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 sorted by relevance for query "absolute truth". Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "absolute truth". Sort by date Show all posts

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.'

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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.

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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.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Absolute truth and our own role (pitfall 2)

The way I see it, one truth which comes close to being universal is this: we like to put the blame outside of us. This goes for most any subject and situation. So blame, guilt avoidance, (in)security, these are extremely powerful human motivators. (They are seen also, by the way, in monkeys, dogs, other highly intelligent mammals).

An insight I believe to have gained is that most situations in which I find myself, have to do significantly with my own role, my own (inter)actions. Putting the blame outside of me therefore often tells only part of the story. (Don't consider this a profound statement, it's not meant that way, in fact it's very obvious).

In the case of spiritual pitfalls, it's easy for me to blame spiritual methods, movements, leaders etc. Sometimes it's interesting though to dwell a little on my own role in this.

When it comes to Absolute truths, I find that I'm looking for Truth and have been looking for it as long as I can remember. By this longing, I accepted the theory of the spiritual method I was practising as a higher truth on some level, disregarding -although not denying or forgetting- some discrepancies, especially discrepancies between theory and practice. And so I largely supported the method, actively promoted it to other people, dedicating a lot of time and attention to this promotion.

Therefore, I have come to believe that one of the most important reasons that spiritual movements and methods proclaim Absolute Truth, is that we (its practicants) want them to do so.

Absolute truth casteth out doubt and insecurity. Absolute truths of the nature

God is Good, Life is Worth Living, Death is only a Transition to a Higher State, Humanity was created for Love and Brotherhood, Suffering will make the Real You stronger and more loving, Everybody can be a Spiritual Person if they try, etc...

help us to maintain a positive outlook on ourselves, on our life with all its struggles and adversities, and on others. They help us to formulate a goal, they help us to stop worrying about whether what we do is good, correct, useful, or bad, selfish, irresponsible. All these nagging qualifications are resolved once we find Absolute Truth and Surrender to it.

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So what could possibly be wrong with Absolute Truth? Its a marvelous thing, to accomplish all the above, and who would ever NOT want Absolute Truth?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Self reliance to avoid manipulation (conscious or not)

The interested reader of this blog, who has read most posts, will see that I'm generally not of the opinion that people act out of malice. Also, I would like to repeat: the word `pitfalls' indicates that they can be avoided.

About manipulation in the sense of the previous post, I often think that it happens subconsciously. Both by the manipulator (which may be I myself too) and by the manipulated. It was already discussed to some extent in the posts on Absolute Truth and `Us and Them'.

But still, the effects can be unwanted. Of course, if you are happy and fulfilled in your Spiritual Movement, then this blog probably will only make you frown. I'm not saying you should change, that's not for me to know. This blog is written more to provide some hopefully helpful insights for those who are feeling...uneasy say, with a certain Spiritual Movement.

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So about manipulation...like most of the other pitfalls, manipulation happens everywhere, also outside spiritual movements. Manipulation starts perhaps with our childhood, when we are indoctrinated with the value systems of our surrounding people / community / society.

I'm sure that -like power & money- one could write many treatises on the subject and still not cover half of it.

One could view this blog also as some attempt at manipulation, trying to influence readers. So be it, I would not know how to avoid it as its author.

But there is a way -imnsho- that we can avoid unwanted manipulation in the spiritual field. I believe it could be called self-reliance, or keeping your own counsel, or maintaining your own spiritual responsibility.

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Still, as discussed earlier, exactly this is what many people find very difficult. We tend to look to others for our opinions and our behaviour. We are social animals, group animals, herd animals.

Nonetheless, if one is uneasy with the Absolute Truth, or with the Leader, or with money schemes, power corruption, moral pressure, group dynamics... then it seems a shame to stay on out of fear and/or temptation. Or worse manipulation.

It seems to me, that one can avoid the pitfall of fear<-->temptation-->manipulation by NOT surrendering one's own independent view, one's own experience,one's own reasoning to the Absolute Truth or to the Spiritual Leader, or to `the group'.

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If thinking for myself, relying on myself, speaking out against what I perceive to be illogical or untruthful or incorrect,...gives me uneasy feeling, then that seems to me a sure sign that there is some form of manipulation going on, conscious or not.

