Friday, August 1, 2008
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.
Monday, August 25, 2008
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')
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.'
`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.'
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'.
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.
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.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
So how to add something insightful to the vast literature on power? I'll try, but it won't be easy.
First question: why power can even become an issue in spiritual movements? It seems to me that in general we, the members of a group, empower people in the group to become group leaders. In my not so humble opinion we generally do not empower the people who I find the most spiritually suited for this group leading thing.
Too put it bluntly, mostly we want leaders who reduce our indecision and insecurity, who give us a sense of direction and purpose. Especially when it comes to spirituality. The previous post details some reasons for this that I see. I think most people are intelligent enough to be unsure about themselves, the purpose of their existence, the behaviour which they would like to adopt, etc.
So, once again not putting too fine a point on it: the mind is that which makes us homo sapiens (the thinking human). but the mind also makes us homo dubitans (the doubting, unsure human).
Does a dog wonder about its existence? Does it fret over whether to mate with other dog A or other dog B? Does it conceive of a before-life and afterlife? Does it fight with other dogs over whether the Great Shepherd in Dog Heaven is a german shepherd or an irish setter? I think my point is clear: dogs do not have enough mind for this, in my eyes. Mind you, I think dogs are very intelligent.
And dogs have a wonderful heart, at least in principle when not emotionally crippled by a bad owner. The dogs that I have had and known, were sensitive to my moods, would come to comfort me, would always greet me with joy, etc. etc.
All in all, with a good master, a dog's life seems simple and full of love. The dog might not be able to mate as freely as it would like, it might not always be free to roam as it would like, but all the rest is peaceful and assured, I think (I'm not a dog).
Whereas for us, with our roving and questioning and imaginative minds, life is seldom simple. We are also raised with many conflicting issues, desires, morals, etiquettes, group codes etc. And so, while many of us long for a heartful existence, where love & peace are predominant and the barking order is clear (the dog life...), this is not to be for us humans for two reasons.
First, to repeat: our own minds won't let us. When one looks at the stars, one cannot completely ignore the question `where does all this come from?' When a beloved dies from an accident, one cannot help but feel a deep grief, and the mind will most likely shout: `why did this happen? how could it have been prevented?' and on and on. Life is difficult, life is strange, and we are not intelligent enough to grasp what it is all about, but we are too intelligent to ignore the question `what is it all about?'
Second, because of our complex minds, we have formed complex societies. No simple herd model for us. So no simple role playing for us either. Our mind is constantly working to evaluate our roles in different groups, our standing in these groups, our ambitions, etc. etc.
So what does one say when one is offered a way to let the heart speak more? In my experience, most people understand very well what is meant by this. There is also a scientific basis which I would like to discuss in some next post. But the main point here is: to me it is attractive to give my heart a more prominent role in my life. In doing so, I personally feel my choices to be truer (I cannot define truth of course) and closer to where and who I want to be.
So in this sense my heart can give direction. My mind can also give direction. But this seems more complex. It seems to need more work, more attention. What if there was a way to live from the heart so to speak? And quiet the mind? No more doubts, no more hard work to think through and evaluate the possible consequences of actions, no more worries about myself, about others...
It seems an attractive proposition.
It is, I feel, largely this attraction which is behind the empowerment of `spiritual leaders'. I put my faith in this Spiritual Person, I let Him do the work of defining good and bad and moral behaviour etc. And then I try to live like that and commend myself for my spirituality in doing so. Win win. Maybe sometimes I feel guilty if I cannot live up to the high expectations that the Spiritual Leader is bound to put down. But that's all in the parcel. If the Spiritual Leader does not put down high expectations, why then my efforts are not special, and my life becomes ordinary and then I'm besieged by the same doubts as before. But if there is a real Spiritual Goal, then my life acquires a purpose. So I need the Leader to put down a Special Goal, in order to feel secure in my purpose, and I need the Leader to exert Moral Authority, in order not to have to think for myself what to do and how to behave.
And so we could come to a point where the question is asked:
Mind over heart, or heart over mind?
The duality of this question (by which I mean the assumption that the choice has to be either the one or the other) is of course ridiculous. But one would be surprised how many spiritual movements first pose this question, and then answer it by saying: heart over mind.
I will continue this thread in the next posts. But I would like to state here, beforehand, that in my not so humble opinion mankind is not helped by `heart over mind'. [OK, to be complete, I don't think `mind over heart' is completely helpful either].
We are not dogs. We will never be dogs. We will never be doglike. This is why the idea of a Spiritual Leader has to fail in real life. Even if well-intentioned, and perhaps many movements start out in this well-intended way, I don't know.
So, in my opinion please beware beware of any movement/leader saying `heart over mind'. It is a first step in what I see as a complex power pitfall. No matter if well-intended.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
To answer this question -even though most questions are probably more interesting without clearcut answers- let me start out as follows. Absolute Truth is one of the classic areas where subjective and objective conflict. Or, from a different perspective, where heart and mind conflict.
One could think this is fairly obvious, just by looking at people all around. Because there are clearly very different Absolute Truths, all depending on who is allowed to define Truth.
Why do religions divide humanity? Why have more wars been fought over religious issues than over any other issue? It is because of the belief that one's own Truth is The Absolute Truth. Therefore people disagreeing are sadly blinded, misguided, and need help (or in case of serious religious warfare: are beyond help and need forceful conversion or destruction even).
If my Truth is The Absolute Truth, giving me direction, purpose, love, redemption, guilt absolution, death solution...then what happens if someone holds a different Absolute Truth?
Well, My Absolute Truth is threatened, that's what happens. Because by its very nature, Absolute Truth does not allow two different versions. So all of a sudden, just the fact that someone holds a different Absolute Truth, threatens the direction, security, purpose, love, etc. that I so carefully built up for myself. Therefore the least I must do, is deny the truthfulness of this other person's Absolute Truth.
`No, no, the christians are right to believe in only one God, but they have some fundamental things wrong.'
`Religions are the kindergarten of spirituality. But one should not stay in kindergarten.'
`There are many gurus, of different caliber. They can roughly be classified according to their level of approach. But only our system offers a Guru of the Highest Caliber, who through awakening of the spiritual Self can bring the aspirant to His own level, if the aspirant is willing to sincerely practise the Method under His direction.'
