Tagged: Self-Realization Fellowship

Goodbye Summer 2011 image

Leaving God and Monastic Order

Monastic life was supposed to be an exalted path to self-realization, spiritual enlightenment, and God. But the pain of feeling “stuck” was greater than my fear of leaving the Order. I had to get out.

Reasons why I left the Order and left God was the focus of my conversation with Scott D. Jacobsen, Editor at Conatus News, and Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing.

Our conversation was published on Patheos / Rational Doubt1 blog. With permission from Rational Doubt editor and cofounder of The Clergy Project2, Linda LaScola, my interview with Scott Jacobsen is reposted below.

Scott Jacobsen: You published the story of your personal transition from being part of a monastic order called the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order to not being a part of it. The story is on The Clergy Project website, dated May 27, 2015. You were known as Brahmachari Scott. Now, you’re just Scott (me, too). For those leaving monastic orders, what are important things to keep in mind?

“Scott” creator of Skeptic Meditations: It was a big deal to leave the Self-Realization Monastic Order (the Order or SRF) after 14 years. It was a pivotal decision in life. I joined the Order when I was 24, expecting to be a monk for the rest of my life. I took vows of loyalty, obedience and chastity. All, purportedly, for finding God and self-realization. My justification for being a monk was that purpose. But it was complex.

For reasons as complicated as life can become, I felt out of place. I realized the monastery was not for me. This wasn’t the end, though. In the most important ways, my journey unfolded when I chose to come back to the world.

Before leaving the Order, I spent months acclimating myself to the outside world. It was like dipping toes into cold water before the plunge.

Instead of attending the regularly scheduled monastic classes, I joined a local Toastmasters club. I practiced public speaking. Rather than turn my doubts and fears inward—as I did for decades, I visited an outside psychotherapist, and confided my hopes and fears to her. Before seeing that psychotherapist, I spent years weighing the pros and cons of staying in or leaving the Order. I built an underground support community of trusted current and former monastics, church members and biological family.

At the time, I had a motto:

I’m not moving away from anything. I’m moving towards something.

Something great, I hoped. I did not know, but I felt I was moving towards something great based on a vision. I was developing a plan for a new life. That energized me. The pain of feeling “stuck” was greater than my fear of leaving the Order. I was one of the lucky few. I escaped. When I say “escaped,” I mean physically and psychologically.

Many monks from the Order I lived with still live in the monastery. Many others left. However, some of those who left still psychologically stuck within the Order. The monastery is still with them. It is more important where one resides psychologically rather than physically, in my opinion, speaking now from over a decade of experience. Some people have the privilege to move. Several monks stayed in the Order who were instrumental in helping me become who I am today. For me, leaving the Order was about moving towards, rather than away, from something.

What are some expected difficulties—personal, familial, and professional—in transitioning out of a monastic order?

The difficulties included learning how to reintegrate into society. We had extremely limited access to the outside world. The monks were allowed to watch one movie a month, and even that was censored. The Monks’ Library contained only censored materials: books of saints and yogis, the LA Times newspaper and magazines like National Geographic and Sports Illustrated. Access to the internet, during my tenure, was blocked or filtered and our phone calls were monitored for ‘billing’ purposes. We were charged for long-distance calls, which discouraged outside contact. Censoring of our exposure to the world, we were told, was for our own spiritual development.

Life inside was like a cult.

Upon re-entry into the world, I felt woefully inadequate in practical matters of daily life.

To transition, I learned how to be an adult, and to be assertive, to negotiate and pay my bills. I had to reintegrate into society, rebuild my life, relationships, and start a career. When I left, I had no job, no home and no family to live with. I had to prove to myself that I could make my way in the world. Within two years of leaving, I enrolled in university and graduated with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree while working for a corporation.

 

I was intrigued by your description of monastic life on The Clergy Project website:

…monks didn’t just sit all-day chanting, praying, and navel-gazing.

