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Friends in faith
Spiritual groups are not only helping their members find ‘answers’ but also friends who have a karmic connect.
Vibha Singh recalls the time she and her husband were desperately trying to conceive. "It had been three years and a baby still seemed like a distant dream. I used to be stressed out all the time. . . my friends would get angry with me. Why was I so stuck up on the idea of becoming a mother? Why don't I move on? It was my chanting group that gave me strength and told me not to lose hope. I completely believe that I am now a mother because of their prayers and constant emotional and spiritual support, " says Singh, who now has a two-year-old son, Vibhor.
Anjana Rajguru, a mother of two teenagers, who recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome after her meeting with Yogi Ashwini of Dhyan Ashram, swears by her spiritual family. Rajguru's husband suffered a heart attack soon after the family moved to Bangalore from Delhi a couple of years ago. Her friends from Dhyan Foundation stood by her through this difficult time. "Especially Nandini and Abhishek who helped to get him admitted and gave all necessary support, " says Rajguru.
While spirituality and India go back a long way in recent years there has been a resurgence of faith amongst young upwardly mobile Indians. Big city pressures, competition, spiralling aspirations and dwindling family support is pushing people towards niche faiths, gurus and preachers. Faith, for such people, is the new family and friend.
Be it Art of Living or the Soka Gakkai chanting groups, members trust each other. Shelley Kapoor, an executive with McKinsey in Gurgaon, trusts her daughter only with Sanjeeta Datta, a member of her SGI chanting group. "I know Sanjeeta spiritually and that is why I can leave my child with her, " says Kapoor, who lives near the Datta home in Vasant Kunj in south Delhi. Datta has equal faith in Kapoor. "The thing with your spiritual friend is he or she will always be positive. You will never be scared or have any inhibitions about discussing your problems with them. This can be very comforting, " she says. When Datta was in hospital last year soon after the delivery of her daughter, Kapoor bought clothes for the newborn, laundered them and stored them at her friend's home.
Gopika Kapoor, who is part of a study group under Chinmaya Mission in Mumbai, feels that once you are spiritually awakened you seek out like-minded people and form satsang which literally translates to 'good company'. "At the same time it becomes difficult for you to connect to others who are not spiritually inclined, " says Kapoor who has written Spiritual Relationships: From the First Date to D-Day.
Spiritual groups teach tolerance and love for all. This completely changes the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. Envy, competitiveness, curiosity - all factors that spice up regular friendships - have no place in the socio-spiritual network. Riddhi Kale, a journalist working in Delhi and member of Dhyan Foundation, says that the younger members of the group make it a point to meet once a month at a coffee shop. "Thirty to forty people turn up and we discuss our various charities and community work.
The talk is not so much about looks, hair, clothes or parties as it is about how to get more fodder for our 'Save A Cow' programme or finding a volunteer to oversee the foundation's langar, " says Kale.
Chanting, praying, community work, meditation, breathing exercises and other such group activities help members open up with complete strangers. Gitanjali Aiyar, former news reader and member of SGI, says that younger members of the group help her understand her younger colleagues at work. "If someone talked back to me at work and it upset me, I would bring this up with younger members of our group to understand how to deal with this. And they would assure me that this is the way young people talk these days and that I was not being singled out in office, " says Aiyar.
Spiritual networking also seems to teach members to look beyond their interests, and at the world at large. Dr Pragati Mukhopadhyay, who practises Art of Living, is a physicist who has travelled all over the world. But living with other members of her group has taught her small, simple skills that never mattered to her before. "I used to think that science explains everything. But interacting with other members of ART I have realised that every person has something to teach you, " says Mukhopadhyay.
If you are not the spiritual type, it could also be upsetting to lose a friend to these networks. Shalini Singhal feels that she has lost her best friend, Anu Roy, of more than 10 years to a chanting group. "I used to think that I was her 2 am friend. . . and I was. We have been through career setbacks and heartbreaks together. But now I find that increasingly Anu is relying more on her chanting buddies for emotional succour, " says Singhal, a music teacher who lives in Hyderabad.
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