And then I can analyze what is behind my letting me be manipulated. Am I afraid to lose a safe haven? Am I afraid to lose my ticket to a blissful afterlife? To lose my ticket to inner peace, tranquility, purpose, my connection with God? Am I afraid to be cast out of some important group, to become lonely and ostracized?

It may all be the case, but for me, after one reaches a certain point I think one cannot deny some inner voice of truth (not absolute truth!). At least that is how it felt and feels for me personally.

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After leaving my former Spiritual Movement, I have found very little change in my spirituality (to use a phrase). For me, it is as if a veil has been lifted, showing me that what I feel and how I am is spiritual enough for me. Not that there isn't room for change or `improvement' -whatever that may be-, but this is not some Holy Duty. In fact, to be humane seems far more attractive and natural then to be a saint.

What was this Absolute Truth, other than distracting me from simply `being'?

Who was this Leader (subtly or not so subtly demanding all sorts of things from me, which I was happy to give or carry out), other than some person who Believes zealously in this Absolute Truth, and holds that I should believe it too?

Which is to some extent even understandable, but when this Leader is seen to clearly manipulate, to go against important aspects of this Absolute Truth...well, then to me it felt as simply `not right'. So now I'm back to `self-reliance'. And it feels as if a weight has been lifted, notwithstanding the fact that I also learned a lot from my previous participation in this spiritual movement.

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I feel as if many of the pitfalls that I started out with have been covered. Probably a few more posts, and then I might consider calling it a day. The purpose of this blog is a limited one, it's not my objective to analyze endlessly or to write a complete treatise.

If you feel something is still lacking, let me know in the comments section.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Universal truth, absolute truth (pitfall 2)

I apologize for not having a clearcut direction, other than the preliminary list of 15 pitfalls which formed the first post of this weblog. Although there is much more to be said on the subject of spiritual guidance, it seems time to also write about the other 14 pitfalls a bit more. So let's move on to pitfall 2: absolute truth and universal truth. As pitfall 1, it ties in with the other pitfalls in an often nicely woven pattern. This pattern can be hard to disentangle, especially if one is truly interested and willing to accept `mystic' statements of `very advanced' people. Why so hard? Well, partly out of humility I guess. How to know that what they say does not contain new valuable insight? It may not always sound very logical, but then how far did logic bring me up until now? Did logic make me happy, fulfilled?

So, if you have an open heart and mind, you might probably try out what these `very advanced' people say. After all, it takes time even to get to the point where one understands that a physician - very advanced medically one might hope- can be more clueless than yourself even in certain medical matters.

But wait a minute: a physician must study, take exams, can be brought up for malpractice, in a long-developed system of checks and balances...and even in this system there are still quite a number of not-so-excellent doctors.

Now take these `spiritually very advanced' people that practically any spiritual movement counts amongst its members. How do we know they are `spiritually advanced'? Well, now, everybody in the movement says so, so it must be true mustn't it? And look at their behaviour, so loving and dignified, and listen to their speeches, so full of wonderful words. Feel the wonderful energy flowing around them, why, the very room becomes still when they are there. Oh, and they took exams, courses, special trainings, sittings with the Master/Leader/Guru/etc and have diplomas and other credentials to go with it.

Together with the other practicants, we thus get a body of endorsement for the Theory of the Spiritual Movement.

I have yet to come across a spiritual movement which does not consider its Theory to be the Absolute Truth. Anybody questioning the absoluteness of this Truth is immediately contained in one of the following categories.

- hopeless Unbeliever: will never be recruited, waste of energy, but God is loving so one does one's best and maybe with God's Grace / Master's Grace...

- doubting Novice: very important category, lots of energy needed and worthwhile, the novice of course has questions and doubts, but through loving and attentive behaviour, the novice can be brought into the fold. Questions and doubts are to be dismissed or answered with orthodox theory, and of course the adagium: Faith, my dear fellow. The mind in in its impurity keeps on spouting doubts and questions. Develop stillness in your heart. Rely on Him, and Him alone.

