The Enlightenment Business: Wisdom For Sale

By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Dr. Luthar listening to a presentation

Religion and spirituality today are a big business. Generally the spiritual teachers, preachers, and the so called enlightened masters of the day are really motivational speakers and self styled self-help expert who are engaged in entrepreneurial ventures aimed at financial and commercial success.  Every year people spend billions of dollars buying the books, CDs, and self-help programs offered by such teachers.

The commodity that the spiritual teachers in the new age sell in the free market is called “Enlightenment”. Enlightenment is intangible and not well defined as a product. The cost of production and storage costs of “Enlightenment”  are very low, and so there is always plenty in the inventory to sell!  Of course, there is the cost of marketing “Enlightenment”. Still even with that expense, the profit margins for this product or service have the potential to be very large for the established experts or the spiritual teachers.

In a very real and substantive sense, the so called modern teachers of “enlightenment” are far removed from the sages of old who cared nothing for money and financial gains and adopted a life of humility, poverty, and service. Some of the well known saints of India such as Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramana did not even touch money with their hands. Generally, in almost all the pictures, Sri Ramana is shown wearing one simple cloth piece called Kaupina, which is equivalent to an Indian underwear. These sages were venerated by their followers because they demonstrated in their life what true enlightenment embodies.

Many of the spiritual entrepreneurs of the day appear to seek the adoration and veneration from their followers without much inclination towards demonstrating behavior or conduct befitting a sage. Although it seems self-evident to most objective observers, it is not always obvious to many disciples and students of yogis, spiritual teachers, and cult leaders that their gurus are simply human beings and therefore limited and sometimes deeply flawed.

Just like the students, the so called “gurus”, “masters”, and “spiritual teachers” are susceptible to all the weaknesses of the body and the mind. I have observed that the humanity of spiritual teachers or leaders is very difficult for many of their followers to accept. The mentoring relationship between a spiritual guru and his/her disciples can be very complex. When the students realize that their spiritual leader, despite claims to moral superiority and being divine, etc., is just like them, it can come as a shock, a rude awakening. For many followers this can be a very traumatic event.

Many people continue to view their guru or their spiritual leader as being infallible even when overwhelming evidence points in the exact opposite direction.  To avoid facing the painful reality, some followers interpret the facts of their leaders conduct in creative ways to explain them away somehow. It happens. One has to only read the newspapers and the Internet sites to discover all the information there.  Spirituality and selling of wisdom is a huge business. The behavior of spiritual leaders can be analyzed from that perspective for a more complete understanding of the business of enlightenment.

Of course, we need to understand each others’ humanity and even forgive friends, teachers, and gurus when they have made mistakes in judgement. I am not criticizing the whole spiritual arena but simply pointing out the importance of objectively and rationally assessing situations involving marketing of wisdom by the spiritual leaders of the day, whoever they may be and in whatever religious or spiritual tradition.

The need to remain loyal to our own intelligence and common sense when analyzing facts and situations, even when it comes to spiritual teachers, is important. To put another human being on a constant pedestal, even if that person is a guru or a spiritual teacher, is not fair to either that person or our own self.

Who is the ultimate Guru, other than our own Heart? This is the sacred Truth that we should grasp firmly and make it our own.

I don’t like to be overly critical of spiritual teachers in any religion or spiritual tradition. Certainly, they bring many benefits to people and parts of humanity.  But it seems to me that many of the so called “gurus” and “spiritual masters” are plainly lacking in anything but the most superficial insight and knowledge.

Many of these self-help and self-proclaimed gurus struggle with serious emotional and psychological issues and need to be constantly on a power trip and thrive only when dominating their students and disciples. Some of these so called “spiritual teachers” even appear to lack proper mental balance, suffer from low self-esteem, and need to carefully reflect on their actions and behaviors before they go around advising others on how live properly.

It is no wonder that traditional religious and yogic orthodoxy in India  responded so negatively to the attacks of  Jiddu Krishnamurti and later Rajneesh (Osho). Despite the serious personal limitations and weaknesses of these two critics of  the existing orthodoxy, they were powerful voices in pointing out the hypocrisy of  gurus and masters in spiritual traditions who “sell” Universal Truths, and make disciples dependent upon them.

