“There are three sides to every story -your side, my side, and the truth,
and no one is lying”
Robert Evans, Hollywood Movie Producer
How many times has it happened to you that in the middle of a conversation with an intelligent person, maybe a relative or neighbor or co-worker, that they suddenly shift gears and launch into a rave that leaves you speechless at the shear incongruity of it? The problem isn’t only the crazy logic they dispense, which seems quite absurd and impenetrable, but you sense that, in spite of appearances, that the person you were speaking with a moment ago is no longer actually present with you? They’ve gone off to another world.
This kind of response is what instigated this essay after a conversation with a friend who asked me f my objections to ‘cultic speech’ also included an essay which she thought was anything but cultic in character. This essay you are reading is my response to that question, and took six long months to formulate – the topic being much trickier to handle than I had originally supposed.
In this essay you will find the following topics included: We All Have It, What is Cultism, The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Cultism, How to handle a Cultic Rave, Solutions to Cultic Mind, A Lesser Place?, My Personal Experience with Cultism, and a Final Conclusion. I would ask those interested enough to read this essay to be patient as there are more than a few twists and turns in it which you may not have anticipated. Different sections are presented in color coded text, to make navigating around a bit easier, and if you would prefer to read this on your eReader or Kindle, a PDF version is available here – I Cultist
If your typical response to date has been to abruptly glance at your watch and exclaim with fierce emotion- “Gees, look at the time, I have an important hairdresser appointment in 15 minutes, I’ve got to get a move on!”, then rest assured, you are not alone. That is a normal and thoroughly human response.
Perhaps you have found that in many cases the cause of the rave originates in a mindset that we could call Cultism. I hope to explain in detail in this piece the reasons why dialog with such a person can be so difficult, and more importantly, how to speak more effectively to a person immersed in such a state, if side splitting laughter and copious ridicule are not your cup of tea. And for the ‘insiders’, practical advice on how you might move beyond your own cultic disposition, if you are so motivated. I wish to offer you a comprehensive exploration of the ‘hidden world’ of Cultism – what it is made of, why it comes into being, how it shows itself, and presumably, how to transcend it.
The most virulent of these cultic folk are often the religious and spiritual cultists; and most everyone loves to loathe these lovely folks.
How do I know so much about this? Well, I myself was a practicing Cultist at one point in my life! I have in fact been that very spiritual cultist who gazed into your eyes and glazed them over with my riveting gaze as if wielding comic book-hero powers; and then, when you were stunned into silence, I brandished magical spells of “truth” against your heathen ass! In fact, to this day I still on occasion like to ice the oculars of various people with my worldviews as a Conspiracist. But I digress somewhat.
In this piece I hope to provide enough insight and perspective on this phenomenon that in future encounters of this sort you will have better tools at your disposal to help you manage to come out of it with a slightly greater sense of sanity, and maybe even a slightly greater sense of Truth having been served. And maybe, just maybe, a somewhat enhanced relationship to the person you are having a struggle with.
There are three elements to be aware of when faced with a determined Cultic rave, the deepest is the person’s psychological adaptation to life itself; the second is the common practice of Cultists to (unconsciously) use the most brazen logical fallacies to substantiate their points; and the third is their resort to inauthentic testimony. I intend to show you some ways of countering all three of these elements.
What I would like to do in this essay is offer you my best understanding of what is typically going on in the heart and the mind of the Cultist, so that you will be better able to deal with these encounters in the future. You will hear a very similar type of presentation from a wide variety of Cultists, from Jehovahs to Christians to Muslims to Non-Dualists. Interestingly, you might notice the same dynamic happening when talking to salespeople or politicians, but that is another story. These all share a lot in common, so I’m fairly confident in the universal application of these responses.
Please don’t get me wrong, I have full sympathy with spiritual cultists and their urge to be free of suffering, and their urge to offer the great discovery of their lives to others. And I accept that, at its select best, spirituality can have great power to at least shift a person into contact with the grander dimensions of our reality. But that actually isn’t the real issue with Cultists. They do a lot more than that with their many distortions of truth.
You might ask yourself: why should I spend a lot of time exploring a topic that is intended to help me deal with the kind of people that I would just as soon avoid? My answer is that- I have NO IDEA why you would want to engage any more than you have to with these folk, but I also intend to demonstrate the depth and even universality of this phenomenon, so there may be something in this essay for you personally. And if you are like me, you may feel somehow obliged to understand more about this issue.