- doubting Senior: difficult and dangerous category. Various strategies can be employed. The above adagium of course, plus some extra attention perhaps from the Leader...pat on the back, shoulder to cry on, nice organizational promotion? If that doesn't help it becomes more tricky. Doubting seniors cannot be allowed to openly dissent, in speech or writing, because this might cause the (doubting or not) novices to think twice about really staying with the Movement/Mission/Church/... A combination of `ignore' and `discredit' usually does the trick. Remove doubting seniors from organizational tasks as soon as possible, to show the flock that doubting is bad for your spiritual progress. Emphasize that Organizational work for the Spiritual Mission is in your spiritual interest, and that `advanced' positions in the Spiritual Organization are a sign of spiritual advancement. (Of course, for counterbalance also assure that they are not necessary for spiritual advancement, otherwise many senior members will feel bad).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Belonging & fulfillment and group dynamics

As you know, I started out with a preliminary list of 15 pitfalls. All are pitfalls that I have come across during my participation in a spiritual movement. Perhaps the most difficult thing about analyzing these pitfalls is this: they hang together. I know I made that point in an earlier post, but it strikes me again with this subject.

And there are some more pitfalls that I forgot to mention in the preliminary list. In order not to forget one important other pitfall, I mention it here, to comment on later:

16. Spiritual energy, holy energy, transformational power,...

(in Sahaj Marg for instance it is called `transmission')

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OK, back on topic: belonging and fulfillment. Belonging...I can belong to a group, but I can also belong to a way of life. I can feel fulfilled if some longing inside my heart for a loving existence is met by a spiritual way of life.

Practically all of us belong to a number of groups which are important to us. In all of these groups, I'm quite convinced, there are group mechanisms and group dynamics. And in many groups, the basics of these dynamics are very similar.

So I think that issues like belonging, fulfillment and group dynamics only turn into real pitfalls -ones we should be aware of and heed- when a group becomes over-important to us.

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Considering further, it seems to me that fulfillment is a real issue for most of us. What are we here for, what do we do with our lives, how to give our existence meaning? How to become happy or at least...fulfilled? Life doesn't seem to make much sense, people are often hard on each other, solitude and existential doubts beset us. And if that is not enough, shit happens too. Illness, accidents, bereavement, negligence or even being injured physically or emotionally on purpose by malicious persons.

And then there is self-doubt too. And guilty feelings, shame over egoism or greed or other traits and thoughts that we are well aware of in ourselves, but hesitate to share with others since these traits/thoughts/feelings are socially unacceptable.

Keeping things to ourselves, we also keep many judgments to ourselves, knowing how judgments will be received unfavourably by the judged. The flip side is that we know we are judged ourselves, but we often do not know how we are judged, favourably or unfavourably.

This leads to various important forms of insecurity. Who am I? Am I a good person? What is my standing in this group? Do I belong here? How am I supposed to behave? etc. etc. etc.

Therefore -all this in my not so humble opinion- we seek security in our emotional life. We look for groups which welcome us and give positive feedback. Which help us find a direction for our behaviour, which help us find meaning in our existence.

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This can be family. It can be the office, the people around our income activities. It can be around music, or football, other sports. It can be volunteer work. It can be around art, literature, sex even. It can also be church, a religious or a spiritual movement.

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What makes spiritual movements more susceptible to the pitfall of (overly) belonging? Of too much fulfillment?

I think it is in the nature of many of these movements to emphasize the Superior Importance of Spirituality-according-to-the-Movement. Whereas football can be a major fulfillment for many people, I have never heard even the best football-coaches say that Everybody should Believe in Football. Perhaps they still think it...but they are wise enough to see that there are other things in life beside football.

Not so with many spiritual movements. They easily proclaim that their Absolute Truth is the only worthwhile thing in life, the rest is temptation/illusion/samskara...what have you.

From here on, things can get in a self-propelling spiral. Because if their Absolute Truth is the only worthwhile thing in life, then it becomes extra fulfilling for practitioners to not waste time over other groups and activities.

`Oh no, I never go to the movies with friends. You know, my old friends, they are not spiritual people. They drink beer, and they talk about football. Let them waste their time on these foolish samskaric temptations. But I work for my Master and His Mission. He is my fulfillment, His Work is Holy and I'm proud and happy to help Him. For the benefit of Humanity, you see! My family and my ex-wife, they don't understand of course. But you know, in spirituality there is no in-between. Once you get to a certain Stage, you can only do the Right Thing, which is to obey the Master. He will take care of my worldly problems. Of course, I remain loving and open to my family and friends. Maybe one day they will see the light. But they are angry and suspicious, it is practically hopeless. I pray to my Master for them.'

