Tagged: morality/ethics

Superiority Complex of Meditators

Meditation systems often instill followers with harmful ideas of superiority.

The attitude of superiority by meditators, yogis, and avatars is morally, spiritually, and scientifically bankrupt. Violence or agression need not be overt or expressed physically to be harmful. Destructive ideas, even notions of passivity, can breed indifference and incite actions of hostility towards others, especially outsiders. Meditation and yoga, as a spiritual ideology, as a soteriology1, has embedded within it harmful superiority complexes.

This article examines harmful superiority complexes within meditation and yoga practitioners, within their systems of ideologies and soteriologies.

Soteriology is the study of religious doctrines of salvation, liberation, or release:

  • In Hinduism is the primary concept of moksha (liberation, release).
  • In Buddhism is the primary aim of liberation from suffering, ignorance, and rebirth.
  • In Mysticism, generally, is the primary notion of liberation of soul or self through union with a transcendent being.

Many meditation practitioners have one or more of these soteriological aims or goals. If not, top of mind, then somewhere in the background is the desire or seeking of liberation, release, or salvation from suffering, ignorance, and rebirth.

Nothing wrong with the desire to reduce suffering or ignorance. However, systems of yoga and meditation that promise liberation often also instill followers with superiority complexes and psychic conflicts.

Psychic conflict and superiority complexes

First, in this article we use “complex” to describe a group of emotionally laden ideas that are repressed that cause psychic conflict leading to abnormal mental states or behavior2. Superiority3 in this article is defined as an exaggerated sense of one’s importance that shows itself in the making of excessive or unjustified claims.

Superiority complex, then, is an explicit or implicit attitude of superiority that conceals feelings of inferiority and fears of failure.

Yogis, masters, and avatars (exalted persons supposed to be enlightened, compassionate, and “One” with everything) and their followers usually proclaim that yoga (their particular spiritual ideology or practice) is the highest, ultimate, and superior path for humanity.

The ideological or soteriological systems of yoga and yogi-masters typically proclaim to achieve for practitioners “Oneness”, inclusion, and compassion towards all beings. While in actuality there are internal conflicts. Everything outside their particular yoga system, tradition, or ideology is seen as inferior, illusory (Maya, Satanic), and ultimately worthless.

“Weird Statue of figure ontop of temple Batu Caves Malysia” by amanderson2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yoga scriptures illustrate superiority complexes

To illustrate the ideological superiority complexes embedded within yoga systems, consider the following examples:

Shiva, the Hindu god of yoga, in the Rasārṇava4 condemns all other forms of yoga or religious practice, not sparing even the six major philosophical schools of Hinduism–which allow liberation with release from the body upon death5:

“The liberation that occurs when one drops dead is indeed a worthless liberation. [For in that case] a donkey is also liberated when he drops dead. Liberation is indeed viewed in the six schools as [occurring] when one drops dead, but that [kind of] liberation is not immediately perceptible, in the way that a myrobalan fruit in the hand [is perceptible] (karamulakavat).

In The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, David Gordon White, explains that the Hindu yoga god, Shiva, continues in the Rasārṇava to emphasize that the yogic quest is superior to all other religious practices:

Liberation [arises] from gnosis (jnana), gnosis [arises] from the maintenance of the vital breaths. Therefore, where there is stability, mercury [sexual fluid of Shiva] is empowered and the body is stabilized. Through the use of mercury one rapidly obtains a body that is unaging and immortal, and concentration of the mind. He who eats calcinated mercury (mrtasutaka) truly obtains both transcendent and mundane knowledge, and his mantras are effective.

It is now known that exposure to mercury and its compounds causes hydrargyria or mercury poisoning, which may lead to peripheral neuropathy, damage to or disease affecting nerves, which may impair sensation, movement, gland or organ function, or other aspects of health, depending on the type of nerve affected. Perhaps to the Raseśvara the symptoms from mercury poisoning and nerve damage was believed to be a sign of spiritual achievement, liberation, and superiority?

Greater than followers of other paths?

The Bhagavad Gita, Song of the Lord, is a part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. In it the Lord Krishna, who is proclaimed a great yogi and avatar (Lord come to earth to save humanity), extols the superiority of yogis.

