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, November 29, 2010

Spiritual marketing techniques 3: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachings

I recently came across a wonderful article called `Spiritual marketing techniques', written by Andrew P on Energygrid.

It is quite lengthy for a web article, but I will reproduce it in 3 parts. (Kind permission is granted by Energygrid)
Part one: So you want to be a spiritual teacher
Part two: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachers
Part three: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachings

[This post is part three.]

Spiritual Marketing Techniques
Andrew P—10/2009

An examination of methods used to market spiritual teachers and teachings. Whether you are an authentic spiritual teacher or just playing the guru-game, there is good money to be made in active spiritual marketing.
[Part three:]

Techniques for Promoting Spiritual Teachings

The other focus of spiritual marketing is on the teachings themselves. Here are a few of the characteristics of successful teachings (again, these are difficult to separate from the above so there is a certain amount of overlap):

  1. Conceptual Spiritual Path: This is the number one rule in successful marketing of any spiritual teaching: present it in such a way that your customers can bring along their minds and their egos on the spiritual journey. This allows them to maintain the illusion of control, so that their concepts of a spiritual person can be acted out. Any system that encourages the development of the spiritual ego is going to be very popular, because it maintains the psychological status quo by not challenging the ego. (Ironically, such ego-centric systems are increasingly being presented as ego-dropping systems so that we egotistically learn to simulate being ego-less. Brilliant marketing!) Ego-centric spiritual teachings are very popular in a modern, ego-obsessed society. They usually involve a story about the world and our place in it, giving us a purpose and a special significance, and has the benefit of triggering attachment to both teacher and teachings, which of course leads to dependency.
  2. Promises Immortality: Death is a big fear for most people so any system of spirituality that promotes some kind of immortality (even if it is just the immortality of the soul) is going to be attractive to potential customers. Most people fear death for obvious reasons, so you must ideally not only allay their fears but adequately describe how they will continue after death — give them a road-map into the unknown. There are even some spiritual teachings that promise physical immortality, but this is more difficult to justify over time, but in the short term can be a very lucrative approach.
  3. Focuses on the Teacher: Okay, so you have nothing original to teach, but at least you yourself are original. So if your teaching keeps pointing back to the teacher as a key component in the awakening process (perhaps by direct transmission) then you end up with a unique product, one that customers do not feel that they can get anywhere else. So, in effect, by putting yourself squarely in the centre of your teaching, you end up with a monopoly on a unique product.
  4. Teachings Offer Certainty: In a world which presents uncertainty around every corner any belief system that offers certainty is naturally going to be very popular. This goes hand in hand with conceptualisation (without conceptualisation there can be no certainty). The certainty that is promoted can even extend to the future in prophecy and prediction. The more areas of mystery conceptually expelled from people's lives, the less fearful they feel and the more attached they will become to you and your teachings.
  5. A Promise of Bliss, Health and Happiness: Most like to believe that the final destination of the spiritual path is a state of eternal bliss, perfect health and sublime happiness — enlightenment. This means that there is a huge payback for following the spiritual path, which can be a strong motivating factor. After all, many people start following the spiritual path when they become disillusioned and unhappy with normal life. Maybe they are unwell or maybe they have been through traumatic experiences.
  6. Special/Secret Teachings and Techniques: Try to associate yourself with a special type of teaching or meditation/fantasy technique that is kept secret (like any trade secret) and then convince your students that they will only find awakening if they follow these particular teachings/techniques. This locks them in to you very strongly. The increasing problem with this is that, with the internet, nothing remains secret for long, so you are advised to also use some concept of "direct transmission" so that the teachings/techniques are only "activated" if given personally by the teacher or appointed student, not just "stolen" from the internet. You can also claim that each student needs a unique revelation and so stolen secrets are meaningless.
  7. Promotes emotional expression: Modern society can be very rigid in how it allows individuals to express certain emotions, more specifically sexual emotions and loving emotions. So any teaching (or community based on particular teachings) that encourages free emotional expression can be very attractive and freeing. This can be a strong component of hijacking feel-good techniques (see "i" below). But be careful if you do this to make sure that if free sexual expression is practiced, for example, that safety measure are also taken. After all, the spread of STD's through an organisation is not good publicity for it!
  8. Strict Codes of Conduct: People love to be told what to do. In fact, the impulse for bondage is stronger in most people than the impulse to freedom. So having a strict codes of conduct and attire can be very attractive to many people. This may seem contradictory to g) above but they actually go hand in hand. After all, the excitement of free sexual expression is actually the excitement of letting go to (being controlled by) bliss and ecstasy. Having strict rules also also fits in with the spiritual ego that wants a formula to do everything right.
  9. Copyrighted and Trademarked Issues: Even if what you teach is not unique, you can call it a special name and then copyright/trademark that name. This way you end up being able to own and control the teachings that that name represents. Copyright must be added subtly: too in-your-face and you won't look spiritual. And if you are ever questioned about copyright and trademark you can just blame it on your organisation so that it looks like the master wasn't the one with the attachment. Another successful approach if you are questioned about the legal restrictions you have placed on your teachings is to claim that you are only trying to protect them from being bastardised by a third party.
  10. Teachings have Material Outcomes: This can be a good customer puller because it means that those who follow them will find many of their material needs and wants met (including physical health issues). So rather than spiritual awakening being seen as a subtraction of what is not real, it is seen as an addition to our powers, potentials, wholeness and bank balance. This is attractive to customers egos and also justifies any opulence that the teacher may have relative to his customers. (Quantum physics is often used to justify this position.)
  11. Hijack Feel-Good Techniques: Most of the more successful systems of teaching will hijack tried and tested feel-good techniques such as meditation, mantras, relaxation, dance, tantra, fasting and breath control to make customers get associate a feel-good fix with you and your teachings. The key is to control the inner process enough for that feel-good fix, but not let customers get carried away with inner focus so that they awaken and leave you. (This should ideally be coupled with copyrighting/trademarking the feel-good technique if you can.)
  12. Testimonials for Teachings: Spiritual marketing is like any other kind of marketing, you need testimonials and case-studies for the media to promote a particular spiritual teaching and teacher. Fortunately, with the rise of social networking, this often happens spontaneously. For book covers, publishers will often get endorsements for a teacher from their other clients, making sure that even the dullest of spiritual manuals has rave reviews from someone other than the author who is also regarded as a teacher.
  13. Make Teachings Self-Validating: By making the sublime value of the teachings part of the teachings themselves, you help to validate them in your customers' eyes, especially if they are in their heads. It is important to describe your own teachings in the very highest terminology, and make it clear that anyone who does not understand this is just "not ready" for them yet. This goes hand in hand with marketing yourself as the very highest spiritual master.
  14. Present the Teachings Sequentially: Don't give it all away in one go — there is less money in that. Instead, spread out the teachings in a series of courses that goes from beginner all the way through to advanced, a journey that might take a number of years to complete. That way your students remain your students for the whole duration as many on the spiritual path believe that the journey to enlightenment is a long and arduous one. And by the time your students have "graduated" they will have invested so much time, money and effort with your system that they are unlikely to quit due to both their investment (the so called sunk-cost fallacy) and the fact that their spiritual ego will be reinforced by feelings of achievement. And you should also tweak it so that when your students reach the final hurdle, you let them know that they still need just a tad more direct transmission to lift them into enlightenment, so they still need to stick around.
  15. Give a Pseudo-Scientific Justification: Link your teachings with modern physics as it really does increase credibility of what you are saying to anyone who is not scientific literate (which is most people). And remember that those who are scientifically literate are less likely to be seeking "spirit" anyway. So you are relatively safe. Key terms to use in your teaching are: "quantum", "relativity", "scalar waves", "quantum entanglement", "Bell's Theorem" and "photons". And you might constantly allude to the fact that what you are saying has been "proved" by quantum physics. (Nobody is likely to have any real understanding of quantum physics to challenge what you are saying.)
  16. Exotic and Foreign Words and Phrases: Students are always more impressed with teachings that are sprinkled with foreign words and phrases. For example, rather than vaguely speaking about the consequences of actions, use the word "karma", and instead of describing the world as illusion, use the terminology "maya", and so on. This makes your students really believe you know what you are talking about as you will sound very impressive, and using ancient terminology like this helps to strongly validate your teachings by throwing the whole weight of an exotic religious tradition behind them. And as the student learns this spiritual vocabulary, she will feel that she is becoming increasingly spiritual herself. This also serves to link groups together by having an "insider" vocabulary and phraseology. (This is similarly to the name-change technique used by both teachers and students to reflect their new spiritual selves or egos.)
  17. Associate Teachings with Exotic Places: As mentioned above, offering holiday and Mecca-type retreats in exotic places not only gives you an opportunity to make more money than local retreats, but whatever you teach is far more likely to be cherished because customers outside the confines of their everyday lives tend to be much more relaxed and focused. Your teachings also get to be associated with feel-good "holiday" vibes, not to mention the fact that you will get a free holiday out of it.

