August 18, 2015

Mythili Sundar: Brokering deals with god

The Hindu, August 18, 2015

Brokering deals with god

Mythili Sundar

Fear of the future makes people seek out spiritual gurus in search of reassurance. And that is why a thousand Radhe Maas flourish

India is famous for Basmati rice, yoga, Gandhi and, of course, spiritualism. Sadhus and sants dot the country, ranging from the lone, bearded baba under the village tree to swamis who live luxurious lives with a battery of attendants and devotees doing their bidding.

Clairvoyant, spiritual guru, representative of god — godmen and women in India have been called these and much more. They are in the news again, thanks to Radhe Maa of Mumbai who has been accused by a woman of instigating her in-laws to harass her for dowry.

All of us have heard from friends, relatives, acquaintances, even strangers, of how they met a baba or mataji and their lives changed forever. Their businesses picked up, the childless got a child, ‘problems’ sorted themselves out… in short, it was happiness all the way.

Most seek the help (guidance?) of godmen not for spiritual purposes but for improving their material lives. Will I get a promotion or will my colleague beat me to it; will I get the party ticket to contest elections, if yes, will I win; will my new venture make profits — these are some of the typical ‘problems’ for which people seek ‘guidance’ or answers.

These issues stem from fear – fear of the uncertain. Humans love to peep into the future and when they are assured by their baba or mataji that all will be well (if not today, then tomorrow), they heave a sigh of relief. When some of their problems are resolved, thanks to some luck and the normal course of things, they attribute it to miracles (‘even the doctors had given up hope’) and the protective hand of the guru.
Dependency syndrome

But what of the price people pay for such assurance of ‘happiness unlimited’? By seeking the help of godmen and clairvoyants, people turn away from reality. Even the educated and rational become vulnerable when a slew of problems strikes them. Indeed, in most instances, the devotee is assured that it is his good karma that brought him to the spiritual guide in the first place (‘not everyone can get the swamiji’s darshan,’ he is assured). People start believing that all good things that happen to them are thanks to the blessings bestowed on them, and all the bad things will eventually pass, if they follow their guruji’s advice (which may range from an appeal for a modest contribution to demands for huge sums of money to propitiate the gods). Before they realise it, they become dependent on these so-called gurus for their physical, emotional and financial well-being. The search for quick-fix solutions and the lack of courage renders them incapable of facing the day-to-day challenges of life.

Why are our godmen and women so successful? Most of them come from humble backgrounds, start in a small way and, within a few years, have a huge following with swanky ashrams, temples and loads of money. No business model can explain their exponential growth. Almost always, they claim they are an incarnation of god. A police officer, for instance, claimed that Lord Krishna appeared in his dreams and told him he was Radha. Soon, a halo is created around them by a few people, which is then publicised to attract more devotees to the fold. Stories of miracles are meticulously spread.

The matajis and babas acquire a cult status once politicians and celebrities, ever ready to exploit anything that can remotely benefit them, enter the scene. Thanks to political patronage, adulation and publicity, it is not long before dollars and foreign tours start flowing in. The heady mix of money, power and religion without responsibility, and the knowledge that even the state is scared of meddling with religious affairs, make godmen and women acquire a larger-than-life image. Many invest in hospitals, ashrams and educational institutions, which increases their popularity.
Religious sanction

What sets them apart from politicians, celebrities and businessmen is the religious sanction of their influence, which they exploit to the fullest. They no longer seek or appeal for donations; they place orders. There are reports in the media of people who sell their property, even abandon their families at the command of their so-called gurus.

What is baffling is the continued following sants and gurujis command even after allegations of sex, sleaze and crime are levelled against them. Swami Premananda, once hailed as a spiritual leader, was sentenced to life for rape and murder. Other religious leaders have been accused of similar crimes and more. But their followers live in denial; those who make the allegations are sidelined, threatened, even silenced. Sadhus and sadhvis, it would seem, can do no wrong. Any challenge to their authority is perceived as a challenge to religion itself. The fear of antagonising the gods in whose name godmen and women thrive, and the fear of reprisal prevent many from speaking out.

Ours is a country where religion is fed to people on a daily basis, and spiritual gurus are held in great awe and respect. It has produced many eminent spiritual leaders who have worked for the welfare of people, showing them the path to salvation. This is perhaps the reason people believe that those who preach in the name of god can do no wrong.

All religions preach spirituality. But it is necessary to remember that spiritualism is also about giving up materialism, not promoting it in the name of religion. A guru or guide should ideally help realise one’s spiritual dream, not promise the world to his or her devotees in exchange for money, land or patronage. Anyone who claims to speak on behalf of god and broker deals with god for a commission can hardly be trusted to elevate a person spiritually.

But then, till people realise that life has its ups and downs and no one except them can fight their everyday battles, swamijis and matajis will continue to prosper. They will continue to promise quick fixes in the name of the god they claim to represent and who has ordained them to provide salvation to humanity – that part of humanity which is willing to submit and asks no questions.