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Rumours, Gossip, Allegations and Truth
18 February, 2002
Truth is an endangered species in these media-ridden times. With the enormous spread and power of the Internet, the danger simply increases, so our vigilance should be strengthened.
Rumours and gossip have played an important part in the 60-year old spiritual mission of Sathya Sai Baba. However, for nearly 2 years now, a series of allegations and inconvenient critical information (of varying quality and credibility) concerning SSB and his organization have been emerging, mainly on the Internet but also in the TV and print media. There must be many bewildered devotees out there.
The reaction of SB's small but fiercely partisan volunteer support groups on the Internet, in both their closed membership forums and open ones has varied from total silence to outright and animated repudiation under the blanket description of "gossip and rumours". For example, the opening statement of the 'members only' Yahoo Group 'Unity in Diversity' with 32 members (Feb 2002) includes the following:
Controversy surrounds Sathya Sai Baba in the media - print, electronic and audio-visual. Allegations against Sai Baba are revisited. More gossip and rumour emerges daily. Some become troubled and perturbed upon encounter of this material. Sai Baba, a Guru to millions, is being effectively scandalised to his followers. This Forum is expressly created to attend in like-minded good spiritual company (satsang) to those disturbances felt and experienced by persons who encounter these rumours and gossip.
The basic underlying attitude put forward by another equally small but more tentacular closed group, Sandeha Nivarini ('Dispelling Doubt') used to be (and perhaps still is) proudly displayed upfront, like a shining badge, on its title page:
"Sandeha Nivarini: for anyone who wishes to directly address and remove doubts as to the Person or Teaching of Sri Sathya Sai Baba."
This really extraordinary statement merits a second look:
"Anyone who wishes to directly address and REMOVE doubts ..."
So the underlying assumption, presumption and guarantee for members as they sign on (as indeed I did for a brief and unhappy time) is that although doubts about SB are possible, it is impossible for any of them to be soundly based or justified. Therefore, such 'doubts' can ALL be worked through and dismissed by the process of group discussion. How re-assuring! How comforting! But the real presumption is that NO seriously critical statement about SB can possibly be based on verifiable fact or Truth! (This also explains where the automatic label "gossip and rumours" comes from.)
Although some allegations and critical statements (about SB or anyone else) may turn out to be false or inaccurate, such categorical prior rejection of all of them regardless of the evidence offered should be sufficient to warn outsiders (which is most of us) against 'debating' with zealots on such unequal terms.
The promise to remove ALL DOUBTS (as if the ensuing discussion is merely a formality) is an overtly totalitarian approach. Awareness of this gives us a salutary reminder that, when dealing with pro-active SB devotees in general, some of the arguments or counter-arguments put forward by them in response to allegations about or criticism of their guru (particularly on the more popular BULL-Boards) may not be the sort normally encountered in reasoned discussion.
Furthermore, the use of a brainwashing type of slogan such as the one quoted above shows that members (and especially their leadership) are caught up in one of the sorts of controlling behaviour which are usually associated with "cults", in the negative meaning of that term. (Incidentally, the slogan quoted only mentions SB, not his Organisation. But this would appear to be an oversight, rather than an admission that in the case of the "Organization", firmly-based doubt IS possible.)
All this is by way of preamble to highlight the standard automatic denial by SB devotees in the face of criticism or unwelcome information, and the deplorable use of 'dirty tricks' by a tiny but crusading minority of devotees on BULL-Board postings and in e-mails. (Damage control?)
Doubtless we shall see more of such crude and undignified shenanigans in response to the significant flurry of recent publications on the Internet containing, well, er, actually, something substantially more than "gossip and rumours."
Perhaps someone should collect any untruths or outrageous statements, innuendos and accusations in the debate about SSB and his Organization and make them into an amusing (or frightening?) article. Copies of a couple of particularly malicious or clumsy examples have been sent to me this week. Many of you will have seen them too. Any further examples of 'dirty tricks' in the ongoing debate deserve to be denounced and held up to public ridicule.
Have a very good day - but why not do your bit to recognise (and publicise) the difference between Truth, reasoned opinion and reasonable debate on the one hand, and smokescreens, malice and lies on the other.
Bye for now,
Notes: 1. I recommend the short but highly relevant article by Andries Krugers Dagneaux on 'Brainwashing': http://www.surrealist.org/betrayalofthespirit/brainwashing.html
2. The Owner and controller of the Sandeha Nivarini site is on record as writing (16 March , 2001):
"For myself, I ever marvel when folks delight in taking pieces of information while disregarding whatever counters their viewpoint."
Right on! But I guess he was only referring to some more "gossip and rumours."