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...
Showing posts with label influence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label influence. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Money, selfperpetuation, accountability

Let's continue from the previous post, and please keep in mind that I'm not a financial expert. Therefore my account is no doubt oversimplified. But I believe it to be essentially to the point. Any expert refinement and also criticism would be most welcome, please leave your comment.

Given the 5 attainable Goals mentioned in the previous post, acquiring money comes into a different perspective for the efficient Manager of the Spiritual Movement. Serious Money brings 3 of the 5 Goals much closer. (growth of recognizance, growth of influence, a solid Fund for the Movement).

Therefore, Money is transformed from being a simple means to being a complex end in itself.

Money started out as a simple means: some things have to be paid for. In the field of spirituality there are actually very little material necessities, so there is in fact very little real spiritual need for money. A small budget goes a long long way if one sticks to the spiritual essence.

But this cannot remain so if one wishes to `secure the Future of the Movement and its Pyramid'. This wish for self-perpetuation brings with it the 5 Goals. And for this Serious Money is necessary. This Serious Money will buy influence, land, places of practice/worship, books and other missionary activities, juridic securities such as trademarking the Movement's name, good lawyers, professional services in every necessary field. It will provide recognizance from governments, banks, local authorities, and any other entity which comes along.

To be really sure of Money, not only now but also in the future, many if not most organizations (such as NGO charities for instance) look to establish a Trust Fund, which invests the available money to yield an optimal interest. Ideally, this interest should at any time suffice to pay for the then-current needs of the Movement.


Assuming that one cannot safely expect such yield to be higher than say 5% per year, this means that the Trust Fund has to be 20 times larger than what the Movement needs in a given year. And if the Movement grows, then to maintain the 5 Goals its financial needs also grow, and so its Trust Fund must grow accordingly.

This is -I think- a very real explanation for the many money schemes that one sees around Spiritual Movements (and to be honest, many other `charitable organizations' as well).

Because people are asked to donate for building churches / meditation halls / hospitals / natural disaster relief / publishing books /... where in fact, most of the money goes into the Trust Fund. They are sold books, audiovisual materials, you name it, all under the cry: we need money to help the needy and stricken...where in fact it is the Trust Fund which needs to grow.


But the very aim of `securing the future of the Movement' to me seems very unspiritual. It shows a rather profound lack of faith in God, if I may be so bold to point this out. God surely doesn't care under what name or form humanity grows spiritually, I would say. A spiritual movement which cannot obtain directly what little it really needs, doesn't seem worthy of a Trust Fund at all. Self-perpetuation of the Movement is contrary to the natural change of things. Change is the only aspect of Nature we can really be sure of. Change to me is a spiritual value.

Not to mention that hoarding money in a Trust Fund has several very unspiritual drawbacks. Firstly: this money is not available to give the direct help which is really necessary NOW in many parts of the world.

Secondly, the investment of the money in the Trust Fund is often left to financial professionals whose expertise is in the increase of money. NOT in whether this increase of money was brought about in an ethical let alone spiritual way.

Just last year, a documentary in the Netherlands revealed that many charitable NGO's had invested large sums of money in the weapon industry, and other enterprises which were often diametrically opposed to what the charities collected money for.

Thirdly, the managing of large amounts of money unfailingly brings with it the pitfalls of greed, mismanagement, cover ups etc. Please read this article in the National Catholic Reporter as an illustration of what I mean.


How to avoid all these complex pitfalls? Strangely, the answer is simple [imnsho]: transparency & accountability.

Transparency of goals and means and organization. This means that we tell everyone, in a simple and clear way, what we really aim for. And how we intend to achieve this materially and organizationally.

Public accountability of assets and liabilities, and all material transactions. This means that we tell everyone, in a simple and clear way, how much money and property we really have. And also what we have done with it, and why.

Could I suggest the following to you?

Please do not donate any longer to any charitable organization which does not offer transparency and complete public accountability. By donating to such an organization, you are hampering more than you are helping, is my strong conviction. Any organization which has nothing to hide will freely and unasked provide you with transparency and accountability, because it's not rocket science. So, in the extremely large majority of cases, if an organization doesn't freely give t&a, then it really has something to hide. And your money, which can give real help, should go elsewhere.

Thank you.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Power & money: la condition humaine

So. I probably should take a deep breath. On the subject of power and money, I feel like a dilettante, but it needs to be discussed when one writes about pitfalls of spirituality. Please allow for simplifications and oversights on my part. I am positive that on `power & money' many treatises can be written, because power & money pervade our society to the very core.

Perhaps I can start out like this. To me the following seems a fact (with a humane interpretation of `abuse'):

Power and power abuse are a part of nature.

The role of power in nature can from a scientific point of view be seen as part of `survival of the fittest'. Science has repeatedly and increasingly shown that almost all species engage in ferocious competition-between-species AND competition-within-the-species.