* * *

The above is not meant to be an exhaustive list of methods, but rather an outline of some of the main ways that you can successfully market yourself as a spiritual teacher. What is important to stress is that the use of any combination of these methods does not necessarily indicate the value or authenticity of you and your teachings. After all, even an inauthentic teachers hiding behind slick marketing can be useful for some people at some point in their spiritual awakening (if only just to learn not to be so gullible).

However, although both authentic and inauthentic teachers have successfully used many of the above marketing strategies, the type of teacher you are and the type of teachings you teach will determine the emphasis you need to put on the different methods of spiritual marketing.

As a general rule, the more authentic you are as a spiritual teacher, the more you have a tendency to be putting yourself out of a job, which is not good business practice. Authentic spirituality is non-conceptual, and this presents a serious dilemma for spiritual marketing for most of what attracts people is conceptual. Therefore, most authentic teachers strike a balance between marketing and non-conceptual teaching, so that there is enough conceptualisation to hook people (the more you hook the more people you can potentially help), but not too much so that conceptualisation is badly interfering with the awakening process. Inauthentic teachers, on the other hand, let rip with the above marketing methods, hiding their ineptitude behind concepts and dogma.

So whatever type of teacher you are, spiritual marketing can really help you succeed, increasing both your customer base and your income. I wish you every success. Namaste

1 comment:

Faizan Mohammad said...

This is the case these days (apropos to your note on false spiritual gurus)