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...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Us & them, woman & man, (homo)sexuality

`Us & them' is my shorthand for a fundamental division of humanity amongst any line. In my not so humble opinion, uniting humanity is a worthwhile and spiritual undertaking. Division of humanity hampers this undertaking, in my belief. Now in many spiritual movements, there is in words a large emphasis on seeing humanity as one. `We are all children of God'. `Consider all human beings to be your brothers and sisters'. And similar uplifting statements.

But there is at least one division which the vast majority of spiritual movements seem to underline, reinforce, advocate: the division between men and women.

For some reason, we seem really hooked to the idea that men and women are completely different in some fundamental spiritual way. The (physical) difference in reproductive organs seems to lead to some non-physical `spiritual' difference, even though we are summoned to see other physical differences -such as length, weight, skin colour, etc - as trivial in the spiritual sense. Even large cultural & age differences are seen as outer wrappings, not significant at all in the spiritual sense. But gender, boy, girl, that really makes us sweat.

This leads to the amazing conclusion that for most spiritual movements I have far more in common with an 81 yrs old Mbuti man [the Bambuti are hunter-gatherers from Congo], than with my wife who has the same age as me, who has lived in the same country as me, etc.

This perceived fundamental difference historically has translated into many discriminatory situations, where mostly men put themselves in position of religious power, and then dictate some version of sexual morality. Women are mostly banned from these positions of power, and this banishment is justified by variations on the claim that since men and women are so spiritually different, only men have the necessary spiritual make-up for these positions.

To me it seems a spiritual pitfall which branches out from sexuality to morality, from `woman & man' to `us & them' and ultimately to power. This is a complex issue, and I imagine it will take me several posts to only skim the surface. One thing that I would like to say in advance is that sexuality is some kind of hot potato in most spiritual movements and religions, and I believe this to be intimately linked to power and control issues. Ultimately I see this as the reason why homosexuality is considered such a threat (`unnatural', `against the wish of God', etc.) by many spiritual movements.

In subsequent posts I will therefore turn to scientific knowledge about homosexuality, to show why the above positions of spiritual movements on homosexuality are comparable to the 17th century position of the christian church on the question whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa.

Two weeks ago I saw the documentary `Jerusalem is proud to present', and tears sprang in my eyes to see the active violence and death threats against gay people by fundamental religious movements. A short description from the website of the uk jewish film festival:

Last summer [2006] Jerusalem was due to host the annual World Pride celebrations and gay pride parade, unprecedented in the city’s history. This hair-raising documentary captures the homophobic hate campaign launched by fundamentalist religious groups. Death threats pour into the Open House, Jerusalem’s LGBT community center, while in the Jerusalem City Council arguments for equality from its only openly gay member are met with verbal abuse, and a mayor so disinterested in democracy he simply leaves the room.

Orthodox Jews riot in the streets, their chief Rabbi apparently sanctioning violence to stop the ‘defilement’ of the holy city (interviewees include a gay rights activist stabbed during a previous march). The escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict further impedes World Pride preparations, and the eventual compromise was controversial among the gay community. Gilady’s film is nevertheless an important record of bravery in an environment where the only thing uniting some Jewish, Christian and Arab leaders is their hatred for gay people.

This `woman & man' thread will be continued over the next posts. But let me state again, if one purpose of spirituality is to unite humanity, then it will not do for a spiritual movement to make such distinctions between men and women and anyone in between, and between heterosexuals and homosexuals and anyone in between...


Anonymous said...

Dear Frank,

I wanted to leave a word of appreciation and encouragement on your blog.

I know you put a lot of thought in your words and perhaps that is why it is not always for easy reading....

Reading your blog thus far, it seems to me that most of the pitfalls can be avoided if one goes its own way without interference of any guide or organization. I believe that this ia a realistic possibility, with all the books and internet sources out there.

On the other hand, rare are the individuals that go on their own. Most of them are sheep, ready to sacrifice their own thinking. I recall this experiment where a test person was asked to give answers to test questions. Because there were other test person involved who were instructed to give a false answer, our real test person started to also provide the wrong answers - just to follow the group.....
This is true in about 75% of the cases.

