engaging in intimate relations with a young woman who is allegedly South Indian film actress Ranjitha, jolting worldwide devotees and followers to either recoil in shock and betrayal, or flock to his support and allege a fraudulent smear campaign. Regardless of what camp people fall in, the scandal is tremendously painful for most who are involved, perhaps with the exception of the few who benefit from it. Believer or not, the scandal can also be a moment of deeper introspection.
What can all of us, regardless of faith, creed, and path learn from this situation?
I’ll attempt to distill five provocative lessons.
Lesson 1: Nobody Is Immune
Every religious and spiritual organization has had some kind of scandal. Every. Single. One. Without regard to whether these scandals are legitimate or not, they are ubiquitous and often easily discovered by anyone who cares to be persistent, inconspicuous, and objective about doing their homework. The only question is whether you care to know.
Western readers may feel that this disease is a mostly an Indian or Hindu phenomenon as a result of an open source religion that is eager to see God everywhere, including in every living and dead guru, but that would be a hypocritical and undeniably amnesic assertion.
At the risk of offending several billion people, the Abrahamic traditions are no strangers to scandals, often ones that strike to their very core. Wikipedia has an (incomplete) list of Christian evangelist scandals, and the Catholic church’s deep history of corruption, abuse, and tyranny involving many Popes, including the latest Pope is easy Googled. Long before Dan Brown’s novels, credible archaeologist had reason to believe that Jesus had a son, launching other credible archaeologists to battle the assertion as if their afterlives depended on it.
Islam’s scandals are either less prolific and public, or much more so depending on your perspective. To be honest, I am a little afraid to mention them, but I’ll say that the Prophet Mohammed is alone as the founder of a major world religion to have done things that most modern people would find disagreeable and shocking.
Those who devote their energies to secular do-gooder organizations and choose agnosticism or atheism because (or even despite) religious/spiritual scandal, they too should not feel immune. Even in the very best of organizations, you can find something disagreeable if you look hard and deep enough, or stick around long enough.
And to all those whose religious, spiritual, and secular organizations have not yet been caught in some scandal, I say that you a.) should continue to remain objective or intensive in your examination and b.) its probably only matter of time before you find something to disappoint you.
I’m not trying to be universally offensive, but rather to cut through the notion that any group should feel superior to anybody else.
What we witness in these scandals are ubiquitously human phenomena and behavior, and that is exactly why we’re all in this together and no person is immune.
Lesson 2: Scandals Reflect Our Own Nature
Most scandals have a dynamic two-fold nature: high-profile individuals and organizations generate enemies both within and outside their ranks, and everyone on both sides operates within the limitations of human traits that we all share.
In short, everyone is both a Jesus and a Judas.
There is always a grain of truth in the lies, and a grain of lie in the truth from both sides. This comes from living in a relative, dualistic world where all things are known by their opposites.
Scandals often boil down to someone doing
something that we too might have done or actually do often. And if we’re not ‘guilty’, chances are that someone very close to us–close enough to implicate us by association– is ‘guilty’.
The reality of our own behavior should be at the forefront of our minds, and serve as a buffer to our instincts of judgment and condemnation.
As Jesus said when Mary was about to be stoned, “Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone.”
Lessson 3: Know And Own Your Values
Our reactions to situations like these tend to reveal the core of our values around things like money and sex.
These values have often been programmed into our minds at a young age when we weren’t fully aware or equipped to alter the code, or blindly swallowed under the influence of a charismatic figure in our adult life.
Not being the author or at least the controller of the software that runs your conscious and subconscious mind can be troubling, especially in a crisis. Continue to ask yourself honest and difficult questions, and be prepared for unsettling answers that keep evolving for your entire life. Deepening your own awareness and integrity is what counts.
After all, what is spiritual growth besides an evolving of how you view and live in the world?
As with all growth, no pain means no gain. Be with the pain, and try to rise above the suffering.
Lesson 4: Separate Principles from Personalities
“This allegation cannot be true, because I have benefited so much from [X practice/teaching]!”
Whether guru/Lord/prophet/avatar/teacher has done X, Y, and Z with which you disagree with does not necessarily invalidate the principle, technique, or teaching they have shared.
If what you have learned from someone has added value to your life, you should not toss out the teaching with the teacher. Life is simply too short to not use every possible tool at your disposal to live the best possible life you can.
Lesson 5: Your Own Experiences Are What Count
Regardless of whether you believe you will be saved, liberated through your own efforts, or born just as confused, hopelessly flawed and selfish as everyone else, what counts most is your own experience in life.
Be true to your own direct experience with an organization, faith, individual, or practice, while also willing to dissect those experiences to their essential lessons. This is the only thing that will get you anywhere.
Without a doubt, it takes a lot of courage and hard work to keep doing this, but it makes a world of difference for the better in your life trajectory.
One thing is certain: after this scandal and regardless of its degree of truth, Paramahansa Nithyananda will continue to have throngs of followers and supporters. We’ve seen this with every past scandal everywhere else, despite how bad things seemed.
The key question is how to reduce the suffering people feel as a result of scandals that hit close to home.
These five lessons keep things in perspective and assure that everyone can grow in beneficial ways.