At least for me, even though I have a distinct feel for Cultism when confronted by it (which is fairly often), I didn’t really understand enough about the nature and structure of the beast to manage a clear and focused response to it, or more importantly, to communicate respectfully and intelligently with someone who I felt is doing the Cultist thing with me. I began to realize that I couldn’t really articulate what exactly it was about their presentation that I found absurd, and why it was, from my perspective, erroneous, without resorting to sarcasm, ridicule, or even insults. And more importantly, what was it about their personal interaction that I registered as resoundingly obnoxious. And that kind of powerlessness and confusion I don’t enjoy. Perhaps you feel the same way.
When you‘ve spent your entire adult life saturated with cultic thinking as I was, there comes a time when, in the process of becoming free of it, you may wish to spend a bit of time actively, consciously and forcefully expelling those half-baked truths, and firmly stating what you think is a fuller take on reality. That is one thing I am doing for myself with this piece.
Perhaps the first order of business for us all is in sorting out what it is about the cultic rave – that we probably have no business criticizing matters of taste, love or faith, but only that which the cultist is presenting which is a variance with simple honesty and truth.
That which offends many of us are these issues: Cultists make great and exclusive and superior claims about their object of veneration, but often back these claims up with all manner of fallacious logic and pseudo-truth. Naturally, that quality type of presentation offends many people’s intelligence, because to accept that level of falsity makes you complicit in the lie (“silence equals consent”)- and many of us don’t like that sort of frame-up. They also make testimonials that are painfully specious.
These habits that many of us find disturbing are so because there is already so much toxic falsehood afoot in the world today that we can’t bear to swallow anymore crapola from anyone, especially from those purporting to be offering Great Truths.
Within my ex community there was a fairly energetic critique of Cultism, but the criteria was extremely vague and less rigorous than that which I will offer below – it was understood to be mere enthusiastic and superficial energy directed at the Founder, or the Way, instead of involving oneself in the genuine transformative practices and relationships that were considered the real thing. Using fallacious logic in support of their relationship to god was not often objected to, or even noticed, and the use of loopy testimonials based upon wishful thinking and fantastic assumptions were the norm, and usually considered fairly good form.
Cultists are, almost by definition, wild about something. But even the chosen objects of adoration frequently find the adulation to be quite bizarre and offensive. As a result, everyone manages to feel superior to these poor folk, but the truth is that the harder you push against Cultism, the truer it is that you are probably guilty to some degree of that very same ailment, at least at certain times, or areas of your life, or in the very least, in some aspect of your thinking. So it may also pay you to review this subject with that possibility in mind. You might learn something about yourself that you didn’t expect.
That is what I noticed when I reviewed my first efforts at trying to organize an educated response to the most annoying cultists in my life. The very definition I first came up when I decided to tackle this subject demonstrated this quite poignantly to me, as a species of cultism actually turned out to be true of my critique of cultism, insofar as I was eager to lambast them with my ‘superior’ worldview. We ourselves are suffering from some of the same arrogance, assumptions and miscalculations as ordinary Cultists when we pit our worldview over against another and try to present it as a superior, or even an obligatory truth, in my opinion. And that criterion must ultimately be applied to this very essay.
Friends who know me may well ask: how is it that I can presume to criticize Cultists for their speeches when I myself am guilty of my own raves on an assortment of topics that are dear to my heart? The answer is that I will happily admit to my “audience” that my own rave about a particular topic is in fact understood by me to be built upon mere beliefs, and that I often do not have firsthand knowledge of the subject I am raving on about. It’s just an opinion I enjoy holding onto, but my life and integrity is not dependent upon the actuality of this belief of mine. I’m OK if it turns out to be not true at all.
So that’s what the challenge is when doing this type of critique, explaining the limitations of something without becoming the thing itself, in the process! As in the old saw “we become what we hate”.
Cultism needs to be understood to be a relative term that it exists on a continuum, going from the most severe and personally dysfunctional to a most rarefied level, which would be invisible to the casual observer.
But first, before I to try to develop more clarity about what exactly Cultism is, I need to say something about the why of this phenomenon, which is at least as important, I feel. At a casual level, Cultic Mind can be seen as a simple case of someone expressing a poorly considered opinion, just repeating some meme without much thought or discrimination. At the opposite end of the scale, we have those individuals in whom Cultism is apparently the expression or symptom of a significant personality disorder. In the latter case this dysfunctionality will often be a manifestation of an injury or wounding to the person’s psyche, and thereafter, to their development.
