Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Brainwashing
- Milieu control - Control of an individual's communication with the external world, hence his or her perceptions of reality. Attempting to dominate not only the communications with the outside world (all that he sees, hears, reads, writes, experiences, expresses) but also - in it's penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself.
- Mystical manipulation - Evocation of certain patterns of behaviour and emotion in such a way that they appear to be spontaneous. Often refers to higher purposes and supernatural authorities such as fate, the hand of history, or God, or being chosen, or to the divine or semi-divine status of the controlling organization as representative of a supreme authority.
- The demand for purity - The belief that elements outside the chosen group should be eliminated to prevent them contaminating the minds of group members. Follows from the binary oppositions inherent in totalist thought: Party/Non-party; Communist/imperialist; person/non-person; good/evil. Just as in George Orwell's Animal Farm the slogan of 'four legs good, two legs bad' becomes the animals' guiding 'essential principle', so in other ideologies the stereotypical dualism of good and evil leads to the poisonous (and unrealistic) demand that elements outside the chosen realm should be eliminated lest they contaminate the saved.
- The cult of confession - The use of and insistence of confession to minimize individual privacy. Rejects privacy in favour of glorifying confession as an end in itself, used to exploit and control rather than to console.
- Sacred science - Viewing the ideology's basic dogmas as both morally unchallengeable and scientifically exact, thus increasing their apparent authority. Like mystical manipulation this involves a moral/spiritual mystique that is applied to the ideology's basic tenets; the very act of challenging them can render the challenger as a 'non-person'. Scientific exactness provides the conclusion of 'an ultimate moral vision becoming and ultimate science'.
- Loading the language - Compressing complex ideas into brief, definitive-sounding phrases, 'thought-terminating clichés'. A mind-numbing process by which 'the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed', whose aim is to shut down independent thinking. The 'thought-terminating clichés' imply group unity and the Party's control over language and, ultimately, thought.
- The primacy of doctrine over person - The idea that a dogma is more true and more real than anything experienced by an individual human being. A noted characteristic of totalitarian regimes.
- The dispensing of existence - The right to control the quality of life and eventual fate of both group members and non-members, and granted to the Party, it believes, to determine the fates not only of its adherents but also of the people beyond its sphere. This right follows from the Party's belief that there is only one path to truth ... that it alone knows that path, and that false paths must be eliminated.
And to think that all of this refers to governmental procedures, given that I haven't even reached the section on cult groupthink! In any case, here's my breakdown of how Sai Baba and/or his organisation fits very well into the criteria of Lifton's brainwashing model:
Milieu Control - Sai devotees are constantly urged to be a perfect conduit for the Baba's teachings, the stress on which invariably lies in acting in accordance with the Baba's wishes on just about every mundane subject. How one walks, talks, eats, sleeps, sits, dress themselves and much more are all to be done in line with "Swami's teachings". Devotees are also urged to indulge in constant self-enquiry, to watch the flow of their thoughts at all times, and even to engage in ceaseless meditation on his form and repetition of his name! Watching television and films is out of the question, reading newspapers is discouraged and Internet use is shunned.
Mystical Manipulation - It is open knowledge that devotees view every ocurrence - every tiny and mundane event - as being carried out through "Swami's will". Although the beliefs in karma and such are part of the wider Hindu tradition, the vast difference lies in the premise that Sai Baba himself is the adjudicator of cosmic fortune and that everything lies in his hands. On the flipside, the Sai Organisation's programs and activities are also viewed as being in line with the Baba's wishes and so it follows that everything that is done by the Organisation has the Baba's direct approval.
Demand for Purity - This is closely connected to milieu control in that whereas lip-service is given to deepning and improving relationships with friends and family, a strong undercurrent of impersonalism lies within Sai Baba's teachings that proclaims the virtues of vairagya (detachment) and maya (illusion). These twin concepts serve to illustrate the importance of reducing attachments to friends and family and go as far to treat them as illusory! There are also hidden traces of apocalyptic thinking that is intimately connected with Sai Baba's plans for global dominion and international acknowledgement of him as God incarnate; the Biblical allegory of the separation of the wheat from the chaff is frequently used by devotees to explain the defection of former members. Devotees are also urged by leaders and their compatriots not to read the critical writings of former members - comparing it to faeces on the ground - in a desperate effort to protect their "flock" from being led "astray".
The Cult of Confession - Since devotees are encouraged to behave in an admirable manner (according to the Baba's teachings) in all the different aspects of their daily lives, they must similarly watch for any lapses of behavious and be fully conscious the same. An example of this is the famous 'WATCH' language-loading (see below): WATCH your Words, Actions, Thoughts, Character, Heart. Constant contemplation along these lines contributes to an overwhelming sense of anxiety and paranoia, not to mention that any lapses must be dealt with as soon as they occur by 'confessing' the lapse through contrite repentance, prayer and other means.
