By C T Joshi, Senior Journalist, Bengaluru 

A publicity-crazy religious-spiritual leader recently appeared as a half-clad wrestler in a  wrestling pose in a TV advertisement. It was cheap and laughable, undignified and unbecoming of his position in society.

There is a yoga-cum-ayurveda  expert. Once he had roped in dignitary after dignitary to speak highly of him day after day through the “idiot box”. That is to advertise him day after day. If his work was solid, as claimed by him, he did not need someone to tom-tom it.

The contribution of a young man in his early 30s is so far a big zero. He has just entered the rough and tumble of the world. But is already chasing the media glare. He himself told me that a TV channel had agreed to air the interview with him. Not for his achievements. But  for Rupees two lakh !

It is unfortunate that today the media glare has become the mantra, the passport to fame for many, whether they deserve it or not.

What is more unfortunate, it seems, is that the media bug has bitten a number of religious and spiritual leaders too, who are supposed or rather expected, to rise above petty mundane matters, above the desires and passions of ordinary people. They are expected to inculcate in their followers the higher values of life and the importance of spiritualism. More so in these days of excessive materialism and crass commercialization.

But apparently many of our religious and spiritual netas have themselves turned commercial and materialistic, and have turned the pursuit of religion and spiritualism glitzy and glamorous. What an irony? Or a mockery? Or an incongruity?

Years ago the head of a well-known religious institution contested during election to a State Legislative Assembly. He did not say even a single word seeking votes. Quietly he sent to all voters in his constituency packets of prasaada — much more telling than words, but a blatant misuse of his religious and spiritual standing for a non-religious, non-spiritual and purely personal purpose.  It is a different story that he did not win, despite this subtle and supposed to be an effective way of canvassing, through the prasaada.

For the last few months an affluent person has been holding public meetings of his caste people under the patronage of a caste-based religious association, of which he is the President. He has unabashedly turned the association into a forum to promote his own personal political career.

Calling such leaders religious or spiritual leaders may amount to denigrating this noble and ennobling term itself.

Our spiritual leaders are expected to set an example for the people not by high-sounding preaching, but by their own conduct.

If unethical and unpardonable is the conduct of the high and the mighty in the spiritual field (which it is, in many cases), should we blame the ordinary mortals, who take their leaders as role models and follow in their footsteps?

Yes, certainly we should blame them. Because these ordinary mortals have also to take the share in the blame along with their role models. For by their herd-like behavior and blind, irrational faith that whatever their leaders do is acceptable, they encourage the leaders to indulge in all their whims and fancies.

Once the head of a religious institution was allegedly involved in  a counterfeit currency note case. When the police prosecuted him and produced him in a court, his devotees gathered in strength in the court premises and protested against his lawful prosecution.

More recently another Mathaadheesha faced a police case. He may or may not have been guilty, but it was not a serious matter for his disciples, who openly supported him.

The large, frenzied mass of followers went much further, went berserk and created a serious law and order situation after their spiritual leader was convicted, and sent to jail by the judiciary.

Many of our religious orders and their heads dabble in politics and play along with wily and self-serving politicians. Nothing wrong, if it is ethically-driven politics. But no. What they do, it is  widely and openly alleged, is to dabble in self-centred, caste-centred and personality-centred politics. And quite openly without any inhibitions. Under the garb of  religious leaders, they are accused of playing upon and exploiting the religious susceptibilities of the innocent and religious-minded masses, who are gullible enough to fall for them.

Why? There want power, it is said. They want to be king-makers, instead of kings. Which gives them all power. And no responsibility. Which suits them better.

This does not mean that we do not have real religious leaders, who really inspire and lead people onto the right and ethical path. And away the blaze of publicity.

A nearly-800-year-old Brahmin Mutt has been unobtrusively rendering yeoman service in the fields of healthcare and education.

Few people know that this orthodox and tradition-steeped Mutt has celebrated in its premises Id Milad, the birthday of Prophet Mohammed. Triggering a volley of protests.

Another religious institution has been propagating Indian culture and traditions without fanfare for the last 100 years. A visit to its serene and sylvan premises in Bengaluru will instill peace and contentment in any one.

But there are black sheep in any field any time. They always bring bad name to the entire flocks.

India is known and hailed for centuries for its ethical values, religious, that is righteous, traditions and spiritualism. It has been a happy and harmonious blend of the material and the spiritual. It has been THE world leader.

Its spiritualism is distinct. It takes a balanced and holistic approach to life. It does not teach outright renunciation of the world and its pleasures. Instead it tells one to attain spiritual heights while living and enjoying the life.

This is done through the concept of four purusharthas, that is four stages of life. It enjoins that one should turn to spiritual pursuit only after enjoying full and wholesome life. What a meaningful and beautiful concept.

Unfortunately today all this is history. The country’s history has changed unrecognizable.

We have forgotten all that is meaningful and beautiful in our own culture and tradition, religion and spiritualism. And what is more reprehensible, many of us ridicule and look down upon them. Under the influence of what we call modernism or progression. It is not that we should shun modernism or progression, which is good, at least some of it. It means we should not break off from our culture and traditions in the name of modernism and progression.

Resilience has been India’s greatest virtue and strength. Because of which, it has withstood all the outrages and onslaughts, both spiritual and non-spiritual, heaped on it for centuries and centuries. Because of which, it can still rediscover and relive its glorious past.

Only,  we, Indians, have to try sincerely and earnestly to rediscover and relive the past.

For that, it is absolutely necessary, as the first step, to know our past and be proud of it. A sizable section of us neither knows our past nor feels proud of it. That is our tragedy.