What is the point of a 'Test of Faith'?
By: Robert Priddy
Document date: 05-21-02
Few devotees seem to understand what a 'test of faith' is all about, and fewer still ever really question the idea of its necessity very deeply. If it leads to the devotee doubting and falling away, they are said to have failed the test, and this can be due to 'spiritual immaturity'. There may be a case for this in some respects: some so-called tests of may be designed effectively to further development of a naive person, a weak mind or people whose self importance or egoism needs curbing.
However, when something one believes seems to be contradicted by facts, this causes investigation and not least reflection and self-inquiry to what is real or not, what is good or bad... and such inquiry leading to a greater understanding of oneself. Yet where this is thoroughly and honestly done, but leads only to consolidating one's doubts about the guru or the teaching, what then? If doubts by set tests of faith prove justified and put a person in impossible dilemmas (such as that between knowledge and faith or head and heart), how can that have any beneficial spiritual effect? All sorts of contortions of argument can defend tests of faith, but if the article of faith is genuine, one asks, why should doubts need to be provoked at all? After all, it is hard enough getting any kind of constant faith even before all that!
On the other hand, obviously, calling something a 'test of faith' can sometimes become a means to cover up a mistake or worse on behalf of the guru and those connected with him or her. This is part of the guru-devotee social system, a very subtle means of manipulating the minds of followers developed over centuries, by which the person is hooked into a labyrinth of uncertainties and strivings, which may bear no other fruits than keeping the guru in his fortunate, revered position.
The 'Wait, Wait' test: That SB does not respond to one's prayers, private questions to him or various others ways in which a person tries to contact him and obtain his assistance in some matter, is taken to mean that the time is not ripe. One of SB's most repeated 'instructions' is known to all who have visited him... "Wait, wait" And DO people wait! Hours and more hours on end, and mostly he just walks past unconcernedly! They also wait for the fulfillment of their prayers, projects, intense needs (like healings) and any kind of desire... Whether or not SB actually says the word 'Wait!' to them, or its equivalent, it is often enough for them just to HEAR him say it to someone else to take it to heart in their own case. What then happens?
If the exact prayer or need is not fulfilled, there are various alternatives: one's project alters, one's prayer changes, circumstances alter... so that the original request or need is no longer relevant. Or a person finds all kinds of possible reasons for SB saying what he did, anything so as not to lost the belief in SB's omniscient care. Even when the opposite of what one wanted happens, devotees reason that it was best for one after all, only SB knew! In many cases, people doubtless simply gradually forget what was asked for.
The blanket believer will tell us that SB always responds (another of SB's claim 'I always respond'). However, I have met countless people who have, over very long periods of time, waited and waited without his responding in any observable way. The half-mindless follower will say 'But SB works on levels you cannot see. He always does what is necessary!' One has almost to admire such people for their unquestioning determination willingly to deceive themselves with such vague and improbable hopes... but it was ever thus.
Baba is said to be 'the master of maya', which means a master of deception and delusive appearances. Now, there is quite sufficient evidence that SB does employ sleight of hand when seeming to produce objects from this air. I also know two persons who have experienced him making mistakes in this, though I have not seen a clear instance of it myself. On the contrary, I have very clearly seen manifestation of sweets in thin air underneath his hand, and have eaten some of the warm, sticky product! So why does he cheat? The study of mediumism and related phenomena shows us that many mediums assessed as genuine, later began to lose their powers and took to cheating due to the pressure to go on producing results. Madame Blavatsky is one such famous instance, and there are many more.
Anything SB does that causes doubts is said to be one of his inscrutable ways of testing us so as to teach us, a test of faith. So in what does the alleged test consist? Is it to see whether ones faith in SB and all he says and does is sound enough for one to continue to be a follower? Is it not also a way of finding out whether you are gullible enough to believe this, and so know how committed you are and hence how well you can be used for various tasks? SB could surely not manage to continue his deceptions if there were more than a very few percipient skeptics like V.K. Narasimhan around (even though he did not speak out his real doubts in public)!
If you are willing to swallow the first baits and get initially hooked, you may then be tested with yet more disturbing matters, to see whether you remain faithful to the guru - on and on, until you are entirely in his power, without a will of your own to assert in the slightest thing that goes against him. Then you are really useful, for spreading stories he chooses shall go out, for telling lies (that SB has also used people repeatedly for conveying direct lies to others - to 'test' them - since his teenage days is fully described by one of his most servile of devotees, Smt. Vijayamma (in her autobiographical book 'Refuge there is none).
