IN WORSHIPPING GURUS
EXEMPLIFIED BY THE SATHYA SAI BABA CULT
Part Three - Projecting one's inherent powers (onto the guru)
The first priority for almost any Sathya Sai Baba follower in actual practice is to sit and wait almost endlessly, either in fact or figuratively and often through many years on end - for the Lord and Master. One visits the ashrams hoping for some form of personal attention, eye contact, some words and above all, a group interview and a private talk. One sees Sai Baba enter for darshan after a long, long daily wait. The same experience is shared by all who visit him, excluding perhaps heads of state and royalty and the super rich and famous, who usually get a comparative red carpet treatment. It goes like this...
He moves slowly, and if you are very 'fortunate' (??), looks at you (or perhaps just more or less or just in your general direction which you feel tempted to see as directed at yourself) and so a wave of happiness floods through you, tears may even come to your eyes. If he smiles at you or takes a letter from you, it seems you at last have evidence that you are acceptable to God himself.
How does such a reaction occur in response to such a trivial bit of attention? All that Sai Baba did was walk slowly and smile... But the key question is 'what did you do'? Well, you doubtless experienced the fulfillment of the longing you had built up over a long time, ever waiting, constantly longing for this to happen. His appearance was the culmination of months - even years - of long efforts by you to live according to his directions, do everything in his name. You sacrificed time and money, undertook long travels and put up with all manner of difficulties and disappointments on the way and your faith in him sustained you (probably not without many a difficulty). In short, you did it... but all he did was walk slowly by and glance at you. But by then you have already become highly open to suggestion (somewhat as are 'good hypnotic subjects'). Various persons have been surprised, as was I, upon first observing him give his 'holy darshan'... he seemed just too ordinary. But then, one already 'knows' that it could just not be true...
Longing and Yearning are projective: When
a person has longed to reach some spiritual climax for many years, even
most one's whole lifetime, it is easy to see how little is needed
to convert that person after the long period of preparation through books,
videos, meeting many other persons with experiences seen through
their own projections and so forth. This intensity creates many psychological projections, such that even one small paranormal event - taken as the longed-for Sai leela or small miracle - is
sufficient in many cases to convince a person for life! This may
take the form of statement like the following which was sent to me by
a colleague at some stage as an illustration of how mental projection
words in those who have invested much time and energy without noticeable
attention from Sathya Sai Baba:
"I vividly recall looking at his form with utter peace and no thoughts. He stopped and turned and gave me this amazing smile, piercing me with his eyes and I felt this incredible warmth enter me. "What did he do that for," I thought, on that day three years ago. Today, the penny dropped. Thought has to stop."
by Chris Parnell - Australian Sathya Sai Organization
This only emphasizes how Sai Baba made use of the 'charismatic stare' to confound people (as did many another charismatic psychopath, not least Hitler ). Presumably the dropping penny only serves toslow down the mind (as Sai baba recommends) so it can drift more thoughtlessly and less critically than ever. This is the fate of an impressionable mind that has already been actively brain-washing itself for a long time.
Among the tens of thousands who visited him each year, I have met and talked to hundreds who worshipped him as the One and Only God (he claims to be "all Gods rolled into one") and have bound themselves emotionally, mentally and socially deeply to him and his movement... and to the otherworldly and unrealistic ashram mental environment where all one's wildest hopes may (but most likely will not) come true. In various countries, devotees have made careers for themselves as one or another kind of spiritual teacher, some deluding themselves into the belief that they are channeling Sai Baba's messages to humanity (such as Chris Parnell in Australia), or doing Sai Baba healing through all manner of non-medical means (while Sai Baba himself consistently denied that such healing was 'mere ego' and that he shared hiw powers with no one at all!). Others set themselves up as teachers in human values, though the entire Sai Baba 'human values' traditional and out-dated doctrine is both philosophically superficial and educationally unpedagogic and seriously flawed in other respects.
Powerful projection reinforcements: You projected all kinds of desires and your best imaginings onto him, so was it any wonder that you felt as you did at this moment? The repetition of such experiences only prolong the same relationship, where you produce all the results yourself. These circumstances are conducive to sudden healing and many other extra-normal effects. They are not limited to SSB, of course, they can occur with Billy Graham, at Lourdes or with literally thousands of other figures and at countless places. The intensity, the belief and all else one puts into this 'projection' is what causes the outcome... all one needs is a catalyst, an idol, an object to project onto.
Remarkably enough, too, Sai Baba has himself occasionally said that everyone projects their own qualities onto things of the world and others and are deluded that these qualities come from outside themselves! It is as though he is mocking his followers for their naivety in worshipping him. The quality of love for another person or things is one example he gives of this projection. He also often insists on the Vedantic proposition, "You are the Atma (Spirit)" and says "You ARE God!", which clearly implies that there is no need whatever to project 'divine qualities' onto Sai Baba either! He once even told an interview group friend of Americans in 1976 (where a good friend of ours, Mark Roche, was present) that they were thinking that people back in America are living in an illusion while they thought themselves to be at the feet of the Lord. But that this was an illusion too! Why then does he set himself up as the omniscient, all-powerful God the Father and invite (and accept most willingly) constant adulation of himself through all forms of worship, kissing of his feet and so on?
