Consumer spirituality

Whenever I go out reading lately on the internet, posts about Hinduism seem to find me, or maybe it’s the same as the traffic light phenomenon – if you’re looking for it, you’ll probably find  it. You know what I mean, like when you’re driving at night and you pass under a traffic light as it goes out, and then you notice that you pass under a lot of traffic lights as they go out, so you start to imagine that it happens to you way more than is normal, except that it’s not happening more so much as you’re paying attention more.


I have been reading the White Indian Housewife’s blog for a while now. She’s an Australian who married and Indian man and resides in Mumbai, and is also an excellent (professional) writer. Her blog posts are fascinating. Lately she’s been posting about a trip she’s taking with her husband to some holy sites, a sort of mini-yatra. She’s got an interesting perspective. This latest post, though, was about a temple she went to where the pandits were very forceful in asking for money from her and from the other devotees.

This sort of goes back to that thought I was having about skeptics and religion, and how sometimes a healthy dose of skepticism is useful. In Sharell’s case (I would say she’s pretty good at being a skeptic when appropriate), she stood her ground. Unfortunately, it sort of tarnished her experience of the temple, because it was difficult to just focus on being there, but I think I would probably have done the same thing in her place. I don’t know, though. I haven’t lived in India, so maybe I’d have caved and paid the pandit, even if I knew I wasn’t buying blessings so much as buying an escape.

I don’t think Hinduism is the only religion to fall prey to this sort of thing. Many major holy sites have gift shops and donation plates. I’m not saying that those are always the same sort of thing as Sharell’s temple experience. Sometimes the money you pay goes to upkeep or funds for the poor or other sorts of community outreach. I know that the temples I’ve been to here in the U.S. use the donation money for those sorts of things, as does the church I attended before choosing to follow Sanatana Dharma. But what I think we need to realize as modern people (and yes, I include all of us in the world in that, because I think we all have the capability to be modern people, even if we don’t know how yet) that a trinket or an amulet or a souvenir isn’t going to solve your problems. It may give you comfort for a while, but ultimately it’s not any surer channel to the divine than exists in your own person. And it’s up to you to do what’s necessary to achieve good things in your life.

And if you start looking for good things? You’ll probably find them.

About HappyGoth

By day, I'm a graphic designer. By night, I'm a knitter. I'm doing my part to keep Hotlanta stylish. I imagine that if you don't already understand the title of the blog, you're probably confused and perhaps slightly annoyed, but never fear - I do have a reason (and it's a good one). Having gone to hear Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and then having been inspired to blog about knitting, I found myself wondering what to call the blog. I recalled a conversation I had with Mouse and the Chicken Goddess about why it is a Bad Idea to anger knitters - this conversation was following SPM, aka the Yarn Harlot telling the assembled throng about Those Who Do Not Understand Knitting and Therefore Belittle It Much to the Chagrin of Others, or TWDNUKTBMCO, which is not the acronym she used but is the one I'm using because I forgot hers - that is, we are numerous and we all have very pointy sticks, easily transforming into an angry mob. Therefore, knitters = angry mob.
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7 Responses to Consumer spirituality

  1. surya says:

    AH, an interesting subject- ‘fleecing the devotees’. I was watching the other day this good looking tele evangelist from south explaining compassion and kindness very eloquently. Kind of a very impressive speaker indeed that god himself is taking care of this wonderful soul who owns a fleet of expensive cars, huge home and a wife who may easily pass off as a hollywood celebrity.
    Yes, agree sadly from a small bribe to amassing fortune to child abuse, gods home makes a perfect centre for organized crime of all shades. By the way “Borgias”, a showtime series currently running, is a compelling Vatican drama and one interested in religion must not miss it. Namaste.

    • HappyGoth says:

      One of the priests at the church I used to attend lives very well, and I did not get along with him; I frequently felt like I was not important enough for his time. It was disheartening. However, I know it happens everywhere, and I also know that there are enough honest priests/mullahs/rabbis etc to begin to balance it out.

      I suppose it’s a good think to know. Each of us regular folks is struggling with the same spiritual issues as those in positions to guide us, so maybe they can meet us on familiar ground! Or maybe not. I’m going to be optimistic about it.

  2. Sriram says:

    I will agree that the people forcefully asking for money is a lousy thing but that is bound to happen. Its unfortunate and not right but it does happen. It does tend to happen on a differing scale with people who are not regulars to a place of worship. I as an Indian have faced it in temples where I go for the first time but may be because I expect some swindling, I go in with a outlook to enjoy no matter what experience comes my way.

    Also I would not have paid the money demanded, may be because I am thick skinned and if god washed away my sins for a sum of money, there must must be some other god ready to do it for half that cost, after all there are millions of them and I could play supply and demand economics :D.

  3. Sita says:

    I find this happening not only with temples but also pandits who help us do our rituals.There are those who are very adamant about ‘their’ price.on the flip side there are also those who do not make demands on the ‘yajaman’ & take what is offered as there are skinflints(scrooge-like) yajamans also.All said & done,these Pujaris at Holyplaces,& Pandits who do sacraments,do not have any ‘Provident Fund’,Insurance,Pension,or other social benefits.The Temple[or the govt.which controls them,unlike,other Religious Institutions] pays a meagre amount that would hardly help get the food on table.Here the Pujari is slightly better-off as he at least has regular income;But for him the pilgrims’ offering is the one that helps pay bills,so some become very greedy.It only proves their human-ness.The pandit has no such regular income & it depends on How many sacraments done per month,or how generous was the Patron[yajaman].They also have a family to feed,clothe,educate &medical expenses etc.In all this there needs to be a via media that gives a win-win situation all around.In India,the media & govt. is biased against Hindus.The Temples are mismanaged.Those being run by Pvt Trusts are better.You don’t see such fleecing there.but the trying to bring them under their control,so they can get the money.Now would you blame the Pandit/Pujari for asking for money? But I wish they were at least less aggressive about it,but that wouldn’t happen as long as they feel that unless they demand they wont be paid.

    • HappyGoth says:

      I was unaware about those tough economic circumstances. I imagine there’s always a lot of complexity to these situations that we don’t see.

      I guess I’m comforted by the humanness of every religious figure, to some extent. It’s sad to hear that there’s so much inequality, especially since Hindu culture is, to some extent, Indian culture (though not necessarily for Muslims, Christians, etc, but you get the idea). It sounds like a very complicated problem to fix, especially if you get places where pandits feel they need to be so aggressive about asking for donations from devotees.

  4. Sita says:

    by other religious institutions,I meant those run by other religions,Not Hindu.

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