“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority,” wrote Marcus Aurelius, “but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” And I would add that sometimes by standing aside from the ranks of the insane one runs the risk of being the object of unwelcome attention from the insane. But one does not have much of a choice in the matter: you are either sane or you are not. (Sanity, I should hasten to add, is a subjective matter and opinions would certainly differ on who is sane and who is not.) However, you can choose to keep your opinions to yourself instead of provoking people. I have to be vocal because how else can I oppose what I consider to be wrong. But this comes at a cost. Consider the fallout of my criticism of Satya Sai Baba’s conjuring tricks.
One kindly gentleman whom I know wrote asking me to take down my blog post (Satya Sai Baba and the Confederacy of Criminals, and the follow up.) saying that it will injure the Hindu cause. I was summarily dismissed from a Yahoogroup called “hinducivilization.” I used to basically lurk in the group and only very occasionally contribute an opinion or two from time to time. Not a great loss really but still it was a good way to feel the pulse of some very dedicated Hindu activists in India and abroad. I suspect that the only way the owners of that group could deal with dissent that they could not argue against was to shut it out. Good for them but bad for the cause.
It’s time to explain what my position is and why.
I am against anyone whose actions hurt the Hindu cause because I am a Hindu. Hinduism (to use the commonly used word for the Sanatan Dharm) and the other Indic religions are dear to me and I will fight anyone who gives them a bad name.
In this post I will explain why I oppose people like Satya Sai Baba and why on balance what he did was wrong and should be opposed by thinking Hindus. He has empowered the enemies of Hindus and endangered Hindu causes. He was either a charlatan or a severely deluded person, neither of which can be celebrated. On balance, he has done more to discredit Hinduism and Hindus than the good he is reputed to have done.
SSB, as any of his millions of followers will remind you, had a following in millions. He was — and is — regarded as a “Hindu leader” by many more millions who are not his followers. What the non-followers saw was a person who was plainly hoodwinking people. I am sure that aside from the really
stupid cognitively handicapped, even his followers would agree that he was basically tricking people into believing that he could materialize ash (for the poor) and valuable small objects (for the rich.)
SSB used cheap tricks which any half-assed stage magician can do much better. Sophisticated trained magician he was not. You can see numerous videos on Youtube that clearly show that SSB was a really poor — not in terms of how much money he made but in the quality of the performance — trickster. But he had a huge following of people who call themselves Hindus. That is ammunition to people who would like to discredit Hindus and Hinduism.
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“Hindus are smart people did you say? Really? They are taken in by a guy who can’t even do simple stage magic without being detected, something that any two-bit magician can do for $50 for the entire evening’s entertainment at a child’s birthday party. Indians are not gullible, did you say? Really now. How on earth can you point fingers at our evangelizing preachers who fake-heal people at those rallies when one of your most famous ‘godman’ does lousy magic tricks and millions of Hindus hand over money to him?”
You reply, “But you are wrong. You are focusing on the magic tricks. Fact is that he built hospitals and delivered water to villages.”
“Are you claiming that he materialized those hospitals and the water for villages? And the money for the doctors and medicines — did he materialize that also?”
You reply, “No, don’t be silly. He told people that they should donate money for charity, and SSB used the money for getting all that done.”
“So you mean that he tricked people into giving him money. That shows that Indians have the resources to build hospitals and deliver water to villages but they don’t do it. The Indian government is incompetent and cannot get the resources from the people to do it. It also means that Indians have to be tricked into doing the right thing. They are gullible and mean. That’s what we have been saying — you Indians are ethically challenged. It is very sad.”
You reply, “You just don’t understand, do you. You don’t understand that our religion is really very good, and SSB used to give very deep lectures on how good it is. You just don’t know.”
“You are right that I don’t know about your religion. But from what I see from what SSB did, it cannot be very profound or deep. I am an outsider and I have to draw conclusions from what I see from the outside. If he has to use cheap tricks to get people to cough up, the underlying message must be shoddy. Think about it for a moment. Had the message been good, would it require conjuring tricks for convincing people that he was a man with a valuable message? So I have to conclude that the message of Hinduism must be quite worthless since it requires what amounts to putting lipstick on it.”
You reply, “I think you are being totally biased and unfair. SSB has very rich and powerful people as his followers. Very powerful politicians, even. One of the world’s most famous cricketers — Sachin Tendulkar — is a devotee.”
“Being rich and powerful does not mean that a person is wise, does it? Rich and powerful people often hang out and support each other in order to better fleece the powerless and the poor. In fact, it is a clever political ploy — to appear to be a great devotee of some powerful figure so that you gain the goodwill of followers and get political support. Can a politician really afford to alienate millions of potential voters by not appearing to be a follower also? My point is that SSB was a very smart man and must have known that using tricks was the only way to get his followers. I don’t believe that he had any real message because if a message is valuable, you don’t need tricks.”
You reply, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you fixated on tricks? All you have seen is a few minutes of YouTube videos. Do you know that videos can be doctored? Do you really believe all you see on videos? Have you seen any Star Trek movies? Do you think those aliens are real?”
“Forget those videos. Did SSB claim to have materialized stuff? If he did, then he has admitted that he was cheating because it goes against everything that is known about the universe we live in. If you believe that he could get stuff out of the air, you would have to believe that one can fly to the moon on a horse, that one can rise from the dead, and all the other “miracle” stuff. Then it is simply a matter of who claims to do more miracles. No wonder Christianity and Islam are getting converts — their stories have more miracles and the gullible Indians are converting. As I see it, SSB prepared the grounds for conversion by making the people believe the impossible, by not telling them to not be taken in by cheap tricks and inane fables.”
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India is a large country and thousands of good people toil in total obscurity doing good work. They neither hobnob with powerful politicians, nor do they fool people into believing lies. Some of them educate people on the essentials of dharma, some work to undo the harm that the government does, some work to do the work that the government should have done but is too incompetent to do. Their work on the aggregate is much much bigger than what SSB ever did.
Agreed that SSB probably did not take all the money that he got from people and stash it away in foreign banks, unlike some of his politician followers. But you have to wonder — wouldn’t it have been better if he had not lied and cheated people? About his lying and cheating there can be no debate since materializing ash and small valuable objects is impossible.
If he really was able to materialize anything, to show his powers he could have materialized something that is not currently within the power of humans to manufacture. He is supposed to have turned a bucket of water to a bucket of petrol by sticking his finger into it. To show that it was no ordinary trick, he could have stuck his finger into a medium sized lake — at least it would have shown us a way out of our dependence on foreign oil.
I am being accused of helping out the enemy. That is truly unbelievable. Firstly, I don’t have followers — just a few people who read my blog. My message is that we need to clean up our act so that we are not ridiculed by others. Secondly, SSB has followers in the millions and therefore had the responsibility to behave ethically. What SSB did with those dirty tricks is provide our enemies with the ammunition they need to discredit Hindus, Hinduism and India.