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 spiritual energy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spiritual energy. Show all posts

Friday, April 16, 2010

False gurus and spiritual energy

frank waaldijk, the false guru and his Divine Energy (drawing, 2010)

The false guru and his Divine Energy (own work, 2010)

From time to time, people correspond to me about this blog via email. One of these exchanges, coupled with some comments made by people on this blog, prompted me to draw yet another `false guru' drawing, see above. Because obviously, there are many different false gurus all employing some form of `spiritual energy' to draw followers, and to assert their own Special Status.

In the drawing, one sees the false guru emanating his Special Unique Divine Energy (Cosmic Consciousness, Divine Awareness, whatever). This was somewhat discussed in previous posts on `spiritual energy' (pitfall 16), but I believe I may have left out a certain important angle.


The thing is, certain meditation techniques really work, in my not so humble opinion (imnsho). Therefore, imnsho, it is possible for people to develop certain altered states of consciousness, and I even believe this can be felt by others.

Now, some individuals have more talent in this field than others. And some of those spend a great deal of time to develop themselves in this field. None of this is in any sense reason for precautions.

This changes, when a certain individual who has so developed her/himself, starts claiming that the particular technique used is `Divine' or concerns `Divine energy', and that the only practical way to reach such a Divine State is through the help of this individual, the Guru, and Her/His Technique.

Suddenly, a whole different ballgame is being played. Because now, if we accept this premisse, surely our guru must be as close to Divine as is humanly possible. Therefore, this guru must be a Very Good and Ultimately Loving Person, and have Divine Knowledge as well, and...(fill in any of our human conceptions about `Divine').

Imnsho, a false guru plays upon these expectations, and uses them to enhance her/his Specialness, her/his Moral Authority, the need for Obedience, etc. etc.

Yet how reasonable are these expectations?


One could compare it even to mathematics (bear with me here for a short while). In a sense, one could really make a case for saying that mathematics is a divine language, and that higher levels of mathematics bring about altered states of consciousness. Mathematics is the language used to describe reality and predict events in a way which our long-ago forebears would surely think of as `divine' and `superhuman'.

Some individuals have more talent than most, and in devoting a lot of time and effort, they reach levels of mathematics that mere mortals can only dream of. These are Special Mathematicians.

Does that necessarily make these individuals kind, caring, `good' people? Do they have Divine Knowledge? Should they be obeyed in moral matters, in any matter? Can one of them be the Unique Person from which you can learn mathematics?

Of course not. They have mastered certain mind levels, using certain techniques, applying advanced levels of concentration, and devoting an incredible amount of effort and time. That is all. If one wishes to learn mathematics on those levels, it is probably wise to study their teachings, but history has shown convincingly that there is no such thing as a unique approach for mathematics. Many ways lead to Rome.


Back to our false gurus with the `enhanced consciousness' / `spiritual energy'. Does the mastery of certain meditation techniques, a certain stillness of the mind, a certain `energy' if you like, give any guarantee that the person who has achieved this mastery is indeed `good', kind, caring, wise, spiritual, ...?

Personally I don't think so. Science has shown that meditation affects human brains, and brings about different brainwave patterns. Mastering these `energy' techniques might be not so easy, and some have more talent than others. But still, it is an effect which has been widely observed for different techniques and very different people practicing such technique.

There is in other words, nothing `divine' about it - apart from the `divine' mystery which envelops all of Reality.


Now you might think that I am a skeptic with regard to `enhanced awareness' and `superhuman knowledge' and things like that. You are then mostly correct, but I also allow for `strange' phenomena which might or might not have an explanation in contemporary science.

Even the apparent mastery of or access to such `strange' phenomena does not give ANY guarantee that the person in question is a good, spiritual, loving, ...etc..., person. Let alone that such a person should be `Divine'.

Let me give yet another example.

From scientific experiments, it seems that there is a possibility that humans can look a little into the immediate future. From experiments with cards and other images, it seems that many people can anticipate around 3 seconds ahead of time, what type of card they will be dealt, or what kind of image they will be shown. Not with 100% success rate, but yet with more success than average statistics would predict.

Science as of yet has no explanation for this phenomenon. We could easily call it Mystical. Divine! (if you remember that ` to divine' means to guess correctly...).

No doubt some people are better at this than others. Successful poker players might be found to have elevated potential in this respect...

Does that make these people Divine?


