Godmen in India: time for a change

By Ritu Sharma, Dehi, April 10, 2015,  published in UCAnews

(Note: Literally it is the IRONY OF INDIAN DEMOCRACY. Blind faith is all pervasive in all religions including Christian. In the Catholic church it is faith in rituals called religious practices, an occupation for priests and source of income. Godmen are a hit in India, where people tend to get very touchy in the name of religion and for the sake of robe-wearing frauds. Meditation on points raised, marked bold, in this article should help readers to grow up from immature religiosity based on rituals to true wisdom based on reason and spirituality devoid of rituals for pecuniary gains. DR James Kottoor)

Indians must stop seeking shortcuts and the 'immature spirituality' offered by so-called gurus

A portrait of self-styled 'godman' Rampal Maharaj is pictured at the barricaded main entrance to his ashram as Indian policemen keep watch outside in Hisar, some 175 kilometers north of Delhi on November 19, 2014 (AFP Photo/Sajjad Hussain)  

For over a year now, the corpse of Ashutosh Maharaj, an Indian godman, has been lying in a freezer. Though doctors have declared him clinically dead, he has been denied last rites and his body is kept well preserved in his ashram in the northern Indian town of Nurmahal in Punjab state where his followers believe he will one day come back from a “deep meditation”.

While his body lies still, the day-to-day activities in his ashram go uninterrupted around Ashutosh Maharaj. Followers come and go, take part in weekly spiritual events and have developed a deeper faith in their guru, who when he was alive used to guide them through his spiritual sermons.

Even in this scientific age, such belief in a person who is considered next to God by his or her followers is common. For centuries now, India has witnessed a number of godmen and godwomen who, according to their followers, have left behind all worldly pleasures and devoted their lives to God and to spreading spiritual knowledge across the country and the world.

People follow these so-called “gurus”, who can be seen in white or saffron robes with long matted hair, with so much blind faith that whatever the latter does or preaches seems justified. Followers do whatever is asked from them by the guru in the name of God; including paying substantial donations or membership fees. It is hardly a surprise when these godmen acquire huge tracts of land and build sprawling ashrams across the country and abroad and start living a luxurious life — their followers are willing to pay them any amount of money “in the name of God”.

Such incidents frequently occur in India, where its citizens are heavily inclined toward mystics. As Hindu scriptures too talk of mysteries of life and death and how to please a particular god, many will eagerly follow those who promise to answer their eternal questions … something that science can never do. 

It is hardly a matter of ignorance; even educated people turn to godmen when in trouble or despair. And these gurus for their part never disappoint their followers. They offer solutions like performing a prayer ceremony at home to please a certain god who is creating trouble in one’s life or chanting a particular god’s name or selling a particular stone in a ring to ward off trouble.

These godmen are a hit in India, where people tend to get very touchy in the name of religion. Blind faith, meanwhile, comes in handy for these robe-wearing frauds — some of whom are not even properly educated. It is unsurprising that this has at times led to sexual exploitation by gurus preying on their followers’ devotion.

In the last few years, numerous cases have surfaced of exploitation and corruption among some of the nation’s most famous godmen.

Asaram Bapu, who owns 400 major and minor ashrams in India and abroad and has a large number of followers, has been in jail for more than a year now while the court investigates charges that he sexually assaulted a minor girl on the pretext of exorcising her of evil spirits. His followers clashed with police and opposed his arrest.

Bapu is also facing charges of land encroachment after building one of his ashrams.

Another godman Rampal, who claims to be the incarnation of a 15-century mystic poet named Kabir, was arrested last year after he failed to appear in court in a case where he is accused of conspiracy to commit murder. He was also wanted on charges of forgery, assault and criminal intimidation. His followers too clashed with police and opened fire with homemade weapons and lobbed petrol bombs and acid pouches at security forces.

Swami Nithyananda, another controversial godman, was arrested in 2010 and is facing charges of rape, unnatural sex, criminal conspiracy and cheating. 

Ram Rahim created controversy with a film in February where he is depicted as the savior of the world and is seen treating terminal illnesses.Rahim is also under investigation as he is accused of the forced castration of some 400 "saints" in his sect.

And then there are the likes of Sathya Saibaba and Osho Rajneesh who wooed millions through their spiritual teachings. They have died but their followers still have belief in them.

Saibaba, who had over 1,200 centers in 126 countries, claimed to perform miraculous healing and was also plagued with controversies over claims of resurrection, omnipotence and omniscience. Osho took spirituality to a whole new level and advocated a more open attitude toward sexuality, earning him the title of “sex guru”.

One similarity that all the godmen have is that no matter how many allegations they face, no matter whether they are arrested or convicted, their followers’ faith perseveres. They simply term it as an attack against their guru.

That blind faith makes the followers ripe for political manipulation. It is not unusual for political parties to buy the endorsement of gurus, a move guaranteed to get them a bloc of votes.

Earlier this year, during the assembly elections for Delhi, Ram Rahim announced support for the Bhartiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party), a clear indication which way his followers were meant to vote. He did the same during the assembly elections in northern Haryana state last year.

The power of these godmen is evident from the fact that instead of asking the police to remove the body of Ashutosh Maharaj and cremate him, the Punjab government filed a petition in the court saying that forcing his last rites could spark a security problem in the area.

The government filed the petition after the court gave a deadline for the cremation of the godman in early December. Hence, authorities stall, allowing the godman’s body to rest without any trouble in his ashram.

These godmen have and will continue to thrive on the endless blind faith of their followers. This is the irony of India as a democracy. We have the freedom to make our own choices, follow anyone. We cannot challenge the faith of the people and if we do, we risk hurting the religious feeling of a particular group or class.

The government needs to put a check on these people whose primary job is only to fool people and take strict action against these frauds. If a guru is genuinely into spirituality and devotion, there is certainly no need for the luxuries and power that most yearn for.

But it is not simply a matter for the authorities. Indeed, it is high time that Indians grow up from immature spirituality based on rituals and short cuts offered by gurus and find peace within.

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