When the disciple is ready (read: suggestible) the guru gives techniques that have a specified goal and predicted end result.
Followers are told they will eventually acheive, by meditating in a specific way, experiences such as:
- See a white star surrounded by blue light inside a golden halo (the spiritual eye); or,
- Feel subtle energies in an astral body (such as chakras or awaken kundalini); or,
- Hear astral sounds or hear the cosmic sound of Om; or,
- Unite their consciousness with God or feel One with everything; or,
- Attain cosmic consciousness, enlightenment, nirvana, or samadhi (the states the guru supposedly has attained).
The particular promised results do not matter.
“The mind can eventually construct any image it focuses upon”, say Kramer and Alstad in The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power.
The disciple is told that regular practice of the given meditation techniques will eventually bring higher states of consciousness and possibly even the highest states of cosmic or unity consciousness, samadhi, or enlightenment1. Though, attaining these states may take years or lifetimes2.
The given meditation techniques work on dismantling self-image and self-trust3, and repeated practices help to make the disciple highly susceptible to suggestions from the guru and the group.
The most vulnerable to manipulation
The people most vulnerable to manipulation are those who are extremely serious about seeking enlightenment or those who may be psychologically unstable.
By psychologically unstable we are referring to persons who may have a tendency or history for psychological disorders, the three most common are derealization, depression, or anxiety4.
The extremely serious and the psychologically unstable devotee are at greater risk from mental techniques that are aimed at disassembling or breaking down the ego personality or self-concept. These kinds of staunch practicers may be prone to believing that hallucinations or delusions are real, glimpses of subtle dimensions or astral energies.
Devotees that are extremely serious in practice of given techniques, who surrender themselves (read: self-image) completely to, and who literally obey the instructions of the guru and group are in the process of breaking down the ego personality or self-concept. Serious disciples are those who attempt to surrender completely, to give up their will (“Thy will be done”, Matthew 6:10) to the guru, to the power of the techniques.
Psychological danger and vulnerability increases as the disciple gets “hell-bent” on emptying self of ego, in an attempt to instead get filled (read: channel) the Higher Self, guru or god. (I recall while I was a monk in the SRF order it was common to hear statements such as “when the ego steps out, god steps in” or “let go [of self] and let god [or guru]”).
The person who is neither extremely serious nor psychologically unstable often harbors reservations or doubts about the given techniques. The doubts prevent some persons from succumbing to psychological break down and submission of self that requires validation by the guru and group.
The premise or the bait of this psychological trap is that the disciple is somehow inherently broken, sinful, and blocked from receiving subtle astral energies, enlightenment, or whatever results may be promised to followers. Faithful practice of the given techniques plus obedience to the guru or master are the solution to the problems of the disciples.
False proofs given for mental techniques
The meditation techniques are often presented as “scientific” or are promised to work like mathematics. They [given techniques] can’t fail5 if practiced with complete devotion and surrender to the guru.
When the disciple has had the predicted experience, say Kramer and Alstad, the guru and the group validate her belief that the results from meditation are important6. Each experience is presented as a sign that the techniques are working and that the devotee is progressing in her given practice.
All this actually proves is that the experiences can be induced through mental techniques, and are therefore predictable7. The techniques involve mental meditations, visualizations, and emotionalizations. The experiences are not unlike the hypnotic, trance-states when a person is repeatedly made suggestible and manipulable. With an open, receptive mind the beliefs of the guru and the group are easily implanted in the disciple’s mind.
Disciples who won’t wholly commit to the given techniques or who harbor doubts seldom get the promised results, often stop their practice, and leave the group. This is why the guru and the group are designed to get and to keep disciples committed to a regular regimen of practice of the meditation techniques.
Serious practitioners and the psychologically unstable
Whereas extremely serious disciples or those who may be unstable psychologically are fairly easy to influence and are the most likely to get trapped within the closed group or belief system. This is also when we may find the serious disciple has separated herself from family, friends, or anyone who doesn’t reinforce the beliefs of the guru or group.
The serious practitioner reinforces belief in the unquestionable power of the techniques. Dissociative experiences, depersonalization and derealization8, may make a person feel like they are experiencing the world as if through glass, and are often used by the devotee as proof that the techniques are working. The disciple credits the guru and group as the source of positive feelings and dissociative experiences.
Many devotees practice meditation techniques for hours everyday for years. They convince themselves against their better judgement and justify that they are getting the promised results9.
Repetition reinforces belief in progress with meditation techniques. Yet, the only persons who may accurately interpret whether the experiences are real or not are the guru and the group. There is actually no self-validating method for the disciple to know whether her experiences are real or not. For the devotee is not self-validating but using the guru and group to validate her experiences10.
How does a disciple know for certain her experiences are actual, in reality, and not a result of fiction in her brain?
Escaping the psychological trap
The way to escape the trap of the given meditation techniques is through repeated exposure to contradictory ideas and to people from outside the belief system. Also, by temporarily or permanently stopping practice of techniques a person may be able to experience actual reality, escaping the fiction and self-doubt that is instilled by relying on techniques used by the guru and group. Finally, devotees that feel guilt or anxiety when skipping technique practice may need to get professional psychological or medical help to escape the trap.
The above are important distinctions and methods I’ve used to escape the psychological trap of meditation techniques.
1 The explanation presented in this post about the experiences in meditation are not intended to be a complete or blanket explanation of all so-called mystical experiences. What is intended here is to discuss what is likely going on psychologically, in the practitioner’s mind, that creates any seeming “results”, which are implanted into the devotee’s mind by repeated suggestions from the guru and the group. And, the controls and manipulations that result from the emphasis on mental methods that claim to bring enlightenment.
2 The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, Frog Books: Berkeley, CA, 1993, p 63
3 In my blog post, Guru-Manipulation & Self-Mistrust, I discuss how the guru and group undermines the disciples’ trust in their own experience and own thinking.
4 See my post, Connection Between Intensive Meditation and Mental Instability, for further discussion and real-life example of madness and tragic death from over zealous practice of meditation.
5 Paramahansa Yogananda is here quoted by a foremost-disciple, Brother Anandamoy: “And then one day [Master/Yogananda] said to me, ‘Always remember, Kriya Yoga [meditation technique], it works like mathematics. It cannot fail.’ And I thought, boy, when do you give it to me? And this is, it’s true, it’s a science, it works like mathematics, it cannot fail. And those of you who are working on it and you seem sometimes not to get much out of it, keep on! keep on! Remember this, it works like mathematics. It’s a gradual process. It’s a gradual building up of that magnet. And then some day you will see, all of a sudden you have so-called like a break through and you realize all of a sudden that magnet is strong, and that current is strong. [emphasis added]–Bro. Anandamoy, lecture, SRF audio recording, Kriya Yoga: Portal to the Infinite
6 The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power. Frog Books: Berkeley, CA, 1993, p 64
9 For examples of long-time devotees who continue to practice and who rationalize the questionable results of meditation techniques, read my post Decades of Meditation Practice, Wasted?
10 Bill Joslin in his video interview “Meditation: Deconstructing Nonsense“, Gnostic Media #202, at the 1:48:00 minutes mark into this video, gives a clear description of how the guru and group are the only persons who can verify the devotees’ experiences and realities.