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A word of assurance

Events in the past forty-sixty years have given the word cult a very negative meaning (although earlier, cult meant religious practice or worship and the rites, ceremonies, and practices of a religion, as well as an unorthodox or spurious religion).

Rest assured, dear reader, that the Sai Organization is not a cult in that negative sense of the word! Below, we give information that will help explain the differences between a cult and the Sai Organization. The information is drawn from two books on cults: Mindbending: Brainwashing, Cults, and Deprogramming in the '80's (by Lowell Streiker, Doubleday, New York, 1984) and Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America (by J. Melton, Garland Publishing, New York, 1986).

This material is a slight revision of an article that appeared in The Sathya Sai Newsletter, USA.

Streiker indicates that a real cult will lack the following characteristics:

  • Genuine concern for members' welfare,
  • Appreciation of constructive criticism from non-believers, and
  • Active encouragement of dialogue between members and outside world.

Beyond that, there are nine major characteristics of cults, as listed below. With each characteristic, we show through direct quotes from Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba that the Sai Organization does not have these characteristics. In the references for quotes from Sathya Sai Baba, ``SSS'' stands for the old editions of Sathya Sai Speaks.

1. Primary cult activities are fund raising and recruiting new members.

I do not like your going about collecting funds or raising donations. (SSS VI, 67, p. 325)
Fund collection is as much opposed to this movement as fire is to water. (SSS VII, 5, p. 34)
Enough for us if there remain one or two members where practice and preaching are correct and sincere. Quality is accepted; quantity is of no consequence. (SSS VIII, 13, p. 81)
I do not need any publicity. (SSS IV, 23, p. 140)
Do not imagine that your task is to propagate Baba and speak of Baba and his message. (SSS IX, 35, p. 191)

2. Cult members are encouraged to cut off communication with family and friends. They are isolated from the outside world and any reality testing it could provide.

Your primary task is to discharge your duty. This does not mean renouncing worldly life or your obligations to your family. (Sanathana Sarathi, February 1992, p. 37)
Use the opportunities confronting you as a householder to develop detachment and self sacrifice. (SSS IV 33, 191)
Don't keep yourself apart, working on your own salvation through meditation; move among your sisters looking for opportunities to help ... (SSS VII, 39, 194)

3. Cult members hand over possessions and earnings and become totally dependent on group.

Whoever may ask, even if they say that I have authorized them, do not give them a penny. (SSS VII, 57, p. 307)
Where money is asked and offered, I have no place. (SSS IV, 69, p. 392)
Do not lean on others; live on your own earnings, your own resources. (SSS VIII, 44, p. 231)

4. The cult enforces demands by peer pressure, embarrassment, and even violence.

Humility and tolerance must characterize the behavior of Sai devotees. (SSS X, 10, p. 44)
Start the day with love, spend the day with love; fill the day with love; end the day with love; that is the way to God. (SSS VIII, 14, p. 88 )
Non-violence includes not causing hurt even by a word, look, or gesture. (SSS X, 59, p. 307)

5. The cult is the only possessor of truth --others are unsaved and hostile to truth.

Do not develop fanaticism or sectarianism. (SSS VI, 7, p. 37)
All religions call upon the one, omnipresent God. (SSS X, 44, p. 230)
Diversity of religion and faith is conducive to the welfare of mankind. (SSS VIII, 25, p. 149)
Finding fault with another's faith casts a slur on yours. (SSS V, 67, p. 333)
You have to teach the equal validity of all faiths. (SSS X, 55, p. 283)

6. The cult feels above the law --the ends justify means of lying, stealing, defrauding.

Dharma (right action) is essentially social morality. (SSS IX, 2, 13)
Dharma (right action) includes morality, truth, virtue, love, and a host of other qualities that uphold communities of man and the individual. (SSS VI, 38, p. 167)
Care of the country is as important as care of the body. (SSS VII, 20, 98)

7. The cult may be apocalyptic --members will be the only survivors of a world catastrophe.

Do not be upset at calamities; take them as acts of grace. (SSS V, 32, 165)
No disaster is immanent for the world. Over the vast globe, there may be some mishaps here and there, from time to time. (Sanathana Sarathi, March 1991)

8. The cult is based on the teachings of an authoritarian, corrupt leader who is the sole source of what the group believes and of rules for daily behavior.

The scriptures lay down the lines along which man has to direct his thoughts and activities. Sincere adherence to those laws and limitations alone can guarantee wisdom. (SSS IX, p. 151)
I have not come to set afoot a new cult. (SSS VI, 46, p. 235)
Seek out chances to study and substantiate the basic similarities in all religions. (SSS VIII, 14, p. 9)
The Vedas are the foundation of Indian culture. (Sanathana Sarathi Dec. '82, p. 260)
Truth, right action, peace, and love are the four pillars of the eternal wisdom. (SSS III, 25, 122)

9. The cult exists for its own material survival and makes false promises to help society.

The organization is exclusively for spiritual development. (SSS VII, 34, p. 164).
Service to man is the best form of worship. (SSS IX, 46, p. 235).
Organizations bearing my name must render service to the helpless, sick, distressed, illiterate, needy. (SSS VI, 36, p. 158)