Mistaking crooks for saints

We have scarcely had time to recover from the Asaram Bapu shock. Now, we are into the muck of Rampal in Hisar. It took him the lives of six ‘hostage-devotees’ to come to his senses. He now claims that he did not know what he was doing. While light dawned on the seers of old under banyan trees, sense now encounters their latter day caricatures, it seems, only under the roof of state prisons.

Sadly, everything in our country is now reduced to fleeting media hypes. An event of extreme depravity is milked dry for a day or two and is forgotten. We hear blaring litanies of indignation at regular intervals.  But there is no matching interest in getting to the root of these aberrations or in educating the masses towards inoculating them against such dens of vice and venality. We are content to hurtle from one sant-scandal to another.

But the time has come to ask some basic questions. Why do conmen succeed so facilely in showcasing themselves as godmen? Why do people in their thousands flock to their dens only to suffer extortion, rape and worse? How come people in this sophisticated age armed with a critical, sceptical spirit, fail to distinguish between an ‘ashram’ and a fortification that looks anything but an ashram? Why are we, despite our secular culture and scientific temperament, so vulnerable to blind faith and crude superstitions? Even more importantly, why do we refuse to look at reality in the face despite being jolted repeatedly by scandals and stand-offs in the name of the divine?

The canards on which the conmen of religion build their empires pertain to their ludicrous ideas about god and their pretensions to having special powers.

For centuries we have been brainwashed to believe that gods are partial to their own religious communities, cults, locations and individuals. The Christian god cares only for Christians. Hindu gods are partial to Hindus. Lord Buddha, Prophet Mohammad, Lord Mahavira and Guru Nanak, likewise, are irrelevant to those outside their fold. Such people are excluded from help or relief.

God is, besides, contracted to certain ‘special agents’ whom he favours with special powers. Like a politician to his coterie, god reveals his cards only to these minions. The rest of us are condemned to receiving his favours second-hand.

There is no knowing, however, how god chooses these middlemen. On current evidence, god appears to have a preference for crooks and criminals.

It is as though he has an air of condescension towards the rest of us, the common folk, to whom mercies will be sent only by proxy.

The self-styled agents of god, unlike the Almighty himself, exact unbounded loyalty and totalitarian obedience from their devotees. We are sure to be forgiven if we disobey or disrespect God, which we do all the time. But we are sure to be exterminated if we try the same with these middlemen. And we dare not. If they fall foul of the law of the land, we are sure that the law is at fault.

Even before the conmen arrived on the scene, God had begun to be, perhaps because of his hoary age, anemic and allergic.  So, he came to have his exclusive and sterile haunts.

Also, he used to wake up once a week per community (on Fridays for Muslims, Saturdays for Jews, Sundays for Christians) and limit his presence to designated places of worship (mosques, synagogues, churches, temples etc.) Now, the health of god seems to have deteriorated further. He prefers to hide behind 50-foot high fortifications, barriered and barricaded beyond the reach of law.

The only antidote to the treachery marketed in the name of God is a commonsensical understanding of the nature of God. If God is the Creator of the Universe, He cannot be partial to anyone or remain confined to any place.

The Creator is present in, and available to, all parts of creation. Anyone who claims to be a privileged agent of God is a cheat and a de facto atheist. He flies in the face of the quintessential spiritual vision of vasudaiva kutumbakam.

God and untouchability
The implied insinuation that God practices untouchability vis-à-vis almost the whole of humankind and dispatches his mercy and charity to them, therefore, only via some conmen deputies should provoke derisive laughter.

Enlightened souls feel embarrassed when special powers are attributed to them. Extravagant claims of special powers are made only by the wheeler dealers of religion. A mendacious charade of murderous intent is draped in hypnotic smells, bells and yells with the sole intention to cozen the common man. The only thing that flourished in Rampal’s ashram was the darkness of ignorance and the outrage of gullible people being held hostage at gunpoint.

It is a nightmare that temples of light are today overshadowed by ashrams of darkness. Spirituality is light, the light of truth. Truth needs no fortification or iron curtains of secrecy. Truth is incompatible with violence and covetousness. Why obscene wealth should punctuate the conmen of religion is an enigma that we dare not face.

In point of fact, it is the glare and glitter, the scale and size of their megabucks that blind us to the subhuman realities that shroud these corrupters of our species.

The arm of law cannot sweep this nation clean of the moral garbage they generate. The enlightenment of the people can.  So long as we continue to mistake crooks for saints, and dens of vice for ashrams, the likes of Rampal will mushroom and thrive. Why blame them? Blame ourselves.

(The writer is Principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi)

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