A Matter Of Faith
“I had wished to see Guru-Ma but not like this. On TV we could have seen her while sitting at home, watching news coverage of her discourse.”
Soon after, we saw a female volunteer of foreign origin coming towards our direction from the distant corner of the compound.
“If she comes nearer, I'm going to request her for seats inside the auditorium,” she said still having some hope to have Guru-Ma's 'darshan' from within the auditorium.
The volunteer, crossing through the entire lawn came straight to her and said, “There is a seat for you inside the auditorium, please come with me.”
“Seats inside for us?” My wife asked disbelieving her ears.
“Only for you,” she answered and led her through the lawn into the auditorium. I could hardly trust my eyes watching the discourse on the TV, set up in the lawn, when I spotted my wife sitting right in front of Guru-Ma in the very first row, generally reserved for VIPs and other prominent persons.
Since that astonishing incident, unbelievable yet absolutely true, we both have developed unusual belief, respect and reverence for religious and spiritual swamis, yogis, gurus and god-men, although we are not active followers of any particular one. We are no longer surprised at the phenomenal popularity of some of these exotic spiritual mentors in India and abroad, especially in the United States where they have enthralled Americans like no one could ever imagine. Since the sixties a virtual wave of Indian gurus has washed upon the shores of North America. And seemingly gullible Americans have proven over and over again that they are only too willing to welcome these “god-men” and a few “god-women” too. The list of such spiritual gurus keeps growing:
There was Swami Satchidananda (now deceased), Guru Sri Chinmoy (still carrying on in Queens New York), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (perhaps the richest guru on earth), Guru Maharaji (a boy wonder), Swami Prabhupada (deceased founder of “Krishna Consciousness”), Sai Baba, Swami Muktananda (deceased founder of Siddha), Yogi Bhajan of 3HO, Swami Rama and let’s not forget Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who was deported before he died. A new female “guru” is breaking into the American hearts named “Chalanda Sai Ma.” She is apparently a former pupil of Sai Baba and others, but is now touring solo.
Of course the United States appears to have plenty of homegrown Gurus, which includes an assortment of psychics, faith healers, mediums and even snake handlers. Still, despite easily accessible homegrown holy men, there seems to be something about flowing saffron robes, mantras and exotic India that excites the imagination of many within the US spiritual environment. Many “god-men” seem to know how to tap into the U.S. self improvement market, and make the best of it.
The historic success of Indian gurus in the US seems to have inspired a growing list of American wannabes that have taken on Indian names and titles. Frank Jones from Brooklyn is now “god-man Adi Da,” Fred Lenz was called “Zen Master Rama,” a former New York housewife Joyce Green calls herself “Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati,” Mike Shoemaker became “Swami Chetananada” and Donald Waters became “Swami Kriyananda,” just to name a few.
In India many families are great believers in some god-man or the other. Every second day there’s a grand procession and a yatra happening somewhere with lakhs of devotees thronging for darshan of a god-man or something associated with him. TV is the god-man's biggest ally. The religious channels have been a god sent for the god-men, getting them entry into each and every household. Even mainstream channels have more than a fair share of god-man content. You no longer can ignore them as you invariably run into them every time you flick TV channels. Most of the god-men are quite captivating, with their flowing beards, special suits and forceful voices. The key selling point of the god-men is their talk about things that make sense to many. Stories that had their foundation in magic and ‘chamatkars’ always appeal to people. The stories are remarkably simple and straightforward that really could improve people's lives. Some of these god-men also teach exercises and relaxation techniques that are very effective. The god-men seem to have mastered the art of making a miracle mixture of religion and reality that promises to take care of real life worries like stress, loss and failure. They would invariably end with the god-man blessing the devotee and saving the day. It is, therefore, no surprise that the number of followers of these god-men just keeps rising. They have full faith that only a certain guru or god-man can tell them the right path or fix their lives. They must have experienced some good from that faith or waiting for that good to happen. You may disagree with them, but for them it is a matter of faith.