`I'm telling you, outside of our movement, the world is depraved and clueless and misguided. I have seen brothers and sisters leaving our Mission, and fall back into grossness and immoral behaviour, but still He loves them and tries to bring them back, even through subtle suggestion on the cosmic level.'
In this way, Absolute Truth leads to the other pitfall: us and them. And the very thing we started out with, this longing in our heart to have humanity united, to hold all human beings equal and undivided in a spiritual sense, this which was part of our Truth, has now come strangely around to bite us in the tail. Because Absolute Truth divides.
So who would not want Absolute Truth?
All those, and thank heavens they are still numberful, who strive for united humanity more than for religious redemption. Wasn't there a Dutch bishop lately who said, well if it makes people less divided then why don't we all pray to Allah, I'm sure God won't mind or something similar. I thought it was wonderful.
Perhaps it is illuminating to reveal my own part in this Truth thing a bit more. In hindsight I believe I was emotionally susceptible to the idea of Absolute Truth when I started out with the `spiritual method' Sahaj Marg. Feeling good after meditation, feeling heart connection to both the guru and other practitioners, learning about my self and my spiritual longing and having a path to follow, made me believe that my heart feeling should determine what my mind should accept.
But, the interesting thing about the mind is this. One cannot ignore the mind completely -even though looking around, you might believe others succeed at just that... And so, humanity has moved on from the littlebitsmart animal status to the littlebitmoresmart animal status, even though it took us millions of years to do so. In the past ten thousand years, mankind has freed itself slowly but surely of superstitious fears which were really dragging us down, really hampering us.
What was our main instrument in doing so? The heart or the mind?
You see, even though I no longer believe in Absolute Truth, I do believe that there is something quite fishy when someone tries to convince me that one plus one equals three. Looking through history, it seems to me that the mind is at least as valuable a truth instrument as the heart. How did we get rid of the stranglehold of christianity on our western society? Well, with all due respect to others, I think Copernicus, Galilei, Darwin, and many other scientists also contributed quite a lot. In the face of their simple evidence, the christian church was robbed of much of its Absolute Truths. And then this mechanism came into play: you can fool some people some time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.
So for me personally, there were too many things not adding up in the Wonderful Theory of my beautiful method. Instead of acknowledging this not-adding up (nothing completely adds up, reality simply isn't that simple, I think), people tried to deny or ignore these issues. Add to this the (to me) appalling lack of self-reflection in the behaviour of `senior officials' who are supposed to be enlightened practitioners, and the increasing number of contradictions between Theory and the day to day management practices of the Management / Guide, and you will understand that it was my heart which one day simply had enough.
I suddenly both knew and felt that my Truth lies elsewhere. Not with the Absolute Truth of some Movement, but simply, mostly wordlessly, within my own heart and mind. And not theoretically, but more practically, feelingly and open to change. Open to you, I hope.
And then I realized the clou of the statement `the truth will set you free' from this new perspective, which was like a mathematical insight gleaned from a nice geometrical drawing.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
In January, I realized there were still some things left to discuss, so after some hesitation I started posting again. And now I find myself yet again at the point of closure: the relevant issues have been discussed enough.
So first: thank you, all commentators who provided me with feedback and suggestions, and thereby with inspiration to continue.
Then let me simply repeat my earlier closing remarks, putting them at the top of this blog where they belong.
####### (Repeated from September:)
The best way to read this blog (I think) is to start out at the oldest post and click on `newer post' (at the bottom of the post) each time. This might take some time though, I have no idea how much pages of a regular book these posts would fill.
Notwithstanding the pitfalls discussed here, I've had many positive experiences with regard to spirituality, and also with regard to practising a spiritual method. In my life I've been privileged to have met many kind, loving, wonderful people from whom I have learned a great deal about what spirituality means to me. Many of these people have given me what cannot be expressed in words, without second thought or reserve, out of what to me seems true and inspiring altruism. Thank you all.
It might seem negatively balanced also to only talk about pitfalls of spirituality, but I really do not feel that I can add significantly to the many beautiful texts on positive aspects of spirituality existing already. (My personal attitude is to read beyond certain often-occurring pitfalls to find what is to me the real meaning in a spiritual text.)
Non-absolute, non-divisive, individualized spirituality to me seems necessary to bring about what I would call a better world. A world free of exploitation. A world where children are safe, and can grow up playfully. Where `war' and `poverty' are strange concepts from long-forgotten times. Where humans are the custodians of nature. Where human and animal rights are respected. Where difference of opinion goes together with a friendly helping attitude. Etc. You might say: `dream on'...and I would reply (I think) with John Lennon's song Imagine:
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
This better world is far more important to me and probably you (why else would you be reading this blog?) than most other things. Including of course this blog, which is as personal as it is imperfect. Let's put aside our differences and combine our efforts to make this world a better place.
Monday, November 29, 2010
It is quite lengthy for a web article, but I will reproduce it in 3 parts. (Kind permission is granted by Energygrid)
Part one: So you want to be a spiritual teacher
Part two: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachers
Part three: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachings
[This post is part three.]
Spiritual Marketing Techniques
An examination of methods used to market spiritual teachers and teachings. Whether you are an authentic spiritual teacher or just playing the guru-game, there is good money to be made in active spiritual marketing.[Part three:]
Techniques for Promoting Spiritual Teachings
The other focus of spiritual marketing is on the teachings themselves. Here are a few of the characteristics of successful teachings (again, these are difficult to separate from the above so there is a certain amount of overlap):
- Conceptual Spiritual Path: This is the number one rule in successful marketing of any spiritual teaching: present it in such a way that your customers can bring along their minds and their egos on the spiritual journey. This allows them to maintain the illusion of control, so that their concepts of a spiritual person can be acted out. Any system that encourages the development of the spiritual ego is going to be very popular, because it maintains the psychological status quo by not challenging the ego. (Ironically, such ego-centric systems are increasingly being presented as ego-dropping systems so that we egotistically learn to simulate being ego-less. Brilliant marketing!) Ego-centric spiritual teachings are very popular in a modern, ego-obsessed society. They usually involve a story about the world and our place in it, giving us a purpose and a special significance, and has the benefit of triggering attachment to both teacher and teachings, which of course leads to dependency.