Zebra eats grass. Lion eats Zebra. Jackal eats Lion -when given the chance. Lion Male kills Lion Male, to take over the mating rights with the Lion Female. Lion Male also kills off earlier Lion Cubs, and arguably rapes Lion Female. I mean, the list of these things is completely endless. It is `eat or be eaten', `kill or be killed', `dominate or be dominated'. In the process of genetic selection amongst sexual species, science also shows us that the competition between males-males, females-males and females-females is astonishingly fierce. `The selfish gene' is looking for the `best' partner to mate with, in order to produce the best offspring for survival of the gene.

In a group of social animals, like human beings, this leads -without any exception that I'm aware of- to a power structure, a power hierarchy. And since power is tied very closely to `survival of the fittest', positions of power tend to be very gratifying to the persons holding them.

This need not even be, and very often isn't, on a conscious level. Two famous quotations:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.. (John E.E.D. Acton, 1887)

Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it. (William Pitt, 1770)


Back to our Spiritual Movement. Let's forget a moment about Movements and Leaders who are consciously looking for Power and Power abuse. Let's assume that the intentions of the original Founder were acceptably spiritual.

The reasons for this assumption are this: I would like to illustrate the pitfalls associated with power and money. If power and money are the conscious goal already, then there is no pitfall, there is only abuse. It becomes interesting only when dedicated, spiritually motivated people are confronted with the power& money issues that arise from a growing Movement.


The previous post was about fulfillment <--> spiritual progress --> ambition --> inner circle --> power. The post departed from `fulfillment'.

This post takes off from the other end: `power'. The pitfall about power by itself, is that it corrupts already on a subconscious level. Like stated above, I believe this to be due to the way that power mechanisms are hardwired into us as social animals. To hold a position of power, is by nature's standards fulfillment enough.

To illustrate in one way: in the past decade there has been a survey of senior administrators in the Dutch government. They were asked if they find their work gratifying and if so, why (in other words: job satisfaction). It turns out that by far the most gratifying part of their job was `influence'. Influence on major decisions in society. Influence on people, influence on money. Respect from other people, other people looking up to you. For this these senior administrators were willing to forego a much higher pay that they could earn in enterprise/consultancy/... I mean this quite directly: they formulated it in these terms.


In many if not most spiritual movements (religions included), I see a completely similar pattern. When the movement is large enough, it has some form of official organization. This organization is -again without any exception that I'm aware of- organized hierarchically. This creates a power pyramid, where each next level to the top represents: fewer individuals having more influence.

Even if I'm not driven by the sequence fulfillment <--> spiritual progress --> ambition --> inner circle --> power, I may still be naturally driven by the shorter sequence: `ambition --> next level in the pyramid --> power'. Because each next level represents also more respect from others, more looking up to me, and more influence.


How to get to this next level in the Pyramid of the Spiritual Movement? Well, this is similar to other organizations. There are various options, which I'm sure are recognizable to anyone familiar with more than passing knowledge of a spiritual movement. An obvious option is:

Work, work more, work even more...for the Pyramid. With dedication and selfless obedience of higher Pyramid levels. Try to get connected to people from higher levels, work on your network. Try to attract attention from higher levels, even the Highest Level, which is of course the Leader. Maintain a spotless existence, and propagate the teachings of the Movement. Be a firm Believer. Proselytize, and then proselytize some more.

Do not hesitate to grasp opportunities left by the mistakes of others in the Pyramid. Their loss is your gain.


A less obvious option is: be already influential outside the Movement. If you are already a part of Society's Pyramid (the movers and the shakers, the influential politicians, CEO's, judges, generals, rich people, famous people, senior administrators, tv commentators and what have we in this crazy world), then you are interesting to the Movement's Organization, the Movement's Pyramid.

One might think, naively: why would an influential person be interesting to the Movement's Organization?


This is because the Movement's Organization usually seeks to establish itself amongst the powers that be. The Organization wants to influence Society. This might be at the outset from some spiritual motivation. But imnsho most often this spiritual motivation is corrupted by the power that the Organization acquires in the course of the Movement's growth. This growth often takes place on many scales:

*Number of followers of the Movement
*Funds available to the Movement
*Influence and influential connections of the Movement
*Physical properties of the Movement
*Activities undertaken or controlled by the Movement, such as schools, housing, hospitals
*Perhaps more, to be added later


Well-connected people who are influential in society are therefore a prime candidate for high positions in the Movement's Pyramid. Vice versa, the arch-bishops and other high positioned people of religions are automatically influential in society, and part of society's inner circle.


OK. Second deep breath. Time for the twin pitfall of `money'. But in order to keep posts manageable, I will tackle it in the next post.