Dear reader

Why do I write about pitfalls of spirituality?

My purpose with this blog is to crystallize and share my thoughts and experiences, in the hope that you and I may benefit from them. From 1993-2005 I practiced a so-called spiritual method (Sahaj Marg). Ultimately I realized that this method - and especially the organization around it (Shri Ram Chandra Mission or SRCM)- was contrary to some deep spiritual layer in myself. I came to some clear conclusions, and also to some still developing insights.

One still developing insight is that almost everybody is looking for some form of spirituality in their life. Therefore there are many spiritual methods and movements, often with similar pitfalls to the ones I experienced.

Many people follow a well-trodden path which is defined by the group in their immediate vicinity. Others are prompted by their heart and/or head to look for spirituality that makes sense on a personal level. Spirituality gives fulfillment -humanity as one, universal love growing, one with the buddha- as well as direction through life's tough questions.

I write about the pitfalls of spirituality because so many others seem to write mostly about the bliss of their own approach to spirituality. This bliss to me actually seems a pitfall.

Understanding the pitfalls I deem essential to gain more spiritual insight. For me this actually translates into a lighter and more loving heart. I do not believe that understanding is the key issue in spirituality. But I do believe that misunderstanding can block key issues (although to which degree probably varies with each person).

Please bear with my frequent use of I feel, seems to me, in my not so humble opinion and so on. It is to emphasize that I do not consider any of my opinions to be more than that. I cannot bring you universal truth. In my not so humble opinion [imnsho] universal truth is a major pitfall in spirituality.

Dear reader, I hope you find something worthwhile on these pages. Friendly reactions, which may be as critical as you like, are always welcome.

Tips how to read this blog

* Please start with the closing remarks (click on the link), they should provide a balanced perspective on this blog.

* There is a list of 20 pitfalls in the sidebar. Clicking on a pitfall will provide a number of posts in which that pitfall is discussed to some extent.

* If you have time, consider starting with the oldest post, and simply going through to each next post. This probably gives the most faithful ;-) reading...
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query afterlife. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query afterlife. Sort by date Show all posts

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

#####

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

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

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

That kind of thing.

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

#####

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

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

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

#####

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

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

Well, good, wouldn't you say?

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

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

#####

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

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

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

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

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

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

#####

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

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

#####

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

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Spiritual marketing techniques 1: So you wanna be a spiritual teacher

I recently came across a wonderful article called `Spiritual marketing techniques', written by Andrew P on Energygrid.

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 one.]

Spiritual Marketing Techniques
Andrew P—10/2009

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.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A SPIRITUAL TEACHER? You want to have your own paying customers who look to you for inspiration and spiritual support? Why not? Always remember there are many people just like you who have done it very successfully, and you don't actually have to be that awakened or enlightened. All you generally need is to understand and apply spiritual marketing. It really couldn't be simpler. Whether you are someone who had a flash of inspiration on a bus, a simple meditation or yoga teacher, or a fully-fledged guru, these techniques will help you to be more successful by increasing your customer base and your income.

Spirituality is something that many of those in the New Age and New Consciousness movements focus upon. These individuals want to be spiritual because they have a yearning for a more meaningful life than the one officially sanctioned by society, and they have a strong disdain for the limitations of ordinary material perspectives. After all, spirituality usually offers inner happiness; unlimited love; physical, emotional and mental healing and wholeness; and even the ability to create our own realities — having anything and everything we want (even that Ferrari). No wonder spirituality is such a popular buy!

New Age spirituality is currently one of the huge growth industries (and has been since the 60s/70s), an industry that is worth countless millions in annual turnover as individuals, reaching the limits of what they feel society can offer them, reach forward into what spirituality can offer. After all, why settle for the house, the car, the TV set, the family and the food on the table when we can add to these inner fulfillment, God's love, a place in the afterlife, a magical ability to manifest things and events, and even physical immortality?

The thing about spirit is that you can't see it, touch it, hear it, smell it or taste it. Spirit is formless and ephemeral, and so just about anything and everything can be said about it and attributed to it (and has been). Because of this, it is a marketer's dream: it costs nothing to produce; it is in infinite supply; a large percentage of the population wants some of it, especially in desperate times; and it can be packaged in any way desired without risk of trade descriptions legislation. Not only that, but what makes it especially valuable is that spiritual awakening is usually considered a one-way process, making it a one-in-all-lifetimes' purchase. In other words, spirituality is the perfect commodity.

Consider the mapmaker analogy: When you promote your spiritual philosophies you are really promoting maps of a mysterious territory called "spirit". The thing about spirit is that it is invisible to the mind, the senses and the emotions, and so the general public are in the habit of buying maps of this mysterious place from the explorers who claim to have been there — and that includes you. The fact that the territory is actually unmappable is an in-house secret; most people just do not want to believe this. Whilst spiritual maps were culturally integrated for most of human history — basically there was no choice in the matter — today with the burgeoning to cultural and religious freedoms, at least in the West, there are numerous maps now on offer. And you want to be one of those people with a successful trade in your particular spiritual map or maps.

