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

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.

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.

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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.'

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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?

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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]

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fulfillment, spiritual progress, ambition, inner circle, power

I've been reading some other websites on pitfalls associated with spiritual movements. If one reads beyond the difference in style and personalities, it is quite amazing how widespread these mechanisms seem to be. Also, I'm not sure that what I write has anything new to offer. But I suppose that another way of saying the same things is still worthwhile, if it helps people find their own path.

Anyway, first let me point out this link: the false guru test. The strength of this test (to me) lies in the fact that the author doesn't have a particular guru or spiritual movement in mind. This gives a certain neutrality and objectivity, which is similar to what science in its best form can offer. People can `fill in' the details from their Movement, and see for themselves if they might be in a certain danger zone. [Yes, I know, this presupposes that the author (Andrew Paterson) of the test knows what he's talking about...I think he does.]

I take out three elements of this test, since they fit in with the topic here. Let's start with no. 21:

21. Allows his followers to set up a hierarchy of access:
A guru must be accessible. If he is not, or if he allows his followers to block your access, then he is playing the role of a king and not a spiritual guide. A guru is only useful to the process of awakening if you can directly interact with him.

Of course this is directly tied to no. 20:

20. Is not interested in you personally:
If a teacher or guru does not have time to interact with you personally, then you may as well read his teaching from a book, because merely being in his presence doesn't help you find realization inside you. You may model some of his spiritual characteristics, but that often only places you deeper in illusion.

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Although I'm all for tests like these, I also get the feeling that many people try to lay blame on spiritual movements for mechanisms that one sees everywhere, also outside spiritual movements.

Because, to be honest, I have seen the above two items displayed in any large organization, if one replaces `guru' with `director', `secretary of state', `chief executive officer' etc.

So what happens if I were to examine my own role in being seduced by these power mechanisms? It might shed light on why other people do what they do, it might help me understand how supposedly `very advanced persons' (let's call them VAPs) allow themselves to become `very important persons', VIPs.

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So the whole thing for me (and there are others pointing this out, see the excellent analysis in Inner Circle of SRCM ) starts with the combination of fulfillment and progress. (I feel fulfilled if I progress, especially if I feel this progress is in the direction of a Lofty Goal.)

These two in turn fuel my ambition. Because I see others, who as a sign of their progress, have attained membership of the inner circle. The inner circle of trusted associates of the Leader(s), who are up-to-date on all the plans, who are often in close personal interaction with the Most Advanced/Important Person(s), say MAP/MIP. Who by this association receive special training, special attention,...extra progress therefore, and in this way extra fulfillment!

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Now it is easy to substitute some spiritual movement in the above. But it gets more interesting if I substitute my workplace surroundings, for instance. Or politics. Or a large sports organization, like the International Olypmic Committee. Or a large charity, like the World Nature Fund.

Because in each of these organizations, I am convinced that many people are looking for personal fulfillment, which they measure by their `progress' in the organization; the combination of which fuels their ambition to attract attention of the inner circle etc.

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So, going back to spiritual movements, I am not convinced that all these VAPs become VIPs because they are powerhungry. This would be too obvious a mechanism, as a pitfall it can be easily avoided by intelligent well-meaning people, and many people seriously interested in spirituality are exactly that.

Power mechanisms come into my existence as a spiritual `practitioner' because I allow myself to be seduced by the combination of `fulfillment' and `progress'.

The very idea of `spiritual progress' implies some form of judgment. It implies that some people are more spiritual than others. To be honest, I still make these judgments myself, but I have come to realize that such judgments are of a personal practical nature, and not in any sense Absolute or True. They reflect on me probably more than on those whom I place in the category `more spiritual behaviour' and 'less spiritual behaviour'.

And the obvious question is: what will happen if I stop judging like that?

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Accepting people the way they are...looks very spiritual. But for me it works in the practical sense only within certain limits. I cannot accept people ruthlessly exploiting other people, or worse. However, I have come to understand why some people are driven in that direction.

But mostly, within the (for me) most common situations, accepting people the way they are works better for me than judging their behaviour. And to come full circle, this of course is a reflection of self-acceptance and self-judgment.

Really accepting myself (within certain limits?) means, I think, not judging myself. It also means letting go of the idea of spiritual progress. There is no objective progress. There might be some mellowing out of tendencies which for some reason bother me (and/or others ;-) ). Fine, big deal.

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The appropriate element of the false guru test mentioned above is no. 4:

4. Focuses on enlightenment itself rather than teaching the path leading to it:
It is amazing how much false gurus have to say about enlightenment. They argue their points in the same way that the scholars in the middle ages argued how many angels could sit on the head of a pin. Any fool can talk about the end goal because what is said is irrefutable to most of your listeners. What is skillful is guiding those listeners to having awakening within themselves. The real teacher focuses on the path and strictly avoids any talk on enlightenment.

(I don't agree completely with this phrasing, but the point is valid, and is the same I believe as saying: don't focus on progress. Spirituality lies in `being'. Not in `becoming'.)

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With regard to my former spiritual movement, I have come to understand a lot of behaviour that I found mystifying and which made me angry. The same goes for my former workplace at a large ministry in my country. I find, in hindsight, that I can accept better that many people are driven by the mechanisms of fulfillment <--> progress --> ambition --> inner circle --> power. And I know I'm not free of it myself.