Monastery routine consisted of meditation, classes, recreation, 9-to-5 jobs: ministering to a worldwide religious congregation at the Self-Realization Fellowship churches, temples, meditation centers and groups, and spiritual retreats. Each monk received $40 per month cash allowance, room and board, paid medical care, and all-you-could-eat lacto-ovo vegetarian buffet.

You were working in rather extreme conditions. What was running through your mind? What is the insight gained since you left about monastic life, e.g. working conditions?

I was convinced by church doctrine and the spiritual mythologies. They stated that renunciation and self-sacrifice was an exalted path to God, self-realization and spiritual freedom. However, a few years after leaving, I was able to step back and take a stern look at the conditions of the Order.

In the monastery, I lived inside a closed, cult-like system. SRF is a Hindu-inspired meditation group.

The followers—consciously or unconsciously—buy into false premises taught by the church. Once one believes the false premises, it becomes easy to surrender to the work and spiritual routine for hours, days, weeks, months and years. You hand over control to teacher, guru, church or religion.

SRF puts a premium on meditation techniques as the highest way to spiritual development or self-realization.

Examples of some of the premises3 we believed:

  • You are unaware. Meditation is the way to unbroken awareness. If you are not fully aware, keep meditating.
  • You are one with God, but don’t know it. Meditation is the path to God. If you don’t know God, keep meditating.
  • You are asleep and don’t know it. Meditation is the way to wake spiritually. If you are asleep spiritually, keep meditating.

Now, I look back and regret having spent precious years in the pursuit of the Order’s false premises. But, better late than never, I outgrew them.

The Scientific American article was the linchpin to becoming an atheist within your social circle, friends and family. What seems to be the main reason for transitioning out of monastic life?

There’s so many reasons why I left.

Mostly, I needed to change and grow. The Order wasn’t about change or growth. Lord knows, I tried. Ultimately, the church and its leader were about perpetuating the “revealed” teachings of the teachers. I was lucky; I saw through the false premises of the church. I never regretted leaving it.

There are local agnostic, atheist, humanist, and freethinker organizations to provide support for people. How can friends and family give support?

Family and friends play a vital role in supporting people like me who leave extreme religions or cult-like groups.

My family accepted me. I can not think of anything special that family and friends can do that is different that what true friends and family do: laugh, care, and do things together. Naturally, different friends and family serve different needs for us. It was most helpful for me to connect with a variety of people from different cultures or worldviews. Having a good therapist helped, I did not become a burden for friends and loved ones with my issues.

You created Skeptic Meditations as well. It is a general resource on skepticism with a blog. How can people become involved with Skeptic Meditations?

I created Skeptic Meditations to critically examine the supernatural claims of yogis, mystics, and meditators, and to muse and critique my experiences inside the SRF/the Order.

Christians have many resources to question and doubt, if they choose. After coming out of the Order, which is a Hindu-inspired meditation group, I found precious few resources for people like me who had left Christianity and questioned Eastern religion, especially yoga meditation. Skeptic Meditations explores the hidden, sometimes darker, side of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation.

Thank you for your time, Scott.

I’ve enjoyed your questions and chatting with you. Thank you.

After our interview was published, I asked Scott Jacobsen his reasons for founding In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing.

Jacobsen: Whether religious leave or irreligious find religion, I want individuals to have the freedom to choose the path for their own lives. Often, danger comes from restriction of belief, conscience, and movement of people caught in unhealthy communities, which are often religious or cultish, or outright cults”.

Scott D. Jacobsen, interviewer and founder of In-Sight, may be contacted at Scott.D.Jacobsen@gmail.com.

Question for readers: In your own life, in what unhealthy communities may you have been “stuck”? What did you do to leave, to learn and to grow after leaving the group for your better life?

