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 power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label power. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Techniques used by Gurus to control

In the same vein as the previous post, I repeat a post from Michaels blog. It gives a different perspective on many of the pitfalls discussed here, and may be easier to recognize for some.

Seven Techniques Used By Gurus to Control The Masses (by Michael, from his blog Inner Circle of SRCM)

Establish High Ideals

• Establish noble, high sounding principles, such as selfless service, closeness to God, and brotherly/sisterly love.

• Insist that your teachings are free and the birthright of all.

• Demonstrate charity in a highly visible manner.

Define and Enforce Exclusivity in the Organization

• Every Guru must have an exclusive hook to differentiate themselves from others.

• The exclusive nature of the system or Guru must be re-emphasized at every opportunity.

• Disciples are trained to also extol the virtues of the system’s exclusivity in every conversation.

Exploit a Higher Authority

• Designate a “Higher Authority” that can be attributed to for literally everything.

• Higher Authority must be easily identifiable by disciples. Abstract higher authorities such as “God” are generally not as effective as a dead person.

• It is critical that the Guru can claim to be in direct communication with this Higher Authority.

• The Guru’s example of love and servitude to this Higher Authority serves as an example to disciples as to how to treat their Guru.

• Miracles, which happen naturally in an emotionally charged environment, can be attributed to this Higher Authority

• Disciples will naturally transfer all things credited to the Higher Authority to their living Guru.

Establish and Maintain an Inner Circle

• Guru creates contentious environment around themselves for people to earn their trust.

• Those who fight the hardest and most effectively for inner circle status are rewarded with positions of authority and grandeur.

• The Guru must treat inner circle members with strictness and humiliation when necessary to maintain their loyalty and subservience.

• The Hierarchy established through the Inner Circle is a critical tool for a Guru to maintain exclusive control as the organization grows.

Foster the Image of Humility

• The Guru will exploit any ailments or physical injuries to get sympathy by silently suffering.

• If no physical ailments exist, the Guru can use exhaustion from serving his disciples as an ailment.

• The Guru does not directly complain about ailments, but uses the Inner Circle to propagate stories of his humble suffering for the cause.

Establish and Maintain Total Control

• Demand total devotion and trust

• Guru uses their own total devotion and trust to their “Higher Authority” as an example

• Blame all disciples failings on not having sufficient faith in the Higher Authority or lack of dedication to the practice.

Reap the Benefits

• Establish an organization to hold and manage wealth collected.

• Exploit that wealth through the organization, not directly

• Enjoy the services of devoted disciples as their expression of devotion to the Higher Authority.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Money & Power: the Spiritual Movement's Pyramid

frank waaldijk, money & power: the spiritual movement's pyramid

Money & Power, the Spiritual Movement's Pyramid (own work, 2008)

Some important posts on this blog are on the pitfalls associated with Money, Power, the Spiritual Leader, the Pyramid (by which I mean the pyramidical organization of the Spiritual Movement).

After writing these posts, I changed an older sculpture of a bishop figure (I'm a visual artist) into a more disturbing comment on the way that spiritual movements (including religions) tend to function. Because a picture sometimes speaks a thousand words, I'm putting up a photograph of this sculpture.

In the sculpture one sees the Spiritual Leader (or perhaps his Manager?) on top of a dark, mostly opaque Pyramid, which in turn is based on a pedestal/dais-like elevation. The Spiritual Leader is dressed in full regalia, with a silver staff and other attributes of his position. As in the previous post, there is no real humility, here we have the CEO of the Money & Power machine.

If one looks closely, one sees that the Pyramid is filled with Money.

frank waaldijk, money & power: the spiritual movement's pyramid (detail)

detail of Money & Power, the Spiritual Movement's Pyramid

There were several recent newspaper articles reporting on financial malversations and lack of transparency in a variety of spiritual movements. (To mention one: a long article in a leading Dutch newspaper on the complete lack of transparency regarding the wealth of the Vatican and the catholic church. Wealth which is conservatively estimated in the billions of euros. Yet churchgoers are asked time and again for their financial support, and catholic missionary posts keep asking money for all sorts of projects in the developing world.)

That these issues crop up again and again could cause occasional posts on this blog, even though the main analysis was completed already last September.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Money & power, selfperpetuation

Like stated before, I'm not looking to depict spiritual movements as being entirely driven by power. Many many followers are kind spiritual people who are not at all driven by power. And also in the Movement's Pyramid, there are `officials' and administrators who are just trying to do a certain task in a spiritual way. The same goes for many large secular organizations.

