Nehru called India “a madhouse of religions“.
“Spiritual tourists” like me are certain we will discover secrets here in a country where we can’t even find the train station. This is the land of saints and sages. Six million sadhus can’t be wrong.
None of us are dissuaded when we learn that the Indian sex manual (Kama Sutra) was written by a celibate.
The XX Century is done. Y2K looms. India tramps are hearing much talk of “Kaliyug“, the “age of darkness“, the “end time“.
This helps fuel the “enlightenment industry“. (Gita Mehta) Buzzwords attract tourists like flies — “tantric“, “karma“, “dharma“, “nirvana“. No worry they are so over and mis-used they’ve come to mean anything and nothing.
India is a place where people will embrace spiritual novelty. Any self-proclaimed prophet can quickly attract credulous devotees. The most enthusiastic are promoted to the inner circle.
India, Japan, and the U.S. boast the lions share of religious con-men, but they’re found world-wide.
An Indonesian prophet Petrus Ratu required his followers to wear their underwear on their heads. He was last seen in 1996 on his way to prison — with his underwear on his head.
Indian astrologers can veto weddings, corporate mergers, and wars. Gandhi said it all:
“I know nothing of the science of astrology and I consider it a science, if it is a science, of doubtful value, to be severely left alone.”
I’m embarrassed how many pathetic dupes are fleeced of $20 – $30 U.S. by street fortune-tellers. (I was savvy enough to limit my loss to $20 Canadian.)
I travelled with Harry; educated, articulate, sun-burnt, “square” — a prototype Brit. He started out to get his palm read and finished hugging the seer. Both naked.
Harry couldn’t explain how this happened except to emphasize that it was never threatening or coercive. They separated on excellent terms, the palm-reader looking forward to meeting Harry’s wife.
Channelling? Rebirthing? Angeology? Put up a poster and westerners will appear. (10 minutes early to get a good seat.)
I was considering a Gandhi-inspired fast until a Colorado “rolfer” advised a 10 day “cleansing“; drinking salt water, “chomper” pills, electric “zapper” (to kill parasites), twice daily enemas. “Long black oily strings are still coming out day 10.”
A group of travelers nodded approval. One packed-up and headed to Goa to sign-up.
I told “Rolf” I had decided, instead, on a “gorge“. I hurried to the bakery.
Brahma Kumari (Daughters of God)
A guidebook promised much; “an indisputable force for good in the world“, “integrity is unquestionable“, “perhaps the least corrupt organization in India“.
I climbed Mt. Abu to investigate their “World Spiritual University” (excellent!) and “Forest of Honey” administrative headquarters which oversees 4500 branches worldwide.
The BKs (Hindu Shivites) promote:
- women in leadership roles
- universal peace
- social work
- yoga and meditation
I attended a couple of introductory classes at their “Academy for a Better World“. My instructor Nagraj had a good message, but no teaching technique. The pitch compared badly with the sophisticated wooing of the multi-level marketing companies of the west. Nagraj could learn much from pyramid schemers.
(One point of similarity — MLM companies always include a prophet, usually the corporate founder. The BKs deify a Calcutta diamond merchant who had bizarre visions.)
I descended the mountain feeling warm and fuzzy, memories of happy, smiling people all dressed in white. Like Heaven.
I dropped by Krishna’s hometown to check-out Hare Krishnas India headquarters. The place was surprisingly run-down.
There’s a daily requirement of at least 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra.
Entering the temple I was immediately hit-on to “adopt a cow“. When I innocently asked, “Why not a goat?”, I was nearly throttled by a sputtering, enraged little fellow. This was profane mockery. Krishna is the “sacred cow-herd“.
I fled (my usual exit from Hindu temples) but ran directly into a shouting match between two shaven, orange-robed devotees.
Bad karma. They should be singing and dancing ecstatic with Krishna.
Thinking I’d just caught ISKCon on a bad day, I tripped to their gorgeous new temple / recruitment centre in Delhi. Conch shell horns sounded, curtains swept open, all fell in prostration to Krishna. It was an impressive show.
At the gift shop I couldn’t find a copy of “the book“, “Monkey on a Stick“, a damning expose of ISKCon U.S.A.
It was only 15 minutes walk to the stunning new (1986) Lotus Temple of the Baha’i — immaculate gardens, pristine pools. Really fantastic.
But the “park” between was a stinking cesspool. This is India. A slum latrine between two spiritual palaces.
Lotus Temple, Delhi
A modern (1850), common-sense religion:
- improve quality of life on Earth
- social service work
- condemns superstition and prejudice
- equality of men and women
- abolish extremes of poverty and wealth
- permanent world peace
- common foundation for all religions (they all produced great teachers)
The Baha’i have an interesting system of decision-making. They elect leaderless committees of 9 who are expected to arrive at a consensus. Even if there is some disagreement behind closed doors, all support the final decision.
Other innovations: no priesthood, donations accepted only from Baha’i, gossip discouraged. Courtesy, modesty, and decency are expectations.
I had a few concerns; the cult of personality around the Persian founders, they are a bit inflexible on alcohol and drugs, and (inconsistently) only men can serve at the embryonic world government, the “House of Justice” at Mt. Carmel, Israel.
The Baha’i have no hang-ups with sex, so long as its monogamous, wedded, and not over-frequent. Homosexuality is an aberration that, thankfully, is treatable.
