ndsharma's blog

Of Godmen and Conmen

Posted on: July 6, 2014

There are roughly three reasons why one becomes a sannyasi or sadhu or mahatma or whatever you want to call. One and the only valid reason is that one has thoroughly enjoyed life and now feels detachment from the worldly things. Bhagavad-Gita lays down: na karmanam-anarambhat naishkarmyam purushoshnute (No man shall ‘scape from act; By shunning action; nay, and none shall come; By mere renouncements unto perfectness. Nay, and no jot of time, at any time, Rests any actionless; his nature’s law; Compels him, even unwilling, into act; [For thought is act in fancy]. He who sits; Suppressing all the instruments of flesh, Yet in his idle heart thinking on them, Plays the inept and guilty hypocrite; – translation by Sir Edwin Arnold).

No school of Indian philosophy permits sannyas or renunciation without going through the worldly requirements. Sage Patanjali defines yoga as complete mastery over feelings and sensations (yogashcittavritti-nirodhah). Bhojadev, the king-scholar who is believed to have reigned from 1019 to 1054 AD, has authored a lucid commentary on Sage Patanjali’s Yogasootram. He explains how desires and feelings such as anger, jealousy, hunger, sex urge, etc. will continue to haunt one who takes to sannyas without fulfilling all his desires. Yogic kriyas, which some of the godmen flaunt to claim their divine power, are merely forms of physical exercise aimed at making the body fit for the rigours of sadhana which is required to attain sublimation.

Once I met at Rishikesh an elderly gentleman. The tranquillity and compassion on his face had attracted me to him. I had a few meetings with him during my stay. He had, he told me, retired as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) in a town in West Bengal, had saved enough for a comfortable retired life, and his children were married and well settled. His wife had expired a few years earlier. He gradually felt his interest in the worldly things waning. Then he decided to move to Rishikesh and concentrate on meditation and the study of the scriptures. He never went to his place but his children and grandchildren occasionally visited him at Rishikesh. He was, he said, at peace with himself.

In the second category are those who out of sheer frustration or for some other reason renounce the world and take to sannyas. They start it with complete honesty. Then after some time the unfulfilled desires and ambitions take the better of them and they spend the rest of their lives hovering between the two forces. Swami Karpatriji can be cited as an example of this category. Born as Harinarayan Ojha in a Pratapgarh district village, he left his home, wife and a small daughter at the age of 17, went to the Himalayas to perform penance, and was accepted by Brahmanand Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath, as his disciple and given the name of Hariharanand Saraswati. He went to Varanasi where he spent most of his time in meditation and the study of the scriptures. He was spending an ideally austere life. Once in a day he would go to some house, spread his palms before the housewife, eat whatever his palms could hold in a single serving and return to his place at Mirghat to continue with his penance. That was how he got the name Karpatri which means one who uses his hands as utensil.

As his reputation spread, the rich and the influential were attracted to him. Soon the swami was trying to play the king-maker. He formed a political party comprising mostly the former princes and princesses. In the first two general elections, the party had won a few seats in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas in the Hindi belt. In his later years the Karpatri was living among the affluent, all strident believers in ancient Indian values. The days of austerity were left far behind.

The third reason for becoming a monk is the calculated design to con the gullible people for enjoying all the good things of life without doing a day’s honest work. An extremely large majority belong to this category. There is a play in Sanskrit with the title Dhoortasamagam’. It was written by Jyotirishwar in the 13the century. Its main character, Vishvanagar, is unable or disinclined to earn his living through honest means and becomes a sannyasi. During his wanderings he meets his female counterpart Suratpriya who had also taken to sannyas to enjoy life. The play is about how they con the people to enjoy dainty food and sexual orgies.

These self-styled godmen build up their halo over the gullibility of the people. What, however, is surprising is the manner in which the educated persons, quite rational otherwise, block their critical faculty before such a godman even when the godman has been proved to be a crook. Asaram Bapu is the most well-known example of this.

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Value of propaganda

Adolf Hitler believed in the use of propaganda as an integral element to seizing and holding on to political power. His maxim was 'the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough'. (Sean Murphy in his book 'Letting the Side Down')

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