Understanding How Ram Rahim’s Version Of Spirituality Became A Religion

Posted by Ankur Ranjan in Society
September 3, 2017

The fiasco of Ram Rahim’s conviction where he was sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment and the following mob violence that killed 36 people and injured hundreds, is an incidence that brings up many questions in its wake.

One of the biggest questions is – Why do women hold such a helpless place in the Indian society? Most women silently bear the brunt of eve teasing and molestation, sometimes even without the hope of finding a safe recluse in her parents as well.

Why does the media not push for the ‘Vishakha guidelines’ to be implemented under The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, in the ashrams and the religious institutions? Why there is an abominable complicity in the political sphere in such cases, that keep coming up and hints towards a larger exploitation that never meets the eye? Why there is such deafening silence from the community of spiritual or religious gurus?

Maybe this is too profane a matter to attract their consciousness. How is such a cult created, where even abhorrent and heinous crimes do not deter the belief of the followers, who in it, smell nothing more than conspiracy?

It is chilling and disgusting when such acts come out of spaces that are considered to be righteous. Sadly, it is not surprising at all. Many would see it in a social perspective where class-divide seems to be making a phenomenon of the sort of Ram Rahim. However, there is a common thread that runs through all the similar institutions cutting across the social and geographical divide.

The root of this is grounded in seeking a guru to spearhead the voyage of one’s life over the turbulent water of the world (saṃsāra) to the further shore (nirvāna). I do not mean to suggest that these words mean the same thing for everyone, but still, the process rotates around on this fulcrum, often also considered as the age-long tradition of India.

Ram Rahim in himself is not so difficult to understand. A man, who saw beauty in the ideals that spirituality weaves around itself, took the path and reached to a commanding position where his influence brought him money, respect and power. All he had to do was compromise his integrity by leading two lives simultaneously–one for the spectacle of the people and one that he actually was. An extremely profitable deal to make!

For me, the concern is not these gurus. They seem fairly clear in what they are doing. My concern is the flock that we see around them with folded hands.

Religion is nothing more than a liturgical, ethical and fundamental subversion of spirituality. When a group proclaims that ‘this is the path’, religion is born. In modern day we see a new phenomenon though. Spirituality that is based on the freedom of individual and varied paths is taking the colour of religion by institutionalising itself.

To my mind contemporary spirituality seems nothing different from religion, seeking the same unconditional surrender and unfettered devotion. It is better to call it neo-religion, since it does not mind your previous identities but overshadows them with a stronger and novel one. Just like religion its foundation is also laid on the fears and insecurities of individuals and is a coaxing of a different kind by promising liberation rather than heaven.

To a few less serious, even some material gratification is satisfying which comes as grace in place of this devotion. Just like religion, it gives morality, purpose, a sense of belonging in a community and the collectiveness of undertaking works of service with a missionary zeal. The most promising appeal though comes in the sense of superiority of being pious and righteous, ‘holier than thou’. Then how do they draw a distinction that they do?

The distinction lies in a mortal guru who has presumably attained what others are aspiring for and is a light to help one sail through. This has immense security, more than what can be understood, of being guarded in the guided light of a master, more so when one is being followed by so many, who follow for no other better reason themselves.

All that then boils down to – what is spirituality? Spirituality is the courage to stand alone as against a mass phenomenon, in the utter unknowingness, freeing oneself of all that one knows about oneself, to ultimately know ‘who one is’. This is a vulnerable journey with no safe harbours and no trodden paths.

But then the question is for us to answer individually to ourselves. Who has the courage, who is ready to stand alone and ultimately who is willing to know the unknown?

So can a guru be of no help? Certainly not.

It is said that whenever one is ready enough, the guru appears in various forms and from time to time. We might even shrug them away if we are not ready, but they have the power to eventually change the course of one’s life forever, without us even realising when and how. To tell it less mystically, everybody and everything is a master if we are receptive enough but essentially we are our gurus – the master of the vehicle, the one who is forgotten and demands to be known!

Thus this is not difficult to conclude that what the people on the roads of Haryana were fighting against was their will to let go of their self-created identities and subsequent beliefs that it garners. To pass this off as Andh Bhakti is also a misnomer as there is no innate blind devotion here for anybody else other than one’s misplaced idea of self.