Ironically, both J. Krishnamurthy and Rajneesh (Osho) fell into the same mental and spiritual traps that they accused other teachers of being in. It happens. This is all part of the human condition. Everyone, including the so called gurus and teachers and the enlightened ones are struggling to find their place and path in this world. As long as “Enlightenment” is viewed as a commodity that can be sold and bought, there will be sellers and buyers. This is simply how the free market works!

I don’t know if it is completely up to us to decide what our part in the spiritual circus is. We should not be overly judgemental but simply use our rational intelligence in evaluating the spiritual scene. Despite the force of circumstances, if we stay aware and devoted to the Heart, the True inner Guru, I feel we will be OK.

Love and Namaste to all — Harsh K. Luthar

33 thoughts on “The Enlightenment Business: Wisdom For Sale

    • If we had broached the subject to Bhagwan , he would have responded….”un velaiya paar …Summa Iru “(Tend to your business..Be Still). With Bhagwan in our Heart such concerns become irrelevant.

  1. A lot of interesting stuff… but it is most important to directly perceive reality without concepts. If one is not familiar with the nature of one’s mind directly concepts offer only an embellished delusion. Thinking and ideas do not result in the awakened state.

  2. A very precise, concise and most daringly honest revelation about the business of religion & spirituality. I congratulate and compliment the author whole heartedly!

    MSR Ayyangar

  3. Not sure why wearing kaupina is associated with being enlightened. While simplicity in life is a good thing, it need not necessarily be associated with enlightenment.
    Why we are so obsessed with outward appearance?

    • Let us keep outward appearance aside. The signs of a ‘sthitapradnya’ are clearly mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita (2.55 – 2.72). They easily reveal the difference between a Sadguru like Ramana Maharshi and the mushrooming neo-advaita teachers.

      • This is true. The proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes.

        But most seekers stop short once they have some “enlightenment” experiences and some intellectual understanding under their belt. They may have enough pieces of the puzzle to sort of figure out the picture enough to satisfy that pesky doer into believing it can fill in the rest on its own. The contemporary teachers on the circuit even encourage this stopping. But they do a disservice.

        The study of Vedanta is exquisite. With committment and a qualified Vedanta teacher the knowledge unfolds without gaps or blank spots….it completes the puzzle from A-Z.

  4. Thankyou. The commodification of spirituality is huge. The love of and sharing of truth is priceless. I observe huge wealth generated which is sometimes then used to suport unsustainable and lavish lifestyles (mansions, first class travel, luxury, vehicles, accommodation etc.,) This creates an appertite that can take over and distort perception. This is all as it is except for one glitch: We live on a finite planet, there is only so much to go around,. The examples of teachers living modestly and suporting sustainability and affordability for followers is often lacking. On a basic level we are nature expressing itself through this experience, too live a lifestyle seperated from “nature” and that reality is denying what is. Limitless love and truth trumps all and can never be a commodity.

  5. There is nothing more dangerous than half baked knowledge. I am sorry Harsha, but you are way off on this. First off, ‘It is no wonder that traditional religious and yogic orthodoxy in India responded so negatively to the attacks of Jiddu Krishnamurti..”. Wow! Even a little reading would have revealed the unending stream of traditional religious men who sought meetings with Krishnamurti every time he visited India. From Anandamayi Ma, Swami Ramdas, Swami Venkatesananda, the Dalai Lama and any number of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monks. Ramana Maharshi himself told Maurice Frydman that like the Buddha, Krishnamurti’s teachings were beyond expression. And here you are, claiming that Krishnamurti fell into a trap! Ignorance, aggressive judgement, frozen prejudices etc are all hindrances we must guard against. This article is a prime example.

