If you are interested in spirituality, you must have heard of terms like ‘Personal Growth’, ‘Personal Development’ and ‘Wellness’. You might even wish for these, your aspirations guided by a multi-billion dollar industry that spans the globe. Once a strictly Western phenomenon, supposedly guided by materialistic fatigue, Personal Growth is now much wanted in India too, once considered the font of “authentic” spiritual practice, now another wannabe in the “want-take-have” consumerist rat-race.
I have nothing personal against Personal Growth. Rather, I see it as a good sign when people begin spending on courses, books, CDs, and such paraphernalia that they believe would calm their minds, make them happy, lower their blood pressure, make their children and pets behave, and so on. Rather that, than another pair of Christian Loboutins, right?
What I question, and I am neither the first nor hopefully the last to do so, is the reductionism that lies at the heart of the Personal Growth industry. What it does is reduce spiritual values and practices to a bunch of items or services that can be easily packaged and marketed. That is what consumerism does. It commodifies everything – experiences, people, cultures, literatures – into something it can stick a price on and make available on the global marketplace.
Take yoga, or mindfulness – the Personal Growth industry’s flavor-of-the-decade. These are derivatives that have been neatly isolated from philosophical systems that are a few thousand years old, and which have spawned complex ways of living and being and spiritual adventuring.
In their current avatars, they stand stripped of their contexts, reduced to a bunch of physical exercises and breathing techniques that will, of course, “work” at the superficial levels they are challenged and expected to. Exercise will help you lose weight and calming yourself will bring down your stress levels, and so on, some of which will also, lo and behold, be measurable on the brain fMRIs of an equally reductionist science, much to the delight of the Personal Growth industry.
Only, it feels a bit like burning down a complex rainforest ecosystem because you want to use the land it stands on for industrial farming.
We in India are faced with a double colonization – the richness of our philosophies and their integrity destroyed and fragmented by a consumerist culture hungry for inner peace, even as it shatters our inner peace and replaces our equanimity with materialistic dreams that will further lead us into restless and ruthless grasping and wanting. We gave up our systems of learning, forgot our dualistic and nondualistic philosophies, and began dreaming in tongues other than our mothers’. We exchanged Banarasi woven-in-Banaras for Banarasi made-in-China.
We forgot who we were, are, or could ever possibly be, so much so that we have no option but to believe bigoted, fanatical, monocultural voices that purport to show us their own interpretations of our roots, our selfhood, our collective consciousness.
So, welcome, International Yoga Day. You herald India’s official embrace of the Personal Growth industry.