“Such an one ranks Above ascetics, higher than the wise, Beyond achievers of vast deeds! Be thou [a] Yogi, Arjuna! And of such believe, Truest and best is he who worships Me With inmost soul, stayed on My Mystery!”6

Famous yogi guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, claimed he was a channel of Krishna/Christ- Consciousness in his interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita, God Talks with Arjuna:

“The Lord Himself here extols the royal path of yoga as the highest of all spiritual paths, and the scientific yogi as greater than a follower of any other path”7.

Shiva, Krishna, and the mahesvaras (great yogis or avatars) belittle other religious systems and practitioners as inferior. Meditation practitioners are led to believe they and their particular techniques are superior, and that all followers of other systems are inferior.

“Misa dominical” by Serge Saint is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Implanting superiority to get and keep followers

Meditation and yoga traditions and systems use their Super Men (avatars and masters), like Krishna, Shiva, and spiritual gurus, to impose their values and implant their superiority complex into their yoga followers.

The spiritual Superman (avatar or master) proclaims all other systems of liberation (soteriologies) are inferior, “worthless” in an effort to get and keep followers. All other people who do not practice the Guru Lord’s version of “royal” yoga (meditation techniques) are explicitly and implicitly deemed inferior, ignorant, or damned–doomed to wander in darkness of Maya.

Instilling fear in followers

Fear is instilled in followers of these systems. The system, with the spiritual authority at the head, needs to ensure its continuance by keeping followers, and fills them with ideas that instill fear should they consider leaving the system. Remember these are ideological systems: built and maintained on ideas. They are not dependent on physical proximity or even actual adherence to practice.

Feelings of guilt for questioning the system is one way to prevent you from leaving. Followers when trapped inside these systems of ideas justify their loyalty to the system, group, or teacher to protect themselves from questioning their doubts and repressed feelings.

Competing for followers

Yogis, avatars, and spiritual masters compete for followers. It’s not enough to follow any system of yoga or meditation. Theirs is superior. Their followers are told they are superior. It has to be this way for this system to survive, to keep its followers. If gurus or yoga systems are not perceived by their followers as superior to any others, why follow that particular ideology, system, or meditation practice?

The “others”–followers of other systems to liberation–are therefore condemned as inferior by the “superior” meditators, yogis, and so-called spiritual masters of a particular system. Or, at best the “others” and their inferior systems are pitied (with condescending “compassion”) as those other peoples are in “reality” lost, ignorant, and part of the mindless masses.

To err is human. We often believe our team or tribe is the best (superior) and everyone else’s is inferior to ours. That in itself is not the problem. Repression of superiority complexes and the lack of awareness of followers is the problem.

Overcoming superiority complexes of yoga and meditation systems

Superiority complexes, like we discussed above, are often implicit or explicit within the ideological or soteriological systems followed by meditation practitioners. Repressed within these systems followers often have hidden feelings of insecurity and feelings of failure. By transforming feelings of inadequacy or inferiority into superiority complexes, these systems pretend to be more spiritual, to be greater than others. The harm and dangers lurk in this repression of inferiority that pretends to be superior.

I am not saying all practitioners or all yoga or meditation systems have superiority complexes.

What I am saying is followers of these systems are at higher risk of repressing their feelings through claims of superiority, having all the answers, following an infallible authority or unchallengeable system. Hence the popularity of articles hyping the “scientific” benefits of certain meditation methods.

Feelings of being “chosen”, “special”, or greater that others can be an indicator there is superiority complex. If one person or system is superior, then the other must be inferior.  A system, like yoga or meditation, that claims to be superior, infallible, and unchangeable is a potentially harmful ideology.

Ideological superiority = This is a natural, human trait, but dangerous thinking. The yogis, avatars, or spiritual masters are not exempt (indeed in this article we’ve shown them to often be the perpetrators) of needing and competing for followers who seen them as superior to others, especially to other spiritual systems or techniques. Anyone claiming to be superior to others or to be a part of an infallible, unchallengeable system is at increased risk or harming themselves and others. Awareness of this fact is an important step towards doing less harm to oneself and others.

Notes

Image #1: “Alchemy” by Riding on a comet is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1 Soteriology. Wikipedia. Accessed May 31, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soteriology.

2 Complex in this article, is used in the psychological or psychoanalytical context. Google definition. Accessed May 30, 2017 https://www.google.com/search?q=complex+definition&oq=complex+defin&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0l4.4331j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

3 Superiority and it’s synonyms. Merriam-Webster. Accessed Jun 2, 2017 at https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/superiority

4 “Raseśvaras, like many other schools of Indian philosophy, believed that liberation was identity of self with Supreme lord Shiva and freedom from transmigration. However, unlike other schools, Raseśvaras thought that liberation could only be achieved by using mercury to acquire an imperishable body.” Wikipedia. Accessed May 24, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raseśvara].

