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

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Money, selfperpetuation, accountability

Let's continue from the previous post, and please keep in mind that I'm not a financial expert. Therefore my account is no doubt oversimplified. But I believe it to be essentially to the point. Any expert refinement and also criticism would be most welcome, please leave your comment.

Given the 5 attainable Goals mentioned in the previous post, acquiring money comes into a different perspective for the efficient Manager of the Spiritual Movement. Serious Money brings 3 of the 5 Goals much closer. (growth of recognizance, growth of influence, a solid Fund for the Movement).

Therefore, Money is transformed from being a simple means to being a complex end in itself.

Money started out as a simple means: some things have to be paid for. In the field of spirituality there are actually very little material necessities, so there is in fact very little real spiritual need for money. A small budget goes a long long way if one sticks to the spiritual essence.

But this cannot remain so if one wishes to `secure the Future of the Movement and its Pyramid'. This wish for self-perpetuation brings with it the 5 Goals. And for this Serious Money is necessary. This Serious Money will buy influence, land, places of practice/worship, books and other missionary activities, juridic securities such as trademarking the Movement's name, good lawyers, professional services in every necessary field. It will provide recognizance from governments, banks, local authorities, and any other entity which comes along.

To be really sure of Money, not only now but also in the future, many if not most organizations (such as NGO charities for instance) look to establish a Trust Fund, which invests the available money to yield an optimal interest. Ideally, this interest should at any time suffice to pay for the then-current needs of the Movement.

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Assuming that one cannot safely expect such yield to be higher than say 5% per year, this means that the Trust Fund has to be 20 times larger than what the Movement needs in a given year. And if the Movement grows, then to maintain the 5 Goals its financial needs also grow, and so its Trust Fund must grow accordingly.

This is -I think- a very real explanation for the many money schemes that one sees around Spiritual Movements (and to be honest, many other `charitable organizations' as well).

Because people are asked to donate for building churches / meditation halls / hospitals / natural disaster relief / publishing books /... where in fact, most of the money goes into the Trust Fund. They are sold books, audiovisual materials, you name it, all under the cry: we need money to help the needy and stricken...where in fact it is the Trust Fund which needs to grow.

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But the very aim of `securing the future of the Movement' to me seems very unspiritual. It shows a rather profound lack of faith in God, if I may be so bold to point this out. God surely doesn't care under what name or form humanity grows spiritually, I would say. A spiritual movement which cannot obtain directly what little it really needs, doesn't seem worthy of a Trust Fund at all. Self-perpetuation of the Movement is contrary to the natural change of things. Change is the only aspect of Nature we can really be sure of. Change to me is a spiritual value.

Not to mention that hoarding money in a Trust Fund has several very unspiritual drawbacks. Firstly: this money is not available to give the direct help which is really necessary NOW in many parts of the world.

Secondly, the investment of the money in the Trust Fund is often left to financial professionals whose expertise is in the increase of money. NOT in whether this increase of money was brought about in an ethical let alone spiritual way.

Just last year, a documentary in the Netherlands revealed that many charitable NGO's had invested large sums of money in the weapon industry, and other enterprises which were often diametrically opposed to what the charities collected money for.

Thirdly, the managing of large amounts of money unfailingly brings with it the pitfalls of greed, mismanagement, cover ups etc. Please read this article in the National Catholic Reporter as an illustration of what I mean.

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How to avoid all these complex pitfalls? Strangely, the answer is simple [imnsho]: transparency & accountability.

Transparency of goals and means and organization. This means that we tell everyone, in a simple and clear way, what we really aim for. And how we intend to achieve this materially and organizationally.

Public accountability of assets and liabilities, and all material transactions. This means that we tell everyone, in a simple and clear way, how much money and property we really have. And also what we have done with it, and why.

Could I suggest the following to you?

Please do not donate any longer to any charitable organization which does not offer transparency and complete public accountability. By donating to such an organization, you are hampering more than you are helping, is my strong conviction. Any organization which has nothing to hide will freely and unasked provide you with transparency and accountability, because it's not rocket science. So, in the extremely large majority of cases, if an organization doesn't freely give t&a, then it really has something to hide. And your money, which can give real help, should go elsewhere.

Thank you.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Power & money: la condition humaine

So. I probably should take a deep breath. On the subject of power and money, I feel like a dilettante, but it needs to be discussed when one writes about pitfalls of spirituality. Please allow for simplifications and oversights on my part. I am positive that on `power & money' many treatises can be written, because power & money pervade our society to the very core.

