Dear reader

Why do I write about pitfalls of spirituality?

My purpose with this blog is to crystallize and share my thoughts and experiences, in the hope that you and I may benefit from them. From 1993-2005 I practiced a so-called spiritual method (Sahaj Marg). Ultimately I realized that this method - and especially the organization around it (Shri Ram Chandra Mission or SRCM)- was contrary to some deep spiritual layer in myself. I came to some clear conclusions, and also to some still developing insights.

One still developing insight is that almost everybody is looking for some form of spirituality in their life. Therefore there are many spiritual methods and movements, often with similar pitfalls to the ones I experienced.

Many people follow a well-trodden path which is defined by the group in their immediate vicinity. Others are prompted by their heart and/or head to look for spirituality that makes sense on a personal level. Spirituality gives fulfillment -humanity as one, universal love growing, one with the buddha- as well as direction through life's tough questions.

I write about the pitfalls of spirituality because so many others seem to write mostly about the bliss of their own approach to spirituality. This bliss to me actually seems a pitfall.

Understanding the pitfalls I deem essential to gain more spiritual insight. For me this actually translates into a lighter and more loving heart. I do not believe that understanding is the key issue in spirituality. But I do believe that misunderstanding can block key issues (although to which degree probably varies with each person).

Please bear with my frequent use of I feel, seems to me, in my not so humble opinion and so on. It is to emphasize that I do not consider any of my opinions to be more than that. I cannot bring you universal truth. In my not so humble opinion [imnsho] universal truth is a major pitfall in spirituality.

Dear reader, I hope you find something worthwhile on these pages. Friendly reactions, which may be as critical as you like, are always welcome.

Tips how to read this blog

* Please start with the closing remarks (click on the link), they should provide a balanced perspective on this blog.

* There is a list of 20 pitfalls in the sidebar. Clicking on a pitfall will provide a number of posts in which that pitfall is discussed to some extent.

* If you have time, consider starting with the oldest post, and simply going through to each next post. This probably gives the most faithful ;-) reading...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Us & them: humanity united, humanity divided? And what about proselytization? (pitfall 11)

As this blog progresses, I will probably find it more difficult to deal with the pitfalls from my preliminary list separately. Many of these pitfalls hang together, like I already stated.

Allow me to continue with the pitfall `us & them' (pitfall 11 from the preliminary list). I believe this pitfall derives from the pitfall `absolute truth', as discussed in the previous post.

By `us & them' I mean the strong distinction that many followers of many a spiritual movement make between followers/believers/practitioners (of that movement) and other people. You might well ask why I consider this a pitfall, because this mechanism seems to pervade humanity throughout its history. Well, I call it a pitfall of spirituality because to me spirituality means a more united or at least less divided humanity. The position that many different spiritual paths -also the ones with no name or method- are not essentially different, seems to bring this about more easily than a position of `us' vs. `them'.

To illustrate this pitfall from personal experience might create quite a waterfall. A few good selections should suffice though.

But first, I would like to emphasize something else. I've met so many loving people who practise some spiritual path, be it religion or otherwise. This goes also very much for the movement/method in which I participated, and many people dear to me still practise this method. To criticize them is not something for which I feel sufficiently wise, I do not feel more insightful in their personal spiritual approach than they themselves. And I can only say that their lovingness to me is like water in the desert.

So for me to list and discuss pitfalls of spirituality might well be seen as the criticizing of (many) spiritual movements, but it would not be accurate to interpret it as `followers of such and such are blind / fool themselves / should stop ' or something similar. My purpose with this blog is more, I think, to support those who feel uncomfortable with some spiritual movement and perhaps help them in some way by clarifying certain mechanisms which I see and have seen in action many times.

Another purpose is probably, I admit, to provide some counterweight to the many claims made by spiritual movements especially regarding their own exalted spiritual approach. I'm simply still too much attached to some objectivity, some truth ideal, to be able to sit back quietly while others proclaim as truth what is to me misleading misrepresentation. I guess I still have hope for a bias-poor, largely objective and lovingly connected, united humanity...even though history gives very little evidence of humanity going along with these adjectives...and even though of course I have not got any proof that such a humanity serves a Higher purpose better than the biased, divided, war-faring humanity that I see all around.

I have no such proof, because I never had a Higher Communication from/with God or something like that. And even if I thought I had had such Communication, I would not consider this as proof since many to me quite repellent `spiritual' figures in history have claimed such proofs...with horrendous results.

To be honest: I don't know what any Higher purpose could be. Perhaps on Judgment Day God will swoop down from the sky and say: `the Vikings were right, my name is Wodan and you are all going to Walhalla after we finish the administrative details. You can change your euros, dollars and what have you for local Walhalla currency right after the commercial break.'

What I know is limited to my personal take and feelings in these matters. My own feeling regarding `us and them' is complex, but seems to crystallize in a willingness to have contact on an individual basis, with unique humans, from heart to heart. Group identifications -even though they seem unavoidable to some extent- seldom leave me with a lighter heart.