Notes
1,2. Patheos / Rational Doubt is a blog where the public and non-believing and doubting [religious] clergy can interact. Contributors include founders of The Clergy Project, including Linda LaScola, and both “out” and “still-closeted” members of a private forum. Active or former clergy-persons who no longer believe in their faith in God, Higher Powers, or supernatural can learn more about The Clergy Project private forum.

3. Read my post Duped by Meditation? for an explanation of false premises peddled by many meditation teachers and groups.

Sleep Paralysis In Yoga Tradition

What is sleep paralysis? How is the experience interpreted in yoga tradition?

Every night we suffer from sleep paralysis. But we are not always aware of it. Sleep paralysis occurs while we are half awake and half asleep and we can’t move.

“Always when I’m going off to sleep. It’s pretty much the same”, Ted, a 35 year old British psychologist described his experiences of sleep paralysis. “My eyes are open and I get the sense something in the room is happening. Then a shape gathers. A presence. I can feel its weight. I have multisensory sensations. I feel like my body is floating. I can’t move it. I try to make a sound in my throat. I can’t. As I keep struggling to cry out, eventually scream out and that wakes me up and then I can move my body.”[1]

As I was thinking about writing this post, I kept hearing readers tell me, “You don’t know that sleep paralysis is similar to yoga meditation experiences. Who are you to speculate on the traditions and experiences of yogis, saints, and mystics?” I had my doubts about writing this post. While what I write may not adequately address all aspects of sleep paralysis and interpretations, I feel it is important anyway to write this article.

In between sleeping and waking, in this “threshold consciousness”, are a variety of mental phenomena that includes lucid dreaming, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. I assert the sleep paralysis may be, in yoga tradition, what is interpreted as union with god, soul, or spirit. But more on that later. First, let’s return to what happens in our body during sleep paralysis.

What Happens During Sleep Paralysis?

While sleeping, your body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. One REM and one NREM sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes. First is the NREM sleep cycle which takes as much as 75% of your overall sleep time. During NREM sleep, your body relaxes and rejuvenates itself. At the end of NREM, your sleep shifts to REM. Your eyes move rapidly, dreams occur while the rest of your body remains very relaxed. During REM your muscles are “switched off”. If you become aware and interrupt before the REM cycle is finished, you may notice you cannot move or speak. This is sleep paralysis.[2]

In Something Wicked This Way Comes: Causes and Interpretations of Sleep Paralysis Chris French, Professor and Psychologist at University of London, identified three psychological factors in the experience of sleep paralysis:

  1. Intruder — The person may sense a presence, hear voices or strange sounds, and see lights or visions. In a word–hallucinate.
  2. Incubus[3] — The experiencer may feel pressure, be unable to voluntarily control breathing, may panic creating a feeling of suffocation or difficulty breathing.
  3. Unusual body experiences — Sensations of floating, flying, or hovering, and out of body experiences. Proprioception, self-orientation within the body, is missing or out of order.

Sleep paralysis may evoke feelings of bliss or terror. The experience may be interpreted differently by different cultures or traditions. In Hinduism, Viśvarūpa is Sanskrit for “sacred terror”. Whether the experience is terrible or joyful is irrelevant. It’s the tradition and the interpretation that frames it as either sleep paralysis or sacred yoga.

How is sleep paralysis experience interpreted by yoga meditation tradition?

Narada prostrating before Vishvamurti, Public Domain.
Narada prostrating before Vishvamurti, Public Domain.

Yoga Tradition and Sleep Paralysis Experience

Famed yogi-guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, taught his students a “Definite Technique of Attaining Ecstasy:

“As you are falling asleep each night, keep your eyes half-open and focused at the point between the eyebrows; consciously enjoy in a relaxed nonchalant way the state at the border of joyous sleep as long as you can hold it without falling asleep, and you will learn to go into ecstasy at will. . . Try to remain in this state from five minutes to one hour, then you will know about yoga: conscious communion of your soul with God.”[4]

The practice of the yogi-guru’s technique (above) could result in what Western medicine and psychology says is sleep paralysis. Yogananda interprets sleep paralysis experience as “yoga: conscious communion of your soul with God”.