5 The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, David Gordon White, University of Chicago Press. 1996. Print.  p174. https://www.amazon.com/Alchemical-Body-Siddha-Traditions-Medieval/dp/0226894991

6 Bhagavad Gita, VI:45-46, Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/extra/bl-gitatext6.htm

7 God Talks with Arjuna, Ch 6 v45-46, Paramahansa Yogananda. Self-Realization Fellowship. Print. https://www.amazon.com/God-Talks-Arjuna-Self-Realization-Fellowship/dp/0876120311

Idealist or realist? On religion

Religious, metaphysical, and ethical beliefs are greatly influenced by whether a person is predominantly an idealist or a realist.

This post contrasts idealists and realists and their worldviews, and aims to better understand ourselves and others, and to explore the impact that idealism and realism has on our thoughts and behaviors about religion, metaphysics, ethics and more.

It is important to clarify upfront that few people are pure idealists or realists. Most of us land somewhere between the two conceptual extremes of pure idealism or realism. We will examine this further below, but first let us define what we mean by idealist and realist.

Definitions: Idealist and Realist

First, let’s define Idealists and realists. Each have different perspectives; with idealists tending to focus on ‘what could be’, and realists focusing on ‘what actually is.’1

Idealists typically see the world, life, and people as moving towards some ideal or perfection. Realists, on the other hand, tend to see things in a more practical or actual “as is” view of the world or situation, and may be overly pessimistic.2

The Idealist-Realist / Realist-Idealist Continuum

Most people land somewhere between the two conceptual “pure” ends of idealist or realist. In other words, few people are pure idealists or pure realists but are a combination of the two to one degree or another. People tend to be either an idealist-realist or realist-idealist depending where the land on the continuum of idealism and realism: an idealist with stronger or weaker worldview of realism, or, a realist with stronger or weaker beliefs about idealism.

Idealist.Realist.Continuum-min

The Idealist-Realist Continuum graphic depicts, conceptually, that idealists and realists are actually a mix of both on a continuum. Both idealists and realists often hold religious or scientific-oriented beliefs. Some realists may adhere also to a weaker or stronger form of idealism that could include religious beliefs. While some idealists, on the other hand, may harbor beliefs that, for instance, science can help achieve world peace or human utopia. Most people are somewhere on a continuum between the two contrasts of pure idealist and pure realist.

Contrasting Idealists and Realists

Pure or strong idealists and realists are a stark contrast in terms of worldviews of religion, metaphysics, and ethics.

Idealists are often much more religion-friendly, and sympathetic to otherworldly ideas. Realists are often much more science-friendly, and tend towards a this-world emphasis.

Below is an itemized list3, gleaned from Dr. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University, that contrasts idealist’s and realist’s beliefs about metaphysics, knowledge, human nature, religion, ethics, and liquor.

View of Idealist Realist
Metaphysics Supernature

(higher, superior realm, or realm of the spirits, gods, or goddesses)

Nature
Knowledge (epistemology4) Mysticism, revelation (direct communion with higher realm or god), faith, (occasionally “pure” reason) Integration of senses, reason, interaction with this world

(empirical)

Human nature Dualist

(spiritual and physical are two distinct substances, often in conflict with each other)

Badness: original sin

Integrationist

(mind and body ordinarily function together, no opposition between the two)

Tabularasa (born with blank slate) or some may argue born with original goodness

Religion Human is microcosm (lower) of macrocosm (higher) realm, distaste for natural lower/physical world

Born with predestined abilities/capacities [eg. Karma, original sin]Religionist: God didn’t make world according to strict laws but according to His/Her wishes and whims, a God who intervenes through miracles, answering prayers, god may be angry, punish, or destroy (Noah’s flood)

Born with unlimited moral and mental abilities/capacities (eg. tabularasa)

Religionist: God made an orderly world, nature just like scientists find. Not a whimsical god. Often is a more hands off kind of god (eg. there had to be some sort of Divine Being or Intelligence before the Big Bang)

Some may say it’s immoral to act on “faith”. God gave us our senses and reason to act in physical world. God doesn’t want us to be antagonistic toward science but use it to come to better understanding of His universe and to appreciate Him.