Yet the structure & functioning of the Movement's Pyramid generally encourages people who are susceptible to `power as fulfillment'. It encourages them to behave in the way described in the previous post. They become true Believers, they obey higher levels rather blindly, they do not question the Absolute Truth of the Movement, and they devote a large proportion of their time to Work-for-the-Movement.


Many movements peter out, of course. They don't make it into a large number of followers. But any movement which does want to `make it', has to be led by efficient managers.

Suppose we have such a Spiritual Movement. Its Absolute Truth dictates that it should spread its Loving Message to the rest of the world. This Truth also dictates that the Movement is of superior and permanent importance to mankind.

What does an efficient manager do, when faced with the above Mission?


That really is the key question, if one wants to understand why so many spiritual movements eventually tumble into the same old pitfalls. Personally, although I allow for some malicious behaviour also, I find it much more likely that people are driven by motives which to themselves look Very Noble. `All I do is for Him. For the benefit of mankind! I am just a tool in His hands.'


OK, so what does an efficient manager do, when faced with the above Mission? Well, he (yes, the Leader is a he, if he is not a very good manager then his Manager is a he, sorry dear sisters but although we are all equal of course in the spiritual sense, one cannot leave these things to women) analyzes the Mission to formulate attainable Goals.

The attainable Goals cannot be far away from the following:

* Growth of the Movement in terms of followers
* Growth of the Movement in terms of recognizance
* Growth of the Movement in terms of influence
* Providing a solid organization, a Pyramid, for the Movement
* Providing a solid financial base, a Fund, for the Movement

Failure to attain any one of these Goals results in a much higher risk of the Movement petering out over time.

If the Movement doesn't make it...well, one will have failed Him! One has failed one's Sacred Duty. It is unthinkable. We must all work, work, work for these Goals, in order that His Light will shine over Humanity!


And now, you see, money becomes an issue. All by itself. It is needed for the selfperpetuation of the Movement, it is needed to Secure the Mission. (to be continued)

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.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fulfillment, spiritual progress, ambition, inner circle, power

I've been reading some other websites on pitfalls associated with spiritual movements. If one reads beyond the difference in style and personalities, it is quite amazing how widespread these mechanisms seem to be. Also, I'm not sure that what I write has anything new to offer. But I suppose that another way of saying the same things is still worthwhile, if it helps people find their own path.

Anyway, first let me point out this link: the false guru test. The strength of this test (to me) lies in the fact that the author doesn't have a particular guru or spiritual movement in mind. This gives a certain neutrality and objectivity, which is similar to what science in its best form can offer. People can `fill in' the details from their Movement, and see for themselves if they might be in a certain danger zone. [Yes, I know, this presupposes that the author (Andrew Paterson) of the test knows what he's talking about...I think he does.]

I take out three elements of this test, since they fit in with the topic here. Let's start with no. 21:

21. Allows his followers to set up a hierarchy of access:
A guru must be accessible. If he is not, or if he allows his followers to block your access, then he is playing the role of a king and not a spiritual guide. A guru is only useful to the process of awakening if you can directly interact with him.

Of course this is directly tied to no. 20:

20. Is not interested in you personally:
If a teacher or guru does not have time to interact with you personally, then you may as well read his teaching from a book, because merely being in his presence doesn't help you find realization inside you. You may model some of his spiritual characteristics, but that often only places you deeper in illusion.


Although I'm all for tests like these, I also get the feeling that many people try to lay blame on spiritual movements for mechanisms that one sees everywhere, also outside spiritual movements.

Because, to be honest, I have seen the above two items displayed in any large organization, if one replaces `guru' with `director', `secretary of state', `chief executive officer' etc.

So what happens if I were to examine my own role in being seduced by these power mechanisms? It might shed light on why other people do what they do, it might help me understand how supposedly `very advanced persons' (let's call them VAPs) allow themselves to become `very important persons', VIPs.


So the whole thing for me (and there are others pointing this out, see the excellent analysis in Inner Circle of SRCM ) starts with the combination of fulfillment and progress. (I feel fulfilled if I progress, especially if I feel this progress is in the direction of a Lofty Goal.)

These two in turn fuel my ambition. Because I see others, who as a sign of their progress, have attained membership of the inner circle. The inner circle of trusted associates of the Leader(s), who are up-to-date on all the plans, who are often in close personal interaction with the Most Advanced/Important Person(s), say MAP/MIP. Who by this association receive special training, special attention,...extra progress therefore, and in this way extra fulfillment!


