While the wheel is the most progressive of all ancient inventions by mankind, religion is the most regressive!
Last month, I finally ticked another adventure off my bucket list—a visit to the Osho International Meditation Resort in Pune, India. If you don’t know who Osho or “Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh” is, please swipe left on this article!
A bit about the experience itself before I come to the point:
I had heard a lot about how this resort (and the whole communion in general) is all about its liberal beliefs and free will, and why Indians in general are kept at an arm’s length. It is a bit like how people define UFOs—I get all types of comments, most of them with a common undertone:
It is a place where people are free to do anything that makes them feel good, including sex with anyone, anytime and anywhere they want!
So the naturally curious me read up a lot about their beliefs, practices, and years and years of interesting twists and turns (that are part of any cult’s shenanigans)—Osho was arrested in the United States and his secretary was arrested in Germany for crimes that you don’t normally associate with a meditating group of people!
I was all perked up to see (and possibly feel, if I got spiritually “lucky”) this experience for myself. I planned my visit weeks in advance as I don’t live in India. I called the reception and the first thing I was asked is: “Which passport do you hold, Sir?”
I got the message loud and clear. I was delighted at that moment about not holding an Indian passport. I could tell from the receptionist’s voice that she was delighted too! She then moved on to explain registration steps required to obtain a “day pass”. I hardly listened as I was all set to get it even if it meant having to prove I wasn’t a human, forget Indian!
And the day came. I looked as white as possible (by dressing in white) because for some reason, I associate the color white to being religious and pure (not!). I reached at 8:45am and went straight to the reception. A beautiful Caucasian woman helped me with some procedures:
About $115 poorer, I finally entered the amazingly picturesque, serene and green resort. A group of “day pass” holders and I were then escorted to the first meditation room where the actual brainwashing exercise began. I was taught active meditation—where I did crazy things that neither made sense nor looked like anything I had ever done before. I followed all instructions meticulously as I didn’t want to look stupid before the other visitors who seemed to enjoy this so-called meditation.
After a tea break, the second session began in the name of “kundalini meditation”, which apparently is a female version of the madness that I had just been through. Once again, I didn’t want to look stupid so I followed the stupidity. Then there was a rather racist video of do’s and dont’s—the Caucasian characters did all the do’s and the Indian characters did mostly the dont’s. There were private huts for in-campus members, a hotel (yes, I mean a hotel, and will you stop giving me that quizzical look again and again?) for the visitors, a jacuzzi and an Olympic-sized swimming pool inside the resort. After some great food, the crowd disappeared into one of these “facilities” to pursue their (hopefully soul) searching and “free-will” activities.
Then came the grand finale of the day, in the form of an evening “meeting” at the grand auditorium. The most expensive white robe I ever bought in my life was a pre-requisite. I couldn’t sneeze, snore, cough or make any type of noise during the silent parts of the session—apparently, this was originally introduced to keep Osho free from viruses, but is still carried on with other justifications since his death.
For the about an hour and 20 minutes, people were encouraged and expected to just go mad by practicing dynamic meditation. Though the guru always argued about money not being important, his ashram today is surrounded by Rolls-Royce vintage cars. And I paid $115 to even listen to him on screen!
It was during this evening madness that I realized how I had been a victim of a completely different form of cult my entire life—RELIGION! It was also clear to me that religions and cults capitalize, build and thrive on the following common strategies:
Fear (Captive Market)
Fear is the number one investment required for any brainwashing system. If you already are fearful, weak-minded, and have a lot of personal insecurity, you are a ready customer. If not, your (fearful) folks will always educate you about potential “consequences” when you don’t follow a religion or pray to a certain god.
Now that we have an easy captive audience, we need a broader strategy to attract those that aren’t necessarily fearful or insecure. When certain ideologies or preachings appeal to what one already believes in, there is a sub-conscious buy-in and belief in the institutions that preach them. So holy books, religious teachings and cultist rituals are unleashed to net as many people as can be netted. At the end of the day, any institution needs a multi-pronged marketing strategy to attract new customers. Besides, how many can say no to beliefs like “free will” and rituals like “free sex”?
Hope (The Product)
When you are afraid, the only product you want to buy is hope, and it is the only product any religion or cult can sell. The hope that you will be fine, the hope that someone will protect you and the hope that you are right because so many others believe in what you believe. Given it’s continuous brainwashing, it needs constant validation and approval by someone we can all look up to—a God or a Guru!
More than 70% of the day I spent in the resort was either filled with enchanting music, crazy dancing and great food, or other high-energy activities. When people are euphoric and having fun doing what they enjoy doing, there is no appetite to question any inherent logic.
I never questioned religious rituals I grew up with—they were fun. I was chanting, singing, dancing, meeting friends and family, and eating great food. Why would I question a ritual when a lot of what it brings is fun? If the “free sex” hope were a reality in Osho ashram, I wouldn’t be writing this article either!!!
And finally when you are just selling hope, you get repeat customers. I don’t quite remember the last time I blamed my God or religion for something that went wrong in my life—in fact, I went to Him when things went wrong. And when things went right, I went back to Him again, with more gratitude this time! A great reinstatement strategy is to get more and more people to believe that the business model “works” for them; religions and cults get this spot on by way of constant validation and approval by someone we can all look up to—a God or a Guru.
But I won’t blame religions or cults—in fact, I think they are just brilliant business models created solely to cater to the weak-minded or for those who don’t realize they have been brainwashed, like me for example!
Sketch: Vishnu Nair