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

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Partial truth, secrets & things unsaid

OK. From my last comment on the previous post, one more pitfall strikes me as occurring commonly enough to mention separately.

In many spiritual movements (religions included), there are things unsaid and unrevealed, especially to `newcomers'. For instance, one may start out innocently in our Spiritual Movement, and slowly notice that all the top executive functions in the Pyramid and even almost all the midlevel executive functions are filled by men. So then one asks: `how come?'. And only then it turns out that in the philosophy of the Movement, the spiritual essence of `woman' is seen as different from the spiritual essence of `man', leading to the conclusion that men and women need to be separate at meditation and that the Guru can never be a woman, and all sorts of other consequences.

Truly Interested Seeker (TIS): `But you said spirituality unites? You said we are all humans, and we should not distinguish between race, age, poor, rich, man, woman,...yet here you are, drawing this thou-shalt-not-cross-line down the middle?'

Orthodox reply (OR): ` As one progresses on the Spiritual Path, insight grows. In the beginning, our Leader kindly takes the hand of the seeker, and slowly reveals the Truth according to the capacity and condition in the practicant. Do not doubt, doubt poisons the heart and weakens the will. Although man and woman are equally important, they are not spiritually equal, it is a given of Nature. As your heart sheds its old beliefs and false western preconceptions of emancipation, you will progress to the next stage.'

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Of course such examples of enlightenment-in-degrees set the stage for a glorious role of Partial Truth.

Partial Truth is where one can claim: I never lied to you, I just didn't tell you everything. A nice example of this (I think):

I push your car in the canal at night. You come back the following day, and think it stolen. I say: `One never knows, perhaps someone pushed it into the canal'. Did I lie?

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Partial truth is the perfect strategy to avoid confrontation, and yet still maintain a facade of truthfulness. It is an essential ingredient of manipulation. To be continued.

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.

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...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Us & them: homosexuality, woman, man AND science

What sparked this short series of posts on sexuality was a recent speech by my former spiritual guide in which he condemns homosexuality as unnatural and against the wish of God. Giving this as reason for not performing same-sex marriages.

The implications of such condemnation by a spiritual `leader' are manifold. I will probably not go into all of them.

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But the first thing that strikes me is that, coming from a Moral Authority, such condemnation divides humanity once again. We already had men vs. women, now we have also heterosexuals vs. homosexuals.

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The second thing that strikes me is the word `unnatural'. Here obviously this spiritual guide (and many like him) knows very little about nature. I cite wikipedia (article on homosexuality here, article on sexual orientation here):

Homosexual behavior in animals


Homosexual sexual behavior occurs in the animal kingdom, especially in social species, particularly in marine birds and mammals, monkeys, and the great apes. Homosexual behavior has been observed among 1,500 species, and in 500 of those it is well documented.[130][131]. This discovery constitutes a major argument against those calling into question the biological legitimacy or naturalness of homosexuality, or those regarding it as a meditated social decision. For example, male penguin couples have been documented to mate for life, build nests together, and to use a stone as a surrogate egg in nesting and brooding. In a well-publicized story from 2004, the Central Park Zoo in the United States replaced one male couple's stone with a fertile egg, which the couple then raised as their own offspring.[132]

The genetic basis of animal homosexuality has been studied in the fly Drosophila melanogaster.[133] Here, multiple genes have been identified that can cause homosexual courtship and mating.[134] These genes are thought to control behavior through pheromones as well as altering the structure of the animal's brains.[135][136] These studies have also investigated the influence of environment on the likelihood of flies displaying homosexual behavior.[137][138]

Georgetown University professor Janet Mann has specifically theorized that homosexual behavior, at least in dolphins, is an evolutionary advantage that minimizes intraspecies aggression, especially among males.[139] Studies indicating prenatal homosexuality in certain animal species have had social and political implications surrounding the gay rights debate.[140]


Almost all forms of human behaviour are seen in other animals as well. Nature is vast and complex. Who of us can really divine (this word is not a coincidence, you understand) what Nature is about?

But I can rather safely say that one does not see animals praying, or meditating under the guidance of a guru of the same species (please let me know if you spot something like this in Nature, outside of humanity). Therefore we can safely conclude that it is quite unnatural to meditate and to pray...

Also, egoless behaviour is seen in primitive to very primitive animals, but in higher mammals it doesn't normally, naturally occur. How about non-agression, altruistic love, non-powerhungry social behaviour?

I think we can safely conclude that most of the behaviour that spiritual movements advocate as spiritual, advanced etc. is quite un-Natural. Does this make a more united humanity, a more loving humanity, a peaceful humanity... undesirable?

