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...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Belonging & fulfillment and group dynamics

As you know, I started out with a preliminary list of 15 pitfalls. All are pitfalls that I have come across during my participation in a spiritual movement. Perhaps the most difficult thing about analyzing these pitfalls is this: they hang together. I know I made that point in an earlier post, but it strikes me again with this subject.

And there are some more pitfalls that I forgot to mention in the preliminary list. In order not to forget one important other pitfall, I mention it here, to comment on later:

16. Spiritual energy, holy energy, transformational power,...

(in Sahaj Marg for instance it is called `transmission')


OK, back on topic: belonging and fulfillment. Belonging...I can belong to a group, but I can also belong to a way of life. I can feel fulfilled if some longing inside my heart for a loving existence is met by a spiritual way of life.

Practically all of us belong to a number of groups which are important to us. In all of these groups, I'm quite convinced, there are group mechanisms and group dynamics. And in many groups, the basics of these dynamics are very similar.

So I think that issues like belonging, fulfillment and group dynamics only turn into real pitfalls -ones we should be aware of and heed- when a group becomes over-important to us.


Considering further, it seems to me that fulfillment is a real issue for most of us. What are we here for, what do we do with our lives, how to give our existence meaning? How to become happy or at least...fulfilled? Life doesn't seem to make much sense, people are often hard on each other, solitude and existential doubts beset us. And if that is not enough, shit happens too. Illness, accidents, bereavement, negligence or even being injured physically or emotionally on purpose by malicious persons.

And then there is self-doubt too. And guilty feelings, shame over egoism or greed or other traits and thoughts that we are well aware of in ourselves, but hesitate to share with others since these traits/thoughts/feelings are socially unacceptable.

Keeping things to ourselves, we also keep many judgments to ourselves, knowing how judgments will be received unfavourably by the judged. The flip side is that we know we are judged ourselves, but we often do not know how we are judged, favourably or unfavourably.

This leads to various important forms of insecurity. Who am I? Am I a good person? What is my standing in this group? Do I belong here? How am I supposed to behave? etc. etc. etc.

Therefore -all this in my not so humble opinion- we seek security in our emotional life. We look for groups which welcome us and give positive feedback. Which help us find a direction for our behaviour, which help us find meaning in our existence.


This can be family. It can be the office, the people around our income activities. It can be around music, or football, other sports. It can be volunteer work. It can be around art, literature, sex even. It can also be church, a religious or a spiritual movement.


What makes spiritual movements more susceptible to the pitfall of (overly) belonging? Of too much fulfillment?

I think it is in the nature of many of these movements to emphasize the Superior Importance of Spirituality-according-to-the-Movement. Whereas football can be a major fulfillment for many people, I have never heard even the best football-coaches say that Everybody should Believe in Football. Perhaps they still think it...but they are wise enough to see that there are other things in life beside football.

Not so with many spiritual movements. They easily proclaim that their Absolute Truth is the only worthwhile thing in life, the rest is temptation/illusion/samskara...what have you.

From here on, things can get in a self-propelling spiral. Because if their Absolute Truth is the only worthwhile thing in life, then it becomes extra fulfilling for practitioners to not waste time over other groups and activities.

`Oh no, I never go to the movies with friends. You know, my old friends, they are not spiritual people. They drink beer, and they talk about football. Let them waste their time on these foolish samskaric temptations. But I work for my Master and His Mission. He is my fulfillment, His Work is Holy and I'm proud and happy to help Him. For the benefit of Humanity, you see! My family and my ex-wife, they don't understand of course. But you know, in spirituality there is no in-between. Once you get to a certain Stage, you can only do the Right Thing, which is to obey the Master. He will take care of my worldly problems. Of course, I remain loving and open to my family and friends. Maybe one day they will see the light. But they are angry and suspicious, it is practically hopeless. I pray to my Master for them.'


So spirituality in many spiritual movements is given this position of Overriding Importance. Overriding anything else. And joined to Absolute Morality. Since Spirituality-according-to-the-Movement is All-Important, and since certain types of behaviour are More Spiritual than becomes Sin to behave otherwise. Of course, one does not need to call it sin. As a Spiritual Leader one can simply say:

`After all the Work that was done for them, on them, by the Grace of my Guru, I still find people drinking alcohol. These people are a disgrace to the Movement. They have made only token spiritual progress, by wasting the Gifts bestowed upon them from the loving Heart of my Master.'


`As an ordained official, you took the Work upon you voluntarily. How can you not work? How can you throw away this unique opportunity to help people find Absolute Truth and Liberation? Do you think holy Shri Baznakurjan ever rested? He was always working! He gave His Everything! But you complain about your family life, that your husband needs attention, and your children. But surely God will look after them, if you do God's work, isn't it? So stop these silly ego-driven excuses, because I'm sick of people wasting the Opportunity given to them by the Almighty Grace.'


Imagine how this works, in a group where the dynamics are running along rather strong hierarchical patterns. I don't think it is exaggerated to call this type of commentary `moral pressure'.


The feeling of belonging and fulfillment in this way easily becomes a very dangerous pitfall, I believe. Because it lulls me to comfort, to sleep, while slowly some Absolute Truth is being fed to me, while slowly some Absolute Morality is pressed on me, and while slowly I'm being convinced that other groups and other truths and other moralities are less. And later on even damaging, better to avoid, better to cut loose from these other groups and damaging influences.


To see how subtly this works, just consider that this blog more or less does the same...! (but vice versa). A difference is perhaps that I do not hesitate to point this out. Also, although not humble, I do not consider my opinion to be absolute truth in any way. Many of these issues are too complex for me to fully grasp, I feel. Yet I cannot avoid analyzing them if I want to discuss these pitfalls. My analysis will be shortcoming in many ways, so be it. Constructive comments, which may be very critical, are therefore welcomed.