Perhaps I can start out like this. To me the following seems a fact (with a humane interpretation of `abuse'):

Power and power abuse are a part of nature.

The role of power in nature can from a scientific point of view be seen as part of `survival of the fittest'. Science has repeatedly and increasingly shown that almost all species engage in ferocious competition-between-species AND competition-within-the-species.

Zebra eats grass. Lion eats Zebra. Jackal eats Lion -when given the chance. Lion Male kills Lion Male, to take over the mating rights with the Lion Female. Lion Male also kills off earlier Lion Cubs, and arguably rapes Lion Female. I mean, the list of these things is completely endless. It is `eat or be eaten', `kill or be killed', `dominate or be dominated'. In the process of genetic selection amongst sexual species, science also shows us that the competition between males-males, females-males and females-females is astonishingly fierce. `The selfish gene' is looking for the `best' partner to mate with, in order to produce the best offspring for survival of the gene.

In a group of social animals, like human beings, this leads -without any exception that I'm aware of- to a power structure, a power hierarchy. And since power is tied very closely to `survival of the fittest', positions of power tend to be very gratifying to the persons holding them.

This need not even be, and very often isn't, on a conscious level. Two famous quotations:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.. (John E.E.D. Acton, 1887)

Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it. (William Pitt, 1770)

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Back to our Spiritual Movement. Let's forget a moment about Movements and Leaders who are consciously looking for Power and Power abuse. Let's assume that the intentions of the original Founder were acceptably spiritual.

The reasons for this assumption are this: I would like to illustrate the pitfalls associated with power and money. If power and money are the conscious goal already, then there is no pitfall, there is only abuse. It becomes interesting only when dedicated, spiritually motivated people are confronted with the power& money issues that arise from a growing Movement.

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The previous post was about fulfillment <--> spiritual progress --> ambition --> inner circle --> power. The post departed from `fulfillment'.

This post takes off from the other end: `power'. The pitfall about power by itself, is that it corrupts already on a subconscious level. Like stated above, I believe this to be due to the way that power mechanisms are hardwired into us as social animals. To hold a position of power, is by nature's standards fulfillment enough.

To illustrate in one way: in the past decade there has been a survey of senior administrators in the Dutch government. They were asked if they find their work gratifying and if so, why (in other words: job satisfaction). It turns out that by far the most gratifying part of their job was `influence'. Influence on major decisions in society. Influence on people, influence on money. Respect from other people, other people looking up to you. For this these senior administrators were willing to forego a much higher pay that they could earn in enterprise/consultancy/... I mean this quite directly: they formulated it in these terms.

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In many if not most spiritual movements (religions included), I see a completely similar pattern. When the movement is large enough, it has some form of official organization. This organization is -again without any exception that I'm aware of- organized hierarchically. This creates a power pyramid, where each next level to the top represents: fewer individuals having more influence.

Even if I'm not driven by the sequence fulfillment <--> spiritual progress --> ambition --> inner circle --> power, I may still be naturally driven by the shorter sequence: `ambition --> next level in the pyramid --> power'. Because each next level represents also more respect from others, more looking up to me, and more influence.

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How to get to this next level in the Pyramid of the Spiritual Movement? Well, this is similar to other organizations. There are various options, which I'm sure are recognizable to anyone familiar with more than passing knowledge of a spiritual movement. An obvious option is:

Work, work more, work even more...for the Pyramid. With dedication and selfless obedience of higher Pyramid levels. Try to get connected to people from higher levels, work on your network. Try to attract attention from higher levels, even the Highest Level, which is of course the Leader. Maintain a spotless existence, and propagate the teachings of the Movement. Be a firm Believer. Proselytize, and then proselytize some more.

Do not hesitate to grasp opportunities left by the mistakes of others in the Pyramid. Their loss is your gain.

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A less obvious option is: be already influential outside the Movement. If you are already a part of Society's Pyramid (the movers and the shakers, the influential politicians, CEO's, judges, generals, rich people, famous people, senior administrators, tv commentators and what have we in this crazy world), then you are interesting to the Movement's Organization, the Movement's Pyramid.

One might think, naively: why would an influential person be interesting to the Movement's Organization?

