Part Two - Escapism in a spiritual guise

Nearly all devotees believe that they are exceptionally privileged compared to other people (i.e those 'outside the Sai family') and they are encouraged to believe that they will no longer really be touched by bad, ill or evil events. They are supposedly under special care and protection. Everything that happens has in Sathya Sai Baba''s view to be regarded as 'maya' (i.e. the illusion of the 'unreal' profane world)., so they shoud learn to see all events - good or bad, as being but an illusion, a passing figment. Since they think Sai Baba is God and thus the creator of maya, they feel secure with his boast that no devotee of his will ever come to real harm. There are, however, countless documented examples of the failure of Sai Baba to protect or help those who fall into major problems from illness to destitution to despair and death... matters which those in the Sai movement cover over, explain away, leave strictly unpublicised and hope to forget. They have a set of set answers for every kind of situation... eg: she was not a 'true' devotee, it was their bad karma, he was a 'bad man', Swami is testing their faith, Swami has delivered him or her from the chains of life... and similar denials of the harsh facts.

This belief in protection is sheer escapism and is very restrictive of any further psycho-social and personality development. Not being able to face facts for what they are - but having to transform them into figments through immature phantasy - is a known cause of arrested psychological development. Such a stgnation can occur at any and every phase of life, it is not confined to the early years. The results of it can be observed by staying at ashrams, like those of SSB, which are populated very largely by persons whose lives have become centered on their own persons and that of Sathya Sai Baba (often but to the exclusion of healthy interest in almost anything else), which thereby narrows perception and wears down the mind socially, mentally and emotionally. This soon amounts to the well-known spiritual escapism so common to many Eastern religions. Mental, emotional and/or physical wrecks resulting from it litter the streets of India everywhere and are found in connection will all virtually Sai communities I have visited or had much information about. One does not, however, have to live in any ashram to be largely encapsulated

Most persons come to Sai Baba due to personal problems that they cannot solve elsewhere. The novelty of finding a new reason for living, a retreat and a refuge, 'a spiritual home' and what one believes more and more to be a divine teacher with all conceivable powers and graces, can be sustained for years and only wears off gradually. I have experienced all this myself. But when the day-to-day necessities of life eventually reassert themselves in the life of a devotee - such as they will certainly do after having taken up permanent ashram residence - a process of increasing self-doctrination and self-denial is necessary to cope with the problems encountered. The detritus of inner conflicts piles up: all ashrams are constantly plagued by problems of rivalry and envy, (mostly hidden and denied outwardly for face-saving purposes). Personal and social difficulties interpreted in terms of the new doctrine are not solved and the teaching invariably denies them to be of any importance except as material for critical self-examination and guilt. Above all, perhaps, the initiate has to deal with the immensely slippery and confusion of problems which the doctrine creates in maintaining a stark schism between the 'otherworldly reality' and so-called 'worldliness' ... or in Eliade's words, 'between the sacred and the profane'. This dualistic doctrine - and the ill that comes of it - is further analyzed in another article by me as 'Spiritual Doublethink'

This easily develops into a life-denying syndrome, urging one to project most or all values into an unseen and transcendental reality, a kind of never-never land usually considered attainable only in the afterlife (if lucky). Though suicide is looked down upon as cowardly in the Sai doctrine, it has tempted enough devotees to try it, often succeeding... for it seems to offer a release from this world into a problem-free Sai Baba heavenliness or whatever (no one knows quite what, of course). Our truly human concerns 'here and now' are systematically undermined as relative, non-essential, and somehow mostly incompatible with the 'spiritual life'. The main emphasis is not on daily concerns or active spirituality in everyday life, not on self-fulfillment in 'external activities', but on one's relationship to that unseen, virtually unknown transcendent 'reality', which is the realm of the Divine and God. All suspicions that arise about SSB, his associates and the teachings due to the repeated intrusions of untoward facts and events, have to be suppressed and 'rationalized'... if, that is, the indoctrination has not already rendered one fully incapable of normal reasoning and common sense evaluation.

When East is still East and West is still West The neglect of 'worldly spirituality' is clearly seen in India, where traditional 'otherworldly' spirituality is predominant in the indigenous religions fostered there. The big emphasis is on the world's impermanence and hence supposedly 'unreal nature'. Human attempts at understanding nature and life, such as through the sciences, are looked upon pessimistically as largely irrelevant to the spiritual life, even as a direct hindrance. Much more than Western religions like Judaism and most mainstream sects of Christianity, Indian-based religions tend to ignore life problems and produce societies of a traditionally static and repressive or despotic, strictly hierarchical kind. It is noteworthy how persons who become Sai devotees soon begin to show easy acceptance of authoritarian practices, undemocratic ideas and handed-down social and other superstitions which excessively infest countries like India. (Such as at what time to begin a journey or launch an undertaking, what colour foods to prefer and avoid, which gemstones to wear to protect against which planetary evils, which rituals placate spirits of the departed and lots of other nonsense also recommended and practised by Sathya Sai Baba). They live as privileged Westerners in the midst of one of the most disasterous calamity-striken societies, but pampered beyond what the majority of Indians can dream about for themselves, yet thinking they are making spiritual sacrifices that will secure them grace, such as by their dropping certain luxuries they are otherwise used to have.

No doubt some people do benefit for a shorter or longer period from the associations and life changes that joining the movement involves, including Westerners. There can be permanant benefits too... not least in learning some good things from the foreign culture. No doubt many good people are there who do good works, or at least try to do them. And the credit for everything has to be given exclusively to Sathya Sai Baba at all times... everything considered 'good', that is, while everything else is due to one's own failings, bad acts, being a sinful person etc. Add to this the undisputed fact that Sai Baba increasingly acts contrary to his constant admonitions and advice, and is himself under the gravest suspicion of crimes which are unsolved so far. His declaration "My Life is My Message" is thereby undermined and shown to be based on deception and sham. The message should rather be that your life is yours to live autonomously. That ideal expresses faith in people and encourages them to free themselves of psychological and superstitious bonds from the primitive past of mankind.

Serguei Badaev has made the following interesting points on the guru-addiction problem:

"People who desperately need to be under protective guidance are ready to surrender their critical thinking and moral autonomy to gain inner peace. It seems to me that it might be a similar psychological mechanism to chemical drugs. The reasons for people becoming drug addicted might be very similar to the reasons for becoming guru-addicted.

I dare put forward a hypothesis about one of those reasons. Our inner impulses drive us to feel happy. Critical thinking often stops this drive because a fulfillment can have distant negative consequences. In other words, critical thinking often prevents us feeling happy in the short-term perspective (but increases the probability of being happy in the long-term). Alas! We often want to be happy just now not in the future! If this want is too strong one might rather choose to be happy now no matter what the consequences. So the key question is, why and when does this striving for happiness become too strong? Generally I guess (and may be banally), if children get enough love and protection from their parents and other authoritative adults in childhood, then when they grow up they are strong enough not to discard critical thinking because of some bitter truth or other.

I can't but mention an important point here: parental love and protection should not enslave - but empower - a child. That means this love and protection are to let a child to mature and become independent enough to be a responsible person from the moral point of view. So I would search for the main root of guru-addiction in poor family and education practices."


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