India is a mystical country filled with diverse religions and beliefs. A majority of the population looks in awe at its many gurus, fakirs, adepts, masters and “holy men,” many of whom are celebrities and make a great deal of money. Millions of Americans in search of spiritual enlightenment also look to India and its “holy men” for guidance.
One of India’s famous gurus, Pandit Surender Sharma, is highly revered and many millions of Indians believe he has supernatural powers that include control over life and death. Sharma recently went on live television and boasted that he could kill using his powers.
He was immediately challenged by one of India’s leading skeptics, Sanal Edamaruku. As noted by the Times, “Edamaruku has dedicated his life to exposing the charlatans — from levitating village fakirs to televangelist yoga masters — who he says are obstructing an Indian Enlightenment.”
Here is an account of what happened from the Times Online:
When a famous tantric guru boasted on television that he could kill another man using only his mystical powers, most viewers either gasped in awe or merely nodded unquestioningly. Sanal Edamaruku’s response was different. “Go on then — kill me,” he said.
At first the holy man, Pandit Surender Sharma, was reluctant, but eventually he agreed to perform a series of rituals designed to kill Mr. Edamaruku live on television. Millions tuned in as the channel cancelled scheduled programming to continue broadcasting the showdown, which can still be viewed on YouTube.
First, the master chanted mantras, then he sprinkled water on his intended victim. He brandished a knife, ruffled the sceptic’s hair and pressed his temples. But after several hours of similar antics, Mr. Edamaruku was still very much alive — smiling for the cameras and taunting the furious holy man.
Though I have not followed up on the story, I would be willing to bet that the guru and his public relations team are engaged in damage control by claiming that the rituals were not performed in “just the right way” and this accounts for the fact that Edamaraku is still very much alive.
As for the rationalist Mr. Edamaruku, he would “like to see a post-religious society — that would be an ideal dream, but I don’t know how long it would take.”
He will have to keep dreaming because it is not going to happen. Supernatural thinking arises naturally from the functioning of the brain-mind, and then receives pervasive cultural support throughout one’s lifetime. When you add to this mix the bewilderment and disenchantment which is the result of modernity, there is no chance of having a post-religious society — anywhere.