Therefore you will understand that it made me uncomfortable to be part of a movement which talks about `abhyasis' and `non-abhyasis' (abhyas=practice). In which abhyasis are consistently called `brothers and sisters', but non-abhyasis are very seldom addressed in these terms. In which the spiritual progress of meditation centers or even countries as a whole is measured in terms of proselytization: how many new abhyasis this year? In which the leaving of the movement and its guru are considered the cutting of a spiritual bond and the destruction of a unique spiritual opportunity for `liberation' (whatever that may be).

So, with all due respect to the many loving abhyasis and other spiritual practitioners and seekers and non-seekers and non-practitioners and..., I consider `us and them' to be contradictory to the -to me spiritual- goal of uniting humanity.

And I consider it to be a major pitfall in a more practical sense, that in many movements people are actually encouraged or at least not actively discouraged to break off relations with their family or other longstanding relations, if these relations remain critical of the spiritual movement. Also the formation of practitioner-practitioner relations is often encouraged, morally rewarded, whereas the opposite is often opposed, put in a black light, or simply forbidden.

`No, no, how could a Catholic possibly marry an Orthodox Jew? It is unthinkable.'

`Your Duty is to the Master. If your wife does not want you to attend service, that is her problem. But you should not let that interfere with your own spiritual progress. Worldly relations are but the playing out of samskaras, whereas your soul yearns for Him. Pray for her, remain loving, but be firm in your resolve.'

`If your friends are critical, remember that the Guru is the only real Friend. A spiritual person needs no friends, he loves all. Friends are demanding and often impede your progress by asking you to join them in their immoral behaviour, or by spending your time on worldly pleasures instead of your spiritual development.'

`A prefect of our movement should always be receptive to brothers and sisters. If they come to you at midnight, will you send them away? It would be unwise, for who can be sure they will be able to come back?'


Say there is something deserving the name `God'. Say God really is responsible for the spiritual progress (what does that mean?) of humanity, all 6 billion of us/them. Would It really put all Its eggs in one (mostly small) basket? `Ahem, although it never got posted on the Internet before, this is a certified announcement from me, God, stating that Movement X really is the only true God Movement. The rest are fakes, or from inferior factories'.

Somehow it doesn't strike me as very plausible. As very credible.

Plausibility and credibility don't go well together with `one plus one equals three'. Faith however has no trouble with `one plus one makes three'. Faith can move mountains - that is if you have faith in this statement. Like us. Faith in the Absolute Truth unfortunately is not shared by everyone. The others are the infidels, the non-believers, the heretics, the heathens...them.


Anonymous said...

Hi Frank...

Heard of your blog on Michael's blog.

Enjoyed your thoughts and your approach. Looking forward to reading more.

You are not alone. WE, the united "them" outside the divided Religious set, will become the Majority and the Religious and sectarian dividers, although still the majority, will one day be the minority. We will be UNITED and thus "spiritual" in our tolerance of all "truths". Truths also have a life and are not "eternal". If the Universe, in its constant motion, changes eternally, so does "TRUTH".

Hanging onto and reliving the experiences and mistakes of the past along with the rigid and divisive religious dogmas enshrined by Religions and sects, is what has caused homo sapiens to waste much time, and effort, and much of the planets resources in wars and the building of temples for millenia. It is time for a paradigm shift. Spirituality UNITES... That means "no group", as a group indicates a "division" and a "them/us"

The organizational paradigm for sprituality (imho) would be a spiral. The current religious organizational paradigm is the (angular) pyramid for the male (sky) dominated religion/spiritual groups, and the (arc) circle for the female (earth) dominated religions/spiritual movements. Both of these paradigms have a "inside" and an "outside". The "spiritual" spiral being an open structure in two dimensions and also in three dimension, does not enclose and anyone can enter and leave the spiral easily without pressure from the structure or its members, and without fear of breaking the "perimeter" by leaving it. (then bad-mouthing the group or the structure). There is thus no absolute "them/us" with the paradigm of the spiral as one can be a Christian spiritual person one minute and a Muslin spiritual person the next. There are no walls or doors keeping the faithful "US" inside the MISSION and the "THEM" outside.

Just my thoughts...

We, the bloggers, are not the "enemies of Spirituality" as Chari of SRCM and Sahaj Marg calls us in his latest book ... And we will speak out when some self-titled "Master" from some self-named "spiritual" group displays his apparent lack of spirituality by dividing the spiritual seekers, when according to their own criteria, and the words of the Founder, "spirituality" should unite. In reality SRCM and Sahaj Marg divides our world yet again, in the name of the ONE.