- Promises Immortality: Death is a big fear for most people so any system of spirituality that promotes some kind of immortality (even if it is just the immortality of the soul) is going to be attractive to potential customers. Most people fear death for obvious reasons, so you must ideally not only allay their fears but adequately describe how they will continue after death — give them a road-map into the unknown. There are even some spiritual teachings that promise physical immortality, but this is more difficult to justify over time, but in the short term can be a very lucrative approach.
- Focuses on the Teacher: Okay, so you have nothing original to teach, but at least you yourself are original. So if your teaching keeps pointing back to the teacher as a key component in the awakening process (perhaps by direct transmission) then you end up with a unique product, one that customers do not feel that they can get anywhere else. So, in effect, by putting yourself squarely in the centre of your teaching, you end up with a monopoly on a unique product.
- Teachings Offer Certainty: In a world which presents uncertainty around every corner any belief system that offers certainty is naturally going to be very popular. This goes hand in hand with conceptualisation (without conceptualisation there can be no certainty). The certainty that is promoted can even extend to the future in prophecy and prediction. The more areas of mystery conceptually expelled from people's lives, the less fearful they feel and the more attached they will become to you and your teachings.
- A Promise of Bliss, Health and Happiness: Most like to believe that the final destination of the spiritual path is a state of eternal bliss, perfect health and sublime happiness — enlightenment. This means that there is a huge payback for following the spiritual path, which can be a strong motivating factor. After all, many people start following the spiritual path when they become disillusioned and unhappy with normal life. Maybe they are unwell or maybe they have been through traumatic experiences.
- Special/Secret Teachings and Techniques: Try to associate yourself with a special type of teaching or meditation/fantasy technique that is kept secret (like any trade secret) and then convince your students that they will only find awakening if they follow these particular teachings/techniques. This locks them in to you very strongly. The increasing problem with this is that, with the internet, nothing remains secret for long, so you are advised to also use some concept of "direct transmission" so that the teachings/techniques are only "activated" if given personally by the teacher or appointed student, not just "stolen" from the internet. You can also claim that each student needs a unique revelation and so stolen secrets are meaningless.
- Promotes emotional expression: Modern society can be very rigid in how it allows individuals to express certain emotions, more specifically sexual emotions and loving emotions. So any teaching (or community based on particular teachings) that encourages free emotional expression can be very attractive and freeing. This can be a strong component of hijacking feel-good techniques (see "i" below). But be careful if you do this to make sure that if free sexual expression is practiced, for example, that safety measure are also taken. After all, the spread of STD's through an organisation is not good publicity for it!
- Strict Codes of Conduct: People love to be told what to do. In fact, the impulse for bondage is stronger in most people than the impulse to freedom. So having a strict codes of conduct and attire can be very attractive to many people. This may seem contradictory to g) above but they actually go hand in hand. After all, the excitement of free sexual expression is actually the excitement of letting go to (being controlled by) bliss and ecstasy. Having strict rules also also fits in with the spiritual ego that wants a formula to do everything right.
- Copyrighted and Trademarked Issues: Even if what you teach is not unique, you can call it a special name and then copyright/trademark that name. This way you end up being able to own and control the teachings that that name represents. Copyright must be added subtly: too in-your-face and you won't look spiritual. And if you are ever questioned about copyright and trademark you can just blame it on your organisation so that it looks like the master wasn't the one with the attachment. Another successful approach if you are questioned about the legal restrictions you have placed on your teachings is to claim that you are only trying to protect them from being bastardised by a third party.
- Teachings have Material Outcomes: This can be a good customer puller because it means that those who follow them will find many of their material needs and wants met (including physical health issues). So rather than spiritual awakening being seen as a subtraction of what is not real, it is seen as an addition to our powers, potentials, wholeness and bank balance. This is attractive to customers egos and also justifies any opulence that the teacher may have relative to his customers. (Quantum physics is often used to justify this position.)
- Hijack Feel-Good Techniques: Most of the more successful systems of teaching will hijack tried and tested feel-good techniques such as meditation, mantras, relaxation, dance, tantra, fasting and breath control to make customers get associate a feel-good fix with you and your teachings. The key is to control the inner process enough for that feel-good fix, but not let customers get carried away with inner focus so that they awaken and leave you. (This should ideally be coupled with copyrighting/trademarking the feel-good technique if you can.)
- Testimonials for Teachings: Spiritual marketing is like any other kind of marketing, you need testimonials and case-studies for the media to promote a particular spiritual teaching and teacher. Fortunately, with the rise of social networking, this often happens spontaneously. For book covers, publishers will often get endorsements for a teacher from their other clients, making sure that even the dullest of spiritual manuals has rave reviews from someone other than the author who is also regarded as a teacher.
- Make Teachings Self-Validating: By making the sublime value of the teachings part of the teachings themselves, you help to validate them in your customers' eyes, especially if they are in their heads. It is important to describe your own teachings in the very highest terminology, and make it clear that anyone who does not understand this is just "not ready" for them yet. This goes hand in hand with marketing yourself as the very highest spiritual master.
- Present the Teachings Sequentially: Don't give it all away in one go — there is less money in that. Instead, spread out the teachings in a series of courses that goes from beginner all the way through to advanced, a journey that might take a number of years to complete. That way your students remain your students for the whole duration as many on the spiritual path believe that the journey to enlightenment is a long and arduous one. And by the time your students have "graduated" they will have invested so much time, money and effort with your system that they are unlikely to quit due to both their investment (the so called sunk-cost fallacy) and the fact that their spiritual ego will be reinforced by feelings of achievement. And you should also tweak it so that when your students reach the final hurdle, you let them know that they still need just a tad more direct transmission to lift them into enlightenment, so they still need to stick around.