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This being said, I cannot accept that people willingly and knowingly abuse their power positions. Nor can I accept that they refuse to take real responsibility when they have been given power.

But what can I do, in a concrete practical sense?

First of all, I try not to give power to people who are enveloped in some inner circle mechanism. Famous pop artist? Secretary of State? Guru with 3 million followers? Director of Greenpeace? `Pleased to meet you, but if you'll excuse me I need to talk to my daughter about her new sweater'. No disrespect meant, but I have seen an incredible amount of fawning over VIPs. And am ashamed to say that I fawned a few times myself when meeting my former spiritual guide. Against my better judgment, it was a subconscious thing which I later managed to correct because I dislike these mechanisms.

Second, the asking of critical, insightful questions has always struck me as a good way to remind people of their responsibilities when in a power position.

Here often lie real eye-openers, with regard to the issue `heart' vs `mind'. Because most people in a position of power expect a fawning-like agreement from their underlings. Many even demand it explicitly! But if a technical proposal fails to meet its technical objective, and the VIP hasn't observed this and is all for the proposal...then what do you think happens if you ask the critical technical questions that reveal that the VIP has made a mistake?

It can be, I assure you from personal experience, an extremely funny situation!

And so thirdly, what I can do in a practical sense? I believe that making fun of ridiculous situations and opinions and positions and behaviour is a very effective way of puncturing the balloon of self-importance and Absolute Truth etc.

No wonder, that the least tolerant of spiritual movements are so serious. No wonder, that false gurus do not allow jokes about their proposals, theories and behaviour, except if they make them themselves to show off their sense of humour and humility (`Oh, look, He is so humble, He even jokes about Himself!').

Let alone, that they welcome real criticism and critical questions.

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.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Us & them: Sexuality, woman, man

Dear reader, I apologize for not having a clearcut path for this subject. Please understand that with sexuality being such a charged issue in many human communities, I won't be able to even slightly disentangle all the knots that we tie ourselves in around sex.

But the perspective of this blog (pitfalls of spirituality) would be incomplete I feel, if I left this subject out.

Because, like stated in the previous post, practically all spiritual movements and religions place emphasis on:

  • The purported spiritual difference between men and women, which is also used to explain why the Leader must be a man.
  • The `great spiritual importance' of sexual morality (the moralities differ greatly between movements though)
  • The purported immorality of homosexuality.


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Morality and moral pressure is one of the pitfalls of spirituality, in my not so humble opinion. Sexual morality is just an element of more general morality, but somehow spiritual movements place great emphasis on sexual morality. Having sex with a `wrong' person is often condemned far more strongly than -for instance- not helping someone in need, not caring for others, greed, etc.

It often seems that if one just not sleeps with anyone but the appointed spouse(s) - of the opposite sex of course- then one's morality is ok, according to the Spiritual Movement.

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To me, it appears that in our age some form of sexual morality is still necessary in a society/community to ensure a basic level of trust, working together, upbringing of children, not fighting over sexual partners, etc.

This is a far cry from the Great Sin which many spiritual movements make of `sex with the wrong person'.

Don't misunderstand me: breaching of trust, deception, callous lust, abandonment of children etc. do not strike me as very spiritual. But breaching of trust and deception can be just as bad or worse on a nonsexual level. Abandonment, not being there for someone in need, unlovingness, closed heart, the list of things we do to ourselves and others is far broader than just our sexual acts and thoughts and feelings.

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When sex is more than the physical act, it is also called making love. Make love, not war I recall as a slogan which made quite an impression on me when I was young.

The great spiritual problems of humanity to me lie more in the divisions of mankind, the fighting, the strife, the warfare, the power struggles etc. than in sex. Making love to me seems a very spiritual thing.

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So why do spiritual movements (religions included as always) make such a great deal of sexual division (man/woman) and sexual morality?

I think it ultimately has to do with power and control. Sex is an important issue to most people -one could well wonder why, since to me love is far more important, but things are what they are, and many people tie love & sex together etc and we end up with all these knots around sexuality.

Assuming moral authority over sexual issues therefore achieves a double goal. First, the Moral Authority gets an important hold over people's feelings and actions. This yields tremendous power, much of it subconscious but also regularly quite explicit. Second, the division between men and women usually gives organizational and societal power to the men. One can wonder why men-of-spirituality would like this, since supposedly spirituality is some sort of opposite from power struggles...

But for the time being I suspect a lot of the divide-et-impera (divide and rule, old Roman adagium) tactic behind much of spiritual movements' sexual morality.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fulfillment, mind & heart, and power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems an attractive proposition.

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

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

Mind over heart, or heart over mind?

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

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

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

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

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)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Us & them, woman & man, (homo)sexuality

`Us & them' is my shorthand for a fundamental division of humanity amongst any line. In my not so humble opinion, uniting humanity is a worthwhile and spiritual undertaking. Division of humanity hampers this undertaking, in my belief. Now in many spiritual movements, there is in words a large emphasis on seeing humanity as one. `We are all children of God'. `Consider all human beings to be your brothers and sisters'. And similar uplifting statements.

But there is at least one division which the vast majority of spiritual movements seem to underline, reinforce, advocate: the division between men and women.

