THE HIDDEN CURRICULUM OF SATHYA SAI ‘EDUCATION’
By: Serguei Badaev
Date: July, 2006
The true followers of Sathya Sai Baba know very well about the Sathya Sai spiritual education program, which proclaims spiritual and moral upliftment of human beings as its goal. This program is based on so called human values which in short are usually presented as 5 main values: truth (sathya), righteousness (dharma), peace (shanti), love (prema) and non-violence (ahimsa). This program is also known under several other names such as Sathya Sai Education in Human Values (SSEHV) and “Educare”. It is aimed first of all at children and adolescents and is conducted by the international Sathya Sai Organisation which is blessed by SSB for this activity. Some critical articles about this program can be found on www.saiguru.net, www.exbaba.com and http://home.no.net/abacusa/T
Though this program focuses mainly on children, there is a general informal system of programming the consciousness of adult followers which we would like to discuss in this article. In the past an approach was widely used in education which is called ‘hidden curriculum’. The idea of this approach is that people involved in an educational process (students) are not aware that besides openly proclaimed aims an educator has some other motives and aims deliberately hidden from students. Similarly, we can see that in what Sathya Sai Baba’s organization does there is a system of consciousness programming which can be called the hidden curriculum of Sathya Sai ‘Education’. The jist of this hidden curriculum is to develop devotion to SSB and to suppress critical thinking.
Here is a short article from the Wikipedia defining critical thinking.
“Critical thinking consists of a mental process of analyzing or evaluating information, particularly statements or propositions that people have offered as true. It forms a process of reflecting upon the meaning of statements, examining the offered evidence and reasoning, and forming judgments about the facts.
Critical thinkers can gather such information from observation, experience, reasoning, and/or communication. Critical thinking has its basis in intellectual values that go beyond subject-matter divisions and which include: clarity, accuracy, precision, evidence, thoroughness and fairness”.
From the point of view of education, this is important because, firstly, the person with critical thinking is able to come to his own conclusions based on the available information and not rely completely on the conclusions made by someone else. This is necessary for an autonomous and mature person. Secondly, such a person uses hypotheses to check his ideas about the surrounding world and is able to reject those which are not supported by tests results. And thirdly, critical thinking is able to check its own work by analyzing its own efficiency and the limits of applicability.
It is interesting to note that critical thinking is not mentioned as an educational aim in the official curriculum of the Sathya Sai Education program. At the same time critical thinking is a significant component in educational curricula in many developed countries. It is believed that stability and efficiency of a democratic society may substantially depend on its members’ ability to sober and critical thinking. If critical thinking is making careful judgments about good and bad qualities of something then criticism as showing our disapproval of what we think is fault or of bad quality is a logic part of critical thinking. Criticism as a possibility and capability to express one’s disapproval in a civilized form is an important part of communication’s feedback. It is well known that Sathya Sai Baba has repeatedly expressed his strong negative attitude to criticism. “It is a great sin to criticize others. God is in everyone. So, criticizing others amounts to criticizing God Himself. Do not criticize or ridicule anyone”. (14.04.1999. Sanathana Sarathi, v.42, May 1999, p.125) The situation when any expression of disapproval is blocked may lead to blocking of critical thinking itself as it gets to be of no use. Of course criticism should be valid and well-founded, but efforts to stop any criticism and call it calumny, as Sathya Sai Baba and his organization do, may undermine the values they proclaim - that is, truth and righteousness. By the way, Sai Baba himself criticizes from time to time his critics and his devotees. He sometimes uses very harsh words toward some of his followers but always recommends to see it as a form of his love.
How does the above-mentioned hidden curriculum work? Suppressing of critical thinking is not a straightforward process. First of all, there is a suggestion for all who are interested in Sathya Sai Baba to ‘investigate’ him and to get a personal experience of his ‘divinity’. On practice it means to talk to his followers (to those who have an experience of his divinity), to read something from the numerous books about him where his divine sports (leelas) are described and of course to visit one of his ashrams and to get ‘inner experience’. It is quite true that people who come to Sathya Sai Baba’s ashrams quite often may have altered states of consciousness, may witness extraordinary coincidences and synchronicity, may contact him in their dreams and meditations, and even may discover or develop their psychic abilities. it is quite often interpreted as the signs of his divinity.
The next step is an inner choice: accept or not accept divinity of Sathya Sai Baba. There are some his words that may play a very important psychological role in this crucial decision. He says that no one is able to understand the nature of the Avatar by their own intelligence. That is why Sathya Sai Baba himself declares his Avatarhood and that is accepted by his followers as a special blessing. Here are some of his words concerning this point. “So I am teaching that no distinction should be made between the names Rama, Krishna, Iswara, Sai for they are all My Names. … In fact you cannot understand the nature of My Reality either today or even after a thousand years of steady austerity or ardent inquiry even all mankind joins in that effort. … You are very fortunate that you have a chance to experience the bliss of the vision of the Sarvadaivatha Swaroopam (the Form, which is all Forms of all Gods) now in this life itself”. (17.05.1968 Bombay, “The Grand Declaration of Avatarhood” p.115)
For those who have made a choice and are sure now that Sathya Sai Baba is divine there is another task. Their spiritual development is now connected with the development of the devotion to God (in the form of Sathya Sai Baba) and worship to him. At this stage critical thinking is considered as a hindrance, mind is compared with a ‘mad monkey’ and the goal is to calm down mind, even to ‘kill’ one’s mind, rejecting it and being guided by heart feelings and devotion. In a sense it is true that critical thinking is rather a heavy burden for a human being and when we deny critical thinking it may be experienced psychologically as a great relief. At the same time followers may feels inner contact with Sathya Sai Baba who asks them not to worry about anything and assure them of his divine protection and care. There is a very popular Sai Baba saying among his followers: “Why fear when I am here”. It is similar to a child’s feeling of freedom of non-responsibility and complete parental protection.
