A pure and pious life is a noble goal; but to surrender to a baba in order to be able to lead such life can in no way prove beneficial. What is necessary is that the individual himself should be aware of his sexual and other desires. An individual cultivates self-respect and enjoys life by enjoying freedom and the ability to take rational decisions. The view that there are chances of going astray when there is freedom to take decisions, and that the spiritual vision of a baba is necessary to bring one back on track, is not at all conducive to the development of an individual as a complete human being. It is important to note that the human mind ought to be free even for the self-realisation that the spiritual way endeavours to walk.

Also, there is no clear agreement on the meaning of spiritual benefit, not even among the babas and their disciples. Yet all of them, with great certainty, reiterate the adage, “Metaphysics or spiritual knowledge begins where science ends” and proclaim that spiritual success is life’s ultimate goal.

The outline of metaphysical thought presented by each religion, sect or guru differs from, and at times even contradicts, other metaphysical views. However, consideration of all these rational arguments is not enough to convince an individual about the fallacy of his notions.

Yet even within the premise of the traditional and commonly acknowledged meaning of spirituality, it is possible to argue against these notions.

The traditional and acknowledged meaning of spirituality is along these lines: “In each living being in the world there is a soul – atma. The world (or universe) is engulfed by a paramatma – the universal soul. In each individual’s life there is brahma, while the parabrahma is in the universe. When the atma – the individual soul – meets the paramatma – the universal soul – or when the brahma and the parabrahma meet, the individual reaches the stage of ultimate beatitude of absolute bliss. The individual then attains “sachchidanand” – rejoicing in just being and understanding, that is, he regains his own true, eternal and ever-joyful nature, and perceives it.”

This woolly account ends with the question, “What more can one expect from life?” What a jumble of words! So how can one distinguish a spiritual man from an ordinary mortal being? The simple indication is that such a spiritual man is ascetic and righteous. For him, fulfilment in life goes beyond creature comforts. The truly spiritual person does not indulge in empty words but acts in the interest of humanity. Just as physical exercise builds up the body, spirituality is an exercise for inner mental development. So, the life of a spiritual person is pure, simple, pious and full of compassion which can be experienced by people around him. Spirituality is actually all the above qualities put in practice. All the rest are empty words. Repeating the sacred name of a god or guru that keeps one aware of one’s moral responsibility in behaviour is worthy behaviour; otherwise it is just din and clamour.

We have in our country plenty of examples of both true and mock spirituality.

Nirmala Mata awakens the kundalini and practises spirituality; but she owns marble palaces in several countries. Narendra Maharaj, in his sermons, advises people to live and let live, but without batting an eyelid, falsely accuses ANiS of being paid agents of Christian missionaries and converting people to Christianity. He also openly threatens to sever the hands and feet of ANiS members ND Patil and Narendra Dabholkar. When there is an uproar about such language or intentions, he quickly turns round and disowns what he said in his sermon. His disciples, under his instructions, damage public property at airports because he was asked, as per the rules and regulations of air travel, not to take his staff with him. The name of Sathya Sai Baba contained “Sathya”, or truth, but he did not allow anyone to truthfully examine the divine power with which he performed his miracles. When his own disciples attacked him, he had to hide in the bathroom, and when all the assailants were securely locked in a room, he reportedly came out and shot them all. Nobody dared utter a word about it. Though accused of sexual molestation of boys and young men by foreign devotees, for a long time nothing was done about it. They amass enormous wealth which goes into various trusts controlled by members of their own families or by trusted devotees who manage all the affairs of the babas in complete secrecy.

They own modern luxurious cars, huge estates, at times even private aerodromes. When assessed on the real criteria of spirituality such as restraint, morality, non-acquisitiveness and purity of character, their masks drop.

In contrast to such babas, we have the great Gadge Baba in Maharashtra. He collected crores of rupees and spent each rupee in improving the life of common people. He was an illiterate man, but kept an account of every rupee that came into his coffers. All he owned was a staff, the tattered clothes on his body and a piece of a broken earthen pot that he carried on his head. When he came to know that his wife and daughter were accommodated in a room of an asylum built from donations given to him, this flawless saint actually went there and threw both of them out. He swept village after village with a broom during the day, and at night awakened the villagers through sermons that attacked superstitious belief. He taught that humaneness was the only true religion. Another such saint was Vinoba Bhave. He walked over the whole country for a full twelve years, entreating people to donate land, and collected forty-two lakh acres of land to distribute to the landless poor. During the whole period of his travels, he wore only a dhoti and a towel on his shoulders. While travelling through various provinces, he learned the local language. He knew well at least twelve Indian languages. All his life he remained a bachelor and did not own any property. These shining examples distinguish the lustrous, true spirituality of certain people from the cheap, phony spirituality of other babas and buvas.

ANiS opposes miracle-mongering because it plays a crucial role in creating a false culture. Swami Vivekananda has clarified this very well when he was asked by American news media to perform miracles. In reply to their demand he roared, “I am not a miracle-monger. Some incidents do baffle our senses but they too occur according to natural laws. But the mind under a spell is convinced that they are real. Wise men never indulge in such fooling around.”

That mind which falls prey to buvabaji and miracles engenders a kind of mental slavery. A society of such people cannot face any problem with confidence or complete any task with courage and perseverance.

So to bring society back on the track of self-respect and belief in one’s own effort as well as fearlessness, there is no way out but to oppose the miracle-mongering of the buvas and babas.

According to religious traditions, miracles can be performed by yogis with the siddhis (superhuman powers) they acquire through their yogic strength. But religious traditions also mention that people should not be fooled by these siddhis, and therefore, should not endeavour to acquire them; these siddhis should, in fact, be shunned because they are malevolent. Our saints have in the past entreated us repeatedly not to get trapped in the web of siddhis and miracles, because it is a sure-shot way to deterioration and ruin. Truly religious men have always opposed miracle-mongering. Those who perform miracles and gather disciples are chastised in the literature of the saints. Sathya Sai Baba was famous for producing golden chains from thin air quite frequently and with ease. Let us suppose for a moment that he did possess supernatural powers. Then the question arises, “What had this baba done to reduce the bankruptcy of our nation?” We experience droughts and severe rainfalls in many parts of our country, both destroying life and property. But no baba, so far, has even attempted to bring rain during droughts, or stop the torrents when they inundate vast regions. The reason why they are not able to do this is simple. There is no such thing as supernatural power to begin with; and the babas/buvas do not possess any power at all. To pursue such babas/buvas with devotion is not religious behaviour.

Excerpted with permission from The Case For Reason: Understanding the Anti-superstition Movement, Narendra Dabholkar, translated by Suman Oak, Westland (to be published in September)