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So spirituality in many spiritual movements is given this position of Overriding Importance. Overriding anything else. And joined to Absolute Morality. Since Spirituality-according-to-the-Movement is All-Important, and since certain types of behaviour are More Spiritual than others...it becomes Sin to behave otherwise. Of course, one does not need to call it sin. As a Spiritual Leader one can simply say:

`After all the Work that was done for them, on them, by the Grace of my Guru, I still find people drinking alcohol. These people are a disgrace to the Movement. They have made only token spiritual progress, by wasting the Gifts bestowed upon them from the loving Heart of my Master.'

Or:

`As an ordained official, you took the Work upon you voluntarily. How can you not work? How can you throw away this unique opportunity to help people find Absolute Truth and Liberation? Do you think holy Shri Baznakurjan ever rested? He was always working! He gave His Everything! But you complain about your family life, that your husband needs attention, and your children. But surely God will look after them, if you do God's work, isn't it? So stop these silly ego-driven excuses, because I'm sick of people wasting the Opportunity given to them by the Almighty Grace.'

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Imagine how this works, in a group where the dynamics are running along rather strong hierarchical patterns. I don't think it is exaggerated to call this type of commentary `moral pressure'.

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The feeling of belonging and fulfillment in this way easily becomes a very dangerous pitfall, I believe. Because it lulls me to comfort, to sleep, while slowly some Absolute Truth is being fed to me, while slowly some Absolute Morality is pressed on me, and while slowly I'm being convinced that other groups and other truths and other moralities are less. And later on even damaging, better to avoid, better to cut loose from these other groups and damaging influences.

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To see how subtly this works, just consider that this blog more or less does the same...! (but vice versa). A difference is perhaps that I do not hesitate to point this out. Also, although not humble, I do not consider my opinion to be absolute truth in any way. Many of these issues are too complex for me to fully grasp, I feel. Yet I cannot avoid analyzing them if I want to discuss these pitfalls. My analysis will be shortcoming in many ways, so be it. Constructive comments, which may be very critical, are therefore welcomed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ego and selflessness, selfishness and malice

Last week I've been considering the list of pitfalls that this blog started out with, and the one addition of `spiritual energy':

  1. Guidance
  2. Universal truth & absolute truth
  3. Bliss & happiness, pain & sorrow
  4. Morality & moral pressure
  5. Before & after life
  6. Wonders & miracles
  7. Money
  8. Power
  9. Belonging & fulfillment
  10. Group dynamics
  11. Us & them
  12. Woman & man
  13. Ego & selflessness
  14. Mind & heart, logic & feeling
  15. Fear & temptation/reward
  16. Spiritual energy, holy energy, transformational power,...

Almost all of these pitfalls have been addressed in the previous posts, I feel. Some probably better, sharper than others, due to natural limitations of the author. The two pitfalls that have not been explicitly addressed, I think, are:

6. Wonders & miracles
13. Ego & selflessness

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About wonders & miracles, I think I can be short. From the personal perspective, they play on my wish to believe that there is a Special Purpose to my life, and that God is giving me Special Signs. From the Spiritual Movement's perspective, wonders and miracles are very handy to boost the Absolute Truth. If something extraordinary happens (and this occurs all the time of course) which we perceive as `good', then it is a Miracle, by His Grace etc. If something extraordinary but `bad' happens, well, suddenly no-one is so hot to claim it as `by His Grace'. Suddenly, the negative Event is due to our own negative tendencies, our failure to live up to His Standard.

I mean really. Let's not waste more words on it than this: any all-powerful Entity (God, Master, Leader, Spirit,...) is by the very meaning of the word `all-powerful' completely responsible for anything that happens in all the galaxies, in Existence (if you think that galaxies aren't enough). So in calling one thing a Miracle, and to blame the other on something else than the All-Powerful,...one certainly has one's work cut out trying to explain this to an unburdened mind.

