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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