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What Hindus Need To Know

Swami Nithyananda Sex Scandal- Insights And Church Angle
By Rajiv Malhotra, March 17 2010 [rajivmalhotra2007@gmail.com]

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Failures of Swami Nithyananda’s Organization
Hindu  tradition separates three kinds of varna  (skills), each representing a form of social capital, and these three were never  supposed to be concentrated in a single person, thereby preventing too much  concentration of power. I use the terms Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya not as  birth based “caste,” but as merit based social capital and areas of competence.  The Brahmin job description focuses on spirituality and research; Kshatriya on  governance, politics and leadership; and Vaishyas on commerce and financial  capital. Swami Nithyananda had persons with Brahmin qualities performing duties  that demand Kshatriya and Vaishnav skills. This was counterproductive. The  ashram leaders were selected and trained for skills and roles that are very  different than this situation demands. Too often their bhakti and spiritual  practice substituted for professional competence in managing a rapidly growing global  enterprise. The sole emphasis was placed on traditional Brahmin qualities, and  none on what would be considered Kshatriya qualities.

For  example, there are a large number of white devotees who do have Kshatriyata - leadership  expertise, courage and commitment. But even after this attack the ashram organization  has blundered in its failure to leverage and deploy them. I met some of these  Westerners at the Kumbh and found them remarkably willing to stand up for their  guru, but nobody had bothered to organize them and take advantage of the fact  that Swami Nithyananda has a global following. Instead of such initiatives to  deal with the crisis, his organization was in utter chaos, reacting to each  “hit” by the other side. Its leaders were running scared, driven by one rumor  after another. Decisions were being made in desperation and panic. The group was  cognitively disoriented and many of its members were psychologically breaking  down.

The  organization was too much of a one-man show with the leaders operating like  children dependent on the swami for every decision. The swami had become the  iconic object of the ashram’s inner circle. Their proximity to him became their  measure of personal power and identity. This is classical cult-like behavior  that cannot survive the onslaughts that are inevitable nowadays. Such a  concentration of varnas into one man not only makes an enterprise incompetent,  but it also can also get into the leader’s head and make him power hungry. Especially  when the guru has siddhis, this power can easily become co-opted by his ego  into a dangerous mixture. The result is that he surrounds himself with sycophants  who tell him what he wants to hear, and this feedback loop of self  glorification turns into group delusion.

I  noticed this in the form of the inner circle’s inability to make common sense  judgments, and their misrepresenting the facts to their leader by giving him  too much “good news.” The result was that the honest truth did not come out  fast enough to allow pragmatic and realistic planning. I had a difficult time to  get dependable information, and the stories kept changing not only over time  but also between one person and another within the group. I could not tell if  there was a cover up and if new lies were fabricated to cover prior lies. In  such an atmosphere one cannot tell which individuals might have a separate  stake and vested interest from the group. Lacking competent Kshatriyas, the  swami had not anticipated that such a crisis was ever possible, despite the  fact that outsiders (including myself in my 2-day talks at his ashram) had  explained to them the threats facing every prominent Hindu mahatma today.

While  on the one hand I blame those in positions of responsibility at the ashram,  ultimately Swami Nithyananda bears the responsibility as he selected them,  defined their roles, evaluated their performance, motivated and supervised them  very closely. In this regard, his spiritual capabilities had failed to evaluate  those very close to him as well as the external reality. An enlightened master  must do better than this, or else he must not try to control everything so personally.

I  acknowledge that being a global guru is very demanding today, given that one  has to represent a very old tradition authentically and yet in a manner that  appeals to modern people. This is why Hindu leaders need a crash course on  matters that are well beyond the traditional education in their own sampradayas  (lineages).  

 Hindu Chaos
Swami Nithyananda’s  own support base in India  has started to distance itself out of self preservation amidst all the rumors  and slander. His closest supporters were not approached soon enough with his side  of the story, and by the time they were approached the damage was done. They  did not want to risk being associated with a “fallen guru.” Many Hindu gurus have  started to publicly lash out against the “fallen godman”; others became silent  or neutral publicly, while offering private sympathy but refusing to stick  their necks out.

One  factor is that the swami’s approach was too conservative for some and too  liberal for others. It is too filled with deities, symbols and rituals of a  very orthodox kind for the aesthetic taste of modern global gurus who propagate  a whitened, Westernized “clean” Hinduism that is abstract and metaphysical but  devoid of imagery associated with “primitive paganism.” At the other end of the  spectrum are orthodox Hindu leaders who find his idea of youthful dancing,  celebration, and liberal atmosphere to be not “real” Hinduism. A couple of  shankaracharyas interviewed on NDTV lashed out against “false” gurus and  claimed that only the shankaracharyas had the authority to certify who was  qualified to be a guru. So Swami Nithyananda fits neither end of this spectrum.   

Many  of the gurus I met have told me in confidence that they fear that similar  attacks are coming to more Hindu gurus, but that there is no central Hindu  mechanism to deal with these episodes along the lines of various church  mechanisms that intervene when Christianity faces a scandal. I sent feelers to  the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha as to whether it should offer to step in and  take over the ashram and its related organizations, thereby bringing new  management to clean up matters and bring stability to the enterprise. I was  told that while this was a “good idea in principle,” it was not practical  because HDAS is simply not set up to deal with this.

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