Calling some things good and other things bad reflects our own morality. To me, this shows that the human concept of Absolute Morality doesn't go well together with the concept of an all-powerful Entity. But if it helps people to accept life's harshness, if it helps them develop mildness towards others, etc. then I don't feel like criticizing too much. If on the other hand it drives them towards fundamentalism, separatedness, all the other pitfalls, well then I think some counterweight is necessary.

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A final pitfall that seems to me abundantly present in spiritual movements concerns `ego', `selflessness', `selfishness'.

Many spiritual movements claim that the `ego' is responsible for our lack of spiritual progress. And they advocate a giving up of the ego, and living a selfless life full of sacrifice for others (and often of course also for the Leader/Movement).

In my not so humble opinion it would be too easy to dismiss all of this. The reader will recall my opinion that people generally do not act out of malice. But still, it hardly bears contemplation what people do to each other in this world. I cannot even really bear to write about it in any detail. And if I could name some common denominator in people's motives for being so `wolflike' to others, then I think I might call this `blind selfishness'. And how far is `blind selfishness' from `ego'?

So to me, this examining of the `ego' as a hindrance to a more spiritual way of living is not illogical. In my personal experience, it has even helped me get a better understanding of what it is I'm looking for `spiritually'.

So once again the question becomes: where is the pitfall in denouncing the `ego'? What is possibly harmful in advocating an ego-less, self-sacrificing way of life?

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The thing is, to me, that our `ego' is a very natural part of our being. It seems completely comparable to other natural parts of our being, such as bodily parts and functions, our capability to love, to analyze, to create, to destroy, to imagine, etc.

So the classic pitfall here appears to me to be this: since the `ego' can arguably be blamed for much of the world's misery, the solution must be to do away with it altogether!

It isn't necessary I think to elaborate on the obvious fallacy of that argument. But there are other pitfalls strongly associated with this `giving up of the ego'. Like stated earlier on this blog, it is the intricate combination of many pitfalls which -imnsho- can make it difficult to understand what one is being subjected to in a given spiritual movement.

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Giving up the `ego'...for many movements goes directly against self-reliance.

`The ego has the tendency to cling to its old habits. It will influence your mind, distract you from the Path. Many sages rose to a certain spiritual level, and no further, because they were foiled by their ego. To obtain a completely pure heart, you must surrender to One who has no ego at all. Put yourself completely in His hands, give up doubt (which is an instrument of the ego), cherish Faith. How to achieve the Goal? Do not do what you want to do, but give yourself over to His Wish. Work for the Movement, the Pyramid, the Mission. By doing so, your ego will diminish. Obedience is the key, when we start obeying Him completely, our ego will no longer have control over us. Now we reach a state of blissfull Divine Remembrance.'

Likewise, the ego can be blamed conveniently for any criticism of Movement, Method and/or Leader. In this way, serious and real criticism from sincere followers is often trivialized by the inner circle of the Movement's Pyramid. `Oh, it's just her ego you know. Shame really, after all our Leader has done for her. I pray to Him that this veil may be lifted from her mind.'.

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Even more dangerous in my eyes, is the tendency to work endlessly, to the detriment of normal daily life, for the Movement's Pyramid. After all, where are the checks-and-balances? If `ego' is bad, and if friends and family are just distractions from the Goal, and if working for the Mission is a `sure way of progress'...then is it so strange that some people are blinded by this combination into becoming zealous proselytizers, organizers, `spiritual counselors', fund raisers, ... etc.?

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So, at the near-ending of this blog, it seems to me that once again moderation and self-reliance are called for to avoid these pitfalls.

To me it seems a fact of life that I will be selfish to some extent in my life. By my living, other beings will suffer and even die. Every step I take will in fact kill many many organisms. I cannot avoid this, it is Nature. Imnsho, Nature dictates that I should take care of myself to a certain extent. Perhaps I can modify this extent to the point where others are hindered only a little, that would be nice. But to me, this doesn't change my fundamental responsibility of taking sufficient care of this person who is uniquely entrusted to me, namely ... myself. Who will prevent myself from overworking, from draining my physical and mental batteries, from under- or overnourishment, from falling into pitfalls of Spiritual Movements...if I don't do it myself?

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.

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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?

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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.'

