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 orthodoxy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label orthodoxy. Show all posts

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Moral authority, orthodoxy, rituals: the common trinity of spiritual movements

Now that I've made up my mind to write about the pitfalls of spirituality, I find the train of thoughts gathering some momentum. For the past 15 years I've been thinking on these issues. Also I devoted and still devote a very substantial part of my energy to developing an inner spiritual comportment, as well as different types of analysis of what I mean by that, and what others appear to mean by that.

I apologize for writing long and sometimes complicated sentences. Perhaps my style will improve over the posts to come. For now I'm trying to get a certain stream flowing, and therefore I give my mind free rein.

I've discovered that many people participating in some spiritual movement will block out the mind, block out simple logic. Their reaction to this blog could very easily be: You must not trust the mind, you must feel with the heart. How to explain to someone blocking out logic, that for me also the mind is just an instrument? Spirituality involves a loving heart, first and foremost in my not so humble opinion. To arrive at this, I believe we can well use the mind. This use is perhaps not a necessity for everybody. But if my heart experiences unease, if I get signals that not all is well on the path, then why not use my mind to determine where I took a wrong turn?

The orthodox answer of many spiritual movements: you cannot trust your own mind. Oh, I say, but it is my heart which is protesting. Orthodox answer: your heart is not yet pure, therefore you are guided by desires, please surrender to God, Guide, Method because that is the only way to get past your own blocking desires.

So now we have it. Here comes a real crux. The question is:

What do I trust? Who do I trust?


Orthodox answer 1: You cannot trust yourself. Why? Because: look at the mess you have created in your life. Look at the mess people create in their lives. You and they are running after worldly desires. But your heart is protesting, deep inside. The Real You longs for spiritual fulfillment. But your desires and your mind are blocking the Real You. You will never overcome this by yourself. You need help. Well, actually help is not enough. You need to surrender to higher authority, set aside your ego, set aside your mind, to free your heart of all the unnecessary rubbish and grossness it has accumulated. Come to our Method. Surrender unto Him. He will guide you. In your heart you will feel Love start to blossom. Your problems will be over, although perhaps not your worldly trials. But these will no longer bog you down. Experience our Divinity for yourself, and do not trust your Western mind. Look at the spiritual mess Western society is in, can you trust the Western approach?

First objection by truly interested seeker (TIS): I've tried your method for a long time now. I find my heart protesting against many elements of your method and movement. My mind finds serious flaws in your reasonings. My eyes see that the followers of your method are creating the same spiritual mess as most any other organization, only they are more hypocritical about it: they cover it up. Sanctimonious behaviour is rampant, especially amongst senior members and authoritative figures. Your `Guide' is inapproachable in a normal manner, but does not hesitate to tell me I need to feel ashamed of wasting my unique opportunity to escape eternal damnation / reincarnation / samskaric pain / whatever. (Why ashamed? Because He is giving His Everything, He suffers immensely, He is putting Himself out for Humanity, and I carelessly refuse to cooperate, thereby draining Him and Humanity for completely selfish reasons.)

Orthodox answer 2: You are being fooled by your ego. The Guide is pure love, and is not pressuring you in any way. This is just resistance from your ego, which clings to its lower desires like an infant clings to its lollipop. Please participate in a special cleansing session, so that you may become rid of these ego-bonds. You cannot trust your feelings in this. Has not the Guide brought you, lovingly and with completely selfless service to humanity, past many similar obstacles on your path? Do not make the mistake that many have irredeemably made before you by leaving our movement, you might never get another opportunity to attain liberation, to find God.

Truly interested seeker: First you tell me to trust my heart, and disregard my mind. Now you tell me to not even trust my heart, since it is corrupted by my ego. According to you I must only trust the `Guide'. But by whose authority can I trust this guide, if not by my own heart and mind? Look at all the other movements which say exactly similar things, but which you nonetheless denounce as mistaken and potentially dangerous. But moreover: look at your own movement. You are claiming that (other) religions are mistaken, and that the hearts and minds of their practitioners are so rigid that their Real Heart cannot speak. Yet now I tell you what my heart and mind are speaking, and then you say that this cannot be my Real Heart because it is not in concordance with what the Guide says and what the Method says and the Scripture...and they are Always Correct. Because they are Divinely charged, inspired,...


We can go on like this for some time. My point is this:

Most spiritual movements try to establish some Moral Authority outside of the practitioner -even though many of these movements claim that the only Real Authority is in the practitioner's own heart.