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This is because the Movement's Organization usually seeks to establish itself amongst the powers that be. The Organization wants to influence Society. This might be at the outset from some spiritual motivation. But imnsho most often this spiritual motivation is corrupted by the power that the Organization acquires in the course of the Movement's growth. This growth often takes place on many scales:

*Number of followers of the Movement
*Funds available to the Movement
*Influence and influential connections of the Movement
*Physical properties of the Movement
*Activities undertaken or controlled by the Movement, such as schools, housing, hospitals
*Perhaps more, to be added later

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Well-connected people who are influential in society are therefore a prime candidate for high positions in the Movement's Pyramid. Vice versa, the arch-bishops and other high positioned people of religions are automatically influential in society, and part of society's inner circle.

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OK. Second deep breath. Time for the twin pitfall of `money'. But in order to keep posts manageable, I will tackle it in the next post.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Money & Power: the Spiritual Movement's Pyramid

frank waaldijk, money & power: the spiritual movement's pyramid

Money & Power, the Spiritual Movement's Pyramid (own work, 2008)

Some important posts on this blog are on the pitfalls associated with Money, Power, the Spiritual Leader, the Pyramid (by which I mean the pyramidical organization of the Spiritual Movement).

After writing these posts, I changed an older sculpture of a bishop figure (I'm a visual artist) into a more disturbing comment on the way that spiritual movements (including religions) tend to function. Because a picture sometimes speaks a thousand words, I'm putting up a photograph of this sculpture.

In the sculpture one sees the Spiritual Leader (or perhaps his Manager?) on top of a dark, mostly opaque Pyramid, which in turn is based on a pedestal/dais-like elevation. The Spiritual Leader is dressed in full regalia, with a silver staff and other attributes of his position. As in the previous post, there is no real humility, here we have the CEO of the Money & Power machine.

If one looks closely, one sees that the Pyramid is filled with Money.

frank waaldijk, money & power: the spiritual movement's pyramid (detail)

detail of Money & Power, the Spiritual Movement's Pyramid

There were several recent newspaper articles reporting on financial malversations and lack of transparency in a variety of spiritual movements. (To mention one: a long article in a leading Dutch newspaper on the complete lack of transparency regarding the wealth of the Vatican and the catholic church. Wealth which is conservatively estimated in the billions of euros. Yet churchgoers are asked time and again for their financial support, and catholic missionary posts keep asking money for all sorts of projects in the developing world.)

That these issues crop up again and again could cause occasional posts on this blog, even though the main analysis was completed already last September.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cognitive dissonance: something we all avoid

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

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

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


$$$$$$$

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

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

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

&&&&&&&

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

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

&&&&&&&

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

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

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

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

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

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

$$$$$$$

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

Yes I can.

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

(to be continued)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Spiritual marketing techniques 2: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachers

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 two.]

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 two:]

Techniques for Promoting Spiritual Teachers

Here are some of the main spiritual marketing techniques that are used if we want to become teachers ourselves. The general idea is to present a spiritual image of the teacher to the customer so that the authority of the teachings is not doubted:

