Take the first step... and then what? One of SSB's most-quoted sayings is "Take one step towards me and I will take twenty towards you". Sometimes SSB has promised a hundred steps in return instead. That decisive step is a fatal step for many, one which leaves no way back! It is to decide that the SSB story is basically true, that Sathya Sai Baba is what he claims to be, the omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent Godhead in whom all other gods and deities that are worshipped are contained. How and why this step is taken obviously varies very greatly with the person, their circumstances and their experiences. Some paranormal event, from a trivial coincidence to a genuine inexplicable healing of an illness or disorder can be the hook. Or for very many it is seeing SSB 'materialise' something (at least apparently so). Conversion into a blind believer is often accompanied by a series of large changes in opinions and perceptions, which gradually extend to just about everything in one's experience. Everything has to be reinterpreted within a new framework of ideas, assumptions, value judgements. It is a kind of 'brainwashing', a most subtle kind because it programs people to brainwash themselves!
Devotees understand Sai Baba's vaguest of vague saying about his taking steps in several ways. For example, one interpretation is that mundane activities done for the benefit of Sai Baba, his organisation and various worldly works and projects will be rewarded by SSB in tangible ways - by attentions, interviews, success in one's undertakings, one's health and well-being and fate in life etc. I can think of very few followers who do not subscribe to this kind of attitude - at least in part. This approach is the least subtle of the two, but is obviously very powerful because such a promise would - if fulfilled - answer many a need, problem and desire.
The second kind of interpretation of taking one step etc. is about intangibles... if you worship SSB and accept him to be God - or, failing this, if you are not sure whether he is God Himself, but try to follow what he teaches - he will help you in ways that you are most likely unable clearly to observe or prove, due to the veil of human ignorance about things eternal. If one is unable to find any indications that this is taking place, one projects the reward into a very uncertain and unknown future - he will look after you after death, give you a good rebirth or - if you are ripe enough - save you from the tiresome round of pleasure and pain, life and death altogether. In this way, the followers imagination can puzzle out the most unlikely and unfounded significances in anything whatever that happens to them. Suppose one wins a lottery it is SSBs grace. Suppose one breaks ones back and is confined to a wheelchair existence it is all SSBs grace, teaching you a lesson, causing you to avoid some worse fate, and so on ad infinitum. This is the dark labyrinth that those who take his teaching seriously have all entered, despite themselves. A self-sustaining mental web that binds and entraps!
All this may well lead to some fairly marked behavioural changes and at least partial reforms of personal habits and overcoming or certain personal failings. Yet, as in the great majority of cases of religious conversion, the person's character remains hardly altered, despite the accompanying conceptions about personal 'self-transformation'. Observation shows most of the changes to be in mental and emotional attitudes and only 'skin deep' as regards actual behaviour and personality. There are exceptions to this, not least the relatively large percentage of visitors to Sai Baba who become very disturbed mentally and enter psychosis etc. Once the decisive decision is taken to believe that Sathya Sai Baba (SSB) is what he says he is, - that he is God Almighty who sent Jesus to earth, all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent - then there is no end to how deranged the devotees' judgment can become on any matter.
To believe anything SSB says, or what anyone says about him that is positive, in the face of all experience and facts, all knowledge and common sense, is the hallmark of the committed SSB devotee. I do speak from some experience, having entertained these ideas myself for too many years. Though my belief in him never carried me to quite the extreme lengths that have become the norm in the Sai movement, it caused me continual difficulties and dilemmas, and not least much soul-searching that would have been quite unnecessary otherwise. That my basic belief in him was the cause of most problems that then arose, I did not see clearly and clinically until well after I had become entirely disaffected. Looking back I can laugh, and I also gain from my experience more determination to reveal why these claims of SB are not substantiated in his behaviour, nor any longer in many things he says. The enormous abuse of faith that he perpetrates has to be made known so as to help protect others from his deceits. This seems to me to be perhaps the major sin of his which affects most people... or will affect them eventually.
The Carrot and the Stick is SSB's method. Once one adopts the faith, SSB's word is The Law (however unclear or ambiguous his words of advice and comment usually are). Not only must one never speak critically about SSB or question any of his claims, but one must 'eliminate one's ego', and in actual behaviour this means to become as passive socially towards him and those around him as sheep to shepherds - and to those 'above' oneself as super-ordinates in the Sai social hierarchy. Those who feel that the Sai Organisation creates an unique opportunity for doing good works voluntarily soon find that the aims one must accept and contribute to are decided by others in a strict top-down system without any genuine democracy, accountability or means of redress and that the projects one must engage in involve much time, energy and money-wasting activity, and often prove rather futile too.
The proverbial carrot, representing all graces and blessings ending in realization and liberation from all worldly life and sorrows, is as if suspended on a stick attached to the head of the devotee. The more struggle to reach the carrot results in it remaining ever out of reach. That is to say, the unfulfilled desires are not fulfilled any more or less than previously, but despite this all that befalls one is interpreted as a spiritual lesson or test for one's own advancement, even the worst disaster thus becomes a divine boon and blessing.
The stick is used behind too SSB continually berates everyone in the world and specifically also all his devotees as being given to ego, selfishness, lovelessness, thanklessness and any number of deadly sins seven to start with and plenty more added on when he feels like it. He treats those with whom he deals in a similar fashion charm and nice words, interviews and baubles etc. as a taste of the carrot. Soon then he shows disinterest, severe looks, ignoring the person totally for long periods of time, which softens them up for further sacrifices of time, energy and not least, large donations of money. This technique is the classical behaviour of social psychopaths. Even those to whom he gives relatively much attention are kept on a very short leash and go about in anxiety of rousing his ire and being ignored or punished by him.