When I was a child, I was obsessed with Amar Chitra Katha books, especially the ones about saints and sadhus. I grew up imagining that I was also going to turn into one. I would stare into the mirror and consider deep philosophical questions such as “Who is this I? What does it mean to be human? Why do I have to study Maths?”. I also pretended I was meditating, and kept waiting for a giant flash of lightning or flowers showering down on me from the heavens. I was prepared to give away all my worldly possessions and retire into the forest.
Looking back, I can’t believe how wrong I was. To become a guru or a godman these days involves nothing like that. Quite the opposite, in fact. I thought it was important to document the steps involved, especially since becoming a guru is one of the most lucrative and stable career options in India. So, without much ado, here is your guide to becoming a guru.
Step 1. Take a pompous name
It is important to choose your own name before others give you one that doesn’t sound as grand. Be as arrogant as possible; your devotees will respect you for it! For example, if you were born with the name Goundamani, something like Maha Maha Periya Pista Goundamani would work. You could also take names of older gurus or simply call yourself (The Great) Brether.
Get thee also to a stylist so you can decide what colours and hairstyles are in for god-men and god-women. (Saffron is so last-season.) And don’t skimp on hair products.
Step 2. Choose your bag of tricks
You’re going to be at a disadvantage here because many of the niches are already taken. Kitschy Magic–done. Yoga for Yuppies–taken. Levitation for Dummies–done and dusted. And, in the coup of the decade, even the market on hugging has been cornered (the analysts didn’t see that one coming). Generally though, the trend is take a few yoga poses, put it in a mixie with some science, garnish with some spirituality, and leave it to ferment overnight. Serve it warm and gooey.
Trademark your tricks with a good name. Something vague like The Bublimass of Being works well, but you can also consider a science-y term like Paramagnetic Yoga, Quantum Meditation or Jingalala Jogi.
Step 3. Find eager devotees
The good thing about devotees is that they will go out and do the marketing for you, for free! You just need to give them an amazing but unverifiable backstory involving good omens at the time of birth and aloof genius later on. You also need to have a handful of stories of miracles performed for fictitious devotees.
If you’ve designed your tricks well enough, the real devotees will start feeling left out because they haven’t experienced a miracle. They will start hallucinating and imagining new miracles. Soon, this will become a self-perpetuating cycle, with every second devotee experiencing a miracle. At this point, suggest that devotees invite their celebrity or politician friend to come and experience the same. Once you have at least two famous devotees, sit back, relax and watch your empire take off.
Step 4. Don’t practice what you preach
Remember, the rules are for the devotees, and not for you. Tell your devotees to lead a simple life, free of material possessions. Tell them to be charitable–let them donate everything to you. (This will come in handy for the down-payment on that Mercedes.) Use about 2% of the donations to start a charity in your name. Ask devotees to provide professional services there for free.
Ask devotees to be humble, but proclaim your own greatness loudly and frequently. Get them to chant your name, sitting on the ground, with their heads covered, while you seat your ample backside on a golden throne. Rose petals are optional.
Step 5. Get involved in a scandal
This last step is critical to your spiritual success. Remember, your peer group will not take you seriously until you’ve been embroiled in a sex or money scandal. Scandals also increase the fanatic, blind devotion of your flock. “All Gods were persecuted. Therefore all who are persecuted are Gods. Periya Pista-ji is god!”, they will say, while grazing on the grass, like good sheep.
Your business empire is now complete.