No prizes for guessing that this is written in the aftermath of the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) episode and the sentencing of Baba Ram Rahim (BRR) for raping two of his disciples 15 years ago. This is the tip of the iceberg. The State invariably becomes wiser after the event. Now we come to know that many more women may have been victimised, that large numbers of arms were found, that there is a multi crore empire, even using its own currency, and that the BRR’s “adopted daughter” Honeypreet, may have escaped to Nepal.
Why do things come to such a pass? Why are people so gullible? In cultic euphoria do they aspire for utopia? Is this not as intoxicating as psychotropic substances like LSD? Is BRR an isolated case?
He isn’t. In the same State of Haryana we also had Baba Rampal, who is now in jail. Then there is Asaram Bapu and his son, also jailed for allegedly raping their disciples. Commenting on this phenomenon veteran journalist Vinod Sharma writes in the Hindustan Times, “Babas grow like weeds in our country; the manure being illiteracy, societal prejudice, regimentation of religion, and the State’s failure to serve its citizenry”.
I beg to differ. Illiteracy, poverty and deprivation are not the real breeding grounds. Had that been so, cultic behaviour would not be found in the so-called developed countries. Nor would educated and well off disciples flock to the rich man’s ashram – Osho Rajneesh’s in Pune. As a young man I remember reading about a cult in the USA resulting in mass suicide. I faintly remembered the name to be Manson or Maddox. Since I could not jolt my memory I resorted to a Google search, not my usual style.
Charles Manson (aka Charles Miles Maddox) was the leader of a cult, the “Manson Family” in the 1960’s. He was convicted for killing 7 people in 1971. Later, when hospitalised, he killed 6 nurses and finally himself. In his suicide note he wrote, “I feel my soul rising to greatness, I am God, a great leader … I am immortal … in less than 24 hours I will rise from the dead just like the great Lazarus, exactly like Jesus – because I am God”! Cultic leaders claiming to be God, and then committing suicide, seem par for the course.
On 18/11/1978, in Jonestown, USA, 918 members of Peoples Temple committed mass suicide by cyanide poisoning. Similarly 39 members of Heaven’s Gate committed suicide in Santa Fe, California, on 27/3/1997. In Uganda, Africa, 778 members of the “Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments” died or were killed. They had left the Catholic Church, expecting the Apocalypse (the dramatic Second Coming of Jesus) based on so-called Marian apparitions. Had anybody told them that the Fifth Commandment is “Thou shalt not kill”?
So we see that cultic hysterical behaviour is in no way limited to the “illiterate, impoverished, deprived Indians”, as Vinod Sharma would have us believe. Instead of blaming the hapless victims, let us analyse the behaviour of the cult leaders; Babas in India.
I begin with Bhagwan, Acharya, Osho, Rajneesh, the Buddha. Driven by curiosity I had visited his Koregaon Park ashram in Pune in the 1980s, when he was in his heyday. He claimed to offer love and freedom. So I attended his 1 hour morning meditation. Most of the participants were firangs. As soon as the meditation was over I found the people very explicitly kissing and embracing each other. The two emotions that I strongly sensed were contrary to love and freedom. They were fear and self-indulgence.
The Rajneesh (1931 – 1990) ashram site calls itself a “spiritual health club”. Then how did Rajneesh fall ill and die before he turned 60? Towards the end he declared himself to be the Buddha! The ashram site says that it follows a “blend of California pop psychology and Indian mysticism”. Those who wish to stay in the ashram have to pay Rs 125/- for the Elisa test for AIDS. So obviously free sex seems part of the package. Nothing is cheap in the ashram, which has more firangs than “illiterate, impoverished, deprived Indians”.
I then googled Bhagwan Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi in Andhra, born Sathya Narayana Raju (23/11/1926 – 24/4/2011). With his magical production of vibhuti (sacred ash), rings and necklaces he had a host of followers in the 1970s. At that time Khushwant Singh was the editor of the Illustrated Weekly. He carried reports from rationalists debunking the Baba’s miracles. He sent a veteran reporter to interview the Baba, who asked him how he claimed to be God. The reply was classic, “You also are God, only you don’t know it”. The reporter was converted. Sai Baba did a lot of humanitarian work like supplying drinking water to villages, building hospitals and other welfare institutions. Did that merit the title of “God”?
He had fractured his hip in 2003 and lived with it for the next 8 years. Could we not have said to him, “Physician heal yourself” (Lk 4:23)? He had prophesised that he would die at the age of 96, and be reborn 8 years later. That takes us to 2030. Why do godmen make prophecies to which we cannot hold them accountable?
Since I was on the net I searched for the DSS. It was not to be found. When I searched for BRR you won’t believe what popped up on the screen – Ali Baba and Baba Black Sheep! Was Google playing a cruel joke or saying something to me? Was BRR indeed a black sheep? Was he doing an Open Sesame to the doors of instant nirvana? The courts have given their verdict. Let the country now give its own.
