As an increasing number of so-called spiritual leaders are found to be mired in murky controversies – the latest being the arrest of Rampal of Haryana, the common man’s faith in their claims of godliness has hit a new low. Senior reporter Jyotsna Jalali caught up with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living, at Panchkula on Thursday, to elicit his views on the mushrooming of self-styled godmen and its impact on the spiritual movement. Excerpts:
Why do we need spiritual leaders in this age of education and rationality?
Spirituality keeps people healthy and sane. People need to have faith in themselves and in a superior power. Spiritual leaders help in guiding people.
People’s faith in spiritual leaders is getting eroded as so many self-appointed godmen have been exposed as crooks?
In this country, any Tom, Dick and Harry can become a politician or declare himself/herself as a spiritual leader without any proper education, common sense, work-experience and training. We need training for both these categories.
Is there a need for an authority or a regulator to check individuals/organisations claiming to be spiritual? Should the government intervene?
We need to have an independent council of spiritual leaders, rationalists and intellectuals to keep a check on ashrams and deras. The council should be independent and absolutely without government interference. If the government is involved, it would try to use these spiritual organisations for their own political needs. There should be an independent body to look into all FIRs registered against ashrams in the country.
But, governments and politicians court godmen of all shades as their followers form a votebank?
You should ask the government, but there are such people in every field. We should not be painting everyone with the same brush. If you find one rotten apple, you can’t say all are rotten or that you will stop eating apples.
Why did you attempt to persuade Rampal to surrender when his followers were violently clashing with the police?
No one is above the law. None at all. He (Rampal) should have definitely followed the law. No one asked me to persuade Rampal to surrender, but I did it on my own. When I learnt what he was doing and was creating his own army, I thought of putting some sense into him. I tried calling him up, but he didn’t respond to my calls.
Should spiritual leaders be possessing firearms and ammunitions in their deras?
Spiritual leaders need no such stuff. We are not a failed society and state, where people have to fend for their own safety. We have a vibrant democracy and don’t need to be afraid of anything. A person who keeps firearms fears an attack on his person. True spiritual leaders have no such fear.
Why only India has so many spiritual leaders? What will be your message to them?
India is the democracy of spirituality. That’s why we have so many saints. For the spiritual leaders who are doing good work, I have no message and nothing will get into the head of those who do not do good.