Another aspect of sleep paralysis which overlaps with yoga tradition is samadhi. Samadhi is by tradition the supreme goal of yoga (union or communion with God).

Let’s examine some similarities between so-called yoga samadhi and sleep paralysis.

Similarities Between Yoga Samadhi and Sleep Paralysis

When compared with sleep paralysis we find many similarities between yoga samadhi experiences, which include:

  • Immobilized body, unable to move
  • Altered or heightened awareness
  • Heard voices, sounds
  • Saw shapes, visions
  • Sensed presence
  • Disabled physical senses
  • Labored breathing
  • Panicked to breathe, speak, or move
  • Felt terror[5] or bliss (depending on experiencer interpretation)
  • Sensed floating, levitating
  • Hovered, outside, or “above” the physical body

To be aware is to experience. No awareness, no experience. After awareness of experience comes interpretation.

For instance, you become aware you can feel or control your “breathing”. Terror sets in. You panic. You gasp for breath. Or, you feel detached from your physical body. You feel bliss or terror.

I had panicked during yoga meditation. My awareness just landed on “not breathing” after feeling “outside” my body. I panicked and gasped for air. Coming back to voluntary control of my body.

An American-born swami-monk lectured around the world about the blessings of yoga meditation. The first time he practiced his guru’s yoga meditation technique, he told audiences he panicked when he became aware he was “not breathing”. Gasping finally resulted in sucking air into his lungs. Immediately the swami said he was brought back into his body consciousness.

Personal experiences like these are anecdotes, not proof the phenomena are objectively real. Returning now to the anecdotes reported by yogis and experiences of sleep paralysis patients, let’s examine the differences.

Differences Between Yoga Samadhi and Sleep Paralysis

Differences between sleep paralysis and yoga samadhi, includes:

Sleep Paralysis Yoga samadhi
Very common. More than 3 million US cases per year.[6] Legendary, mythical claims and anecdotal stories not well-documented nor verified by independent researchers.
Reproduced, well-documented by independent researchers in various lab experiments. Not reproduced, not well-documented by independent research or lab experiments.
Mechanism fairly well-understood for how and why physical and psychological phenomena occurs during half awake, half asleep state. No “samadhi” or superconscious awareness has been clearly explained in a verifiable, credible way. No scientifically known mechanism for how and why a superconsciousness exists or is actually different from non-supernatural brain states, such as sleep paralysis.
Recorded durations of seconds or minutes. Said to last minutes, hours, days, years, or for eternity (when one reaches godhood or cosmic consciousness). No well-documented cases from independent researchers or experiments.

What can sleep paralysis teach us about yoga traditions?

When we compare sleep paralysis and yoga samadhi experiences we find many similarities. Not all phenomena related to so-called yoga samadhi and sleep paralysis experiences are the same. Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Definite Technique of Attaining Ecstasy” seems to be yoga method to induce sleep paralysis. The ecstasy or experience that Yogananda and yoga tradition may interpret as supreme yoga–union or communion with God–physicians and psychologists may call sleep paralysis.

Have you experienced sleep paralysis? Yoga “samadhi”? What do you think of similarities or differences between the interpretations by yoga tradition?

Notes

1 Professor Chris French, Something Wicked This Way Comes: Causes and Interpretations of Sleep Paralysis. Presentation at Psychology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, Oct. 11, 2009. Accessed Aug. 30, 2016, https://vimeo.com/11459308.

2 “Sleep Paralysis”. WebMD, accesssed Aug. 30, 2016, http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-paralysis#1-3.

3 “Sleep Paralysis”. Rationalwiki, accessed Sep. 1, 2016, http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis. In Medieval Europe demons called incubus were said to attack women and succubus to attack men, usually sexually. Different cultures interpret differently but usually mythologically the experiences of sleep paralysis, altered awareness, and yoga samadhi.

