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March 12, 2001
Why the cynicism about Indian gurus?
Westerners have often a deep suspicion of 'gurus' and are wary of anything which has a 'Hindu' flavor. It is true that some of the gurus teaching in the West might have brought a bad name to Hinduism; but is this a reason to clamp them all together under the same 'fake' label?
Indian journalists unfortunately share often the same resistance to gurus as their Western counterparts. And one can also understand their misgivings, given the problems there has been in India with certain gurus having political connections. But these are the exception to the rule. Why then brand all gurus as 'godmen,' a negative and slightly cynical term, as many Indian journalists do? Or why always ask gurus the same pointed and devious questions about their opinions on Ayodhya and 'Hindutva?'
Isn't it also strange that Indian journalists do not display the same aggressiveness towards Christian bishops or priests, whom they never call godmen, but 'holy father?' They also like to question the 'miraculous' powers of Indian gurus, as it was done a few months ago in an issue of India Today targeting Sai Baba. But is it less rational or Cartesian to think, as the Christians do, that Jesus Christ multiplied breads, or resurrected the dead?
Running down Hindu culture and Hindu gurus is fine -- but a huge majority of the Indian population -- which, let us remember, is 85 per cent Hindu -- sees nothing wrong in this culture: ordinary Indians meditate, do pujas, perform asanas, chant bhajans, or practice pranayama. There is no sectarism here, no fake mysticism, no pagan obscure rites. The irony is that this very spirituality on which Indian intellectuals tend to look down, is taking root in the West: more and more sportsmen, for instance, are using pranayama to enhance their performances; ordinary Americans are meditating by the millions (see this week's Time magazine showing American children learning meditation); hata-yoga has long taken Europe by storm and has been copied by all kinds of gymnastics or aerobics…
Does India need the West to realise what an inconceivable spiritual inheritance it has in its hands? A knowledge which once roamed the shores of the world, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, from Greece to Babylon, but which today has disappeared in a world peopled by intolerant churches? Do Indian schools have to wait for the United States, before they start teaching Indian children their own culture?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, for example, the founder of the Art of Living has also been catalogued as a 'godman' by The Deccan Herald. Yet, he too is helping to spread both in India and abroad this wonderful spiritual inheritance, promoting as much the revival of Sanskrit and Vedic knowledge, as an ecological concern for plastic disposal, or trying to save the centenary trees which are in danger of being chopped down on the Bangalore-Kanakapura road, as it is being widened.
His numerous associations prove that he is not only a "guru of the rich," as he has been accused by The Indian Express: his village schools, for instance, do so well, that children have a 95 per cent rate of success in exams; his youth training programs bring to India's remotest hamlets in Karnataka or even in Naxalite infested Bihar, Housing, Hygiene, and Human values. His volunteers work with their own hands in villages to clear the garbage, clean the sewage infested roads and generally renovate the place. Finally, the medically-tested Sudarshan Krya technique is today taught in Tihar jail, or in corporate offices in California.
The Kumbh Mela has just concluded. It was an extraordinary event: probably the biggest spiritual gathering in the history of the human race. At a time where the West has lost its spiritual moorings and when, even Eastern countries such as China or Japan are submerged by Western culture -- MTV, Coca-Cola and McDonald's -- India has shown that in spite of tremendous odds, she has succeeded in keeping her spirituality alive. But once again during the Kumbh Mela, the Indian media coverage showed the same Western slant against gurus, saints and sadhus.
Instead of highlighting the remarkable degree of cleanliness, orderliness and efficiency demonstrated by the organizers, the UP Government and the police, it chose to focus on naga sadhus smoking ganja, or the VHP "hijacking the mela," or on Western "hippies" in search of enlightenment.
Indian journalists could have shown a little more pride in their own culture by saying, for instance, that it is miraculous that there are still men in the world who are ready to give-up everything, including their clothes, for the love of God; or that as long as Indian villagers were smoking ganja, they did not beat their wives, gobble-up their salaries and drink themselves to death, as they are doing today, now that (foreign owned) alcohol has invaded India; or that any religion worth its name tries to protect its own interests, as the VHP is doing (the VHP is not trying to convert other religions, yet they are subjected to a much greater bashing by the Indian press than Christian priests or Muslim mullahs); or that it is to India's credit that Westerners come here searching for the spirituality they can't get any more in the West.
It is part of the freedom of the Press to be able to criticize anything and anybody. And we must acknowledge that Indian journalists have often played a positive role by highlighting injustice or corruption in public life. But the spitefulness that they sometimes display towards the saints, sadhus and gurus of India seems a little bit unfair. For however much poverty there is in this country, however many problems it is facing, India's gift to the world in the 21st century will be its spirituality, this eternal knowledge which alone She has preserved.
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