The other day I met an old acquaintance Mrs. Bakshi who asked me what I was doing these days. My answer to this all – encompassing question was “nothing much”. My response however delighted her and she promptly asked me to join her ‘group’ – a high profile spirituality organization. On her insistence, I attended one of the meetings as a guest and found that she had not been joking when she had boasted about the strength of the membership. The fairly large room was full of people of all ages who were praying and chanting. Their devotion was unmistakable. After all, as Mrs. Bakshi pointed out, they had taken time out of their busy lives to come and pray. They are people who come from diverse backgrounds, I was told. What united them was their membership to this organization which seemed to be an intrinsic part of their identity. Then yesterday, I received a call from Mrs. Bakshi asking me to call her if I wanted to join the group. Her eagerness to enlist new people and the growing number of members took me back to just a few years, when spirituality was defined by everyone in their own personal way but took more religious and even socio-cultural forms.
But over the past few years the scenario has greatly altered. Spirituality like everything else has had a make-over. There are a growing number of organizations with members who swear by it and enthusiastically promote it. Like Mrs.Bakshi told me,” If you are regular, your wishes will be granted.” I could not help but wonder if it was this Aladdin’s magic lamp-like quality which attracted so many people to these prayer meetings. In our craze to get a good deal, have we commodified faith? Do these countless groups really help us ‘look within’ or do they simply try to get us the best bargain for our investment of time and belief? Don’t get me wrong, I am not questioning their integrity. I just wonder if we have reduced a deep seated human need to trust into a passing fad. Does this partially explain how as a society we think it is necessary to belong to groups of several kinds? We wanted a political belonging, we have it. We wanted an economic belonging, we have it. We now want a spiritual belonging. But is it really something for which we need to look outside ourselves? Or is it a corollary to our much-debated yearning for social belonging? Surely something as personal as faith cannot be brought under the umbrella term ‘lifestyle’?
Frankly, I hadn’t given much thought to this before Mrs. Bakshi sent me her urgent messages. The picture of the huge group sitting together in collective prayer is indeed a powerful one. For some reason however, I also find it strangely disconcerting as it belies all the quietude , peace , meditation and introspection that I have always associated with faith of any kind. The large number of people who subscribe to these organizations are its greatest strength. But somewhere I cannot help but feel surprised at how so many people found the same source and the same answers to their most profound questions. Now, I am still wondering if I should make that call to join in. On second thoughts, I will let it be. At least for today.