To finish, I am somewhat amazed at how often these pitfall mechanisms occur in many many different spiritual movements. Imnsho, `simple' spirituality suffices for our planet. Anyone can if they wish learn to be kind, loving, connected, concerned for others' well-being and the well-being of nature. We do not, I believe, need any `divine' energy for this. And we certainly don't need false gurus, if you ask me.

&&&&&&[later addition on 17 April:]

There is one more aspect of this which I forgot to mention above. And some might therefore misinterpret what I'm trying to say, and dismiss it out of hand as being altogether biased against all `spiritual' methods.

However, I don't feel biased against all `spiritual' methods. One could say: well, some forms of meditation calm the mind and help diminish the inner disbalance which so frequently leads to unkind/uncaring/selfish etc. behaviour. There is some merit in that statement, I believe.

And of course someone who really strives to develop her/himself as a kind caring connected person, and who does so unsanctimoniously, is bound to become a `spiritual' person, if you ask me.

So, among the many gurus of this world, I have no doubt that there will be quite a number of `spiritual' persons. And this type of spirituality can inspire, and be of help to others looking to develop similar spirituality in themselves.

So when does the term `false guru' start to apply? It applies like stated above, when things are made Absolute. When mind-calming techniques are made Divine, and proclaimed as belonging Uniquely to the Movement, when altered states of consciousness are associated with Divine Energy, when the Guru becomes Infallible, and -whatever She or He does- is Always Spiritual, beyond the criticism and understandig of mere mortals...

And like I said, this happens far more often than one would think likely.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bliss & pain, spiritual energy & meditation, unique selling points

Continuing from the previous train of thought, there are some other attractions offered by spiritual movements which to me appear to contain a number of pitfalls. In other words, these attractions add to the temptation side of the sequence `fear<-->temptation-->manipulation'.

If one looks at various spiritual movements, the common denominator of these attractions could be called `bliss'. Or `reprieve from worldly pain', `reprieve from the fundamental loneliness of being an individual' or something similar. Or: `union with the Divine', `going back to my Home' etc.

Since it is easy to be misunderstood in these matters, I repeat that I personally do not consider myself capable to say anything absolute about these characterizations. A feeling which cán be described as being cut off from some `Spiritual Origin' is actually well known to me personally.

And I find that a certain (personal) form of meditation helps me to keep a certain `spiritual' feeling, connection, whatever you wish to call it.


There, I've admitted it, I'm as nuts as everybody else! Or perhaps even nutser. Sorry if your hopes for a completely rational author of this blog have been dashed. But I never promised you a rose garden, did I?

On the contrary, that's what many spiritual movements do, by and large. Apart from promising Salvation, Redemption, Heaven, Liberation, ... in the afterlife (for which noone has to my knowledge ever produced any tangible, incontrovertible evidence), they also offer Bliss...during certain elements of the Spiritual Practice.

During ecstatic chanting maybe, during intense praying sessions, during meditation sessions, during some purification session, by being in the presence of the Leader who just Radiates Love, by sitting on the Leader's Holy Maternal Lap where she Cradles you for 10 seconds, leaving you Completely Transformed...

That kind of thing.

Or Holy Food, charged with Special Energy. Or Holy Water, please donate freely to the Fund to make it available for everyone on the planet, because only This Holy Water is the Real Holy Water.


From personal experience, I think I `know' what I would call a spiritual atmosphere. Being with other people who are not looking for entertainment but for such a spiritual atmosphere, already gives a rare reprieve from what one usually encounters when people gather. Exchanging with other people on `spiritual' matters - I would rather say `daily life matters from a spiritual point of view' or something like that - helps to feel less cut off, for me at least.

But none of this is the Special Merit of the Spiritual Movement or the Method or the Leader. Still, many movements would claim this effect as uniquely theirs, as a proof that Their Method is effective, producing Very Spiritual People.

This is a broader tendency: many movements would claim as their `unique selling point' (you know, from marketing) what is actually a quite general phenomenon, and can be found in many different places, in or out of many spiritual movements.


For example, meditation (unlike afterlife and beforelife etc.) has a basis in science. In the past three decades say, research in the electromagnetic fields which are produced by the electric impulses in our brain has shown that meditation has a clearly detectable influence on the type of electromagnetic waves that the brain produces.

