The suicide of Bhayyuji Maharaj, who had a substantial following — including powerful politicians — urges us to rethink about godmen and godwomen. We are used to thinking of godmen and godwomen as spiritual luminaries. That is based almost entirely on the fact that thousands flock to them for comfort. Many believe they receive such help too. But we never ask, “How is the godman faring?”
The pathos, in this instance, is the weariness under which Bhayyuji had been groaning, as he says in his suicide note. The last words of a man tell the truth about him. Even so, the extreme step taken by him has left his followers in disbelief. Many among them maintain, “Maharaj gave solace to many. How could he kill himself?”
What is the purpose of spirituality? Is it only to derive solace, from any source, no matter what kind of people we are and however ungodly our lives? The truth is that the inner turmoil arising out of being less than what we need to be is far more spiritual than the peace that is today packaged and marketed. Humankind has not really progressed on account of the peace and serenity peddled by godmen and godwomen. They maintain the status quo. They receive the patronage of the rich and the elite, including cast and crew of the state, precisely for that reason. Though this might sound far-fetched, the role they play is analogous to the role of the law-enforcing agencies. Those who serve as outlets of peace that is irrelevant to lived realities — the de facto opium of the people — are in the business of averting radical unrest that, if given free-play, would transform the quality of life.
Such a peace is erected on a world of illusions. In a series of scandals in recent years, Christian TV evangelists were exposed as sexual perverts. In their cases too, many claimed to have received peace and benefited from the miracles of healing. In contrast, a person who is guided by the light of the divine, one who is truly spiritual, is more apt to be poor and despised, rather than popular, influential or affluent. This insight is basic to Indian spirituality. It is immanent in Lord Krishna’s exhortation to Arjuna on the discipline of nishkama karma — the rigorous severance of the strings of attachment to the fruits of one’s labour. How can those who are unattached to earthly rewards become rich and flamboyant?
The most difficult burden for a human being is having to sail simultaneously in two boats going in opposite directions. That is precisely the plight of our prosperous and powerful godmen. The corrosive burden of hypocrisy is inevitable. But there are differences among them. It is the more sensitive among them who hit the dead-end, as Bhayyuji Maharaj did. Bhayyuji’s suicide is all the more shocking as it comes in the wake of his principled rejection of the Madhya Pradesh government’s effort to offer him a political bait. Unlike many others, he took no time to turn down the offer. This caused my respect for him to rise.
I do not want to imply that the spiritually enlightened should shun politics. To me, spirituality is also political. But “political” in what sense? The spiritual light should shine in the sphere of the political, as a radical call to practise a culture of governance based on the universal values of love, truth, justice and compassion. Seeking power and profit is utterly contrary to this credo.
The death of Bhayyuji Maharaj urges us to reckon the need to reverse the present trend. The spiritual principle is clear: It is only by caring for others — not by swallowing someone’s dishonest pravachan or seeking refuge in his make-believe empire — that people get peace. We become strong by reaching out to others, by sharing their sorrows, and by discovering this core ingredient of our shared spirituality. God makes us strong; godmen make us weaker. How can those who cannot stand on their feet carry us on their bent and buckling backs?