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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)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cognitive dissonance: something we all avoid

Let me begin with a quote from the wikipedia article on cognitive dissonance. This article is very informative, but I will not repeat it all, just the beginning:
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The "ideas" or "cognitions" in question may include attitudes and beliefs, the awareness of one's behavior, and facts. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.[1] Cognitive dissonance theory is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

Dissonance normally occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency among his or her cognitions. This happens when one idea implies the opposite of another. For example, a belief in animal rights could be interpreted as inconsistent with eating meat or wearing fur. Noticing the contradiction would lead to dissonance, which could be experienced as anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, embarrassment, stress, and other negative emotional states. When people's ideas are consistent with each other, they are in a state of harmony, or consonance. If cognitions are unrelated, they are categorized as irrelevant to each other and do not lead to dissonance.

A powerful cause of dissonance is an idea in conflict with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as "I am a good person" or "I made the right decision." The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one's choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would likely reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.


$$$$$$$

The reduction of cognitive dissonance is a very powerful human drive, I believe. And imnsho it very often seems to explain a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication between people.

Because, although it is often couched in scientific language, the gist of the above description of cognitive dissonance (avoidance) seems to be this:

We mold the facts that we perceive, to fit the conceptions that please us.

&&&&&&&

If like me, you have ever tried to have an open discussion with Jehovah witnesses ringing at your front door, you will understand that it is a difficult feat to accomplish. From both points of view. From the Jehovah witnesses' point of view, I am blind to the word of God, and therefore cannot see the facts clearly, such as that the Bible is the Absolute Truth. From my point of view, they are blind to the fact that the bible is a book, written by humans, and that there is no such thing as Absolute Truth.

And any discussion is not likely to bring about much change, since the giving up of either position would require such a dramatic effort to resolve the resulting cognitive dissonance...

&&&&&&&

On a more subtle level, I believe that avoidance of cognitive dissonance can play a significant part in the way I see my spiritual movement, as a practicant. This could be a (sub)conscious reason why many spiritual movements have a graded introduction to the `finer' aspects of the movement's Theory and Practice.

Because if I start out as a novice, and I am received in a loving atmosphere, by loving caring people, giving me time and attention and goodwill...and where questioning is okay, and where my `not yet fully compliant' behaviour is okay, then on a subconscious level, I might well develop the idea that this is a very ok group. Giving me lots of freedom etc.

Then, later, if my mind starts to perceive certain anomalies, it could well be that cognitive dissonance kicks in:

On the one hand, my spiritual movement is very fine, and I feel really uplifted by being connected to it.
On the other hand, something seems to be not quite right. Perhaps the Leader is focusing on money quite a lot, whereas in the beginning everybody said, no no, this is a free movement, no money required. So I ask a question, and the possible answer could be: `He is only doing it for us, you see. It is not about money, it is about teaching us to let go of our material bonds which are holding us back. Love is giving, giving to those that need us. If you give without thought, you will receive benefit thousandfold.'

So what to do? Will my mind say: `Well, it was nice this past year, but inconsistency is inconsistency, goodbye you all.' Or will it say: `OK, perhaps I am too focused on my intellect, and on my rationality. Of course, in true spirituality we share our resources. Let me step in too.'

In the second case, it would not surprise me if it continues like in the wikipedia car example. I have given money, so now I will change my belief system and perceptions to justify even more that I gave money.

$$$$$$$

Slowly, over the years perhaps, can I imagine that this would lead me to beliefs and thoughts which would have been paradoxical to me in the beginning?

Yes I can.

But why would this be a problem or a pitfall? Is this not a simple fact of life, that we learn, and thereby come to accept things which we firstly rejected?

(to be continued)

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.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Positive thinking 2: groupthink and denial

One obvious question regarding `positive thinking': Who gets to decide what is `positive'? Let's paraphrase the obscure poet from the previous post, to arrive at:

There is nothing either positive or negative, but thinking makes it so.

#####

Now, to stay with Shakespeare, suppose there is something rotten in the state of Denmark (meaning our Spiritual Movement of course). What do you think will happen? A likely scenario: someone(s) with real commitment to making things better notices that there is something important not right. This person (these persons) will try to correct the issue, but if they are not in a position of power and the issue has been caused by people higher up in the Pyramid...then their efforts will be perceived as threatening to the position of these higher-up people.