For some reason, we seem really hooked to the idea that men and women are completely different in some fundamental spiritual way. The (physical) difference in reproductive organs seems to lead to some non-physical `spiritual' difference, even though we are summoned to see other physical differences -such as length, weight, skin colour, etc - as trivial in the spiritual sense. Even large cultural & age differences are seen as outer wrappings, not significant at all in the spiritual sense. But gender, boy, girl, that really makes us sweat.

This leads to the amazing conclusion that for most spiritual movements I have far more in common with an 81 yrs old Mbuti man [the Bambuti are hunter-gatherers from Congo], than with my wife who has the same age as me, who has lived in the same country as me, etc.

This perceived fundamental difference historically has translated into many discriminatory situations, where mostly men put themselves in position of religious power, and then dictate some version of sexual morality. Women are mostly banned from these positions of power, and this banishment is justified by variations on the claim that since men and women are so spiritually different, only men have the necessary spiritual make-up for these positions.

To me it seems a spiritual pitfall which branches out from sexuality to morality, from `woman & man' to `us & them' and ultimately to power. This is a complex issue, and I imagine it will take me several posts to only skim the surface. One thing that I would like to say in advance is that sexuality is some kind of hot potato in most spiritual movements and religions, and I believe this to be intimately linked to power and control issues. Ultimately I see this as the reason why homosexuality is considered such a threat (`unnatural', `against the wish of God', etc.) by many spiritual movements.

In subsequent posts I will therefore turn to scientific knowledge about homosexuality, to show why the above positions of spiritual movements on homosexuality are comparable to the 17th century position of the christian church on the question whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa.

Two weeks ago I saw the documentary `Jerusalem is proud to present', and tears sprang in my eyes to see the active violence and death threats against gay people by fundamental religious movements. A short description from the website of the uk jewish film festival:

Last summer [2006] Jerusalem was due to host the annual World Pride celebrations and gay pride parade, unprecedented in the city’s history. This hair-raising documentary captures the homophobic hate campaign launched by fundamentalist religious groups. Death threats pour into the Open House, Jerusalem’s LGBT community center, while in the Jerusalem City Council arguments for equality from its only openly gay member are met with verbal abuse, and a mayor so disinterested in democracy he simply leaves the room.

Orthodox Jews riot in the streets, their chief Rabbi apparently sanctioning violence to stop the ‘defilement’ of the holy city (interviewees include a gay rights activist stabbed during a previous march). The escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict further impedes World Pride preparations, and the eventual compromise was controversial among the gay community. Gilady’s film is nevertheless an important record of bravery in an environment where the only thing uniting some Jewish, Christian and Arab leaders is their hatred for gay people.


This `woman & man' thread will be continued over the next posts. But let me state again, if one purpose of spirituality is to unite humanity, then it will not do for a spiritual movement to make such distinctions between men and women and anyone in between, and between heterosexuals and homosexuals and anyone in between...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Positive thinking 2: groupthink and denial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this an effective strategy?

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

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

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

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

Be truthful.

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

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

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

Paraphrasing this memo:

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Honesty, truthfulness & openness (partial truth, secrets & things unsaid 2)

(continued from the previous post)

So let's look at things from the other `positive' side. Personally, one of the most important qualities that I associate with spirituality has to do with truthfulness, honesty, transparency or openness, whatever you prefer.

Of course I'm not talking about situations where one lies to the Gestapo to save fugitives' lives. I'm not even saying that it is humanly possible to be truthful all the time, simply because I think we cannot discern even our own personal truth 100% accurately. Perhaps I could even come up with situations where it would be more kind, more humane to lie to another person, even if there are no fugitives to be saved.

I'm not talking about all that. I'm talking about the large majority of cases where telling partial truth -leaving important things unsaid, hidden- or even lying is simply an instrument to avoid confrontation, or for personal gains. In a large majority of cases, I think we know what the truth is, or we know so enough, but we choose to tell only a part of it.

All a part of la condition humaine, I suppose. Still, for me it is a spiritual tenet to strive for truth, honesty, transparency / openness. The fact that we're not on that level yet doesn't mean for me that it would not be better if people were more honest with each other.

I believe this tenet to be advocated by most spiritual movements. Be truthful. Don't deceive. Yet many spiritual movements practice a graded truth in their Pyramid. And many spiritual movements keep things hidden, unsaid, unknown but to the Inner Circle. Examples of things kept hidden:

  • Financial holdings & dealings for instance, to be sure! But also controversies, power struggles, power abuse, sexual indulgence, other not so holy-looking behaviour, well the list of cover-ups is probably endless.
  • Marketing strategies for new books (what and when to release, what price to ask). Proselytization strategies (where to hold gatherings, which countries to visit, what message to give to newcomers, how to ensure retention of (new) practicants).
  • Also, and not as infrequently as one would think!, secrets and secret rites, initiations, secret organizational groups, secret meetings.
  • Parts of the spiritual theory (to be revealed when a practicant is singled out as a trainer or priest-like functionary)
  • Less-than-shiny details of its History
  • Criticism of the Movement by serious well-meaning people


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Suppose our generic Spiritual Movement consistently shows any or many signs of the above. In all honesty I do not see how one can rhyme this with `be truthful'. Apart from other unwanted effects, it also comes down to separating humanity once again: `Us in the know' and `Them not in the know'.

As I wrote earlier, uniting humanity to me seems a worthy spiritual endeavour although we are surely a far cry from such unification. To me, many of the pitfalls that are discussed on this blog actually hamper us in becoming united.

