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, January 23, 2009

Positive thinking 2: groupthink and denial

One obvious question regarding `positive thinking': Who gets to decide what is `positive'? Let's paraphrase the obscure poet from the previous post, to arrive at:

There is nothing either positive or negative, but thinking makes it so.


Now, to stay with Shakespeare, suppose there is something rotten in the state of Denmark (meaning our Spiritual Movement of course). What do you think will happen? A likely scenario: someone(s) with real commitment to making things better notices that there is something important not right. This person (these persons) will try to correct the issue, but if they are not in a position of power and the issue has been caused by people higher up in the Pyramid...then their efforts will be perceived as threatening to the position of these higher-up people.

Now the person trying to ameliorate things is caught between two grindstones. The denial of the Inner Circle (=the people high up in the Pyramid) is the top grindstone, and the bottom grindstone is ... the denial of the majority of followers. Because the followers are in the Movement for `positivity'. They want to believe in the purer-than-pure heart of the Leader, they want to believe in that God has granted Special Power to the Special Personality, and that they themselves are Special because they follow Him.

The followers cling to these beliefs because it offers them escape from the pangs of life. But then when someone criticizes either the Movement, the Pyramid, or the Leader...their rosy world is threatened.

And so, an emphasis on `positive thinking' & `no criticism' most often occurs in groups where there is a strong hierarchy and a tendency of `groupthink'. By `groupthink' I mean of course the phenomenon that everyone is encouraged to say the same (`positive') things, and critical, self-reliant thought is frowned upon.


From this point, how far are we away from fundamentalism, from becoming a sect? Well, this is difficult to say. Most large government organizations tend to show the same mechanisms. Last weekend, a 2003 memo from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs resurfaced in a major newspaper. In the memo, the Legal Affairs Department advises the Minister that entry in the Iraq war is most likely illegal under international law.

It turns out the memo was blocked from reaching the Minister of Foreign Affairs by the Secretary-General of the Ministry. It was deemed untimely since the Legal Affairs Department had not been asked to give a `negative' advice. But it was archived, and resurfaced now that 5 years later the Senate is asking insistent questions about the legality of the Dutch participation in the war.

So, with or without any label of sect, inside or outside of spiritual movements and religions, I dare still say that `positive thinking' can be a pitfall. `Positive thinking' can be a power tool, used by the top of a Pyramid to smother criticism.

Is this an effective strategy?


Well, yes, from the Pyramid's perspective. One might think not, because almost inevitably, in the end the truth will come out. At some time, the falsities will be exposed. You can fool some people some time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.

But the word `time' is of the essence in understanding why the strategy is still effective. Because by the time things are exposed, often the ones who stand to suffer from the exposure have moved on. Or they will say: `Ok ok, so we made some mistakes, LONG AGO, but let's stop arguing about who killed who...and please don't be so negative, we must look to the future and forget the past.'

In this way I have seen so incredibly many cover-ups, even clumsy ones, succeed.


The one perspective from which the `positive thinking' strategy does not succeed, in my not so humble opinion, is the spiritual perspective.

Be truthful.

I cannot imagine any spirituality without such tenet. Truthful can mean praise as well as criticism. Truth is the opposite of denial. Truth means: open to criticism.


The pitiful attempts by many so-called `spiritual' movements to stall criticism, to block criticism, to deny criticism are in my eyes a sure sign that such criticism is justified.

What to think of a memo sent by a member of the Working Committee of the Shri Ram Chandra Mission (Sahaj Marg) to the organizer of an orkut webcommunity on Sahaj Marg in Iran? (See here, where you can also see how this movement's Pyramid prefers people with positions of power in the secular world.)

Paraphrasing this memo:

`Dear brother, although your community serves 1500 people, we strongly urge you to remove your community because we fear it will be the target of individuals spreading misinformation about Sahaj Marg'.

Of course, webcommunities and blogs are new instruments to create open source exchange of information and ideas. And open, non-hierarchical exchange of ideas always threatens the Pyramid.

No surprise that spiritual movements (religions included) seek ways to maintain their Absolute Truth by denouncing open exchange.


Anonymous said...

Bonjour Frank,

Good to see that you started again putting your analytical thoughs on "paper". In full agreement with them, I welcome you to continue,


frank waaldijk said...

thanks theo.

as you know a little encouragement goes a long way!

i'm not sure what will follow, but some things are (again) brewing. in september i thought to stop writing, thinking most had been said.

but reading newspapers, books, blogs, and seeing new developments...naturally stirs up new thoughts.

also i find my position is changing on sahaj marg in relation to this blog.

it remains true that i don't want sahaj marg and the shri ram chandra mission to be the focus of the posts. on the other hand, i'm also bothered by the many positive followers' sources on sahaj marg. for people looking for some objective information and/or criticism of sahaj marg there is little.

not really my problem, but i feel some responsibility to balance the scales, having been enthusiastic about sahaj marg many years (giving the benefit of the doubt to things that struck me as odd). until of course i started to see how the Pyramid in sahaj marg really works.

this latest message from a member of the srcm working committee (mentioned in this post) really takes the biscuit. this person does not hesitate to sign with his official worldly status as a high police chief. simply incredible, and amusingly illustrating the sculpture that i put up 2 posts back.

anyway, today i also caught a glimpse of the god delusion by richard dawkins. perhaps i might start a series of posts to `comment', i don't know. i already read some quite intelligent disagreeing replies, so obviously matters aren't all as clearcut, leaving room for extra analysis and viewpoints.

good to hear from you theo, please keep in touch.

Anonymous said...

Sahaj Sandesh No: 2009.5 – Tuesday, 3 February 2009

This is infuriating criminal:
"We obey to benefit. Unlike in public life, in human life, in our day-to-day life, we obey for somebody else's benefit. In spirituality we obey for our own benefit. You obey; you benefit. You don't obey; you don't benefit. In obedience there can be no questions: "Why have I to obey?" If you ask such a question, it would probably mean several lives more to be taken before you understand why I have to obey. In obedience there is no 'why'. There is no search for logic. There is no demand for your question to ask: "Why this question should be obeyed?" or "Why this order should be obeyed? Why does the Master have to tell me and not somebody else? Why does he ask me to obey and not somebody else?" No questions. Totally unquestioning obedience is the only requirement of this spiritual way that I know, Sahaj Marg. The moment you start asking questions, it is implicit that you are questioning the wisdom of your Master, the intentions of your Master and his existence itself—never done, except at the peril of your own evolution."


frank waaldijk said...

theo, i saw the same speech already. i'm not furious, but i am indignant.

definition of `indignation':

anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean.

still, the question remains whether to react to this type of brainwashing at all. i have been pondering to put up a post about sahaj marg, as an excellent example of the pitfalls discussed so far. i'm inclined to go ahead with this, in the light of chari's recent speeches which are mostly about total and blind obedience.

but you have to remember: when does an authority figure start pressuring people to obey? and more so, to obey blindly, unquestioningly?

this is invariably when there is some crisis.

mostly, such a crisis has to deal with internal errors, well-founded criticism, cover-ups.

i think we can safely conclude from chari's recent speeches that things are not going so well in the shri ram chandra mission. when there is no dissent, no critical questioning, then there is no need to demand total blind obedience.

it is probably vain to assume that the tiny amount of critical blogs on sahaj marg are having some impact. but, on the other hand, we have the time-old saying:

the pen is mightier than the sword.

i would not be completely surprised if our blogs' scrutiny and analysis of sahaj marg and srcm are raising questions within the mission which are getting increasingly difficult to silence, let alone answer.

like i wrote earlier, one cannot fool all the people all the time. when things are not right, they can only be covered up for so long before the truth comes out.

in this case, the truth is that in the past 10 years (perhaps even earlier) sahaj marg has become a religion. there is a reprehensible deception in sahaj marg's claim that it is not a religion.

but with this recent emphasis on total blind obedience of the Leader, the question will arise whether `religion' should not be replaced by terms even more dark.

i once again note a difference between the many kind and loving persons that i know who practice sahaj marg, and the inner circle of the shri ram chandra mission.

one can only become a member of this inner circle through the type of total blind obedience which chari describes so aptly. he also talks about the hierarchy of the mission, in his previous speech about preceptors.

his use of the word `must' and `should' is so frequent, that anyone with a slight knowledge of neurolinguistic science can point out the moral pressure that he is putting on abhyasis and preceptors in particular.

i can only say to anyone involved in sahaj marg: are you sure that you are not in a religion? are you sure that there is no moral pressure on you, and only kind invitation? has there been no instance of `fear' (`if you do not take this opportunity, it may not come again for 10,000 years') in combination with temptation (`if you follow the method and the master carefully, you will be liberated in this life')?

or similar claims of unique opportunity, unique `transmission', unique `cleaning', without which we are lost and have to reincarnate countless lives to clean off our samskaras?

slowly abhyasis are being led, also by the peaceful feeling that meditation gives, to believe that the master is divine, god incarnate.

then they are requested to believe this. and religion is born.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts, after some initial anger:
You see, if he was a valuable spiritual guide, he would never (NEVER) have to insist that people follow his wise words and wise example. It is because he is so pityfully hungering for power, that he has to insist and insist and insist....


frank waaldijk said...

i agree with you that a true spiritual guide would never ask for obedience.

i'm however not sure whether chari is driven by a conscious hunger for power. it could well be, but there is also the very plausible scenario of grandeur delusion.

by which i mean: if you start to believe in divinity of persons, then you can start feeling special yourself by being close to such divine persons.

this `special' status then legitimizes some power status, some hierarchy. (see animal farm by george orwell for the perfect description of how we are all equal, but some are more equal than others ;-) !)

personally i think it likely that the inner circle, chari included, is caught up in subconscious mechanisms of grandeur delusion /power / position / recognition / fulfillment etcetera.

to maintain the illusion of divinity, speciality, that is where all the strange stuff creeps in.

no wonder in recent sahaj marg speeches, chari's emphasis on getting rid of your intellect. `intellect' simply means `that what reads between', from the latin inter-legere leading to intelligence.

i will devote some post to this in regard to sahaj marg.

but i'm not going to put my energy in countering all the strange stuff in chari's speeches. people in religions usually like being in their religion. and i am inclined to let them be as long as they keep it to themselves.

Carina said...

Hi Frank,
I came to the following conclusions about absolute truth: that it can only exist where no ego exists and that humans are too limited to perceive it. So everything what we call truth is relative - depending on bias and viewpoint. What do you think?

frank waaldijk said...

hi carina,

thanx for your comment. i kind of agree with you...we all feel that there is such a thing as truth. i think many of us also feel there is something as objective truth. for example, if i drive my car over your bicycle, then i think most people would see it as an objective truth that i damaged your bicycle. i would not be very convincing if i said: `oh, but that's all relative you know. at the last moment your bicycle jumped under my car, and now look at the scratches on my hood!'

but the problems start when there are no witnesses, or when there are conflicting stories, ... and this is just on a small scale.

so it seems to me that we have some sort of idea of objective truth, and that this leads us to believe in the possibility of absolute truth.

all this to me confirms what you say: we are too limited to really deal with absolute truth, existence of which to me is even unclear. on the other hand, i hesitate to embrace the `all is relative' standpoint also, because in my eyes it leads to easy excuses for abuse.

yeah, stuck in the usual ;-)

Anonymous said...

Just finished a book titled Escape, which chronicles the
" think nice" policies of Warren Jeffs of the FLDS. Here ,clearly, their establshed spiritual leader condoned discipline, punishment, marriages, and in general manipulated people to maintain his own power and fulfill his own needs. If anyone questioned his motives, or the rightness of the actions, they were told that if they just obeyed with joy, they would be spiritually evolving.
At times this is seductive, after all, if you can make yourself experience bliss while watching someone else be beaten or tortured, you have achieved a sort of spiritual place out of touch with Humanity, perhaps even above humanity. If evolution is a solitary experience than perhaps obedience to anything, relinquishing the ego, not caring about the fate of anything is the goal. On the otherhand, if we as humans are all connected, and someone being tortured then devolves into fear, anger, revenge..., and my evolution depends on humanities evolution, then what injures my brother injures me, and my ability to ignore it by meditating on "nice" is actually abdication of responsibility. There has to be some reason for Do Unto Others... it is too pervasive a theme.

frank waaldijk said...

thank you anonymous. you wrote:

`Just finished a book titled Escape, which chronicles the
"think nice" policies of Warren Jeffs of the FLDS. Here ,clearly, their establshed spiritual leader condoned discipline, punishment, marriages, and in general manipulated people to maintain his own power and fulfill his own needs. If anyone questioned his motives, or the rightness of the actions, they were told that if they just obeyed with joy, they would be spiritually evolving.'

it seems another example of the `obedience' theme which takes up the next posts. and i agree with you: there is a variety of attractions attached to obedience. this probably explains the existence & success of so many gurus which ask for total obedience from their followers.

Anonymous said...

Dear Frank,

Ten thousand thank yous for your website.

I didn't want to leave SRCM but there was no way to stay.

I am grateful that you talked about the fear because the "opportunity may not come for 10,000 years" the promise of being "liberated" the "unique transmission, etc." These are all hooks that can cause a lot of grief when one disengages. These hooks caused a great deal of stress, fear and pain inside myself.

It's amazing to observe the collapse of the ego. Didn't realize how much "the system" keeps the ego alive. For instance, feeling special because you have found the Master or feeling special because you are part of this small group. The ego likes to have something to identify with and SRCM fits the bill. Anything that divides and separates keeps the ego strong.

Hopefully one day I will be able to pass it on and be able to help someone else who is struggling with the loss of their "spiritual practice" or I should say, religion.

Thanks again.
Wishing you peace and well being,
Triple Gem

frank waaldijk said...

thank you triplegem, for your kind comment. what you describe as hooks relates to my use of the word `pitfalls'.

and they have cost me also quite some trouble to get rid of.

i think, in hindsight, that for me the overwhelming reason to ever get involved in a `spiritual' movement was this: a longing for spirituality on a larger-than-personal scale.

i still see this as a very legitimate longing, but i must say i have lost my expectations that it can be achieved in a spiritual movement. it seems to me just basic human tendency that movements and organizations lead to power and money and position struggles. (and some other ego issues, like you mention)

unfortunately, in a spiritual organization this cannot of course be recognized explicitly (because it would indicate the failure of the mission of the organization...) so it is often covered up, leading to deception which can be hard to pierce.

my mottos:

`truth will persevere'
`truth will set us free'

so...when you're ready, why indeed not help others pierce these deceptions? it certainly has helped me also to write down this analysis. (and i'm happy to receive an increasing number of visitors and also appreciative reactions, not always in the form of comments on this blog, sometimes mail or just person to person).

kind regards,