What spirituality is: People can say very many fine things about themselves - and even believe it - without it making any difference to reality. However, I can tell you that spirituality means, for me, the daily practice of values like care, understanding, justice, truth and other perfectly normal human aspirations.
I have learned that what a person does with his or her life and the vast majority of what he may have learned - is actually not communicable, not effectively so. I do not meet many people and I am no longer concerned with so-called 'spiritual questions' as I once was, because in the last analysis nearly all of it amounts only to talk. It is how one lives, what one does and why, that matters.
I have been asked if I still have a belief in God... my view is that you can ask a hundred different people and they may all reply 'yes' but would they be answering the same question? The mind reproduces the ideas or images of God it happens to have learned. Therefore I see no good, meaningful purpose whatever in saying whether one either believes in God or not. I prefer not to talk in terms of belief at all... but stick to my experiences and what I have learned when considering what may or may not be real beyond my life and consciousness. This is the attitude of any philosopher (i.e. lover of wisdom). The faith I cherish is not dependent on beliefs in spiritual or other leaders of any kind, nor in imagined Godheads... it is faith in the development of mankind, in the overall and very long-term evolutionary advance on all levels of existence. This is not blind faith, but circumspect faith based on both experience and a vast body of continually-growing and deepening knowledge It includes the evolution of what can be called non-mystified 'self-realisation' rooted in personal experience both in individual mind and awareness and as well as in collective human knowledge.
Agnosticism: I am thus an agnostic of the strong variety, not a complete atheist because it is not possible to have definitive proof of the non-existence of a higher organizing intelligence in the universe (though I regard it as extremely unlikely). In principle, I reject all belief which is not based on the soundest of controllable evidence as unfounded. After freeing myself from many contradictory and obscure Christian beliefs [before I became of age], I became convinced on a scientific historical basis of the inauthenticity of most of the Gospels. I have followed research into the history of the Middle East, including the Nag Hammadi texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls and much else in a lifelong studious interest in the history of idea and philosophy, and the history and anthropological study of all major cultures and religions. Consequently, even before I came to visit Sai Baba at age 48, I did not believe in most of the contents of the Gospels (which researchers have shown to be 60% extremely doubtful), nor can I believe that Jesus was a holy Messiah, the son of god or the only way or any of that Biblical mythology. I recognise that there was a historical basis for many of the stories, but also that most of the New Testament 'miracles' and stories predate Jesus and are found attributed to half a dozen semi-mythical figures in other religious cultures well before he lived. Though I rejected the Christian mythology and theology early on, and though I wished only to rely on proven knowledge, I was not in a position outright to reject various other beliefs which I help may prove to be well-founded... not until much later.
Indian 'spirituality': As I wrote elsewhere earlier: Looking back, I recognise that some of my personal experience in going to India, in plunging deeply into the spirit of it all, was instructive and had some benefits for me. These came to rights mainly when I eventually 'surfaced'. Having had to really examine myself thoroughly and consciously evaluate my beliefs and actions and how I could have been duped, I learned very much about the entire human condition that one cannot learn properly and definitively without getting so involved in some kind of deep engagement outside everyday experience. Fortunately, my character and basic values were already well developed and what I regard as my 'everyday spirituality' was essentially sound before Sai Baba came into my life with his paranormal powers. When I discovered the worm at the rotten core of the Sai apple, I fortunately had well-established insights and well-tried ways to fall back on. Young people who get inducted do not have such an alternative, so awakening to knowledge that one's life has been surrounded by such deceptions can surely be very traumatic. From all this I learned first-hand something of how those who have embraced a set of beliefs and have invested in them very much personal thought and feeling, can react to crucial facts which, if true, will cause a complete overturn of those beliefs.
