Trial of the Guru

Sakal Times
Wednesday, 6 September 2017

What place do spiritual gurus have in the lives of modern, urban women? While different views abound, it’s clear that faith continues to bloom untouched...

Faith in a spiritual guru as faith in other relationships in our lives — friends, partners, siblings — is essential to our inner sense of harmony. However, being ultimately human, a guru too can sometimes fail us, as Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has seemingly let down his disciples. How has his conviction affected the faith of people, especially women devotees in their own spiritual gurus? More importantly, what place do spiritual gurus have in the lives of modern, urban women? 

In the Indian spiritual tradition, a guru is ranked even above God, as expressed in the famous Sanskrit shloka, Gurur Brahma, gurur Vishnu, gurur devo Maheshwara, Guru saakshaat ParaBrahma, Tasmaishree guruve namaha. Comprehensibly, for women anchored in different spiritual practices, their guru represents the highest good achievable in life. “A guru leads by example,” says Anindita Garg, a Pune-based parenting coach and counsellor. “A guru takes you beyond your capacity and makes you unstoppable. Our country has produced great gurus like Vivekananda and Ramakrishna, who led simple but powerful lives.” 

Disparaging Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for his apparent obsession with glamour and visibility, she states, “Anybody who claims to be god can’t be a guru.  However, if a couple of gurus go wrong, that doesn’t invalidate the system of guru-shishya.” She passionately confirms her faith in her chosen guru, Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev), concluding, “We need to choose our gurus carefully.”

Her view is echoed by Shormishtha Mondol, Mumbai-based professional, who took diksha (baptism) in Ramakrishna Mission many years back and diligently does 108 times japa of her guru mantra. “Ramakrishna himself had instructed to bhakts that you must test your guru before accepting him/her in your heart. And Vivekananda had enforced strict separation between the sexes in the mathas to ensure there is no scope for adulterous activities in them. I believe in the sanctity of Ramakrishna Mission and Swamiji’s (Vivekananda) teachings provide me all the answers I need.”

Sunita Rajiv, a senior faculty member of Ahlcon International School in Delhi and a practising member of Radha Soami faith, likewise stands up strongly for the purity of the organisation and their practice. “I took diskha 30 years back and have been doing japna since then. I visit the Dera in Beas twice a year. It is a picture of simplicity and austerity and everything is transparent. Also, our guru, Sri Gurvinder Singh’s clear instruction is ‘Don’t come to me.’ He is against blind puppy worship. He, instead exhorts us, his disciples, to open our third eye through meditation, and above all to be chaste and righteous in speech and actions. We can engage in ‘sewa’ like preparing food for all people and attend satsangs. I have been able to overcome my own weaknesses like anger issues through my practice.”

While some spiritual practice or other is woven into the lifestyle of a considerable section of urban women, there is a perceptible reliance today on the ‘actual practice’ and not on personal contact with gurus. Pompa Chatterjee, lecturer with Rani Birla College in Kolkata, states frankly, “Though I am a practising Hindu and believe in god, my mind shuts down before a guru. Sometime back I felt the need for meditation and learnt the technique at the Brahmakumari Centre in Kolkata. I liked the concepts Sister Shivani of the centre put forward in her discourses on television.  However, I am uncomfortable with the deification of the school’s founder and now practise pranic healing. Its originator, Master Choa Kok Sui does not claim to be god, but is an evolved soul, I am more comfortable in this structure.”

Similarly, ad filmmaker Kopal Naithani, who was a disciple of Anondo Mohima in Dehradun, admits to have embraced a form of Buddhism. “I can feel the serenity and spirituality in the ashram, but my Buddhist practice (core is chanting a mantra) appeals to me more because it comes with lot of reason. It is helping me for sure. As for Ram Rahim, he never radiated any sense of spirituality, his flashiness, making movies, etc always made me wonder.”  

Saswati Gupta, manager with Deloitte India and a member of ISKCON, avers, “I am sceptical of media allegations of indecency against all spiritual gurus. From the change in terms of increased detachment and compassion that I have experienced in myself in two years of chanting the mahamantra of ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’, I can imagine the high spiritual stature of those who engage in spiritual practices for years.”

While different views abound, what’s clear is that Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction has not dented the faith of women, by and large, in their spiritual gurus. Faith continues to bloom untouched, lotus-like.

- Munmun Ghosh

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