- Give a Pseudo-Scientific Justification: Link your teachings with modern physics as it really does increase credibility of what you are saying to anyone who is not scientific literate (which is most people). And remember that those who are scientifically literate are less likely to be seeking "spirit" anyway. So you are relatively safe. Key terms to use in your teaching are: "quantum", "relativity", "scalar waves", "quantum entanglement", "Bell's Theorem" and "photons". And you might constantly allude to the fact that what you are saying has been "proved" by quantum physics. (Nobody is likely to have any real understanding of quantum physics to challenge what you are saying.)
- Exotic and Foreign Words and Phrases: Students are always more impressed with teachings that are sprinkled with foreign words and phrases. For example, rather than vaguely speaking about the consequences of actions, use the word "karma", and instead of describing the world as illusion, use the terminology "maya", and so on. This makes your students really believe you know what you are talking about as you will sound very impressive, and using ancient terminology like this helps to strongly validate your teachings by throwing the whole weight of an exotic religious tradition behind them. And as the student learns this spiritual vocabulary, she will feel that she is becoming increasingly spiritual herself. This also serves to link groups together by having an "insider" vocabulary and phraseology. (This is similarly to the name-change technique used by both teachers and students to reflect their new spiritual selves or egos.)
- Associate Teachings with Exotic Places: As mentioned above, offering holiday and Mecca-type retreats in exotic places not only gives you an opportunity to make more money than local retreats, but whatever you teach is far more likely to be cherished because customers outside the confines of their everyday lives tend to be much more relaxed and focused. Your teachings also get to be associated with feel-good "holiday" vibes, not to mention the fact that you will get a free holiday out of it.
* * *
The above is not meant to be an exhaustive list of methods, but rather an outline of some of the main ways that you can successfully market yourself as a spiritual teacher. What is important to stress is that the use of any combination of these methods does not necessarily indicate the value or authenticity of you and your teachings. After all, even an inauthentic teachers hiding behind slick marketing can be useful for some people at some point in their spiritual awakening (if only just to learn not to be so gullible).
However, although both authentic and inauthentic teachers have successfully used many of the above marketing strategies, the type of teacher you are and the type of teachings you teach will determine the emphasis you need to put on the different methods of spiritual marketing.
As a general rule, the more authentic you are as a spiritual teacher, the more you have a tendency to be putting yourself out of a job, which is not good business practice. Authentic spirituality is non-conceptual, and this presents a serious dilemma for spiritual marketing for most of what attracts people is conceptual. Therefore, most authentic teachers strike a balance between marketing and non-conceptual teaching, so that there is enough conceptualisation to hook people (the more you hook the more people you can potentially help), but not too much so that conceptualisation is badly interfering with the awakening process. Inauthentic teachers, on the other hand, let rip with the above marketing methods, hiding their ineptitude behind concepts and dogma.
So whatever type of teacher you are, spiritual marketing can really help you succeed, increasing both your customer base and your income. I wish you every success. Namaste
Sunday, November 1, 2009
2) How can the avoidance of cognitive dissonance lead to communication problems between followers of a spiritual movement and non-followers?
3) How, personally, can one recognize one's own avoidance of cognitive dissonance, and how that of others? And how to deal with it?
So with regard to question 2, I think it is relevant to note that the body-of-thoughts-and-beliefs of dedicated followers of a particular spiritual movement is often quite different than the body-of-thoughts-and-beliefs of non-followers. And like I said in the previous post, for both sides the problem in communication can lie in the fact that what is logical to the one, is contradictory to the other.
If we forget about most established religions for a moment -in most established religions, children are brought up in the religion also-, then strikingly, many followers of newer spiritual movements joined their movement later in life, most likely as an adult, after having first experienced an existence as `normal' non-follower of that movement. Often it is precisely some more-or-less articulated disappointment with that `normal' society which brings them to try out participation in their spiritual movement.
This `disappointment' can well be formulated in terms like `spiritual longing', for reasons explained in the previous post. As opposed to the `normal' materialistic or ritualistic/orthodox approaches to life.
However, most non-followers have not experienced an existence as follower. To me it often seems that they underestimate the benefits of following, and they overestimate the `normal' society -in which we have human neglect, abuse, violence, depravity, isolation, greed, power hunger etc... thankfully with many exceptions, but still dominant enough to shape the world in a seldom peaceful and respectful way. Is it surprising that many followers of a spiritual movement often dismiss the arguments against following from non-followers? It is in a sense less surprising, I believe, than that many non-followers often dismiss the arguments fór following from followers...;-)
There is however an interesting group of non-followers whose arguments cannot be so easily dismissed by followers: the former followers, especially those who participated for quite some time. People who know the Movement well, who know the Theory, the Practice, the Pyramid, the Inner Circle and the Leader. And who of course also know quite some followers on a personal basis. Probably or possibly there are some other non-followers who are well-informed, well-experienced, and well-connected to followers. For brevity's sake consider them included when the term `former followers' is used.
So, it is my personal experience that it is easier for followers to completely avoid talking with me about most things related to the Movement (in my case Sahaj Marg), but especially on the subject of why I decided to stop with it.
Although surprising to me, and initially not pleasant, I found this blanket of silence illuminating. I now think that followers whom I really care for, and who vice versa care for me, see no other way to reconcile the different positions than by adapting the position that I'm an OK person, but am deluded by the foils of my ego. They find it painful to be confronted by the use of my inside knowledge to bring out the discrepancies between the Theory of the Movement and the daily state of affairs. My bringing out the discrepancies causes them to experience cognitive dissonance, precisely because what I have to say in that respect makes too much sense to be easily dismissed.
And so I have learned to see this silence as a sign of their caring for me, which I appreciate. Still, I would of course like more to be able to discuss things out in the open. Perhaps I would learn about my own ego foils then too - no doubt they exist, and are seen sharply by the people who know me best.
This gives us a straight lead to question 3: How, personally, can one recognize one's own avoidance of cognitive dissonance, and how that of others? And how to deal with it?
Once again I have to say that I do not know anything even close to a complete answer to this question. To recognize my own avoidance of cognitive dissonance, I think both the heart-approach and the mind-approach which I mentioned at the closing of this previous post might sometimes be helpful:
Heart-approach: I think part of the answer lies in `unease'. If I'm experiencing some form of unease for a prolonged period of time, then this could well be an indication that I'm avoiding some insights and some conclusions which would force me to change my belief system. (Accepting this unease for a prolonged period of time might well lead me to a serious form of self-delusion, I believe).