Anonymous said...

Hi Frank...

Thanks for taking the time to air your thoughts to all...

One suggestion: I presume that the "italics" are from another source than your-self (the hyphen is;-)))... I think a link to show the context of the citations is informative and sometimes even "important". I am always interested in reading the context and the originator of a quote... Thanks...

Just one comment:

When one empowers a person or a structure in one's life, then the pressure that could come from that person or structure has been given the power BY US to affect us positively or negatively as the case may be. To empower an un-tested, specially a self-appointed stranger (priest, guru, preceptor) above one's self, one's family or friends is to ask for abuse. We should not do it with doctors, mechanics, or experts of any "ilk". The decision and the responsibility should remain with the individual and the information to help in the decision-making should come from the most "expert" one can find, including non-conventional. In this day and age, I would even say that one should get more than one "source" (I would say at least two or three) of Information, even in "SPIRITULAITY" and religion. Most Masters state that we can and should at times go to others... and to question all the time, not just once and then FOLLOW. Religions are the ones that "curse to hell" those who go elsewhere for their "divine" contact. Spirituality and spiritual people, specially Spiritual Masters, should BLESS one on any path one takes.

We have seen the examples of the "catholic priests". That is not because all who joined the priesthood were born "predators" or pedophiles, but most were good people who entered an "un-balanced" power situation and became "abusers of POWER". Sex was just the "TYPE" of power that the media focusses on because it sells, but there were other forms of TERRORS from the priests. I was there!! I know!!

There are not many, if any, among us who are evolved enough yet to not be fascinated, attracted and even corrupted by POWER, so the onus is on us is to not create such "un-balanced" power structures in our lives, especially our Spiritual lives. To empower others in one's relationship with the DIVINE or the ONE is too silly and childish to even contemplate any more... Why ask a man if one can ask the ONE CREATOR? If one can't talk directly to the ONE, why on earth would we believe that the ONE would talk to our neighbour and not to us?

This SRCM experience, for many of us, should be THE END of our abnegation of our SPIRITUALITY or our SPIRITUAL POWER to another PERSON... what Michael calls our "Spiritual Sovereignty"

I agree with you in general... the details are just matters of "Point of View" (POV) and hence would just clutter your process or your line of I will stop here and just wait patiently for your next installment...

Thanks for your courage, your honesty and your candor... and your ability to still use your MIND after your 12 yr experience "in the heart" led by one who admits facetiously to having "no heart"

This is a the context from a quote I used from Chari on AIDS. Chari is the Master of SRCM (California) which claims to be a "heart-centered" meditation:

I was with Babuji in Rome, at the Vatican and the former pope was there. An old man very sick, very tired, he blessed the people in three languages, and finally he said something that made many people angry, he said he will offer a special prayer for people who have AIDS.

I was angry, I said why AIDS? Why not diabetes or legs broken,
and not AIDS which is a disease that should not be accepted nor
tolerated in any way. Many abhyasis told me that I have no heart when I say that. I said too bad I have no heart because if I had a heart I could not work. At the beginning of my spiritual life, I gave my heart to my master. And now I can only work with my head.

If he says no sitting I did no sitting, I must obey orders, you know. When I told Babuji what was in the pope's prayer he was also surprised. The religious leaders can pray for a specific group. In India our prayer is "may all be happy and healthy everywhere." One
prays not for whites, African Chinese… this is not
like that. May all be happy people everywhere.

This is loving CHARI, the Master of SRCM, who professes LOVE for ALL, that emanates from a "HEART-centered" meditation. And he tries to say the Babuji, the founder agreed with him...I don't believe him...I think he just makes it up as he goes along...


frank waaldijk said...

hi don,

thanx for your time too. it works differently and better for me having feedback and interest.

about the italics:

*if from a direct source, then i name the source directly.

*the other italics are imaginary quotes. like `How could a Catholic possibly marry an Orthodox Jew? It is unthinkable.'. i don't know of anyone directly saying this, but i'm sure something pretty similar has been said many a time.

the reason for using imaginary quotes [i will make this explicit on the blog, i did not realize that it wasn't clear, thank you for pointing this out] is that i want to illustrate in a general sense. which should give people from many spiritual movements room to fill in their own specific details.

in these `quotes'you will also see a number of imaginary `saints' `prophets' `gurus' etc. i will typically take some semi-mystical name, and attach shree or shri and/or His Holiness.

this gives results like in a previous post

`The Great Saint Bahjamahanuji, affectionately known as Bahji, said: Obedience is the highest form of Realization. Start your day at dawn with a pure Longing in your heart, repeating these words in your mind:

Oh Divine One
Oh Guruji
To be with You
is to liberate our hearts
from the Slavery of Material Existence
You are the Path
and the One to guide us to the Goal

Performing this prayer precisely as prescribed will benefit a practising aspirant in a most effective way. It is very important to use these precise words, since they carry a special spiritual charge. The Prayer was revealed to Shri Bahjamahanuji by his Master , Shri Ram Krasnapolsi, in a Vision.'

of course, you will recognize the style and the undercurrent of the prayer, since it is a direct imitation of the sahaj marg style & prayer.

but i don't want to restrict hese mechanisms to sahaj marg, since they occur in so many spiritual movements. and i am sure that people from other movements than sahaj marg will recognize these patterns and pitfalls.


about power: this is a major pitfall, and i will definitely try to write something incisive about it. but these things take time, i need to find the right approach and the right words. and i would like to show how it ties in with other pitfalls.

to be continued therefore.

Anonymous said...

Hi Frank...

Thanks for clarifying... I get it now. I had just recognized sections of the "style" as Sahaj Marg but I did not recognize the "names" and the words did not fit exactly...;-))