What do Tom Cruise, businesswoman Priya Kumar, model Sheena Chohan, actor Bunty Grewal and John Travolta have in common?
The belief system of Tom Cruise is coming to the city. Scientology plans its Mumbai chapter
MUMBAI: What do Tom Cruise, businesswoman Priya Kumar, model Sheena Chohan, actor Bunty Grewal and John Travolta have in common? They’re all Scientologists, and swear by the teachings of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, the American sci-fi writer who laid down the principals of what came to be called — in 1954 — the Church of Scientology.
Over the years, Priya, who owns and runs a leadership training company, and Bunty, have been travelling to the country’s main Scientology centre in New Delhi on their quest for knowledge. But this will change as Mumbai will soon get its very own Scientology centre.
“We’re still looking for a location and we need to recruit and train people who can run it,” said Scientologist Thomas Goeldentiz, who was recently in Mumbai. "We should be ready by early next year."
And while the religion — if that’s what it can be called — has attracted its fair share of controversy in countries like the UK and Germany, in India at least, it has a modest, but growing band of followers. The Delhi centre has about 5,000 active members and 15,000 people, who as Thomas puts it, “peek in from time to time”.
Scientology can be defined as the study and handling of the spirit (what Scientologists call thetan) in relationship to itself, the universe, and other life. According to Thomas, the philosophy is not new in that it has a lot of resonance with the Vedas. “What’s new,” he says, “Is that it is a systematic and technological approach to tackling life.”
It certainly worked for Priya. Three-and-half-years ago, Priya was like any other human being — searching for success, happiness and peace of mind. “I was looking for an answer on how to lead a better life,” she said. “I started reading about Scientology, and visited the centre in Delhi. I found that the message stuck. It transformed my life.”
The rest, to use a cliché, is history. Priya’s career took off. “In two years, I have seen a 500 per cent growth in my company. I am now a millionaire. It’s not an accident. In every way, I owe it to Scientology,” she said.
It’s a good thing, too, that Priya has the money, because the path to becoming a Scientologist is not cheap. The first stage of the spiritual counselling is the ‘life auditing’ phase, where the ‘auditor’ and the practitioner — or the ‘pre-clear’ — work together to understand and ‘clear’ the subconscious. The thoughts of the pre-clear are registered on a device called the e-meter, which records the emotional responses and are assessed by the auditor. This is fundamental to the Scientology tenet, which believes that the truth and the path to happiness is in you, and can be accessed by asking the right questions. The process can take hundreds of hours, and costs about Rs1,000 per hourly session.
“The initial sessions cost about Rs300 per hour. But we offer everyone the opportunity to train as an auditor,” said Thomas. Priya’s over-all learning process has cost her lakhs of rupees, but for her, it was money well spent. The quest of the Scientologist is an ongoing process. “It’s a bridge, and at every stage you learn something new,” says Priya, who is currently at the Grade 1 level.
“Don’t ask me about the money,” laughs Bunty, who became a Scientologist about two years ago, and is currently in the auditing phase. “What it has given me is clarity of thought, and a deeper understanding of who I am.” At the centre in Delhi, he was particularly impressed by the ‘purification rundown’. A process where he spent 21 days — five hours every day — in the sauna, in order to cleanse his system of the effects of medication, alcohol, et al. “This is a way of life that also emphasises the health of the body, not just the mind and soul,” he said.
For Priya, Scientology put her on the path to success. Bunty feels empowered by the tools that have helped him repair his life. “I have a lot to learn,” he says, pointing to a series of DVDs stacked on a shelf. They are lectures on the different aspects of Scientology. “I am a Sikh, and a Scientologist.”
According to Thomas, people don’t have to give up their religion to become a Scientologist. “This is a popular misconception. You can be a practising Hindu, Muslim or Christian and still be a Scientologist. However, in India, we want to avoid using the word ‘church’ as here, it’s associated with Christianity.” So Scientology, it appears, aims to help improve different aspects of life.
Reportedly, what’s really popular in Delhi is the ‘technology of study’ course. According to Thomas, school principals recommend this course to children who are constantly under- performing or having problems with the syllabus.
Maybe that’s how they should spread the word when they come to Mumbai.
He leaves me with a copy of the book, The Technology of Study, if only I had it 15 years ago.