`No no, it is unnatural you see, and against the wish of God. If God would have wanted a peaceful humanity, He would not have created us so aggressive.'

(Truth is, most great apes are far less aggressive than we humans. Very few mammals fight so violently amongst their own species as we do.)

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So, as usual, science comes to the rescue when medieval bias and unfounded popular beliefs and attitudes threaten some minority (or weaker part) of the population. No, dear Spiritual Leader, women are not spiritually different, and a woman can be as good a spiritual guide as a man. No, dear Spiritual Leader, homosexuality is not unnatural, and the sun does not revolve around the earth.

The (pre)medieval idea that the sun revolves around the earth is a good example of not being able to look beyond one's own nose. Galilei was -I'm not joking- persecuted by the roman catholic church for stating that the earth turns around the sun. Why did the catholic church consider this a dangerous idea? Because the bible stated otherwise. And surely, since humanity was so important to God, everything in creation revolves around us?

In fact, if we look at the truly mindstaggering number of stars and the incomprehensible dimensions of our universe alone, I think the greatest arrogance is to assume humanity is even anything close to important in the Grand Scheme of Things.

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So for someone to state that something is against God's wish...he or she has to think that they have some Special Connection to God, or am I mistaken? Is it a humble statement? Not that I take strongly against arrogance, I consider it a lot better than false humility. But spiritual movements often preach humility as a spiritual value, a desirable character trait. And they often claim that their Great Leader is so humble, a shining example to all.

`No no, you see, my Master is the most humble person I ever met. It is true that in His books He claims He is the Special Personality, sent down to help Humanity. But His Divine Grace shines through in every word. And of course He avoids to write directly that He is the Special Personality, He only infers it, out of humility.'

Humility? A truly humble person would - in my not so humble opinion- never agree to be a Great Leader, Guru, Guide, Special Personality, Master, Pope, whatever. She or he would never claim to know God's wishes. She or he would probably not feel unhumble enough to judge someone's sexual orientation either.

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That being said, I cannot even imagine the pain that homosexual followers of some spiritual movement or religion must feel when once again their sexual orientation is under moral siege by the Great Leader.

Does this loving Special Personality even stop to consider this pain? Or is it irrelevant, since by Special Divine Communication, God has spoken out to the Great Leader on this subject?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cognitive dissonance 3: followers and non-followers

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

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

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

3) How, personally, can one recognize one's own avoidance of cognitive dissonance, and how that of others? And how to deal with it?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quakers in the UK embrace same-sex marriage

Writing on the issue of homosexuality in earlier posts (click on pitfall 12: Woman & man), I am happy to repeat some news from the UK earlier this month:

(from the Guardian, 31 July 2009):

The Quakers today agreed to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples and said they would ask the government to change the law to allow Quaker registering officers to register same-sex partnerships in the same way as marriages.

At their annual meeting, held at the University of York, 1200 members gave their unanimous approval to revise relevant parts of Quaker Faith and Practice to treat gay marriages in the same way as heterosexual unions.

Michael Hutchinson, of Quakers in Britain, said: "Many of our meetings have told us that there are homosexual couples who consider themselves to be married and believe this is as much a testimony of divine grace as a heterosexual marriage. They miss the public recognition of this in a religious ceremony."

Following the Civil Partnership Act of December 2005, same sex couples in England, Wales and Scotland who share Quaker beliefs may opt for a blessing or commitment ceremony after entering a civil partnership.

While legislation allows same-sex partnerships to be registered as civil partnerships in law, the registrations cannot take place in the context of religious worship. Civil partnership is not recognised as marriage, although registered civil partners share almost the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples.

During this week's meeting, Quakers spoke about their personal experiences and said "whereas there was a clear, visible path to celebration and recognition for opposite sex couples" the same was not always true for those in same-sex relationships.

Quaker spokesman Anne Van Staveren said she did not foresee a surge in membership numbers following the decision.

"Anyone is welcome to attend a Quaker meeting but to become a Quaker, to understand the ways we live and worship, takes a little longer," she said. "Marriage ceremonies are for Quakers, but we are open to people to come and belong."

Resolving the hotly disputed issue of homosexuality in the church has not been as easy for other religious groups. This week the archbishop of Canterbury conceded the matter had caused an irreparable division in the Anglican communion.

I'm really happy that one spiritual movement has come out like this. And in fact they are ahead of the UK legislation, which still discriminates same sex couples. They are also far ahead of my former Sahaj Marg guru P. Rajagopalachari who said in a recent speech that homosexuality is unnatural and against the wish of God. Hopefully one day, spiritual leaders like him will be seen for what they are doing: adding to the division of humanity, instead of uniting humanity.

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?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A first list of pitfalls of spirituality

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

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

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