  1. Psychological Transfer: Encourage followers to psychologically transfer divine qualities and goals onto you, so that both you and your customers are locked into a dynamic system of projection. This way the teacher maintains his or her role as an awakened one, and his or her students maintain their roles as the unawakened ones. You must always keep your students in line by dismissing any show spiritual autonomy as this will only encourage others to believe that they can do without you. The other approach is to inflate yourself to the top end of the spiritual master spectrum — to a full avatar or God's right hand wo/man — which will forever lock your clients in the student role (apart from the odd one that thinks that he or she actually is God).
  2. Fashion and style: First impressions are everything in marketing and so your presentation as a spiritual teacher is very important. The first thing a potential customer is going to see is the outer package, so this has to fit with the image expected by the target audience. So if you are going after more alternative lovely-dovey followers, non-conventional attire is required such as white, yellow or orange robes, or a purple, blue, black or white silk shirt; long-hair/shaved head; crystal jewellery; and bare-feet or simple sandals or walking shoes. Alternatively, if you are going after a more corporate audience then you might consider dressing in bespoke dark suit, tie and white shirt, black dress shoes and an expensive watch. It is important to get into the minds of the target audience and really understand their expectations and what they are comfortable with and, more importantly, not comfortable with. Get it wrong, and you could end up with just your cat as a follower; get it right and a whole lucrative organization will form around you.
  3. Name change: Changing your name to an exotic sounding one is very important in presenting yourself as a spiritual master. After all "John Smith" does not carry the same weight as something like "Shivananda" or "Mountain Blue Ray". Names should ideally be reflective of the the type of spiritual teaching that you give. So if you are teaching concepts that originated in India, it might appear more authentic to your followers to have an Indian name, whereas if you are teaching concepts that come from South America, using an appropriate South American name is important.
  4. Nationality: If you originate from a country far different from the one in which you plan to teach, you have an important advantage in being a successful spiritual teaching. For Westerners, this means that any connections with places like South/Middle American, India, Tibet, Africa, the Far East or any Pacific Island can be very important in your marketing campaign. Having indigenous roots (no matter how tenuous) could mean the difference between success and failure. This is because, to most people, spirituality is seen as something special that comes from outside the confines of their society, so trading on any heritage that places you as an outsider can be very effective. And if you don't have those roots, don't worry, you can always upgrade your spiritual resume by traveling to India or South America and getting adopted by some traditional or native teacher/tradition. (If you can't get any one's attention, just throw around some money. It works a treat in poor countries and you will soon find yourself revered as a spiritual master.) This marketing angle can also be aided by a name change mentioned above. Alternatively, you can claim that you are from far outside this culture but then incarnated into it to teach (a "walk-in" perhaps). Alternatively, you can keep giving retreats in exotic places: not only will you make a greater profit, but some of the exoticness of these teaching locations will rub off on you and your teachings.
  5. Behaviour: Spiritual people are generally regarded as very peaceful and loving, so ideally, you have to behave this way all the time, at least in public. The problem with constantly trying to be peaceful and loving is that you end up with a huge unexpressed psychological shadow of all those qualities you try not to express, and so you can often have episodes of acting like a complete jerk (preferably behind closed doors). Fortunately, if such behaviour becomes public it can be justified by presenting it in the context of "crazy wisdom", presenting imbalance and erratic behaviour as a valuable lesson in non-attachment to expectations regarding the teacher. One marketing technique that is becoming increasingly popular today is to just sit and stare at the audience way beyond what is considered comfortable in modern society, and in this way you give maximum space for your audience to project the inner spiritual images onto you, catalyzing a strong attachment. It is amazing how wise we can appear if we just keep out mouths shut!
  6. Vocabulary and Phraseology: Most people listening to you will be listening from the heart and not the head (usually with a wistful and/or far-away look in the eyes). Therefore, when speaking to audiences you don't have to actually say anything particularly meaningful because the message itself is not actually that important. For example, you could be talking about your dog and how important it is to give him the right food, and your students will be nodding their heads in thinking that it is somehow an analogy about making sure they give themselves the right spiritual food. So the story itself is not important and does not have to make sense. Even contradictions are okay because they illustrate the paradoxical nature of the spiritual path. Words and phrases that are important to drop into your presentations, to keep the audience impressed, include: "oneness", "infinite love", "loving ourselves", "loving what is", "we deserve", "meditation", "quantum ******", "non-duality", "opening the heart", "letting go", "being yourself", "finding what is true", "authenticity", "opening the chakras", "touching the void", "reaching within", "connecting", "opening the heart", "advaita", "it is simple", "everything is inside". You should also sprinkle your presentations with foreign words and phrases to give your teaching an exotic edge, throwing the weight of religious/spiritual tradition behind you. (This is not to imply that these words and phrases do not have profound meaning, only that they can be used merely to pep-up spiritual presentations.)