Of course, many of the apparent tests of faith that arise are not designed as such at all by the guru, they are simply compromising facts that leaked out or could not be covered up! The ideology takes precautions in advance against all the unfortunate facts and the gurus future blunders by insisting on total, unquestioning faith at all times, never 'seeing or hearing evil', thinking and saying only good things... and so on.
Some examples that raise doubts: When I visited Prashanthi Nilayam in 1992, I met devotees who had been present there about six weeks previously when a man had put his arms around SBs legs during darshan. The result, SB fell full length on what was then the compounds concrete ground. SB got up and continued his round, but the attendant male Seva Dals manhandled the foolish Indian man and bashed his head forcibly and repeatedly on the concrete. (Is this called 'Service to the Lord'?) Baba retraced his steps told them to desist, but not until well after the damage was done. Now was this a test by the omniscient SB, who allowed himself to be felled, and allowed the violent consequences?
The Times of India (14-11-1994) reported: Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi vomited while distributing laddus to dignitaries including Home Minister S.B. Chavan and Andhra Pradesh Governor Krishnan Kant seated on the dais, at the Purnachandra auditorium at Prashanthi Nilayam here. The dignitaries were seen trying to lend a helping hand to the Baba who was seen rushing behind the back a drop curtain on the dais. He returned after changing his robes. Thousands of devotees had gathered there as part of his 69th birthday on Wednesday. The Baba resumed distribution of laddus. What kind of a 'miracle' might this have been, one wonders? One of the unfortunate kind, perhaps? It tends to bear out the unconfirmable reports by Indian devotees that SB has been the object of a series of life-threatening attacks in recent years, including being sent deadly cobras in a basket.
The devotee will, of course, without any knowledge of the facts or other information immediately turn such incidents into proofs of SB's all-knowing omnipotence in that he survived. What we would not accept as a valid or relevant answer from other people, many devotees will immediately accept as profound when it comes from the one they believe to be omniscient. For example, when asked by a Jewish friend of mine why it was that Jehova (i.e. God, i.e. Sai Baba) had not told the Jews about reincarnation, but asserted the contrary, Baba did not understand the question and asked to hear it again. My friend then said that the question was about reincarnation. Without waiting to hear the actual question again, Baba replied, in so many words, "Reincarnation. You cannot understand it.
Do not try to think about it. It is like the seed and the fruit." I felt that this answer was no answer at all, but afterwards my friend claimed that it was a perfect answer! His view was that, because the question was one that his Jewish wife considered very important, Baba was telling that they should rather concentrate on other more important things.
This is not untypical of Baba's way of answering questions. He frequently replies to questions very obliquely, or changes the subject unexpectedly, or brushes it aside and the person concerned often takes whatever comes as a significant teaching or even a spiritual directive. This does not build confidence in Baba's supposed omniscience for some of us... for it may also suggest Baba's inability to handle the question. This all depends, doubtless, on what you happen to believe or are determined to rationalise?
Incidents that back this up were related by Al Drucker, a prominent US Jewish devotee who lived at the ashram he was granted an interview for a group of Jewish devotees visiting the ashram... Baba referred to them as Christians, and when questioned, asked them if there was any difference between Jews and Christians. There is some reason to believe another report - circulated among some Westerners at the ashram - of a person who was present at that interview (and was shocked) - though not made public for fairly obvious reasons if Baba really said it. He was asked about Hitler and replied along the lines that Hitler had (also?) done good things, brought about positive changes and had repented of his sins just before suicide. One reason among many other why this would be shocking is that Hitler's last testament to his people, a rabidly hateful document dictated and signed hours prior to his suicide makes crystal clear that he regretted nothing whatever and regarded the greatest failure of his 'bungling' staff to be not completing the elimination of all Jews.
Though the report on Baba's view of Hitler remains undocumented and is not confirmed by others, suspicion that it is basically right lingers, due to the frequent Indian-anchored naivety shown by Baba about many straightforward matters well known to all in the West. Such blunders are often stifled by the very strong tendencies to self-censuring and the suppression of any unpalatable facts about Baba and the ashrams, in this case by Al Drucker himself.