Subsidizing spirituality

If we define as ‘spiritual’ pretty much anyone who does not worry (or have to worry) about getting his daily bread (which would include swamis, scientists and musicians), then it seems strange that those who actually put in hard work to earn money somehow willingly part with it to keep the other kind alive. It does not seem to end with just economically subsidizing them, but also allowing them to behave in ways simply unacceptable normally even though they are, for all purposes, under the mercy of the people who pay them. You do not have to think hard to find examples — Musicians, actors and spiritual gurus have not all been exactly role models, but they still seem to get by pretty well, even better than those who collectively keep them alive.

A straightforward and somewhat simple-minded reason for such collective insanity would be that the ‘spirituals’ are somehow brainwashing the mob into such behavior, that some version of class antagonism goes on behind such dynamics. It is of course valid in some situations, but cannot explain the general trend. Similarly, one can give evolutionary explanations saying the if a society has to evolve, it must always have variety, and somehow this is unconsciously understood by everyone and this is the reason why we subsidize cranks and academics.

However, a deeper look into human nature always shows a desire for transcendence. No matter how rich or poor and regardless of location, this is always noticeable. To transcend time and space, to leave a mark which remains beyond personal existence has forever been something we have been striving for. From hopes of being immortalized by folk tales and songs to training our children to be like us (or better), this desire crops up everywhere. Since the’ spiritual’ section of humanity aims at creations which seem to fit exactly such ambitions, the synergy between some strange kind of demand and supply is hard to miss. From gurus puporting to explain inner space and scientists outer space and musicians trying to link both, all the while creating edifices of thought, emotion and technique which remain with humanity for ever, these people naturally have something that the people can tap into, either by ‘consumption’ of their works of looking up for guidance in their own quest.

However, this relationship is not as one-dimensional as the above description might suggest. A good example is that of the Sringeri Math in earlier times. It was the largest landowner in the region and simply because of its size was dependent not only on the donations of the common people but also the good-will of the local rulers. Similarly, the rulers understood the influence the Math had in the region and patronised it for political reasons if nothing else. Hence the basis for the extremely cordial relations between the Math and Tippu Sultan.

All over the world, religious institutions played an important role in the material life of people, and continue to do so in India. The best recent example is the Gadag land acquisition issue where in the forefront of the agitation were the heads of the various Maths in the region, since the local BJP MLAs obviously would not do anything about it. In fact, until the deliberate attempts of the British to dismantle it, everyday life in India seemed to revolve around local institutions and were largely insulated from the vagaries of the large scale political vagaries. In such a situation, an ‘impartial observer’ who was largely insulated from the demands of normal life was naturally needed, and in a strongly religious country like ours, no guesses as to who would be that observer.

Afer India went onto the path of modernization, and the temples of modern India were being built, there are again no surprises as to who were to lead the discussions and debates on how life should be organised. New religions require new priests. Scientists of Nehru’s time were very active in public life due to the mandate given to them to build a modern nation, a trait that is not very conspicuous among scientists today, given that India has a new religion called economics. There were, of course exceptions to the rule, people who were truly unaccountable for their actions either due to extreme mass appeal or asceticism, but these are exceptions that prove the rule.

Societies seem to subsidize certain capabilities and allow strange behavior when they see how influential they can be in everyday life — either by helping them forget the humdrum of daily life, if only for a moment, as entertainers or inspirers, or by making life easier to live by reaching for concepts not everyone has the time or the talent to absorb. Spirituality, on the other hand, cannot survive unless it comes down from the skies once in a while and actually dirties its hands in the slush that all those who support it have to wade through daily.

Those on the ground want to reach for the skies, whereas those up above will do well to keep their ears to the ground. Just as life flourishes where the earth and sky meet, civilization can sustain itself when the farmer and the philosopher can actually understand each other.

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4 thoughts on “Subsidizing spirituality”

  1. I believe life can be broken down into two catagorize. Selfishness and selflessness. Hitler being the pinnacle of Selfishness Jesus Chris Selflessness. You can call these anything you like which many have: Good / Evil, God / Devil, morality / immorality ,etc. Economics is a different animal all together. Economics is simply a system of exchange. Where once it was for items of trade (chickens for goats) we oved from the direct exchange system because the problem was like value from one individual to another. Once the system moved to a unit per work value using currency people civilization could prosper with that understanding. The problem here is people are too psycologically involved in the material to develope the next level of society…the next evolutionary step of civilization. Spirituallity doesnt come from the skies it comes from within. It is as much of an inner space exploration as outerspace. Similar to mans exploration of his environment (crossing of the straights, Viking crossing of the Atlantic, Chinese crossing of the Pacific, new path to the Indies, Columbus, Moon landing…), it comes in waves of exploration and withdraw. The movement of Christianity, Renasaunce, Denomonational movement here in the American settlements, fastforward the 60s and scientology all examples of the cycle of spirituallity in society. Spirituality is what seperates us from other creatures in some cases even each other. It is the awareness of something not seen but tangable even useful. I believe what you describe in your blog is the fad and spirituality is the trend. These Gurus you speak of…well i guess you can call them the captains of thier industry…similar to the CEO of some new business model but they dont do it for fame. They can easily shoot up a McDonalds and by 6 pm news they are famous. They do it for a philosophy, ideal or dream outside of some monitary value FIRST, then the acceptance of the general public rewards them. “Space the final frontier..” unfortunatly innerspace is the final frontier and we would probably be alot farther along if we made it our first frontier.

  2. Few subscribe to spirituality because of reason that it is transcendental concept and will always be in awe of it. Though they never consciously recognize this fact. They never try to question each part of it and as you said they may not have time to do it. Probably its a kind of secured feeling that they are in the right direction.

    Few are conditioned to believe it from childhood.

  3. My point is that spirituality as defined here, which includes music, is not really a transcendental concept, rather it is implicit in everyday life. A philosopher or saint is not someone who tells us something novel, but only something that we knew all along. Which is why abstracting out of such concepts by clothing them in jargon leaves everyone poorer.

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