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...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Belonging & fulfillment

Many of the comments so far on this blog carry their own food for thought. A comment how many `followers' of a spiritual movement find a lot of benefit from it, for instance.

I agree. So perhaps it is good to repeat that the word `pitfall' is meant traditionally, in the sense that one can fall into it, but one can also avoid it. I also would like to repeat that I have seen many people following some spiritual movement, who lead their lives in what to me seems a very spiritual way.

In addition I feel I have also enjoyed benefit from my 12-yr association with a spiritual movement. Beforehand I had a vague idea of how I wanted to be a spiritual person, now my thoughts and feelings on `being' seem much clearer, and in this direction it gives some peace and acceptance inside.

Another benefit which I always felt clearly is the meeting of other people who are interested in a spiritual way of life (whatever that may mean). Now that I've stopped participating in that particular movement, I find much less opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences around (practical) spirituality, with others. And another drawback: a number of good friends I see far less than before, because we used to see a lot of each other at spiritual gatherings (biweekly group meditations and seminars). Since agenda's are usually full, in retrospect I see that these gatherings tend to work positively on people having time and a secure setting to exchange `real' issues.

Where in the secular world can one find a trusted place to regularly exchange deeper feelings, problems, suggestions about daily life in a spiritual light, with well-meaning heart-oriented people?

So if you would ask me, I would have to admit that I miss certain people, I miss some of the special aspects -like inner quietness, tranquil social being together, interested timeless exchanges- of especially the smaller spiritual gatherings.

In a way, I think, belonging to a spiritual movement (including religions) resembles belonging to a family. And if one is a beloved cherished member of a family, well then it is easier to experience fulfillment in one's life. Is my estimate, based on our gregarious nature. But it is also my personal experience. Having stopped `belonging' makes it harder for me to experience a sense of contributing to a more spiritual humanity, for instance. Having stopped `belonging' makes me feel less connected to certain cherished people who I used to see far more often before. And there is more to this than meets the first glance.


So...pitfalls? What pitfalls? We usually consider belonging and fulfillment to be very positive things. What could possibly be an issue of concern here?


It is perhaps not a simple thing, so I hope to be able to express myself sufficiently clear with regard to this question. First of all, one issue of concern -already discussed in previous posts- is the `us & them' phenomenon. Members of the spiritual-movement-family are `us', non-followers are `them'.

But what I really mean here is this. The feeling of belonging and fulfillment can be a major reason for people to become, be or stay a follower of the spiritual movement. With some spiritual movements one could even say that people are lured into membership precisely by appealing to their sense of belonging, which is then consistently reinforced by family-like gatherings or even living together as a commune.

But in the end, membership of the spiritual movement/family means acceptance of the Method, the Leader, the Theory of the movement.

To put it more sharply: one is accepted and cherished as a `spiritual family member' only as long as one is an unquestioning and uncriticizing participant. Because the whole well-being of the spiritual family depends on the Absolute Correctness of the Theory, the Holiness of the Leader, the Efficacy of the Method.


So what can this do with people? Will we, like the herd animals we are, accommodate and adjust our opinions and thoughts and questions to the prevailing group authority? Or will we stay focused on purity, clarity, simplicity, consistency, deeper understanding?

Will we -even if only subconsciously- weigh what we say and more importantly what we think, together with what the `family' says and thinks? And if the two do not agree, can we even contemplate to cut ourselves loose, or do we want to remain belonging? Remain connected, part of the family?


So group dynamics also come into play. But that is not what I primarily mean by the pitfall `belonging and fulfillment'. To repeat and summarize, what I mean is this.

Belonging to a group (any group, but some are more fulfilling than others) gives us fulfillment. To me this seems to be hardwired into the human being as a social animal. The feeling of belonging and fulfillment can easily become a mechanism to accept flawed ideologies, implausible ideas, money schemes, contradictory behaviour, coercion even.

If I feel belonging and fulfilled, I can easily think this comes from the Absolute Perfection of the Method.

`The Method has to be wonderful, because I feel so wonderfully fulfilled ever since I started it'.

(From this it is but a small step to the pitfall `happiness & bliss'.)


To me, in any spiritual movement that I would want to belong to it should be common to address these issues. To encourage individual thinking, criticizing, questioning. To be aware of group dynamics and, as a group, to not give in to group dogmatism. To not ostracize or silence people who speak out against prevailing winds, and to not overly welcome only positive sounds.

Something like that. Although Groucho Marx probably said it all with `I would not want to be a member of any club that will have me'....

[Not the clearest post, I admit, I find it hard to express what I perceive as the real issues. perhaps later posts will clarify some more. To be continued.]


Anonymous said...

Hi Frank...

I read the analyses and comments on your blog with interest...

I offer a few comments and observations in humility, not in dogmatic "knowledge" to be "obeyed" or "surrendered to". ;-))

It is true that we "homo sapiens" (...or not so "sapiens"... but becoming rather than "being" sapiens)... (it is true) that we are a "herding" animal, but we are also a "pioneering" and a "exploring" animal, always looking for the "new land beyond the next hill", the new world, the new habitable planet, the new discovery, etc... The "pioneers" of our species will also have a "herding" instinct but that instinct will be balanced in and by the "lone-wolf", including the societal misfit (by choice), the mustang, of the herd who will usually walk alone and follow his/her own path.