Mind-approach: `face the facts'. Making a factual list of the important issues, I might be able to pierce through the cognitive dissonance avoidance mechanism.
(For me it sometimes helps to make an alternative fact list. By this I mean a list of alternatives to what I perceive as problematic. For example: what if there were more recognized Guides in the Movement, instead of just one Leader? So that a Guide would be truly accessible for all seekers, and there would be far less personal idolatry etc. OK, if this seems better, then why isn't it like that in the Movement? Does not the Theory state that everyone can become a Master, and that the Method is simple and efficacious....so why aren't there more Masters, after all these years?...)
Recognizing the avoidance of cognitive dissonance in others seems so much easier ;-). I recently came across a really funny postcard stating:
Be reasonable...do it my way!
It made me laugh because of its utter simple and yet accurate description of what I consider to be at the root of most of our world's problems.
However, if I think to be wise enough to spot cognitive dissonance avoidance in someone else, perhaps this can help me in changing my strategy for communicating with that other person. Perhaps I might consider finding some other level of communicating than that of rational argumentation. Or perhaps I might just switch to asking some neutral-in-tone questions, not meant per se to convince but more to illustrate my own position. Or perhaps I might want to discuss only simple facts, which can be easily recognized for what they are.
Or, a different strategy which I fear is the most common: avoid the subject altogether...which is however not usually my initial style with people whom I really care for. Still, in my eyes it seldom helps to harden positions and go into verbal battlemode. Changing belief systems is a slow process, at least for me, so probably for others too. Why not give ourselves and each other time?
The above also describes what Marc Galanter calls `boundary issues' (if I remember correctly). Many spiritual movements consider themselves separate from `normal' society in some way (also see the posts on the pitfall Us and Them).
To give an interesting example: in Sahaj Marg participants are encouraged to know all people as thy brethren and treat them as such. This no doubt has helped bring about that participants are used to start talks with words like `dear brothers and sisters'. But also, unconsciously, to bring about that the words `brother(s)' and `sister(s)' are often being used exclusively to indicate other Sahaj Marg participants like in the sentence: `our brothers and sisters in the United States are all very happy that Master is coming to visit'.
Now, to me it seems obviously impossible that all the people in the United States are happy that the Master of Sahaj Marg is coming to visit. So the statement can only be read as to imply that `brothers' and `sisters' are particularly those USA residents who also practice Sahaj Marg. So Sahaj Marg promotes a family feeling among participants (also quite explicitly in speeches and texts), but thereby excluding the rest of humanity, in direct contradiction with their own maxim 6: `Know all people as thy brethren and treat them as such.' In other words: not uniting humanity as is their stated intention, but dividing it. And being blind to the division, I would wager, because it is not out of malice or lack of empathy or lack of concern for others.
This forming of some kind of `family feeling' is very common in spiritual movements, religious groups included. What Marc Galanter describes as boundary issues, concerns the interaction between that `family' and the rest of society.
This will be the focus of the next post, to be continued therefore. Still, I feel that there is not longer much more for me to say on this subject, so maybe one or two posts and then I will be done with it.
Monday, September 22, 2008
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.'
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
But there is at least one division which the vast majority of spiritual movements seem to underline, reinforce, advocate: the division between men and women.
For some reason, we seem really hooked to the idea that men and women are completely different in some fundamental spiritual way. The (physical) difference in reproductive organs seems to lead to some non-physical `spiritual' difference, even though we are summoned to see other physical differences -such as length, weight, skin colour, etc - as trivial in the spiritual sense. Even large cultural & age differences are seen as outer wrappings, not significant at all in the spiritual sense. But gender, boy, girl, that really makes us sweat.
This leads to the amazing conclusion that for most spiritual movements I have far more in common with an 81 yrs old Mbuti man [the Bambuti are hunter-gatherers from Congo], than with my wife who has the same age as me, who has lived in the same country as me, etc.
This perceived fundamental difference historically has translated into many discriminatory situations, where mostly men put themselves in position of religious power, and then dictate some version of sexual morality. Women are mostly banned from these positions of power, and this banishment is justified by variations on the claim that since men and women are so spiritually different, only men have the necessary spiritual make-up for these positions.
To me it seems a spiritual pitfall which branches out from sexuality to morality, from `woman & man' to `us & them' and ultimately to power. This is a complex issue, and I imagine it will take me several posts to only skim the surface. One thing that I would like to say in advance is that sexuality is some kind of hot potato in most spiritual movements and religions, and I believe this to be intimately linked to power and control issues. Ultimately I see this as the reason why homosexuality is considered such a threat (`unnatural', `against the wish of God', etc.) by many spiritual movements.
In subsequent posts I will therefore turn to scientific knowledge about homosexuality, to show why the above positions of spiritual movements on homosexuality are comparable to the 17th century position of the christian church on the question whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa.
Two weeks ago I saw the documentary `Jerusalem is proud to present', and tears sprang in my eyes to see the active violence and death threats against gay people by fundamental religious movements. A short description from the website of the uk jewish film festival:
Last summer  Jerusalem was due to host the annual World Pride celebrations and gay pride parade, unprecedented in the city’s history. This hair-raising documentary captures the homophobic hate campaign launched by fundamentalist religious groups. Death threats pour into the Open House, Jerusalem’s LGBT community center, while in the Jerusalem City Council arguments for equality from its only openly gay member are met with verbal abuse, and a mayor so disinterested in democracy he simply leaves the room.
Orthodox Jews riot in the streets, their chief Rabbi apparently sanctioning violence to stop the ‘defilement’ of the holy city (interviewees include a gay rights activist stabbed during a previous march). The escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict further impedes World Pride preparations, and the eventual compromise was controversial among the gay community. Gilady’s film is nevertheless an important record of bravery in an environment where the only thing uniting some Jewish, Christian and Arab leaders is their hatred for gay people.
This `woman & man' thread will be continued over the next posts. But let me state again, if one purpose of spirituality is to unite humanity, then it will not do for a spiritual movement to make such distinctions between men and women and anyone in between, and between heterosexuals and homosexuals and anyone in between...