The only snag, of course, is credibility. If spirit cannot be experienced objectively because it is formless, how do you convince your customer base that it exists as you have described it, let alone that it exists at all?

Fortunately, there are a multitude of ways to do this that have resulted in the success of many different teachers and gurus. You can't convince everybody, so do not even try, but you can convince those who are open to being convinced (for whatever reason). To be successful, you should market both yourself as the teacher and your teachings.

Below are listed some of the marketing techniques that have been successfully used. Some of these you might feel are too transparently marketing techniques, but always remember that the type of customer you are trying to attract is pushing for a relationship with a teacher — your target audience is more open and gullible than you could imagine — and will actually thank you for hooking them even with the most obvious marketing techniques. Remember, there will always be people you will NEVER convince so don't even try to set your sights on convincing closed-minded, rational people; it is a complete waste of time and resources.

Although there is overlap between the marketing techniques used on the teacher and the teaching, they will be listed separately for clarity.

* * *

[to be continued in part two, next post on this blog]

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cognitive dissonance 3: followers and non-followers

Dear reader, you might wonder where the theme of cognitive dissonance is headed. To summarize, I am trying to focus on the following questions:

1) How can novices in a spiritual movement be led slowly to accept a situation where facts, theory, practice and behaviour are contradictory, when seen from a rational or even moral point of view (based on common societal rationality/morality, or on the rationality/morality preached by the movement itself)?

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?


&&&&&&&

1) How can novices in a spiritual movement be led slowly to accept a situation where facts, theory, practice and behaviour are contradictory, when seen from a rational or even moral point of view (based on common societal rationality/morality, or on the rationality/morality preached by the movement itself)?

I hope the previous posts covered a lot of the first question. But there is perhaps room for improvement. In Marc Galanter's book (see this post) one can read many interesting accounts of practicants of various spiritual movements.

Marc Galanter studied their motives also using questionnaires, and one of his results I found remarkable, although Galanter seems to attach a different explanation to it. The result being this:

Participating in such spiritual movement provides significant stress-relief. Stress-relief from life's difficulties, comfort when life is tough, support from other members, support from the Theory, ... whatever: it works.

I think participating in such spiritual movement also has quite a few other benefits, like mentioned in earlier posts. Personally I find our society quite materialistic. And there is too little talk and effort to really bring about a world free of war, hunger, ...etc. It was to me a relief to meet so many kind and loving people who also wish to actively help build a better world. Who think and talk about non-materialistic issues, who are willing to work on self-improvement etc.

So let me repeat in a different way some things stated in earlier posts:

There is a good reason that many kind and loving people turn to spiritual movements. This reason to me being, that the world outside these movements can hardly be called a kind and loving world, although there are many kind and loving people in it.

Put yet differently: it is relatively easy to scoff at the many spiritual movements' shortcomings. But such scoffing is hardly fair, if one refuses to see the many and severe shortcomings of the not-spiritually-oriented society.

%%%%%%%%

This is why the counterquestion from spiritual movements makes so much sense:
Look what rationality and materialism has brought society. Look at how we avoid recognizing that the way we exploit the natural resources, and the way we exploit people in far away places, would be considered immoral if we would see it happening in our own backyard. Do you feel spiritually fulfilled in your life? Or are you feeling caught up in the treadmill, the rat race? Do you feel you live like a free loving person, or are you being lived by your fears and materialistic desires?

How can one free oneself of these mechanisms? Join our Movement, try our Method, meet our Leader, and experience for yourself the transformation.


Or something similar. Anyway, suppose you meet kind and caring, interested people, who invite you to try out their spiritual movement -no strings attached. Suppose you are looking for some way to live a more caring, loving, connected existence than that of our modern hardworking individualistic material society. Your critical questions are welcomed, and there are only few requirements of your behaviour.

Suppose you join, to try it out. Now you start bonding with some of the participants. Gatherings are pleasant in atmosphere, meditations are uplifting, you find that you can talk about real things in life, and few waste their time on the latest Gigabyte-expansion of the iPhone X36gT or what have you.

You take up the practice, and after some time you notice certain anomalies, discrepancies, contradictions in either Theory or behaviour or practice. But by now, people who you consider friends tell you: `Oh, that is all but words and rational thinking. Not the real essence. Feel with your heart, have faith in the Leader, He is such a radiant wonderful person! When I started out, I had quite some doubts myself. But with one meditation, he cleared my heart, I didn't understand but I felt I had to trust Him all the way.'