For me, to respect you and to feel connected, I cannot willingly deceive you. The same, but more difficult perhaps, holds for me deceiving myself as well. If I am honest to myself, only then can I be honest to you. Making mistakes, holding less-than-desirable thoughts, reacting `badly', it's all part of the game. To play the game sportingly, with respect and with others as my equals, this to me means that conscious deception of any form is out of bounds - ball to the other side...;-) so no moral pressure but you get my drift.

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In short:

To me, a spiritual movement which is not truthful and open about its finances, about its holdings, about its power structures, initiation levels, spiritual theory, history, criticism from well-informed and well-meaning members, proselytization strategies, ...

does not deserve the name `spiritual movement'.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Charismatic groups (intermezzo)

Once one starts looking for information and studies regarding spiritual movements, there seems to be a vast amount of research and descriptions of experiences. So much so, that I wonder once again if this blog has anything substantial to add.

But then again, it won't hurt either to look at these things from a personal perspective of a former follower of a `charismatic group'. Marc Galanter starts out his book with a description and very short definition of this term:

A charismatic group is characterized by the following:

1) Members have a shared belief system
2) Members sustain a high level of social cohesion
3) Members are strongly influenced by the group's behavioural norms
4) Members ascribe charismatic (or sometimes divine) power to the group or its leadership

Notice that these traits can hold also for non-spiritually-oriented groups. Also notice that for the large religions, most of these traits are watered down due to the large numbers and the diversity of the followers. Which is why the large religions are usually not considered charismatic groups, although they all count various much smaller submovements/subgroups which can be very charismatic.

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For the purpose of this blog, it might once again be helpful to list some characteristics of charismatic spiritual groups that I have seen in many descriptions:

a) Gradual introduction/conversion of new members, usually through personal contact, in a family-like setting. Repeated enhancement of the `family' feeling through spiritual gatherings and other activities, often involving an ashram or other facility where communal living is the norm.

b) One's own physical/spiritual well-being is linked to a higher noble spiritual Goal (`Meditate, and you will feel better. But also you will help uniting Humanity, and bring about a world where love is the predominant guiding principle.')

c) Some special practice, usually involving some state of altered consciousness. Very frequently this includes some form of meditation. The experiences with and results of this `special' practice are discussed among members, and good things are associated with it. The specialty is stressed from time to time: `other movements do not have this Method' (exclusiveness).

d) A Special Leader, who has a direct Divine connection. His Guidance and Helping Hand are mystic and beyond rational understanding. `Surrender' is the way for a follower to achieve spiritual progress.

e) A strong behavioural code, together with a lot of `positive' groupthink. Occasional criticism might be possible, but is made relatively light of. Fundamental criticism of the Leader or the Movement is frowned upon. Positive `witnessing' is encouraged and rewarded [witnessing: relating one's experiences with the Method/Leader and one's resulting insights; `So when I was having a real difficult time in my life, the image of the Leader appeared when I was doing my Morning Prayer. He spoke to me and said: `Be strong, and do not listen to your Ego. Let God do His work on you, do your Practice and have Faith'. So I decided to go to satsangh regularly, and my other problems became lighter!'].

f) An Inner Circle of long-practicing members, who are close to the Leader. Positions in this Inner Circle are coveted, as a sure sign of spiritual progress and the elevated opportunity for direct Guidance from the Leader. Management of the Movement's Organization is organized hierarchically, with the Inner Circle at the top of the Pyramid.

Dear reader, if much of the above looks familiar to a movement that you participate(d) in, then it might interest you to know that from many many studies it has been assessed that in such charismatic groups the risks of manipulation and power abuse are manifold.

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One thing which strikes me particularly is the element (c) above: the special practice. Often it is some form of meditation (prayer, chanting) which can both be done individually and in a group.

The altered state of consciousness arising from meditation is well-documented, even scientifically. Generally, mental health benefits are associated with many forms of meditation (that doesn't mean that all forms of meditation are beneficial to everyone, and like stated in this previous post on spiritual energy the human brain is still largely uncharted territory). Many charismatic groups however claim these benefits as being uniquely due to their Method.

But more importantly, the altered state of consciousness is often used to `prove' the Leader's specialness (and the Movement's specialness) and to underscore the need to let go of rationality. Therefore the `transcendental' experiences are often used to manage the cognitive dissonance which can arise out of internal contradictions of the Movement/Theory/Inner-Circle-Behaviour.

A frequently occurring advice when followers are experiencing doubts and start asking critical questions: `Meditate more. Don't try to understand with the mind. You must feel what is right. Especially since God cannot be found with the mind, but only through the heart.'...or something similar.

(to be continued with the thread on `Cognitive dissonance and boundary control')

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ego and selflessness, selfishness and malice

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

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

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

6. Wonders & miracles
13. Ego & selflessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cognitive dissonance 7: boundary control (end of thread)

So let's finish with the three yet-undiscussed elements of boundary control that I perceive to be used often in spiritual movements by their Inner Circle:

2) Limiting contact with `outside' world views
3) Blackening of former followers
6) Limiting free discussion between members, that is discussion which is not in some way controlled or influenced by Inner Circle orthodoxy.