Dividers do not represent the ONE!


frank waaldijk said...

thanx don for your interest and comments.

i will try to write some more now that my short holiday break is over.

this is not a blog about sahaj marg, and that is a very conscious decision. i do not want to focus my attention on sahaj marg, i do not consider sahaj marg to be worse than many other spiritual movements and religions. better, i think, to remain positive and looking for improvement & helping, than to spend my time on criticizing just one of many similar spiritual movements.

but of course, i'm intimately familiar with sahaj marg, and in the comments i will probably tempted from time to time to write something about it. but i think i will not do this for lengthy exchanges, otherwise the blog will suffer...

that said, i would like to comment on this (i will come back to it from a more general perspective on the blog):

i haven't read chari's latest book, but it will not be a grand change of direction from the many books and speeches that i am well familiar with.

i found (on your blog i think) a reference to a speech of chari's that did flabbergast me: where he states in length that he will not perform homosexual marriages since homosexuality is unnatural and against the intention of God. you can find the speech here:


so much for a loving guru who loves all and doesn't judge... but considers himself capable enough to proclaim harsh judgement on a very fundamental aspect of people's lives. does he know that such judgments have been proven to cause serious mental health problems for homosexuals? if he knows, it makes the judgment all the more incredible. if he doesn't know, well then what kind of a guru is he, that he cannot even imagine such a simple thing for himself?

thereby he apparently doesn't know the least thing about homosexuality as a natural phenomenon.

about 2-7% of any given population is homosexual. there are very natural reasons for this, and homosexuality is seen in many animal populations as well. for which i cite wikipedia below:

Homosexual behavior in animals

Homosexual sexual behavior occurs in the animal kingdom, especially in social species, particularly in marine birds and mammals, monkeys, and the great apes. Homosexual behavior has been observed among 1,500 species, and in 500 of those it is well documented.[130][131]. This discovery constitutes a major argument against those calling into question the biological legitimacy or naturalness of homosexuality, or those regarding it as a meditated social decision. For example, male penguin couples have been documented to mate for life, build nests together, and to use a stone as a surrogate egg in nesting and brooding. In a well-publicized story from 2004, the Central Park Zoo in the United States replaced one male couple's stone with a fertile egg, which the couple then raised as their own offspring.[132]

The genetic basis of animal homosexuality has been studied in the fly Drosophila melanogaster.[133] Here, multiple genes have been identified that can cause homosexual courtship and mating.[134] These genes are thought to control behavior through pheromones as well as altering the structure of the animal's brains.[135][136] These studies have also investigated the influence of environment on the likelihood of flies displaying homosexual behavior.[137][138]

Georgetown University professor Janet Mann has specifically theorized that homosexual behavior, at least in dolphins, is an evolutionary advantage that minimizes intraspecies aggression, especially among males.[139] Studies indicating prenatal homosexuality in certain animal species have had social and political implications surrounding the gay rights debate.[140]


chari's speech itself also goes on about intolerance...

i'm glad i no longer have to reconcile such blatant contradictions, i'm glad i no longer promote any method/guru which/who is intolerant to homosexuality.

i'm glad to be where heart & mind go together, in a positive and loving way.

frank waaldijk said...

i see that the link to chari's speech is cut short, i must post the url in two parts:

Anonymous said...

Hi Frank...

Thanks for the candid reply...

Looking forward to more of your analysis... I will add your blog to my links (I get 40-50 hits per day according to my "site meter), as in some parts, your analysis will touch on SRCM.

My blog was originally about RELIGION and Religious groups in general, but it soon changed early on as this group (SRCM) touched my life...negatively.


frank waaldijk said...

thank you don for the link, it will help others find this blog a lot better i'm sure.

personally, like i said, i prefer to discuss these pitfalls from a more general perspective than sahaj marg.

but i agree that having participated in sahaj marg can leave one with a negative feeling, since there are so many contradictions, misleading informations, power struggles, money schemes...

then again, any large organization has this to some extent. i was first personally disappointed that this spiritual organization is not exempt from these pitfalls. but now in retrospect i think it a graver thing that the movement denies being plagued by these issues.

be an adagio which i have seen severely violated by the `masters' and their inner circle on several occasions. some of these occasions are even well documented. chari wrote a thing on initiation in one of his diaries, saying something to the extent that his father (also an initiated abhyasi) should have never let on to others that there was such a thing as initiation for a small group of chosen. to this day i still have no idea what this initiation was about, i have asked `senior' members and got absolutely nowhere.

although i don't believe in Absolute Truth, i do believe in personal truthfulness - perhaps it is sometimes better to spare someone's feelings, but in the long run one should not conceal real issues.


but it is enough i think, to remain positive and simply point out certain inconsistencies.

i don't wish to become entangled in too much negative energy, let people choose what they want to choose.

if they do not threaten too much other peoples' peace of mind (and human rights of course), that is.


for me, i hope to provide some counterweight, perhaps also since for years i was very positive about sahaj marg, and promoted it to many people.

i hoped things regarding the above pitfalls would change for the better, but at some point could no longer fool myself: they were changing for the worse (to me at least).

so now it is also my duty, i believe, to offer some of my insights to other people entangled in similar situations. i know i was glad to find some critical blogs on sahaj marg, seeing that others experienced similar difficulties.

of course, it was not any definite motivation for me, but i think many people can start doubting themselves if they participate in some spiritual movement for a long time. it helps to see and know about other critical (ex)followers.