Sai Baba – Miraculous or Disastrous?
Posted by Barry Pittard on December 31, 2007
It may not necessarily be fun for religionists and rationalists to find themselves on roughly common ground. Especially when it comes to the topic of Sai Baba’s so-called ‘miracles.
The Disaster of the ‘Miraculous’
Many religious people place little or no importance on miracles. For example, the Buddha inveighed against them, viewing preoccupation with them as problematic for one’s spiritual growth. Likewise, Sri Ramakrishna and many spiritual teachers of various paths. No matter what Sai Baba may say about his (alleged) miracles being of the relative importance of a flea to an elephant, large numbers of his devotees are extensively concerned with them.
No rationalist will surely cede to a notion of the miraculous, and perhaps even if a shower of them occurred would not be too impressed. His or her likely position would be: whatever the cause, there will be, if there is not in our present state of scientific knowledge already, a non-theistic, non-deistic explanation for the phenomena. Such touching trust – and again a certain likeness to so many religionists. Anyone, by the way, who has not met a fundamentalist rationalist, hindu, jew, christian, buddhist, etc., is missing out on one of the great treats of life – the resemblances are almost awe-inspiring!
Some Devotees Silent On Miracle Topic
In reflecting on their personal experience of extraordinary phenomena that they would deem far from psychic or occultic, I think Sai Baba devotees and former followers would agree with the following statement: it can be uncomfortable speaking with those who have not experienced like phenomena, including many fellow devotees. There is tension between those who perceive themselves to have experienced directly and those who have not. There can be odious comparison, which can be unhelpful when not all the experiences are of the same type. There can be jealousy from those ardent to experience but for whom no miracle has occurred. And, for experiencees, there can be a difficulty in quantifying in mere words something felt to be sublime. (Let us leave aside in what those phenomena may actually consist).
Devotee Intelligentsia Can Fear Professional Ridicule
The topic is more broad, and not confined to the Sai Baba fold. There are scientists and other usually hardnosed professionals who have experienced phenomena far beyond what can be readily explained – and they often shut up about it. This is not to say that sophisticated intellects are unabatingly sophisticated, and beyond gullibility. A clever, seasoned magician or a crafty scam artist can surely testify to that, if only we could afford to listen to them.
In the Sai Baba cult (leave aside the question of elsewhere), there is no shortage of those in many professions, and of none, who have observed, and in some cases been the immediate recipients of what appear to be, supraphenomena in homes and other places around the world. There are various reasons for their silence – for example, not wanting to endanger terms of university employment or preferment, or simply not wanting to be embarrassed in social circles. A well-known example of professional and student ridicule that can be generated is referred to by Professor Samuel Sandweiss MD in his book The Holy Man and the Psychiatrist. Birthday Publishing Company, San Diego, Southern California. 1975.
Once it became known that Dr Sandweiss was partial to an Indian guru (Sathya Sai Baba), he suffered around his university no end of taunts, whispering campaigns and nastiness by colleagues.
India A Fast Breeder of Rationalists
In passing, I would note that in India (where I lived for several years) for a respectable Indian intellectual to hold that supraphenomena can exist is nowhere so difficult as in western countries. This fact makes India a fertile ground for rationalists. In my years there, I was struck by how aware were wide cross-sections of educated India of rationalists such as (late) A.T. Kovoor, (late) Professor H.Narasimhaiah, Basava Premanand, Professor Narendra Nayak, Prabir Ghosh, and others. This was no sleeping issue.
Silence Motivated by Spiritual Aspiration
Another reason for remaining quiet is a time-honored traditional one – when embarked on a spiritual path, an aspirant wants to eschew egotism. In experiencing phenomena that appear divine (let us imagine for the moment that the phenomena to which they refer is not the mere spooky or occult), the sense that oneself is somehow special, singled out and blessed by the divine is hard to avoid, and this may or may not manifest in crudely in blatant egotism. The mind, having its own rich complement of tricks, can manifest a subtle, but none the less still powerful, egotism, which cannot be wished away.
‘Miracles’ Are More Than Sai Baba’s ‘Visiting Cards’
Sai Baba makes a belated pretence at downplaying his so-called miracles, yet boasts of them constantly and performs these apparent feats often – although falling back on legerdemain. His very denial of the importance of the miraculous is lost in his behavioural performances, just as his very denial of sex is lost in his having of it with boys and young men, and his emphasis on not collecting funds by his Organization is lost in ‘backdoor’ methods of fundraising.
Sai Baba devotees tend generally to be very excitable about his ‘miracles’. Many revel in accounts (very poorly provenanced) such the supposedly 17th century Islamic Shi’a Mehdi Moud prophecies from Iran, about which I shall shortly blog. This has become a part of Sai myth-making, along with so many other references to miracles and wonders, and is featured in the multi-million dollar Sai Baba Chaitanya Jyothi Museum, built to glorify him. Typically, when confronted by doubt, Sai devotees tend soon resort to telling what miracles they have received or others have received – including ‘miraculous’ occurrences often far beyond Sai Baba’s physical presence. A highly manufactured and managed ‘Glory of Puttaparthi’, ‘Advent of the Avatar’, ‘India’s National Treasure’, etc.
Endemic Devotee Exitability
No small demonstration of the mass devotee headlong rush towards the perceived miraculous occurred in October 2007. Thousands of Sai devotees tore from the ashram to Sai Baba’s airport (which, by the way, is up for sale), believing that Sai Baba would grant a vision of himself in the moon (variously termed ‘vishwa viraat roopa darshan’, vishwarupa darshana’, ‘viwa rupa’, etc. See Moon Mission of Sathya Sai Baba. Re Merinews Article and Sai Baba To Be Seen In Moon. But Where Was Moon?
Where Oh Where Without Miracles?
There can be little doubt that Sai Baba minus the ‘miracles and wonders’ aspect would exercise far less a grip. Especially is the grip powerful in a land of hoary and intense religiosity. He also appeals to that part of the world, profoundly lost to the old Christian or other religious ‘verities’ and full of desperation for something to fill the materialism-driven emptiness and the torn legacies of other ‘gods’ that have failed.
But most pitiable is the case when human beings are not genuinely fed mind, heart and soul. When they are betrayed. And subject instead to arguably history’s most powerful and controversial guru, now exposed on countless grounds as profoundly corrupt – whatever angelic processes may have found themselves mixed up with it all?