In the Sai movement there are standard ways of 'explaining' everything about Sathya Sai Baba. When these are too evidently inapplicable or wholly beside the point, one must realize that "We cannot understand his inscrutable, divine ways", or other words to similar effect. One cannot understand, of course, if one has given up beforehand, and this 'giving up' is precisely 'to surrender to his Divine will'. It is a serious but powerful form of giving up one's autonomy... and a suppression of one's common sense and natural reasoning in never questioning anything he says or does. He must be regarded as perfect and infallible in all things.
Because he is distant
and unavailable for normal communication and interaction, devotees have to
try to squeeze some kind of meaning for themselves out of any and every
word they hear him utter, or any apparent sign he gives.
This is all based on the axiomatic belief in Sathya Sai Baba, namely, that he knows everything about everything and nothing he does is without meaning. He has repeatedly stated in discourses that every single thing he does has deep meaning,
so he is aware of the way people build fantasies around him and apparently
he often plays on this cleverly. I can say this because I have entered into
this quite fully myself for many years, not least hoping to learn to understand better what everyone was telling me about how he operates. I was more tentative than most about the meaning people derived from the slightest of signs or a handful of ambiguous words, which was due to the rational spirit which cannot be eliminated. Sometimes my gut feeling, ideas or interpretations were borne out quite substantially fairly soon or by subsequent events which (at least seemingly) 'answered' my silent queries, but these were few in relation to the number of times when common sense demanded that I reject interpretations others - and even I - had made out of much of it all. I naturally investigated the reliability
of the various ways promoted by veteran devotees, with varying results. I became more convinced that, in the last analysis,
most of what one experiences is more or less self-created 'delusion'... finding
either what one wants or fears to find etc. in words
one may pick up from his worn, repetitive
phraseology or in his ambiguous non-verbal signs. That his every utterance
and gesture bears great meaning has become an undisputable truth at the ashrams
and the ways in which one can derive some meaning from his various acts and
oft-repeated phrases in English have become an art for the initiated, who
willing pass on this 'wisdom' to anyone they can...
Systematic learned interpretations: Some examples of the commonly-shared 'set interpretations' that have grown up in the Sai movement to give a more definite - preferably positive - meaning to Sai Baba's sparse words and repeated phrases and his typical actions (repeated daily for decades). Many of these ways of squeezing meaning out of sparse signals is based on the experiences of long-term followers, some not unreasonable in themselves but hardly the basis for assuming that Sathya Sai Baba has a system of shorthand signals. He has never confirmed that he has any such non-verbal communicational pattern. But devotees - most of whom have waited for long periods and may have travelled half the world - are extremely eager to derive some kind of attention, message, blessing or confirmation of themselves. They read meaning into almost anything. This has generated a simple but effective kind of group indoctrination on how to understand Sai Baba, one that gradually becomes ingrained as one adopts the basic belief in Sathya Sai Baba:-
1) In the seating lottery system, the position that falls to a person at darshan is generally regarded either a sign of Baba's grace or displeasure, according to how near or far from the front line it is. There are alternative interpretations such as 'Swami knows that today I do not need to have a good place', or 'He put me in front so he could tell me off, but this is to correct me and so it is a teaching and still a kind of blessing.
2) Sai Baba's touching any object held out to him is taken to represent a positive blessing. It may be taken as a 'yes' answer to a silent question or prayer. or as a 'go ahead' for and project or intention one had co0nnected to the particular object. Most devotees believe that he wills that anything he touches will lead to some kind of success. However, he has never clearly stated that these interpretations are correct... it is a belief that has grown up out of people's expectations and belief in his divinity.
3) His taking a letter held out to him is seen as good. If written to him, a request or problem referred to will somehow be 'answered' or solved through invisible means.
4) His looking or glancing at a person itself confers a blessing, though what it may involve only time may tell. Some believe that his look alone can heal or change a person's fate in this life or the next. There is no real basis for this being the result of a mere look in anything he has said. It is more an expression of how devotees prefer to interpret it.
5) When he looks in a person's direction, it is believes he sees through them, knows all they think and have done, as well as the person's future. He has in fact stated that he knows this about everyone.
6) His nod (or any other of his characteristic movements like touching his forehead or ear, doffing his hair etc.) is significant. It can be taken as the (ambiguous?) answer to some question on one's mind, according to each one's particular interpretation. 'intuition' or desire. The same when he coughs, stumbles, looks at the sky, moves his hands in some way... in fact every single motion can be made into something by those very eager for some kind of sign from him.