Nothing wrong with our bodies, God made mind and body. God wants us to enjoy our bodies and natural world.

Ethics Mind or spirit values (often disparagement or denial of physical body and sensual pleasures: food, money, sex)

Motivated primarily by duty and obligation (sacrifice of self for higher authority or duty, often for happiness in next life)

Mind and body values

Motivated primarily by pursuit of happiness in this life, living a flourishing life, liberty

Liquor Leads to weakening of body and morality (temptation to resist, exists in the world as a test of our character or from a bad force, eg. devil) Ben Franklin, religious realist: “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

The contrast and continuum of idealists and realists may give insight into ourselves and others.

Most people are somewhere on the continuum between two extremes of pure idealist or pure realist. A person may, over time, flip from idealist to realist or vice versa. Case in point, I flipped.

I used to be a strong idealist, especially during the decades I was an ordained, meditating monk in the cloister of Self-Realization Fellowship. As a strong idealist, I devalued the natural, physical world and overemphasized the value of the higher or spiritual realms, beyond this world. True knowledge and wisdom supposedly came to me through intuition, meditation, and revelation from a guru, from Supernature or Divine Intelligence. During those days I never touched a drop of liquor and imagined pleasures of the flesh to be harmful, spiritually dangerous.

I used to be a strong idealist. Today, I am a strong realist and weak idealist. I believe that human flourishing arises from letting go of overly idealist beliefs and embracing nature, reason, and human experiences in this world. I am optimistic that we humans have the capacity to learn and develop, but am concerned that strong idealists put us at risk of danger by overemphasizing imaginary otherworlds.

Hopefully we humans can bridge the chasm between strong idealists and strong realists, rather than destroy each other and the planet. I could improve by being more patient when listening to some strong idealists, and watch that I don’t step into the dogma of a too strong realist.

Where are you on the idealist-realist continuum? Strong or weak idealist or realist? How can the contrasts be used to improve ourselves and others?

Notes
1 The DifferenceBetween website elaborates further on the “Difference Between Idealism and Realism” http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-idealism-and-realism/#ixzz41OwOGbVu

2 A short video Is This Glass Half Empty?

offers insights from science about idealists, “glass as half full” types, who tend to be more optimistic. Whereas, realists who may see the “glass as half empty”, though not necessarily as a negative, may view situations as less optimistic or maybe even as pessimistic.

3 The list was gleaned from an excellent YouTube video series presented by Dr. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University. For Professor Hicks’ brief introduction to the Idealism and Realism watch Introduction: Contrasting Realist to Idealist Philosophy, Clip 1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxYvYR3M3oo&list=PL3ED4A5B0BF91CACD&index=1. To jump straight to the beginning of Professor Hicks’ white board discussion of contrasts between idealists and realists start with Clip 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ilt-gP4dehs&list=PL3ED4A5B0BF91CACD&index=2

4 epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, is the study or philosophy of how we come to know or believe that which is important, true, and real of the world or the realm beyond us. Read Wikipedia Epistemology https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

Manipulation Techniques of Meditation Peddlers

Thesis: Meditation peddlers often use manipulation techniques to gain follower disciples

Meditation itself is not manipulative, but many guru-teachers are. For example, it is not the act of watching the breath that many Hindu-Buddhist-styled meditators do that is manipulative. It’s what the Guru-Teacher of meditation may promise and claim that is often manipulative.

Trusting saviors or holders of special wisdom as a way to enlightenment, to save humanity or oneself is actually a form of self-doubt that gets peddled as a path to self-realization or salvation.

Here are three key points about the manipulation of meditation peddlers:

1) Vague, unchallengeable, non-falsifiable meditation claims

By making vague and unchallengeable claims, gurus and yoga meditation peddlers avoid both scrutiny and the possibility of falsification.

2) Claims of special revelations: again, unchallangeable

Claims of special access to “truth”, to revelations or special dispensations from supernatural sources that are supposedly beyond material dimensions are inscrutable.

3) Instilling self-doubt and guilt in followers

Instilling self-mistrust is the easiest way of controlling people. Meditation gurus or religious authoritarians indoctrinate their disciple followers in self-doubt. “Once people do not trust themselves, they are subject to easy manipulation” say Kramer and Alstad in The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power2.

Concluding thoughts and concerns:

It seems to me to be a mistake, a misconstruction, to take meditation peddlers, religious authorities and texts at face value3.