So you decide to try out the heart-approach, and develop faith in this Leader who by now you have met and who seems -albeit from quite some distance as there are many followers all eager to be with Him- to be indeed a loving and very spiritual person. Especially since everyone around is also constantly repeating this, and telling amazing stories about His Grace.

Over the years, it will not be surprising if you find yourself a member of a close group of kind loving people, with whom you share many of your deeper feelings and insights.

But what happens if over the years you also come across increasing contradictions?

* When for instance you are asked slowly but steadily for more and more money? [Where the movement claimed in the beginning that spirituality should be free of charge.]

* When the Leader starts asking more and more for strict obedience? [Where in the beginning you were given texts stating that critical thought was a requisite for spiritual progress.]

* When you find that supposedly `very advanced' and long-practising people from the Inner Circle have lied outright to you, and manipulated you in a distinctly non-spiritual way? [Where the movement promises to be very efficacious in bringing about spiritual progress, and where `Be truthful' is a main tenet in the movement]

* When the purity which attracted you in the beginning, is not practiced at all in the running of the Movement's organization. An organization which turns out to be very hierarchical, a Pyramid structure, dominated by men, and rife with intrigue and Inner Circle mechanisms, often favoring a limited number of nationalities? [Where the movement preaches equality of all, novice and `advanced' alike, woman and man alike, all nationalities alike]

* When slowly but surely, all sorts of `magical' or `paranormal' or spiritualistic elements are being introduced as essential in the Theory, and/or practice. For instance the existence of ghosts, or voices from the afterlife, and mediums; the affirmation of the truth of reincarnation; special visions etc. [Where in the beginning the movement promised that these things were to be left aside, and not relevant anyway.]

&&&&&&&&

Yes, I think that this is the moment where the avoidance of cognitive dissonance can lead one beyond what is really self-acceptable. Because who wants to give up this warm nest of spiritual ` family' , `brothers and sisters', who feel so close and caring and interested in the real you? Who wants to give up this practice which makes one feel connected to some higher purpose, adding to a better world?

It is quite understandable why it can be a lot easier to simply close one's eyes for the inconsistencies, and quickly accept some non-rational explanation like:

`Some things in our World are beyond our understanding. The intellect however strives to be in command, and will therefore block our progress, beyond a certain point. We need a True Spiritual Leader, who has traveled the narrow passage Himself, to shake off our intellect and depend on Faith. For this Faith to develop, it is best to surrender completely to one's Leader. Pujashri Ammehula has repeatedly stated that the aspirant can only cross the seven Rings to the Central Level if he is carried by his Master like a child by its mother. To reach this level, where one is completely dependent on one's Leader, it is absolutely necessary to develop unthinking and unquestioning Obedience at all times.'

#######

To me, the mechanism of cognitive-dissonance-avoidance explains why so many followers of spiritual movements prefer not to listen to rational arguments, or rational presentations of facts. In a sense, one could even argue that the more rational the approach, the more many followers will shut their ears to it.

And this brings us to the second question posed at the top of this post:

2) How can the avoidance of cognitive dissonance lead to communication problems between followers of a spiritual movement and non-followers?

I believe this question calls for a two-sided answer, but the elements for this have already been described.

On the one hand, non-followers will be quick to point out the inconsistencies of the movement, and possibly certain -in their eyes- dangerous or detrimental effects. (`You are in a cult! You are being brain-washed! Look out for your sanity, your family, your health, your money!'). But they probably do not see the flip sides of this coin: namely that the followers derive quite some benefit from their participation. Family-like ties for instance. These benefits, built up through the years, have helped build a world view that is not so rationally based as non-followers might assume. And therefore from the followers' point of view, it is the non-followers who are inconsistent and in possible danger (`You live a materialistic life, you are not spiritually fulfilled. You are being brain-washed by society to believe that ego-driven materialism is the road to happiness. You are wasting precious time needed to cleanse your heart and your soul. Look out for your spiritual well-being, look out for your eternal soul!')

So, you might be a bit surprised to find me thinking that both followers and non-followers often avoid their own cognitive dissonance.

This does not in any way diminish my conviction that it is morally wrong for the Inner Circle to deceive the followers of its Spiritual Movement. And I believe this to be a very frequent occurrence.

To be continued...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Self reliance to avoid manipulation (conscious or not)

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

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

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

#####

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.

Fear & temptation, leading to spirituality or manipulation?

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

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

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

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

#####

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

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

#####

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

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

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

#####

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

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

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

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

#####

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

I'm thinking along lines like:

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

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

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

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fear and temptation: what are our motives?

In writing this blog, a certain question persists:

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]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fulfillment, mind & heart, and power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems an attractive proposition.

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

#####

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

Mind over heart, or heart over mind?

#####

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

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

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

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