While flipping through the channels in the middle of watching IPL (which I haven’t followed this year as eagerly as I used to in the previous years), one of the news channels was having it’s report on the arrest of the a guru named Swami Nityananda for various charges including Rape, unnatural sex, cheating, hurting religious sentiments.
My room-mate’s instant remark was “Look how is he smiling. Why are they taking him in such a posh car. That idiot should have be driven out in a truck.”. I was amused. My room-mate didn’t know anything about Nityananda until the scandal broke. And soon after he heard the story, he became extremely judgemental to an extent that he developed dvesha for that chap! Sigh, impatience seems to be the virtue these days.
Now, I am someone who has keen interests in what’s known today as “Hinduism” (I prefer Sanatana Dharma as -ism yields the term some sort of a book-bound-closed-system’s connotation) and it’s evolution. I spend most of my spare time reading up on the darShanas (loosely translated as philosophy for those who want an western equivalent), particularly the vEdanta darShana or uttara mImamsa. My knowledge of Swami Nityananda’s teachings is limited to a youtube video on Shiva-Sutras, which I later realized was not what I was looking for (That was the time when I was reading up on pAnini’s mAheshwara sUtras). However, in the past two years, I have been learning quite a bit about what sanAtana dharma is and what it is not.
So with this background, and with whatever I have read about the scandal, I was naturally amused as to how easily people, like my room-mate jump to conclusions based on a juicy report by the sub-standard main-stream media.
To those who lap up every word said by the main-stream media, I have only five questions, which I deem are important from the point of view of a viewer who is being subjected to hours of this “moulding the public opinion” exercise on issues such as these, as if they are of grave national importance. (On a related note, does anybody remember what is happening with the maoists?)
- The Tape shows two adults having consensual sex in private. As per the CBI’s evidence, there wasn’t any sort of force used by accused. So how does the charge of “Rape”, stand ?
- Another accusation is of “Unnatural sex”. Wait a minute, what was that recent reinterpretation of Article 377 all about ? The media was all ga-ga over that same judgement hailing it as a “milestone” in the history of Indian law. And under this new interpretation, I quote:“unnatural offences”, would hereafter be restricted to non-consensual penile “non-vaginal sex” (rape by a homosexual) and “penile non-vaginal sex involving minors” (pedophilia).
- The next accusation is “cheating”. Cheating whom ? Has the lady who appears in the tape filed any complaints that she has been cheated into having the sexual intercourse ? If no, then whom else has he cheated? If the accusation of “cheating” refers an incident that’s totally unrelated to the sex-tapes, then why is that being said in the same sentence as “Rape” and “Unnatural Sex” ? Is it done deliberately to misguide the public ?
- The next accusation is “Showing disrespect to religious sentiments”. But question remains to be asked, which religious sentiments has he disrespected ? The straw-man religion called “Hinduism” which was defined by the courts as “a Way of Life” but is currently used as a label under which all superstitions can be lumped, in-order to be bashed to prove one’s secular credentials ? That one ? That’s not even a real religion! Anyway, for those of who you are not aware, the Tantra system has been an important part in the evolution of Indian System of thought. The main paths in this system are Samayachara, Kaula marga, Vamachara. Of these, the Vamachara path advocates meat eating , sexual intercourses as means to understanding the supreme. Even though this path has been termed as non-vedic (Avaidika) by many including the revered Shankaracharya who has strongly criticized it owing to the disastrous side effects it can have on the beginner-level spiritual seeker, one cannot deny the existence of that stream of thought in the process of the evolution of our traditions. 
