Price of spirituality is its seamy underbelly

 A spiritual enterprise can be created and operated in real life, using management and corporate principles. All one needs is an unscrupulous leader with a thick hide.
There is no issue at all if a spiritual enterprise is run commercially without hiding behind the facade of a charitable institution. The entire legal and tax structure of charitable and not-for-profit organisations has been created by countries across the world to support philanthropic activities. Tax deductions are given to donors and tax exemptions are given to the enterprises in the belief that no one involved in these enterprises would benefit from their operations.

Tax laws should be far more stringent with these spiritual and charitable organisations. Their object clauses should be specific rather than general, as of now. Many of them employ the services of lobbyists to secure donations in return for sizeable commissions. There should be greater control on receipts to eliminate laundering possibilities. There should be far greater control on expenses to ensure that operational costs are a small fraction of the receipts. As it is now, it is a free ride for the people who run these charities.

Far more importantly, such organisations ought to truly be not-for-profit. What they earn in a year must be spent that year. There should be no carried over profits. There should be no assets held by any individual behind the mask of a trustee. Assets should be held by a much larger group of people who cannot be influenced easily. All this may seem unrealistic, but possible. As the rules stand today, one spiritual entrepreneur can control billions of dollars of assets and revenues without being accountable to anyone.

Every spiritual enterprise worth its name claims to do charitable work benefiting the general public. They say they run schools and hospitals and fund infrastructure development projects. Since, by their own admission most of their funds are from donations, why do they name these schools and hospitals after the leader? Why don’t they help finance government-run schools and hospitals, which in any case form the vast majority? By definition, charity is what the right hand gives that the left does not know. Is establishing a brand image charity? It is a means to an end.
Not so long ago, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi bought an island off Nova Scotia intending to establish an independent kingdom! Since then every self-styled guru dreams of owning an island and printing his own currency, of course with his image prominently displayed.

Spiritual entrepreneurship is the starting point of a power game. Some may exploit it openly, as did a saffron clad worthy recently announcing that he is setting up a political party. Others do it behind closed doors and use their wealth to peddle influence. From time immemorial, in this Vedic tradition, spirituality was the occupation of the brahmana, money creation the occupation of the vaisya and power broking the preserve of the kshatriya.

Enter the new breed of spiritual entrepreneurs who are all in one. If they wish to be that it is their prerogative. But they should not pretend to follow the Vedic or yogic traditions. They should not look for government handouts. They should have the courage to become new age entrepreneurs marketing spirituality as yet another business. This would be the honest path to follow, instead of the hypocritical diversion of riding the spiritual scenic road while enjoying all the benefits of the material highway.

With the assumed multiple role of the spiritual entrepreneurs, they too seem to be entering the politician-bureaucrat-criminal nexus mélange. The entrepreneurs may see nothing wrong with what they do, but I see plenty of wrong doing. So, I assume would a lot of right thinking people.

In India’s Vedic tradition, spirituality was the core of one’s life. Hinduism has never been an organised religion like all others. It survived because of its loose and flexible structure. Sanatana Dharma was an individual belief, not an organised enterprise. By converting it into a branded commercial entity, fraudulent spiritual entrepreneurs are digging the grave of Sanatana Dharma.

It is all very well to talk about building ashrams and gurukula schools to inspire and create a spiritually enlightened generation. This would be fine if there was moral and emotional maturity to ensure spiritual discipline. Otherwise, mixed gender communes, by whatever name they may be called, would end up as dens of vice. When yoga gets mixed up with tantra, catalysed by immaturity, the results can be traumatic.
Do all spiritual enterprises have to end this way? The painful answer is yes. In all my knowledge, the only being I can truly accept as enlightened is Ramana Maharishi. The very atmosphere of his jiva samadhi in Thiruvannamalai energises me. Ramana was never a spiritual entrepreneur. In fact, there are no Ramana ashrams outside of where he lived and died. Yet, his name resonates through out the world.
The other extreme I respect is the controversial Osho. Whatever one may malign him for, he was an honest man. He seemed to destroy his own organisation for the sheer pleasure of proving a point.

Spirituality does not require enterprises. Sanatana Dharma does not need entrepreneurs to nurture it. Spirituality, in its essence, is about the individual. It is lonely path to tread. Therein lies its strength.
(The writer has travelled a long path of both corporate and spiritual enterprises)

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