Religion / spirituality as a paid service

The other day I was reading the news of Sri (x 2) Ravi Shankar’s satsang in Alappuzha in Kerala, where he was asked by the journalists his opinion on selling/marketing spirituality (Ravi Shankar was accused of commercializing spirituality by a Communist leader in Kerala). He said that he was indeed selling/marketing spirituality, yoga and ‘Indian culture’. I was astonished that he admitted this openly. But in the very next sentence (as reported by Mathrubhumi daily) he said that the profit he gets from this business is ‘smiles’ from the people and not money. That was a huge let down. I mean, why are the spiritual gurus, religious heads etc hesitant to admit that they are providing a service which we have to pay them? We all know that is the reality but why wouldn’t they admit it and why the word ‘money’ is so evil to them when they have no qualms in receiving it in loads?

Let me tell you about another incident. This is from the last weekend, on January 5th on my second brother’s 16th death anniversary. I had paid for some spiritual services for that day about a month ago in our parish for which I got the receipt (as per the rule I should show the receipt before the service is done or I would be denied the service, even in a possible case of misplacing the receipt). When I got there with my entire family (all of us would get together every year on that date for the service and thereafter for breakfast and lunch in my house) I’d found out that the second morning mass was canceled for that day. The cancellation was announced a week ago on a Sunday, but I did not go to the church that Sunday. But my booking was done about three weeks ago and nobody in the parish office notified me on this. So there were three services for which I had paid and I was ready to let go off two as a compromise. But the parish vicar denied me these services. He said I could choose one of the three services which he would decide, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. I told him that I was ready to let go the other two but one must take place because the entire family had come for this day and this special service and it cannot be postponed.

I also told the priest that I had paid for these services, which got him furious. Furious to a level that he even threatened that “I will show you” for which I responded “let’s see”. I don’t understand this. Why get furious for mentioning money? Especially when there is a practice that the priests would do the special services only upon presenting the original payment receipts? If they are so ashamed of the mention of money, or if money is so evil, then why demand the pay?

There are a couple of things that people who practice religion can and should do about this. First, remove the ‘holy’ or ‘divine’ element when you demand these services, as long as you are paying for it. Respond to the priests just as they respond to you; you wouldn’t find ‘holiness’ in the way that most of them, like our parish priest, speaks. Then demand the service as you would in case of any other paid services in this world. And, I am not sure if it already is and if not, bring the spiritual/religious services under the consumer court. A first step to deal with this this kind of issues is for the spiritual/religious heads to admit that they indeed make money (and not just smiles) out of special spiritual/religious services, and then the believers/consumers should see it as yet another paid consumer service (with a ‘divine’ element if you’d like, of course).

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