In Christian terms: "The road is narrow and few go with you, on the road to Salvation (or liberation and detachement). (on the other hand)...the road is wide and many go with you on the road that leads to perdition." Any new idea or discovery comes from the few, the "pioneers" and not from the many who walk the beaten path and FOLLOW others. I always thought that SPIRITUALITY meant going ALONE with SPIRIT, not with a (religious) group that historically, develops systemic corruption in the inspiration for its "new" teachings and dogmas, and in the implementation of these teachings. In the case of SRCM (California),some of the teachings to be "believed" come from an anonymous "medium" as in "spiritualism" (contact with deceased spirits). And the morality that develops from the teachings such as the stand on "homosexuality" is not "lofty" or "inspired", but regressive and lowly.

Relating to SPIRIT and to the ONE-ness of SPIRIT (the DIVINE) is SPIRITUALITY, not relating to Matter (concrete, buildings, etc..), to a group, to politics (of a group), emotions (of others), battles (for control), controversies (abuse of power), etc...

It is true that most goups offer a sense of "belonging"...but is that not a trap? From philosophy: "Would you rather be Plato or a well-fed pig?" In other words, would one rather be FREE and THINKING and taking responsibility for one's actions, than OBEY-ing and "Surrendering" to another "self-appointed" MASTER who claims to get inspiration through a FRENCH lady Medium who can't be a "master" herself, because she's a woman. Then they claim that this inspiration is from the DIVINE or other "elevated souls" like the GURU's mother. ;-)) Another one claiming to represent the DIVINE. When do we take responsibility for our "sapiens" actions?

The religious rituals of confession, communion, Meditation on a GURU (in a group), and the goal, bliss, etc... are sensationalistic "feel good" tactics that are the toys of the "religious" manipulators of the masses. The attitudes of those who attempt to reach their invented religious goals resemble the attitudes of the "addicted" who run back to their "dealer" when the effect of their "opiate" have subsided, thus building a "dependency" on the dealer (the preceptor...not the Master who would be the "supplier" of the "illusion" that is "just around the bend" or after the next meditation...they claim). It's as if there was an END and that the addict will reach it...but we know better. In spirituality, THE JOURNEY IS THE THING.... not the goal.

The addiction will be to "belonging" and to the "one-ness" of the religious "family", US...etc... All this as the real family and friends are "rejected" as "THEM"... Like all drugs (including alcohol, and tobacco, and even sugar), it makes friends of strangers and strangers of family and friends, and even pets. For some "really addicted", the family of the Master and the preceptor could become more important and take up more time than one's "GOD GIVEN" family.

Then, since the meditation with a small group gives a sense of "belonging", a regional meeting will give a "bigger" sense of belonging.. a national meeting is even more "spiritual", all the way up the "pyramid of power", to the big events in India...

With that philosophy of "might makes right", the high numbers the Muslims, Christians, the Hindus participating in their own group rituals and "sense of belonging" must make them more "spiritual" than the Native Shahman who lives on the "Indian reserve" and has no church but walks alone in Nature communing with SPIRIT.

It is the "star" syndrome and not the "narrow path" that one journeys alone and that leads to "SALVATION". It is a game of "numbers" and the more the numbers, the more addictive...and the more the cost on the wallet and the environment (carbon footprint)...look at ROCK CONCERTS or Political rallies. Religion, like music, sports, politics, is a "STAR" factory.

You say: (and I concur)

To put it more sharply: one is accepted and cherished as a `spiritual family member' only as long as one is an unquestioning and uncriticizing participant. Because the whole well-being of the spiritual family depends on the Absolute Correctness of the Theory, the Holiness of the Leader, the Efficacy of the Method.

If this SRCM (California) is like most religions, the other "preceptors" will try and promise anything to get the "lost sheep" back into the "herd". But it is the "VATICAN" (the Structure, the Pyramid) that is "off the straight and narrow". The sheep and those who are really the "judas goats" can promise anything they want and many of those are "good people" but a little naive. The PYRAMID does not crumble, nor does it change, because of its GEOMETRY... The information in a religious pyramid comes from the top (the DIVINE) to the MASTER (Pope)...not from the People to the Master. The "spokesmen", without authority or power, are usually the "whitewash" of business and politics and religions. There are many "good people" who sell their souls, their morals, their ethics, so as to "fit in" or "BELONG". That is the dynamics of the GROUP and belonging to the GROUP.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts ...

Bless you...and yours ;-))


frank waaldijk said...

thank you don, your encouragement and comments help me to continue with this blog.

many of the things you say i agree with, although i would probably other words, sometimes less sharp, sometimes sharper perhaps.

the reason why i frequently remain mild is that i do not really know of any large organization which functions in what i consider a spiritual way.

of course, for an organization proclaiming spirituality, it is an oxymoron if the organization itself is based on power, moral pressure, misleading information, money even.

but many if not most large organizations function in that manner.

however, the insistence that other things in life are of no importance, that only the Spiritual Progress offered by the Method has meaning in life (and after life...!), that is to me a danger sign.

especially if coupled with continuous positive `witnessing' or testimonials by movement members, such as in the srcm magazine `constant remembrance'. or such as the talks during meditation seminars.

most large organizations tend to suppress internal criticism, and deny both outside and inside charges of mismanagement or other defects. but this suppression is usually within certain limits, be they too wide usually.

in the case of many spiritual movements (including religions) , the suppression of criticism can take on absurd proportions. historically even to the point where criticizers were branded heretics, excommunicated or killed (!) etc.

but nowadays mostly the suppression of criticism is done through moral pressure and group mechanisms.

i think it is noteworthy that many of a spiritual movement's followers do not like criticism of the movement. this is not moral pressure from above, it has to do with their own need for security, their own need for a sure direction in life and Absolute Truth. one cannot in fairness blame the `leaders' for this. in fact i believe there is something in the view that the leaders are even picked, in a sense, by the group to reinforce the Absolute Truth that most of the group members are looking for.

well, this is just a comment, i need to think about it some more.