In these latter cases, there can be a range of intellectual malfunctions involved in a Cultic stance, as well as a varying level of emotional neediness involved. For that reason it behoves us all to pursue our consideration with some degree of compassion and forgiveness for those Cultists who come by necessity to their beliefs, even from a place of serious injury and a need to find a way to survive.
It is also important to consider the possibility that not every member of what some would consider an organization that is replete with cultism, is altogether, or even at all, cultic in themselves, in their communications, or perhaps, even in their relationship to the Object of Worship. Moreover, that their Chosen Object may even have many great and legitimate virtues, and offer genuine benefits to its admirers. It is the personality set and the way that the person relates to that Object (and, the ‘outside world’) which determines Cultism or not, I believe.
And it is also worth pointing out, that you will find what could be considered cultic behaviour and mind-sets in the most unlikely of settings, such as political, scientific or medical circles. Remember all the angst about the “Cult of Personality” regarding the lives of such personages as Mao Tse-tung and Joseph Stalin? No? Then how about Kim Jong-il? Or in the scientific domain- all of the worshipfulness regarding Einstein, Darwin or of Science itself (Scientism). And how about sports teams or the teams which represent your nation in the Olympics? How about Manchester United, or some other revered sports team?
No? OK, how about Elvis?
But to get to the essence of the matter, the ‘definitions’, if you will, try sampling and assessing some of definitions I have acquired in order to set a context for what follows on this page:
(Encarta Dictionary) A system of religious or spiritual beliefs, especially an informal and transient belief system regarded by others as misguided, unorthodox, extremist, or false, and directed by a charismatic, authoritarian leader
[A pretty standard definition here, wouldn’t you agree? Not too bad, but rather superficial]
www.etymonline.com CULT: (n.) 1610s, “worship,” also “a particular form of worship,” from French culte (17c.), from Latin cultus “care, labor; cultivation, culture; worship, reverence,” originally, “tended, cultivated” …
[Interesting history here which shows some not so surprising relationships]
[Rawson] Cult. An organized group of people, religious or not, with whom you disagree.
[Well played, Mr. Rawson!]
Here is my definition that I believe encompasses the essence and scope of Cultism:
- A fetishistic and obsessive belief in, and worship of some Adorable Object considered to possess Superior stature and value than oneself. The subject believes there is a magical potential inherent in mere association with their particular object of desire. The Goal of this adoration is the expectation that association with it will produce an end to the believer’s suffering, renewed happiness, or even produce ‘salvation,’ or enlightenment; and this belief system is the backbone of the subject’s ego-structure.
- A more succinct definition might be this: Cultism is child of the marriage of mind and hope!
- An even more succinct definition: idolatry
The core characteristics of the cultist are these:
- Intellectually, the cultic response is enabled by a weakness or inability to perceive and recognize particular flaws or limitations within systems or worldviews, especially when regarding the Object itself. These minds, clouded by beliefs and preoccupied with pseudo-logic, cannot discern or process fully the patterns and shapes that it sees before it.
- Rhetorically, they present their beliefs as if they were derived from immutable and obvious facts, or else from their own experience, rather than where they actually came from, which is out of the mouths and minds of other men.
- Coinciding with the tendency to express specious testimony is the routine use of patently fallacious logic in an effort to generate a convincing case regarding the unsurpassed value of their Object. Such logic, if examined carefully, is easily revealed to be fatally flawed. This vulnerability, coupled with a naïve expectation that everyone else should blithely accept the same fallacious logic and invalid reasoning.
- Misappropriated Verities, Cultists take great Truths such as “You are loved by God” or “there is only the eternal NOW” and inappropriately twist them into a distorted version of the original meaning in order to serve their own egos purposes.
- Emotionally, their fixation on the Object of Desire is usually based upon a childlike need to be parented, and a great fear of punishment or perdition if approval by their pseudo-parent is lost, or if they themselves were to abandon the Object.
- Socially, it manifests as an unthinking obedience to the demands of their group, their dogmas or their leader(s).
- Interpersonally, the use of all the above tendencies renders Cultists as relatively inauthentic and/or sycophantic to outsiders, even if quite sincere. They often have difficulty associating with people who are not members of their club, as those folks seem lower, and even ‘unclean’ to them.
