THIS I BELIEVE:
Steer Far Away from ‘God’
I was born and raised in a cult whose leader declared himself to be the direct representative of God on earth. It was the guru, who in 1968, arranged my parents’ marriage on the first night that they appeared as strangers to each other and to the newly arrived Bengali spiritual leader. Shortly after their initiation as disciples, Guru changed the informal mediation circle into a strict cult that demanded unconditional obedience to his rules. To the public, he was Sri Chinmoy, a charismatic spiritual leader. To me, he was Guru.
Because he claimed he was the perfect avatar and we were all imperfect beings, he promised us that if we obeyed all of his dictates, he would lead us to our own perfect selves. All we had to do was surrender our entire existence to him. For his sincere disciples, people who sincerely sought an alternative to suburban consumption and dogmatic religions, it seemed like a fair trade. He banned meat, TV, dancing, pets, and sex. It was a world he created, and he made all the rules and also changed them at his whim.
As a child, I was a perfect devotee. He told me he was God, and I believed it. Pleasing him was my only objective. When he ordered disciples to spread his mission, I traveled with my parents handing out leaflets, putting up posters, giving talks. Later, when he wanted to attract media attention, he hosted ultra marathons, and weightlifted enormous objects like elephants and airplanes on special contraptions. Through it all, I was in the front row, cheering him on with folded hands. He was my all.
When I became a teenager, my trusting ease disappeared, turning instead into distrust and disappointment. For me, Guru’s strict rules which banned all contact and relationships with the ‘outside’ world provoked questions and longings for everything that he forbade. When Guru warned me that my soul only wanted to serve him, and that it did not want me to have a college education, career, or a family with a husband and children, I listened with resentful suspicion. I realized He was a jealous God who demanded full love and obedience, and from me, his chosen one, I sadly understood he would never accept anything less.
After years of mutual struggle—Guru trying to keep me and me trying to leave—we had exhausted each other’s patience. I was tired of serving him and lonely for companionship; I no longer believed in his cause, and I craved a life for myself.
For years, I struggled with anyone who claimed that they were spiritually enlightened; the very word ‘guru’ turned my stomach. Although I don’t believe any more in gurus, avatars or messiahs, I do believe that when someone declares himself to be God and promises a path to enlightenment through the surrender of one’s self, turn and run to the nearest exit. You are fully capable of traveling that path on your own.