New Age - BRAVE NEW AGE
by Suma Varughese
Characterized by unabashed optimism, breaking the barriers of race and religion, New Age movement has entrenched itself on Indian soil
First, a personal confession. Five years ago, before I met Parveen Chopra and joined India's first New Age magazine, I had but a hazy idea of what the term 'New Age' meant. True, I was looking for absolute happiness and unwilling to settle for less, and even considered starting a magazine on integration, but I had never imagined that this personal quest would echo a mushrooming movement. This is because people around me didn't share my concerns and interests. Then.
Today I appear to be a walking talking compendium on the New Age. And privy to thousands who think and feel the same way.
New Age is utopia, really. It is the ideal poets, dreamers and mystics have been striving for since time immemorial. A time when, as the Bible says, there will be peace on earth and goodwill towards all men. New Age stands for the possibility that man can learn to transcend all the barriers of caste, class, sex, race, religion, and self-interest that have separated us for so long, and live in peace and harmony with love for all creation.
New Age is
a freewheeling movement that draws its sustenance from the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, and even the spiritual moorings of the aborigines and Native
Americans. It coheres with Aldous Huxley's Perennial Philosophy (equivalent
to sanatana dharma), the common spiritual ground underlying all
religions. Its fundamental premise is the concept of oneness. The universe
is one unit and all in it are interconnected and one with the Creator.
The manifold unity and divinity of all creation is the fulcrum from which
emanates the innumerable spokes of the New Age wheel.
Here in India, signs of the New Age or what is actually an Old Age,
lie very close to the ground. Indeed, I learnt very quickly that there is a whole
subterranean reality that has been quietly fertilizing this land for eons. Underneath
the frenetic reality of politics, business, cricket, movies and celebrities eulogized
by the media, gushes a wellspring of spirituality. I learnt of spiritual masters
with lakhs of followers, of innumerable spiritual techniques and movements, of
humble clerks and accountants meditating in the privacy of their homes. I found
too an abundance of goodness, of people selflessly serving the needy, the old,
the orphaned and the dispossessed, yet strangely invisible because they operated
far away from the media glare.
the most dramatic change of all in these five years is that the invisible
has become visible. Today, the media is drawing this reality upward and
outward. Spiritual masters like the Shankaracharya of Kanchi and Mata
Amritanandamayi are now accorded the status of celebrities. The Shankaracharya
was photographed in the Times music store, Planet M. Spiritual concerns
and perspectives are aired on edit pages, and the whole panoply of New
Age gadgetry such as crystals,
wind chimes, pyramids,
cards are splashing across newspaper columns.
Old Age may have been a vibrant reality, but the New Age
was pretty nascent five years ago. By this, one refers to the eclectic
techniques and ideas from across the world. Perhaps only reiki was aggressively
attracting doyens across the board. A form of hands-on healing, reiki is said to have been discovered by the Buddha but reintroduced to India
in 1992-93 via a Japanese clergyman, Mikao
Usui. In the next few years the phenomenon kept peaking. Virtually
every second urbanite was either doing reiki or had heard of someone who
was. Being easily accessible, reiki has played a significant role in turning
many people towards the spiritual zone.
Today, the New Age is everywhere. The latest entrant to the shore is feng shui. Like the indigenous vaastu shastra, it is the science of placement, of aligning space. It offers
symbolic cures such as the placement of a painting or a color to correct
inauspicious energy flow. Today, it has swept the country through a wild
enthusiasm for wind chimes, mirrors, flowing water and the like. A city
supplement in Mumbai carries a weekly feature on the subject, and is crowded
with advertisements for feng shui courses.
Books on New Age subjects—particularly, reiki, vaastu, feng
shui—are selling like hot cakes. The western authors and publishers
are being replaced by homegrown ones. Publishers such as Full Circle,
B. Jain, Motilal's New Age Books, Sterling and Diamond have hefty
lists of typically New Age books.
Among other flourishing imports are channeling,
ascension and Kryon. The premise is that evolved people can act as channels
to wisdom passed on by spiritual entities. Many hot selling books in New
Age circles, such as one purportedly passed on by Mother Mary, are channeled.
Kryon is one of the most popular of such entities. He is said to be in
charge of changing the earth's magnetic configuration so that mankind
may easily move into a higher realm of consciousness. These movements
verge on the occult with borrowings from Jewish and Egyptian wisdom.
