In this analytical article the author has gone deeper into the dynamics of the prevailing social forces and tied to understand the religious phenomenon.
Uttam a theater activist and writer situated in West Bengal.
This article is not about Ram Rahim. Because he is merely a symptom of a social reality that needs adequate understanding. Even though liberal/ rational / secular intellectuals want to believe that science has an answer to everything, the fact is that the religious domain remains alive and continues to serve multiple functions. I am not commenting on the desirability or undesirability of the religious affair. As an acute observer, I try to understand diverse manifestations of religion and their deeper socio-politico implications. I believe that only with this sort of clarity can we create a better world.
- Religiosity and human quest for freedom from Samsaric Maya
In eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism we see a profound awareness of pain and suffering which are innate in the phenomenal world and our egoistic attachment to it. With egoistic drives for material/sensual pleasures we end up finding ourselves in a world filled with pain, suffering, violence and loss. Be it Upnashidic philosophy or Buddhism there has been a constant reminder: Moksha or Nirvana lies in one’s ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, real bliss from temporal pleasure accompanied by pain. There is an eternity in this spiritual search. In modern India Ramakrishna was a classic illustration. His sadhana, his ecstasy, his simplicity and his ability to communicate profound truth through folk idioms enhanced his popularity and appeal. From ordinary householders to rationalists like Keshav Chandra Sen – they used to assemble at Dakshineshwar temple, and Ramakrishna’s discourses were simply enchanting. In a way he existed like a great master. His realization was so profound that he did not require any miracle to perform; he did not need money and muscle power to advertise himself as a new age guru. His simplicity was a miracle. His words were reveling, and his touch, as Swami Vivekanand said, was magical.
This sort of existential/spiritual search continues. And even in this corrupt system there are people- simple, ordinary and unknown-who engage in this sort of sadhana. They don’t appear on television. Politicians do not visit them. They do what everyone else does- rising up in morning, walking, preparing breakfast, going for walk, reading a book and seeing the moon. But as a Zen master said, these ordinary things become extra-ordinary because of their alertness.
- Religiosity as dedicated social services amidst faceless bureaucracy
In a complex/ modern world state machinery, bureaucracy and market forces operate like a soles machine. Its complexity or anonymity alienates people. However, there are people who strive from some sort of altruistic fulfillment –the urge to come out of one’s finitude, merge with the others, understand their pain and suffering, and help them in the moment of distress. This human spiritual need often fulfills itself in a kind of religiosity that concretizes itself through delicated social service. Mother Teresa is a striking example of this phenomenon. With the ethos of love and compassion in Christianity, she dedicated her life to the cause of the poor, the sick and the wounded.
Likewise religious organizations like Ramakrishna Mission, Bharat Sevasharam Sangh are known for their diverse social service schemes – establishment of school, charitable hospitals and disaster management through engaged relief work. One important reason while many people seek to involve themselves with such projects is that they get an opportunity to realize their potential humanity; their ability to serve others. This fulfillment generates a positive self-perception in a world that is otherwise alienated because of its complex structure and anonymity. This process of self-churning is felt as truly enabling.
- Personality disorder in a hyper-competitive world and therapeutic religiosity
In this age of corporate capitalism many urban professionals live with a sense of reckless competitive spirit. The pressure of work, the terror of deadlines, the burden of performance and the material desire for never ending consumption – their life conditions are prone to severe physic distress, stress and anxiety. This also affects inter-personal relations and conjugality. Under these circumstances, we see the arrival of a form of religiosity that acts as some sort of physic therapy for this class of people. The meditation workshops in esoteric centers, the popularity of audio visual material containing the talks and speeches by these religious gurus, and the proliferation of magazines like Life Positive indicates this culture. For instance, if we see Brahamkumari Shivani’s extremely communicative and brilliant discourses and conversations with Suresh Oberai on a religious channel, we realize that she is essentially addressing to this urban professional class and teaching them a set of meditative techniques and exercise for controlling anger and stress, and for generating positive vibrations in life. These therapeutic religions emerge in a world that is inherently prone to stress, anxiety and physic disorder.
- Spectacular Godman as a magician and people in margins
There is yet another manifestation which we see through the likes of Ram Rahima, Nirmal baba and Asharam bapu. Enough had already been said about their misdeeds, there money/muscle power, and their unholy nexus with the political class. However, what is important to ask is why millions of ordinary people – lower caste / dalit peasants, low ranking government servants, small traders and shopkeepers from remote towns and villages and ordinary women and widows – become such devoted followers of these babas . Once again we need to understand the socio-existential reality. As margins of society, they are immensely vulnerable and they find themselves in a world that humiliates them perpetually. The welfare state doesn’t function; bureaucracy doesn’t care; market is heartless; and the rapid changes that global capitalism have brought about make them perpetually perplexed.
Everyday concerns like health issues, children’s settlement and welfare, pension and survival keep bothering them. And they find no support system from a distant bureaucratic state, or from a huge political party that only reduces them into vote banks. In such a disenchanted world they are striving for a miracle, a spectacle and a magical performance by someone who could heel their wound. The appeal of these babas has to be understood in this context of alienation, disenchantment and search for an alternative community of devotees blessed by a self- proclaimed Godman. With alert eyes when we see their submission before these babas and their absolute loyalty to them, we also realize the failure of the state or the enlightened educated class to have any meaningful engagement with them.
- What is the way out?
Religiosity is not dead. It cannot be dead because scientific secularism does not have an answer to human’s all questions. However, religion can free itself from the ugly practices and aberrations that we see through the proliferation of media savvy, market friendly, technology induced babas, and the practice of mass hypnosis through which they control a large section of ordinary people in distress.
It is possible only with true awakening, liberating education and humane governance that takes care of people’s issues – health, education, social dignity, safety and livelihood opportunities.
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