God in the Age of Kali
Sadhguru: Version 2
Of course, even Subramaniam and the Sadhguru play safe in India's messy religious landscape, with Subramaniam expressing doubts about, if not contempt of Hindu temples, Brahmins, and rituals. Such simplistic and safe asides are now perfunctory in the secular/progressive Indian world. Nothing of Gods and conmen, let alone the violence and fetishism in the world of Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, and Buddhists find mention in the talks of the Sadhguru or the writings of his biographer, which is rather worrisome. The Sadhguru too is dismissive of Hindu priests, rituals, temples, and customs. But he is mum about the rest of the world's religions and religious inclinations. We will have to let that be, for now.
Instead, it is curious to look at what took Arundhathi to the Sadhguru. A four-minute publicity video for the book gives some insight, but one has to read the book to gather the reasons for this effort of a kind of spiritual love and longing. And if the quest for God or for spiritual succor is an illness that only a few are afflicted with, then it is good that among those are good writers and poets. "I thought gurus happened to other people," writes Arundhathi, specially identifying middle-class Indian men and their "docile, status quoist" wives. But she should know that in India, as elsewhere, it is the vast masses of the poor, and especially women, who flock to temples, mandirs, and mosques, and who raise their hands and shout "hallelujah" on Sunday mornings in churches—small and mega—even in these United States of America. The poor have an affinity for God, and those who promise them a "showing" get their attention and alas, also a lot of their money. The Benny Hinns of the West, with their touring circuses, well-muscled security men, loudspeakers the size of trucks, and strobe lights with multi-million wattage travel the world preying upon the innocent and needy, while their Indian counterparts, whose shows have very little production value comparatively, draw even larger crowds with similar promises of heaven, goodness, and the grace of God. But even in India, the land of snake charmers and God charmers, the likes of Sadhguru are rather rare. And they don't usually attract the attention of "contemporary urban women" like Arundhathi Subramaniam.
There are always exceptions, of course, and incidents and events in our life that are out of the ordinary bring pause. Tragedies, death, disease, and distractions happen to and afflict all of us, even to the stylish, articulate, well-connected, and well-heeled contemporary urban men and women. In those moments and times some of us may be tempted to seek relief, in the form of therapy (if your insurance allows it), or visits to the local wine and liquor store, a spa in Darjeeling, or a vacation in Bali. Something like that happened to our author, and traveling from New Delhi to Mumbai, after a vacation in Nepal, she "started dying." Coming out of that death "funk" she sought help in books, going beyond the merely fashionable treatises on existential anxiety to the works of and about Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and other mystics and sages. But after a while, books become repetitious, and they lose their ability to soothe. You can only take so much of "God talk," and so many accounts of miracles and mysteries before you begin to yawn, and trudge to the refrigerator for a soothing nightcap, or in the case of Subramaniam begin to look for someone who actually "knows" and who would guide her out of her misery, her loneliness, and out of the cul-de-sacs of the mind.
Ramesh Rao teaches communication studies at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. He is a prolific author on Hindu and Indian affairs, and serves as the human rights coordinator for the Hindu American Foundation.