Divination has always been fascinating, giving our local astrology;
palm and face reading a run for its money are newcomers such as tarot
card, runes and I-Ching, helping you to chart out your present and your
Other systems that appeal, particularly to the corporate
crowd, are NLP,
today's hip numbers: EQ, SQ (Spiritual Quotient) and the latest offering,
Design Human Engineering. Says Nandan Savnal: "Now these spiritual
technologies come to India almost as soon as they have been released in
the USA." A la Hollywood movies.
Today, the hold of religion has loosened. At one extreme, transcendence is
no longer defined spiritually. Says artist and philosopher, Baiju Parthan: "I
have a friend who is a director of a company by day and a Rave freak by night.
Designer drugs, wild music and the philosophy of raving is a way of going beyond
At more conventional levels, Christians
are doing vipassana
and TM, Muslims
are experimenting with reiki and Hindus are moving into Christian Science
and theosophy. Says writer Anjali Bhagwe: "I see people borrowing
from other religions, of Hindus going for novenas or worshipping at dargahs."
a groundswell of change all around which one sees reflected in the appeal
by one organization for everyone to chant the Gayatri mantra at
six in the morning. This mass spiritual resurgence is best exemplified
by the recent Maha
Kumbha Mela at Allahabad. The event attracted crores of participants,
a significant percentage belonging to highly educated professionals who
would normally have looked askance at such a traditional ritual.
Says Shibani Sachdeva, a marketing consultant: "It was a deeply moving
experience. I was in tears at the sight of such faith."
WEB OF CHANNELS
Nowhere is the awakening more visible than on the Internet.
There are thousands of websites devoted to matters spiritual, spanning the gamut
from the serious to the flaky. In India, lifepositive.com
has been followed by the spirituality channel of Indiatimes
site of The Times of India group. There is a website on Indigo Children,
a term devoted to today's hyperactive children, who are considered to be at a
higher spiritual wavelength than the rest of us.
Then there is Intuitive Vision, a PR company specializing in metaphysical
issues. There's even a kundalini
support group for people going through difficult kundalini awakenings.
You can access websites of vision coaches, who will help you locate your
purpose in life.
In India, many spiritual organizations have their own websites. A few brave
solo ventures are also registering their presence. Says Gautam Sachdeva, of Impressions
Advertising, who has started indiayogi.com:
"The web is the perfect tool to communicate spiritual information because
it is fast and cheap."
What's new is also the rise of at least two
24-hour spiritual channels: Aastha and Sanskar. Though stodgy in their
content featuring a diet of discourses and satsangs (communion), they are
testimony to the hunger people feel today for a spiritual anchor. The Zee network
will be unveiling their 24-hour pay channel Chakra very soon. The content will
feature a combination of body-mind-spirit issues and the quality is likely to
set industry standards.
Inevitably, the New Age is throwing up a range of new jobs and lucrative
careers. Businesswoman Rohini Gupta holds workshops on the side on subjects
as diverse as mandalas (geometrically designed mystical designs)
and tarot cards. Many have shifted to teaching reiki or feng shui consultancy.
A high-profile fashion designer now plans to teach yoga.
"My father is scandalized," he confides. Naturopathy, ayurveda
and other holistic healing methods are also attracting many, including
allopathic practitioners, into the fold. Says Gulrukh Bala, a reiki master:
"One of my American students gave up a job in Microsoft and decided
to move into reiki and yoga instead."
COPING WITH CHANGE
of course, in the New Age, no one perspective tells the story. For many,
we are living in the worst of times. Liberalization has laid waste much
of indigenous industry. People are being laid off as never before.
Says Ajit Parikh, a small-scale industrialist and ardent vipassana
meditator, who recently sold a major part of his equity: "There is
no room for human values in business. Your reluctance to fire people is
a weakness today. People are under tremendous stress because there is
no job security any more. That is why they are turning to vipassana.
In 1991 when I first did vipassana, there were 271 meditators.
Now each course in Igatpuri accommodates 700 people and we have to turn
an equal number away."
There is also the accelerating rate of change brought on
by technology, particularly the Internet and the human genome project. Says Baiju
Parthan: "Internet has changed the way you transact business or communicate.
E-mail has decimated regular mail. Today, as an artist, I deal both with real
galleries and virtual ones. Both Internet and the human genome project are opening
up fundamental questions on what it means to be human at a time when you can create
a virtual self on the Net or clone yourself through genetic science. People are
forced to reexamine their belief systems and change."
as the economic upheavals and technological
changes send families into crisis, there are the cataclysmic natural calamities
to contend with such as last year's super cyclone in Orissa and this year's
killer earthquake in Gujarat, India. As the very foundation of conventional
security is cut away, many are locked in the agonizing question of what
is the source of real security. The answer will lead many within. The
birthing of the New Age with all its anguish and trauma, is underway.