For years now, my friends and family have suggested that I become a "Babaji". I've spewed out free advice at such a level that I would have out-profited Patanjali at this point.
But while we joke about the outlandish yet sadly acceptable practices I'd have to apply—one thing is nondebatable. I'd have to keep a beard.
Facial hair has always been my Achilles heel (or should I say cheek?). The years that I should have been growing a beard, I couldn't and now when I can, it comes in almost completely white. For Babaji status, that's probably great news but my head is full of brown hair—no colouring or mehendi.
If these bearded spiritual leaders can also raise ungodly amounts of money... aren't they partaking in the material world far more than me using my Norelco?
It seems for me that post chemotherapy, when my hair started to grow long again, which thankfully it did, mind you much thinner, it has somehow kept the white away from my head. As for the white stubble on my chin, some people have paid me compliments but just as many loved ones have grimaced at the sight of it.
So this leaves me in a conundrum—even though I am organically becoming quite the Babaji, can I achieve cult status (even though that's not my goal!) without a beard? Is the world ready for a clean-shaven Babaji? Will my words hold as much value if they know I use shaving products?
There is the argument that true Babajihood means giving up vanity. You have to stick to one look and not focus on the material world. But Madonna rightfully sang 30+ years ago to me as a child that we are "living in a material world."
If these bearded spiritual leaders can also be business tycoons and raise ungodly (pun intended) amounts of money for their foundations and centres, aren't they partaking in the material world far more than me using my Norelco to stop my face from being itchy or breaking out?
I have a baby face. It helps me to pass off as far younger than I am. I also happen to truly believe that how fast the human face ages depends a lot on how old we actually think we are. I'm in my second life (post active cancer), so I feel like a fresher all over again, and I believe it shows on my face.
But a few days on the road and I look in the mirror and my face shows signs of an older man inhabiting my younger man's mind and body.
Given that we actually spend so much of our time trying recapture our youth, isn't it better then that their Babaji actually be more like Benjamin Button?
Yet, even though theatrics should be far removed from spirituality, there seems to be something rather more compelling about a spiritual leader who looks like Gandalf rather than Gandhi.
As Gandhi said, what matters is what is on the inside. In reality, "thought vanity" is far more dangerous than any blade, with or without aloe vera.
Indeed, I often wonder what might have been different had Gandhi kept a beard. Apparently, he actually was asked this question by a Sikh man while imprisoned in 1932. When asked why he didn't keep a beard, he replied, "For me I can see no reason whatever for departing from a long established practice which I have accepted for myself. I would far rather that people judged me by my deeds than by my outward appearance."
Gandhi wasn't born a Jain but he adhered to many of their beliefs and practices. While I never thought my own Jain background would have been a part of my decision-making process for growing a beard or not, it should be known that Jain monks don't cut their hair or shave but rather hand-pluck each follicle. It's a painful process that they engage in but the "suffering" is actually bringing them closer to the truth (it should be noted that female Jain monks also do this).
I've often thought if I'd want to inflict this level of pain on myself and what purpose it would serve. For me, I've experienced such heightened levels of pain that I've had Jain monks tell me it is more than what they endure! So I'll stick with my Gillette razor for now. After all even Gandhi justified his practice of a clean shave, right?
So this begs the question again—can I be a beardless Babaji? Will I have followers okay with me well-coiffed and in style? I won't push material products or charge people for simply listening to or following my ideals. I won't stand above and demand you add a "ji" to my name and touch my feet. We actually will eat together and I might even swear.
As the world becomes inundated by more and more Babajis, I hope we don't let the images fool us. As Gandhi said, what matters is what is on the inside. In reality, "thought vanity" is far more dangerous than any blade, with or without aloe vera.