4  Paramahansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 154. Yogananda refers to “conscious” sleep throughout his yoga lessons, “The soul may use its intuition together with life force released from bodily activities during the relaxation of sleep to project true visions on the screen of the subconscious. Visions may show events to come, as the soul can use its intuitive power to “photograph” future happenings. But a vision does not appear until sufficient energy has been relaxed from the heart and from the ordinary waking consciousness (as in sleep) to project it”, Lesson 73. And, “This detachment of the mind from body consciousness [during yoga meditation] is similar to that experienced in sleep, except that one remains consciously aware”, Summary Lesson.

5 “Visvarupa”. Wikipedia, accessed Sep. 1, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vishvarupa. Bliss and terror are bedfellows in Hindu mythology. Viśvarūpa is Sanskrit for “sacred terror”. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu bible, Lord Krishna reveals to his chief-disciple, Arjuna, the Viśvarūpa experience. Arjuna is terrified by Viśvarūpa, said to the universal form of Hindu God(s).
6 “Sleep Paralysis”. Mayo Clinic and Google Search, accessed Aug. 30, 2016,  https://g.co/kgs/3Vw3IB.

The Ashram: Spiritual-Corporate Caste System

In the ashram1, spiritual advancement was measured by the position of the person within the organization.

All within the organizational hierarchy got feelings of specialness and authority from position and proximity to the leader.

Self-Realization Fellowship claims2 that the organization will always be guided by God-realized people, and that disciples can always be assured of the direction of their leaders.

At the SRF Headquarters, the ashram atop Mt. Washington in Los Angeles, people got promoted on loyalty and obedience to the guru-leader and the President of SRF. Obedient disciples were rewarded with position and higher rank within the organization.

Diagram of the ashram spiritual-corporate hierarchy

Spiritual Corporate Ladder

A spiritual-corporate caste system: This spiritual-corporate hierarchy, which I am familiar with from the SRF ashram or monastery, mirrors the horrific Indian-Hindu caste system: the Guru-Master is the highest or Brahmin caste; the Pretenders to Throne, close disciples, are the Kshatriyas (warrior) class; the Ministers are the Vaishyas (merchants or landowners); the Servants represent the Shudras (subordinates to all the other upper castes); and finally, the Untouchables are the lowly, outsiders of this hierarchy.

Climbing the Spiritual-Corporate Ladder

The guru, infallible Master-leader is at the top of the power pyramid. The Master-leader has absolute authority over everyone within the organization. To question the infallibility of the leader is seen as a sign of egoism, of disloyalty and disobedience to the leader and organization.

Seldom is there open, honest communication between disciples within the hierarchy.

There is underlying fear of punishment that keeps everyone in line: fear of being withheld any rewards and attentions, of displeasing and being banished to a remote outpost, or of even being expelled or excommunicated from the ashram. Disciples within the hierarchy are starved for attention and affection from the leader. Rewards of position and rank are seen as a sign of pleasing the leader and of spiritual advancement.

Directly below the Master-leader is an inner cadre of elite disciples. This small, close circle, sometimes referred to as “advanced” disciples or directors, are one among them who is likely to someday inherit the spiritual mantle and the entire organization after the Master-leader is no longer physically present.

Below the inner circle of elite disciples are ministers and administers who filter, interpret, and communicate the Master-leader’s commands and “teachings” to rank and file, lower-level disciples.

Persons furthest from the Master-leader, those at the bottom of the ladder, are either new members or considered not spiritually advanced enough to rise to positions of authority within the organization.

The lower-level disciples, the majority of followers, are seldom able to be near the Master-leader, who typically is aloof and indifferent to their survival, needs, and problems. Despite the apparent indifference of the Master-leader, most disciples are convinced that spiritual blessings of the Master-leader trickles down from top to bottom of the organizational hierarchy.

