Friday, 2 September 2011
Being from a generation that has made just about every mistake in the book when it comes to handing power over to unscrupulous movements or leaders, I have come to the conclusion that serious sadhana is not a group effort. The big spiritual families that sprang up in the late 1960s attracted so many pure, loving souls, who in turn provided the energy and light that made such movements so attractive. But the good also tends to attract the not so wholesome, and the “guru business” really is big business – irresistible to disordered, narcissistic personalities of every shape and hue. If you find yourself a tad uncomfortable in your spiritual group, remember these 5 warning signs:
1) CHECK OUT WHAT GOES ON AT THE PERIPHERY OF YOUR MOVEMENT
This is the simplest thing to do, but worthwhile. What happens when the fixed smiles and public faces of the devotees are turned off? Notice how welcoming the movement is, when it is not on public display. Do people look happy? Do they look icy, remote, stand-offish when they have said their carefully rehearsed patter? Meetings can often be smoothly orchestrated, but what happens at the end, when people relax a bit more? Is there an attitude of genuine service and friendliness or a sort of "we are in on the secret, you aren't, so we will ignore you" kind of vibe.
2) BE AWARE OF THE IMPLICIT HEIRARCHY
God is freely available to all. We are all equal, we are all loved. But human beings have an innate animal tendency to group around alpha males or alpha females. We are pack animals on some basic level. Movements often come unstuck when they grow very quickly, and push people into leadership positions for posts which only make sense to that movement itself - but which might temporarily give people an overinflated sense of power. One classic case was the "elevation" of 11 western youths as perfect masters in the Hare Krishna movement after their Guru died. The whole thing was a mess, because the leaders were clearly immature and believed their own self-publicity. Is a hierarchy necessary? Is your movement essentially replaying the "You are God, oh mighty one" drama, according divine status to a human being. Are the robes, accoutrements, cars, houses etc of the movement's leader clearly over-ostentatious?
3) WHAT DOES YOUR COMMON SENSE TELL YOU?
This is not the voice of your conscience, but something just as basic... your BS detector. In the West we have bred into us a basic wary attitude to authority through a long history of revolutions, independence, ruinous wars and the like. And that is a good thing. It has been bequethed to us by a long line of ancestors who gave their lives for the basic freedom of independence and equality. If you step outside for air at a meeting of your movement, and it strikes you that something in not right, it probably is not.
4) DOES SECRET KNOWLEDGE COST A LOT?
Advanced techniques.. the secret mantras... the higher initiations... the expensive private darshans. Do you think the spiritual life works by who can afford the "higher" stuff. No! This is a basic trap many movements fall into - selling access to something apparently wonderful on the ludicrous premise that enlightenment or spiritual awakening can be brought or sold. It cannot. This is a perversion of an ancient Vedic idea, the idea of "diksha", of giving a token something to your Guru, as a symbolic way to open an exchange between you. Most movements when they grow become businesses, which in turn have to generate profits, and these depend on new exciting products which the consumer wants. Avid spiritual consumers will go crazy for things like photos, shawls, devotional objects. But you cannot buy your way into higher consciousness. You can only bow your way...and not to the wrong focus.
5) DOES YOUR MOVEMENT CUT YOU FROM NORMAL LIFE?
Modern life can be brutally jarring for any serious practitioner of spirituality. But that's the way of it. Don't ever fall into the trap of thinking you and your movement are the only "saved" or good people and that there is no wisdom or goodness elsewhere. Your master is the perfect one. Your technique is fastest, strongest, oldest, best etc etc. This is total rubbish, it's a callow immature attitude that does a great injustice to the world you live in. Some of the holiest and most decent people I've ever met in my life had absolutely nothing to do with spirituality or religion of any kind, yet there were beautiful souls beaming loving-kindness. The rest of the world is not "mud" to be scrapped from your over-holy shoes.