Gods for Sale

From: "jagbir singh" <adishakti_org@yahoo.com>
Date: Thu Mar 9, 2006 12:20 pm
Subject: Gods for Sale

Gods for Sale
by Satya Sagar

January 25, 2004

It is a very, very Indian story.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine filed a petition in the Indian
Supreme Court against - believe it or not- the tenth incarnation of
the Hindu God Vishnu! Or at least, against a person who claims
to be nothing less than that and has in the past decade
drummed up a following of over several million people in the
southern part of India.

Blasphemous as the claim of this fake avatar is the court battle
is not really about the finer details of Hindu cosmology or
theological doctrine.

Based on several years of painstaking investigation and
research it is my friend's claim that 'Kalki Bhagwan', as the
defendant calls himself, has taken money from the public for
rural development activities and fraudulently diverted it to his
personal bank accounts as well as that of his close relatives.
From being an ordinary clerk working for a state-owned life
insurance company fifteen years ago today the atenth Incarnation
of Vishnu' is allegedly worth many million dollars and owns vast
properties in many parts of South India.

The Indian Supreme Court has been asked, based on the merits
of the evidence presented, to order a thorough investigation by
state agencies into the functioning of the 'Kalki' empire.

The 'Kalki' case is not very unique in a country that gave the world
the word 'guru' to begin with and produces more of them every
year than the rest of the world combined. (I am including some
software programmers here!!!). The manipulation of abstract
(often abstruse) thought to manipulate animate creatures has
deep roots in this ancient land, which has produced several of
the world's major religions apart from numerous cults and
mystical traditions.

Out of all the 'gurus' that routinely spring up on the spiritually
fertile Indian soil only a few are genuinely enlightened souls who
help spread goodness and true religiosity around them. The
bulk of them are unfortunately ordinary conmen out to make a
quick buck.

Once upon a time the typical 'guru' would prey on the gullibility of
the predominantly rural and illiterate Indian population.
Considering the raw deal these village folks got here on Planet
Earth their attraction to anyone promising a better life in the
Heavens above was never surprising.

But in recent times god men and gurus of all kinds have
developed a huge following within the urban Indian lower middle
and middle classes. Since the early eighties in particular there
has been a boom in the 'guru industry' across urban India and
some of them have acquired virtual pop-star status. (All that long
hair helps, I am sure)

So what explains this phenomenon of otherwise educated,
well-heeled Indians queuing up in droves to fall at the feet of fake
god men and shower them with money? Is this about the
genuine quest of individuals seeking spiritual salvation in a very
materialist world or is it about their dishonest attempts to get
quick-fix solutions to the moral dilemmas they face in an
increasingly unscrupulous world? To be fair I guess one would
have to say it is a bit of both.

On one hand there is a genuine search for spiritual satisfaction
that many individuals undertake, in a world where there is
growing material consumption but diminishing human
happiness. This leads many to experiment with one false
prophet after the other in the hope of arriving at a magic formula
that will bring balance between mind and matter.

Also given the inability of institutionalized religion to cater to the
specific spiritual needs of individuals, many people turn to gurus
who offer precisely such personalized service. Like having your
own custom-built conduit to nirvana.

At another level, the kind of things that most members of the
middle-classes need to do in their jobs to both keep their jobs
and get ahead of the Jains (the Indian equivalent of the Jones)
creates considerable moral turbulence to say the least. While
most people justify whatever they do as being part of 'what
everyone does to survive' the fact is their conscience still
undergoes a torment that simply cannot be wished away- and
hence has to be whitewashed away.

The more troubled a society is by feelings of guilt and sinfulness
that the consumerism of the few amidst poverty of the many
engenders, the more frenetic its public display of pretended
religiosity. It is this vast growing market for moral mufflers
across the small towns and cities of India that the guru industry
has managed to cleverly identify and capture.

With their instant solutions of spiritual salvation- sold at steep
moral discounts with pay-as-you-pray options- the gurus have
struck a commercial goldmine. In exchange for a fat fee they offer
the modern citizen an easy way out of the more difficult task of
maintaining integrity or decency in their day-to-day lives.

There was a time in the past when the typical guru would
become popular by exhorting the public to give up their material
desires and then sit back to watch all the lovely money flow into
his own bank account. Nowadays though the average guru is
more realistic about public attitudes and instead promises them
all kinds of shortcuts to instant wealth while charging a
commission for his services.

"Don't shun worldly pleasures, seek ultimate happiness" the
Tenth Avatar is quoted as preaching to his devotees, (sounds
like the late Chairman Deng to me!) to whom he promises
everything from winning lotteries to marrying a bride who looks
just like their favorite movie star. His foundations charge
followers for attending courses on something called 'pragmatic

The Indian public is lapping up this kind of drivel and paying for it
too. Today the sad situation is that while the average urban
Indian becomes more and more overtly religious in his/her
public activities, politics, priorities and cultural symbolism- this is
accompanied by a steep fall in his/her actual moral worth.