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Why do we do what we do? What drives us, what are our motives?
In my not so humble opinion, we all build up a sort of `belief system' in the course of our life. A part of this belief system may come to us through our family, another part through other groups that we are part of for some time, and maybe we have some individual say in what we believe in too. Our experiences are bound to play some role in the whole thing too.
I don't think that what we do derives 100% from this belief system. I would even go so far as to think that quite a bit of our belief system comes from what we are used to doing. In other words, we are creatures of instinct and habit, and it seems likely to me that we choose what to believe in at least partly also to accommodate these instincts and habits.
In spirituality, it seems to me that what we believe in also accommodates our longing for a better world (whatever `better' may be). And assuages our fear of dying, our fear of senselessness, our fear of the unknown, our fear of being insignificant pawns in a cruel grand scheme of things.
One can only blame our (limited) human intelligence for these fears and questions. As far as I know, there are no other animals who pray, meditate, or practice some other form of spirituality / religion. I feel that we need certain beliefs, in order to maintain a positive outlook on our existence. Without certain safeguards, our positive outlook on our existence might be vanquished by fears, doubts, traumatic experiences, and rational questions.
Religions and religious practices have -I believe- evolved with humanity's growing understanding of the world in which we find ourselves. But still in essence they can be characterized as driven by a combination of `fear' and `temptation'.
Where our early ancestors were terrified of thunder and lightning, they invented appropriate gods. By making these gods rather human, one could pray to them, barter with them, appease them with a suitable sacrifice. In this way, `primitive' religion reduced anxiety, gave direction, and offered the temptation of an afterlife in the form of `everlasting hunting grounds' or similar stuff. [I'm skipping over the more subtle aspects, I know. It's not my objective here to be complete, sorry.]
Somewhere in our history however, I speculate, the idea of several very humanlike gods running around somewhere close -yet never really tangibly, provably- became obsolete. It simply made no sense, actually, if one applied some science and scepsis and a lot of free thinking. So what were the romans supposed to do, for instance, when confronted with monotheistic religions like judaism and christianity?
The idea of one, mysterious, unknowable, all-powerful god or divine force or ...(whatever these concept may mean) is harder for the intellect to dismiss. Not in the least because our intellect has never given a satisfactory rational answer to our existential questions either.
Many people claim to feel the presence of something/someone divine. This `divine' experience strengthens them in their spiritual belief system - quite logically I would say, although to me the qualification `divine' cannot be rational (more on this later). But the belief in rationality as the `best' or `most objective' way of understanding the world, is also just a belief, I believe ;-).
In this whole fabric of belief systems, this post is about fear & temptation as a pitfall. For fear & temptation to become a pitfall, they must be hampering me in how I want to be, how I want to live, to love, to give,...something like that.
Since [imnsho of course] I do have personal experience with fear and temptation hampering me, in a spiritual way, I feel it might be of benefit to write some analysis on this blog.
[to be continued]
Monday, August 18, 2008
The implications of such condemnation by a spiritual `leader' are manifold. I will probably not go into all of them.
But the first thing that strikes me is that, coming from a Moral Authority, such condemnation divides humanity once again. We already had men vs. women, now we have also heterosexuals vs. homosexuals.
The second thing that strikes me is the word `unnatural'. Here obviously this spiritual guide (and many like him) knows very little about nature. I cite wikipedia (article on homosexuality here, article on sexual orientation here):
Homosexual behavior in animals
Homosexual sexual behavior occurs in the animal kingdom, especially in social species, particularly in marine birds and mammals, monkeys, and the great apes. Homosexual behavior has been observed among 1,500 species, and in 500 of those it is well documented.. This discovery constitutes a major argument against those calling into question the biological legitimacy or naturalness of homosexuality, or those regarding it as a meditated social decision. For example, male penguin couples have been documented to mate for life, build nests together, and to use a stone as a surrogate egg in nesting and brooding. In a well-publicized story from 2004, the Central Park Zoo in the United States replaced one male couple's stone with a fertile egg, which the couple then raised as their own offspring.
The genetic basis of animal homosexuality has been studied in the fly Drosophila melanogaster. Here, multiple genes have been identified that can cause homosexual courtship and mating. These genes are thought to control behavior through pheromones as well as altering the structure of the animal's brains. These studies have also investigated the influence of environment on the likelihood of flies displaying homosexual behavior.
Georgetown University professor Janet Mann has specifically theorized that homosexual behavior, at least in dolphins, is an evolutionary advantage that minimizes intraspecies aggression, especially among males. Studies indicating prenatal homosexuality in certain animal species have had social and political implications surrounding the gay rights debate.
Almost all forms of human behaviour are seen in other animals as well. Nature is vast and complex. Who of us can really divine (this word is not a coincidence, you understand) what Nature is about?
But I can rather safely say that one does not see animals praying, or meditating under the guidance of a guru of the same species (please let me know if you spot something like this in Nature, outside of humanity). Therefore we can safely conclude that it is quite unnatural to meditate and to pray...
Also, egoless behaviour is seen in primitive to very primitive animals, but in higher mammals it doesn't normally, naturally occur. How about non-agression, altruistic love, non-powerhungry social behaviour?
I think we can safely conclude that most of the behaviour that spiritual movements advocate as spiritual, advanced etc. is quite un-Natural. Does this make a more united humanity, a more loving humanity, a peaceful humanity... undesirable?
`No no, it is unnatural you see, and against the wish of God. If God would have wanted a peaceful humanity, He would not have created us so aggressive.'
(Truth is, most great apes are far less aggressive than we humans. Very few mammals fight so violently amongst their own species as we do.)
So, as usual, science comes to the rescue when medieval bias and unfounded popular beliefs and attitudes threaten some minority (or weaker part) of the population. No, dear Spiritual Leader, women are not spiritually different, and a woman can be as good a spiritual guide as a man. No, dear Spiritual Leader, homosexuality is not unnatural, and the sun does not revolve around the earth.