  7. Self-Confidence and Charisma: Nothing is more attractive to potential customers than if have or can develop an abundance of self-confidence and charisma (a certain amount of narcissism is very attractive). You want your customers to fall in love with you. Egos love these qualities, and most people will choose a confident, egotistical teacher over one that is not so sure of him or herself. You must have the self-confidence not only in yourself as a teacher but also in your teachings. Never show doubt or admit to not knowing something. If you don't know what to say to your customers then just remain silent and let them project their hopes and dreams on to you. If they ask a question you cannot answer, just turn it back to them and tell them to answer it themselves. The benefit of displaying such confidence to your students is that you dupe them into believing that the mind can hold truth. This makes it far harder for them to escape the clutches of conceptualisation, thus trapping them as your students (students with a profound acceptance of their own ignorance can wake up and walk off, so best to bind them in the surety of conceptual truth). A good sense of humour is also very helpful in attracting customers.
  8. Comprehensive Teaching Materials and Opportunities: With* a constant stream of videos, lectures and lecture recordings, guided meditations, books, internet updates and weekend courses and holiday retreats in exotic locations, you can make a very good living. Remember, when you have someone first hooked on your teachings, rule number one is to up-sell, rule number two is to up-sell, and rule number three is to up-sell. This cannot be stressed enough as people can get bored and move to another teacher, or become awakened and no longer need your services, so you need to sell them the complete enlightenment package before they lose interest in you. To do this, constant self-marketing is vital, especially online methods such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook. A monthly newsletter (both paper and online) or even magazine is also vital to keep individuals in the fold, as well as regular "satsang" meetings and video/audio downloads. Customers have to have plenty of opportunity to become totally dependent on you and your message.
  9. Lineage and Direct Transmission: This is important in order to keep your customers. If they believe that the teacher and the teacher alone energetically transmits spiritual awakening from a long successful lineage of transmitters (an idea that is popular with Hindus and Buddhists) then they are unlikely to take the core of the teaching and run with it themselves. Even secret teachings, after all, can be easily uncovered by a Google search. So if you want your followers to stick around, focus most be transferred from the teachings to the teacher, so that followers will hang around waiting for enlightenment to be bestowed. Lineages can be contrived or genuine: what matters is the perception of them. Whether direct or contrived, spiritual lineages give you the spiritual authority of a spiritual heritage. If you don't have a lineage, a modest amount of money can buy spiritual patronage in any poor country.
  10. Pseudo-Objective Corroboration: If you have the creative nous, formulate a pseudo-objective evaluation systems to "calibrate" levels of truth. This can be applied by something as simple as dowsing or muscle testing. You can then calibrate yourself and your teaching at the highest end of the scale, giving your customers "objective" reasons for buying your books, videos and CDs. In this way, you end up lifting yourself by your own bootstraps — an accepted feat in the spiritual marketplace. It is remarkable how many people fall for these sorts of self-corroborations because they are in ego-mind. The ego loves calibration systems or scales because they justify comparison and judgment — the lifeblood of the egoic mind. And to make these fantasy-systems complete, just calibrate critics of your system as low on the scale so as not to be worthy of attention.
  11. Promoting the Rareness of Spiritual Awakening: This is important for you to do as it will keep your customers customers. After all, if they believe that enlightenment is so rare that it may not happen until the next life, your students will not be disappointed when it does not happen quickly (and it won't because such beliefs are self-sabotaging) and will just keep coming back to you for more teaching. Remember that customers who awaken are customers who are lost, so it is very important to plant the seeds of failure early on. Fortunately, the prevailing belief in spiritual communities is that enlightenment is very rare indeed (but like the lottery which has similar odds, seems to be endlessly captivating).
  12. Extraordinary Powers: You don't have to actually be psychic or a healer to use this marketing tool. All you need to do is have a few close followers spread rumours about your magical and mystical feats — how you healed so and so etc. Everyone is looking for an energetic handout so any chance to be "healed" will be taken. And remember, everyone is going to want you to have magical powers, so you don't actually have to be that convincing to be convincing. Always remember that the guru is the ultimate placebo effect, and the placebo effect can be very powerful indeed. Also, if you can sit in mediation for 48-hours or go without food for a month, if you can administer shakti pot or manifest vibhuti, all that will help to bring in the punters. You may even able to market themselves on the back of extraordinary levels of love, so that just the promise of a simple hug is enough to attract crowds of followers.
