Godmen have been dominating our news channels lately, which got me into thinking why. Unfortunately, most of them have been in the news for all the wrong reasons like monetary scams, molestation, fraudulent practices and the like. Is this a recent phenomenon, or has this been around for a while?
Godmen have been around for decades; however, their number and following have increased manifold over the last few years. As is the case with any other area, the advent of 24x7 media has put the focus on them as well. Not only are they newsworthy, they have cult following; thereby increasing channels' viewership and making the Godmen more popular.
So, why is it that their following has increased and continues to increase despite the negative news surrounding many of them? Well, the simplest and the most obvious answer is that it is a matter of faith. Just like a theist believes in the existence of God, an entity whose existence is yet to be proved scientifically, the followers of Godmen believe in the latter. However, common sense says that faith is fine as long as it does not become blinded.
Looking at the popularity and prosperity of many Godmen, many more have taken to it in the hope of making it big even without having the basic qualities, or the will to do service for the mankind. Sadly, many have taken it as their profession, or business. Not only many people follow these Godmen and give them an exalted status, people willingly give out sums of money without even asking any questions. The government too gives them many freebies and exemptions.
Godmen are known by many other names like spiritual leaders, or gurus, or guides, or teachers. In fact, mentors that are usually associated with the professional setup too play a similar role. They all are here to offer guidance, share some life skills and principles, and many times just to lend a ear. With today’s fast-paced life and fragile relationships, people are looking for somebody to listen to them, somebody to guide them, somebody to share their experiences with and somebody to offer them hope. If a Godman, or a guru, or a spiritual leader can offer you that, then why not? This guru could be your relative, or friend, or teacher, or somebody unknown as is usually the case. As long as s/he offers you solace and hope, go ahead. The problem starts when the person you look up to and follow blindly, starts taking advantage of you. There are many Godmen who claim to possess some magical powers and have been able to somehow prove themselves. In fact, there are many frauds who extract money in the name of hope. Like any other relationship, the onus is on you to protect yourself.
Human beings have a herd instinct, and they tend to follow somebody just because there are many others following him/her. Big numbers do not reduce your risk of being duped. After all, in many cases, people do lead their lives according to their gurus. There are some tell-tale signs of fraud like some guru making tall promises, asking for donation quite often, leading a big empire while claiming to live off donations only, leading a luxurious life while propagating austerity, etc. You need to remember, why you are following somebody in the first place? If it is to take guidance, then take that only. If it is to follow some principles, then learn them only. If it is to share your problems, then do that only. If it is to hear somebody’s experiences, then learn from them only. If it is to just talk, do that only. If somebody can offer you hope of a better life, then great; but don’t fall prey to tall promises and shortcuts. If being with somebody, or just listening to somebody gives you peace, then go ahead, but don’t let that person govern your life. You have to use your judgement like you do when dealing with people in other spheres of your life. There is no magical mantra for this, just like there is none for your problems. In short, please don’t make these Godmen, God. There are men behind them like you and me.
It takes only one fish to dirty a pond, and this pond has many such fishes floating around. The onus is on you – the follower – to separate wheat from the chaff. It is a sad reality which is taking away sheen from the genuine Godmen, who have dedicated their lives to the service of others. As a famous Hindi proverb goes, “Gehoon ke saath ghun bhi pista hai,” which means the good too have to pay a price for the penance of the bad as it is difficult to separate the two for the common eye. After all, scepticism is the beginning of faith, and faith isn’t faith until it is all that you are holding on to.
Have faith – in yourself first! The rest shall follow.
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)