7) His index finger waving in the air like 'writing' in his characteristic way supposedly 'rewrites' the future or fate of each person at whom it points, yet our knowledge is said to be so limited that we cannot hope to know why or how this works or what it will effect. It is one's fate or karma that is supposedly affected.
8) He once used to take handfuls of sweets from plates proffered to him by many people and throw them into the crowd. If one hits you, or lands before you, you have his blessings and his holy prasad.
9) Any words one hears him say are heard ONLY by those who need to hear them. Words spoken to another person also supposedly have significance for oneself. But what that may be is left entirely to your own imagination.
10) Should he ignore someone or does not come near them, it is frequently because that person needs to learn something. Eg. to have more patience, to examine oneself for faults (and he has decried a great number of fairly normal human actions as serious faults), to transform oneself through complete and total surrender to his will etc. etc.
points are but a selection of similar attitudes and beliefs that surround
Sathya Sai Baba and help to maintain the aura of Godlike impenetrability and unquestionability.
What then about questions he invites from those to whom he grants interviews?
How does he usually respond?
Poor verbal communication skills for an omniscient being: I have also observed how Sathya Sai Baba is most definitely not very insightful or full of genuine understanding or openness when talking to people even, in my experience, because he invariably answers obliquely or even fails to understand what he is being asked. Most of what he says are 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" and many another well-known Sai phrase book-like saying. Meanwhile, all this is interpreted in terms of his great cosmic pretensions and is twisted and turned in the hope of getting some clue as it its 'divine' meaning or import. This becomes an obsession among the more frequent interviewees, while those who get little or no interviews do just the same with 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 so or even can accord with what Sathya Sai Baba has taught many times!
Sai Baba's English is very poor, though he makes himself understood due to his mastery of the situation and use of many non-verbal signs. It is said that he can speak any language. I have discovered that this is not at all the case. What he can do is use a number of stock phrases in Japanese, Spanish and so on This is enough to convince most eager devotees that he knows the entire language, (as well as all their thoughts of course!) A sad scenario!
According to Sathya Sai, God (i.e. himself) is not unaccountable for any kind of error or wrong doing, which is the rule in most religious doctrines. As long as one really believes that he is God Incarnate, one has to humbly surrender the pride of pretending to understand anything about him, for he is beyond human understanding (he says). Without exception, Sathya Sai Baba either ignores or fobs off anything remotely like a penetrating question that may be put to him once in a blue moon by some relative newcomer who is not yet indoctrinated much and 'slipped in through the net' to get to an interview.
Sathya Sai Baba is never held to account for anything, (not even by the government or the Supreme Court). Most people who qualify to get near him already must have shown so much respect, awe or unwillingness to question anything he says. or does in any but the most positive or else superficially questioning manner. Since he became powerful, there have been very few exceptions. There are no doubt those who only pretend subservience, while being self-willed and devious, not least many officials in his various institutions who are often in his presence. They have the 'healthy respect' for him, his will and his word... much like what a timid schoolboy has for an unpredictable headmaster who can be very harsh and unforgiving. This was often told about him in the earlier days, such as by Prof. N. Kasturi, but such comments are less and less permissible since he became so imperiously in control of his environment.
Blessing of devotees, their offerings and plans etc. Sathya Sai Baba gives various forms of 'blessing'- either by the spoken or written word, or by other means, such as by touching something offered to him, supposedly even by just taking a letter. Devotees contrive possible signs by which they may receive his blessing, say - if he touches his right ear when passing them, or when making some characteristic hand movement within their line of vision. There is practically no limit to the ways in which zealous devotees can satisfy themselves that he has (or has not) given his blessing to some idea, plan, wish or person. Many believe that any blessing, not only the more definitive forms, necessarily lead to the desired or expected result, whatever it may be. If the result is contrary to ones hopes, they standard response is that he is nonetheless doing it for your own good, somehow. Some wants and wishes are better not fulfilled, and he is believed to know which are which. There are many projects, however, to which he gave his definitive blessing, but which came to nothing. Some of these have been reported in recent years, such as the most disappointing case of a young man who was granted his wish for a blessing to become an airline pilot for the airplanes Sai Baba would travel in. He enrolled and went through the entire course, then - when he came to offer his services - he was rejected nonetheless.