One example of how Sai Baba plays on this human faculty of projection: He told Hislop: "You have got love for the tape recorder.... When the tape recorder was in the shop, did you love it? ... you love it now because you feel it is 'mine'. So, when you think God is 'mine', you love Him." The underlying assumption, accepted fully by Hislop and a million followers or more, is that God is none other than SSB. Among all Sai Baba devotees, this is the single keystone belief which, once adopted, leads to ever greater self-minimalisation through increasing projection onto SSB. The expressed aim is to make it grow until there is nothing else by Sai Baba everywhere in everything, until you are one with him. If or when one discovers after many years - despite everything - that Sai Baba is definitely not at all what he claims to be, the crisis that ensues can only be imagined by those who have not experienced it.
What is usually meant by 'projection' in psychology is more specific. It is a deep-rooted emotional disturbance in a person's psyche ('defense mechanism'), whereby guilt is suppressed by shifting responsibility or blame onto others away from oneself. It can assume pathological proportions in disturbed persons. This can be thought of as 'projecting the negative'. The subtle and intensive doctrinal self-brainwashing achieved by Sai and his teaching works through his devotees 'projecting the positive', above all onto him. This alienates the person from (his or her own) reality, and easily becomes the pathology known commonly to the world as 'cult brainwashing'.
The limits of sanity: How is it that devotees become psychologically incapable even of really considering that they are 'projecting' the inherent powers of their spirits onto an external form, which derives most of its experienced attraction precisely from this projection? The chief answer is that Sai Baba - parading as "God Almighty" - constantly insists most strongly that his devotees must constantly worship his name, form and person as the fastest and safest way to salvation and liberation from the pain and suffering of life now and in the hereafter. Consequently, most devotees do not - cannot - find or recognize any 'God within' (which is a subtle rider in Sai's hold-all teaching which effectively hooks spiritual seekers). But when they can only project divinity onto him, how can they at all retain or discover their own worth, whether profane or sacred?
If one projects positive qualities outwards, the corollary is that one 'internalises' negative qualities to one's own self-image. It can hardly be pointed out enough that a large part of the Sai Baba teaching is very self-negating in that all that we consider bad (and/or what Sai Baba declares is bad, sinful, evil) is solely due to our own thoughts, words and deeds, according to him. In his discourses he is ever pouring out masses of blame and accusations of impurities and sins against everyone, including his devotees. All that is good comes from him, he says, while all suffering, all evil acts, and all problems one experiences are due entirely to one's own actions (now or previously)! This very strong generator of guilt feelings in devotees works further to reinforce the outward 'positive projection' syndrome. It is classical religious fundamentalism - we are born sinners and cannot save ourselves. ('Accumulated bad karma' in Hindu religions and 'original sin' in Judeo-Christian religions amount to much the same in practice). The condemnatory parts of SSB's doctrine tends to drain self confidence and gradually to fill replace it with negative self images and depressive tendencies... unless, of course, one is a perfect as a saint (or believes oneself to be so).
The nature of projection is not at all simple: It is also a deep philosophical enigma. The mind is not merely a passive receptor, because it forms and 'colours' its perceptions and other inputs. It 'projects' far more onto 'the world' than we realise, not only our mental and emotional states, but even largely determines what we hear or see (or what we do not select to perceive), and how we understand it. A classic poser in the psychology of perception is where one may draw the line between subjective imagining and objective reality, or between what the mind 'receives' and what it 'projects'.
That the human mind cannot fathom the ultimate nature of reality is the impetus for all mystical theories or 'teachings'. We are vulnerable to ideas that we cannot prove or disprove. Sathya Sai takes full advantage of this, citing the one scripture after the other in a confusing melee of ideas which - like most such speculative groping - are inconsistent and vague. He pushes the theory that the mind creates reality by projecting its perceptions and ideas outwards to the extreme, as follows...
"Whatever is not in man cannot be anywhere outside him. Whatever is visible outside him is but a rough reflection of what really is in him." (Sathya Sai Vahini, p. 164)
"The whole cosmos is made up of thought waves; hence, the scripture declares: "The mind is at the root of the cosmos." There is no place, or form or action wherein the mind is absent." (Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 26, p. 203)
However, the Sai dogma neglects (and avoids) the equally cogent hypothesis that 'What is within is also without'. This world around us, an apparently interminable universe, registers itself in our awareness as inconceivably intricate, eventful and vast beyond normal conception. It appears as massively 'material', as not at all mental... nor as being mind-dependent and as largely inert, objective existence over which consciousness has no physical control. Because it is 'absent' for the mind which does not cognise it, one cannot conclude that the universe does not really exist or is essentially' unreal', as Sai Baba often says it is. To see absolutely everything as a projection of one's mind leads to logical absurdities and is known in philosophy as 'solipsism' (i.e.solus ipse = 'Only I exist' ). This theory breaks down in confrontation with reality, for no one can live and survive as if they were 'the only person in the world.' This is the ultimate narcissism, and to imagine one is an almighty creator God must be the ultimate delusion of grandeur.
Sai Baba tries to get around this difficulty in most of his proclamations to be God the Creator by claiming that everyone is God, and God is one. In his doctrine, God is not only omnipresent consciousness but also has to be the 'mind' that creates the cosmos. For he repeatedly says 'the mind creates the cosmos'. What such extremely vague generalisations may actually mean is anyone's guess... and there are plenty of devotees who make plenty of wild guesses. What it may be taken to mean in terms of practical everyday living and spirituality is what concerns us here. .. and from observing hundreds of devotees through two decades I can say that it leads to many strange mental, emotional and behavioural aberrations. The main point here, however, is to show how such a doctrine is used to bemuse, then offer a panacea to the confused which also means accepting full subservience to the person of SSB... a promised total self-realisation or liberation of the soul and 'unity with God' if only one does what one is told by the 'sadguru'. Believe it those who wish to risk it, but there is an ultimate price.