The perils of being a saint in modern times
Depression is the new epidemic in this fast-changing world and now spiritual leaders, who are treating these issues, are themselves falling victim to the condition
Untimely deaths leave behind a number of unresolved questions. The suicide of spiritual leader Bhaiyyu Maharaj is one such. His death has left in its wake a number of questions about spirituality, society and the times we live in.
Since ancient times, people have been approaching saints and holy men to allay their anxieties and get answers to the most troublesome questions bothering them. The Buddha had once said: “You (the people) approach me with a heavy heart and return after you’ve emptied your heart out.” Spirituality drives away depression; therefore, the news of a spiritual person’s suicide came as a shock.
Bhaiyyu Maharaj’s life was full of contradictions. He had lived through the disparate worlds of modelling, materialism and asceticism and tried to evolve a new definition of spirituality. He adopted a number of villages and helped revive water bodies. He was an impressive orator. Therefore, his addresses to the public attracted huge crowds. Gradually, ashrams were built and the number of his disciples began growing at a rapid pace. Along with this, opportunistic politicians began attempts to cash in on his popularity. Bhaiyyu Maharaj was one of those that Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had recommended be appointed as ministers of state. The Congress had also used him to convince a stubborn Anna Hazare in changing his mind. He was friendly with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Madhya Pradesh and Congress leaders in Maharashtra. Maharaj put himself in a position where worldly pleasures, materialism and spirituality overlapped.
Not surprisingly, he won both material riches and fame. So, what happened that suddenly prompted him to kill himself? So far, two of his suicide notes have been discovered which complicate the answer even further. No religion in the world justifies suicide.
The simplicity and ease with which he spoke inspired one to be in love with life. Why commit suicide then? The man who helped solve the problems of others couldn’t, perhaps, throw light upon the dark recesses of his own relationships.
Whatever be the reason for his tragic death, I want to discuss the perils of modern-day spiritual leaders. About 30-35 years ago, I had got an opportunity to meet Mahesh Yogi in Noida. I was surprised to see the elaborate arrangements for his security.
Even politicians didn’t maintain such a comprehensive security apparatus those days. I asked one of his managers: “If he is a saint, he should be fearless and uninhibited. Why does he need all this, then?” Having become a symbol of Hinduism outside India, he has annoyed “a whole lot of people,” was the reply. “His survival is crucial for the spread of our religion in Europe, which is why we’ve made all these arrangements.” I had an argument with him because all religious scriptures say a saint is somebody removed from worldliness. Why should such a person fear anybody? Everybody who has been hailed as a saint or avatar in this world got these encomiums when the person broke free from the trappings of desire, anger, arrogance and greed. With the passage of time, the entire world appears to have changed its mind on this subject.
I often remember my childhood when people lived by their ideals. We were surrounded by people who had participated in the fight for independence from British rule. The experiences of such people inspired us. Till the onset of the 1990s, selfless and sacrificing people were revered as idols. Their achievements had been borne out of sacrifices. But now, people make sacrifices after they’ve achieved their goals.
From Steve Jobs to Azim Premji, the philanthropists and social workers of today look at the margins only after they’ve achieved great professional heights. That’s why the role models of schoolchildren have also changed. Earlier, patriots and those who gave up on worldly riches were discussed, but today those who earn them are creating all the buzz. The economic liberalization that flourished in the 1990s established material achievements as the ultimate pursuit. Whatever its supporters may claim, don’t forget, the pursuit of achievements often leads to frustrations and frustrations in turn cause depression. This is true for most nations in the world.
Depression is the new epidemic in this fast-changing world and now those treating it, I mean the spiritual leaders, are themselves falling victim to the condition. That is why Bhaiyyu Maharaj will be remembered.
I have no hesitation in saying that in this complicated times we live in, it is increasingly become difficult for a man to stay human. Don’t you find this a threat to humanity?
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin
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