Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rise of neo-religious powers

I do not know whether the proposition that, there is a God has been confirmed, but there sure are religions proclaiming that there surely is a God and that 'their God' is the best and everybody should start believing in Him.

India is a multi-religious nation and religion wars are seldom if not totally absent. What i observe today is, apart from religious divisions, people are being divided on other (for the lack of a proper phrase) religious planes. Gurus have emerged and sects have been formed. I call these sects - neo-religions. 'neo-religion' a parallel for the word 'सांप्रदाय' in Indian languages. A religion is a set of people who worship one or many Gods or their commandments; a neo-religion is a set of people belonging to one of many religions who worship and follow a God-like Guru.
A popular example of what i call a neo-religion is the one formed by the followers of Shri Shri Ravishankar. Another one is the neo-religion formed by Shri Aniruddha Bapu of Mumbai or that by Satya Sai Baba.

From what i have seen, once people subscribe to a neo-religion, they start taking pride in it and its activities. They begin to differentiate between followers and non-followers. More often than not, a follower will ask you to join in or try out their programs once. Sometimes the coaxing gets a bit too much. IMHO, its the responsibility of the Guru/head to see to it through his teachings that, 'My neo-religion is better than yours' kind of attitude does not develop in the followers.

The main difference between religions and neo-religions is - religions are not following a living person as such, unlike a neo-religion, which follows a living guru. Of course, religions have religious heads like acharyas or mullas or popes etc, but people consider them at a level of superiority lower than Gods and teachings of that religion. In a neo-religion, the guru is the सर्वेसर्वा (be all and end all). IMO, this makes a huge difference.

With a direct following of millions, a great power rests in the hands of the neo-religious head. He can subtly guide or misguide or even make use of the support he has got. What would happen if the head 'ties up' with a corporate organization ? He would be the best promoter the organization can get! Imagine him saying - 'Foo company has provided us a lot of help in building an ashram(or whatever) at foobar place. We should return their help by using their products whenever possible' . This would be a powerful yet indirect way to advertise. Negative advertising can also be done - 'We should prefer not to use Foobar's products because... so and so'. Although i've not heard it happen and it sounds extremely skeptic, but it is not improbable. The head might have clean intentions but, people below him in the ladder might not. In addition to that, with a lot of money flowing in and out, clarity about financial operations needs to be maintained.

Every neo-religion sports its own set of karma-kandas. Some have a peculiar maala for doing jaap, some have specific religious ceremonies and some have their own books, stotras etc. This is similar to what happens in religions. But, sometimes, karma-kanda itself takes up a lot of time and importance and, only a few realize the real objective of doing it in the first place. It is only after looking within can anyone really improve. No amount of blind copying can help.

All through, I have been negative about the neo-religions. But it would be unfair to not state that, many of the neo-religions do a lot for the benefit of the poor and the needy. Environmental and social activities are also taken up. Again, like i've mentioned before, there is immense power in the hands of the the religious head, and he can channel it for good or non-good.

It would be interesting to watch the dynamics of the neo-religions in the coming future - what new ones will rise ? which of them will dominate ? and which ones will become history...

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