Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Understanding the Scandal

.. and an open letter to Arthi Rao and other detractors 

 Someone once said to someone else  "If half the people love you,.. and half the people hate you.., You're a Star!". No one qualifies for that definition today more than Swami Nithyananda. No one is abused more by the media or celebrated more by his devotees than Him. Characterizations of Him range all the way from an outright cheat, a clever businessman, a charismatic powerful speaker, a genius, a spiritual master, a person with occult powers, an enlightened being, an incarnation or ultimately to many as THE Incarnation of our times. Interestingly many of these characterizations are common to both his detractors and his supporters! I know friends who say "He may be a cheat - but I admire his guts and his attitude". And those who say "I know he is an incarnation, but I am too scared to go near Him". With plenty of others to fill the range in between.

 How is it possible that one person is characterized in so many different levels by so many people? That itself is something to show that he is no ordinary person. Also, unlike other celebrities - Film-stars  Politicians, Sportsmen or Religious leaders - his followers seem to be all very highly qualified, educated and respected. They come from all social strata and from a large number of countries around the globe. Many of them have doctorates or are researchers with a strong scientific training. Surely for someone who is just 34 and who learnt to speak English hardly 10 years ago to command such an international following, he must at the least be a very brilliant person. And those of us who know him, of course know that he is brilliance personified. Anyways.. I digress and should get back to the point I am trying to make..

Each person's characterization is based on the experiences they have had. The people who have had no interaction with him except for what they read in the Media - especially if they already are skeptics  atheists or cynics - take him to be an ordinary con-man. Those who have taken his courses and found relief from depression or disease know of him as a great teacher. Those who have had any kundalini awakening or healing experience know of him to be more than just an ordinary teacher. Those who have seen from 2 feet away Him materializing objects from thin air under controlled conditions (like in a CT Scanner) - and I was fortunate enough to be one of them - know that he has powers over matter that are as such unexplained by science and that he is a powerful Mystic. And seekers who have struggled for decades trying to "quieten the mind" who find it so automatically fall in to silence in His presence know of him to be a being who is radiating enlightenment to the world.

But ultimately, irrespective of what you know of Him, whether you believe He is "good" or "bad" seems to be a matter of choice.. and unfortunately in some cases, a matter of convenience. You can take the same incident of say Him sternly correcting someone's actions to mean that he is a cruel, insensitive person... or to say that he is a compassionate master who chisels the defects from His students. People can explain the emphasis on His personality in the organization as narcissism or as an aid to evolve people's consciousness through the path of Guru Bhakti.

So what happened on 2nd March 2010 was that the morphed video made a bunch of people switch Him from being "good" to characterizing Him as being "bad". Without looking deep into whether the video was real or even before that as to whether the video mattered at all, all his previous actions were re-characterized as being ill-intentioned. The Media of course, being largely populated by cynics, always defaults to characterizing people - especially those in the field of spirituality or religion - as being "bad". So they had no problem in riding that wave. Even if you take the statements of Arthi Rao (supposedly the person who created the morphed video), till the day before she "saw" the video, she claimed Him to be an incarnation and was willing to fight for Him - in-spite of all the alleged abuses and "hell" she claims to have faced over the previous five years. A day later, He was a cheat and con-man. This is true of many of his detractors. The naive explanation she gives for why such a big switch happened was that she was - and incredibly all the thousands of highly educated disciples were or still are - "brainwashed" or "hypnotized" by Him. While Occam's Razor would suggest that the more simple explanation was that she - along with other ex-disciples - just chose to wear different colored glasses and the glasses caused everything to be colored different. If indeed He did have such incredible powers of mind control that He could use for many years even when the "victim" was on the other side of the planet for the most time, why could he not use that against all the law enforcement and media people to make them do what he wanted.

Note that we are talking about characterization of "good" or "bad", enlightened or not-enlightened etc. - not whether something is legal or not. Legally it is clear to everyone that even if the video was real - and it is so clear that it is not - that there is nothing here other than what would, in any other situation, have be called a "frivolous lawsuit".

Different people have different attributes that they cannot accept in an enlightened master. For some people, eating non-vegetarian food is conclusive proof of lack of saint-hood. While many others know of masters - both present day ones like Jaggi Vasudev  or historically Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, the Vedic Rishi's or even the Buddha - who have eaten meat at some point in their lives. Like wise there are those who consider charging money as a clear sign that a person is not enlightened. Some others have even told me that an enlightened master would not speak in colloquial Tamil! - much as Buddha was ridiculed for speaking in Pali which was a local dilution of sanskrit. Same goes for other attributes such as celibacy, being factual or owning property or this or that.

Ultimately, what I have learnt over my 20 years of interactions with many masters - both with and without the body - is that, none of these metrics can ever be a measure for enlightenment. For, if there was a measure, that measure will surely be abused and faked. And if there was an unfakeable measure, then that measure would be greater than enlightenment itself. As an exercise randomly pick any 10 people whom you are sure are enlightened - Say Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Shankara, Ramakrishna, OSHO.. - and try to find any attribute that is common across them uniformly. I can be sure that there cannot be a fool proof definition that spans all of them except perhaps for the unexplained admiration of their followers, the anger of their detractors and the eventual deification and acceptance of them after they leave.

