Gurus – should we love them or leave them?
India has never been short on Gurus, and the names like Swami Chinmayananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi come to mind almost immediately.
There are many more…but what is important is that in the last decade or so Gurus have proliferated and quite a few of these Gurus do not induce the kind of reverence that the older ones did. Perhaps because some of them are being seen more as astute businessmen rather than ‘Gurus’.
We are now living in the age of the Gurus…every few years a new Guru pops up…’Gurudom’ has taken a modern avatar! This may sound as if I’m being critical, but I’m writing as an observer, and am trying to be as objective as a person like me (a non-believer) can be. I guess cynicism is bound to creep in.
Why Gurus are a rage. An article in a recent issue of The Week says that this proliferation of Gurus is a resurgence of Hinduism/Spirituality) and is a backlash against the capitalism that is sweeping the world. People find it difficult to find personal happiness in an increasingly materialist world. Well, this makes sense as relationships seem to be the first sacrifice at the altar of materialism.
The modern Gurus are offering a solution, they are showing a way to survive in this confusing world, paving a path to personal satisfaction and fulfillment/realisation. You can perhaps say that that the Gurus are offering lessons in Spirituality/Religion, Self Realisation, Yoga or if you want to be harsh you can say that they are providing mass healing/counseling or psychiatric sessions. Whichever way you look at it, people are flocking to Gurus because they need them and are getting something out of them. Either some sort of ‘cure’ from a disease or a ‘high’ or perhaps genuine peace of mind…they are perhaps finding some meaning to their life. Whatever they are getting, they clearly aren’t getting from their environment or relationships.
Guru fads always did exist ofcourse, I mean there was Rajneesh in the seventies too. But the difference now is the number of Gurus around and their increasing popularity.
So who are these modern gurus?
Well they are anyone and everyone and someone…some have been around for decades, some are more recent. Names that come instantly to mind are:
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who founded the international Art of Living Foundation which aims to relieve stress at an individual level, and to relieve disease and violence at a societal level.
- Baba Ramdev, one of the founders of the Divya Yoga Mandir Trust that popularises Yoga and offers Ayurvedic treatments.
- Deepak Chopra, who sells ‘holistic’ health and Spirituality.
- Nirmala Devi or Mataji founded Sahaja Yoga, a movement which uses a process of “Kundalini awakening to produce Self Realization.”
- Sathya Sai Baba, known for ‘healings and miracles’
- Amritanandamayi (Amma), known as the ‘hugging saint,’ is known for her humanitarian work.
- Jaggi Vasudev (Sadhguru) founded the Isha Foundation “dedicated to cultivating human potential.” They use yogic methods.
The murky side. Almost all gurus have been under attack for something or the other.
- Shri Sathya Sai Baba has been called a charlatan and there have been allegations of sexual molestation and rape.
- Amritanandamayi, life has been criticized for staying in a luxury hotel during a labour dispute.
- Sri Sri Shri Ravi Shankar has been accused of ‘marketing’ and his ‘miracles’ questioned. People feel that he is not as ‘divine’ as he claims to be.
- Nirmala Devi’s claim of providing ‘self realisation’ has come under criticism and so have her claims of possessing divine energy as well as her being the reincarnation of ‘Shakti’. She has also been accused of interfering in the personal life of her devotees by forcing people to marry/divorce.
- Baba Ramdev has been accused of adding animal and human body parts in his ayurvedic medicines (he was cleared of his allegation) and also been criticised for claiming that he could cure AIDS and some types of Cancer. Later, he denied that he had made any claim to cure AIDS. The Indian Medical Association is highly critical of the Baba’s negative views on allopathic medicine and medical practitioners.
- Dr. Deepak Chopra has been accused of being a quack.
More positive than negative opinions. Well, allegations against anyone, Guru or not, should be investigated…but what we cannot escape is this truth: There are far more positive opinions than negative ones about any Guru. Each one of them has an impressive following and these Gurus are not just respected, they are worshipped.
It isn’t easy to explain such large followings. One can always say that these people have magnetic personalities, great charisma, and fantastic marketing skills…or that they are highly intelligent people. They probably are all of that, but I believe that most Gurus have empathy for human beings and when this quality is combined with the other qualities, it enables them to help people. If they couldn’t help why should so many go to them?
If things do go wrong with some of the Gurus, I think perhaps one of the reasons is the extreme level of sycophancy which they become victims of…this can make them start to believe that they are either God and or can do anything or say anything and people will believe. Religious people wield far greater power than politicians. People allow them to control their minds.
I would like to conclude by a quote by a guru himself. Jaggi Vasudev.
Unfortunately, there are pseudos in spirituality. The crooked ones are one thing. It doesn’t take much time for you to see somebody is crooked; but I am more concerned about the ignorant ones, who are dangerous. Ignorance always causes more damage than evil. Don’t bother about whether somebody is a good or bad guru. Because this is not about the guru, this is about you. By going to him, if your life gets transformed, you continue to go. Even if he’s crooked, how does it matter so long your life is getting transformed? If he starts leading you on to something wrong, improper, then you leave. Till then, you make use of him.
I confess that I have not added the last line in which he said this is not what one should do…use a guru, whether he is good or bad or crooked, and then discard him…this is not the way, says Sadhguru. But I didn’t add the last line because I wanted the words above to have the maximum impact without that last line. I wasn’t sure I believe that last line.
If a person is getting spiritual help from a Guru, why not take it? Or perhaps I didn’t understand what Sadhguru said. Maybe there is some deep meaning in his words…maybe he means that ‘using’ people is wrong. If that is what he means, yes I agree. But in most cases one pays for spirituality so where is the question of ‘using’?
I am not the kind of person who will ever go to a Guru but if someone did go to a Guru and asked my advice, well, I would advice the person not to get too attached, and never think of the Guru as a Diety…and sure, I would advice them to leave when the time is right. After all the main idea is to be the master of one’s own mind.
(The photo of Amma is from The Week, the one of Mataji is by me and that of Sadhguru is from Times of India)
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