Now it is easy to substitute some spiritual movement in the above. But it gets more interesting if I substitute my workplace surroundings, for instance. Or politics. Or a large sports organization, like the International Olypmic Committee. Or a large charity, like the World Nature Fund.

Because in each of these organizations, I am convinced that many people are looking for personal fulfillment, which they measure by their `progress' in the organization; the combination of which fuels their ambition to attract attention of the inner circle etc.


So, going back to spiritual movements, I am not convinced that all these VAPs become VIPs because they are powerhungry. This would be too obvious a mechanism, as a pitfall it can be easily avoided by intelligent well-meaning people, and many people seriously interested in spirituality are exactly that.

Power mechanisms come into my existence as a spiritual `practitioner' because I allow myself to be seduced by the combination of `fulfillment' and `progress'.

The very idea of `spiritual progress' implies some form of judgment. It implies that some people are more spiritual than others. To be honest, I still make these judgments myself, but I have come to realize that such judgments are of a personal practical nature, and not in any sense Absolute or True. They reflect on me probably more than on those whom I place in the category `more spiritual behaviour' and 'less spiritual behaviour'.

And the obvious question is: what will happen if I stop judging like that?


Accepting people the way they are...looks very spiritual. But for me it works in the practical sense only within certain limits. I cannot accept people ruthlessly exploiting other people, or worse. However, I have come to understand why some people are driven in that direction.

But mostly, within the (for me) most common situations, accepting people the way they are works better for me than judging their behaviour. And to come full circle, this of course is a reflection of self-acceptance and self-judgment.

Really accepting myself (within certain limits?) means, I think, not judging myself. It also means letting go of the idea of spiritual progress. There is no objective progress. There might be some mellowing out of tendencies which for some reason bother me (and/or others ;-) ). Fine, big deal.


The appropriate element of the false guru test mentioned above is no. 4:

4. Focuses on enlightenment itself rather than teaching the path leading to it:
It is amazing how much false gurus have to say about enlightenment. They argue their points in the same way that the scholars in the middle ages argued how many angels could sit on the head of a pin. Any fool can talk about the end goal because what is said is irrefutable to most of your listeners. What is skillful is guiding those listeners to having awakening within themselves. The real teacher focuses on the path and strictly avoids any talk on enlightenment.

(I don't agree completely with this phrasing, but the point is valid, and is the same I believe as saying: don't focus on progress. Spirituality lies in `being'. Not in `becoming'.)


With regard to my former spiritual movement, I have come to understand a lot of behaviour that I found mystifying and which made me angry. The same goes for my former workplace at a large ministry in my country. I find, in hindsight, that I can accept better that many people are driven by the mechanisms of fulfillment <--> progress --> ambition --> inner circle --> power. And I know I'm not free of it myself.


This being said, I cannot accept that people willingly and knowingly abuse their power positions. Nor can I accept that they refuse to take real responsibility when they have been given power.

But what can I do, in a concrete practical sense?

First of all, I try not to give power to people who are enveloped in some inner circle mechanism. Famous pop artist? Secretary of State? Guru with 3 million followers? Director of Greenpeace? `Pleased to meet you, but if you'll excuse me I need to talk to my daughter about her new sweater'. No disrespect meant, but I have seen an incredible amount of fawning over VIPs. And am ashamed to say that I fawned a few times myself when meeting my former spiritual guide. Against my better judgment, it was a subconscious thing which I later managed to correct because I dislike these mechanisms.

Second, the asking of critical, insightful questions has always struck me as a good way to remind people of their responsibilities when in a power position.

Here often lie real eye-openers, with regard to the issue `heart' vs `mind'. Because most people in a position of power expect a fawning-like agreement from their underlings. Many even demand it explicitly! But if a technical proposal fails to meet its technical objective, and the VIP hasn't observed this and is all for the proposal...then what do you think happens if you ask the critical technical questions that reveal that the VIP has made a mistake?

It can be, I assure you from personal experience, an extremely funny situation!

And so thirdly, what I can do in a practical sense? I believe that making fun of ridiculous situations and opinions and positions and behaviour is a very effective way of puncturing the balloon of self-importance and Absolute Truth etc.

