Everyone is busy trying to fix the responsibility of the deaths of common citizens owing to heatstroke during the Maharashtra Bhushan awards ceremony. The debate around the timing of the event, mismanagement by the organisers and the government’s intended motive in organising the event continues to rage. But how can good sense prevail to make people aware of the fact that faith, when practised in extreme, can be fatal? It is equally unfortunate that nobody is perturbed nor courageous enough to shine a light on this point, in the interest of the society at large. Unless faith and devotion are fenced by logic, a rational, balanced society cannot exist. Hence, even if it may draw flak, it becomes imperative that someone should take the onus of enlightening others on the importance of logic.
This is not the first instance when faithful people have congregated in large numbers and being blinded by devotion, have lost their lives. There have been similar incidents in the past, including the Mandhardevi mishap a few years ago, and the crushing crowds which had converged at Sehore to collect ‘rudrakshas’ recently, to cite a few examples. This is not a topic that touches just one community nor is it a subject that concerns any one person or guru. It needs to be observed through a wider lens. In the hustle bustle of everyday life, everyone tries to seek some kind of support, be it in the intangible form of a God or that of a tangible, living person. If we couch this in the language of philosophy and faith, it can be said that each one of us is seeking the ‘brahman’ and ‘atman’ within ourselves, in someone else. Sometimes, it is easier and more emotionally satisfying to seek such refuge in a tangible, living person and be able to unburden ourselves and repose our complete faith unto such a person. Such faith is just as capable of giving us a dopamine kick that usually results from undertaking any happy action. In addition, such gurus do not ask anything of us, they let us feel good about ourselves for having become a better person and allow us a spiritual platform to engage in social activities.
Till such time as our faith stays manageable on the personal and family level and allows us to function according to our core competency, it supplements our actions effectively. To elaborate – it behoves the grieving and conflicted Arjuna to pick up his Gandiva bow and enter battle once he has heard the Bhagvadgita from Sri Krishna. As a guru, Sri Krishna did not permit Arjuna to flee the battlefield, take over the role of charioteer from himself or otherwise allow any role reversal. On the contrary, by telling Arjuna ‘न कर्मणा मना रम्भा नेष्कर पुरुषोश्नुते’ (no good will come of abdicating responsibility and shirking duties), Sri Krishna deliberately absolved himself and made Arjuna take responsibility for his own actions.
The guru – disciple equation in today’s scenario however has been turned on its head. Devotees are often unable to discern how and when they start on the slippery slope of complete obeisance once they have accepted the tutelage of a guru. And when the absence of rationale is combined with a large gathering, it simply demonstrates the fact that the size of the crowd is inversely proportional to the level of intellect it fosters. Faith-drenched devotees then tend to forget that they need to keep their wits around them if they have to imbibe the guru’s teaching or walk on the path of spirituality. Such blind faith then takes over the rational brain. I don’t think one needs a guru to understand the simple fact that the self, one’s existence and identity are more important than the necessity of having a guru in one’s life. Faith can always follow if one is aware of oneself – this is a simple formula. In fact, it should be the primary responsibility of those parading as spiritual gurus in India today to make people self-dependent, and equip them to seek peace and satisfaction on their own. It is important to ensure that there are no emotional tangles between the devotee and the advisor, since the ultimate aim of such advice is to make the devotee emotionally independent. In reality, devotees and seekers alike look up to spiritual gurus without attaching any ‘labels’ to them. It is the duty of the gurus to act as detached advisors. However, over time, these spiritual gurus turn into cult brands with tremendous emotional attachment flowing from the devotees. The success and failure of the cult brands is internalised by the devotees as their own, and what emerges in the spiritual space is ‘loyalty beyond logic’ – a commonly seen phenomenon in the corporate world.
The ordinary individual is always seeking a guide to show him/her the way. Multiple gurus enter our lives at different times – not just to guide our lives, but in the form of advisors for one’s career, family life, relationships and emotional guidance. There is nothing wrong in having a guide for one’s spiritual advancement. But how will we reach our destination, if instead of walking on the path shown by the guide, we choose to squat in one place and idolise the guide instead? Do we sit and sing Google’s praises after the Google Maps app has shown us the right way to reach our destination? Both the sweet voice of the Google Maps guide and the dulcet tones of our guru are merely tools to show us the path. It is up to us to walk on the path. If we are unable to understand this, then all is in vain. At such times, man’s very logical existence based on rational thought is put to the test. In the 80s, Osho’s philosophy drove several people crazy across the planet. It took a lot of money to enrol in his workshops. Many rich people who could afford to shell out hefty amounts enjoyed staying in his Ashram. Once a poor person asked Osho, “Is your spiritual salvation only for the rich? Will you not share your knowledge of salvation with the poor as well?” Osho answered, “Right now, your salvation lies in earning money!” A guru with a conscience is rightly able to answer the question of how one can attain salvation through our actions. If we can keep a clear conscience, we will not stagnate in idolising the guides we seek for mental and emotional support, and will consciously emulate the path they have laid out. नात्यश्नतस्तु योगोऽस्ति न चैकान्तमनश्नतः । न चातिस्वप्नशीलस्य जाग्रतो नैवचार्जुन । These words of Sri Krishna asking Arjun not to take anything to its extreme, are a telling comment to our conscience as well.
When the fragrance of the musk secreted from the deer’s navel permeates the air, the confused deer gallops indiscriminately through the jungle seeking the source of the maddening perfume. It stumbles on rocks, bruises itself on thorns and hurts itself on obstructing tree trunks. But it doesn’t meet anyone in the jungle who can tell it that the deer itself is the source of the fragrance. In this perennially conflicted human life, the sooner we realise that the fragrance of our conscience is coming from our own selves, the smoother and happier and well-lit our paths will be.
-Dr. Amol Annadate