(the other elements being:
1) Intensive recruiting of new followers (see previous post)
4) Partial truth & secrets (already discussed intensively in earlier posts)
5) Stressing the need to forego rationality (likewise already discussed))

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ad 2): There are various ways for the Inner Circle of a spiritual movement to limit contact of the followers with the broader societal views. Clearly, physical separation is frequently seen, by creating communes and the like. But Marc Galanter's book gives several examples which are more subtle. From my own experience with Sahaj Marg, I remember that various law suits in which SRCM is involved are being kept largely from the followers. As well as the fact that there are sizable dissenting factions which claim (with more than passing credibility) that the guru-succession in SRCM on the death of its founder has been a vicious power struggle involving decidedly unspiritual manipulation. This is perhaps also a case of 4): Partial truth and secrets.

Anyway, the reason for limiting contact with `outside' world views and conflicting information is obvious, as Marc Galanter points out. For a charismatic group to maintain its group identity and group rationale, cognitive dissonance should not become too big. Certain anomalies and contradictions -between the Theory on the one hand and on the other hand the worldly activities of the Movement plus the possible worldly opposition against the Movement- are most easily managed if the followers are largely unaware of their existence.

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The motives behind 3) and 6) are of course completely similar. In Sahaj Marg, followers are repeatedly asked by guru P. Rajagopalachari not to create discussion forums on internet, with the reason given that these forums could be targeted by `malicious' individuals (looking to harm SRCM specifically). This of course holds for any discussion forum on the internet. Generally, the pros of a discussion forum outweigh the cons, especially if one takes some simple measures against `trolling'. Therefore, a more likely reason to prohibit these forums is that they are uncontrollable by the Inner Circle, and thus prone to becoming a source of cognitive dissonance. Discussions on whether it is `spiritual' to ask €250 for a book of which the guru says that it is essential for your spiritual progress, for instance...

The internet therefore poses a real problem for Inner Circles wishing to exercise boundary control.

Because most spiritual movements have their own publisher's media, such as newsletters, quarterly journals, videos, cd's, books etc. These media are in many if not most cases under rigourous guidelines/supervision by the Inner Circle. Typically therefore, one encounters in say a quarterly journal -say Truth at Home or something similar- lots of positive feedback from both Inner Circle and `ordinary' followers. Truth at Home, like the other publications, so likely becomes an active instrument of the Inner Circle to reinforce the Message. Critical letters, `bad' news, accounting figures, property holdings, etc...are simply not published.

But the internet today is easily accessible to all followers. It cannot be controlled by the Inner Circle, yet it also yields results about relatively unimportant and obscure groups - in contrast with the traditional media (books, television, radio, newspapers). So therefore, it can also contain specific criticism against their Movement, small though it may be. Criticism which the Inner Circle cannot edit out or block from reaching followers.

This criticism is often the most threatening -like stated in one of the earlier posts on cognitive dissonance- when it comes from (longtime) former followers. Because they are really in the know, and their arguments are often not so easy to dismiss as the more uninformed criticism coming from general society. Often their arguments point out the fundamental internal inconsistencies in the Movement. (And then, what happens with the child who repeatedly sees different Santas? Who comes across a Santa whose beard accidentally falls off? Who sees Santa drunk, who sees parents sneaking in with presents, ...).

One way for the Inner Circle to deal with this particular `former follower' threat is to blacken their character and motives. (Yes, this occurs in all types of organizations, I know. One just would expect this not to happen in a spiritual organization...). As an example, I have been called an `enemy of spirituality' by my former guru P. Rajagopalachari ;-) And with me, all former followers who blog about their experiences with Sahaj Marg. It's funny enough, but I'm not kidding. Still I can't possibly take it very seriously, for me personally I mean.

It does beg the question what part of the boundary control is conscious and what part un- or subconscious. Personally, I'm inclined to believe in `good' intentions of most people. This would imply that many Inner Circles have a high level of cognitive dissonance and corresponding avoidance. Indeed Marc Galanter describes this to be very often the case, complete with delusional world views and self-aggrandizement / overimportance / self-proclamation of divinity (direct or indirect) etc.

One should not forget that it often takes decades for Inner Circle members to attain their Inner Circle position. Time enough to build up a significant cognitive dissonance avoidance. Also, by the nature of the enormous time & effort investment made, if their position and/or their rationale is threatened one should not be surprised to see them react in what I would deem rather unspiritual ways.

Dear reader, to me it seems none of us are free from these mechanisms. But for me, having been at the receiving end of such unspiritual reaction, it has been a great help to analyze the possible motives. This analysis gives me a fresh perspective, and also allows for understanding and forgiveness, on the personal individual level.

Then, if all is peace and love now ;-), you might wonder why I still find it necessary to write on this blog from time to time. The answer is still the same simple one that I started out with: it helps me to analyze my experiences, feelings and thoughts, and I find it likely that some other people can benefit from this analysis also.

Still, I think it will be quiet on this blog for some time to come, since this particular pitfall (cognitive dissonance avoidance & boundary control) has had enough attention, I believe.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cognitive dissonance 5: boundary control and Inner Circle

Continued from the previous post, which ended with:
This forming of some kind of `family feeling' is very common in spiritual movements, religious groups included. What Marc Galanter describes as boundary issues, concerns the interaction between that `family' and the rest of society.

On rereading, it appears that Galanter only uses the term `boundary control'. I'm glad however to have used `boundary issues' previously, since I associate boundary control more specifically with conscious management of the boundary issues. Galanter uses a systems-theoretical approach for charismatic groups; for him `control' can be brought about in and by a group on the human subconscious level also [an interesting and valid approach, I believe. I will come back to the term `charismatic group'].

