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 pitfall 11. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pitfall 11. Show all posts

Friday, August 1, 2008

Us & them: humanity united, humanity divided? And what about proselytization? (pitfall 11)

As this blog progresses, I will probably find it more difficult to deal with the pitfalls from my preliminary list separately. Many of these pitfalls hang together, like I already stated.

Allow me to continue with the pitfall `us & them' (pitfall 11 from the preliminary list). I believe this pitfall derives from the pitfall `absolute truth', as discussed in the previous post.

By `us & them' I mean the strong distinction that many followers of many a spiritual movement make between followers/believers/practitioners (of that movement) and other people. You might well ask why I consider this a pitfall, because this mechanism seems to pervade humanity throughout its history. Well, I call it a pitfall of spirituality because to me spirituality means a more united or at least less divided humanity. The position that many different spiritual paths -also the ones with no name or method- are not essentially different, seems to bring this about more easily than a position of `us' vs. `them'.

To illustrate this pitfall from personal experience might create quite a waterfall. A few good selections should suffice though.

But first, I would like to emphasize something else. I've met so many loving people who practise some spiritual path, be it religion or otherwise. This goes also very much for the movement/method in which I participated, and many people dear to me still practise this method. To criticize them is not something for which I feel sufficiently wise, I do not feel more insightful in their personal spiritual approach than they themselves. And I can only say that their lovingness to me is like water in the desert.

So for me to list and discuss pitfalls of spirituality might well be seen as the criticizing of (many) spiritual movements, but it would not be accurate to interpret it as `followers of such and such are blind / fool themselves / should stop ' or something similar. My purpose with this blog is more, I think, to support those who feel uncomfortable with some spiritual movement and perhaps help them in some way by clarifying certain mechanisms which I see and have seen in action many times.

Another purpose is probably, I admit, to provide some counterweight to the many claims made by spiritual movements especially regarding their own exalted spiritual approach. I'm simply still too much attached to some objectivity, some truth ideal, to be able to sit back quietly while others proclaim as truth what is to me misleading misrepresentation. I guess I still have hope for a bias-poor, largely objective and lovingly connected, united humanity...even though history gives very little evidence of humanity going along with these adjectives...and even though of course I have not got any proof that such a humanity serves a Higher purpose better than the biased, divided, war-faring humanity that I see all around.

I have no such proof, because I never had a Higher Communication from/with God or something like that. And even if I thought I had had such Communication, I would not consider this as proof since many to me quite repellent `spiritual' figures in history have claimed such proofs...with horrendous results.

To be honest: I don't know what any Higher purpose could be. Perhaps on Judgment Day God will swoop down from the sky and say: `the Vikings were right, my name is Wodan and you are all going to Walhalla after we finish the administrative details. You can change your euros, dollars and what have you for local Walhalla currency right after the commercial break.'

What I know is limited to my personal take and feelings in these matters. My own feeling regarding `us and them' is complex, but seems to crystallize in a willingness to have contact on an individual basis, with unique humans, from heart to heart. Group identifications -even though they seem unavoidable to some extent- seldom leave me with a lighter heart.

Therefore you will understand that it made me uncomfortable to be part of a movement which talks about `abhyasis' and `non-abhyasis' (abhyas=practice). In which abhyasis are consistently called `brothers and sisters', but non-abhyasis are very seldom addressed in these terms. In which the spiritual progress of meditation centers or even countries as a whole is measured in terms of proselytization: how many new abhyasis this year? In which the leaving of the movement and its guru are considered the cutting of a spiritual bond and the destruction of a unique spiritual opportunity for `liberation' (whatever that may be).

So, with all due respect to the many loving abhyasis and other spiritual practitioners and seekers and non-seekers and non-practitioners and..., I consider `us and them' to be contradictory to the -to me spiritual- goal of uniting humanity.

And I consider it to be a major pitfall in a more practical sense, that in many movements people are actually encouraged or at least not actively discouraged to break off relations with their family or other longstanding relations, if these relations remain critical of the spiritual movement. Also the formation of practitioner-practitioner relations is often encouraged, morally rewarded, whereas the opposite is often opposed, put in a black light, or simply forbidden.

`No, no, how could a Catholic possibly marry an Orthodox Jew? It is unthinkable.'

`Your Duty is to the Master. If your wife does not want you to attend service, that is her problem. But you should not let that interfere with your own spiritual progress. Worldly relations are but the playing out of samskaras, whereas your soul yearns for Him. Pray for her, remain loving, but be firm in your resolve.'

`If your friends are critical, remember that the Guru is the only real Friend. A spiritual person needs no friends, he loves all. Friends are demanding and often impede your progress by asking you to join them in their immoral behaviour, or by spending your time on worldly pleasures instead of your spiritual development.'

`A prefect of our movement should always be receptive to brothers and sisters. If they come to you at midnight, will you send them away? It would be unwise, for who can be sure they will be able to come back?'


Say there is something deserving the name `God'. Say God really is responsible for the spiritual progress (what does that mean?) of humanity, all 6 billion of us/them. Would It really put all Its eggs in one (mostly small) basket? `Ahem, although it never got posted on the Internet before, this is a certified announcement from me, God, stating that Movement X really is the only true God Movement. The rest are fakes, or from inferior factories'.