This is the difference, as He so aptly said, between Dharma and Moksha. Dharma is a set of rules that help you to reach Moksha. Dharma is an approximation - and over time it often becomes an impediment to the real goal which is Moksha. The time between the establishment of Dharma and when it is no longer helpful to people is possibly what is a Yuga. And every Yuga, an incarnation has to come forth to re-establish the Dharma for that Yuga. Which is why an incarnation is always opposed most by the people who are using Dharma to identify a master. These people are always wrong. Because if they were right, there is no reason for an incarnation to happen. So if you are looking for an incarnation, don't expect Him to ever match your frame.

Now the clever ones may ask, then how do we distinguish an incarnation from a cheat? Is it not possible that people can pretend to be an incarnation and exploit you. The answer came to me during the scandal in two ways - one was a click during a guru Poornima satsang where it became so clear to me that I really had nothing worthwhile that someone could take away. Of what use is my body and mind that is short lived and full of wrong programmings? What would He ever get from me? And the second was this article by the Paramacharya of Kanchi in his books Deivathin Kural (The voice of God) that came to me very miraculously in a random webpage just as this question popped up in my mind. Incidentally, the Paramacharya was our family Guru and he was the person who conducted my aksharabhyasam (first initiation into writing) at the age of 3. It explains what the attitude of a seeker should be to their Guru during a scandal in words that are so beautiful and precise that I cannot summarize it without taking something away. So please also read this in its entirety -

He starts with the problem statement "How to be sure that the Guru we go in search of, is genuine ? If he happens to be a fake, then what to do ? How do we find out if he is clean or not ? Initially, we think that he seems perfect. Later, we get to know differently or we hear some gossip. Even good people are not insured from being subjected to gossip and innuendo!.. Those who have become a Sishya to a Guru, will find themselves in an embarrassing situation, when they hear such information about their own Guru. They will be hard put to decide, as to whether they should believe it or not".

And goes on to give the solution to this saying ".. I take back all that I said earlier, about the required character qualities of a Guru. That is, I am telling you now to stop assessing the Guru. As the child is with the Viddhyabyasa Guru, put all your guards down with this Guru also. With this Guru who is to show you the path of Moksha, even old sishyas, should place total trust. It does not matter, if this is considered as blind belief. ... . We searched for a Guru. We came to this Guru, believing him to be clean, wholesome and beyond corruption. If we thought him to be anything less, we would not have come to him.. All the question about assessing his behaviour arises only when we think of him as a simple, mortal, human being.. Even what is seemingly faults, may only be an error in our perspective... That is why, once you have opted for some one as your Guru, instead of assessing him, we should simply become devoted and serve him.. World may laugh at us. Let it. Even if we were to suffer as a result, let it be. It is not enough if the Guru is great. Our Bakthi also has to be effective.. Initially we surrender with the hope that we will be saved. When we remain firm, without changing loyalties en-route  our aim will be achieved, whether by Guru or God."

 From my very close personal interactions with Swami Nithyananda over the past four years, I am clear that it would be so very silly to say that He is motivated by lust. It is as absurd as saying that Bill Gates stole $10 from his wife's purse. Hundreds if not thousands of people who have done just a couple of days of his courses have freed themselves permanently from lust, addictions, deep seated traumas and what not. People are in ecstasy by his mere presence if not by just remembering Him. Claiming that he needs to touch someone else to get fulfillment is just ridiculous - and even his detractors - those who have had any experience with Him - know this. It is similarly funny to accuse Him of greed. There are enough of His followers even today who would gladly donate large amounts of wealth with which he can comfortably retire in a personal island someplace. The fact that he chooses a 20 hour per day work schedule over this life of luxury clearly shows that he is not after wealth. We can go on and on about all the other theories.

After I reasoned out all possible motives, what I can see is that His only motive is to free people of the chains of their mind and lead them to have blissful lives. Now there is no real way for someone to "prove" what his intentions are. For someone who has decided that He is "bad", any "good" act seems like a facade or an attempt to con people. For those who trust Him, all actions are beautiful.

What I ask of from the ex-devotees and other detractors is to give this theory a chance. Assume for a bit that it is true that his motives are "good" and that He is truly and incarnation. Can you find an explanation for all the actions you assumed were wrong? Note that you don't need a fool-proof explanation. You only need to do better than the fragile theory that he has managed to hypnotize all the thousands of his current supporters who stand by Him even after all this controversy! If you go through this exercise with honesty - and I request you to do it with all my sincerity and with real concern - you will find out that your hate has no basis and is possibly just a choice. And if you even just reach the 50-50 point, I would ask you to throw down your battle axe and wait. Soon you will see more proof of his divinity. I request you observe the events unfolding with an open mind.

In all likelihood some may turn around and ask His devotees to do the same - assume that he is "bad" and see if you cannot bring Him down. I can assure you that you can. For He shows Himself to you as whatever you see Him as. But there is a fundamental difference between the two camps. Which is, the people who follow Him do so because they have had a direct benefit from following Him. They have found bliss, peace, fortune or what not. While many of the detractors have had no real interaction with Him or all their sufferings started because they let go of Him. Not before. In most cases they were miserable before they met Him and after they left Him. Which implies by reduction that He has given them the most joyful years of their life. I for one know that each day with Him is the ultimate blessing. Even saying it with words takes away the truth of how it feels.

If you manage to see anything useful in this and even one of you have found your Guru again, this article would have been worth writing. Even if I haven't managed to reach you to that extent, I would request you to not waste your time trying to "save" the people who are sincere in their quest for enlightenment from their bliss, their path and their goal.


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