Reported Experiences of Sathya Sai Baba
Document date: October 4, 2001
By: Robert Priddy
Telling truthfully and knowing what is true, one should realise, are very far from being the same. Someone can be truthful about their subjective experiences, while these experiences may remain very far from the truth of things, that is, from the more objective perspective after systematic tests of collective experience, factual knowledge and reason.
To be truthful, to tell the truth, can be to help to reveal truth, however far away one still is from it... and however misguided a subjectively truthful account therefore may be. Obviously, not everything is 'mere appearance', for what seems to be so may also not really be so. Investigation is invariably required to remove or dispel appearances to get closer to what is 'behind' them, and it can be a great challenge as there are so many hindrances that arise both within oneself and from the environment. This is the quest of science, not least, and there have been many successes! Any falsity implies there is also a corresponding truth. The same applies to conscious deception... deceit is concealing things, the true state of affairs.
Likewise, one can reveal untruth. A witness who has been unknowingly misled - or who misperceived, or unwittingly forgot details etc. - may tell the experience of it all most honestly, but this still represents false information nonetheless, objectively speaking. One can expose conscious and major deceit too! The following is a small example from my own experience showing how a positive attitude can turn things upside-down.
On my very first visit to PN (1984/5), I was in the mandir for bhajan a number of times. There was a tremendous lot of waiting for things to begin, and - now and again - SSB would be glimpsed through the doors or the small windows going past us on the porch. One evening I was so positioned that I was able to see SSB on the porch talking to the deputy head of the ashram at that time, Mr. Chiranjia Rao. No one around me as able to see this, as the angle of view was such that I alone could see them. C. Rao stood with hands in the prayer attitude (namaskaar) and discussed with SSB, who had a serious and mostly quite (gruff) look. They had what appeared to be a rather heated, back-and-forth discussion that lasted for all of ten minutes... though it seemed like half and hour to me. SSB did NOT look at all pleased, and did not smile once. It struck men that C. Rao seemed to be defending himself, he spoke quickly and volubly in Telugu.
At that phase of my devoteeship, I was still enamoured of all the amazing stories from books and films about SSB and - though I felt it was very peculiar to see this avatar of love apparently ticking off his servant so testily and for so long and with such expressions, I rationalised that I could not understand anything about it. Besides, it was considered a great blessing to see and hear the avatar for so long (especially when no one around me even knew what was going on)... and I though this must surely be enacted not least knowing that I was a witness ... etc. etc. How gullible can one be made to be!
However, nearly 20 years later, I am still able to recall much about that long 'darshan' (as these views of SSB are called) and at last it makes sense... SSB is a hard and unforgiving taskmaster who has to struggle to keep the various corrupt and mostly only half-believing officials in line. He is not "all Love and nothing but pure love etc.", but he is mostly just as I saw him then. Unfortunately all my misguided noble thoughts clouded my intuitive vision...
Most Sai followers base their faith in SSB on some personal experiences, whether or not they have met him or had an interview. The experiences which are of the most striking kind - and which are most desired by devotees - are those which appear to break the laws of nature, so-called leelas and 'miracles'. Those which are most prominent are alleged healing miracles, especially as an apparent 'visitation', as a vision or as a dream. Phenomena experienced include seeing or sensing the physical form of Sathya Sai Baba in some way, other sensory phenomena such as noticing the odour of vibuthi or nectar (amrit), especially having these or other substances form on one's pictures of Sathya Sai and so on.
Though some experiences are shared (like the physical manifestation of vibuthi etc.), the meaning one gives them is personal and private. Basically, all experiences are subjective in that they are selectively perceived and interpreted. One comes to Sathya Sai with one's head filled with stories and testimonies of people which one has reckoned are accurate and reliable, and one's heart is ready to accept almost anything. Their and one's own experiences are still only 'appearances of objective reality'… for reality is vastly multi-perspectived so that what appears so from some angles is often shown to be quite otherwise from others. The simplest kind of example of difference between appearance and reality is the famous stick that appears bent when in water, but is 'in reality' not so. But the most complicated examples of the gap between what appears to be true and what is true are those practiced on us by our own kind. Both deceptions of many kinds have even taken centuries to penetrate and expose, those which rely on half-truths being among the most impenetrable. Common and well-tried knowledge may not be adequate to explain what one experiences, but if it is rejected in favour of explanations which cannot be tested in any way, then delusions easily begin to take over.
