Why godmen become omnipotent, and their followers so impotent

By Sudhir Kakar – Barring a small minority of atheists and doubters, for most people this higher reality is the dispenser of religious-spiritual moments that, in the words of the poet John Keats, “light up the narrow, mundane world of daily existence, a world which has always been inadequate to our experience and unequal to bear the burden of our hopes.”

The godman is believed to be in intimate contact with ‘higher’ reality and has the power to make it accessible to his followers. He or she (for this also holds true for the godwoman) is the culturally sanctioned addressee of an ancient civilizational longing, a collective request for the transforming experience.

His reputed ability to induce euphoric states in the follower carries a conviction of his divinity that is impervious to skepticism and disbelief. The follower cannot be shaken out of his belief in the godman with appeals to reason or evidence, answering anyone who would doubt with, “I don’t believe, I know.”

As much as he offers empowerment through identification with himself and his sect, it is a rare godman who does not come to misuse the power granted to him by his followers. This has nothing to do with a particular godman’s goodness or villainy but is inherent in the institution itself. Idealism by followers (“You are great! You are perfect!”), a godman must process the idealization internally and not start believing them.

One consequence of these positive idealizations is a loss of touch with the reality of everyday life and the context in which the idealizations are embedded. more>

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