All these purported godmen lead me to him who is called Son of God, but preferred to call himself Son of Man, Bar-e-nasa in his native Aramaic. Nasa, the Aramaic word for man is so similar to the word insaan, used by BRR. There the similarity ends. Jesus never claimed to be God. He never glorified his own miracles. To the contrary, he forbade the beneficiaries from talking about them. He didn’t want the image of a miracle worker to detract from his central mission of salvation. Knowing what a heady mix power can be, the tempter tried provoking Jesus to jump from the top of the Temple, quoting scripture to say that angels would save him. This would have been a presumptive and suicidal act. Both the tempter and the tempted knew the high stakes involved.
We know that the Jewish people were anxiously awaiting the messiah. Even in Jesus’ time there would have been a lot of false prophets in Israel. That is why Jesus was very careful not to fall into such a trap, or make such claims. He had to go through the Cross and Resurrection so that his actions could speak louder than words. He could easily have proclaimed “I am He”. It is only when God is first revealed to Moses that he uses the expression “I am who am”, almost impossible to translate, because it has no precedence in human discourse. But it comes close to the Sanskrit sloka “Aham Brahmasmi” (I am Brahma the Creator).
There are three other qualities that distinguish Jesus from the other godmen. He never attempted to predict the future, saying, “No one knows the hour, but the father in heaven” (cf Mat 24:36). The second is that he did not abandon his own. When he was being arrested he told the Roman soldiers not to touch any of his disciples (cf Jn 18:8-9). He was the Good Shepherd who would not run away like a hireling but lay down his life for his sheep (cf Jn 10:12-13).Thirdly, he had not amassed any wealth. “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).
Osho had his Rolls Royces. Sai Baba had Rupees thirty four crores in gold, silver and cash in his private chamber, when he died. BBR has a vast empire including 100 vehicles. Baba Ramdev, from a yogi, has now become an udhyogi (industrial tycoon). Let us not forget that he donned women’s garments and ran away from the Ramlila Maidan when the cops swooped down on him, leaving his followers defenceless. Is not the contrast striking?
Cut back to the present. Cultic leaders and hysterical disciples will always be there. Let us bring the focus back on the leaders, be they Hindu, Christian, Muslim or political ones. What makes them tic? It is a slow and steady build up. They are not like overnight monsoon frogs. They have been gestating for years, waiting for the appropriate time.
There are three factors in this development – invincibility, immunity and infallibility. The first is when they become powerful and project themselves as such. They become larger than life, using spin doctors and playing on peoples’ fears or insecurity. They become pedestallised icons. They are the powerful up there and the hapless people are down below. Liberation comes through hanging on to their coat tails (touching the feet of the Brahman). With power comes immunity. They cannot be touched by the State, the law, or questioned by the media. They can say or do anything and get away with it. This prepares the ground for the third stage of infallibility. Everything they say or do is right. “I am God, Bhagwan, Buddha, Jesus, whatever”.
I will now draw from the wisdom of St Thomas Aquinas, the father of Systemic Theology. He describes three types of pride – pride of the senses, pride of the intellect and pride of the spirit. The first relates to physical attributes like a good voice, beautiful looks or a muscular body. Film and sports stars or beauty queens fall in this category. But every sportsperson knows that records are meant to be broken. The beauty queen knows that she wears the crown for just a year. Thereafter there will be a new star in the firmament.
Pride of the intellect is on a slightly higher plane. The person takes pride in his/her knowledge or achievements, gradually leading to the state of being a Know All. It brooks no argument, criticism or opposition. Pursuing this path one attains pride of the spirit – a state where one can do no wrong, and also justify every word or action, including raping a hapless disciple, because it is part of the divinely ordained mission. “I am God. Aham Brahmasmi”. Notice how neatly this theological description dovetails into the earlier sociological one – invincibility (pride of the senses), immunity (pride of the intellect) and infallibility (pride of the spirit).
Religious leaders are particularly prone to Pride of the Spirit, precisely because of their invincibility, immunity and infallibility. This is why it becomes easy to justify and subsequently cover up heinous crimes like rape, clerical paedophilia, or sexploiting Muslim divorcee women for hilala. In the case of celibate priests/ brahmacharis the propensity to infallibility increases, because they don’t have a spouse to prick their swelling egos! This may sound absurd, but I stand by my statement. The adage is that behind every successful man there is a woman. The corollary is that behind every humble person there is an intelligent spouse! This is not a sexist comment. Mutual admiration and recrimination form an integral part of a healthy spousal relationship.
As I have just said, celibates are more prone to pride, and I have no intention of bloating their egos by calling priests Father, kissing bishops’ rings, or touching their feet. The only person’s feet I touched was Pope John Paul II when he visited India in 1986. After receiving communion from his hands in the Indira Gandhi indoor stadium I had knelt down to kiss his feet. In the early part of his papacy he was still dynamic and progressive in his thinking. One may here recall that St Peter, the first pope, refused to allow Cornelius to touch his feet saying, “Stand up, after all I am only a man” (Acts 10:26).
Finally, suicide comes when the bubble of the bloated ego bursts, not by a spousal prick, but by an external kick. Let us then be ever watchful and recall the words of Jesus, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mat 11:29). So avoid the sects, illicit sex and you won’t commit suicide. You will have eternal life, with your wife, or husband, and many more humble souls.
(Published on 11th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 37)