It just takes the one bad apple, as the saying goes. And yet, what about a whole rotten barrel? Name me one baba or cult, godman or ashram, where there’s been no report of untoward incidents, if not outright sexual abuse. Exploitation is the name of the game.
And yet, especially in India, the media has to be extra careful… not to upset anyone/ incite followers to violence. But “Baba” Rampal apart – and hello, state authorities, a man with his own private militia outfit is perhaps a cause for concern, right up front – it’s very rare to find a well-known guru or baba whose reputation is pure as snow.
You can go right back to Beatles mania. The Fab Four were initially enamoured of the Maharishi, the guru they made famous all round the world. Fast forward a little bit, and then come the reports of unwanted sexual advances against Mia Farrow… A trip to his ashram cut short, and some major publicity later, the Beatles called the whole thing a mistake. Oh, and bung in a few Income tax raids for good measure before the “giggling guru”, his Hippieness, was out of favour… and out of the country.
More recently, there were reports of embezzlement and more muzzled reports of child abuse, even when it came to Sathya Sai Baba, though when he passed away, none of that was mentioned in the news. Some dignity, perhaps, being accorded to the dead – deserved or no.
Godmen are defended vehemently against us mere mortals and our earthly agendas. But how come we don’t think of them as cults proper?
The cult of personality
You’d be hard pressed to find defenders of Charles Manson for one, except perhaps the 20-something girl who’s marrying him, after interacting with him in prison. Manson led a group called “The Family” – a cult back in the late 60s. A group of people who were under “his influence” undoubtedly, but also committed several murders at his behest. This is not normal behavior. And yet, that’s what you get in cults.
The late ’90s saw the news break of Heaven’s Gate – 39 people commit mass suicide to – get this – be beamed up to some spacecraft. Ah, the aliens must’ve just turned right on around, at the sight of the madness.
Bikram Yoga doesn’t sound like a cult following – except, well, maybe it does. The founder, “yoga guru” Bikram ‘half-naked’ Choudhury has been accused of sexual assault by several followers. As of last year, according to a Vanity Fair article, “five women have filed lawsuits against Choudhury, with charges ranging from rape to sexual harassment”. Common to other cults, he tells one of them (according to that article) that he is her guru, her god, and she needs to listen to him. And inevitably, sleep with him.
And then there’s Osho -- the reports of orgies and illicit drugs maybe add to the aura of his beliefs, but bung in millions of dollars, and major politics, not to mention other less favourable reports from his own former number 2. “Ma Anand Sheela”, who went on to write a book – and here’s an excerpt from an article in Open: “It shows him as an exploitative and manipulative guru who used the respect and goodwill he commanded to expand his fortune. Sheela describes how he carried on a long-standing sexual relationship with his attendant, Christine Woolf, a suicidal British national whom he renamed Vivek, and hints at his multiple sexual liaisons with other sanyasins. When Vivek became pregnant with Osho’s child, which Sheela claims Vivek planned on purpose to teach the guru a lesson, Osho got the pregnancy aborted and Vivek sterilised."
So much less palatable than the public image.
I would say, blanket rule, trust no one who operates in a system that deifies him –and it’s usually a him, isn’t it? India has wonderful stories of the Hugging Amma – but then again, she too has a former assistant who alleges sexual and financial fraud. Charges that are yet to be proved – and again, I don’t want to provoke her army of believers just for the sake of it. Nor would I take on “Baba” Ramdev and his merry band.
No, not just for the sake of it. He’s of course very vocally “anti-corruption” (which is a hoot, in this country!) and maybe more of a politico now than a “baba”. But then again, I haven’t heard or read anything in the recent past about that 2 million pound Scottish island… and mega-donations of the rich and powerful. The jury’s out so far.
In god we trust, maybe, but we definitely need to be more sceptical of their chosen flock on earth.