More specific, a certain increase in what is called alpha-waves, is found to accompany feelings of `bliss', deep `spiritual connection', `religious ecstasy' even [[All references are welcome. See comments]]. Other studies show that various forms of meditation can help reduce stress, anxiety, and a host of other stress-related physical ailments.

Well, good, wouldn't you say?

Yet many spiritual movements try to claim these beneficial effects as Uniquely Due to their Method. `Oh no, beware of charlatans trying to influence you with gross hypnosis. Spiritual energy must be of the Purest Form. Our Leader, who was Specially Designated, can transfer His Light onto you. In order to bring this Light to Mankind, He has enabled special Helpers around the world. They have been trained to bring you the same Pure Light during special asnahamsi meditation sessions. The technique of asnahamsi is what sets our Method apart from all other movements.'

Now we're in the temptation business. Suppose one believes this unique selling point. `I feel so wonderful during and after meditation! Therefore what the Leader says must be true. Oh, yes, this surely is the only practical Way to reach the Ultimate.' Then the guilt/fear/... part creeps in automatically: what happens if I do not follow the Leader's instructions? I might be cut off from this wonderful feeling. I'm shaming Him in his Endeavour to save Humanity, which can only be saved by Our Method of course. Etc. etc.


Many people have written about these types of pitfalls, like I said earlier I'm not sure if what I say brings anything really new or more insightful. But perhaps it will be of some benefit to someone. At the very least it helps me to analyze my experiences and my uneasiness with these experiences.

So let me continue. There is, I believe, another pitfall associated with meditation which is less frequently pointed out. And that is the following.

If meditation affects our brain, as science shows, then how do I know that all types of meditation are beneficial to all people practicing that type of meditation? Brain science is still only an emerging field, because our brains are very very intensely complex, and the cause-and-effect chains are mostly still largely uncharted territory.

For this reason, all sorts of neurological afflictions are still largely ununderstood in their working, their genesis, their treatment etc. To mention some: anxiety disorders, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, migraine, epilepsy, chronic fatigue, obsessive compulsive behaviour, well the list goes on.

So, if I start some form of meditation, what guarantee do I have that the influence of this meditation on my brain patterns is beneficial to me?

But even apart from `too much in general', brain science shows that each brain is unique and reacts in its own unique way to for instance medications, but also to other stimuli. So who is to say if a particular type of meditation is beneficial to me, especially in the long run? Because I may feel really Fine during meditation, but if after a few years I'm stuck with a splitting migraine...


In my not so humble opinion, most spiritual movements who advocate some form of meditation do not have a good checks-and-balances system to evaluate possible adverse health effects on the practicants. They may have some form of spiritual counselors, who keep an eye on things, but have these people been trained in spotting possible adverse effects? Are they even open to the idea that their particular form of meditation is not `Always Beneficial since it is under His Guidance'?

But what to do then, to avoid possible adverse effects? I still think the remedy is partly the same as in the previous post. Self-reliance. Observe your mental and physical health. If you get headaches, contemplate stopping the meditation for some time and observe the effect of this. If you get lethargic, similar. Don't blindly trust what you cannot observe for yourself. (This goes for doctors too, and taking medication. But remember that doctors have been thoroughly vetted by society in a long scientific tradition. And look how many mistakes they still make.)


Finally, it seems to me that moderation is an understated virtue. So if a Spiritual Movement consciously or subconsciously advocates a lot of meditation, and more, until a Blissful Condition has been achieved...then I start wondering. Is my brain designed for such amount of meditation, for such a quantity of alpha waves? Is my purpose in life Bliss? Is this natural, or should I simply accept that life is not Bliss?

`So many questions from the Mind...' is what a true Believer would respond. `You must feel with the Heart'...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fear & temptation, leading to spirituality or manipulation?

On rereading the last post, it seems not the most clear, coherent one so far. I apologize. Perhaps I can tie some strands together in this continued post.

It seems strange to me that many people in as recent times as the middle ages really believed in Hell, eternal Damnation etc. Did anybody ever produce incontrovertible evidence for such horrifying institutions? I don't think so. But then, what in heaven's name made people believe in this nonsense? What made them fear such an invention as `the Devil' to the extent where they were willing to burn so-called witches?

One can wonder at this, and to me (definitely no expert) it seems not unlikely that these fears and terrifying entities were part of a package deal so to say. Because the flip side of the medallion was the belief in Heaven, eternal Salvation, the frequent apparition of angels/saints, other miracles and the presence of a loving God in their lives.