Anything good that may follow
on a blessing by Sathya Sai Baba - even after a visit to his ashram - is frequently attributed to his omnipotent benevolence, to the miraculous Sathya Sai Baba's machinations behind the scenes of the mere physical
world! The unfulfilled blessing - rationalized as being "for one's own good", a good one cannot possibly know oneself, as he claims to do. The whole 'blessing' is thus turned on its head to become a 'test of faith' or a 'tough but necessary lesson'. Once one accepts the catch-22 blessing charade, the logic allows no easy escape.
Making much out of little sense, or out of nonsense.
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. Even if it is a blatant howler or a mispronunciation, a wholly mistaken guess or a classic faux-pas. He often has to ask people to repeat what they asked him (sometimes moving as if cupping his ear). He has done this quite often when I have been speaking to him. Yet even this is taken as a deep lesson teaching God knows what (you must find out in your heart etc.).
One example; when asked by a friend of mine why it was that - according to the Bible - Jehova had not told the Jews about reincarnation, but asserted the contrary, Sathya Sai Baba did not understand the question and said 'What did he say?'. My friend (regarding Sai Baba as Jehova himself) answered that the question was about reincarnation. Without waiting to hear the actual question again, Baba replied, in so many words, "Reincarnation. You cannot understand it. Do not try to think about it. It is like the seed and the fruit." I saw that this was no answer at all, but afterwards 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, Sathya Sai Baba was telling that they should rather concentrate on other more important things.
The above is quite typical of Baba's frequent replies to questions... in complete disregard of what is asked. He will use oblique comments as to be no relevant meaning can be made out of his words except by lengthy musings and investigation. He switches the subject unexpectedly, calls it the product of a 'mad monkey mind' or just brushes it aside. The questioner most often takes whatever comes as a significant teaching or even a spiritual directive (fellow interviewees willingly contribute such views afterwards and suggest what it probably signifies) . This is also typical of how an evasive deceiver tries to maintain false perceptions of himself to avoid being unmasked or incriminating himself.
All this shows how the Sai method works on followers! He is extremely 'quick on his feet' to react in such a manner that does not give away anything but satisfies (or silences) the humble and easily-manipulated devotees. He has a repertoire of agile maneuvers to fall back on, not seen through by most followers who can only observe him in interviews very infrequently. When one has seen a good deal of it, however, he can seem something like an automaton (as one Danish lady said after an interview). Going through the same routines, the same aphorisms, comments, phrases and jokes time and time again.
The 'genuine devotee' must accept that Sathya Sai Baba is God Almighty himself walking on two (intensely super-magnetic) fabulously holy feet etc., and so has to give up all chance of ever understanding anything else about him than Sathya Sai Baba determines. He insists that one's relation to him has to be 'on the inner level', which is to say, preferably only within the interactive creations of one's own mind through chanting his name, praying to him, worshipping him for his 108 or 1008 divine qualities and so on. He most obviously prefers things this way, leaving him to himself unchallenged, and so he frequently warns people to examine only themselves, not him. To dare to so much as to mention any awkward facts about Sathya Sai Baba will soon get one thrown out of the ashram in perpetuity or banned from public Sai meetings in many countries. The indisputable fact is that Sathya Sai Baba does NOT WANT anyone to be able to understand anything about him except what he tells them... virtually everything he says and does signals this. He also is ever telling people in private interviews to keep things secret (especially about money donations, oiling of genitals and other sensitive things!). This is a near paranoid precaution for controlling others and keeping what is generally known about him within limits. He claims that if all humanity combined in an effort to understand him for ages, they could never succeed! This sound rather off-putting to anyone who might try... it rather reminds of an intimidating facade put up those who have some deep wound or vulnerable weak spot, perhaps some terrible secret or trauma, which they are compulsively forced to hide.
Very many devotees get no attention including a very high proportion of the women. Besides, since about 2002 the number of interviews he could give soon dwindled to nothing. I have come across a couple who had been going to see Sai Baba for 20 years but never had an interview. An American lady who had once had interviews, sat at almost every darshan for one whole year virtually without a glance from Sai Baba. So, to make the stay at the ashram seem meaningful, to salvage at least something to boost self-confidence, people rack their brains to read something positive into anything, even to think up things he did NOT say or do (!) that might seem to be significant and apply to them personally. An overheard word of Sathya Sai Baba may be treasured for days and weeks... and any scrap of indirect contact that comes their way, be it a handout of a meal in the canteen, some laddus he has looked at, free mangoes or other 'prasad' that is dished out on occasions to all comers (all who can get through the queue or manage to hi-jack it). But has all this any value? People who cannot manage any longer without him and the movement, who have already invested too much of their lives, friendship, money, prestige and faith will usually say there is...
But there are exceptions to that rule!