Sathya Sai Baba: My dilemma was that I had written a book praising Sathya Sai for doing much good, about which I now realise I was being at least partly deceived, and in cunning and wilful ways. My considerable exaggeration of his importance was based on my having been fundamentally misled to believe that he was what he says he is by all the many indoctrinated and confused followers (and not least by him). He leaves no middle ground - one must accept the entire package or nothing. So, since I am concerned to correct false perceptions I have actually helped spread, I am not inclined to laud him in the slightest for any good works he may actually have done. I have to right the balance, to counterweight the other side of the fully over-weighted scale. That is how objectivity is approached, on an informed, insider basis, and no one who has not this kind of experience can speak with any real authority on the actual nature of Sathya Sai Baba, nor theorise academically about the workings and effects of religious sects and cults.
Many of us had many experiences. Mostly, these turned out not to be of a divine nature but largely either 'interpreted phenomena', often only sleight of hand, and other illusions and delusions called 'leelas'. Since I have no proper explanation of certain of these undoubtedly extraordinary occurrences, I reserve judgement on their causes and origins and take an agnostic position towards them. I am certain that they arise at least partly through one's own mind - plus intense concentration or strong longings, and not forgetting the 'synchronicities' of the subliminal mind. Having had many paranormal or supra-mental experiences which I cannot deny (however much more acceptable that may be to some), I reserve opinion on the possibility of some kind of post-death survival of certain mental and other attributes and events of a kind some attribute to an etheric medium, though I now consider this more and more unlikely. I am sure that a wide variety of people have had experiences which have not yet been explained by any scientific theories so far developed. However, science is still probably in its relative adolescence! I know well of many kinds of "inner talk experience" - including with aliens, angels, the dead, demons, famous people, mischievous poltergeists and one god, demon or another - which puts Sai Baba's alleged 'appearances' and 'inner communications' in some perspective. Most of these are not what they seem to be, but have rational explanations, as do all manner of such psychic phenomena.
Whatever truthfulness Sathya Sai might have shown, he has certainly proved himself to be an outright liar, self-contradictor, boaster, gigantic self-promoter, and a 'healer' who says he has cured better and faster than any other human being (all unconfirmed by any independent researchers). Yet he is himself physically decrepit that he is unable to walk more than a few staggering steps, is blind in one eye and is failing mentally (he claimed the earth was attracted by his love, which was why he stumbled due to the intense magnetism! But it was just a failing hip joint). He who had the audacity to repeat the adage, "Healer, heal thyself!" What foolishness in those who believe such deceit.
Disaffection: It took a long time before I stumbled on explosive facts about the secretive and largely unapproachable and incommunicative, manipulative person that Sathya Sai Baba really is. I could not find out definitely certain basic things about him that are not told openly until many years had passed (which is also the situation of the great majority of followers). Yet I came to learn of them mostly from V.K. Narasimhan (who died in 2000) and I am still somewhat amazed at how I could have remained so effectively blinded by his whole doubtful set-up for so long. Only because of my belief in his integrity did I manage to entertain much of what he 'teaches' (which I was also aware is nevertheless standard Indian religious fare - often superficial - all taken from a rich tradition). The greatest possible abuse of others is abuse of their faith. This I consider among the most serious of the many accusations laid at the door of Sathya Sai Baba.
I had to realise that - despite all my faith and best hopes - he is a narcissist and uses many methods or tricks to attract and control people. A person whose charisma and social power (backed up by psychic powers and deep deceptions) had overwhelmed me, as it still does at least a million people. Though hard to see for most people, he has all the qualities of the gifted but unconscionable psychopath, and delusions of grandeur of a megalomaniac dimension. His power complex is also illustratefd well by the constant homosexual abuses as described in various of the allegations. My disillusionment meant that I had to cut away all the redundant ideas about him and superfluous advice that he employs largely to keep people subservient to him, uncritical and entrapped in his movement, whether emotionally, mentally, socially or all of this at once. The rationalisations, lies and often slurs and defamations - also from Sathya Sai himself - speak loudly for themselves. This is indeed a threadbare 'God Almighty'!
Robert Priddy, Oslo, Norway. 2008