whatever form or name. Talks that have even a tinge of moralism are patronising and are entirely wasted on others. This is so not least because: "Bhakthi has to be realised by you in your own experience, though great souls can illumine the path a little for you by their examples." (Prashanthi Vahini,p. 21).

The eternal teachings of the avatar are freely available for all to obtain and cannot ever be lost. Our job is not to advertise them or be preaching 'middle-men' but to apply them to ourselves. "People climb rostrums and shout 'Brothers' and 'Sisters' but that platitude remains a flatitude! As soon as they descend from that altitude, the sentiment melts into thin air." Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 10 (new ed.), p 46.

So as to practice as best we can, we do have to understand them in relation to the confusing 'illusory' world with its countless variations, new encounters and unknown circumstances. It is in this that we may hope to contribute a little from each our culture and personal experience. By being sensitive to others' feelings and opinions, by talking agreeably without presumption and by listening with understanding rather than with the desire to influence, we may hope to be instruments of truth.

"Gather wisdom from wherever you can acquire it; listen to the good things teachers of different denominations elaborate upon. I would advise you to weight in your own mind, against your own experience, the teachings that you have heard. Listening should be followed and should be confirmed by reflection on the implications, the background, the reservations, the limitations of what you have been told." Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 6 (new ed.), p. 122.

(Robert Priddy. July 1998)

The above material is the copyright of Robert Priddy, Oslo 1999 see bibliography