The number of books about experiences with Sathya Sai Baba run into the hundreds. Many of them describe experiences of what we might just as well call 'miracles', in that they appear at the very least to break all commonly known physical laws. I have detailed accounts of some of the more remarkable reports elsewhere. Some see specific 'visions' that are - or seem to be - caused by him, while others in the same room report seeing something else or, more often, nothing at all unusual. This occurs continually without any observable preliminary signs of hypnosis or similar techniques being used. Still, there is no doubt that nearly all the followers of SSB are psychologically very much predisposed to suggestion, but how this is brought about by SSB is itself not fully known, nor is it open to genuine investigation. However, comparable known experiences are induced by hypnotists (such as seen on TV) , by hallucinogenic medicines or drugs and uncommon states of hallucination in high fever, extreme thirst, excessive blood loss and various suchlike physiological conditions. There are many recorded examples of persons who can 'imprint' perceptions on other persons' minds, such as those who practice intensive development of the so-called chi energy. The Polish psychic Wolf Messing, once famous as a stage illusionist, was in fact capable of such 'imprint' on an impressive scale... enough to prove to a very worried Stalin, for whom he demonstrated his abilities under the intense scrutiny of his top security staff, that paranormal powers were genuine. Wolf Messing discovered this power by chance and developed it - any also great telepathic abilities - from there. (Incidentally, he did NOT believe in God, according to his autobiography).
Perceptions of what is 'not really there' occur all the time, far more often than is realised. This is because we interpret our 'sense data', both at a subconsciously-habitual and at a conscious mental level, according to many different kinds of influences on our minds. When experiences are of the sort beyond the normal run, the person's whole frame of reference, reason and vocabulary can be sorely tested. Confusion, misinterpretation and their often very serious effects then become the order of the day. For example, one comes to believe that one knows Sathya Sai Baba is what he says he is, while it remains a belief, whatever one may say... belief based on subjective interpretations of one's experiences and other people's subjective accounts. One cannot know, for example, that SSB 'knows everything' unless one can check from knowing everything oneself. One may be convinced, but one can also often later find one was mistaken.
The more subjective interpretations arise in all kinds of 'numinous' experiences, where uncommon perceptions or so-called 'paranormal' events, normally inexplicable events, and so-called coincidences or 'synchronicities' occur. Such may be triggered by many physical and psychological conditions. These range from fever hallucination, extreme physical states (sleep deprivation, hunger, major blood loss) to the effects of chemical agents (so-called 'drugs'), or by affecting a person's perceptions through trances, self-flagellation, tantric yoga and other spiritual practices. This also includes intervention in a person's energy system by a person of abnormal powers, whether from yogic shaktipat (transfer of perceptions by touching of the chest) or various kinds of ritual (eg. such as go under the title 'black magic').
The accumulation of projections and mental derangement. The degree to which either the environment or the mind-set of the person is the more influential will vary very greatly. The tendency to 'project' all kinds of internal states, beliefs, prejudgements etc . onto external events and persons has been experienced by everyone. It is a most powerful psychological function, if not halted leading one further and further - and usually gradually and step wise - towards considerable derangement of the reason and even of one's on-going perceptions. However, the mindset not only is involved in partly 'producing' what one experiences, but also in interpreting it all... and can therefore just as well distort everything systematically. Perceptual projection and interpretation can turn neutral or negative facts into positive ones, as well as vice-versa. The 'rose-coloured glasses' approach can be over-positive... and so just as misleading and potentially dangerous for a seeker as an over-negative approach. But to achieve a clear view, without any distorting glasses is the ideal...
A too-negative attitude can produce anxiety, even loathing, repulsion, fear and terror, especially when backed up by a traumatic past, or a nervous or unbalanced disposition. Psychiatric hospitals have innumerable patients who have had visions and heard voices (psychiatrically termed visual and auditory hallucinations), which are often experienced as extremely negative and life-disrupting.
Whether such changes in 'normal' perception are felt to be positive/heavenly or negative/hellish depends to a great extent upon the psyche of the person affected. A concentrated positive mindset is often followed by satisfactory experiences, especially when deeply ingrained over time and backed up by supportive social and emotional attachments. This occurs very often, for example, at much longed-for and often long-awaited darshans and interviews with Sathya Sai Baba.
How far the positive or negative aspects predominate depends also, of course, on the environment (persons present, plus many and variable other environmental conditions according to the person's habits, expectations and tolerance levels and also relates to their entire mental and emotional make-up since childhood).
