Perhaps it has got something to do with my commie roots, but I am a skeptic, especially when it comes to the “godmen” of India. I cannot understand how they can inspire such blind belief. Where the believers see miracles, I see sleight of hand. When they hear pearls of wisdom, I can hear only gibberish. And when the new age masters claim to be in deep meditation, I cannot help but suspect that they are just dozing off.
Although my skepticism renders me susceptible to seeing the darker side of these modern day saints, I do have a counterbalancing respect for our heritage and culture, and the associated wisdom and knowledge. It is always with thrill of awe and pride that I listen to Swami Vivekananda’s century-old Chicago speeches, for instance.
The speeches of the modern yogis, on the other hand, fill me with bewilderment and amused confusion. And when I hear of their billion dollar stashes, bevies of Rolls-Royces, and claims of divinity, I balk. When I see the yogis and their entourage jet-setting in first class to exotic holiday destinations with the money extracted in the name of thinly disguised charities, I feel a bit outraged. Still, I am all for live-and-let-live. If there are willing suckers eager to part with their dough and sponsor their guru’s lifestyle, it is their lookout. After all, there are those who financed Madoffs and Stanfords of the greedy era we live in, where fraud is a sin only when discovered.
Now I wonder if it is time that the skeptics among us started speaking out. I feel that the spiritual frauds are of a particularly disturbing kind. Whether we see it that way or not, we are all trying to find a purpose and meaning to our existence on this planet through our various pursuits. We may find the elusive purpose in fame, glory, money, charity, philanthropy, knowledge, wisdom and in any of the hundreds of paths. All these pursuits have their associated perils of excess. If you get greedy, for instance, there is always a Madoff waiting in the wings to rip you off. If you become too charitable, there are other characters eager to separate you from your money, as my Singaporean readers will understand.
Of all these pursuits, spirituality is of a special kind; it is a shortcut. It gives you a direct path to a sense of belonging, and a higher purpose right away. Smelling blood in the carefully cultivated need for spirituality (whatever spirituality means), the yogis and maharishis of our time have started packaging and selling instant nirvana in neat three or five day courses that fit your schedule, while demanding vast sums of “not-for-profit” money. Even this duplicity would be fine by me. Who am I to sit in judgment of people throwing money at their inner needs, and gurus picking it up? But, of late, I am beginning to feel that I should try to spread a bit of rationality around.
I decided to come of out my passive mode for two reasons. One is that the gurus engage their victims in their subtle multi-level marketing schemes, ensnaring more victims. A pupil today is a teacher tomorrow, fueling an explosive growth of self-serving organizations. The second reason is that the gurus demand that the followers donate their time. I think the victims do not appreciate the enormity of this unfair demand. You see, you have only a limited time to live, to do whatever it is that you think will lead to fulfillment. Don’t spend it on wrong pursuits because there is always something that you are sacrificing in the process, be it your quality time with your loved ones, opportunity to learn or travel, or enjoy life or whatever. Time is a scarce resource, and you have to spend it wisely, or you will regret it more than anything else in life.
So don’t be blind. Don’t mistake group dynamics for salvation. Or charisma for integrity. Or obscurity for wisdom. If you do, the latter day gurus, masters of manipulation that they are, will take you for a ride. A long and unpleasant one.
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2 thoughts on “Gurus of a Disturbing Kind”
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Every now and then I hear about some free talk given by some holy person from India, and as a seeker I always go to check it out. There is some kirtan and meditation and then the same canned speach about how we are all looking for happiness outside of ourselves but it can only be found within us. All good stuff, mind you, but then there is some mention of initiation or shaktipat which is to take place a few days later, for those interested. We are told all about it and about some of the preparations which need to be made. But no one says anything about a fee. It isn’t until later that I look at the written instructions given to me that I find the part about a “required donation” usually somewhere between $150 to $300. Now maybe I’m crazy, but how is that a donation if it is required? And what do they do with all that money? If only 10 people are initiated, thats $1,500 to $3,000. And that’s apart from all the book sales, CDs and malas and other non-required donations. And that’s just in one city. After all, these teachers are touring the whole country in order to “help people”. Okay, so maybe it all goes to those charities which they claim to have created. But if they’re into charity then why is it that when someone like me, who is poor and cannot afford their “required donation”, is turned away when I tell them about my financial situation? They never seem willing to make an exception. I know that if I were rich I would probably just hand the money over, no question. But since I am forced to question, I think that it wouldn’t be worth my money. I think that in future, should I be blessed with great wealth, I will still claim poverty when dealing with travelling gurus, just to weed out the true ones from the fakes… assuming there are any true ones these days.
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