  13. Third-Party Endorsements: The New Age / New Consciousness is a close-knit community with different teachers endorsing each others books and teachings. This is usually operated on a tit-for-tat basis whereby endorsements are reciprocated for marketing purposes. This way, even the most contrived of teachers can come with very high recommendations. (One New Age teacher even has an endorsement by Mother Theresa on one of his books, although no proof of such an endorsement has ever been made public.) Another thing that will give you great spiritual credibility is to get a picture of yourself with a spiritual leader such as the Dalai Lama and reproduce it in your book and on your website. This will certainly pay dividends in your spiritual marketing.
  14. Build up a Hierarchy of Followers: Hierarchical access to the teacher is important when the teacher become more successful because it separates the teacher from the bulk of his or her students. This makes it much easier to maintain the spiritual front for the majority. Those in the inner sanctum have so much time and money invested at this point that it doesn't matter if they see the halo slip a bit behind closed doors. In fact, they will often conspire to keep private the unsavoury behaviour of their teacher, convincing themselves that the teacher is beyond normal human morality. Hierarchies are also much better control structures that can lock people into an organisation because "rank" gives them spiritual status, something they are unlikely to want to give up easily. The other advantage of hierarchy is that wealthy customers can buy access by making large donations.
  15. Start an Educational/Charitable Foundation: This allows you to look like a real do-gooder and will really open your customers' wallets. You can talk about the need for a better world and by telling your customer base how your spiritual message can really make a difference, you can use these charitable donations to support yourself as well. These types of money making exercises when thought through properly can offer substantial tax breaks. Ideally, such foundations should be set up in poor developing countries to garner the most sympathy, and perhaps offer off-shore tax status.
  16. Open an Ashram or Spiritual Centre: This adds credibility to your organization by literally placing it on the map. And the good things is that, in league with 14) above, it should be possible to get your customers' donations to cover the entire cost. Once a centre is built, you can then more economically run weekend retreats and spiritual workshops without having to pay expensive hotel/hall rates. And by having a fixed place you really can build up a strong residential core of followers that will bring in a lot more people. And of course the ultimate is to have a spiritual center in some kind of holiday destination or spiritual-mecca destination.
  17. Website: It is now vital for any 21st Century master to have a web presence. The domain name should probably be your spiritual name and should be a ".org", which will associate yourself with non-profits and other do-good organizations. The website should have a lot of close-up photos of you looking very spiritual (you know what I mean) and offer tasters for the different talks that you have given. The full versions of your talks and retreats should be available in the shopping part of your site as either downloads or CDs/DVDs. The website should also sell pictures of you and other related paraphernalia.
  18. Multiply Yourself But Retain Control: The fact that you are just one person limits your ability to directly teach others, especially if you have proprietary/secret spiritual techniques. So it is important, once you have grown your organization and or spiritual teaching, to multiply yourself, so that your trusty inner circle of customers can go and and repeat what you are doing, not for themselves but for the good of you, your centre and your spiritual message. Think of it as a franchising scheme where you cream the profits.
  19. Donation vs Set Price: This is a difficult one, a bit like whether to set a reserve on an Ebay item. If you don't, you could end up with very little, but chances are that donation will outstrip cost. Donations make you look far better as it distances yourself from the world of commerce. In some instances, such as weekend retreats in hotels or centres that need to be booked, set prices may have to be used, but try to generally keep to donational contributions as you will look a lot more authentically spiritual. You can also have a "recommended donation" or "suggested donation" amount to make guilt people into giving more, as well as making sure that someone is always standing right by the donation box to witness your customers generosity.
  20. Supplementary Sales: It is not just your teachings that you can market but also your energetic vibration. Apart from pictures of yourself, you can also flog crystals, energized water, pendants, key-rings and other items imbued with your visage/spiritual vibration. These can can be marketed to help develop devotion, protection, success (in finance and relationships), healing, awakening, or whatever.
  21. Reward Sycophantic Followers: Keep telling your most ardent followers how fantastically they are doing on the spiritual path so that you feed their spiritual egos. This will give them an ego-investment in staying loyal to you and your teachings, and together they will become an effective controllers for the rest of your followers. This way, your inner circle of devotees end up having a huge emotional investment in making sure that, even when your halo slips occasionally as it inevitably will, that you will be picked up and put you back on the guru pedestal.