Loyal and obedient disciples are willing to sacrifice all, even life, to uphold the Master-leader and the hierarchical organization.

All persons outside or disloyal to the hierarchy are considered either inferior, not intelligent, or not spiritually advanced, and are likely lost in ego, delusion (Maya), or evil.

Position within the organization, climbing the spiritual-corporate ladder, generates feelings of specialness, power, and authority for the disciples.

Notes

1 The Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order has half a dozen ashram centers in Southern California. It is in these that I lived for more than 14 years as a renunciant, monastic-disciple. For a brief description about me and why I left read my About page.

2 Supposedly said by Paramahansa Yogananda, according to Mrinalini Mata, current President of SRF as quoted in Transcendent In America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion, Lola Williamson, NY University Press, 2010, p 63

Psychological Enslavement to Meditation Leaders

By Mark Schellhase (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Mark Schellhase, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

What are yoga meditation cults? How do they work?

In this post, we explore three definitions of cults and speculate about the extreme psychological dependence between leaders and followers of yoga meditation groups. Next, we examine the leader/follower behaviors and attitudes of submission and psychological enslavement through processes that include yoga meditation techniques. Finally, we discuss ways followers may escape psychological enslavement to these leaders and to meditation processes.

Let’s begin by exploring three definitions of cults that apply to many yoga meditation groups.

Definitions of Cults

The term cult is often used pejoratively, to refer specifically to “a quasi-religious organization using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents” (Collins English Dictionary)1.

The adherents of so-called cults are followers of the group’s leader(s).

In Traumatic Abuse in Cults: A Psychoanalytic Perspective2, Shaw, a psychoanalyst and former Siddha Yoga ashram resident, gives the following definition of a cult:

A cult is largely based on the personality of its leader(s).

The cult group leader(s) claim, explicitly or implicitly:

  • To have reached human perfection;
  • To have unity with the divine [god or cosmic intelligence];
  • To be exempt from ordinary social limitations and moral restrictions.

Using Shaw’s definition of a cult, it is not difficult to see the extreme dependence and abuses that can occur for the followers of these groups.

In The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Kramer and Alstad3 define:

A cult is a group with a leader who is considered by followers to be unchallengeable and infallible.

Kramer and Alstad say that a cult is a group led by a person(s):

  • Revered as God’s unique vessel, or as a manifestation of God, or as the god-force;
  • Often is the group’s founder, not merely an interpreter but the creator of Truth;
  • Exercises absolute authority over group with few if any external constraints, with free reign over the group.

In Cult Attraction is Not a Problem of Logic4, Stein contends:

“The process of retaining followers is really where the core of the brainwashing and control process takes place”.

Stein gives characteristics of the processes used by many yoga meditation cults, which include:

  • Controlled by a leader or leadership group that is charismatic and authoritarian.
  • Closed system. The inner structure of the group is isolating and steeply hierarchical.
  • Use of processes to break-down and retain followers, such as sleep deprivation, control of relationships, lack of privacy, control of information, diet and so on. [Especially regular, intensive practice of meditation techniques].
Hans-Jörg Aleff, Chained, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Hans-Jörg Aleff, Chained, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Shaw, Kramer and Alstad, and Stein all described the cultic characteristics of many yoga meditation groups.

Methods Used by Cultic Meditation Groups

What is needed though is not to label certain groups as cults. What is most important is recognizing the methods used by cultic groups, the processes that lead to destructive behaviors and psychological enslavement, so that we may learn how these groups operate and to avoid or escape enslavement to them.

Process of Submission and Psychological Enslavement

There are seven steps of submission to leader(s) and enslavement of the follower. Inside yoga meditation groups, the given meditation techniques are a key component that helps anesthetize followers into submission and enslavement by the leader(s).