There may or may not be nirvana (attainment of release from suffering existence and from the cycle of rebirths (samsara)). There may or may not be samadhi (attainment of meditative concentration as total absorption in absolute truth). There may be chakras, kundalini, or yogic subtle energies. I don’t know. I doubt anyone will ever know.

So why do so many people take meditation peddlers, religious authorities and texts at face value?

Notes

1 White, David Gordon, Yoga, Brief History of an Idea, Princeton University Press
2 Kramer, J. and Alstad, D., The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Frog Books, 1993
3 Lincoln, Bruce. Interview. Religious Studies Project podcast. 2015

Five Warning Signs of Dangerous Meditation Groups

premasagar, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
premasagar, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Trance, suggestibility, and depersonalization grow around a guru or doctrine of meditation as a way to moral perfection

First, let me say there may be many benefits from occasional meditation practice. Likewise, there are as many, if not more, benefits from sleep, exercise, and sex–to name three ordinary, human acts.

I’m not against meditation or self-control. Not at all. Rituals that ground and center body and mind can be practical, healthy and powerful. Many popular misconceptions about meditation can cause harm. My aim is to point out that zealous meditation groups and extreme meditation lifestyles can be dangerous or harmful.

In this post, we will examine several dangerous meditation doctrines and groups.

Five Warning Signs of Dangerous Meditation Groups

Here are five warning signs that your meditation doctrine or group could be dangerous or unhealthy:

1. You believe that moral perfection comes via meditation, relaxation, or stress reduction.

Even in the so-called religionless or secular mindfulness movement the “present moment” is both savior and heaven. “As Thich Nhat Hanh asserts in You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment: ‘The only moment in which you can be truly alive is the present moment. The present moment is the destination, the point to arrive at.'”[1]. The implication of Hanh’s assertion is that unless you are mindful of the “present moment” you are dead. This belief creates conflict within the practitioners psyche that the world and the self can be divided into the truly living (the mindful) and the dead (the mindless).[2]

2. You believe your meditations are the key to your salvation, spiritual enlightenment, or soul perfection.

This warning sign is the religious equivalent of its secular cousin above. As Paramahansa Yogananda claimed in his Autobiography of a Yogi: “What the rishis [divine sages] perceived as essential for human salvation need not be diluted for the West. Alike in soul though diverse in outer experience, neither West nor East will flourish if some form of disciplinary yoga be not practiced.”[3]

This belief is part of an elaborate doctrine, a theology or meditation system that may include the concepts of karma, reincarnation, or astral bodies. Yoga meditation is promoted as the science of god realization or as the certain, absolute method of self-realization.

3. Your guru or spiritual teacher proclaims that her version of meditation is the certain way to attain higher states of spiritual awareness (and, of course, the guru or her advanced disciples claim they have attained the highest states).

The warning signs may lead some to extreme behaviors such as meditating for hours or days at a time, neglecting family and friends, and joining a cultish meditation group. I had dedicated decades of my life to intensive meditation, vowed my life to loyalty, obedience, celibacy, and service to the dubious agendas of guru Paramahansa Yogananda, his successor-president Daya Mata, and her spiritual henchmen. There are plenty of other meditators who followed similar dangerous paths.

Ian Thorson barely contacted his family in New York. Instead he threw himself in every practice prescribed by his two lamas, Christie McNally and Geshe Michael Roach. Without outside interference, at the mountain retreat in Arizona Ian could enter meditative states for days at a time. Or, most notably, he was often at his lamas cabin–on hand to fulfill whatever errand they needed. Months later, on top of a nearby mountain, at age 38 Thorson died of dysentery and dehydration in McNally’s arms while fulfilling his intensive quest for spiritual enlightenment[4].

Read about this tragedy at my post Connection Between Intensive Meditation & Mental Instablity.

4. You feel guilt, shame, or fear when you can’t, won’t or don’t live up to the high ideals, rules, or standards as set by the meditation teacher or group.

Some meditators may be too driven and too focused on attaining spiritual liberation. They take meditation way too seriously, as if life and salvation of self, soul, and the whole world depends on it.

Tibetan Buddhist and PhD. sociologist counselor Amy Cayton wrote: “People who only meditate for stress reduction or who aren’t interested in attaining enlightenment probably don’t often get lung [the meditator’s disease]. We get lung because we are trying to do something, to attain something, instead of relaxing and letting it happen naturally.”[5]

5. You feel addicted, obsessed with meditation. You feel you can’t function without even a little practice. You may neglect family, friends, and real-world responsibilities to practice meditation or join the group.