- Suppose a “Guru” has erred , and when I say erred, I mean in the domain of spirituality and it in the opinion of the followers, then, is our Justice system equipped to judge him for that ? Ours is a secular country which is supposed to keep religion separate. And this is clearly a matter between the “Guru” and the disciples. How can the courts decide in this case ? Do the courts refer to the dharmaSastras ? But which one will they resort to ?There are dharmaSastra manuals written by manu, yAj~navalkya, vaSiShTa, parASara to name a few. Do the courts seek the opinion of other Acharyas ? If yes, then which ones ? There are those who teach the path of sAmkhya-yOga, those who teach pUrva mImamsa, those who teach Vedanta ? If it’s those who teach vedanta, the courts will follow the dictums of the Acharyas belong to which school ? There’s advaita, vishiShTadvaita, dvaita, achintyabhedabheda, shuddhadvaita, dvaitadvaita. Which ones ? Or will the courts go to one of the new age institutions like (Sri)^n Ravishankar’s “Art of Living” ?
These are important questions which are to be asked by each one of us who watch these programs that mould our opinion. Are the media channels taking us for a ride by giving so much airtime to something just because it’s juicy and titillating despite the fact that the accusations they are highlighting seem to have so very little chance of standing in the court of law ? How is such an issue which affects only the concerned Swami and the disciples who believed in his prowess, become one of national importance that it deserves so much of air-time ? Or have the media channels become entertainment channels that seek to entertain the public more than enlightening them ? If they have become entertainment channels, why are we taking them seriously ?
There’s no point blaming the media. It will show what it thinks will sell. We are the buyers. We should have known better than to have outsourced our right-of-judgement to the media.
And people like Swami Nithyananda are not the problem either. Those who know sanAthana dharma, would also know that it’s based on pillars namely:
- shRuti (what was heard/discovered as opposed to invented. The Vedas, the Upanishads),
- smRiti (what was logically deduced and remembered. The Dharmashastras),
- Agamas (Methods of worshipping and consecrating the temples. Includes the Shaivagamas, the Vaishnavagamas, the Shaktyagamas),
- purAnas (literally meaning “very old”. These expand on the terse verses of Vedas and present it in the form of a narrative for the sake of those who are not qualified to read the vEdas.)
- itihAsa (literally meaning “Thus indeed it was”. Very loosely can be translated as history. rAmAyaNa and mAhAbharata are the two main works in this category)
- shiShTAchAra (Shistha = great, noble. Achara = deeds. The word means following the deeds and ways of great, noble people in the tradition).
To learn anything, to be a master in anything, the sanAtana dharma advices the prospective student to seek guidance under a guru who is already established in that particular field. As for the proof of their authority or establishment in that particular field, the prospective students could watch the gurus participating in various debates or read the rigorous polemical works written by these gurus or go by word of mouth. In other words, the prospective students had all the means at their disposal to help them decide if a particular Guru is suitable for them or not. And only such people were respected and considered as gurus who learnt the shAstras from a guru themselves. This process of learning wasn’t just a careless process where anything goes, but a very rigorous one. Every shAstra has it’s own subject matter which was being taught. However, the way progress of the student was determined in each of the shAstras was more or less similar. For example, let us take music. The student of music, under a guru is said to undergo following stages of evolution :
- anushThAna tAdAtma: In this stage, the shiShya repeats or follows what the guru is teaching. For example, when the guru pronounces “sA” the shiShya repeats after the guru “sA”. The shishya is said to have mastered this stage when he is able to reproduce what the guru has been teaching.
- anubhava tAdAtma: In this stage, the shiShya is expected to have the same experience as the Guru when performing anushThAna. In the earlier example, when the guru pronounces “sA” and the shiShya repeats, but it sounds like “ri”, then he is not having the same anubhava as the guru. So, the shiShya practices until he gets the experiences consistent with that of the guru.
- Ananda tAdAtma: Having gotten the anubhava right, the shiShya practices till the point where he is able to experience bliss. By repeated practice, he is will enjoy singing as it gives him a sense of happiness. Now, he is soaked in the knowledge/bliss of his own music. But it’s not the end yet. Even though he has known perfection, the quest is not yet over.