Now the person trying to ameliorate things is caught between two grindstones. The denial of the Inner Circle (=the people high up in the Pyramid) is the top grindstone, and the bottom grindstone is ... the denial of the majority of followers. Because the followers are in the Movement for `positivity'. They want to believe in the purer-than-pure heart of the Leader, they want to believe in that God has granted Special Power to the Special Personality, and that they themselves are Special because they follow Him.

The followers cling to these beliefs because it offers them escape from the pangs of life. But then when someone criticizes either the Movement, the Pyramid, or the Leader...their rosy world is threatened.

And so, an emphasis on `positive thinking' & `no criticism' most often occurs in groups where there is a strong hierarchy and a tendency of `groupthink'. By `groupthink' I mean of course the phenomenon that everyone is encouraged to say the same (`positive') things, and critical, self-reliant thought is frowned upon.

#####

From this point, how far are we away from fundamentalism, from becoming a sect? Well, this is difficult to say. Most large government organizations tend to show the same mechanisms. Last weekend, a 2003 memo from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs resurfaced in a major newspaper. In the memo, the Legal Affairs Department advises the Minister that entry in the Iraq war is most likely illegal under international law.

It turns out the memo was blocked from reaching the Minister of Foreign Affairs by the Secretary-General of the Ministry. It was deemed untimely since the Legal Affairs Department had not been asked to give a `negative' advice. But it was archived, and resurfaced now that 5 years later the Senate is asking insistent questions about the legality of the Dutch participation in the war.

So, with or without any label of sect, inside or outside of spiritual movements and religions, I dare still say that `positive thinking' can be a pitfall. `Positive thinking' can be a power tool, used by the top of a Pyramid to smother criticism.

Is this an effective strategy?

#####

Well, yes, from the Pyramid's perspective. One might think not, because almost inevitably, in the end the truth will come out. At some time, the falsities will be exposed. You can fool some people some time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.

But the word `time' is of the essence in understanding why the strategy is still effective. Because by the time things are exposed, often the ones who stand to suffer from the exposure have moved on. Or they will say: `Ok ok, so we made some mistakes, LONG AGO, but let's stop arguing about who killed who...and please don't be so negative, we must look to the future and forget the past.'

In this way I have seen so incredibly many cover-ups, even clumsy ones, succeed.

#####

The one perspective from which the `positive thinking' strategy does not succeed, in my not so humble opinion, is the spiritual perspective.

Be truthful.

I cannot imagine any spirituality without such tenet. Truthful can mean praise as well as criticism. Truth is the opposite of denial. Truth means: open to criticism.

#####

The pitiful attempts by many so-called `spiritual' movements to stall criticism, to block criticism, to deny criticism are in my eyes a sure sign that such criticism is justified.

What to think of a memo sent by a member of the Working Committee of the Shri Ram Chandra Mission (Sahaj Marg) to the organizer of an orkut webcommunity on Sahaj Marg in Iran? (See here, where you can also see how this movement's Pyramid prefers people with positions of power in the secular world.)

Paraphrasing this memo:

`Dear brother, although your community serves 1500 people, we strongly urge you to remove your community because we fear it will be the target of individuals spreading misinformation about Sahaj Marg'.

Of course, webcommunities and blogs are new instruments to create open source exchange of information and ideas. And open, non-hierarchical exchange of ideas always threatens the Pyramid.

No surprise that spiritual movements (religions included) seek ways to maintain their Absolute Truth by denouncing open exchange.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A first list of pitfalls of spirituality

In this first post, let me simply name some pitfalls of spirituality that i perceive to crop up in many spiritual efforts, movements, religions.

  1. guidance
  2. universal truth & absolute truth
  3. bliss & happiness, pain & sorrow
  4. morality & moral pressure
  5. before & after life
  6. wonders & miracles
  7. money
  8. power
  9. belonging & fulfillment
  10. group dynamics
  11. us & them
  12. woman & man
  13. ego & selflessness
  14. mind & heart, logic & feeling
  15. fear & temptation/reward

The list is not meant to be exhaustive, and I don't think that the above items are all completely separate either. It's just a working list to start from, as we go along the blog probably will evolve.

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 people...in 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 / ...you 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.
'

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.