Friday, May 30, 2014

That Guru's Not Dead!

In a story oddly reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch, followers and heirs of an Indian guru are now in a legal battle over whether the guru is dead or in a deep state of meditation. Shri Ashutosh Maharaj was - or is, depending on whose side you're on - one of the wealthiest gurus in India with assets valued around £100 million. According to his family, he died in January and his followers placed his body in a freezer. His followers, on the other hand, believe he is simply meditating and claim that they froze his body in order to preserve it for when he eventually awakens.

While he is thought to have died from a heart attack, his devotees believe he has simply drifted into a deeper form of the meditation he promotes as a pathway to self-realisation. A statement on the group's website reads: "His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj ji has been in deep meditative state (Samadhi) since 29th January 2014."

According to one of his aides, who asked not to be named, "Maharaj has been in deep meditation. He has spent many years meditating in sub-zero temperatures in the Himalayas, there is nothing unusual in it. He will return to life as soon as he feels and we will ensure his body is preserved until then", he said.

His body is held in a guarded room in a deep freezer on his 100 acre retreat in Nurmahal, Jalandhar, where only a few elders and sect doctors are allowed to enter.

Although Punjab Police initially confirmed his death, the Punjab High Court later dismissed its status report and local governmental officials said it was a spiritual matter and that the guru's followers cannot be forced to believe he is dead.

While there may be a spiritual component to all of this, Maharaj's followers also seem motivated by financial concerns. According to his family, if it can be successfully argued that the guru still lives his followers will maintain control of his extensive financial resources. There's no mention in the story of whether or not Maharaj made a will, but it sounds like he didn't - so everything goes to his family by default once he is officially dead. There's a lesson for any would-be gurus out there - if you don't want anything this silly to go on once you pass away, make sure that you have a will specifying exactly how much of your estate is to remain with your followers and how much of it is to be distributed elsewhere.

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