Neofeudalism in new religious empires building?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

As I turned on the TV the Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living Foundation’s Silver Jubilee celebrations at Jakkur Airport grounds came alive! What a fantastic show, I wondered!

So, I was caught up by the spectacle, it was all buzz and business from the word go!
An estimated crowd of 2.5 million people cheered, the newspapers reported the next day. I couldn’t believe the numbers! So, after the show was over it was reported variously, a mere 2 lakes and odd. But one can’t deny the very numbers, the diversity of the crowd, the sheer organizational skills of the organizers. It was first and last an American style scale up of the new grwoth of neofedualism in the religious matters. India seem to be a fertile ground. To showcase this new religion-mixed business model!

There were a respectable number of sanyasins from all religious orders. But there was this conspicuous absence of what I would call the competitors! Yes, the other high profile orders like the Kanchi Shankaracharya, Satyasai Bhaba, Mata Amirthananda Mai were missing! For the obvious reasons! They are more powerful and may be more richer materially!

Now, I am neither a protagonist nor an antagonist of this or that spiritual guru. I am simply indifferent to this type of materialism-driven spiritualism! And now, as a student of philosophy and religion, I should make it clear that spiritualism, as a word or a concept wont stand much philosophical scrutiny, more so this variety of spirtualism.

Anyway I remain unimpressed. I stick to more common sense view of the world, the solutions to world’s problems.

But what I see these days is that the spiritual gurus are becoming blatantly materialistic and
do many things that are patently objectionable. They corrupt society and morals and also true beliefs of even the educated classes. If what these gurus say is true then I want to say they disprove much of modern man’s knowledge of the world, the growth of knowledge and sciences, the lessons from history etc.

Can world peace be attained through these means? Not at all! Yes, the twentieth century has been the bloodiest in human history, says a historian like Eric Hobsbwam. I agree. The world since 1990 is much more enlightened, much more aware of the horrors of dictatorships, there is spread of democracies this international terror is a reality. But then we have to find solutions through established and new institutional ways, not through superficial, populist religious practices like the one I had just witnessed. From listening to Guruji’s chirpy voice and his expositions, he seems to be one more J.Krishnamurthy. They all want to upturn the world out of utterly simplified defying of all established beliefs and evolved institutions of mankind, in religion, politics, society and much of the international network of institutions that make life better than otherwise.

I saw an array of spiritual men, from all religions displayed on the TV screen and the TV screen displayed also messages like Sri Sri Ravishankar on your mobile and you can send him SMS!
Why I write on this topic? There are so many of the religious mutts who run schools and colleges and some of them are our readers and subscribers. Some of these religious leaders we also hold in high esteem.

But the point we like to bring home is that religion is a serious affair and a serious pursuit. And the history of religions is not a happy chapter in man’s march towards modernity. The pagan religions in Greece and Rome. How Constantine was converted to Christianity and the rise of Roman Catholic Church and the rest of the world history.

Even now the world is divided over religious issues and the world is witnessing much violence and bloodshed and there is so much tension in the air, in all sections of society and in all parts of the world. The subject matter is religion!

So, religion has to be studied in great deal of quiet and in much seclusion and even in much solitude. But unfortunately, there is more modern-day publicity gimmicks at all levels of our current living styles. What I saw on the TV screen confirmed by fears that here was all modern marketing gimmicks and it was too much visible in the symbols and the fusion of the cheap and the kitsch! Miss Universe and film actresses and what have you! More than in economics, in religion only Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” apt.

Religion must be an intensely private experience and specially in the time of globalization and much tumult over the many inequalities and inequities and much brutalization of life, wars and miseries in the African countries, there was no word from so many of the holy voices on these burning issues of modern minds. The process of secularization of society and much of our particular religious practices, what I expected was some contributing wisdom to achieve more inter-faith practices and much religious and social harmony. Even the most advanced and more civilized countries like France are grappling with multicultural issues, there is more migration, more social unrest in these countries and we in India are still to come out of our own narrow religious orders and religious rituals. I thought I would find somebody to be agitated over the current unrest in the more advanced societies and also in our own midst where we find much tension and practice of violence as a state policy. All these and other issues need to be debated. But obviously, Sri Ravishankar has use for these “diversions”!