You may want to publish this comment, and you may recognize my identity, because we discussed the subject. For the purposes of this and similar blogs, I will live under the name of


frank waaldijk said...

dear theo,


you (should) know our discussions played a large role in my decision to really go ahead with this blog.

i apologize for my difficult writing. it partly has to do with the approach of this blog, i believe. it would be easier to write about spirituality straight, and leave the pitfalls be.

but there are already so much beautifully written sources on spirituality. and there are not so much sources on the specific pitfalls that i have become increasingly sensitive to.

can most of these pitfalls be avoided if one does not tie oneself to a specific guide and/or organization?

you are probably right. on the other hand, the pitfall `us & them' can apply just as individualists vs. them group people...

well, anyway, you know i don't consider my thoughts to be final wisdom or even close. i just feel that there should be support for people who have become entangled in some spiritual movement. and some simple counterweight, like i said elsewhere, to the exultant claims made by many spiritual movements.

to be continued!

frank waaldijk said...

theo, on rethinking a little, i see several pitfalls in the preliminary list that i started with, that can be difficult also when one goes one's own way without guru or organization.

only there is far less group dynamics associated with these pitfalls, if one does not `belong' to a spiritual group.

but we mostly belong to some groups anyway. in which for instance power & money & morality are bound to play important roles.

also, many if not most people divide humanity along man-woman-gender lines.

ego vs. selflessness is a broad pitfall, i think, since many many spiritual texts somehow position the ego as `less' than selflessness (or altruism if you prefer).

pitfalls which i suppose one encounters also without guide & movement:

2. universal truth & absolute truth
3. bliss & happiness, pain & sorrow
4. morality & moral pressure
5. before & after life

7. money
8. power
9. belonging & fulfillment

11. us & them
12. woman & man
13. ego & selflessness
14. mind & heart, logic & feeling

i hope to keep momentum to describe some of my thoughts on these pitfalls.

Anonymous said...

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your reactions to my previous posting. I can follow your line of thinking and have at this moment nothing to add.

However, thinking about the pitfalls, I asked myself (and now also you) the question whether the persons who are involved in these affairs (with guru and organization and perhaps seen from your perspective are 'victim' of one or more of these pitfalls), are in a ‘worse of’. What I try to say is that despite these risks and negative aspects, I believe that a significant number of people have found real benefit for themselves and (to my not so humble opinion) are indeed very nice and spiritually developed individuals….

For example: although I fully agree with your analysis of the “us and them” pitfall, I believe that for some followers of spiritual movements (Note: I say followers, not the guru!), this is not an issue, and there is in their behavior not a speck of discrimination.

But probably you had already arrived it this type of thoughts, and therefore you selected the word ‘pitfall’ as title. Not everybody falls in the pit, isn’t it?



frank waaldijk said...

dear theo, i agree 99% (figure of speech).

yes, many people find benefit from spiritual methods/movements.

and also, like i already wrote in the previous post, i know quite some people following such method, who are to me very spiritual persons indeed.

and the word pitfall was meant just like you say.

what then is my 1% disagreement? from my own experience i see a phenomenon, which i associate with group dynamics, as follows.

there is within the movement a considerable number of `orthodox' followers. they speak out often, they never question in public, they bring `positive' messages all the time.

at gatherings, their talks and literature and other contributions are welcomed beforehand, and praised afterwards. of course, `senior' followers and administrators are orthodox in this way.

so there is a sort of top-down sanctioning and reinforcement of orthodoxy.

by being part of such movement, one is subjected to a constant stream of orthodox reinforcements of what i call the Absolute Truth of the movement.

by being part of such movement and not speaking out against this orthodoxy, one more or less legitimizes this orthodoxy.

what happens on the other hand if one speaks out against something, for instance if you say that the continuous raising of money is a questionable spiritual undertaking?

in an ideal situation, such speaking out would be welcomed. because people's concern should be not with whether Absolute Truth is questioned, but with whether we come closer to our spiritual self.

in practice, people who speak out against things they consider inappropriate are ignored, given no platform, or even ostracized.

participating in such movement without speaking out, helps spreading orthodoxy which to me is unspiritual by its very nature.

so, in the end, for me i find i'm not very proud of the fact that i participated in such a movement, and helped its growth in numbers.

even if the participants may largely be well-meaning spiritual people, still the movement itself to me might be seen as detrimental to a more spiritual humanity.