Impeccable Journalism and Charlatan Babas

This is in response to an article titled “Babas and their blind believers”: http://www.tehelka.com/babas-and-their-blind-believers/

Have you seen Bollywood movies or television series where the villain wears saffron robes or Rudraksha beads?  I am sure you’d be able to recount several!  For long, Indians have been continuously fed with media, via Bollywood films, television soaps and news stories, the impression that Hindu Sadhus are largely “dhongi”s or charlatans.  Villainous characters dressed in saffron robes and wearing Rudraksha beads have been cast to the extent of creating stereotypes. At a more subtle level, we have seen devious mothers-in-law devoutly performing Pooja and Japa, even as they plot heinous conspiracies.  On the other hand, have you ever seen a Christian priest in a negative role?  Ever? Without exception, priests are always portrayed as kind hearted, pure hearted men of God, ever ready to help the needy.  These images, systematically fed to the Indian psyche over decades, are designed to create a deep mistrust in the mind of Hindus against their own Gurus.

Bollywood

This article titled “Babas and…” builds on the same scheme of designs. It seeks to establish two things. First, that all “babas” are charlatans and second, that their following comprises of gullible, blind fools who are drawn to them because of stress and depression, and are then brain washed into becoming life-long followers. Let us logically examine these claims.

 All babas are charlatans

The article seeks to classify babas into (a) those who claim to cure secret illnesses and the like, (b) those that offer miracles, and (c) those who “deceive thousands of people for years by captivating their mind”.  Any logical classification needs to be made on a common parameter. If the parameter is what these babas claim to offer as their USP, then the description of the third category should be “those who claim to offer spiritual knowledge”.

Next, a question that comes up is:  are quacks who advertise cures for piles and secret diseases, even remotely comparable to those who offer spiritual knowledge?  Does it make any sense discussing the two together in a common article? Unless the intent is to paint all of them with one brush, and declare Spiritual Gurus as charlatans too!

Further, if we leave aside the first two categories and take the third category i.e. those who offer spiritual knowledge, the next question that arises is:  how does one decide which of these Gurus offers genuine knowledge and which do not?  Who will sit in judgment and basis what qualification?  It is important to reflect here on the fact that Vedic spirituality, especially the profound depth of Vedant, is certainly not easy to understand. Even more so for the uninitiated i.e. those who have not commenced their spiritual journey.  Is it right then for journalists to sit in judgment on such matters? The article offers nothing by way of the author’s credentials. Neither does it attempt any analysis of the subject matter of these Guru’s teachings. Instead, the article conveniently hinges on the opinion of a couple of psychologists.  I would say that in matters spiritual, one of the least reliable opinions is that of psychologists / psychiatric practitioners because the discomfort that these practitioners have had with spirituality is a very old one. Think about it – if people start following spirituality and its practices such as mantra-jaap and dhyaan in large numbers, what do you think would happen to the number of people who seek psychiatric help?

The reality is that anyone who wishes to reach any conclusion on such matters needs to deeply study the teachings of these Gurus and the transformational impact it has had on their followers. For a spiritual aspirant who seeks a Guru, this is an extremely delicate and personal decision and even our scriptures state that the aspirant must do every due diligence before accepting a revered one as his/her Guru. The scriptures describe the qualities of a Guru and these can serve as a guide.

In case of Asaramji Bapu, for those who wish to know about his teachings, innumerable videos of his discourses are available on YouTube. Videos that have been described as “tatvik” give the viewer a taste of some of the really deep subjects. Secondly, one may also reach out to any of his disciples to understand the transformation in their lives.

They attract people who are stressed, troubled and unable to think clearly

Our esteemed psychologists have presented a hypothesis that people are drawn to Gurus when they are in trouble or under stress or as a result of social and economic insecurities.  To give them due credit, yes, it is possible that such factors are triggers for some people.  But there is absolutely nothing wrong in that.  From time immemorial, people have been drawn to spirituality due to a sense of disillusionment with the material world. Profound disillusionment leads to dispassion. This is also called Vairagya.

According to Shri Yog Vasisht Maha Ramayan, even Lord Shri Ram had experienced this. He was very silent upon His return from a tour of the country, much to the concern of His father King Dasharath. Sage Vasisht assured the King that Ram’s dispassion (vairagya) is a sign that the Prince is now ready for spiritual enlightenment. He told King Dasharath that Ram has begun understanding profound spiritual truths, and this is the cause of His confusion; He needs confirmation. Sage Vasistha then advised Lord Ram and this advice forms the entire scripture that is Yog Vasisht.

There are also many who come to the spiritual path not because they are under stress or have problems, but purely because of what is called as “Jigyaasa” or the quest for spiritual knowledge. Irrespective of what prompted them to come to the spiritual path, if you ask any of Asaramji Bapu’s followers what they wish to achieve, or what is the objective of their continued association, the answer would invariably be around attaining the “Supreme Knowledge”, “Ishwar-Praapti” or “Brahm-Gyaan”.