Readers must be familiar with all this and what I have got to say is nothing revolutionary. It is plain common sense! If you read Bertrand Russell’s” History of Western Philosophy” there is a passage where he notes that when Western philosophy arose the religious orders, the church, found the ardors of man for religion was lessoned or something to that effect. Yes, when knowledge grew, sciences grew, material civilization grew the role of religion, the search for abstract meanings, God etc took different patterns. If you look at any one of the authoritative volumes on philosophy there is always one section where the subject of God is discussed. In one such latest volume (Oxford Companion to Philosophy edited by Tom Honderich) there are some 10 or more arguments for God and against God! The more serious point is that big subjects like this have to be discussed in right earnest, through modern tools of philosophy, logic and metaphysics and you can’t run away from the long traditions of Indian and Western philosophies. The latest volume before me on Indian philosophy is J.N.Mohanty’s “Classical Indian Philosophy”(OUP. In such brief elegant style he updates Dr.S.Radhakrishnan and others of the old school. Even the visiting distinguished guests who felicitated the godman seem to have taken recourse to platitudes like peace on earth. Is the matter of peace (or war) so simplistic a subject?

On the very day, protests in Hyderabad and Bangalore over the Prophet’s cartoons. India is also wines sing these upheavals over mixing religion with politics. So to mix religion with displays of material wealth is also more dangerous. These great souls also need to think hard over the growth of much superstition in our society. How to spread the secularisation of society, religious beliefs and practices?

I don’t have an immediate solution! But I have some clear views. Our religious men and godmen and godwomen must practice much secular beliefs and our public conduct.

From my interactions with spiritual persons and godmen I find these people afflicted by much of a poverty of the mind! I don’t find any inner urge to know, to understand the world. There is no hunger for new knowledge.

They all seem to be so complacent with their material success! These ignoramuses!

Whenever I see these increasing numbers of new faces of godmen and godwomen I wonder whether they show any concern for this world? They didn’t seem to show any such concerns.

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4 Thoughts on “Religion for sale? Like Pepsi, Coke?

  1. T. Colho on January 30, 2007 at 10:01 pm said:

    Dear Mr. Isvarmurti,

    I applaued the concern that you have exhibited towards the world and society. We need more of you who feel the responsibility for the world !

    I can relate to your concerns as I had gone thro’ similar ones years back. From this perspective I must say you have far too quickly jumped to conclusions on the based on what you saw on TV. Do you have any idea why so many heads of states or eminent social workers even came to this function ? not because they just wanted to sit on that large stage. It is because of the monumentous social upliftment work that the organization in almost 140+ countries. It is very easy to sit on the fence and dole out opinions that do not fit in ones limited concept of religion or spirituality. I would humbly suggest that you should now very proactively take on the responsibilty to educate yourself much deeper about the organizations that you mention, taking time off and giving yourself to the service projects, learning the wisdom in the proper way and experience the silence within you. Only then would you grasp what vision they have for the world and what they are doing to make that happen.

    Seeing something on TV and forming an opinion is like looking at the color of the garment on a person and saying he has heart disease ! Ones fixed concepts will be their biggest obstruction.

    I tell you with utmost compassion from my own experience that half-baked knowledge is very dangerous…you seem to be a sincere person. Get on the steadfast path to know yourself first and then your observation, perception and expression will fall effortlessly in place.

    My best wishes to you.

  2. Hey..Relax man!!

    Seeing a TV channel can affect you so much..know the truth before saying anything. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar never said to follow any religion that’s why there are so many followers around the world.

