The Very Important Message from Prashanti Nilayam
By David J. Lyons (Sai Baba follower from 1981 to 2000. Ex-President of the Center of Greater New Orleans).
What are some of the characteristics of a cult? We remember the obvious and high-profiled, newsworthy cults like Jim Jones and Jonestown, Guyana in 1978 where over 900 people drank poison at the behest of and with a preacher gone mad. We remember David Koresh and the branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, which ended in the fiery deaths of those inside the compound on April 19, 1993. And the most recent newsworthy cult which ended in the suicide of 39 members of the cult, the so-called "Heaven's Gate Extra-terrestrial (in the tail of a comet) cult in March, 1997, merely reflects that with all our technology, with all our available data, with all of our accessibility there are still modern apocalyptic occurrences that defy sensibility--or do they??? But this is chump change compared to whole nations falling under the spell of a single leader (Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini), or a single compound idea like Japanese imperialism/racism from 1905 to 1945, Communism in the Soviet Union (1917-1991), etc. These fall into the categories of political, national or racial ideologies. What about theologies, including mythologies, being a more subtle form of cultism? What about an organization like the SSO, which transcends religious, national, cultural, etc. considerations and purports to unite humanity under the banner of dharma, infused with the belief of a supreme Avatar, a modern saviour who has come to save the world from a nuclear holocaust, and march mankind into the "Golden Age?" For spiritual seekers this is nearly irresistible. But, what is a cult?
"A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, the use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individual critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc. designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community." (West & Langone, 1986).
Some Characteristics of a Cult
* authoritarian in their power structure
* totalitarian in their control of the behaviour of members
* a pyramid in structure and infrastructure
* the use of deception in recruiting or fund raising
* promotes dependence of the members
* totalitarian in their world view
* uses mind altering techniques such as chanting, devotional singing, meditation, hypnosis and various forms of repetitive actions to stop normal critical thinking
* appear exclusive and innovative
* has charismatic or messianic leader who is self-appoin ted and has a special mission in life
* instils a fear of leaving the group.--from Carol Giambalvo's Cult Information and Recovery.
The above suffice as evidence that the Sathya Sai Baba organization qualifies quite readily as a cult, however subtle its appearance(s).
Some other considerations from Carol Giambalvo:-
* No one ever joins a "cult." People join interesting groups that promise to fulfil their pressing needs. They become "cults" when they are seen as deceptive, defective, dangerous, or as opposing basic values of their society.
* Cults represent each society's "default values," filling in missing functions. The cult epidemic is diagnostic of where and how society is failing its citizens.
* If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. As basic human values are being strained, distorted and lost in our rapidly evolving culture, illusions and promissory notes are too readily believed and bought--without reality validation or credit checks.
* Whatever any member of a cult has done, you and I could be recruited or seduced into doing--under the right or wrong conditions. The majority of "normal, average, intelligent" individuals can be led to engage in immoral, illegal, irrational, aggressive and self-destructive actions that are contrary to their values or personality--when manipulated situational conditions exert their power over individual dispositions.
* Cult methods of recruiting, indoctrinating and influencing their members are not exotic forms of mind control, but only more intensely applied mundane tactics of social influence practiced daily by all compliance professional and societal agents of influence.
By all of the above, religions, corporations, industries, educational institutions, bureaucracies and governments themselves are partial cults by their very nature and the definitions above. Does joining any of these denote gullibility? Hardly. And that is why the nature of cults are shielded from view when a prospective member is exposed to one.