By Rahul Singh:
The days are gone when spiritual sadhus were visualised as barefoot ascetics meditating in the Himalayas having denounced their materialistic lives. Now “Godmen” have metamorphosed into internationally renowned figures, who hog media limelight, are politically powerful as well and control huge business empires. While their rise has made it possible for their preaching to reach all corners of the earth and help people with their wisdom, the sheer mass of wealth generated by their enterprises is questionable and raises eyebrows as to whether it is necessary for spiritual men to possess so much of it.
Recently, Baba Ramdev was forced to declare his assets; he declared that his four trusts have a corpus of Rs. 426.19 crore but did not mention anything about the companies he owns: Patanjali Ayurved (turnover of Rs. 320 crore ) and Divya Pharmacy (Rs. 300 crore ), a total fortune of over Rs. 1100 crore for a sadhu. He is inspiring millions of lives all over the world by his yoga teachings, no doubt about that, but the monetizing of the whole process is unfitting of a spiritual person. His organizations are not non-profit ones and he makes significant profits, parts of which are utilized in building hospitals and asylums for the poor. But along with that he has established a mega corporate empire and there are allegations of tax evasion over him. A session in close proximity to the baba costs Rs. 10,000 — 50,000, he travels in a private jet and posh cars, living in luxury hotels — all of these are not the characteristics of a godman, especially as religion teaches abstinence from the comforts of the world. Ramdev’s business empire is even more amusing considering that he is a major critic of multinational corporations himself.
Following Sathya Sai Baba’s death, his personal chamber, the Yajur Mandir, was found to contain Rs. 11.5 crore in cash, along with gold and silver worth about Rs. 21.6 crore. Cupboards contained cloth bags filled with diamonds, hundreds of robes, more than 500 pairs of shoes and dozens of bottles of perfume and hair spray. Besides this, there are allegations that huge sums of money and other valuables “were secretly shifted to undisclosed locations” from inside the Yajur Mandir during the month of April, when Sai Baba was undergoing treatment in hospital. Sai Baba’s claims of being a miracle maker and an incarnation of God himself were already fiercely contested. Now, the revelations of immense wealth have cast further doubts over credibility of the Sathya Sai Trust. Sathya Sai’s followers, including former judges, have all along maintained that theirs is an efficiently managed trust and every penny is accounted for, but discovery of crores of money exposes the transparency claims and springs question on the utilization of donations from millions of faithful disciples.
These two are not alone in the rich Godmen list. “Amma” Amritanandamayi – the saint of Kerala who has hugged at least 21 million people over the past three decades has an empire worth Rs 1,200 crore. The funds are generated from her own Amrita television channel, as well as 33 schools, 12 temples, a state-of-the-art super specialty hospital, and a deemed university along with foreign funds and domestic donations. The total turnover of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s empire is approximately Rs 400 crore that includes his Art of Living (AOL) institutes, pharmacy and health centres, and a hill 40 km from Bangalore on lease from the Karnataka government for 99 years. “You have to run it like a corporation to make it financially viable,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has said in an interview a few years back. Outside the huge complex in Delhi that houses the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple, a large billboard says, “Become a life member – all donations accepted here.” The price tag for a life membership starts at Rs 10,000. ISKCON runs 400 temples, 100 vegetarian restaurants, and a wide variety of community projects.
It would be unfair to say that these men do not do any good to society. Sai Baba’s philosophy of love, social service and the universality of all religions proved both appealing and powerful and his message that more merit could be gained through service to humanity than through religious observance brought spiritual satisfaction to his followers. Also, a part of the money earned is spent for charity. But with all due respect to the good that these institutions do, the hypocrisy of accumulating wealth while preaching not to be attached to gold, money or any material belongings is a bit hard to digest. Millions of people each year do their pilgrimages, visit temples and these gurus; donate gold, jewellery and money in the belief that this helps their life. Seeing religion as a lucrative business many self-styled crook godmen have duped people of their money, spiritualism has become a holy cover for unholy deeds. Religion is commercialised too much now, wherein the gurus are also lured by money. Spirituality and materialism cannot co-exist. The hunger for wealth creation is depriving humanity of peace, creating social inequality. Soul searching is the need of the hour.