By Gaurav Rastogi
It is divine intention, then, that as I started my blog-meditations on the subject of “belief”, I am blessed by the coming out, so to speak, of several all-too-familiar shock-news stories about Godmen in India. And thus, this post was written, by the will of the creator!
I recently had a deep resoaking in traditional India. There, I realized just how deep is our urge to connect with something divine, and how far each of us is willing to go to believe. In my many recent trips to India, I have continued to be surprised by the prodigious rise of the Godman culture. There are TV channels, billboards, posters, pocket-calendars, internet darshans, blogs, temples, satsangs, and Youtube channels that proclaim the divinity of an alarming number of self-styled Babas, Gurus, Mahants, surplus Shankaracharyas, Swamis and other ochre-robed manifestations of divinity.
Not one to make fun of someone’s faith- and risk eternal hellfire and internet flames, I kept my opinions to myself so far. However, I suspect it’s well within reasonable limits to think about the reasons behind this phenomenon. What is driving it?
Believing in something is easier than knowing everything: First off, there is too much information in the world around us. I’ll research just how much in a future post, but we know that the scientific and information revolution in the last couple centuries has expanded the “information quantity” by several orders of magnitude. The human brain, unfortunately, has not kept pace. Hence, we have to limit ourselves to knowing only a fraction of the stuff that’s out there, and we have to believe the rest. That means, if someone is simplifying reality for me, he’s doing me a favor, and I must call him my Guru. Problem solved, no!
Everyone’s doing it: Belief is like the swine flu- it’s infectious. If my neighbors have it, and their neighbors have it, then I would be foolish not to have it! I start believing partly to fit in, and partly because it helps simplify my life (see above). Then, I become a vector of this belief and through my inspired anecdotes and miracles, I infect others with my belief.
A few good Godmen: Like honest politicians, not all Godmen are out to cheat, swindle, and defraud (Gawd! I love the Thesaurus). There are quite a few Godmen who are honest, and are interested in the public good. That’s what keep the engine moving. I think.
The long tail of spirituality: Think about it- with so many channels of information, you can find just the guru that you were looking for. You can get a north Indian guru, a south Indian guru, a pan-hindu guru, a post-hindu guru, a cancer-curing guru, a cute kid guru. There are all types of gurus out there, and with the information distribution that’s possible with TV and internet, each small niche will be fulfilled.
GodMan-liness is a scale business- big is better: If you read the news articles about the fake gurus, you will conclude-as I did- that there is a lot of money and power at stake here. All those lavish ashram’s need money to build, and all those news channels need content that they can play. The bigger a guru’s following, the more money they have, and the more they are likely to attract new followers and crowd out the smaller, local types. You know, the ones who cared about spirituality and other soft stuff!
Escalation of commitment: And finally, once you have taken a ride on a guru band-wagon, there’s no getting off. You have learnt their lingo, you have got into their community, you have attained the Guru’s blessings, and you have brought your friends and family into this circle. Now, what would you do if you found your Guru was a fake? You’d hush it, because there’s no way you can get off that juggernaut without getting trampled. You’ve joined into the lie.
Mo’ Money: As India gets richer, people (a) have more money to spend on spirituality (!), and (b) have more reason to try to prevent a slide back into the cesspool of poverty they recently climbed out of. This means good business for those that promise continued good fortune because, ahem, they have a direct line into you-know-who.
In sum, I would say this whole business is a Ponzi scheme. Think about it.
Here’s some news feeds to tell you more about the state of this business. No peeking, kids. This stuff is PG-13.
(Originally posted on http://rustus.blogspot.com. Check it out for more on Godman-liness and associated stories.)