No wonder, that the least tolerant of spiritual movements are so serious. No wonder, that false gurus do not allow jokes about their proposals, theories and behaviour, except if they make them themselves to show off their sense of humour and humility (`Oh, look, He is so humble, He even jokes about Himself!').

Let alone, that they welcome real criticism and critical questions.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Logic, love, faith, power

Just to clear up two possible misunderstandings from the posts so far (thanks to the kind commentator who pointed this out):

1. When using direct quotes, I mention the source. But I sometimes also use imaginary quotes, for example `How could a Catholic possibly marry an Orthodox Jew? It is unthinkable'. I don't know of anyone directly saying this, but I'm sure something pretty similar has been said many a time. The reason for using imaginary quotes is that I want to illustrate in a general sense. This also helps to give people from many spiritual movements room to fill in their own specific details.

In these `quotes' you will also see a number of imaginary `saints' `prophets' `gurus' etc. I will typically take some semi-mystical name, and attach Shree or Shri and/or His Holiness. Example: `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.'

2. When saying `heart' and `mind', I'm mostly using these as metaphors and I'm not referring to the actual organic functions. With `heart' I want to indicate a certain non-analytical, intuitive way of thinking, feeling, decision, behaviour, as opposed to `mind' by which I mean the rational, analytical, questioning, sometimes scientific approach. This description is not even very accurate, since our thinking and feeling is probably far more complex than such dichotomy, but it will (have to) do for the time being.


So, let's continue from the previous post.

Why do the vast majority of spiritual movements insist so much on `heart over mind'? The simple answer would be, I believe, this:

Most spiritual movements incorporate in their Theory of Everything a number of very illogical and contradictory elements. The rational mind cannot help but pick at these elements. Because the rational mind knows, somewhere, that one and one simply doesn't add up to three.

But the rational mind can be suppressed, overruled, by the non-rational mind (which when seen from a positive perspective I call `heart', associated with love, trust, courage, etc.).

So when a Spiritual Movement says

`Ye of little faith, do you think that God is limited to what we can understand? Develop Faith in your heart, forget the mind. The Way to God is to cut the chains of rationality. Rationality leads to Doubt. But how can you doubt God? It is like pushing God away from you. Did not His Holiness Rinpoche Gelek Dharmi say: `When you see contradiction, you are still in the throngs of Duality. Reality lies beyond, and you must strive harder to still your mind.' ? Believe in the Leader, believe in the Method. Do not trust the workings of your dualistic mind, live and feel from the heart'.

then what happens as a by-result is that even the glaring inconsistencies of the Theory and History of the movement can be glossed over.

`You wonder how a saint of the caliber of Pujashri Amme Hula could possibly write such a negative text on homosexuality, when He proclaims that real-life tolerance and love are the pinnacles of spirituality. But you see, on the cosmic scale things have to be balanced. A Master must sometimes destroy, and for this Special Capacity is bestowed on our Master. So for a sincere follower it is essential to have faith in Our Leader, we cannot grasp His Role in the cosmic plane. Obedience is the only way to Heart Realization, there comes a point when we must bid the mind farewell.'


You can imagine what happens, if when coming to a spiritual movement you see people behaving kind & loving & open all around you (with interesting exceptions of course). They share, they are interested in each other, and they really try to make something spiritual of their life. When compared to society in general, that is a relief. It can feel (and it did feel to me) like an oasis of human connectedness in a desert of individualism.

So the less simple answer to why spiritual movements insist on `heart over mind' could be that `mind over heart' doesn't work so well either when one is looking for ...well, a heartful existence!

Is it so difficult to conclude that what we are looking for is `neither this, neither that'? The opposition of `heart' vs `mind' to me seems artificial and dualistic in a limiting way. We are all of that and more. So if the heart protests, we should take heed. But if the mind protests we should take heed equally well. (I'm pushing my own convictions here, sorry)

Can anyone point out to me a spiritual movement which really gives rationality and science the place they deserve - imnsho of course?


OK, now we can move on to power. The insistence on Absolute Faith, Obedience, Trust in the Leader/Prophet/Guru/Saint/... may even at one time have been well-intended, who knows. But in the course of time, one has to conclude that this mechanism has been misused over and over and over again by spiritual movements to establish Power.

Now, I'm not talking foremost about obvious and/or physical power.

Someone sometime very aptly observed (was it Mark Twain, I'm not sure): `Violence is the last resort of the incompetent'

The same holds for obvious power. Therefore typically, most spiritual movements try to establish moral power. For this, like discussed in previous posts, there has to be Absolute Morality, Moral Authority and Legitimization of the Leader.