All followers are blind gullible fools

Of late, the term blind faith has been bandied about quite liberally.  May I suggest that the reader reflect on the meaning of the term “blind faith”? Is the term blind faith to suggest that there is a type of faith that is not blind? What distinguishes the two? And who is to decide which is blind and which is not?

The article mentions millions of devotees. And yet the author does not hesitate to nonchalantly paint them all as gullible fools.  If one reflects on the state of their minds, one would realize that such persons have made an inherent assumption that they have been gifted with a higher level of intellect or greater power of discretion than those millions of ‘blind’ devotees. Such an attitude could likely be an outcome of Macaulay’s education. In the words of distinguished journalist, author and politician, Shri. Arun Shourie, “The core of our tradition was the spiritual quest; the core of this spiritual quest was Hindu; the way in which this core manifested itself in the life of our people was the religious. To the western educated Indian the spiritual was just mumbo-jumbo, religion was just opium to entrap the masses, and Hinduism just a particularly pernicious form of that opium. That which was the very essence of our nationhood was thereby denounced.”

One key distinguishing character of Dharmic religions vs. others needs to be clearly understood – Dharmic religions are experiential in nature. They do not require the seeker to follow/accept something based merely on what the leader or scriptures say. Instead the seeker can follow a prescribed path and experience for himself / herself. Faith is required only for the proverbial initial “leap”.  It is possible that many are not even aware of this distinctive characteristic of Dharmic traditions and therefore assume followers to be “blind”.

Non practicing Hindus, or Indians who have imbibed the western gaze of looking down on Dharmic traditions, (and unfortunately, these represent a vast majority today), are usually unfamiliar with even the basic fundamentals of Vedic Spirituality. In general, such individuals may not be in a position to understand India’s  spiritual heritage at all. Read more about the concept of “practicing Hindus” here: https://gurudas108.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-concept-of-practicing-hindus-and-its-relevance-today/

Interestingly, one of the psychologists quoted in the article is Vice President of Maharashtra’s Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith (CEBF). The founder of this Committee was Mr. Narendra Dhabolkar.  Here is an interesting audio where Shri Rajiv Dixit describes his discussions with Mr. Dhabolkar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKjd60OGpZQ

Questionable sections of the article

“The devotees present are convinced that the media has conspired against Asaram Bapu and thus, it is their arch enemy”: Is this surprising considering the level of misreporting that has happened in this case? With the media openly spreading blatant lies, what other conclusion can one reach? Please see this link to get an idea of the level of misreporting: http://asarambapu-realstory.blogspot.in/. Here are a couple of videos in Hindi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzTTMq2Opd8, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeMIghdegMQ

“One must meet a devotee in private. Dilip, a 40-year-old resident of Shahdara, Delhi, has just returned after having spent a night in jail. He has been an Asaram devotee for the past ten years”:  We noted earlier how it is ridiculous to ever remotely draw a comparison of quacks with Spiritual Gurus. For the same reason, it is highly unlikely that you would find a spiritual aspirant, a follower of a Spiritual Guru, going to a quack who claims to heal secret diseases. I think this character is either fictional or an extremely rare exception among crores.

“When TEHELKA tried to contact this woman using the email address cited at the end of the anecdote, it turned out to be a fake address. Other such accounts were also found to be submitted from fake email addresses. Publicising these presumably self-written ‘spiritual experiences’, Asaram managed to accumulate a large fan-following”:  Wow! Such investigative journalism deserves an ovation. However, to hear experiences of followers, anyone can simply go to YouTube and search for “Asaram Bapu experiences”.  Will TEHELKA now suggest that the people in those videos are all paid actors?  Hilarious!

“When TEHELKA contacted Dr. Tapadia regarding the photograph, he said, “I am ashamed that I clicked the picture of such a man. They distorted my words and misquoted me. Eight to ten years ago, when Asaram visited me, I clicked his photograph. But there are other people who have a larger magnetic field around them than Asaram does. Any person who is healthy and hearty has a large magnetic field. If someone delivers impressive speeches, people are bound to get influenced. This is what Asaram also does; there is nothing divine about it.””:  I am personally unaware of this technology or its veracity, but here is the video of Dr Tapadia where he speaks at length on Asaram Bapu’s aura: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eirYU8vbbYk  He says in the video that he has captured the aura of 7 lakh people, with at least 1,000 of them being prominent persons, including great saints, sadhus, and sadhvis. Of all these, he says that Asaramji Bapu’s aura uniquely displayed the ability to give power as opposed to other prominent auras which could only suck negativity. He also mentions that it is very surprising to see the Sahasrara Chakra fully active at 100% potency – he has never seen this in case of anyone else.  It is for the reader to judge after seeing this video if the claim of distorting words and misquoting can be true.

In summary 

In summary, I believe that rather than bringing out the reality of babas and blind believers, to the discerning reader, this article exposes the sad state of journalism in India.  I am posting this article with the humble expectation that perhaps this will open the eyes of the reader to the vicious defamation campaigns run by some sections of the media against popular Hindu spiritual leaders, and with the hope that perhaps some day Indian Media will mend its ways and rise to truly be what is expected of it as the “fourth pillar” of democracy.

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