At this stage it is quite irrelevant to a follower to strive to investigate further Sathya Sai Baba as a phenomenon, for example, by trying to get
adocumented evidence of his miracles or his paranormal abilities. The focus of a proselyte should be located in their own inner reality which is to be transformed by love toward him. The outer world should be seen as a reflection of one’s own inner world. So, all the evil you see in the world, all faults and negative qualities in the people around you should be interpreted as a projection of your own bad qualities and your own evil that is inside you. All efforts to think critically are interpreted at this stage as signs of closed, underdeveloped heart and inflated ego. If we accept that a limited human mind cannot understand Sathya Sai Baba as an Avatar, we have to rely more on our trust in him than on our critical thinking.
The followers of Sathya Sai Baba quite often use this parable told by him to illustrate this point. “Once Krishna and Arjuna were going together along the open road. Seeing the bird in the sky, Krishna asked Arjuna, “Is that a dove?” He replied, “Yes, it is a dove.” He asked Arjuna, “Is it an eagle?” Arjuna replied promptly, “Yes, it is an eagle.” “No, Arjuna, it looks like a crow to me. Is it not a crow?” asked Krishna. Arjuna replied, “I am sorry, it is a crow beyond doubt.” Krishna laughed and chided him for his agreeing to whatever suggestion was given. But Arjuna said, “For me, your words are far more weighty than the evidence of my eyes; you can make it a crow, a dove or an eagle and when you say it is a crow, it must be one.” Implicit faith is the secret of spiritual success.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, v.1, p.4) This is the way how the trust to Sathya Sai Baba gets a faith and devotion to God and all efforts to use critical thinking are qualified as a lack of devotion. And devotion is declared as the easiest and the most effective way to get realization which lies beyond mind.
What are the other means of keeping a devotees’ critical thinking at as low level as possible? Here are some examples. Sathya Sai Baba often says: “Love my uncertainty”. It may sound quite modern taking into account such scientific concepts as theory of relativity by Einstein and principle of uncertainty in quantum physics. However, a common sense tells us that these concepts have explanatory power with regard to specific fields of subatomic or cosmological processes. It is quite irrelevant to refer to these concepts and to be satisfied with uncertainty when you make a deal or navigate a ship or a plane. In the Sathya Sai Baba movement this formula is used to explain why he, for example, changes his plans just of a sudden, why he promises to grant someone an interview ‘tomorrow’ and does not do that. The same miraculous formula is used when the followers of Sathya Sai Baba try to explain the discrepancy and mistakes in his words. By this way the devotees of Sathya Sai Baba are taught not to use their critical thinking but to escape cognitive dissonance by rationalization.
The results of such sort of ‘education’ can be illustrated by an episode which took place during Mahashivarathri festival in 2004 in the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba, Prashanthi Nilayam. During these festivals all his devotees expect to see a miracle – appearance of a lingam. It is believed that a lingam in a form of an egg is a symbol of the Universe and Sathya Sai Baba gives birth to it through his mouth. He said several times that those devotee who would see the birth of a lingam would get liberation, the ultimate goal of any spiritual quest. In 2004 a team from the BBC was in the ashram on Mahashivarathri and they recorded this process on video and included it in their documentary “Secret Swami”. You can see clearly on the video that the lingam did not appear through Sathya Sai Baba’s mouth, it appeared from the towel that he brought to his mouth. After that he almost lost his consciousness and was taken in his wheel-chair into his rooms. Some time later he was taken back and addressed his followers. He explained that while in his rooms he had given birth to another lingam which weighed 3 (!) tons. That is why his devotees saw some tension in his body and on his face.
Quite naturally a question arises: why did Sathya Sai Baba have to say that he gave birth to a lingam of 3 tons weight? Why not 3 kg or at least 30 kg? Did not he understand that practically any normal person can judge that any table or even floor could be destroyed by an object with the size of a hen egg and a weight of 3 tons? Any normal person would be puzzled about the unknown substance of a huge density which this lingam consists of. What mechanical device has to be used to move it? A crane, a bulldozer? It seems to me that Sathya Sai Baba realized that such thoughts could appear in the minds of his followers. Is not it another test of devotion versa critical thinking, as in the story about Krishna and Arjuna? Those who have a power of devotion which is able to suppress their critical thinking will stay faithful and after such a test nothing at all will be able to make them give up Sathya Sai Baba.
When the discourse of Sathya Sai Baba (18.02.2004) was published and posted on the Internet the lingam of 3 tons was not mentioned there. It is a significant point from the psychological point of view and from the point of view of Sai Baba’s ‘education’. The devotees had had to make their choice between devotion and critical thinking in a very specific situation. They were those who had witnessed the lingam miracle, who were looking forward to the liberation. Those people had been in a special state of mind after long hours of focused attention, singing of spiritual hymns (bhajans) and overwhelming happiness of seeing successful lingam birth. If those people could read and reread the actual words of SSB in normal conditions who knows what thoughts and doubts could come to their minds
In many charismatic groups their leaders are used to playing so called “three cards” which are a common thing in many cults and sects. Those “three cards” are:
1. The Higher Level Card. You're just not smart enough to realize I am smarter than you, because you're on a lower (less divine) level.
2. The Projection Card. By criticizing me, you are really just criticizing yourself, because any problem you see in me is just a projection of a problem in yourself.
3. The Skillful Means Card. It's not abuse; it's a crazy-wise teaching, it is just a test. You know, like Zen stuff.
These three cards may be the final barriers and defense mechanisms that one must break through to get out of a cultic mindset.