- akhaNDaikya rasAtAdatma: The final stage is when the shiShya is able to sing in a manner that not only provides him joy, but also to the person listening to his song. In other words, the bliss that the student had been soaked in, he is able to make it flow outwards and make others experience the same. This experience is such that the difference between singer and the listener shifts to the background and what predominates is the flow of one uninterrupted bliss. It is when the shiShya passes this stage, that the shAstraic knowledge is said to have found it’s culmination.
At any time, if a guru erred, that particular line of guru-shiShya parampara was accountable and one could to refer to the teachings of previous gurus in that line to seek clarification. Also, having admitted defeat in a debate on some shAstraic issue, a person who lost in the debate could seek deeksha under the person who defeated him.
The description provided above is my humble attempt to shed some light on the guru-shiShya parampara in the sanAthana Dharma. With this in mind, consider the case of Swami Nithyananda. Does he belong to any guru-parampara ? Do you know what school of thought he advocates ? When people went to him for guidance, did they know what exactly were they seeking ?
If the answer is “No” or “Don’t know” to any of these questions, how will going to any courts help in anyway? Being a “secular” country, the government hasn’t and cannot pass any ordinance guaranteeing us protection against false gurus. It’s a matter of religion. Nor can it have a ministry which provides certificates of Authenticity to spiritual gurus. On the other hand, our traditions are rich enough to provide us with all necessary information to help us decide if the particular person in question is the right guru for one of us or not.
Hence, going to the courts for such things, only highlights our ignorance and our unwillingness to educate ourselves owing to our laziness. Also, making arbitrary judgements based on this ignorance might be a much sought after skill in “blow-kisses-in-air” page3 parties, but if one wishes to be taken seriously, such half-baked judgements which aren’t backed by facts won’t fly at all. And either of the these is unbecoming of us as Indians. We’re the ones who have inherited a very rich and a very ancient tradition of pursuit of truth. Our ancestors would write voluminous books systematically criticizing the errors in interpretations of individual words in any of the shAstraic passages . They would not yield even a bit until the said interpretation was shown to be backed-up by logic or experience. And here we are today, glorifying flippancy.
I just hope that I won’t have to see the day when a “Ministry of Spirituality” would issue instructions on the media channels in the name of “Public Interest” instructing me on how I should be reciting my gAyatri mantras. That day the colonization process started by the British would have found it’s culmination.
 For those who are really interested on more information regarding the various streams of thought that existed and interacted with each other in the latter part of the first millenium, I would highly recommend reading S.L.Bhyrappa’s kannada novel sArtha (translated into English as “The Caravan”) to get an nice introduction to systems such as the baudha (buddhism), yoga, tantra, mImamsa and advaita vedanta.
 The four stages of evolution of the student is based on my understanding of the chapter titled “sarvaj~na bIja” from Narasimha Shastry Devudu’s kannada novel “mahAdarshana”. The chapter is a dialogue between yAj~navalkya and his guru uddAlaka’s wife AlApini about the path to becoming a sarvaj~na. The novel as such describes the life and works of maharShi yAj~navalkya who gave us the shukla-yajurveda of which the IshOpanishad and bRihidAraNyaka Upanishad are a part.
 Tradition has it that the pUrva-mImamsa scholar manDana mishra having been defeated by adi shankarAcharya took deeksha under him with the name sureshvara who later went on to write vArtikas on shankarAcharya’s taittariya upanishad bhAshya and bRihadAraNyaka bhAshya. Another example would be that of the advaita scholar Trivikrama Panditacharya who, having been defeated by madhvAcharya took deeksha under the latter and later wrote the work tattva-pradipika which was his commentary on madhvAcharya’s brahma-sutra bhAshya.
 How many of us knew the maxim “vade vade tattva-nirNAyam”, meaning “It is only after repeated debates that the truth emerges” ? As an aside, how many of us are able to see a connection between this and the purAnic story of samudra-manthan (churning of the ocean) ?