Prior to becoming a monk and leaving home to live in a meditation ashram in North San Diego County, I’d lock my bedroom door for hours and ignore my Mom and Dad’s knocks at my door. I didn’t want to be disturbed and was determined to control my mind and meditation as I was taught and encouraged at the SRF group meditations.

A Skeptic Meditations reader privately shared with me: “The search for ‘self’, transcendental experiences seems futile. Yet, I still meditate twice a day. It’s hard to escape the metaphysical baggage that comes associated with it. I think of giving up the practice as it seems like such a crutch to feeling normal and human. I’ve honestly thought of switching to old fashioned sleep, diet, and exercise for a month to see if I really need to meditate. Further, over the years, it seems I’ve developed a nasty habit of *needing* ‘to go inward,’ rather than connecting to life as it is.”

I speculate that many meditators experience and meditation groups display these warning signs. The above list is by no means complete.

My own decades-long indoctrination within an extremist meditation group, Self-Realization Fellowship, demonstrated the above warning signals. For decades I was mesmerized and engulfed within the enchanting doctrine of the meditation group.

Underlying many intensive meditation practices is a potentially dangerous or harmful way of thinking and behaving.

In my next post I will explore how trance, suggestibility, and persistent depersonalization (see my post on Depersonalization/Derealization) occurs with zealous meditators and within meditation groups.

Notes

1 p 174 Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture,
Jeff Wilson, Oxford University Press. 2014. Hardcover. Read my post that discusses the book by clicking the above link.

2 p 161 Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture,
Jeff Wilson, Oxford University Press. 2014. Hardcover. Read my post that discusses the book.

3 p 61 Autobiography of a Yogi, 1st Edition, by Paramahansa Yogananda, 1946

4 p 170 A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, Scott Carney, Gotham/Penguin Books: NY:NY, Hardcover, 2015. Read my review and discussion of this book by clicking the book link.

5 p 200-203 A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, Scott Carney, Gotham/Penguin Books: NY:NY, Hardcover, 2015. Lung, meditators disease is mentioned in Carney’s chapter ‘Spiritual Sickness’ and “is just one of the [serious physical and psychological] maladies known to waylay people on the road to spiritual perfection.”. I hope to explore the symptoms and causes of lung in future posts on Meditation Diseases.

Ashram Politics

Babulnath Temple by B. Silver, Flickr CC BY 2.0)
Babulnath Temple by B. Silver, Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Why do gurus play favorites? How come the rich and famous get so much attention in the ashram?

I was reminded of ashram politics when the ex-monk emailed me. We both had lived in the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) Monastic Order.

My ex-monk friend’s email mentioned the injustices and wrongs that he saw in the ashram; he blamed them all on bad leadership of the SRF President, the reverend Sri Daya Mata. The devotees considered her to be a perfected soul, an infallible channel of their deceased but ever-living guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. Ma was the guru’s representative on earth.

Daya Ma, this former-monk speculated, was determined to make as much money as possible so she could spread her guru’s teachings to as many people as possible. Follow the money and follow the guru-Yogananda. Ma, the ex-monk wrote, “knew how to hit [up] the millionaires for dough”. While the average-Joe monk, who had neither fame nor fortune, seldom got attention from the reverend holy mother, Ma.

The irony is that I entered the ashram believing spiritual leaders, revered holy persons, would be different–that they would not be indifferent. My starry-eyed ideals and naiveté was shattered. Why should I not think that the ashram was different and that it was not full of politics?

In her irreverent book Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East,Indian-native Gita Mehta wrote:

“I left the ashram because it’s so corrupt. The guru never stops playing favorites.

I thought this ashram was going to show me the way. No more politics. Only philosophy and salvation. I should get so lucky. There’s more politics in one Indian ashram than in the whole Western Hemisphere!

It’s rather sick really. The people who are rich get closer to the guru than those who are poor.

In the end I stopped caring about guru contact. I just got tired of having to do all the dirty jobs, while the rich powerful guys sat around being holy.

Disenchantment in the cloisters.
Is it justified?
Can the gurus be dismissed as con men, manipulating their way to great fortunes? Or is the plot in fact thicker than cash?

Notes

Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East by Gita Mehta. Vintage Books. Paperback. 1994.