Godmen and Teachers: Separating the genuine from the fakes


By Nithin Sridhar

A God-woman from Mumbai has been accused of instigating a man and his family to harass his wife for dowry. Radhe Guru Maa, whose real name is Sukhvinder Kaur has been accused by the victim as influencing her husband, and her in-laws to ask for dowry, even though she had already given the in-laws a jewelry worth 102 crores. She is also being sued by a Mumbai advocate for “obscenity”.


Another God-man Nirmal Baba faces many cases of fraud and cheating. He has been criticized for giving simple but absurd solutions like eating kheer or paani-puri to people who came to him seeking solutions to some personal problems.

Previously Swami Nithyananda was accused of sexual harassment and a video allegedly showing him in a compromising position with an actress had also come to light.

Whatever may be the content of these allegations, the truth will eventually come out as it did in the case of Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati, who was arrested in connection with a murder, but was later acquitted by the court as being “innocent”.

But, what is undeniable is the fact that, there is a huge mushroom of God-men, God-women, and Spiritual teachers with a large following cropping up everywhere.

People are following this saint, that teacher, and some other God-man indiscriminately. Not all saints and Gurus are frauds. But, many fraudsters do exist among the genuine people like a sheep in the wolf’s clothing. These fake and self-claimed saints have not only brought a bad name to the institution of Sannyasa, but also maligned the name of entire Hindu religion and India. The issue is further complicated because certain sections of the media and the intellectuals have used this as a weapon to discredit the entire Hindu tradition and philosophy as a superstition.

Therefore, it becomes vital to separate the genuine Gurus from the fake God-men, the teachings of Hinduism from the fraudulent advice of these God-men, like one separates the wheat from the chaff.

Who is a Genuine Guru? What Hinduism says about a Guru

The Hindu tradition advices people to test a person thoroughly before accepting him/her as a Guru. The unfailing shraddha (faith) in the Guru must be developed only after testing him and his actions to see whether he conforms to the tenets of Dharma as laid down in scriptures.

Photo credit: specials.indiatoday.com
Photo credit: specials.indiatoday.com

The Mundaka Upanishad (1.2.12) says that a Guru is one who is well versed in Vedas and who is well established in Brahman. That is, a Guru must not only have an extensive knowledge of the various scriptures, but also must have attained “Self-Realization”. The same is repeated in Bhagavad Gita (4.34). Therefore, the two important criteria for a Guru is that: one, he should be well versed in scriptures, he should know what is dharma (righteousness), what is adharma (non-righteousness), and practice them in his own life; two, he should be Self-realized and firmly established in God (Brahman).

Adi Shankaracharya in his Vivekachoodamani (verse 33) elaborates on this. He says, a genuine teacher is one, who is well versed in scriptures, who is pure and non-afflicted by desires (i.e. dispassionate), who is ever established in Supreme (i.e. Brahman), who is always calm and merciful, and who is like a friend to all those who surrender to him. In other words, a Guru must also be pure of heart, detached and dispassionate, and a well-wisher of his disciples.

The same has been stressed by Swami Sivananda as well who says: “If you find peace in the presence of a Mahatma, if you are inspired by his speeches, if he is able to clear your doubts, if he is free from greed, anger, and lust, if he is selfless, loving, and I-less, you can take him as your Guru. He who is able to clear your doubts, he who is sympathetic in your Sadhana, he who does not disturb your beliefs but helps you on from where you are, he in whose very presence you feel spiritually elevated—he is your Guru. Once you choose your Guru, implicitly follow him. God will guide you through the Guru.”

Therefore, it is clear that Hindu philosophy and tradition lays down various characteristics using which one can differentiate between a genuine teacher and a fraudulent saint.

Fraudulent Godmen not unique to Hinduism

Pastor Benny Hinn is a popular Christian televangelist who conducts regular “miracle crusades”. He claims to have cured many people of various illness like blindness, cancer etc. In 2007, when Benny Hinn came to India, his program was attended by more than 7 million people. He claims to have got healed by watching his own healing video.
Photo Credit: www.bennyhinn.org
Photo Credit: www.bennyhinn.org

But, he is not alone in claiming to heal people through miracles. Many Christian pastors and missionaries use the same tactic in their evangelism activities in rural parts of India, and many uneducated people are fooled to convert to Christianity. Many allegations of financial corruptions have been made against the Church and other individual evangelists like Benny Hinn as well.

Further, many people inside the Kerala churches including few pastors and bishops have been accused of sexual harassment. A Maulvi of a mosque in Karnataka was accused of molesting a minor girl.

Therefore, fraudulent God-men, miraculous healers, and other men of God accused in various immoral and criminal activities are found in every religion. And most of them have a large number of dedicated followers.

People at fault, not religion

The root cause of this whole business of being God-men and making money is rooted in people’s need to find a spiritual meaning to their life.

The society has been largely secularized and de-hinduized, due to which common Hindus have very little understanding of Hinduism. But, they have a faith in God and want to discover a way to connect with Him. They look for a divine help in solving their day-to-day problems.

An atheist or a secularist may dismiss these feelings of people as superstition, but this attitude itself has been the root of current malaise. India has always been a land of culture and spirituality. Real men of God have always lived in this land. From Veda Vyasa to Adi Shankara, from Gorakshanatha to Ramakrishna, Anandamayi Ma, Ramana Maharshi and Neem Karoli Baba in the recent times, hundreds of genuine teachers and saints have led a divine life and guided people to perfection.

But, the current secular education has created an artificial boundary between the sacred and the secular, which is alien to the Dharmic world-view of India. This artificial division has created a spiritual void in common people’s life. They try to fill this void by searching for people who can guide them and help them in their lives. But, because of being uneducated in Hinduism themselves, they end up following fraud God-men and God-women. Many fraudsters are putting on orange garb, or conducting satsang’s (spiritual gatherings) precisely to exploit this spiritual void created by secular education.

The only effective solution to all this mess created by mushrooming fraud God-men, is a proper dharmic, spiritual education of common people about Hindu religion, philosophy, and tradition.

Swami Sivananda advises that if one fails to get a proper Sadguru with all the qualities that a Guru is supposed to have, then one should try to find a Sadhu (saint), who is on the path of Sadhana (spiritual practice) for some years and is genuine, and have some knowledge of scriptures. And if one fails to find even such a Sadhu, then one should learn and practice the teachings provided by genuine masters of the past like Shankara or Dattatreya etc.

Therefore, instead of rushing from one God-man to another, people should be educated in Hindu scriptures and philosophy, and should be taught to thoroughly examine people before taking them as Guru. Otherwise, they always have the teachings of genuine masters of the past to rely on.