The Hindu ideal of life is Nivritti, means subjugation and conquest of evil passions, of Tamasa nature of lust, revenge and avarice. It does not mean conquest of all desire. It means only the annihilation of gross desires. Every man is bound to love and sympathise with his fellow creatures. [A] Sanyasi is one who has vanquished all his selfish passions and vowed to devote his life for the good of others. —Swami Vivekananda in Madras: 1892-1893, Prabuddh a Bharata, 1974, pp. 296-98
The court cases involving various religious sects, especially from the Hindu fold, are getting unprecedented media attention. Some even used the recent case of Gurumeet Ram Rahim Singh to demonise all Saints and Deras. There can be no ground for defending any act of criminality and there should not be any argument over this. It is also true that such inhuman acts exist and are covered up in Semitic, Abrahamic religions but that cannot be a justification for protecting criminality.
Unfortunately, hardly any attempt is being made by media or academicians to present a socio-psychological analysis of dramatic rise in Dera or Baba Culture. Without understanding various categories in civilisational context and making relative sense of the Babas and their political-economic clout, we will not address the root cause of spoiling systems.
We as a nation always had respect and reverence for spiritual figures. These men and women have long played a critical role in shaping the Hindu way of life. Obviously, there are a variety of terms used to denote these spiritual categories.
The first category is associated with the idea of Sadhana (persistent efforts to gain knowledge and search for Truth). The most famous terms are “Yogis” (those who practice Yoga), literally means who connect the self-consciousness with larger cosmic world through various Yogic practices including Pranayam. Now people who perceive Yoga just to be a health or beauty therapy will not be able to grasp this intricacy.
The other category is of, “Swamis” (Spiritual Masters), “Rishis” (Seers), and “Sannyasis” (Renunciates) who are knowledge seekers through experimentation. As Swami Vivekananda explained, this category is associated with the ability of attaining Nivritti (subjugation of evil passions) and practicing renunciation from the material world. Though Sanyasa is considered as the fourth stage of life (Ashram after student, family and experimentation with social withdrawal stages), the Swamis and Sanyasis generally stay away from the family life and accumulation of wealth.
“Sadhus” (medicants) and “Gurus” (those who dispel spiritual darkness) live in society, having their personal lives but still practicing and propagating the ideas invented by Yogic Sanyasis. They provide practical solutions to the common masses as they are closer to the social problems. Through their actions and teachings they are expected to be the role models for common people on the path of spiritual life. The highest category in this field is Paramahansa, one who has attained enlightenment.
This subtle but important categorisation is important to understand the ‘Baba Cult’ as they neither practice nor propagate the larger spiritual goals. Unfortunately, various traditions and Dharmic institutions, like the Peethas, that use to verify and certify Sadhana of individuals or organise Shastrarth (dialogue for seeking truth) were crushed by external aggressions and colonial legal systems. ‘Baba Cult’ is outcome of that process.
The process of Globalisation and rising material aspirations has created a spiritual void in our society. Bharatiya values are under threat and individuals are looking for something to hold on. Many spiritual Gurus, including Babas, take benefit of it by attracting many followers through miraculous acts. The culture of political mobilisation based on castes and sects allow them to fiddle with the political process which further complicates the matter.
The caste differentiation and discrimination is another reason for rise in these cults. The institutions like Deras or Ashrams do not provide them with just spiritual solace but also offer them sense of identity and dignity. That is why people are ready to do or die for their perceived ‘Gurus’.
Reinventing our ancient knowledge systems and institutions in tune with the time is the need of the hour. For which, we will have to challenge the Western idea of Modernity based on materialism and individualism. We should not get into the trap of either defending anything or demonising everything. We have to learn the art of contextualising things, interpreting them in the light of eternal ethos, leading to the evolution of civilisational modernity. Otherwise, we will keep committing the same historical mistake of negating the self under wrong pretext.