Is Sai Baba's teaching progressive and constructive, or outmoded and revanchist?
Document date: 07-25-02
By: Robert Priddy
Sai Baba's teaching is 'universalistic' in that it gives lip service to the need for various approaches to God and regards the essential 'human values as being shared by all good teachings and people, whatever their faith. This is constructive, but is not such a 'progressive' idea, of course, for tolerance of different faiths was widespread in India for ages and it has become more and more central in Western values and law. Diversity of faiths is unavoidable, anyhow, in this world where everyone is placed differently. The SB teaching as a whole is still overwhelmingly Hindu-oriented in its cultural content, values and examples.
Sai Baba holds education very high on his agenda for world change, especially moral and spiritual education. He repeatedly speaks out strongly against any kind of intellectualism that is without adequate practical benefit. He evidently dislikes academics and books and he constantly and firmly rejects various claims and roles of the sciences. He attacks the sciences for not being able to tell us anything of any inherent meaning that human life may have (as SB insists life has), and he tends to treat the scientific enterprise as worthless except for providing material comforts. This is certainly not supported by the evidence about science, which has removed countless baseless superstitions - especially scripturally-based and other 'religions' ones - in the fields of medicine, individual and group psychology, social life, biology, physics, cosmology and so on and on. SB has also shown his understanding of much science to be minimal and often mistaken, which is neither constructive nor progressive.
In his continually-repeated negative judgements of the world and its leaders, SB virtually rejects and ignores much of what is best too, from the human rights movement to the defence of workers' rights through strike action, from the movement against casteism to the struggle for the even most elemental women's rights. He does not publicly criticise any specific caste discriminations which still are a major scourge in India, despite his teaching of non-discrimination due to colour, creed, caste & religion. He often speaks favourably of the four-caste system (as it was in ancient India at least), which tends strongly to support the basic religious ideas underpinning of the present caste system too. While he supports all religions, but has not a word to say about bestial Sharea law, as practiced in Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and so on... nor does he take issue with the major Hindu-supported aberrations such as the thousands of Hindu temple dancers who are prostituted, Brahmins who maintain very repressive 'caste hygiene' (actually a kind of 'racial hygiene'). So, though he is not in favour of discriminatory practices, his support of the Indian caste system in principle is not followed up by an active or broad-based defence of the persecuted. This is just another example of his Janus-faced approach to many dilemmas, to agree with both sides - the one in word the other in practice. Interestingly, he has also often stated, "Sai says 'yes, yes, yes' to everything!
Again, though SB criticises India's leaders, politicians and their corruption in hefty and sweeping terms, he clearly avoids directly provoking specific interests. Instead, he actually praises the corrupt when they are in power, and intervenes on their behalf through his followers in the judiciary when they have been convicted (e.g. Narasimha Rao). His political policy is expressedly not confrontation with vested powers and traditions, but rather in stimulating positive changes. Meanwhile, his antipathy to human rights is evident, unfortunately, as he never has a good word to say about them, only but criticises that movement on the grounds that what people need to have is a better sense of their duties. This is truly black-and-white reactionary talk, for human rights ought to go hand in hand with duties, and not be seen as opposing values. Thus, he never speaks in support of the moderating influence that the activities of the educated and intellectuals can have on social injustice, rigid ideologies and rabid religious dogmas, nor of their analysis and criticisms that help to uncover beliefs, policies and doctrines of all kinds - religious or secular - that can and do wreak major psychological and social damage. In short, SB's traditionalism negates many progressive egalitarian reforms arising from improved science and well-informed educated people in the understanding of society, and the many benefits of democratic systems.
These omissions are reinforced by his complete avoidance of mentioning the major and widespread social horrors in India, such as bonded labour (i.e. lifelong unpaid, enforced slavery), child labour servitude, the selling of children and women as slaves into prostitution (and almost certain AIDS infection), all of which are practiced on a large scale in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Nor does SB speak in public clearly against of the suppression of women, the widespread dispossessing and discriminating against widows or the massive injustice of wives being burnt by husbands or their families in supposed 'home accidents', usually merely for financial gain. All this avoids confrontation with any oppressive and evil social systems in favour of placing the burden on individuals to change themselves... of whom he most often says have no free will whatever (but at other times says that they do have some).