Recently a shrink friend of mine forwarded me a message revealing the top 10 most successful "gurus" in India. They were ranked based on their number of followers and their net worth.
Spirituality has become big business where we get to pick and choose our leaders. Besides, unlike trying to get into a college, there is no stress in applying for a programme - you can be pretty sure you'll get admission. Perhaps that is what makes shopping for spirituality so mentally satisfying. Our minds are always looking for acceptance and having our choice of any of the leaders from the top 10 makes us feel special and included.
Perhaps there's something about my face, or my journey, or my gullibility, but I've been approached and/or been recommended for admission to many of these "programmes".
While I choose not to judge any leader and refrain from questioning their qualifications, as an avid researcher and seeker of knowledge I do need more convincing than simply a sales pitch explaining that my problems will all be solved through my acceptance into this college of thought.
"PR is the necessary evil behind the success of every spiritual leader. Without the press, there would be faith but perhaps few followers and thus, no finances."
If there is one thing that travelling throughout this wonderful country has taught me is that there is power in religion. But many spiritual leaders have utilised the majority's openness to polytheism, where religion is sold with a gift-wrapping of spirituality.
In effect, this intertwining of spirituality and religion is something like Bollywood's "inspired" relationship with Hollywood. Many so-called spiritual discourses are inspired by religion, and sometimes they are simply lifted straight from the scriptures.
So what if I follow one of the Top 10 leaders? Is there a fundamental issue with this? No, of course not. Ultimately, many of us require messengers to increase our belief in ourselves and, after all, no college is worth studying at without the help of well-informed and thoughtful professors.
But just as some great colleges use student instructors to teach introductory courses (and hence may deprive new students of the benefits of being taught by an experienced professor), these courses too are often lead by peers we intrinsically tend to trust less in regards to their knowledge. We may not always learn directly from those with the skills and capacities to guide us to a full understanding.
So it's no surprise then that we have rankings for spiritual leaders. The marriage between faith and finance is essential as the flashiest message or the one that gets the most screen time and word-of-mouth buzz will ultimately triumph. In a lot of ways, PR is the necessary evil behind the success of every spiritual leader. Without the press, there would be faith but perhaps few followers and thus, no finances.
But when the media is supposed to show non-bias and a lack of value judgement, aren't these rankings for spiritual leaders merely creating a positive "spin" for them?
I ask this the same way I do about a magazine that ranks the top 10 colleges. By creating the ranker, aren't the top universities getting press and thus enabling the formation of faith for those that have been crowned as the best?
Perhaps I need not ask so many questions and simply embrace whichever philosophy fits me or perhaps finds me. At the end of the day if what someone else believes results in selfless behaviour and positive energy exchanges with me, why should I shield myself from this offering?
I guess the optimist in me wishes that the knowledge that we acquire, regardless of which college we went to or which leader taught us, would still result in a happy and healthy life. It's too much pressure to have my fate sealed by making a wrong decision about my life's spiritual path.
I've been on the journey long enough to know that it doesn't matter where I studied or with whom, but rather what I picked up along the way and how it has shaped the person I have become and the person I choose to be in this world -- ultimately that's my spirituality.