When moral authority is established, moral power follows. And from moral power, also physical power follows. Because people start to act according to their thinking. If one can convince followers that the infidels must be driven out, according to God's Holy Wish, then sooner or later you will have followers starting a war to accomplish just that.

In less extreme forms, one can use Absolute Morality to appeal to `love your brothers and sisters in need, please donate to our good cause, for the benefit of all humanity'. A nice way to obtain Serious Money...leading to physical power.

[to be continued]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fulfillment, mind & heart, and power

Much of what I wish to write about power as a spiritual pitfall comes from my experiences with a specific spiritual organization. But I have seen similar power mechanisms in other organizations, and similar fulfillment issues behind them.

So how to add something insightful to the vast literature on power? I'll try, but it won't be easy.

First question: why power can even become an issue in spiritual movements? It seems to me that in general we, the members of a group, empower people in the group to become group leaders. In my not so humble opinion we generally do not empower the people who I find the most spiritually suited for this group leading thing.

Too put it bluntly, mostly we want leaders who reduce our indecision and insecurity, who give us a sense of direction and purpose. Especially when it comes to spirituality. The previous post details some reasons for this that I see. I think most people are intelligent enough to be unsure about themselves, the purpose of their existence, the behaviour which they would like to adopt, etc.

So, once again not putting too fine a point on it: the mind is that which makes us homo sapiens (the thinking human). but the mind also makes us homo dubitans (the doubting, unsure human).

Does a dog wonder about its existence? Does it fret over whether to mate with other dog A or other dog B? Does it conceive of a before-life and afterlife? Does it fight with other dogs over whether the Great Shepherd in Dog Heaven is a german shepherd or an irish setter? I think my point is clear: dogs do not have enough mind for this, in my eyes. Mind you, I think dogs are very intelligent.

And dogs have a wonderful heart, at least in principle when not emotionally crippled by a bad owner. The dogs that I have had and known, were sensitive to my moods, would come to comfort me, would always greet me with joy, etc. etc.

All in all, with a good master, a dog's life seems simple and full of love. The dog might not be able to mate as freely as it would like, it might not always be free to roam as it would like, but all the rest is peaceful and assured, I think (I'm not a dog).

Whereas for us, with our roving and questioning and imaginative minds, life is seldom simple. We are also raised with many conflicting issues, desires, morals, etiquettes, group codes etc. And so, while many of us long for a heartful existence, where love & peace are predominant and the barking order is clear (the dog life...), this is not to be for us humans for two reasons.

First, to repeat: our own minds won't let us. When one looks at the stars, one cannot completely ignore the question `where does all this come from?' When a beloved dies from an accident, one cannot help but feel a deep grief, and the mind will most likely shout: `why did this happen? how could it have been prevented?' and on and on. Life is difficult, life is strange, and we are not intelligent enough to grasp what it is all about, but we are too intelligent to ignore the question `what is it all about?'

Second, because of our complex minds, we have formed complex societies. No simple herd model for us. So no simple role playing for us either. Our mind is constantly working to evaluate our roles in different groups, our standing in these groups, our ambitions, etc. etc.

So what does one say when one is offered a way to let the heart speak more? In my experience, most people understand very well what is meant by this. There is also a scientific basis which I would like to discuss in some next post. But the main point here is: to me it is attractive to give my heart a more prominent role in my life. In doing so, I personally feel my choices to be truer (I cannot define truth of course) and closer to where and who I want to be.

So in this sense my heart can give direction. My mind can also give direction. But this seems more complex. It seems to need more work, more attention. What if there was a way to live from the heart so to speak? And quiet the mind? No more doubts, no more hard work to think through and evaluate the possible consequences of actions, no more worries about myself, about others...

It seems an attractive proposition.

It is, I feel, largely this attraction which is behind the empowerment of `spiritual leaders'. I put my faith in this Spiritual Person, I let Him do the work of defining good and bad and moral behaviour etc. And then I try to live like that and commend myself for my spirituality in doing so. Win win. Maybe sometimes I feel guilty if I cannot live up to the high expectations that the Spiritual Leader is bound to put down. But that's all in the parcel. If the Spiritual Leader does not put down high expectations, why then my efforts are not special, and my life becomes ordinary and then I'm besieged by the same doubts as before. But if there is a real Spiritual Goal, then my life acquires a purpose. So I need the Leader to put down a Special Goal, in order to feel secure in my purpose, and I need the Leader to exert Moral Authority, in order not to have to think for myself what to do and how to behave.


