The tricky psychology of Belief and



Date: 05-31-02

By: Robert Priddy



Little is better demonstrated in human history than the fact that faith can mislead a person into the most bizarre of experiences and beliefs. Just as placing trust in an unworthy person usually leads to eventual disillusionment, putting one's faith in religious teachings and spiritual leaders is also a gamble. The stakes can be high indeed, both the social stakes and especially the closely-related mental-emotional risks, not to mention possible financial and suchlike involvements.

It is both fascinating and sometimes distressing to see how people become so entirely trapped in the 'faith', as to be unable to see it for what it is, even when the most glaring discrepancies arise. This illustrates what a major shock may be needed - and personal mental-emotional upset - is involved in freeing oneself from its grasp; or from the bonds of Sai Baba's psycho-social influence, and often from his undoubted psychic-astral involvements. My own experiences serves as an example of this process, but also of liberation from its previous very appealing teachings and promises, but which pressed one to become more and more divorced from life and reality. Much of what Sai Baba teaches is seen to produce as many problems as solutions, and his demands for perfect devotees are wholly impractible and unfulfillable. Interestingly, one of his long-term devotees - an ex-Army colonel who once used to like his drop of whisky but who had then served for decades at Prashanthi Nilayam as Head of the Adminstration Building, Mr. Kanheia Jee, was a plain speaker to his frends and he told me frankly "If you try to do everything Sai Baba advises you, you'll go stark raving mad!" It was such a relief to meet an insider who couldn't swallow all the bull! His wife, Mrs. Cavery, was for many years head of the PN Seva Dal in the mandir.

The psychic unavoidability of having some belief-structure:

Experience shows, again and again, that a majority of people will believe just about anything that suits them... if it fits in somehow with their whole world of preconceptions and desires. Experience and knowledge can be side-lined and diminished in significance by new strong beliefs, and especially those connected to Sai Baba. This cuts both ways, of course, both as to believers and unbelievers. When the facts cannot be established and an issue is still in the balance, most people far prefer a certainty to a continued state of uncertainty... even if it is a false certainty. The desire to escape ambiguity or incongruity in one's experience, somehow or even in any way, is a strong psychological tendency, as shown by many controlled and laboratory experiments. The psychic need for belief is also seen operating in how many people immediately believed in the accusations against Sai Baba on rather insubstantial evidence at the time. Most of us are very poor at questioning our own beliefs, especially those held dear to us. But any genuine search for truth is most demanding and calls for a patient condition of inconclusiveness and tolerance of the uncertainty caused by reservation of final judgement until certain knowledge is attained. This is not a natural psychic condition and it requires repeated effort to avoid falling into unfounded attitudes or leaping to conclusions.

There are always pros and cons in any matter, increasingly so the larger and more important the subject. To keep in the mind all of them from both sides, yet not to conclude in favour of one side or the other is a feat of conscious tolerance of uncertainty that few people can sustain for long... at least when the issue is at all crucial. Belief is endemic, but it takes many different forms which also often shift as experience proceeds. Whether secular or religious, personal or political, idiosyncratic or collective, some basic beliefs are held by everyone. There are believers in atheism and scepticism, which always have to be backed up by a large assortment of sub-beliefs. Many of these belief  structures are adopted without reflecting over them or even quite realising that one has inherited them or picked them up in some way. Others are conscious of the basis of their belief system, but are then often quite unaware of how it is to be on the ‘opposite side of the fence’ and see everything from a completely other and equally rational perspective.

Philosophy requires a measure of dispute and any sane and healthy religion needs a measure of irreverence, for these are ways provided to us for testing our society, our universe, as well as ourselves. Human civilisations are always prone to mystiques... heroic, messianic, scientific, supernatural and so on. The prevailing mystique at any time or place first tends to colour the mind and, if conditions allow, often eventually becomes all things to the observer. This is seen most clearly of all, perhaps, in the ways religions or spiritual cults take over the personality. Whether such a mystique operates more for better or for worse, it remains a limiting distortion of the mind and often possesses the psyche to the exclusion of all contrary reason and experience. This kind of alienation from oneself can clearly be seen in the movement around Sathya Sai Baba, and not least in the organisation bearing his name, whether or not it sometimes leads to real personal transformations and improvements, at best and most usually only in an initial phase, it appears.

The Sai Baba alternative:

The virtual elimination in much of the West of religion by materialism, agnosticism and atheism during the 20th century created a desert of dry minds and souls that, like brushwood tinder, became ready to be set alight by any flame that would purge them. This is seen in the mushrooming of interest in 'spiritual masters' and Indian gurus here in recent decades. Sathya Sai Baba once seemed to provide that flame to those who were drawn into his circle, not seldom through paranormal contacts of an inexplicable and apparently 'miraculous' kind. I am no exception, until now - that is - since I have now learned so much about him that I have had no choice but to revoke the validity of many of Sai Baba's claims (and he makes many mega-extravagent claims), even though I cannot deny the paranormal and certain other facts of a sort foreign to science. It is crucial to realise that the kinds of contacts experienced in relation to Sai Baba's form and name are not exclusive to him… very far from it! The slightest acquaintance with world spirituality shows that all the kinds of 'miracle' witnessed from or in connection with Sai Baba have been described countless times. Even specific events, such as the production of lingams from the mouth, the materialisation of ash vibhuti and other substances, the appearance of a person at great distances or in two places
at once and the manifestation of objects and events at a distance are not at all exclusive to Sai Baba. World literature shows that all phenomena we might class as ‘miraculous’, especially healings, appear to occur in connection with any number of quite other persons and images, wholly independently of Sai Baba.

The history of religions are packed with such incidents, while nowadays one can observe statues that shed tears of blood, marble and even metal statues that drank milk in gallons and so on. That many do not believe these are facts does not affect those who have had such direct genuine experiences, whether they sought them or not. That mainstream 'modern science' is wholly unable to cope with even the thought of such things - due to its underpinning physicalistic bias and method - does nothing whatever to explain away the incidence of these observable facts.