An elderly gentleman in India who wrote on a yahoo-group website has had an illumining mail exchange with the ex-Sai Baba follower Eileen Weed and has allowed me to reproduce it here. To avoid being dragged into any public controversy, his condition was to remain unnamed. He wrote:
“Although I am by nature an iconoclast and one who could never believe in any of the so-called swamijis, gurus, godmen & godwomen (of which the last one is a comparatively recent phenomenon). Being an Indian totally and not having any inkling about the workings of the western minds, my suggestions below may or may not be workable. Still, it is an earnest attempt. So, kindly forgive me if what I write does not appeal.
The basic cause of the phenomenal success of the Indian Gurus, godmen, godwomen, etc., among the western people seems to me to be the attraction for the mystic which is present in human minds. The western religion does not probably provide sufficient avenues for satisfying this “craving for the mystic” and making life meaningful, sort of. The gurus/godmen/godwomen project themselves as the very incarnation of the mystic element and this enables them to draw a large number of people to come and “accept” them as the unquestioned “guru”. Just like if you own a very costly car (like BMW or RR) it is generally considered that you will have very fast and comfortable road journeys, these devotees possibly think that by joining a world famous godman/godwoman’s cult, they will automatically have an assured, comfortable spiritual journey which will take them to some pre-conceived spiritual end.
The remedy lies in knowing that no human being, born in the usual biological process – to a woman, can be more “godly” than any other. This has been stressed by one of our great gurus – Shri Adi Shankara – in one of his very famous (sanskrit) verses as under:—
jaṭilo muṇḍī luncitakeśaḥ
kāṣāyāmbara bahukṛta veṣaḥ
paśyannapi ca na paśyati mūḍho-
(The body is emaciated, the hairs plucked out, different kinds of dress like the ochre robe etc., are used; but these fools do not understand the TRUTH even if they see it. Hence all these are nothing but various attires for filling the belly.)
This is the stark naked truth and if we analyze the case of the Indian gurus/godmen/godwomen we will find that perhaps none of them possessed any skillset for any other avocation than this “holy person” role.
Now, when people decide to throw in their lot with a certain guru/godman/godwoman their “ego” remains intact and powerful and it does not get attenuated at all; if anything the devotee’s ego further increases because he/she thinks that by associating with the guru/godman/godwoman, his/her spiritual status has increased, that he/she has risen a few steps higher (?) than the ordinary, run-of-the-mill people and so the devotee’s ego will stubbornly reject even the most sincere suggestions from friends, well-wishers, close relatives, etc. The western notion of “individual freedom” only adds to this complication. Unless the Karmas of a person are such that it provides the person with the willingness to listen to the advice of parents/friends and think differently from what is inculcated by the cult-like outfits which surround every guru/godman/godwoman, nothing much can be done to ameliorate the condition of your friend.”
In a reply to the above, Eileen Weed wrote: “Being a Westerner who was with an Indian guru for a long time, your analysis rings true for me. My question is, what about all the Indians that flood the ashram and the ashrams of so many other gurus? What are THEIR feelings about the Indian gurus?
It seems to me that Indians, in general, worship the gurus as a matter of course, like bowing at any temple or puja function, but they do not emotionally, physically and mentally invest their very souls into the person like us Westerners tend to do. Also, I think the Westerners tend to be much more exclusive. Though the gurus may warn devotees not to go here and there to other gurus (except themselves), the Indians don’t seem to take it as literally as we do.
In addition, looking at the people who tend to attach themselves wholly and exclusively in close physically as possible to the gurus, my observation is that the closest sevaks, if Westerners, are brainwashed fanatics exclusively worshipping that paticular guru; whereas the closest Indian devotees, not being enamored of the mystic side, tend more to want to take advantage of the money, power and fame of the guru, so they are not as devoted and don’t have scruples living an immoral life. Is my observation correct or not?
And the illuminating answer she received was:-
Your analysis is quite correct, I should say. The indians flocking to any guru will be one or the other of the following kinds:—
1. Folks with some intractable problems in their personal/family/working life who expect the so-called guru to solve the problem for him/her by miracle, so to say!
2. People who “style” themselves as spiritual seekers and usually tom-tom to the society around them, about all the special closeness they have to so many gurus. Some of these may be charlatans in reality.
3. Gullible masses who have a sub-conscious notion that the more time (and money) one spends with such ochre-robed gurus, temples, places of religious importance etc., will add to one’s “punya” or balance of good (meritorious) deeds and will bring good results in this life and the births to come hereafter.
4. Out-and-out opportunists who get close to a guru’s outfit so that they will get preference for contracts of various kinds and can make “a kill” in terms of money.
None of the categories above surrender their selves to the guru which, it seems, the foreign devotees are, somehow, prone to do. Our Indian folks know these so-called gurus probably by their sixth sense and very few get “trapped” mentally; may be that is the main reason why our gurus religiously search for foreign women devotees! It gives them unquestioning devotees who give themselves over, completely, and it adds to the glamour quotient for the guru’s outfit also.
I presume that your name divya reveals that you have integral indian connection (if not origin). According to our hindu notions a person has to “strive” himself/herself for aatmajnaana or the knowledge about the Self and this job cannot be outsourced to any guru. A really good guru can at best be an example – himself or herself – for the disciples to follow and emulate. Again, hinduism is highly patriarchal and women are uniformly considered as no more than mere chattel of men. Women are not allowed sanyasa or the ochre robe, even if their husbands take to sanyasa. I sometimes wonder, therefore, as to how craftily our gurus have managed to misinterpret the religion itself to suit their materialistic ambitions. Going strictly by our ancient scriptures, women gurus like the older Anandamayi Ma from East Bengal, Sarada Devi, Aurobindo Ghosh’s ‘mother’ and so on are not allowed, in the first place, even to become sanyasis or renunciates.
Secondly, a sanyasi belongs to that order of monks from whom he gets or “receives” sanyasa …a woman cannot initiate another. This itself is irregular practice, so to say. The prime need of the times is to de-educate foreign people about the trappings and traps within all such guru/godman/godwoman apparitions particularly from the orient.
This certainly puts the claims being made by self-appointed ‘godwomen’ today in the true context of age-old Hindu tradition.