The chosen Object may be a person deity, a celebrity, a guru, a ritual, a scripture, or even something as trivial as a movie, or a brand – (Apple, Nike, Ferrari, etc.) or anything else that the mind can be attracted and then attached to in order to engender hope for an end to their suffering, or for their redemption. It is symptomatic of a disorder whereby the sufferer cannot fully bear the stresses of their present circumstances, whether internal or external, and seeks to be associated with something greater by an act of allegiance to the cause, which in turn, produces a comforting sublimation of the self. Kind of like having a stiff drink on Friday night.
By contrast it is relatively clear what NON-Cultic is, it is inclusive, accepting of differences, egalitarian, democratic, open minded, ambiguous, paradoxical, and it is evidence of a higher level of self-actualization (something like the higher levels of Maslow’s pyramid). It is not about being superior, close-mended, judgmental, emotionally reactive or combative, controlling, or exclusive.
It should be mentioned that another wrinkle to this consideration of what is Cultism, is that people of different worldviews will have differing opinions about what exactly it is. For instance, a non-dualist would likely feel that it was fundamentally and irrevocably cultic to worship another entity, idolatry in fact, whether in human form human or disembodied divine. While a ‘spiritual’ or religious person would likely accept that kind of orientation as proper and indispensable, not being cultic at all.
In New Age cultures there is perhaps less hierarchy, so the cultic pattern is closer to the groupie style (rather than the Big Family, ‘command and control’ style organization). It’s often about getting excited about the latest greatest charismatic leader or technique to come down the pike. But the hype and the fantasies and the FALSE logic and the herd mentality still abounds. And the hope for redemption still lies at the core of it.
This dynamic is also seen in the ‘talking schools’ of the ‘New Advaita’ movement wherein through a superficial self-enquiry and a transcendence ritual that is no deeper than the penetration of the person’s current thinking mind, or emotionally reactive state, people proclaim their liberation from ego!
And, while we are at it, though seemingly less prone to cultism and fundamentalism, Buddism has its own special icons, from the Dali Lama to the idealization of ‘compassion,’ to the demonization of desire.
What Scientism and religion have in common is that they are both struggling to deal with reality from the position of mind, beliefs, rigid hierarchies, questionable ‘truths,’ and are both are intolerant of dissent. Mind, reflecting upon what is below it, in the case of Scientism, and mind attempting to come to terms with what is senior to itself and above. Both are deeply involved in belief systems, and as a result quite susceptible to cultism and fundamentalism.
As for the notion that critics of Cultism are themselves ‘part of a cult of Anti-Cultism’ I appreciate this point of view. According to my understanding, anti-cultists probably do fit the criteria. I will attempt to avoid this trap in this essay.
Conventional modern society and its norms and behaviors are of course considered the very opposite of what is thought of as cultic. What may be missed by some is that that conventional society has all the qualities of a Cult, yet its fetishes and beliefs and power structures are largely unexamined and largely dispersed and chaotic. Modern society would likely be considered a cult by an outsider arriving from Mars. You can probably imagine how bizarre our modern society might appear to them.
From my perspective as a psychotherapist, a consistent pattern that I see when I observe people engaged in Cultic behaviors is that of a deferred development, either in what is known as the ‘differentiation’ process (this core developmental process is one in which the person matures out of the infant stage of total dependency, increasingly ‘differentiating’ from the parents as the child gradually matures, climaxing in the ordeal of adolescence, and finally achieving a stable interdependence as an adult); or else who is yet incomplete in the Individuation process.
This observation, may account for the fact that a cultist may otherwise appear outwardly mature and well-adjusted in their life. Such a dichotomy between apparent worldly maturity and a childish disposition is produced by engaging in a ‘good boy’ participation in society, may be produced in an person who is seriously hampered by a failed differential and who is enacting a clever strategy designed to attain the goods that his or her society, as parent, offers.
Or it may be the consequence of a person who has transcended the differentiation process sufficiently, so that life challenges are easily managed, but who still shows evidence of incomplete Individuation [Individuation is a philosophical, spiritual and mystical experience (Jung, 1989b, p. 294). It is the goal of our psychological development and in metaphysical terms, amounts to God’s incarnation (Jung, 1989b, p. 15]
Either of which can make for very interesting lifestyles, as there are many wonderful facets to lives so organized. To be clear, that is not meant to be sarcastic or facetious, but simply as a fact of life. This orientation towards life has great power and many advantages, so it can’t be dismissed out of hand, it just has certain limitations.