For all their hedonist holiness the Indian middle-classes have
neither become more charitable, or generous, or kinder or
tolerant- not a single sign that they have somehow become
better human beings than before. ('Don't interrupt my orgasm!
You unhappy, pseudo-secular, bloody communist!!' I can hear
them say)

At the macro-level too there are other pressures that bear upon
the individual pushing them towards blind unquestioning faith.
One of these is the deliberate injection of uncertainty into the
material lives of millions of Indians in recent decades by
successive governments implementing neo-liberal economic

Since the early eighties successive Indian regimes have
pursued a path of Liberalisation, Privatisation, Globalisation (the
LPG model) which has resulted in increasing income
inequalities, diminishing job opportunities and the rapid erosion
of the rights of employees in both the state and private sectors.
The last two decades of the Indian economy has been aptly
characterized by some as consisting of an industrial sector
which had growth without jobs, while the rural sector saw
employment without income. According to the Indian Planning
Commission there are currently 212 million people in the country
between the ages of 14 to 24, but only 107 million have jobs.

The insecurity of the average Indian family today is one of
gigantic proportions as they witness before their own eyes the
systematic destruction of all hopes for a better life by policies
designed only to enrich a few at the expense of the many.
Unable to understand this process and in the absence of
organized resistance many have resigned themselves to their
fate or sought refuge in the false but comfortable world of

Another major factor promoting the growth of spiritual
supermarkets and religious retailers in India is of course the
speculative greed unleashed among its middle classes by the
'casinofication' of its economy- as a consequence of

The sheer volumes and velocity of global financial flows
conjures an awe among many human beings that was once
upon a time reserved only for the grand forces of Mother Nature.
And in a world where money mysteriously appears in some lives
and disappears from others, like the incarnation of an ancient
God, it is difficult not to become superstitious.

It is not accidental therefore that financial speculators, aptly
dubbed as 'wizards' by the media, have become the new high
priests of our societies and role models for many people. "When
in sorrow contact Soros, for happiness try the Hedge Fund! " has
become the new mantra of the punting classes.

And like all gamblers everywhere the speculating middle-class
citizen today will do any damn desperate thing to keep fate of
his/her financial investments prospering. Go through the
classifieds section of any major Indian newspaper and you will
find outfits peddling everything from astrology, numerology,
fengshui, magic gems side by side with finance companies,
stock brokers, real estate agents, investment consultants,
wheelers and dealers of every description.

So what we have right now in much of urban India is a mad
scramble by the middle classes to blindly bet everything they
have on the market and equally blindly buy insurance from the
nearest holy-looking scamster and hope it all works out fine.

While I have described so far the dilemmas of the temple (also
mosque/church in the Indian context) going public the question
that troubles me is that if the people have become vulnerable is
it not the responsibility of the truly religious to restore their moral
spines? Unfortunately as far as most contemporary religious
institutions are concerned one sees no attempt whatsoever to
help ordinary citizens cope in an honest and dignified manner
with the momentous economic and social upheavals tossing
around their once simple lives.

Instead what we witness is that religious outfits- after having
served out their feudal masters in the past- are quickly adapting
to the corporatisation of the world and becoming full-fledged
enterprises on their own. And all signs are that they have been
extremely successful too- using every modern corporate tool
from slick advertising to internet marketing to get their

Just to give an example from Thailand- one new Buddhist sect
here called the Dhammakaya which preaches the Kalki/Deng
line of "to get rich is glorious' actually won a national award in
1988 for its 'market planning strategies' from the Business
Management Association of Thailand.

Before anyone gets me wrong let me explain that I do seriously
believe in the possibility of religious institutions playing a very
positive role in many societies provided they put the interests of
ordinary folk above that of rich elites or their own survival. Just to
give another example from Thailand again the Buddhist Sangha
here does a fantastic service to society by absorbing large
numbers of rural youth from poor farming families into the
monkhood. The Sangha provides the young monks with shelter,
a basic education and a sense of social responsibility and at
the same time is not dogmatic or rigid about their leaving the
monkhood to take up other professions. Some of Thailand's
best know writers, artists and even social activists come from a
background in the monkhood.

Maybe one can argue that it is the role of the state to provide
such welfare but in many a developing country given the
dysfunctional state of the state such traditional social welfare
systems still have an important role. (If such opportunities were
extended to young Thai women, who are unfortunately
discriminated against, Thailand could get rid of much of its
notorious commercial sex industry)

In stark contrast in India, with a few splendid exceptions, most
religious institutions have ceased to serve the public in any
meaningful way and instead parasitically live off them. At the
time of Indian Independence Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime
Minister, famously claimed that industries would become the
atemples of modern India'. What we see now is that instead it is
the temples that have become 'industries of a revivalist India'!

If this is going to be the case then I have a suggestion to make.
Subject all religious institutions to the same laws that apply to all
other industries, businesses and trade. Allow all those
employed by the religious industry to form trade unions and
empower consumers of religion to claim compensation in the
courts when they get products of 'low spiritual quality'. If they are
in the business of selling God then there should at least be a
sales tax on the proceeds. Tax these religious outfits and use
the money to pay for truly religious actions such as giving the
weak and poor a better life.

A good start would be to straighten out the booming business
empire of none other than our dear atenth Avatar of Vishnu'.

Satya Sagar is a journalist based in Thailand. He can be
reached at sagarnama@...




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