And so we could come to a point where the question is asked:

Mind over heart, or heart over mind?


The duality of this question (by which I mean the assumption that the choice has to be either the one or the other) is of course ridiculous. But one would be surprised how many spiritual movements first pose this question, and then answer it by saying: heart over mind.

I will continue this thread in the next posts. But I would like to state here, beforehand, that in my not so humble opinion mankind is not helped by `heart over mind'. [OK, to be complete, I don't think `mind over heart' is completely helpful either].

We are not dogs. We will never be dogs. We will never be doglike. This is why the idea of a Spiritual Leader has to fail in real life. Even if well-intentioned, and perhaps many movements start out in this well-intended way, I don't know.

So, in my opinion please beware beware of any movement/leader saying `heart over mind'. It is a first step in what I see as a complex power pitfall. No matter if well-intended.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Us & them, woman & man, (homo)sexuality

`Us & them' is my shorthand for a fundamental division of humanity amongst any line. In my not so humble opinion, uniting humanity is a worthwhile and spiritual undertaking. Division of humanity hampers this undertaking, in my belief. Now in many spiritual movements, there is in words a large emphasis on seeing humanity as one. `We are all children of God'. `Consider all human beings to be your brothers and sisters'. And similar uplifting statements.

But there is at least one division which the vast majority of spiritual movements seem to underline, reinforce, advocate: the division between men and women.

For some reason, we seem really hooked to the idea that men and women are completely different in some fundamental spiritual way. The (physical) difference in reproductive organs seems to lead to some non-physical `spiritual' difference, even though we are summoned to see other physical differences -such as length, weight, skin colour, etc - as trivial in the spiritual sense. Even large cultural & age differences are seen as outer wrappings, not significant at all in the spiritual sense. But gender, boy, girl, that really makes us sweat.

This leads to the amazing conclusion that for most spiritual movements I have far more in common with an 81 yrs old Mbuti man [the Bambuti are hunter-gatherers from Congo], than with my wife who has the same age as me, who has lived in the same country as me, etc.

This perceived fundamental difference historically has translated into many discriminatory situations, where mostly men put themselves in position of religious power, and then dictate some version of sexual morality. Women are mostly banned from these positions of power, and this banishment is justified by variations on the claim that since men and women are so spiritually different, only men have the necessary spiritual make-up for these positions.

To me it seems a spiritual pitfall which branches out from sexuality to morality, from `woman & man' to `us & them' and ultimately to power. This is a complex issue, and I imagine it will take me several posts to only skim the surface. One thing that I would like to say in advance is that sexuality is some kind of hot potato in most spiritual movements and religions, and I believe this to be intimately linked to power and control issues. Ultimately I see this as the reason why homosexuality is considered such a threat (`unnatural', `against the wish of God', etc.) by many spiritual movements.

In subsequent posts I will therefore turn to scientific knowledge about homosexuality, to show why the above positions of spiritual movements on homosexuality are comparable to the 17th century position of the christian church on the question whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa.

Two weeks ago I saw the documentary `Jerusalem is proud to present', and tears sprang in my eyes to see the active violence and death threats against gay people by fundamental religious movements. A short description from the website of the uk jewish film festival:

Last summer [2006] Jerusalem was due to host the annual World Pride celebrations and gay pride parade, unprecedented in the city’s history. This hair-raising documentary captures the homophobic hate campaign launched by fundamentalist religious groups. Death threats pour into the Open House, Jerusalem’s LGBT community center, while in the Jerusalem City Council arguments for equality from its only openly gay member are met with verbal abuse, and a mayor so disinterested in democracy he simply leaves the room.

Orthodox Jews riot in the streets, their chief Rabbi apparently sanctioning violence to stop the ‘defilement’ of the holy city (interviewees include a gay rights activist stabbed during a previous march). The escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict further impedes World Pride preparations, and the eventual compromise was controversial among the gay community. Gilady’s film is nevertheless an important record of bravery in an environment where the only thing uniting some Jewish, Christian and Arab leaders is their hatred for gay people.

This `woman & man' thread will be continued over the next posts. But let me state again, if one purpose of spirituality is to unite humanity, then it will not do for a spiritual movement to make such distinctions between men and women and anyone in between, and between heterosexuals and homosexuals and anyone in between...