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[*: the original article writes `without' but I believe this to be a simple error]
[this was part two, part three (final part) is the next post on this blog]

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.

* * *

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

Monday, September 22, 2008

Self reliance to avoid manipulation (conscious or not)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 15, 2008

Money & power, selfperpetuation

Like stated before, I'm not looking to depict spiritual movements as being entirely driven by power. Many many followers are kind spiritual people who are not at all driven by power. And also in the Movement's Pyramid, there are `officials' and administrators who are just trying to do a certain task in a spiritual way. The same goes for many large secular organizations.

Yet the structure & functioning of the Movement's Pyramid generally encourages people who are susceptible to `power as fulfillment'. It encourages them to behave in the way described in the previous post. They become true Believers, they obey higher levels rather blindly, they do not question the Absolute Truth of the Movement, and they devote a large proportion of their time to Work-for-the-Movement.

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Many movements peter out, of course. They don't make it into a large number of followers. But any movement which does want to `make it', has to be led by efficient managers.

Suppose we have such a Spiritual Movement. Its Absolute Truth dictates that it should spread its Loving Message to the rest of the world. This Truth also dictates that the Movement is of superior and permanent importance to mankind.

What does an efficient manager do, when faced with the above Mission?

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That really is the key question, if one wants to understand why so many spiritual movements eventually tumble into the same old pitfalls. Personally, although I allow for some malicious behaviour also, I find it much more likely that people are driven by motives which to themselves look Very Noble. `All I do is for Him. For the benefit of mankind! I am just a tool in His hands.'

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OK, so what does an efficient manager do, when faced with the above Mission? Well, he (yes, the Leader is a he, if he is not a very good manager then his Manager is a he, sorry dear sisters but although we are all equal of course in the spiritual sense, one cannot leave these things to women) analyzes the Mission to formulate attainable Goals.

The attainable Goals cannot be far away from the following:

* Growth of the Movement in terms of followers
* Growth of the Movement in terms of recognizance
* Growth of the Movement in terms of influence
* Providing a solid organization, a Pyramid, for the Movement
* Providing a solid financial base, a Fund, for the Movement


Failure to attain any one of these Goals results in a much higher risk of the Movement petering out over time.

If the Movement doesn't make it...well, one will have failed Him! One has failed one's Sacred Duty. It is unthinkable. We must all work, work, work for these Goals, in order that His Light will shine over Humanity!

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And now, you see, money becomes an issue. All by itself. It is needed for the selfperpetuation of the Movement, it is needed to Secure the Mission. (to be continued)

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.

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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...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is not a cult

Below is a post by `corboy' from the rick ross forum topic `what is not a cult'.

I reproduce it for general benefit. It is a different way of looking at certain pitfalls, and it might in its brevity help to determine quickly if a spiritual movement is cultish or not.

"
What is not a cult (by corboy)

* The group generates courteous behavior and does not produce a high percentage of trolls. Discussion venues that are independent of the group are left unmolested.

*If people complain about incurring harm, the group uses this as a sign to clean up its own act, not vilify and shame the people reporting this information.

*You do not sign any document in which you waive your legal right as a citizen to sue or mediate for damages in case you are injured during an event run by the group.

You are not pressured to go past your boundaries or disclose intimate or traumatic information. Your confidentiality is respected. You do not live in fear that any intimate disclosures you have made will be used to shame or control you.

** The leader and group tell the full truth about their origins, their finances, methods and you are able to give full and informed consent before deciding to participate. Methods are not kept secret.

*Your car keys, your phone, your laptop are not taken away from you.

*You are ensured 7 to 8 hours of sleep and breaks during events and you can bring your own food or have a choice of food options available. You are allowed to go sit by yourself at lunchtime or breaks if you need a privacy break.

*The leader and group are capable of reciprocating the loyalty they demand from you. In cults and bad relationships, the loyalty flow is always in one direction--to the leader and group. The few times the leader seems to reciprocate loyalty, a huge deal is always made and the many other times the leader is a selfish person are ignored.

*Actions match words.

*Principles before personality. You don't get all caught up in the leader's specialness or the group's specialness.

*The group does not claim endorsement by the scientific or medical establishment unless studies have been done by outside entities with no personal investment in the group and that material has been published in peer reviewed journals.

*The group and leader trust in attraction not promotion. They do not use the workplace, the client caregiver relationship and do not push people to use their friendships as sources of new recruits.

*A group that does not constantly change its doctrines or methods, forcing you to buy endless series of books, CDs, tapes.

*Doctrine remains stable--it doesn't get so complex that only its leader can understand it and the rest are left confused.

* Older editions of a groups books or literature are not destroyed or suppressed in an attempt to re-script the group or leader's history.

* The amount of money, time and attention you are expected to offer a group is clear in advance.

*You are never pressured to cut off friendships or associations with persons outside the group or who disagree with its teachings.

* A non cultic group does not encourage you to patronize a small network of 'recommended' businesses. You can consult therapists, doctors, contractors, yoga teachers, who are not in any way involved with the group.
"

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.

#####

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?

#####

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.

#####

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.'.

#####

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.?

#####

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

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

Monday, September 1, 2008

Logic, love, faith, power

Just to clear up two possible misunderstandings from the posts so far (thanks to the kind commentator who pointed this out):

1. When using direct quotes, I mention the source. But I sometimes also use imaginary quotes, for example `How could a Catholic possibly marry an Orthodox Jew? It is unthinkable'. I don't know of anyone directly saying this, but I'm sure something pretty similar has been said many a time. The reason for using imaginary quotes is that I want to illustrate in a general sense. This also helps to give people from many spiritual movements room to fill in their own specific details.

