n the late sev enties the US religious scene was staid, with religious worship limited to the church-going. Then, the evangelist Billy Graham appeared on TV and his passionate preaching so riveted America that churches found themselves sidelined. In India too, we have seen such an explosion of articulate television godmen, that with people now getting spiritual lessons sitting in their living-room sofa, they need the scriptures and the temples less and less.
A godman’s success or failure is determined by his popularity and the adoration of his followers. Each making claims, one taller than the other, to remain in business. The competition is intense because one’s followers can always be driven away by a more dramatical guru. In this game of ‘holy’ business, the one essence that is sure to be massacred is Truth itself. In this context, therefore, the adage, ‘Guru ko pehchan kar aur paani ko chaan kar peena chahiye’ (just as water be filtered before drinking, so should a guru be pre-tested), becomes very meaningful.
This message is illustrated beautifully in a story in Pancha Tantra:
An egret fishing in marshy waters, standing still for hours, his eyes seemingly closed in contemplation of Brahman, presented a tranquil picture. His nature was like that of an anchorite and a mystic, and he had gained a great reputation for his mastery of meditation among the fishes and frogs that lived in the murky pond. Soon it was summer and the pond began to shrink rapidly. The aquatic devotees panicked. An SOS was sent to the ‘bird sage’ who promised ‘to lead his sheep to greener pastures’ by ferrying the creatures one by one, lovingly cradled in his great beak, to a river nearby that ran all the year round. There they would all live happily to attain mukhti (salvation) untainted by shortages or shrinkages.
One by one, the ‘followers’ did get ‘liberated’, but not in the reverine waters; they got drowned in the bilious little pond that lay at the bottom of the egret’s belly. At long last, however, the sham sannyasi (Guru) did meet his match in a crab who alone was wise enough not to be taken in like his unfortunate brothers, and saw through the disguise. He bit the bird to death and crawled all by himself to the river, to a new life. Moral of the story? Never let the outer garb fool you. Yet another moral, from the crab’s point of view: you can attain nirvana or salvation by yourself, but it is often a long and lonely walk.
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