And so, if you were poor and probably being exploited, with little chance of attaining any position of influence, with high mortality of your beloved ones...then religion still offered something to make life bearable. Because if you lived your hard life `piously and just', then you would gain an afterlife with the angels in Heaven. And those who exploited you would get their just comeuppance, for surely God would send them to Hell.


So, once again being brief to the point of major omission, thinking along these lines explains to me how people are led to believe in the strangest things. The belief in benevolent fairies, goblins, space aliens, gods comes together with the belief in malicious spirits, kobolds, space aliens, devils.

These beliefs help us to make our life `special'. They help us to convince ourselves that we matter, somewhere, to Someone - even when in daily life no-one seems to care. When we are Good, Someone notices and we will be Rewarded. This is the temptation part. The flip side, the fear part, is that when we are Bad, we will be Punished.


We have come some way from medieval times. Like stated before, science and the efforts of many many people have helped at least western societies to free themselves largely from the stranglehold of christianity. But a lot of this is not really so long ago. There are still many people that I've spoken to who in their youth were brought up in a very strict `fear & temptation' template, in catholic or protestant schools. The idea of `sin' has not lost its hold on society.

What is more worrisome to me (and many others) is that many modern spiritual movements (including religions) have evolved and adapted the fear & temptation mechanism, instead of getting rid of it.

Why worrisome? Well, in a way it's none of my business of course, but if I write about pitfalls of spirituality...then I feel I should mention that this age-old fear & temptation mechanism can cause a lot of mental anguish. And can cause people to be manipulated by others, and to live in shame, guilt, anxiety, performing time-consuming and tedious rituals, separating themselves from other short the opposite of what spirituality to me is about.


If I'm afraid of death (fear), I might be tempted to buy into the Grand Story of this wonderful Spiritual Leader (temptation) which tells me that my life has a Purpose, and that there is such a thing as Redemption / Liberation / Heaven / name It.

If I'm insecure what my life is about, and how I should behave (fear) then I might be tempted to buy into the Grand Story of etc.

If I'm afraid to be alone, if I'm frightened and hurt by the cruel things in my life (fear), I might be tempted etc.

The Grand Story invariably promises me the Sky (temptation). It provides solace for my grief, it gives direction to my behaviour, it brings me the company of other Believers, and it stills my fear of Death. It also provides the possibility of becoming Special, a True Saint! I, who was always insignificant both to myself and others, I can be Transformed into His tool! (One doesn't have to buy into all the options of course, I'm just mentioning some).


By buying into the Grand Story (the Absolute Truth of previous posts), in most cases I open myself up to manipulation. This I see as a real and dangerous pitfall, because usually the manipulation is subtle. The more coarse manipulations of medieval times have been exposed for what they were, we don't fall for them any more. (Well, most of us don't.).

I'm thinking along lines like:

`It takes a Master of Great Caliber to liberate a person in the course of only one lifetime. We are all caught in an endless wheel of reincarnation, having to come back on earth again and again until our soul is cleaned of all samsaric and karmatic grossness. We suffer, life after life after life, because of our desires. Our desires lead us to accumulate grossness, where our soul just longs for Reunion with the One. Only if we are fortunate enough to attract the attention of such a Master, we can shorten the cycle, and even attain the Goal within this lifetime.

These are the teachings of the Great Saint Pujashri Parakrishna Mahamsi, our beloved Adiguru. He developed a special meditation technique to aid the sincere spiritual seeker, called `asnahamsi'. The sincere spiritual seeker is instructed to try out this technique under guidance of a capable Master such as our current Guruji Shri Radhu Amfimakassar, and observe the results.

After a few months of sincere practice, a feeling of lightness, of oneness with the Divine starts to pervade. The seeker's Journey has begun. Still, the Master is necessary more and more as the Path continues. There are knots and obstacles on the path which can only be overcome with the help of One who has crossed these obstacles Himself. Complete surrender to the Guide is necessary, otherwise we become trapped by the foils of our ego. For western people, the concept of surrender can be difficult, but we assure you that the Master is only one who has mastered Himself. To develop faith, at some point we must bid the intellect farewell. It can only bring us so far, and no further. Once we develop Faith, obedience to and complete dependence on the Master becomes our second nature. Now our work is done, He will take us to the Goal.