In my worldview everything serves a purpose. It is not hard for me to imagine that even the most torrid cults serve some purpose for the participants. To use myself for an example, I needed to understand something more about the limitations of trading my sovereignty for a comforting Authority Presence in my life. Granted, it took me some 30 years to get that lesson, but I doubt if I could have learned it any other way. In the same sense that people who have undergone dreadful drug addictions report that they wouldn’t change a thing about their lives- it was all necessary and quite perfect for them (and, they are very glad it is over!)
The repression of a maturity level of differentiation will naturally produce a tendency towards an enmeshed or fused state of bondage with parental substitute groups or persons, of either a benign or even a malicious nature, depending upon the expectations of the person, and their history. Meaning that their unique selves will usually get quite subsumed in the herd mentality of group-think.
You can also assume that the since their failed or incomplete differentiation or adaptation was likely caused by emotional, mental or even physical abuse on themselves, they will very frequently resort to the use of the same aggressive force that they were trained in – such as ad hominem attacks and ersatz reasoning when attempting to deflect any perceived threat. It just comes naturally without conscious choice or volition because in essence that is what they know- that is how it always was in their family of origin, and the roots of this tendency run deep.
Typically, they will often and unconsciously resort to psychological projection and dispensing ad hominem attacks on those who disagree with them as a means to identify, target and disable the opposition- which means that they will often accuse their opponents of the very flaws which most profoundly haunt their own subconscious. Since incomplete differentiation is at the root of base cultism, a very common defense will be to accuse their opponents of a wide variety of symptoms typical of a person suffering from incomplete differentiation.
As an example of projection, if the Cultist accuses someone of ‘dallying with the devil’, you can safely assume there is something dark and dangerous about their own spirituality. Their demand is that you move out of your darkness and embrace the Light. If they accuse others of being motivated neurotic drives (‘you oppose us because you are an angry unhappy person’) then there is every likelihood, there is a great deal of neurotic adaptation present in themselves and in their group. If they accuse others of being juvenile or adolescent, rest assured that they are quaking at the idea of growing into adulthood and the radical moment and gestures that traversing from adolescence to adulthood requires of a person.
If the Cultist is arraigned around a Non-Dualist philosophy, you can surely expect that their defense/offense will center on an accusation of someone being steeped in mere ‘ego-story’ (referring to an absorption in the unsophisticated forms of spirituality with dualistic and mythological orientations).
If a Cultist is obsessed with Scientism, you can be sure that they will accuse their opponents of being guilty of primitive superstitions, or dewy eyed emotionalism, reflecting their own primitive spiritual development or emotional feebleness.
It goes without saying that all these criticisms may be correctly applied in many cases, but the issue here is the Cultist’s fractured and limited worldview, and the need to be ‘right’ and the other person needs to be labeled as wrong in order to maintain their perceived safety against uncomfortable ideas which suggest or require that they themselves face their unconscious drives and ‘grow up’.
In these most severe cases of a deeply repressed self, there is a use of ‘the mythology of greatness’ associated with the Object of Desire, which is utilized to elevate or leverage one’s self out of the pain induced by the developmental or spiritual limitations that it suffers from, and (hopefully), into the glory, (that they all are otherwise genuinely entitled to, due to their real nature and status as “sparks of the Divine”).
Since in the more severe cases Cultism skews the personality of the individual, every area of that person’s function and development will likely be affected. As such the signature or core characteristics of Cultism must also be broad ranging and complex.
To visualize its developmental roots, one need only observe the mind frame of a 10 year old boy, fantasizing about his favorite sports hero, or team, or whatever. It is the ‘end all’ and ‘be all’ of his life, his Hero, even his god! Or think about the passionate emotional pinings of the teenage girl, so madly in love with the latest Boy Band icon. Take this particular developmental level and place it into an adult body, and what you will often find is cultism. These youthful predilections are of course an elaboration of the young child’s near adoration of its parents as god-like figures, who provide all and everything to the child.
