Has mega-rich Hindu guru Shri Ashutosh Maharaj been dead for the past four months, as attested by doctors, his family and the police? Or has he been meditating the whole time, as his disciples in the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan sect claim?
The Punjab High Court may soon weigh in on whether Maharaj's life is an illusion or a delusion; whether he's at one with the universe or the universe is done with him.
What's at stake goes beyond karma or even dharma. In the material world, if such a world exists, sect officials are hoping that a "Still Alive" or "Not Dead Yet" verdict will give them control of Maharaj's fortune, estimated at a cool $170 million. To that end, they have literally put Maharaj on ice -- in a heavily guarded freezer -- to make sure he doesn't turn green with decay and, well, die.
A reality-based person might conclude that if the guy wasn't dead when the other guys stuffed him into the freezer he's sure as hell dead now. But, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, that could be wrong, or at least unenlightened.
The Telegraph reports that an aide scoffed at the notion that months in the deep freeze could be fatal to his guru: "Maharaj has spent many years (ital mine) meditating in subzero temperatures in the Himalayas. There is nothing unusual in it. He will return to life as soon as he feels (sic?), and we will ensure his body is preserved until then."
If this seems absurd to the Western mind, consider the case of one Jesus Christ, who, billions of earthlings are convinced, was once alive, then dead, then alive again. There were no sub-zero freezers back in '33, but that needn't have been a deal-breaker because JC was, by most accounts, only away for the weekend. In any case, many millions of believers are counting the days until Mr. Christ returns one last time.
It's also possible that the Prince of Peace is/was simply pining for the fjords. (According to the Urban Dictionary, "pining for the fjords describes a dead person or animal as a way of convincing somebody that the corpse is not, in fact, dead." Most historians agree that the phrase entered the vernacular circa 1969 when a snotty British pet shop owner coined it to explain the immobility of a certain Norwegian parrot.)
If the Punjabi Court rules in favor of Maharaj's disciples, watch for similar lawsuits brought by the millions of Americans seeking legal sanction for their beliefs that such masters as Elvis Presley, Andy Kaufman, James Dean, Tupac Shakur and Jim Morrison have been alive for decades, doctors' and other experts' opinions be damned.
And who's to say that Ted Williams, arguably Major League Baseball's all-time greatest hitter, didn't die in 2002 but has been meditating all along in anticipation of a comeback just as soon as robotics provide him a new body to go with his cryogenically frozen head? Perhaps Ben Bradlee Jr. had this in mind when he chose the title for his exhaustive 2013 bio of the Splendid Splinter: The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams.