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...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cognitive dissonance 7: boundary control (end of thread)

So let's finish with the three yet-undiscussed elements of boundary control that I perceive to be used often in spiritual movements by their Inner Circle:

2) Limiting contact with `outside' world views
3) Blackening of former followers
6) Limiting free discussion between members, that is discussion which is not in some way controlled or influenced by Inner Circle orthodoxy.

(the other elements being:
1) Intensive recruiting of new followers (see previous post)
4) Partial truth & secrets (already discussed intensively in earlier posts)
5) Stressing the need to forego rationality (likewise already discussed))

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ad 2): There are various ways for the Inner Circle of a spiritual movement to limit contact of the followers with the broader societal views. Clearly, physical separation is frequently seen, by creating communes and the like. But Marc Galanter's book gives several examples which are more subtle. From my own experience with Sahaj Marg, I remember that various law suits in which SRCM is involved are being kept largely from the followers. As well as the fact that there are sizable dissenting factions which claim (with more than passing credibility) that the guru-succession in SRCM on the death of its founder has been a vicious power struggle involving decidedly unspiritual manipulation. This is perhaps also a case of 4): Partial truth and secrets.

Anyway, the reason for limiting contact with `outside' world views and conflicting information is obvious, as Marc Galanter points out. For a charismatic group to maintain its group identity and group rationale, cognitive dissonance should not become too big. Certain anomalies and contradictions -between the Theory on the one hand and on the other hand the worldly activities of the Movement plus the possible worldly opposition against the Movement- are most easily managed if the followers are largely unaware of their existence.

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The motives behind 3) and 6) are of course completely similar. In Sahaj Marg, followers are repeatedly asked by guru P. Rajagopalachari not to create discussion forums on internet, with the reason given that these forums could be targeted by `malicious' individuals (looking to harm SRCM specifically). This of course holds for any discussion forum on the internet. Generally, the pros of a discussion forum outweigh the cons, especially if one takes some simple measures against `trolling'. Therefore, a more likely reason to prohibit these forums is that they are uncontrollable by the Inner Circle, and thus prone to becoming a source of cognitive dissonance. Discussions on whether it is `spiritual' to ask €250 for a book of which the guru says that it is essential for your spiritual progress, for instance...

The internet therefore poses a real problem for Inner Circles wishing to exercise boundary control.

Because most spiritual movements have their own publisher's media, such as newsletters, quarterly journals, videos, cd's, books etc. These media are in many if not most cases under rigourous guidelines/supervision by the Inner Circle. Typically therefore, one encounters in say a quarterly journal -say Truth at Home or something similar- lots of positive feedback from both Inner Circle and `ordinary' followers. Truth at Home, like the other publications, so likely becomes an active instrument of the Inner Circle to reinforce the Message. Critical letters, `bad' news, accounting figures, property holdings, etc...are simply not published.

But the internet today is easily accessible to all followers. It cannot be controlled by the Inner Circle, yet it also yields results about relatively unimportant and obscure groups - in contrast with the traditional media (books, television, radio, newspapers). So therefore, it can also contain specific criticism against their Movement, small though it may be. Criticism which the Inner Circle cannot edit out or block from reaching followers.

This criticism is often the most threatening -like stated in one of the earlier posts on cognitive dissonance- when it comes from (longtime) former followers. Because they are really in the know, and their arguments are often not so easy to dismiss as the more uninformed criticism coming from general society. Often their arguments point out the fundamental internal inconsistencies in the Movement. (And then, what happens with the child who repeatedly sees different Santas? Who comes across a Santa whose beard accidentally falls off? Who sees Santa drunk, who sees parents sneaking in with presents, ...).

One way for the Inner Circle to deal with this particular `former follower' threat is to blacken their character and motives. (Yes, this occurs in all types of organizations, I know. One just would expect this not to happen in a spiritual organization...). As an example, I have been called an `enemy of spirituality' by my former guru P. Rajagopalachari ;-) And with me, all former followers who blog about their experiences with Sahaj Marg. It's funny enough, but I'm not kidding. Still I can't possibly take it very seriously, for me personally I mean.

It does beg the question what part of the boundary control is conscious and what part un- or subconscious. Personally, I'm inclined to believe in `good' intentions of most people. This would imply that many Inner Circles have a high level of cognitive dissonance and corresponding avoidance. Indeed Marc Galanter describes this to be very often the case, complete with delusional world views and self-aggrandizement / overimportance / self-proclamation of divinity (direct or indirect) etc.

One should not forget that it often takes decades for Inner Circle members to attain their Inner Circle position. Time enough to build up a significant cognitive dissonance avoidance. Also, by the nature of the enormous time & effort investment made, if their position and/or their rationale is threatened one should not be surprised to see them react in what I would deem rather unspiritual ways.

Dear reader, to me it seems none of us are free from these mechanisms. But for me, having been at the receiving end of such unspiritual reaction, it has been a great help to analyze the possible motives. This analysis gives me a fresh perspective, and also allows for understanding and forgiveness, on the personal individual level.

Then, if all is peace and love now ;-), you might wonder why I still find it necessary to write on this blog from time to time. The answer is still the same simple one that I started out with: it helps me to analyze my experiences, feelings and thoughts, and I find it likely that some other people can benefit from this analysis also.

Still, I think it will be quiet on this blog for some time to come, since this particular pitfall (cognitive dissonance avoidance & boundary control) has had enough attention, I believe.

9 comments:

ray said...

Thank you very much for your latest postings Frank.
I have found your blog extremely helpful.

Anonymous said...

Dear Frank,
Thank you again. Your blog has been extremely helpful.

A lot of people are sincere in their search for truth and it's a tough lesson to learn that people might do it for other reasons. (Like Power). Some people are hiding out in that group for other reasons.

A former sahaj-margie/preceptor told me, "It's a game. If you wanna play the sahaj-marg game we can do that."

i chose freedom.

3-D Don will probably have a field day with that comment! I empathize with him too because i've seen it make people cold and self-absorbed.

As i mentioned before, it was not easy to disengage from this practice and everything surrounding it.

i'm so very grateful that you have your blog up here. It takes tremendous courage and strength so thank you.

It also takes courage and strength to leave.

since leaving, i talked with some people who believe Chariji is just a preceptor.

i think you've done an excellent job of covering the points about the pitfalls of spirituality.

So really, you could get that Spiritual Yatra game board out - move yourself a couple points (maybe only one, your condition is really good) and i bet you'd be advanced to the central region. You don't even have to draw a card and answer any questions! Or go see Master.

Did SRCM market that Yatra board game in the Netherlands? Can't help but wonder if the person who came up with it knew in his/her heart of hearts that SRCM was just a game.

Many thanks,

Triple Gem

frank waaldijk said...

dear ray and triple gem, thanks for your positive words about this blog. i'm glad to see that others also benefit from some analysis.

perhaps you have seen that i've added a link in the sidebar to another site on the psychology of spiritual movements, i think you might some worthwile things there also.

kind regards, frank

Anonymous said...

Frank,

The good thing about this internet blog is that long after you have "spoken" your words, and while you choose to remain silent for a while, it is all still available for those who are interesed in finding out and capable of thinking for themselves.

I appreciate your work on this subject.

All the best - Theo

Anonymous said...

Frank,
Thanks for mentioning the new link. Great job - a lot of helpful information.
Take Care,
Triple Gem

Shashwat said...

hi frank,

good to see that you did not discontinue your writing!!

good work, i am impressed with your research.

Manu said...

Hi Frank,
I had been in a spiritual movement for almost 10 years. I guess the names of these movements could be different, but what you described here would accurately fit in with the movement I was involved in.

All you had to do was read a newspaper and they would look at you like you were comitting crime.

Finally my wife and I had a falling out with them, we built a temple at home,and love it that way.

I would love to keep in touch with you, i have started a spiritual blog at
www.sattvamovement.com, please have a look, leave a feedback and be my friend on facebook...

I will talk to you later
Manu

Anonymous said...

Dear Frank,

I have read your bitter experience in SRCM(Cal). Your 'Pitfalls of Spirituality' is a lesson to all abyasis/preceptors who are under the Dictator-ship of the Leaders in SRCM.
You must have read one of the letters written to Chariji by Babuji instructing him not to make any more preceptors in future with out taking permission from him. But after Babuji's demise the preceptors were made by Chariji. It is something like making battery with out electricity( cathode and anode) what Chariji made preceptors do. You have done a very good thing by leaving SRCM(Cal).

Thank you for your frank message to one and all who belongs to SRCM.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, thanks. Any recent thoughts?