The (pre)medieval idea that the sun revolves around the earth is a good example of not being able to look beyond one's own nose. Galilei was -I'm not joking- persecuted by the roman catholic church for stating that the earth turns around the sun. Why did the catholic church consider this a dangerous idea? Because the bible stated otherwise. And surely, since humanity was so important to God, everything in creation revolves around us?
In fact, if we look at the truly mindstaggering number of stars and the incomprehensible dimensions of our universe alone, I think the greatest arrogance is to assume humanity is even anything close to important in the Grand Scheme of Things.
So for someone to state that something is against God's wish...he or she has to think that they have some Special Connection to God, or am I mistaken? Is it a humble statement? Not that I take strongly against arrogance, I consider it a lot better than false humility. But spiritual movements often preach humility as a spiritual value, a desirable character trait. And they often claim that their Great Leader is so humble, a shining example to all.
`No no, you see, my Master is the most humble person I ever met. It is true that in His books He claims He is the Special Personality, sent down to help Humanity. But His Divine Grace shines through in every word. And of course He avoids to write directly that He is the Special Personality, He only infers it, out of humility.'
Humility? A truly humble person would - in my not so humble opinion- never agree to be a Great Leader, Guru, Guide, Special Personality, Master, Pope, whatever. She or he would never claim to know God's wishes. She or he would probably not feel unhumble enough to judge someone's sexual orientation either.
That being said, I cannot even imagine the pain that homosexual followers of some spiritual movement or religion must feel when once again their sexual orientation is under moral siege by the Great Leader.
Does this loving Special Personality even stop to consider this pain? Or is it irrelevant, since by Special Divine Communication, God has spoken out to the Great Leader on this subject?
Sunday, July 27, 2008
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.
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?
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I agree. So perhaps it is good to repeat that the word `pitfall' is meant traditionally, in the sense that one can fall into it, but one can also avoid it. I also would like to repeat that I have seen many people following some spiritual movement, who lead their lives in what to me seems a very spiritual way.
In addition I feel I have also enjoyed benefit from my 12-yr association with a spiritual movement. Beforehand I had a vague idea of how I wanted to be a spiritual person, now my thoughts and feelings on `being' seem much clearer, and in this direction it gives some peace and acceptance inside.
Another benefit which I always felt clearly is the meeting of other people who are interested in a spiritual way of life (whatever that may mean). Now that I've stopped participating in that particular movement, I find much less opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences around (practical) spirituality, with others. And another drawback: a number of good friends I see far less than before, because we used to see a lot of each other at spiritual gatherings (biweekly group meditations and seminars). Since agenda's are usually full, in retrospect I see that these gatherings tend to work positively on people having time and a secure setting to exchange `real' issues.
Where in the secular world can one find a trusted place to regularly exchange deeper feelings, problems, suggestions about daily life in a spiritual light, with well-meaning heart-oriented people?
So if you would ask me, I would have to admit that I miss certain people, I miss some of the special aspects -like inner quietness, tranquil social being together, interested timeless exchanges- of especially the smaller spiritual gatherings.
In a way, I think, belonging to a spiritual movement (including religions) resembles belonging to a family. And if one is a beloved cherished member of a family, well then it is easier to experience fulfillment in one's life. Is my estimate, based on our gregarious nature. But it is also my personal experience. Having stopped `belonging' makes it harder for me to experience a sense of contributing to a more spiritual humanity, for instance. Having stopped `belonging' makes me feel less connected to certain cherished people who I used to see far more often before. And there is more to this than meets the first glance.
So...pitfalls? What pitfalls? We usually consider belonging and fulfillment to be very positive things. What could possibly be an issue of concern here?
It is perhaps not a simple thing, so I hope to be able to express myself sufficiently clear with regard to this question. First of all, one issue of concern -already discussed in previous posts- is the `us & them' phenomenon. Members of the spiritual-movement-family are `us', non-followers are `them'.
But what I really mean here is this. The feeling of belonging and fulfillment can be a major reason for people to become, be or stay a follower of the spiritual movement. With some spiritual movements one could even say that people are lured into membership precisely by appealing to their sense of belonging, which is then consistently reinforced by family-like gatherings or even living together as a commune.
But in the end, membership of the spiritual movement/family means acceptance of the Method, the Leader, the Theory of the movement.
To put it more sharply: one is accepted and cherished as a `spiritual family member' only as long as one is an unquestioning and uncriticizing participant. Because the whole well-being of the spiritual family depends on the Absolute Correctness of the Theory, the Holiness of the Leader, the Efficacy of the Method.
So what can this do with people? Will we, like the herd animals we are, accommodate and adjust our opinions and thoughts and questions to the prevailing group authority? Or will we stay focused on purity, clarity, simplicity, consistency, deeper understanding?
Will we -even if only subconsciously- weigh what we say and more importantly what we think, together with what the `family' says and thinks? And if the two do not agree, can we even contemplate to cut ourselves loose, or do we want to remain belonging? Remain connected, part of the family?
So group dynamics also come into play. But that is not what I primarily mean by the pitfall `belonging and fulfillment'. To repeat and summarize, what I mean is this.
Belonging to a group (any group, but some are more fulfilling than others) gives us fulfillment. To me this seems to be hardwired into the human being as a social animal. The feeling of belonging and fulfillment can easily become a mechanism to accept flawed ideologies, implausible ideas, money schemes, contradictory behaviour, coercion even.
If I feel belonging and fulfilled, I can easily think this comes from the Absolute Perfection of the Method.
`The Method has to be wonderful, because I feel so wonderfully fulfilled ever since I started it'.
(From this it is but a small step to the pitfall `happiness & bliss'.)
To me, in any spiritual movement that I would want to belong to it should be common to address these issues. To encourage individual thinking, criticizing, questioning. To be aware of group dynamics and, as a group, to not give in to group dogmatism. To not ostracize or silence people who speak out against prevailing winds, and to not overly welcome only positive sounds.
Something like that. Although Groucho Marx probably said it all with `I would not want to be a member of any club that will have me'....
[Not the clearest post, I admit, I find it hard to express what I perceive as the real issues. perhaps later posts will clarify some more. To be continued.]
Monday, September 22, 2008
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
How can it be a problem and a pitfall, if by a slow process of avoiding cognitive dissonance, I gradually come to hold views and beliefs which earlier would have been paradoxical or morally wrong to me?