Somehow it doesn't strike me as very plausible. As very credible.

Plausibility and credibility don't go well together with `one plus one equals three'. Faith however has no trouble with `one plus one makes three'. Faith can move mountains - that is if you have faith in this statement. Like us. Faith in the Absolute Truth unfortunately is not shared by everyone. The others are the infidels, the non-believers, the heretics, the heathens...them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Absolute truth leads to closed mind and heart

So, the question was: if Absolute Truth is so wonderful -giving purpose, direction, security, etc. in life- then who would NOT want Absolute Truth?

To answer this question -even though most questions are probably more interesting without clearcut answers- let me start out as follows. Absolute Truth is one of the classic areas where subjective and objective conflict. Or, from a different perspective, where heart and mind conflict.

One could think this is fairly obvious, just by looking at people all around. Because there are clearly very different Absolute Truths, all depending on who is allowed to define Truth.

Why do religions divide humanity? Why have more wars been fought over religious issues than over any other issue? It is because of the belief that one's own Truth is The Absolute Truth. Therefore people disagreeing are sadly blinded, misguided, and need help (or in case of serious religious warfare: are beyond help and need forceful conversion or destruction even).

If my Truth is The Absolute Truth, giving me direction, purpose, love, redemption, guilt absolution, death solution...then what happens if someone holds a different Absolute Truth?

Well, My Absolute Truth is threatened, that's what happens. Because by its very nature, Absolute Truth does not allow two different versions. So all of a sudden, just the fact that someone holds a different Absolute Truth, threatens the direction, security, purpose, love, etc. that I so carefully built up for myself. Therefore the least I must do, is deny the truthfulness of this other person's Absolute Truth.

`No, no, the christians are right to believe in only one God, but they have some fundamental things wrong.'

`Religions are the kindergarten of spirituality. But one should not stay in kindergarten.'

`There are many gurus, of different caliber. They can roughly be classified according to their level of approach. But only our system offers a Guru of the Highest Caliber, who through awakening of the spiritual Self can bring the aspirant to His own level, if the aspirant is willing to sincerely practise the Method under His direction.'

`I'm telling you, outside of our movement, the world is depraved and clueless and misguided. I have seen brothers and sisters leaving our Mission, and fall back into grossness and immoral behaviour, but still He loves them and tries to bring them back, even through subtle suggestion on the cosmic level.'


In this way, Absolute Truth leads to the other pitfall: us and them. And the very thing we started out with, this longing in our heart to have humanity united, to hold all human beings equal and undivided in a spiritual sense, this which was part of our Truth, has now come strangely around to bite us in the tail. Because Absolute Truth divides.

So who would not want Absolute Truth?

All those, and thank heavens they are still numberful, who strive for united humanity more than for religious redemption. Wasn't there a Dutch bishop lately who said, well if it makes people less divided then why don't we all pray to Allah, I'm sure God won't mind or something similar. I thought it was wonderful.


Perhaps it is illuminating to reveal my own part in this Truth thing a bit more. In hindsight I believe I was emotionally susceptible to the idea of Absolute Truth when I started out with the `spiritual method' Sahaj Marg. Feeling good after meditation, feeling heart connection to both the guru and other practitioners, learning about my self and my spiritual longing and having a path to follow, made me believe that my heart feeling should determine what my mind should accept.

But, the interesting thing about the mind is this. One cannot ignore the mind completely -even though looking around, you might believe others succeed at just that... And so, humanity has moved on from the littlebitsmart animal status to the littlebitmoresmart animal status, even though it took us millions of years to do so. In the past ten thousand years, mankind has freed itself slowly but surely of superstitious fears which were really dragging us down, really hampering us.

What was our main instrument in doing so? The heart or the mind?

You see, even though I no longer believe in Absolute Truth, I do believe that there is something quite fishy when someone tries to convince me that one plus one equals three. Looking through history, it seems to me that the mind is at least as valuable a truth instrument as the heart. How did we get rid of the stranglehold of christianity on our western society? Well, with all due respect to others, I think Copernicus, Galilei, Darwin, and many other scientists also contributed quite a lot. In the face of their simple evidence, the christian church was robbed of much of its Absolute Truths. And then this mechanism came into play: you can fool some people some time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.

So for me personally, there were too many things not adding up in the Wonderful Theory of my beautiful method. Instead of acknowledging this not-adding up (nothing completely adds up, reality simply isn't that simple, I think), people tried to deny or ignore these issues. Add to this the (to me) appalling lack of self-reflection in the behaviour of `senior officials' who are supposed to be enlightened practitioners, and the increasing number of contradictions between Theory and the day to day management practices of the Management / Guide, and you will understand that it was my heart which one day simply had enough.

I suddenly both knew and felt that my Truth lies elsewhere. Not with the Absolute Truth of some Movement, but simply, mostly wordlessly, within my own heart and mind. And not theoretically, but more practically, feelingly and open to change. Open to you, I hope.

And then I realized the clou of the statement `the truth will set you free' from this new perspective, which was like a mathematical insight gleaned from a nice geometrical drawing.