    So what if Silver Jubilee celebrations was huge and lacks of people attended, do you say that when a Miss. Universe pageant goes or for any film fair award. That’s sad, people always perceive spiritualism in a negative way.

    His teachings are simple and help masses, doesn’t differentiate lower class or upper class. He teaches “Sudarshan Kriya”…

    It’s your perception how you understand and correlate things.

    The other thing you said, Kanchi Shankaracharya, Satyasai Baba, Mata Amirthananda Mai is competitors and they are more powerful. Yes they are powerful and people believe them and me too. But what do you know about Ravi Shankar?? To know some one you have to study in detail about him. Millions of people in this world are not fool to follow him.
    All spiritual gurus are different and are born for different cause.

    It’s always easy to perceive things on the face value. When Lord Krishna was born, people thought he was a simple human being, same happened with Christ and Buddha. Only few can cross the boundaries and know the truth.

    So know and write. Broaden your horizons!!

    All the best…..

  3. Different people seem to go by different definitions of spiriuality, reality of exitence, religion, god, ethics, indeed the goal of human living. For my brief response to your views, I define some of these termsas follows: Spirituality is about what binds any two human beings, and indeed any two organic species, like man and plant/ animal/ bird. This is essentially love, which is divine and instinctive for all God’s creation. A second important term is religion. This, I believe, is what different people at different times and in different mlieus and eras, have said to groups of peope in respective geographical regions, so that they can live with certain definite objectives to live in harmony as a society and in harmony with ecology . Religious savants everywhere thought alike, and came up with codes of faith and discipline for humans confined in particular geographical regions, and their disciples gave names to these paths of self-liberation while contributing to the community positively for enhancing individual-society harmony.

    From your very impressive profile, it is very clear that you had the fortune to come and move in close contact with several political leaders, and religio-spiritual savants like the Mahatma Gandhi. Perhaps, despite this opportunity, your preoccupations were presumably confined to serving those great people in specified ways, and did not help to benefit from their own teachings and thoughts in the wider persepctive they must obviously have made them public. The wider and deeper perspective comprises political, social, spiritual and religious aspect of any subject, issue, and not just the political and the social. Spiritual knowledge, as you will probably appreciate, rests on human oneness as regards feelings and emotions, is essential for appreciating different and divergent paths which apparently are mutually opposed sometimes, but certainly they are well-intentioned and aimed at solving temporal issues, at least for the short range.

    True, there are bigotted teachers belonging to any spiritual faith/ religion. One must not mistake them to be the whole picture, but only take passing note of, since they are there, and will need to be tackled peacefully through appeal to their intelligence. As the world’s population keeps increasing, in a situation of limited resources, there is no escape for all humanity to think globally even while individuals pursue one’s faith in which one is borne. It is at the same important to understand the essentials of the other paths of discipline and faith, due to the global process which is inevitably happening, and this is ABSILUTELY NECESSARY to increase harmony and reduce tension based on the common spiritual bonds of all religions and of the sects within each of them. It is naive to believe that we have those institutions in various walks of life, and that they will ensure that “all goes well”. If institutions of democracy (with its legislature of people’s representatives, executives supposed to be dedicated and committed to public service, judiciary to uphold justice without violating the laws, and the press/ media to inform the public of news and views from different quarters), human rights, and others alone were adequate for ensuring individual and societal and world peace and growth with justice for all, the acual results are quite to the contrary. This conflict of the objectives of these institutions and the actual results due to them, is because of human corruption. And will no one will say, as long as he in his senses, that Vigilance Committees and the Cours can solve the problems of corruption. People have to be “waken up” spiritually individually and collectively. The spiritual masters of various faiths — not the half-baked, the extreme orthodox, and the fanatic ones — must come together in order to make their nominal followers truly follow the essential tenets of their respective faiths, and not make a fetish of them for purpose of religious strife and wreck global progress, and sink one and all in the abyss of violence and hatred in a world of illusory pleasures and divided families and torn societies.

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