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Anyway. To resume: the vast majority of spiritual movements (religions included) make a marked distinction between followers and non-followers. In my not so humble opinion this already casts a strange light on any claim by such movement that uniting humanity is one of their goals. Yet such or similar claims are very common to these spiritual movements. This is just one example of cognitive dissonance avoidance, but I repeat it because I believe it to be a telling example.

Telling in the sense that the need for some `separate' group structure is so strong, that the resulting logical contradiction between goal (`uniting humanity') and behaviour (dividing humanity) is blocked from perception - cognitive dissonance avoidance.

Why does the need to form a `separate group' arise? It is precisely to maintain a certain set of beliefs, in the face of a surrounding society which challenges these beliefs. And the more the movement's beliefs differ from what general society holds as normal, the stronger the need for reinforcement of the movement's beliefs through a close-group mechanism.

And even stronger, when the movement's beliefs start becoming self-contradictory or unlikely to the point of self-delusion. Because then, even a relatively neutral outsider can point out: `but the Emperor is naked!'.

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So, it is in this light that I would like to discuss `boundary control'.

And let me start with a perhaps unexpected example from history. One would say that Christianity is supposed to be a spiritual movement centered around the love for humanity. So how would it strike you if a high and undisputed Church authority would pass the death penalty on the complete population of the Netherlands, with the expectation of it being carried out as well?

It simply beggars belief, yet it is exactly what took place on 16 February, 1568. The Inquisition condemned the entire populace of the Netherlands (around 3 million people at that time I believe) to death, and king Philip II of Spain was all set to have it carried out too. Why? Well, simply put, the Dutch were heretic. They had taken it in their convoluted minds that Catholicism was wrong, and that Protestantism was a better way of looking at Christianity.

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The extreme example above is meant to show to what lengths the Inner Circle of a spiritual movement can be willing to go to protect the Movement. Lutheranism and Calvinism were seriously threatening the Catholic Church's stranglehold on Europe. (And there was a good reason for this: the inner contradictions of Catholicism had become too large, and increasingly impossible to ignore.)

In this series on cognitive dissonance avoidance, this is a natural point to mark my difference in looking at individual followers (often kind, loving, concerned people) and the Inner Circle (also individually often kind etc, but somehow so strongly in the grip of maintaining power/control and preserving the Movement that they are willing to twist even the most basic principles of their own Theory to achieve their control and preservation goals).

As you can guess, I tend to look on many individual cognitive dissonance situations as being relatively equal from different positions. We all suffer from cognitive dissonance avoidance, I believe. Does any one of us know even in the slightest what this Universe is all about? [OK, I know a majority of people might answer yes to this...but I mean: really?]

But I have great difficulty accepting the manipulation schemes which many Inner Circles in Spiritual Movements (religions included) employ to control their followers, and to protect their boundary as a group.

(to be continued, with examples)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cognitive dissonance 4: former followers & boundary mechanisms

Let's continue with discussing possible answers to the second and third question from the previous post, which I repeat here for readability:

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?

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So with regard to question 2, I think it is relevant to note that the body-of-thoughts-and-beliefs of dedicated followers of a particular spiritual movement is often quite different than the body-of-thoughts-and-beliefs of non-followers. And like I said in the previous post, for both sides the problem in communication can lie in the fact that what is logical to the one, is contradictory to the other.

If we forget about most established religions for a moment -in most established religions, children are brought up in the religion also-, then strikingly, many followers of newer spiritual movements joined their movement later in life, most likely as an adult, after having first experienced an existence as `normal' non-follower of that movement. Often it is precisely some more-or-less articulated disappointment with that `normal' society which brings them to try out participation in their spiritual movement.

This `disappointment' can well be formulated in terms like `spiritual longing', for reasons explained in the previous post. As opposed to the `normal' materialistic or ritualistic/orthodox approaches to life.

However, most non-followers have not experienced an existence as follower. To me it often seems that they underestimate the benefits of following, and they overestimate the `normal' society -in which we have human neglect, abuse, violence, depravity, isolation, greed, power hunger etc... thankfully with many exceptions, but still dominant enough to shape the world in a seldom peaceful and respectful way. Is it surprising that many followers of a spiritual movement often dismiss the arguments against following from non-followers? It is in a sense less surprising, I believe, than that many non-followers often dismiss the arguments fór following from followers...;-)

There is however an interesting group of non-followers whose arguments cannot be so easily dismissed by followers: the former followers, especially those who participated for quite some time. People who know the Movement well, who know the Theory, the Practice, the Pyramid, the Inner Circle and the Leader. And who of course also know quite some followers on a personal basis. Probably or possibly there are some other non-followers who are well-informed, well-experienced, and well-connected to followers. For brevity's sake consider them included when the term `former followers' is used.

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So, it is my personal experience that it is easier for followers to completely avoid talking with me about most things related to the Movement (in my case Sahaj Marg), but especially on the subject of why I decided to stop with it.

Although surprising to me, and initially not pleasant, I found this blanket of silence illuminating. I now think that followers whom I really care for, and who vice versa care for me, see no other way to reconcile the different positions than by adapting the position that I'm an OK person, but am deluded by the foils of my ego. They find it painful to be confronted by the use of my inside knowledge to bring out the discrepancies between the Theory of the Movement and the daily state of affairs. My bringing out the discrepancies causes them to experience cognitive dissonance, precisely because what I have to say in that respect makes too much sense to be easily dismissed.