Seven-steps of submission/enslavement to cultic leader(s):

  1. Follower relies on teacher, guru, philosophy or religion to validate “reality” of experiences and methods, especially of meditation practices.

a. Follower accepts the underlying premise that “there is something wrong, missing, or corrupt within me, which is beyond my awareness and control.”

b. Read my post Duped by Meditation? for more information on this step in the process.

2. Follower understands the leader(s) are, explicitly or implicitly, perfect, infallible, and unchallengeable. Leader(s) is supposedly a vessel of Truth or divine-manifestation.

3. Follower isolates, closes to outside, avoids conflicting inputs. Submits to authority of leader(s).

4. Follower engages in processes of meditation practices, sleep deprivation, diets or fasts, control of information, control of relationships, and so on.

5. Follower eventually discovers disturbing or unethical behaviors of leader(s), and that the processes (of meditation, methods) do not seem to live up to the promises.

6. Follower is unwilling to question or doubt the promises and processes of the leader(s). Rather the follower assumes: “There IS something wrong, missing, or corrupt within me, which is beyond my awareness and control”.

7. Follower then redoubles efforts to submit to leader(s) and keeps on with processes, that includes meditation practices.

Martin Brigden, Escape, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Martin Brigden, Escape, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

This seven-step process often repeats in an endless loop. Submission and psychological enslavement continues until the follower questions or doubts the underlying premises and promises of the leader(s) and the methods, such as meditation. By questioning and doubting the leader(s), followers may be able to break away from their psychological enslavement.

Breaking Away

Two ways followers may escape psychological enslavement to leader(s):

  1. Attain the same, exalted status of the leader(s). A follower-turned-leader gains absolute authority over followers. The so-called “escape” from psychologically enslaved-follower to enslaver-leader only shifts from being the enslaved to the enslaver within the hierarchical, cultic system. Becoming an exalted leader then only perpetrates, and doesn’t break one away, from the system itself of psychological enslavement.

2. Doubt the leader(s) and question the processes of meditation and so on. To escape enslavement, the follower questions or rejects the premises that “there is something wrong with me”. The doubting follower challenges the premises that the leader(s) are perfect and infallible. During the process of questioning and doubting the follower challenges the promises of the leader(s) and processes, such as meditation methods. It may take a long-time, if ever, for many serious followers to break away from their psychological enslavement.

While I was a decade and half in the ashrams of the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order, I began a years-long process of questioning and doubting the leader(s) and their promises.

During my last two years in the ashram, I had what I would call “self-realization” experiences–psychological liberation and enlightenment insights–that required no validation from leaders.

The psychological enslavement to cultic leaders noted above is not limited to people who live inside ashrams or meditation centers. (I know former SRF monastics and lay members that remain psychologically enslaved to the leader(s), to the promises and the processes that include meditation techniques).

As more former followers, like myself, speak out about their experiences inside these groups with these kinds of leaders, we will educate others. As more people recognize these manipulations, methods, and processes, my hope is that others will find meaning in their own experiences and break away from psychological enslavement.

I welcome your critiques and comments. Through your feedback I learn and grow, and improve these posts.

Notes

1 Cult definition, Collins English Dictionary. http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/cult

2 Shaw, D., Traumatic Abuse in Cults: A Psychoanalytic Perspective, Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003, p 105

3 Kramer, J. and Alstad, D., The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Paperback, p 33

4 Stein, A., Cult Attraction is Not a Problem of Logic, Fair Observer, Jul 21 2015

Decades of Meditation Practice, Wasted?

By SortOfNatural, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
by SortOfNatural, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Should some devotees continue or stop wasting time in meditation practice? Or, is faith in meditation, in a guru, or in perseverance–despite insignificant results–a virtue?

This post examines long-time meditation practitioners who continue despite little or insignificant results.

Many gurus and their institutions claim that meditation is a science, that if practiced correctly meditation brings empirical results.