I remember as a teenager the uncritical thinking my friends and I casually engaged in as if it had great substance. We thought nothing of filling in the void of our lack of knowledge on any topic, by offering our opinions as if they were facts. “What is the population of France”? “I think it’s about 50 million”! “Naw, I think it has about 70 million because it’s larger than Britain!” Where did our ‘information’ come from? God only knows, but we thought it quite obligatory to offer our best guesses as if they were proven facts. The habit of offering one thing as if it were another, is what may be the historical precedent of the cultist’s similar habit of offering their cherished beliefs to others as if they were unassailable Heavenly Truths.
It should also surprise no one that there is a direct linkage between Cultism and Fundamentalism, as Fundamentalism is simply the doctrinal expression of the Cultic disposition. Fundamentalism is the structure that confines the thinking-feeling mind into a straitjacket of conformity- it is the conceptual glue of Cultism. The third partner in this charming trinity is Narcissistic Idealism, which is the subjective conceit of some kind of ‘holiness’ or righteousness that will hopefully validate the person’s spiritual and social value within the Herd. It may be understood as the grandfather of ‘political correctness’.
Spiritual and religious Cultism is simply a natural occurrence for those who have not yet developed as fully distinct individuals, and so also misunderstand the reality they exist within, in spite of having perhaps connected to one or another sublime spiritual reality, or source point, which they then tend to objectify and worship. There is a powerful consolidation created when there is genuine contact with a ‘higher power’ by someone who has a naive undifferentiated awareness in place. It sets the stage for a revolutionary conversion experience may become the foundation of a new life.
This now semi-awake person knows in his bones that there is in fact something GREAT out there, presumably with salvatory powers, so he attempts to ingratiate himself with that grand transcendent reality, or hold on to it using the faculties that he currently has at his disposal (the ordinary body-emotion-mind circuitry). But the likelihood of an immature individual establishing a non-cultic association with his new great truth is dim.
So there may be evidence of a full spectrum of spiritual, psychological, mental, emotional, and even a behavioral dimensions to the affliction of Cultism. The reason someone can be consumed by a Cultic preoccupation is because their level of self-actualization has not enabled them to see and feel beyond the limitations characteristic of the Cultic construct. As such, it is a substitute, a placeholder, for the self-assurance and equanimity of a fully developed self.
If indeed you wish to engage with a cultist about their beliefs, you may wish to know the following things about typical cultic behaviors and reasoning in order to defend yourself from any self-righteous attacks they may be prepared to bestow on you, and also to be able to diffuse their presentation with rational and sober criticisms that are a better reflection of reality than what they are offering. I myself have usually found that cultists are quite prepared to try to dismember anyone who substantially disagrees with them. At the very least you can expect that your soul will be summarily consigned to Hell, forthwith!
There are three fundamental challenges involved in discussing truth or reality with cultists. The first is their propensity for false speech by naively resorting to self-serving and blatantly fallacious logic. The second is their tendency for inauthentic testimony, by making arguments unwittingly constructed, largely from things they have been told by others -their beliefs- rather than from a full and proper position in which to actually experience these verities. Both of these two tendencies are a reflection of a deeper problem in that the (cultic) person will operate from what might be called a dissociated or even a schizoid state when engaged at this kind of level of dialog about reality. Naturally this state introduces serious limitations in their ability to be both present with you in a genuinely intimate, vulnerable and feeling level, and also their ability to recognize the truth by thinking freely and clearly, beyond dogmas, cultural interpretations, and belief systems.
It is fine with me to hear someone proclaim that they have a belief in something, or that their spiritual relations are founded upon Faith. No problem! But when Cultist start to try to justify their beliefs using pseudo reasoning and fake Facts, then they can be called on it.
This state might even be described as a mild hypnotic state where the cultist loses or abandons a broader reality and retreats into a believer’s sub-personality, populated in a large part by “Things that they believe they know, but do not” (but hope are true). In this dissociated state the cultist has retreated into his safe and hopeful space. From there, his reveries may flourish. To feel someone enter into such an unnatural and dissociative state is often experienced by the listener a disturbing and even personally offensive experience.
I would suggest that in order to attempt to have a meaningful conversation with such a person, one would be wise to attempt to deal with this hypnotic state directly and first-off, before attempting more technical or objective aspects. This will require you to generate a sphere of safety and mutual respect so that they can be eased as gently as possible from their ivory tower of belief.
