Godmen: Happiness Comes with a Price Tag

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Gurus whose USP is smart marketing; Swamis whose fortunes would shame a Rockefeller; Godmen with unbridled libido who believe it is their right to rape and murder; Babas in saintly garbs close to political power – the pivot in an unseemly nexus – these quick rise men with feet of clay then are our ‘happiness’ vendors, who with every new generation continue to multiply and profilitrate. An expose by Sreelata, exclusively for Different Truths.

If superstition, poverty, and illiteracy make for a common breeding ground in the search for a better life so it does seem extreme wealth and materialistic satiety.

At an age when life should be an adventure, exciting and thrilling, many of today’s well- heeled youngsters are already mentally bored, aimless and weary. So when someone garbed in the requisite colors reaches out, promising succor, healing, and eternal bliss or offers you a quick fix solution, one-on-one, in a language you can relate to – wouldn’t you go for it?  Especially if it is freely available at spiritual shops aka ashrams across the country for a price?

It is what makes pampered 21-year-olds become ‘sevikas’ and follow the call or highly paid CEOs give up their all to live lives without basic necessities and young married women and matrons go in pursuit of ‘seva’. If along the way they were to stumble and fall for the charms of their charismatic Guru it would seem a natural corollary, wouldn’t it?

Such was the attraction of a new kid off the block some time ago – Nithyananda Swami. Espousing the cause of a greedy mercurial world well lost for love – he rightly sold “Bliss” till he was grounded by a tape that recorded his own carnal happiness with an actress.

Since Hinduism, due to its inherent plurality throws up a few messiahs quite regularly we have the likes of the great Sankaracharyas and Ramakrishna Paramahans, who achieve this mantle after years of penance and self-denial, while others burst upon the scene like shooting stars to attain instant cult-hood even before they’ve learned to write.

All of them have a few things in common. They have a higher calling, the gift of the gab and the urge to reach out to the common man, who needs to be reminded of the word of God. They have also at some point in time had a vision or a divine realisation of what their calling should be. Able to stun people into becoming their followers by revealing an intimate detail or two about the person or his/her past or gob smack them through another sure fire method of producing stuff (Sathya Saibaba regularly produced expensive rings and watches) out of thin air, their calling justifiably is to help change the world. Make it a happier place. They hope to do it through spiritual discourses, yoga, meditation, Yatra, gimmickry and now increasingly by ‘spiritual healing’. The naive then form the periphery of honest believers, who seek happiness, while the core group of a few, ring-fenced and relentlessly work towards keeping the mystique and divinity of their ‘person of God’ alive while raking in the moolah.

It is perhaps Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh who first introduced the world to jet-setting swamis who offered ‘love and happiness’ for a price. What they propounded in the sixties, caught the imagination of the West and spread like wildfire among the youth of the day. Transcendental Meditation was the passport to heaven. Freedom to love and ecstasy interspersed with words of wisdom were on offer. Pune/Oregon became the Mecca for all Nirvana seekers. Whether any one actually did find or experience it, is a moot point. Sadly even though both men and their ashrams have been mired in controversies the quest for ‘eternal bliss’ continues and still has the propensity to attract young people from all walks of life.

Yet it was Baba Ramdev who first unashamedly strode a revolutionary new age marketing path. He burst upon the scene with his various TV programs – propagating ancient yoga as the modern day Viagra for good health and good living – taking yoga and the concept of yogic healing to the masses.  His ayurvedically processed food and treatment is on offer-amidst all kinds of controversy. His brand of community yoga combined with spiritual anecdotes fosters a kind of almost hysterical kinship among his followers. A commercially packaged guru, he is media savvy and extremely clued up. However, his reputation has taken quite a beating with regard to his multi-million empire and his political power equations.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar took this commercialisation to different heights. His brand of stress busting techniques made waves among the socialising elite. With his weapon of stress destruction – the ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ and his ‘Art of Living Foundations’ he sought to save, heal and succor ailing minds and feeble bodies. Now being propagated and sold by groups of certified followers throughout the world, he put ‘deep breathing exercises’ on the commercial map. His reputation has taken quite a pounding – with the NGT after his blood for his recent shenanigans in the Yamuna basin.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev of the not-for- profit Isha Foundation is yet another contender for the title of a mystic yogi on the move. Constantly doing the rounds on Whatsapp and YouTube his pearls of wisdom are hailed as being pragmatic and practical. Intent on showing us the path to better living he commands an impressive following across the world. He too has had to counter much negative publicity with regard to his wife – ‘attaining ‘Maha- Samadhi (death)’ as he puts it.

Someone quite different but no less clued up is Mata Amritanandamayi Devi. Unschooled and untutored, she commands a following unparalleled in recent history. She travels the world expounding her take on what needs to be done to ‘cleanse’ ones’ mind of all impurities to achieve spiritual growth and love. Unblemished for the moment – till such time as proven otherwise, Amma’s popularity continues to soar. With a number of charitable institutions, hospitals, and orphanages run by volunteers on the lines of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, she attracts the bright and the best of young minds to help her cause. Her USP- a physical hug.

However, so far the experience has shown us that almost all those who spring up overnight, professing to sell happiness, sooner than later land up in some jail or the other. Murder, rape and dubious over proximity to political power appear to be a natural fall out. Providing sessions on the Kundalini, discussions on the chakras, inducing adrenaline rushes and activating hidden energy that gives minds young and old whatever necessary fillip, they rise to fame, power and untold riches only to hit the ground – usually due to some unforeseen murder or sexual escapade.

Proven charlatans among others include Shraddhananda (sentenced for life for having buried alive his wife), Premananda (convicted of rape and murder), Asasram (in jail for rape/murder) and the latest of the pack to join the tribe – Ram Rahim of Sacha Sauda fame. Felled by the Supreme Court on rape charges and crying piteously the man doesn’t know what he has done wrong.

Thus, Gurus whose USP is smart marketing; Swamis whose fortunes would shame a Rockefeller; Godmen with unbridled libido who believe it is their right to rape and murder; Babas in saintly garbs close to political power – the pivot in an unseemly nexus – these quick rise men with feet of clay then are our ‘happiness’ vendors, who with every new generation continue to multiply and profilitrate.

‘Happiness’ it does seem does indeed come with an enormously high price tag.

Editor’s Note: Some words in this article have been hyperlinked to the sources, national and international newspapers and online sources. There has been no violation of the copyright issue(s).

©Sreelata Menon 

Photos from the Internet

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When computers hit the scene, life changed for Sreelata Menon. A Masters in History (Mumbai University) she was with the Onlooker and world Trade Magazines before teaching History to undergraduates and doing a stint in an advertising agency. A web content writer, she wrote blogs on freelance writing, and current happenings for online and print publications. Author of ‘Freelance Writing for the Newbie Writer’ her books also include Guru Nanak and Indira Gandhi for Penguin-Puffin.