“Shanti“, man. The Holy Ganges still flows clean as it emerges from the hills. Quiet, relaxing. A perfect space to write that novel, play bongos, or watch your hair grow.
Rishikesh is “The Yoga Capital of the World“.
Yoga? I know nothing of the science of Yoga. But it seems to me they obfuscate a practice (stretching and light conditioning) done safely and effectively by 7-year-olds.
Practitioners would highlight the mental discipline, a total lifestyle. This is true for serious yogis as it is for dancers and martial artists. But I just can’t stand mute when someone extols the “topsy-turvy manoeuvre” as religious experience.
“It’s a headstand! We teach it to 6-year-olds!”
Still, students in Rishikesh were all mellow-happy. I should make time to try yoga. (Should I choose Bhakti, Hatha, Laya, Kundalini, or Raja yoga?)
Rishikesh is replete with dozens of massive ashrams, housing untold thousands of Hindu pilgrims. Yet there was no place for me.
One gatekeep looked like a sadhu, but acted more soldier than sage. (Ex-military in the British tradition, as it turned-out.)
Later he warmed to me, after I concurred that most backpackers are complaining cheap-skates. Suddenly a great Ganges-view corner room became available. I camped on my balcony looking over to the cremation ghat.
In 1900, God was a “given“. But by 1980, 20% (worldwide) of people said they were non-believers. (World Christian Encyclopaedia)
Einstein believed in God. Feynmann found only “a mysterious universe without any purpose“.
Particle physicists have a better chance to answer the question than philosophers. They seek the G.U.T. (Grand Unified Theory) which will explain “everything“.
Many a genius concluded that God exists. Saint Vinoba was asked, “Do you feel as sure of God as you do of the lamp in front of you?”
“I am sure, quite sure, of God. But as for the lamp …”
Gandhi heard what he assumed to be the voice of God tell him to undertake a 21 day fast. Gandhi did not lie. Was it a schizophrenic episode?
Psychologist Antony Starr noted that unprovable beliefs shared by a few are delusion, but those shared by millions are religions.
Scientific rationalists should not believe in God. Nor should they fall in love, or feel fear watching a horror movie.
The Dalai Lama (officially an “atheist“, but the most religious atheist I can imagine) pointed out that we are born into this world not needing religion, only affection.
The historical Buddha told his followers clearly that there is no God. After his death they rushed to fill the void with … The Buddha.
Gandhi said that all religions are different leaves on the same tree.
But what is the tree?
Joseph Campbell called the myths and religions of man, the “masks of God“.
But what lies under the mask?
Even the most devout atheist will agree that E=mc2. Matter is energy. The atheist might even go along if you call that energy “God“. It’s just a word.
The debate really starts when you claim that God is sentient, creates or destroys, intercedes on Earth.
This is difficult to defend as “it rains on the just and the unjust“. Bad things happen to good people. None of the religious rationalizations, I’ve heard, convince me.
Yet I don’t have the conviction to deny that your God exists. Some microbe in my small intestine might deny that I exist. It would be mistaken.
Obviously a God might “be” which we can’t yet perceive. Perhaps God is unaware of our existence too. (Could you call him “God” then?)
Microbe that I am, I still can’t condone any God which calls you to hurt yourself or others. I get suspicious if your religion:
- is exclusive (“chosen people“)
- demands surrender to God or guru
- emphasizes recruitment or donation
- includes “extreme” doctrines (better is a “middle path“)
Ethics and morality can certainly exist autonomous from religion. Best is if your religion reinforces the (ever evolving) mores of society. At a minimum it should not conflict with our current standards of human rights.
Me? I’ve been studying monkeys.
We and the apes evolved from a common ancestor. Thence we came — tribal bands of pesky hunter-gatherers.
Life was short and brutish for primitive man. (We sired 20 offspring in order that 2 survive to adulthood.) Life was precarious. Drought, flood, disease, invasion. A dangerous world of evil forces.
The only defense was to “call upon powers which were a match for these adversaries or to propitiate the malevolent forces themselves“. (Roger Housden)
Superstitions, rites, rituals for protection evolved in every clan. The “evil eye” was feared the world over.
The first deity of which we know is the “fertility goddess“; “Earth Mother“, “Maha Devi“.
The miracle of life. The profound sense of wonder at the magic of birth was akin the awe of the mountains, thunder storms, the sea.
Often She was represented by a clay figurine. I know because a friend once made and gave me such a fertility goddess — a fine gift. (Mine hasn’t worked yet, Mary.)
You must know that a female supreme deity can’t last long in a male-dominated species like ours. She was usurped by male warriors like Zeus, Thor, Indra.
But for me the original God is female. And She is energy.
… of course I could be wrong. Perhaps my Truth is some sort of ignorance I’ve mistaken for wisdom.
I should go back to Tibet, search out Shambala, consult the “Spiritual Masters” of the Theosophists who have been monitoring the progress of mankind.
I was mad to have missed the chance to ask Satya Sai Baba, near Bangalore. Two Texas Indians married at his ashram assured me he’s a true fakir.
Sai Baba is the #1 guru of all time, a “man of miracles” who can materialize Swiss watches, heal the sick, and once turned into a sea serpent in front of hundreds of witnesses.
Sai Baba out-draws everyone but the Pope. He fed a million people for a week at his 70th birthday party.
A founder of the Hard Rock Cafe knows he’s for real. He donated $54 million. “Love All. Serve All.”
I’m Quitting India. I’m gone down the Irrawaddy to hunt down Kurtz.