A relatively very objective and neutral observer will differ from a person who is largely wrapped up in their subjective cocoon of beliefs and desires. The more involved and many-sided this kind of belief/cum/projection grows, the harder it is to penetrate, either from outside or from within! There are, of course, persons who suffer from psychotic and schizophrenic distortions of reality and many who are close to this who are still able to function to some extent in normal society. Victims of mind cults, such as the Sathya Sai Baba movement is, are in a similar position. It seems to be a fact that an unusually high proportion of them also suffer from developing mental illness.
The accurate reconstruction in memory of radically mind-altering experience after the fact, however long or brief, is extremely difficult and is not easily undertaken by many without special skills. Understanding and interpretation of what actually happened, at what level and exactly how, as well as what it meant at the time and can mean for the future, vary enormously with the person involved. It depends on the nature of their experiences, their basic beliefs and attitudes, the qualities and the structure of their psyches, as well as learned skills like reasoning, knowledge, and expressing feelings and thoughts.
Belief divine, doubt demonic? The committed follower has always been taught and has accepted that doubts (but only about what one is supposed to accept) are negative, unproductive, bad and even of a 'demonic' quality, and this is inevitably taken to mean doubt of SSB in any respect, though SSB himself has only seldom denounced those who doubt him. However, self-doubt is encouraged to an extreme degree by SSB in his constant sweeping criticism of all devotees' behaviour and his strong demand for self-examination according to the strictest fundamentalist religious norms. Much of his teaching calls for self-denial, removal of all natural desires and represents a strong form of potentially destructive self-denigration. This diverts one's doubting capacities towards oneself and away from SSB and his fraudulent practices, ignorance of science and religions like Christianity etc.
The human mind is also prone to making comparisons, reasoning, cross-checking and thinking along many lines of explanation… so doubts of one kind and another inevitably arise. The whole of scientific discovery since the Renaissance is based on systematic, constructive doubting of traditional supersitions and wrong theories. Many `imaginary doubts` also occur and - due to their nature, may be either overcome, or ignored and forgotten or they eventually dissipate. Yet when such doubts are stimulated by observable events or indubitable facts that come to light suggesting that SSB is mistaken about facts, or in claims or prediction he makes or that he shows signs of being neither omniscient nor omnipotent, the average follower takes recourse to avenues of escape, such as:-
1) Wait and see, give the benefit of the doubt, make no hasty judgments, look on the positive side, ignore bad things, ask whether it affects you personally and is `your business` etc.
2) Set about rationalising the doubts through interpreting the teachings - or some suitable part of them - to dispel the doubt.
3) Resign oneself to the inevitable, to ignorant humility, to general confusion and denial.
Seeing the production of holy ash by a wave of the hand daily, and especially getting an interview where great charm is combined by SSB with remarkable clairvoyance and what many observers consider to be genuine manifestations and apports of objects and eatables, despite many now-known instances of sleight-of-hand now known and his proven fraud in claiming that the baubles he gives away to be unique and to contain genuine diamonds etc. (One actually has to look for sleight of hand consciously and carefully time and again).
Throughout the world, many persons gain a hold over people through charismatic charm, a record of helpful unselfish activities, psychic powers, and by the repetition of religious and spiritual teachings little known to them previously. Even without convincing 'mystic powers', many worldly leaders like Hitler, Stalin and Mao won their positions by charisma plus good works for their nations... at the outset. Serious literature about spiritual gurus is full of accounts of such 'masters' from almost every conceivable angle, not least their usual deceptions and - all too often - their sexual deviances. When such a person has managed to convince enough people that he constantly knows everything everyone thinks or feels, they are invariably willing also to believe he must be a holy saint at least, even a deity. Add to the above a simply stated teaching with some common sense laced with positive values and elements of deep insights from the fund of spiritual teaching, and faith is bolstered, even though it also relies on many half-truths and outright deceits. That is what Sathya Sai Baba has done.
"...the obvious fact of the matter: many of Sai Baba's miracles are carefully calculated in terms of their timing and psychology and, therefore, aim to stun the potential disciple to put him or her off balance and, in that way, win over his or her doubt and resistance. They are part of the aforementioned puzzling games and the building of a personal relationship in which Sai Baba holds all the strings in his hand. It is important to see through Sai Baba's purpose in making people defenseless through his demonstrations of power." (from "Guru, Miracle Worker, Religious Founder: Sathya Sai Baba" by Dr. Reinhart Hummel)