In my eyes, the question is relevant (otherwise I wouldn't ask it of course ;-)), but my answer will take some time because I do not perceive this as a black-and-white issue.
Any development, any learning implies (I believe) that I change my views and beliefs. And even in mathematics, I have experienced that what I first thought to be contradictory or impossible, later turned out to be correct or possible, once seen in the correct light or with the correct enabling definitions. (Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view, the other way round also occurs frequently in mathematics.).
So to me the pitfall lies not in the changing of my views and beliefs per se. The pitfall lies in me deluding myself. In the posts on partial truth I raised the example of me riding over your bicycle, and then claiming that at the last moment your bicycle jumped under my car, damaging my front fender. You might laugh at this example, but I'm sure that people have given stranger testimony of events. Witchcraft, voodoo, and also Divine Intervention are but a few names given by people to justify things they say and/or think to have witnessed.
This car-bicycle example is of course rather mild. Things get more worrisome, when we consider a number of psychological experiments in which more profound consequences of belief-changing and rationalization were found to occur easily. Some of these experiments have become famous, also for their ethical dilemma: is it ethical to subject people to such an experiment?
In the famous Milgram experiment the participants were asked to give punitive dosages of electricity to subjects (this was actually not really happening, but the participants thought it was real). Although most participants had some initial trouble accepting that it was okay to do so, in the end they ended up giving really painful electrical shocks to their subjects (so they thought). The authorative figure of the doctor in charge told them it was ok, and rather than upsetting this expert authority and being a troublemaker, they chose to believe that what the doctor said had to be true.
Milgram's testing revealed that it could have been that the millions of accomplices were merely following orders, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs. Milgram summarized the experiment in his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience", writing:
`The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.'
In another famous experiment The Third Wave, a class was slowly led by their history teacher to accept and join a (fictitious) movement `The Third Wave' which had clear fascistic tendencies. Quoting from Wikipedia:
Jones writes that he started the first day of the experiment (Monday, April 3 1967) with simple things like proper seating, drilling the students until they were able to move from outside the classroom to their seats and take the proper seating position in less than 30 seconds without making a sound. He then proceeded to strict classroom discipline emerging as an authoritative figure and improving efficiency of the class dramatically.
Jones closed the first day's session with a few rules, only meaning to be a one day experiment. Students had to be sitting at attention before the second bell, had to stand up to ask or answer questions and had to do it in three words or less, and were required to preface each remark with "Mr. Jones."
On the second day he managed to meld his history class into a group with a supreme sense of discipline and community. Jones named the movement "The Third Wave", after the common belief that the third in a series of ocean waves is last and largest. Jones made up a salute resembling the one of Nazi regime and ordered class members to salute each other even outside the class. They all complied with this command.
The experiment took on a life of its own, with students from all over the school joining in: on the third day the class expanded from initial 30 students to 43 attendees. All of the students showed drastic improvement in their academic skills and tremendous motivation. All of the students were issued a member card and each of them received a special assignment (like designing a Third Wave Banner, stopping non-members from entering the class, etc). Jones instructed the students on how to initiate new members, and by the end of the day the movement had over 200 participants. Jones was surprised that some of the students started reporting to him when other members of the movement failed to abide by the rules.
On Thursday, the fourth day of the experiment, Jones decided to terminate the movement because it was slipping out of his control. The students became increasingly involved in the project and their discipline and loyalty to the project was astounding. He announced to the participants that this movement is only a part of a nationwide movement and that on the next day a presidential candidate of the movement would publicly announce existence of the movement. Jones ordered students to attend a noon rally on Friday to witness the announcement.
Instead of a televised address of their leader, the students were presented with an empty channel. After few minutes of waiting, Jones announced that they had been a part of an experiment in fascism and that they all willingly created a sense of superiority that German citizens had in the period of Nazi Germany. He then played them a film about Nazi regime. That was the end of the experiment.
[As an aside, these types of experiment are why I am really extremely wary of anyone advocating obedience-without-thinking to some Moral Authority. Any spiritual guide which I deem worthy of that name should have knowledge of these experiments, or at least insight in how the atrocities of the second World War and similar genocidal practices could possibly happen.
With this insight and knowledge in mind, I don't believe a spiritual guide would ever ask for total unthinking obedience (see also the posts on obedience). Because this insistence alone could very well be very painful for all those who have suffered under the consequences of totalitarian regimes.]
So, to come back to the pitfall that I perceive in the avoidance of cognitive dissonance, can I find out the divide between learning and development on the one hand, and self-delusion on the other?
I'm sorry to say that I believe this to be very difficult for most if not all of us.
As an example, I'm quite positive that many practicants of my former spiritual movement Sahaj Marg will consider me self-delusional. I am being led astray by my mind, and -poor soul- have lost contact with my heart. My mind is creating all sorts of ego-fed illusions, and therefore I am blinded from the love of the Master. Something like that.
I cannot find a 100% proof that they are wrong. It is just that their view no longer jibes sufficiently with mine, which leads me to holding more the opposite view. So perhaps this is a good moment to explain why this blog is meant mostly for people who are uneasy with their spiritual movement, and cannot put their finger on their unease. This is partly because I do not think that I cán influence people who are happy in their heart-oriented participation in a spiritual movement. But also partly because I'm not sure that I want to influence these people.
If they are happy and fulfilled, and they do not grievously wrong others, then who am I to want to change that?
The counter-remark to this is of course that if I consider the Inner Circle of a Spiritual Movement to be actively deceptive and power abusive, then I would also hold the well-meaning members responsible to some extent, for they are the ones giving power to this Inner Circle.
The question for this post remains:
How can I, personally, just for me, decide whether I am deluding myself (or am being led to delude myself)?
I think part of the answer lies in `unease'. Accepting some form of unease for a prolonged period of time might well lead me to a serious form of self-delusion. (You might call this the heart-approach)
Another part lies in: `face the facts'. Making a factual list of the important issues, I might be able to pierce through the cognitive dissonance avoidance mechanism. (You might call this the mind-approach).
I will come back to this, but for now this post is already terribly long, and should take its ending. To be continued.