One such claim, that is extraordinary, can be found in a quote by Paramahansa Yogananda, guru of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF):

“The yogic science is based on an empirical consideration of all forms of concentration and meditation exercises. Yoga enables the devotee to switch off or on, at will, life current to the five sense telephones of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Attaining this power of sense disconnection, the yogi finds it simple to unite his mind at will with divine realms or with the world of matter”.1

Some devotees may practice meditation for decades and have little if anything to show for it, let alone “empirical” results to speak of. These meditation practitioners may often rationalize and justify away their lack of significant results.

For example, below are quotes from two long-term SRF meditators, Walter and Bryan, who were interviewed by Lola Williamson, which are excerpted from her book, Transcendent In America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements As New Religion (New York University Press: 2010).

Walter, practiced meditation for forty-three years

“Although he [Walter, a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and SRF devotee] had been practicing meditation for forty-three years, he expressed uncertainty about how much progress he had made….I was curious why he had stuck with the practice for so many years if he was not seeing results. He replied…’If I don’t meditate, I miss it….It’s seeing the world as consciousness, not as physical reality.’” p. 9

“Seeing the world as consciousness” is a seemingly profound statement, but is vague and vacuous of comprehensive meaning. Is Walter merely justifying his decades of meditation practice as-is rather than examining the actual results from the time, energy, and money he invested into meditation?

Bryan, after decades of meditation, “It’s just not what I expected”

“Bryan’s dramatic mystical experience occurred continuously over a period of two to three months. They happened before he started meditating….He puts forth tremendous effort to follow the daily disciplines he has learned through Self-Realization Fellowship, yet he does not feel he has gained control over his experiences. I [Bryan] kept asking, ‘Where’s some dramatic stuff? Where’s the beef?’…’It’s hard. In hindsight I know what I’ve gotten back; it just hasn’t been what I thought it would be. Meditation has made me a much calmer person. It’s helped to be in the present moment. And this is a lot. It’s just not what I expected.’” p. 165

by JD, Wasted Time, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
by JD, Wasted Time, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

The meditation practice and particular worldview that is often taught with it, such as in SRF, may be difficult for many devotees to question or to not stay attached to. Psychologists call the tendency in people to be attached to their investments, despite heavy losses, the sunk-cost bias2. It may take a person years to give up on poor investments. The greater the loss of the investment often the longer it may take a person to let the investment losses go.

After thinking critically about my experiences with meditation practice and in SRF I realized that the results I got from meditation practice were insignificant compared with the great investment of my time, energy, and money.

Are long-time meditation practitioners too invested to quit or at least to question the value of continuing to meditate as-is? What other excuses or arguments might devotees have to try to convince themselves or others that they are not wasting precious time in meditation?

No True Meditator Argument

At this point, I’m guessing that some devoted meditators who read this will invoke the No True Scotsman3, or, what I will call the No True Meditator, argument to try to rationalize why they may not, nor anyone else may not, get significant results from meditation.

The fallacious No True Scotsman (No True Meditator) argument may go something like this:

Walt: Meditation practitioners will get tremendous results of concentration and realizations.
Tom: Then why are there so many meditators who don’t get results?
Walt: They were never true meditators.
Tom: What’s a true meditator?
Walt: Only those who get results.

Question for readers: What other reasons or arguments are there for why some long-time practitioners don’t quit meditating when results are insignificant?

Notes

1 Autobiography of a Yogi, Chap 26: The Science of Kriya Yoga, Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship)

2 The sunk-cost bias or fallacy is described as “reasoning that further investment is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested will be lost otherwise, not taking into consideration the overall losses involved in the further investment.”–Logically Fallacious,  http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/174-sunk-cost-fallacy 

No True Scotsman, also known as No True Christian, and what I’ve taken the liberty to call here the No True Meditator argument or fallacy that is described as “when a universal (“all”, “every”, etc.) claim is refuted, rather than conceding the point or meaningfully revising the claim, the claim is altered by going from universal to specific, and failing to give any objective criteria for the specificity.”–Logically Fallacious,
http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/136-no-true-scotsman