    • I only know of two documented cases where Ramana answered a question where the questioner referred to J Krishnamurti (Talks 41 and 239). I am not aware of Ramana ever directly referring to Krishnamurti. In Talk 41, Ramana does not agree with something the questioner claims Krishnamurti teaches. As to whether Ramana considers Krishnamurti a jnani can not be determined. In Talk 239, the relevant exchange is as follows:

      “D.: Krishnamurti says that man should find out the `I’. Then `I’ dissolves away, being only a bundle of circumstances. There is nothing behind the `I’. His teaching seems to be very much like Buddha’s.

      M.: Yes – yes, beyond expression.”

      Here, the ‘teaching’ referred to seems to be that put forth by the questioner. As what Ramana, if anything, thinks of Krishnamurti’s teachings as a whole can not be determined.

      • The questioner was Frydman, who was a devotee of both. He would leave Ramana ashram to meet Krishnamurti and return back. When Frydman talks about ‘his teaching’ after naming Krishnamurti it is very clear that Ramana is speaking about Krishnamurti and agreeing with the view of Frydman that Krishnamurti’s teachings are similar to that of the Buddha. Ramana further adds his own assessment ‘beyond expression’. Something he has not used about any other teacher during his life time.

      • You will read it to be what you wish it to be. However, you are projecting onto the the written words.

      • Not at all. You are giving your own twist to a simple sentence for some unknown reason. There are only three people involved in the conversation. Frydman, Ramana, and Krishnamurti. After naming Krishnamurti, Frydman says ‘his teaching’ (not ‘my teaching’) so it not about himself. In any case, Frydman did not consider himself to be a teacher. Ramana is hardly commenting about his own teaching! Either way it is simple and clear.

    • Aren’t ‘Traditional’ and ‘Orthodox’ merely concepts? One’s mind must be rigid and ‘conditioned’ in a certain way to label others so. Aren’t Krishnamurti’s attacks against the so called traditional stuff based upon Ignorance, aggressive judgement and frozen prejudices ?

  6. Not at all. You are giving your own twist to a simple sentence for some unknown reason. There are only three people involved in the conversation. Frydman, Ramana, and Krishnamurti. After naming Krishnamurti, Frydman says ‘his teaching’ (not ‘my teaching’) so it not about himself. In any case, Frydman did not consider himself to be a teacher. Ramana is hardly commenting about his own teaching! Either way it is simple and clear.

    • I have briefly pondered these two talks in the past. They are inconclusive as far as to determine any opinion of Ramana because Ramana was not of the type to speak against another or one’s beliefs. (It makes no difference that the questioner is Frydman, a devotee of good but unexceptional quality.) Ramana keeps silent on ‘Krishnamurti’ himself. However, I am curious why you are so worried about Krishnamurti so as to have written an emotional response in the first place. Occasionally Krishnamurti was insightful, but usually he lacks much depth and is highly repetitive and inflexible. His personal life was certainly not consistent with his public image. I have read a lot of his talks when I was younger and what his various admirers have written. Now, I little find little value in reflecting upon what he has said any longer, since there are many much better sources to refer to than J Krishnamurti, who was a troubled individual except for perhaps in special moments. He was a mediocre thinker who likely had a few special experiences. It is up to you, but I suggest you ask yourself why it hurts you to hear him criticized. Why be attached to him?

  7. Interesting points of view……….. yes, its a business………. but it was always so……… thought strictly not called business………… Religion and Spirituality have always been businesses… generating income to sustain their organisations….. but they exist and last, because they fulfill a need of the population…….. today’s modern spiritual gurus, are using the latest technologies to keep with changes in the modern world……… use efficient delivery mechanisms to reach their customers…………. and if you examine closely, all the popular gurus are peddling age old wisdom, in new bottles………….. but essentially, it is useful, and will certainly enhance the quality of life of those who subscribe to the wisdom and apply it in their daily lives…………….. its a need being met!

    • Good answer! Thomas Aquinas after he woke up said, “all before is as straw”. He kept going though with his writing knowing it would be useful “and will certainly enhance the quality of life of those who subscribe to the wisdom and apply it in their daily lives…………….. its a need being met!” to quote your post.