And so I have learned to see this silence as a sign of their caring for me, which I appreciate. Still, I would of course like more to be able to discuss things out in the open. Perhaps I would learn about my own ego foils then too - no doubt they exist, and are seen sharply by the people who know me best.

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This gives us a straight lead to question 3: How, personally, can one recognize one's own avoidance of cognitive dissonance, and how that of others? And how to deal with it?

Once again I have to say that I do not know anything even close to a complete answer to this question. To recognize my own avoidance of cognitive dissonance, I think both the heart-approach and the mind-approach which I mentioned at the closing of this previous post might sometimes be helpful:

Heart-approach: I think part of the answer lies in `unease'. If I'm experiencing some form of unease for a prolonged period of time, then this could well be an indication that I'm avoiding some insights and some conclusions which would force me to change my belief system. (Accepting this unease for a prolonged period of time might well lead me to a serious form of self-delusion, I believe).

Mind-approach: `face the facts'. Making a factual list of the important issues, I might be able to pierce through the cognitive dissonance avoidance mechanism.

(For me it sometimes helps to make an alternative fact list. By this I mean a list of alternatives to what I perceive as problematic. For example: what if there were more recognized Guides in the Movement, instead of just one Leader? So that a Guide would be truly accessible for all seekers, and there would be far less personal idolatry etc. OK, if this seems better, then why isn't it like that in the Movement? Does not the Theory state that everyone can become a Master, and that the Method is simple and efficacious....so why aren't there more Masters, after all these years?...)

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Recognizing the avoidance of cognitive dissonance in others seems so much easier ;-). I recently came across a really funny postcard stating:

Be reasonable...do it my way!

It made me laugh because of its utter simple and yet accurate description of what I consider to be at the root of most of our world's problems.

However, if I think to be wise enough to spot cognitive dissonance avoidance in someone else, perhaps this can help me in changing my strategy for communicating with that other person. Perhaps I might consider finding some other level of communicating than that of rational argumentation. Or perhaps I might just switch to asking some neutral-in-tone questions, not meant per se to convince but more to illustrate my own position. Or perhaps I might want to discuss only simple facts, which can be easily recognized for what they are.

Or, a different strategy which I fear is the most common: avoid the subject altogether...which is however not usually my initial style with people whom I really care for. Still, in my eyes it seldom helps to harden positions and go into verbal battlemode. Changing belief systems is a slow process, at least for me, so probably for others too. Why not give ourselves and each other time?

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The above also describes what Marc Galanter calls `boundary issues' (if I remember correctly). Many spiritual movements consider themselves separate from `normal' society in some way (also see the posts on the pitfall Us and Them).

To give an interesting example: in Sahaj Marg participants are encouraged to know all people as thy brethren and treat them as such. This no doubt has helped bring about that participants are used to start talks with words like `dear brothers and sisters'. But also, unconsciously, to bring about that the words `brother(s)' and `sister(s)' are often being used exclusively to indicate other Sahaj Marg participants like in the sentence: `our brothers and sisters in the United States are all very happy that Master is coming to visit'.

Now, to me it seems obviously impossible that all the people in the United States are happy that the Master of Sahaj Marg is coming to visit. So the statement can only be read as to imply that `brothers' and `sisters' are particularly those USA residents who also practice Sahaj Marg. So Sahaj Marg promotes a family feeling among participants (also quite explicitly in speeches and texts), but thereby excluding the rest of humanity, in direct contradiction with their own maxim 6: `Know all people as thy brethren and treat them as such.' In other words: not uniting humanity as is their stated intention, but dividing it. And being blind to the division, I would wager, because it is not out of malice or lack of empathy or lack of concern for others.

This forming of some kind of `family feeling' is very common in spiritual movements, religious groups included. What Marc Galanter describes as boundary issues, concerns the interaction between that `family' and the rest of society.

This will be the focus of the next post, to be continued therefore. Still, I feel that there is not longer much more for me to say on this subject, so maybe one or two posts and then I will be done with it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cognitive dissonance 2: mind & heart

Back to the last question raised in the previous post:

How can it be a problem and a pitfall, if by a slow process of avoiding cognitive dissonance, I gradually come to hold views and beliefs which earlier would have been paradoxical or morally wrong to me?

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In my eyes, the question is relevant (otherwise I wouldn't ask it of course ;-)), but my answer will take some time because I do not perceive this as a black-and-white issue.

Any development, any learning implies (I believe) that I change my views and beliefs. And even in mathematics, I have experienced that what I first thought to be contradictory or impossible, later turned out to be correct or possible, once seen in the correct light or with the correct enabling definitions. (Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view, the other way round also occurs frequently in mathematics.).

So to me the pitfall lies not in the changing of my views and beliefs per se. The pitfall lies in me deluding myself. In the posts on partial truth I raised the example of me riding over your bicycle, and then claiming that at the last moment your bicycle jumped under my car, damaging my front fender. You might laugh at this example, but I'm sure that people have given stranger testimony of events. Witchcraft, voodoo, and also Divine Intervention are but a few names given by people to justify things they say and/or think to have witnessed.