In these `quotes' you will also see a number of imaginary `saints' `prophets' `gurus' etc. I will typically take some semi-mystical name, and attach Shree or Shri and/or His Holiness. Example: `Performing this prayer precisely as prescribed will benefit a practising aspirant in a most effective way. It is very important to use these precise words, since they carry a special spiritual charge. The Prayer was revealed to Shri Bahjamahanuji by his Master , Shri Ram Krasnapolsi, in a Vision.'

2. When saying `heart' and `mind', I'm mostly using these as metaphors and I'm not referring to the actual organic functions. With `heart' I want to indicate a certain non-analytical, intuitive way of thinking, feeling, decision, behaviour, as opposed to `mind' by which I mean the rational, analytical, questioning, sometimes scientific approach. This description is not even very accurate, since our thinking and feeling is probably far more complex than such dichotomy, but it will (have to) do for the time being.

#####

So, let's continue from the previous post.

Why do the vast majority of spiritual movements insist so much on `heart over mind'? The simple answer would be, I believe, this:

Most spiritual movements incorporate in their Theory of Everything a number of very illogical and contradictory elements. The rational mind cannot help but pick at these elements. Because the rational mind knows, somewhere, that one and one simply doesn't add up to three.

But the rational mind can be suppressed, overruled, by the non-rational mind (which when seen from a positive perspective I call `heart', associated with love, trust, courage, etc.).

So when a Spiritual Movement says

`Ye of little faith, do you think that God is limited to what we can understand? Develop Faith in your heart, forget the mind. The Way to God is to cut the chains of rationality. Rationality leads to Doubt. But how can you doubt God? It is like pushing God away from you. Did not His Holiness Rinpoche Gelek Dharmi say: `When you see contradiction, you are still in the throngs of Duality. Reality lies beyond, and you must strive harder to still your mind.' ? Believe in the Leader, believe in the Method. Do not trust the workings of your dualistic mind, live and feel from the heart'.

then what happens as a by-result is that even the glaring inconsistencies of the Theory and History of the movement can be glossed over.

`You wonder how a saint of the caliber of Pujashri Amme Hula could possibly write such a negative text on homosexuality, when He proclaims that real-life tolerance and love are the pinnacles of spirituality. But you see, on the cosmic scale things have to be balanced. A Master must sometimes destroy, and for this Special Capacity is bestowed on our Master. So for a sincere follower it is essential to have faith in Our Leader, we cannot grasp His Role in the cosmic plane. Obedience is the only way to Heart Realization, there comes a point when we must bid the mind farewell.'

#####

You can imagine what happens, if when coming to a spiritual movement you see people behaving kind & loving & open all around you (with interesting exceptions of course). They share, they are interested in each other, and they really try to make something spiritual of their life. When compared to society in general, that is a relief. It can feel (and it did feel to me) like an oasis of human connectedness in a desert of individualism.

So the less simple answer to why spiritual movements insist on `heart over mind' could be that `mind over heart' doesn't work so well either when one is looking for ...well, a heartful existence!

Is it so difficult to conclude that what we are looking for is `neither this, neither that'? The opposition of `heart' vs `mind' to me seems artificial and dualistic in a limiting way. We are all of that and more. So if the heart protests, we should take heed. But if the mind protests we should take heed equally well. (I'm pushing my own convictions here, sorry)

Can anyone point out to me a spiritual movement which really gives rationality and science the place they deserve - imnsho of course?

#####

OK, now we can move on to power. The insistence on Absolute Faith, Obedience, Trust in the Leader/Prophet/Guru/Saint/... may even at one time have been well-intended, who knows. But in the course of time, one has to conclude that this mechanism has been misused over and over and over again by spiritual movements to establish Power.

Now, I'm not talking foremost about obvious and/or physical power.

Someone sometime very aptly observed (was it Mark Twain, I'm not sure): `Violence is the last resort of the incompetent'

The same holds for obvious power. Therefore typically, most spiritual movements try to establish moral power. For this, like discussed in previous posts, there has to be Absolute Morality, Moral Authority and Legitimization of the Leader.

When moral authority is established, moral power follows. And from moral power, also physical power follows. Because people start to act according to their thinking. If one can convince followers that the infidels must be driven out, according to God's Holy Wish, then sooner or later you will have followers starting a war to accomplish just that.

In less extreme forms, one can use Absolute Morality to appeal to `love your brothers and sisters in need, please donate to our good cause, for the benefit of all humanity'. A nice way to obtain Serious Money...leading to physical power.

[to be continued]