Over the last few months we came across several news items one after another related to what could be called as ‘parallel’ religion. The enormity of the issues was such great and the coverage in media was so exhaustive that not much is left for me to add. In addition to reporting the developments in the cases, there have also been thorough analyses and commentaries on various aspects of the issue. It should be noted that this rise of babadom is not new; instead, the narrow stream had been flowing as an undercurrent for several decades now. My earliest memory of such babas is mostly from the Doordarshan serial Rajani and several mainstream Hindi movies. Besides, the Hindi magazine Sarita from Delhi Press is dedicated to social issues, and deals with such and similar subjects very thoroughly. It is indeed very surprising that in spite of so many awareness campaigns, nothing seems to affect the stellar position occupied by babas and gurus, and they continue to guide or rather mis-guide the masses thereby influencing their thought and intellect. This is important. Cheats and corrupts are present in every field and perhaps it would be too optimistic to hope that one day they would cease to exist. However, in this case, the babas rob the masses of their intellect, their discretion, their faculty to think independently and rationally. And that is when problem starts.
Commentators and analysts have attributed this scenario to poverty, lack of education, political patronage and so on. There is not much scope for arguing with any of those views. Most of these babas rule in an area where religious thought is mostly spread and practised through the oral tradition. Partly due to lack of resources, partly due to lack of education, and partly due to social restrictions, people do not have any choice other than to turn to these babas for spiritual or religious guidance, and certainly have no way to verify the correctness of their words. Whatever they are told, they accept as universal truth.
All that is understandable, and we can hope that with socio-economic development and social activism with participation of media would definitely help us in overcoming this intellectual handicap. In the extreme cases, government and judiciary would have to interfere.
There is still one thing that I fail to understand and which is not addressed by critics. I am indeed very surprised when I see people in sound financial and physical health, having apparently received good education, lining up in front of the ashrams of one of these babas and gurus. All the analyses based on poverty and lack of education fail to explain this paradox.
As I see it, this particular case has something to do with the lifestyle of the urban population. The gentleman had spent his whole life in pursuit of career and building up a social prestige, both of them on the basis of financial merit. But after two decades of running in the rat race, the gentleman feels a vacuum inside, hollowness of family relationships, and a loss of physical health and mental peace. He realizes that in the hurry to acquire the materialistic comforts, he has lost on something more important. Worse still, those other things could not be bought with all his wealth. And then somebody tells him of the babaji, who has convinced several followers like this gentleman that — “Give me money, I would give you peace!” Not a bad deal, thinks the gentleman, and you see one more follower or subscriber to the great movement.
This is not a debate between divine life and materialistic life. That is a separate subject. Also, the two are not exclusive of each other, at least with the intensity or sincerity on common human plane. In other words, unless one aspires to become a Bill Gates, or a Sri Ramakrishna, one need not select one and exclude the other.
However, here the gentleman is hiring someone to solve his life problems, or even more ridiculously, to understand his problems. The babaji didn’t even know the gentleman till yesterday, and today not only does he know the inside-outside of the whole life of this gentleman, but also assures him confirmed reservation in heaven and till that time, a life full of divine bliss and infinite peace. And thus you see the making of a billion dollar business that religion today is.
What? I ask you madam, invoke the spiritual wisdom and logical analysis of your forefathers that you have accumulated in your culture, and tell me — is spiritual life such easy? Is it a joke?
The babas and gurus have made a mockery of spiritual life and divinity and led common people to believe the exact opposite of what those principles stood for. So you see them counting the health benefits of yoga — reduced blood pressure, slim and flexible bodies and so on. It is quite another matter that yoga itself dealt with breaking down the physical barriers and surpass the restrictions of the body and pass on from physical to the mental to the psychic planes. While the shruti prays Prakriti in all its form, these babas have convinced the masses that it does not harm to fell few trees to hold a religious gathering, make some more smoke to bring rains, make rivers a bit more dirty to wash your sins and become eligible to embrace Rambha and Urvashi.
But above all, they have robbed the devotees of their logical faculty and analysis ability.
It is this ability to think and analyse everything logically that is called as scientific temperament. You need not study the movement of far away galaxies with the aid of a high resolution telescope, nor do you need to study what happens to a particular liquid when you add different salts to it. Instead, you need to analyse anything and everything of your daily experience and existence yourself – without the aid of an outsider – and understand everything yourself. That is scientific temperament — to discover and understand yourself and not admit or accept the interpretation that someone else has passed on to you. Time to let go of fast food, son! Dhritrastra might have the need for divine eyes to see the happenings in the battleground, but not you; afterall, you are not blind! But the religious leaders tread the exactly opposite path — discouraging inquiry and free thought, and encouraging belief — simply because it promotes their religious order.
Scientists also get involved in frauds and scandals, but their students feel let down and ashamed for having been associated with such a person. None of the students go on a rampage destroying public property and taking lives to salvage the image of their professor. Nobody from the scientific community interferes with the inquiry process, though they may voice their opinions; hence, the rule book and the administration have the freedom to take the necessary course of action. Now contrast this with the protests and agitations that take place whenever cops knock the door of any babaji . . . not to talk of the pressure from ‘above’.
It is not that the babas and gurus have only recently found themselves in a soup; in fact, fraudsters have a long history. Still, the fact that people continue to take them seriously and put their whole life, existence and identity in unknown, unreliable hands, is something that I still fail to understand.
I do not argue with the basic tenets of ancient wisdom that may have advocated holding the hand of someone (प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत) in order to avoid the pitfalls of the difficult path (दुर्गं पथस्तत् कवयो वदन्ति). However, how would you know that the person you chose as your guiding light is the right person? Or would you end up being like a blind man led by another blind (अन्धेनैव नीयमाना यथान्धाः)? And given the volume of daily dose of scams, scandals, violence, harassment, through news media and also your own awareness, how could you trust your whole existence into the hands of an unknown person? It does not make sense. It certainly does not make sense. However you argue with bottom of your heart and top of your voice, it definitely does not make any sense.
All Sanskrit quotes are from Kathopanishad.