Sacred Science - Put simply, Sai Baba confirms the existence of alien lifeforms and UFOs as well as many other queer beliefs in angels, demons, ghosts, spirits and all sorts of mythical disembodied entities. His views on cosmology also leave a lot to be desired; asserting that the sun is full of holes and the small matter of his being the lord of all creation, having created it all in the first place! Careless comments on issues belonging to the realm of physics and chemistry also tend to do him no favours. However, his devotees closely follow his ideas on these lines and doggedly defend his astrological and unscientific pronouncements to the death. It also goes without saying that those who attempt to critically analyse the Baba's views on various scientific issues are treated with contempt and disdain even when reference is made to unarguable scientific resources of information. Working on the logic of Sai Baba's being a divinity of sorts, his pronouncements on this or that scientific issue become infallible and stand true for all time.
Loading The Language - Sai Baba is very fond of compressing his ideas into memorable phrases, a few cases in point being 'Love All-Serve All', 'Help Ever-Hurt Never', 'Diamond = Die-Mind', and so on and on. Whereas the first two examples bespeak of an altruistic nature, the third represents an incongruity with the Vedantic philosophy Sai Baba claims to uphold. Combined with the unshakeable conviction in the Baba's divinity and it's connective implication that his proclamations are the 'final word' in philosophical matters, this effectively shuts down the critical and independent thinking of devotees who would balk at the thought that their leader's "infallible" declarations merit considerable opposition. Indeed it can be seen how the majority of online devotional activity among devotees consist of extremely little spiritual discussion, which in turn contributes to a false impression that the majority of devotees are wholly conversant with the full body of Sai Baba's teachings and therefore no need for in-depth theological discussions arise, or the fact that they are almost wholly ignorant of the Vedantic basis (or lack thereof) of their leaders's teachings.
Primacy of Doctrine over Person: Whether they admit it or not, Sai devotees are all convinced that this world and everything in it is unreal. Consequently everything that they do for themselves and in interaction with other people is just as in a dream. Not only is this an extremely dangerous and cultish point of view, but just think what repercussions could be effected by a sycophant who takes Sai Baba a little too seriously than expected! It is virtually impossible to even contemplate the disastrous ramifications of such a disturbing doctrine. Interactions with other people, meaningful as they can be, are reduced to a level that is beneath impersonality. At the other end of the spectrum, devotees are frequently urged to "see" Sai Baba in whomever they meet and to conduct themselves as if they were communicating directly with the Baba. This we have a constructed reality that contains mutually contradictory polarisations that all serve to create a serious confusion in the sincere mind of a devotee; on one hand he is forced to act and interact impersonally as if in a dream, and on the other hand he is enjoined to interact with people (in an apparently "real" world!) as if they were living expansions of Sai Baba himself. Primacy of these two broad doctrines serve to prove that these dogmas are far more 'real' than the experience of an average human being.
Dispensing of Existence - As with milieu control, mystical manipulation and the desire for purity, Sai Baba and his organisation seek to control the quality of life for it's members. As well as telling them how to sleep, eat, pray and so on, devotees are expected to adhere strictly to the 9-Point Code of Conduct. Aside from this obvious domination, the more frightening aspects relating to the dispensing of existence relates to Sai Baba's controversial opinions about the fates of those who do not believe in him as the divine incarnate. In the early 1990's he is reported to have said that a world war would be raging by 1999 and that only the Sai Organisation was capable of giving shelter, which is evidence of millenarianism. Before that, in the 1970s, he is said to have made numerous apocalyptic statements that greatly frightened the devotees. He has since denied making the statements. Along the lines of demanding purity, there again exists a dichotomy with regards to the fate of those outside the cult.
Devotees are faced with statements from the Baba affirming that the world population will eventually become his devotees, and on the other hand the Baba has made statements effectively agreeing with the Biblical seperation of wheat and chaff. In any case - the sole advantage being the Baba's alleged divinity - this in itself is the single and convincing factor that all other paths are wrong and that following them leads to doom, despite the existence of an "all-inclusive" message in his teachings which is nothing but hypocritical and contradictory when you think about it. It is seen as an irony for Sai Baba to have formed an exclusive path while riding on the back of a mutually-inclusive doctrine; whereas world religions and their precepts are granted token respect, people really look to Sai Baba and his message as the essence of all religions. The proper following of those other paths, then, is largely seen as redundant given that the "goal of all religions" is personally present to correct any alleged misconceptions that may arise.
Looks like Robert Lifton was onto a good thing; not only did he complete the remarkable achievement of providing a structural and systematic framework to show how brainwashing occurs but he also provided us with many insights into the workings of the human mind. It is sufficient to say that the mind-numbing irony of this article is to show how Sai Baba and his organisation are subject to the same scrutiny, subjectivity and general suspicion as every other sect.
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