This car-bicycle example is of course rather mild. Things get more worrisome, when we consider a number of psychological experiments in which more profound consequences of belief-changing and rationalization were found to occur easily. Some of these experiments have become famous, also for their ethical dilemma: is it ethical to subject people to such an experiment?

In the famous Milgram experiment the participants were asked to give punitive dosages of electricity to subjects (this was actually not really happening, but the participants thought it was real). Although most participants had some initial trouble accepting that it was okay to do so, in the end they ended up giving really painful electrical shocks to their subjects (so they thought). The authorative figure of the doctor in charge told them it was ok, and rather than upsetting this expert authority and being a troublemaker, they chose to believe that what the doctor said had to be true.

From wikipedia:
Milgram's testing revealed that it could have been that the millions of accomplices were merely following orders, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs.[3] Milgram summarized the experiment in his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience", writing:

`The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.
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In another famous experiment The Third Wave, a class was slowly led by their history teacher to accept and join a (fictitious) movement `The Third Wave' which had clear fascistic tendencies. Quoting from Wikipedia:
Jones writes that he started the first day of the experiment (Monday, April 3 1967[2]) with simple things like proper seating, drilling the students until they were able to move from outside the classroom to their seats and take the proper seating position in less than 30 seconds without making a sound.[3] He then proceeded to strict classroom discipline emerging as an authoritative figure and improving efficiency of the class dramatically.

Jones closed the first day's session with a few rules, only meaning to be a one day experiment. Students had to be sitting at attention before the second bell, had to stand up to ask or answer questions and had to do it in three words or less, and were required to preface each remark with "Mr. Jones."[3]

On the second day he managed to meld his history class into a group with a supreme sense of discipline and community.[3] Jones named the movement "The Third Wave", after the common belief that the third in a series of ocean waves is last and largest.[3] Jones made up a salute resembling the one of Nazi regime[1] and ordered class members to salute each other even outside the class. They all complied with this command.[3]

The experiment took on a life of its own, with students from all over the school joining in: on the third day the class expanded from initial 30 students to 43 attendees. All of the students showed drastic improvement in their academic skills and tremendous motivation. All of the students were issued a member card and each of them received a special assignment (like designing a Third Wave Banner, stopping non-members from entering the class, etc). Jones instructed the students on how to initiate new members, and by the end of the day the movement had over 200 participants.[3] Jones was surprised that some of the students started reporting to him when other members of the movement failed to abide by the rules.[3]

On Thursday, the fourth day of the experiment, Jones decided to terminate the movement because it was slipping out of his control. The students became increasingly involved in the project and their discipline and loyalty to the project was astounding. He announced to the participants that this movement is only a part of a nationwide movement and that on the next day a presidential candidate of the movement would publicly announce existence of the movement. Jones ordered students to attend a noon rally on Friday to witness the announcement.[3]

Instead of a televised address of their leader, the students were presented with an empty channel. After few minutes of waiting, Jones announced that they had been a part of an experiment in fascism and that they all willingly created a sense of superiority that German citizens had in the period of Nazi Germany. He then played them a film about Nazi regime. That was the end of the experiment.[3]


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[As an aside, these types of experiment are why I am really extremely wary of anyone advocating obedience-without-thinking to some Moral Authority. Any spiritual guide which I deem worthy of that name should have knowledge of these experiments, or at least insight in how the atrocities of the second World War and similar genocidal practices could possibly happen.

With this insight and knowledge in mind, I don't believe a spiritual guide would ever ask for total unthinking obedience (see also the posts on obedience). Because this insistence alone could very well be very painful for all those who have suffered under the consequences of totalitarian regimes.]

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So, to come back to the pitfall that I perceive in the avoidance of cognitive dissonance, can I find out the divide between learning and development on the one hand, and self-delusion on the other?

I'm sorry to say that I believe this to be very difficult for most if not all of us.

As an example, I'm quite positive that many practicants of my former spiritual movement Sahaj Marg will consider me self-delusional. I am being led astray by my mind, and -poor soul- have lost contact with my heart. My mind is creating all sorts of ego-fed illusions, and therefore I am blinded from the love of the Master. Something like that.

I cannot find a 100% proof that they are wrong. It is just that their view no longer jibes sufficiently with mine, which leads me to holding more the opposite view. So perhaps this is a good moment to explain why this blog is meant mostly for people who are uneasy with their spiritual movement, and cannot put their finger on their unease. This is partly because I do not think that I cán influence people who are happy in their heart-oriented participation in a spiritual movement. But also partly because I'm not sure that I want to influence these people.

If they are happy and fulfilled, and they do not grievously wrong others, then who am I to want to change that?

The counter-remark to this is of course that if I consider the Inner Circle of a Spiritual Movement to be actively deceptive and power abusive, then I would also hold the well-meaning members responsible to some extent, for they are the ones giving power to this Inner Circle.

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The question for this post remains:

How can I, personally, just for me, decide whether I am deluding myself (or am being led to delude myself)?

I think part of the answer lies in `unease'. Accepting some form of unease for a prolonged period of time might well lead me to a serious form of self-delusion. (You might call this the heart-approach)

Another part lies in: `face the facts'. Making a factual list of the important issues, I might be able to pierce through the cognitive dissonance avoidance mechanism. (You might call this the mind-approach).

I will come back to this, but for now this post is already terribly long, and should take its ending. To be continued.