  8. The only ones selling enlightenment are those selling a quick path to a goal. As the piece points out those people selling are mired in themselves. Osho has done more damage to eastern spirituality than anyone before or since. Ramana was a wonderful and sweet saint who lived lightly and help many. His teachings have been distorted into many things by westerners who came to India looking for a spiritual product to sell, because they all believe that they should live a western life paid for by their eastern spirituality. I know many of them and they actively adapt what little knowledge they have, add a simple belief to it and form it into a marketing package that they hope to sell.

    It is very sad. But the piece above also makes the notion the your “heart” is your ultimate Guru, that is true if you want to wait another million or billion years, your heart is not directing your life, actions or thoughts. Guru means one who dispels the darkness, instead hoping your heart will do it for you, go find a true Guru and wake up, your heart will keep beating all the while. To enlighten one must give up everything, including the desire for glory and comfort.

    • Bob, Thank you. This is what needed to be said.

      “Enlightenment”, or whatever one wants to call it, is a realization of self. It is real. Not a vague mystical notion involving the heart or special states. Come what may, it is only after one truly realizes that he/she can look back and see clearly that enlightenment itself was also a notion….But first things first! This is what is so screwed up in these times. The cart is placed in front of the horse. And that opposes the nature of the function as it was designed.

      Though it does not claim exclusivity, there is a means to hard and fast knowledge of the self. That is the study of Vedanta. But it requires preparation, focus, a qualified Guru (in the true meaning of that word) and an uncommon dispassion to set all beliefs and desires aside and LISTEN. It must take priority over everything else. Thank you.

  9. No one, can do other than they do….not even enlightenment “stars.” It is the whole basis of forgiveness. Nobody is living their own lives…life is living life. Just allow these expressions to pursue their thing or simply ignore them when they are no longer pertinent. There’s no problem. I am certain Krishnamurti would agree.

  10. When I woke up in 1970, of course it was wonderful, but had no idea what happened. Fortunately the next day I was handed a copy of “who am I”. This was the only source of info available. The only context for the subject was In Indian terms, wrapped in exotic lingo and religious expression. Having been an atheist prior to the experience, I have no use for that, as religion has nothing to do with it. It is a natural phenomenon. To expect one to take up poverty and service would be like expecting Edison to do that simply because he has the gift of genius. I am grateful to these purveyors of wisdom because they make known a subject that few in the West were conscious of. There are Christian preachers who have caught on to the concept of your mind being your biggest roadblock and how to get it under control. Control of the mind is the concept pushed in all spiritual paths as a preliminary to awakening.
    When the Buddha was asked he denied all titles and said only that he was awake.

    • I’ve never understood that a seeker is expected “to take up poverty and service” unless it is for sannyasa or monastic life. But aside from that…having an awakening is not the same as identifying continuously AS the self. Those that identify AS the self, such as Ramana Maharshi, have very identifiable qualities that are clearly stated in Vedic texts. When studied with a qualified teacher these texts are hardly exotic as they elucidate the human experience common to all. And as for religion…it is the most natural phenomenon there is when the truth be known.

      • Who are these qualified teachers? Are they only the ones that follow Vedic texts. Is Maharshi the only one that’s truly awake. Is it not possible for someone outside the Indian sphere to wake up?
        Is a Sufi sage unqualified? Was the Buddha not qualified because he only said he was awake? Any teaching about awakening is only a finger pointing at the moon. Judging and condemning others is a poor way to travel.
        I have read that Maharshi never judged other ways to the goal.

      • Judging? Condemning?….You are reading this into my comment, sir. I’m only responding to points as part of a discussion. And all your leading questions reveal your own silly assumptions about what I believe…Enough. Good day!

  11. I am not entitled to judge anyone here. However, when only the presence of the master shakes your very foundation then you have found the right master. The absolute silence of the master speaks to your soul and leaves you utterly blissful. Osho has done same for me.

  12. The following statements are eye-openers in this article:
    1.Who is the ultimate Guru, other than our own Heart? This is the sacred Truth that we should grasp firmly and make it our own.
    2……the hypocrisy of gurus and masters in spiritual traditions who “sell” Universal Truths, and make disciples dependent upon them.
    3……if we stay aware and devoted to the Heart, the True inner Guru, I feel we will be OK.

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