Spirituality business is one of the oldest professions!

Sans the Sacred

We Indians have always had a flair for the dramatic, and nowhere is this reflected better than in the multitudes of godmen and godwomen who manage to find audiences to appreciate their grandiose verbiage. Did you hear of Nithyananda’s marvellous reincarnation scheme to transfer millionaires’ wealth to their future incarnations and make tidy commissions on the way? If you managed to escape Nithyananda, I am sure you have been subjected to Deepak Chopra’s quantum physics brand of spirituality about impulses and fields of consciousness. And if you have been spared from both, I am certain Sadhguru’s inner engineering and primitive feminine forces are familiar to you.

If, however, you are tired of hearing rehashed platitudes about living in the moment and financial schemes concerning reincarnations, I am delighted to inform you that you are in the rather illustrious company of some Sanskrit scholar-sceptics, who saw only too well that spirituality was a thriving business even in their times.

Ksemendra, a poet and scholar from eleventh century Kashmir, tells us about the long-standing friendship between religion and money-making. When Brahma created humankind, he noticed that humans were immune to the charms of wealth and prosperity, and did not indulge in any of the luxuries he had created for them. To remedy his mistake, he created religious hypocrisy. And we see the results to this day!

Nilakantha Diksita, an illustrious seventeenth century poet, gives a simple three-step guide to being a religious charlatan: Hold some chanting beads, close your eyes in pretend meditation from time and time, and repeat some meaningless cliché about everything being a manifestation of Brahman. Replace Brahman with cosmic energy or what-have-you, and add in a specially curated range of consecrated (read exorbitant) merchandise, and you get our modern godman’s business mantra.

Ksemendra writes of how pseudo-spirituality has infiltrated the world of animals and birds too—why else would the heron stand on one foot in the water, pretending to be deeply absorbed in meditation while secretly craving for a bite of fish? The Pancatantra, never to be outdone, tells us of a cat who lived on the banks of a river. The cat gained great repute as an ascetic through his rigorous rituals and vows. Preaching vegetarianism and non-violence to all, the cat stood in contorted yogic postures, his eyes fixed firmly on the sun. He freely gave many moral discourses on how fleeting life is, and on the greatness of altruism. A hare and a partridge, both natural enemies of the cat, had a property dispute about the ownership of a tree-house, and approached the cat for a solution. Quoting extensively from scripture to convince them of his virtues, the cat begged them to come closer out of deference for his age, which had diminished his hearing. No sooner did the poor creatures cross the river bank to explain their problem, than the cat grabbed them both simultaneously—the hare with his hands and the partridge in his teeth! Need I continue? Suffice it to say, the plump cat got two hearty meals that day.

There you go, folks. Reading some Sanskrit may not give you the blueprints to an ancient aeroplane system or channelize divine energy through your soul, but you must admit it warns you against falling into the sophisticated traps of spiritual businessmen.

 

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