From this outside Moral Authority (yes, the Leader which most of us prefer, because we are after all group animals with herd instinct) comes orthodoxy. Because to disagree with the Moral Authority is to disagree with the moral majority, which this majority does not find appealing because it threatens the group functioning and the Leader mechanism.

Orthodoxy is then solidified in rituals. Because if an Absolute Moral Authority has said that prasad / chalice of wine / headscarf / prayer at noon / circumcision / group meditation / scripture reading is... Holy & Mandatory & ... then for ages to come, no one will dare question these things. Until some dissenter starts the following movement, becoming Guide etc. etc.

And so the natural tendency of spiritual movements is to grow into religion. What are basic characteristics of religion, apart from the obvious abundance of rituals? This merits new posts.

To finish my point, let me put forward the way I've come to see things. God (spirituality, universal love, ...whatever name you want to use) is inside. Need we any authority outside to tell us what is inside? I don't think so, and it doesn't feel right either. Logical, because in the end this is an impossible setup. Without some final authority inside, we will not know how to choose from all the conflicting authorities outside. Perhaps we come across a guide who is willing to help us clarify what is inside.

When can we trust such a guide, in the normal sense of trust? Probably when this person doesn't ask us for Absolute Trust. When this person is simple, personal, unassuming, not dressed in white with 25 important followers clinging to His Every Sacred Word. And very important (although one would not believe that such a shallow precaution could be so prevalently necessary): when this person is not asking for money all the time. Oh, but it's not for Himself you know! He never thinks of personal gain! He only needs money -and really speaking He doesn't need anything, He only does it for us and for His Master- so we can help truly interested seekers find this wonderful Method, which is unique.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spiritual guidance: the violin teacher analogy 2

After reading the first posts here, a friend suggested to expand a little on the violin teacher analogy. He also asked whether I was aware that my writings perhaps will not make much sense to people who do not have some firsthand experience with a spiritual movement and its organization.

[Yes I'm aware of this. This blog, although meant for all, probably has as imagined primary audience: people with a firsthand experience of a spiritual movement, who are struggling, like I was struggling, to put things into some perspective that makes sense on both the heart level and the head level. I hope that also `novices' and other spiritually interested people will find some things useful. Maybe later I will provide some details on the movement that I participated in (for 12 yrs), but for now I'm content to look at general issues having to do with many if not most spiritual movements.]

Let me take another look at the violin teacher analogy. A good violin teacher -imnsho- knows she can only teach well by devoting personal attention, tailormade even, to her students. How many students can one violin teacher therefore have at any given time? And why do we have so many amazing violinists? It can only be because, by devoting her personal attention, skill, love, motivation to her students, enough of her students grow out to be future violin teachers themselves.

But none of these students is required to play the violin in precisely the same way as the teacher. Because a good teacher -yes, imnsho- recognizes the true individuality of each of her students, recognizes her own limitations, and simply tries to help her students bring out the best in themselves.

Is there any need for her students to `surrender completely' to their teacher? Do they need absolute, unquestioning trust? Is immaculate obedience a sign of progression? Or would you, as a teacher, be happier if your student said: Well dear teacher, that is probably fine for you but it doesn't work for me. I'm going to play this largo part intensely emotional, to follow it up with a very subdued allegretto ending. And by the way I think Mozart is for restaurants only, I would like to concentrate on Prokofiev for the time being.

It takes time for a good violin teacher-student relationship to develop. The teacher is happy when the student becomes a master himself, becomes independent, and maybe a teacher himself too. There is no need for orthodoxy, because the love of music is such an obvious and overriding aspect of the whole violin undertaking -if this undertaking has any quality. And imnsho true love is never orthodox.

On the other hand, orthodoxy is seen to abound in spiritual movements.

`The Great Saint Bahjamahanuji, affectionately known as Bahji, said: Obedience is the highest form of Realization. Start your day at dawn with a pure Longing in your heart, repeating these words in your mind:

Oh Divine One
Oh Guruji
To be with You
is to liberate our hearts
from the Slavery of Material Existence
You are the Path
and the One to guide us to the Goal

Performing this prayer precisely as prescribed will benefit a practising aspirant in a most effective way. It is very important to use these precise words, since they carry a special spiritual charge. The Prayer was revealed to Shri Bahjamahanuji by his Master , Shri Ram Krasnapolsi, in a Vision.'

So I do not hesitate to oppose love and orthodoxy. And true guidance to me is the opposite of mass guidance. Because if a violin teacher has more than -well let's be real optimistic here- a hundred students at a time, how much personal attention is this teacher able to give each student?