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 bliss. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query bliss. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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.)

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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 3: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachings

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 three.]

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.
[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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.)
  11. 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.)
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.)
  16. 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.)
  17. 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.

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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

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The false guru

frank waaldijk, the false guru (drawing, 2005)

The false guru (own work, 2005)

The above drawing I made in 2005, after seeing a video of my former Sahaj Marg guru Chari. In this video he `gracefully' allowed people to fall at his feet, perhaps to kiss them even. To understand my indignation at this, one should know that Chari repeatedly stated that hís master never allowed people to fall at his feet, because this would be a false and impeding interpretation of the relationship.

This is not a blog about Sahaj Marg, but I do think it very illustrative of the way in which guru worship can take over the real spiritual issues. This I tried to analyze already in the posts on `spiritual guidance' (pitfall 1). But a picture speaks a thousand words. In the drawing, the false guru enjoys the fawning devotion and the illusion of a special light that radiates from `his presence'.

He doesn't display anger, or irritation like:

`Get up, you fool. What are you doing? Don't worship me, tend to your own inner master. By losing yourself in this outer form worship, you are running away from your spiritual self. Do you want to believe in fairy tales, or do you want to work on the real issues which are perhaps not so pretty but have the decided advantage of being real?'

He also doesn't display a single drop of true humility, modesty even. He only acts the part by folding his hands together, and putting on a serene expression.

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The drawing to me seems to capture what goes wrong when we start elevating somebody to the position of Guru, Spiritual Master with capital letters, Absolute (Moral) Authority, you name it.

What really happens is that we create fairy tales that `He' will somehow do our work for us. We experience bliss from this fairy tale, because -duh- now we don't have to do any real, likely confrontational, work on ourselves. Plus we are no longer responsible for the outcome!

Another downside to this transfer of responsibility is that the practicant opens her/himself up to a wide variety of manipulation. Not only from the Spiritual Leader, and the Movement's Pyramid, but also from her/his own subconsciousness.

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Which is why I believe that a true spiritual guide would abhor any sign of worship. (S)he would relentlessly refuse to be put on any kind of pedestal (dais), be it physical or figuratively speaking.

In fact such a person would in my not so humble opinion most likely not call her/himself a spiritual guide at all (out of true modesty, and insight in the incomprehensibility of our existence). But people would turn to such a person nonetheless, without the elevation -which creates distance- and the worship and the false humility.

But it would not be in large numbers. Because then where to find the time and true attention which is the basis of any true relationship?

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Please also check out the false guru test at energygrid.com, which was discussed to some extent in a previous post on fulfillment and spiritual progress.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ego and selflessness, selfishness and malice

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

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

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

6. Wonders & miracles
13. Ego & selflessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Belonging & fulfillment

Many of the comments so far on this blog carry their own food for thought. A comment how many `followers' of a spiritual movement find a lot of benefit from it, for instance.

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.

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So...pitfalls? What pitfalls? We usually consider belonging and fulfillment to be very positive things. What could possibly be an issue of concern here?

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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.

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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?

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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'.)

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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.]

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A first list of pitfalls of spirituality

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

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

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