The first thing to affirm when conversing with a cultist is that you appreciate their sincere and genuine relationship to the object of their affection, and if possible, also affirming that the Object of Worship does indeed possess many grand qualities. Language such as this may be helpful: “I appreciate and want to honor your relationship to X, and I also appreciate that you sincerely feel that he (she or it) is the most important thing in your life, and means everything to you. I don’t have an argument with that – that is your business – but there are some other things about this Object that I have a problem with. Are you interested in hearing about that?” If the answer is ‘yes’, then you could start by saying “Certain practices or behaviors I have heard about I find objectionable. Or if the issue is ‘truthiness’: ‘I disagree with the premise of your culture that….” Or if your chief objection is to the nature of their testimonials, you could say something like “when you start talking about X, I don’t feel connected to you anymore – it feels like you are talking to yourself, or to someone who is not here. You don’t feel present to me anymore, and that is disturbing to me’.
The Use of Fallacious Logic:
The technical aspect of the cultic-critique involves naming the verbal smokescreens that sustains a Cultic rave. I will show a number of common logical fallacies which Cultists routinely use in making their arguments. In their state of rapture, Cultists are usually unwilling or unable to apply full intellectual rigor in assessing the actual or real values and virtues of their Chosen Object, so they substitute dogma in the form of buzzwords or emotional fantasies.
“Cherry Picking” – Is when a person argues that you too should embrace their God because ‘he’ saved them from some horrible fate. You see this justification continuously among religionists when they praise and thank their ‘god’ for helping them with this or that. Conveniently they always choose to ignore all the times when people prayed to their god and either, absolutely nothing significant occurred, or just as often, the supplicants got blasted to Hades by life! So much for ‘miracles’!
In response you can explain that: such a statement that they made is a logical fallacy known as “cherry picking the truth”, (such a clear and definitive statement is often withering to a cultist because it will indicate to them that you are a live-active-and thinking-person, and they may shutter in the humble realization that they cannot ‘meet you’ in a discussion such as this. Then explain that such a statement like the one they just made is based upon the exploit of only acknowledging positive evidence to support their case, while ignoring all the negative evidence. You can then elaborate, if you like, and explain that “cherry picking” the truth is known by the name of “Argument By Selective Observation”.
Ad Hominem Attacks – It is important to be clear about what exactly an ad hominem attack is. It is, in essence, the act of ‘killing the messenger’ rather than dealing with the content of the message he carries. It is the opposite of what is recommended in psycho-therapy where one is advised to ‘hate the behavior, love the person’ (in the case of people trying to deal with others who are hurting them with their drug abuse or violent behavior etc.). The way a cultist utilizes ad hominem attacks is to distract attention away from criticism of their obsessions, by instead turning everyone’s attention to the carrier of that criticism, and to so disgrace him, that the criticism he delivers is forgotten or dismissed. Since one of the core elements of this entire essay is a both a criticism of the elements that make up cultism, and the reasons for it, I feel I have no choice but to not only criticize the content of the message of cultism, but to also unmask what lies beneath it, in the ‘messenger’. The key here, if I am to not fall into my own version of ad hominem attacking, is to deal with the mechanics of cultism thoroughly, and while appreciating and respecting the messenger, also to show his probable motivations, so that people may gain some insight into their own cultic behavior, as well as that of their neighbors.
Psychogenetic Fallacy – If you encounter a person who wants to dismiss some complaint against their culture by claiming that the accusers are mentally unstable, using reasoning such as this: “He was probably molested by a priest. That’s why he thinks there’s no God. Therefore he’s biased, and his complaint is inadmissible. We can ignore whatever he says”.
A big one in my former culture was the cry that their critics are simply ‘angry’, implying some kind of neurotic motivation, and moreover, a complete lack of substance in their criticism.
You can counter to such a cultic rave by revealing to them that what they just said to you was a ‘Psychogenetic Fallacy’, which means that when we dismiss someone as being an invalid critic because they may have been injured, we divert attention away from the criticism itself, and don’t respond to it with forthrightness. As above, you can counter by explaining that the fact that a person has been injured does not make them liars or unreliable, and to using that kind of argument to disempower them is a fallacy known as Psychogenetic Fallacy, and has no validity in terms of truth-telling. It is fine to note that a critic is ‘angry’ or ‘rebellious’, but that is hardly the end of the discussion. You must go on to refute their points, or else you are relying on one of a great variety of ‘ad homonym’ attacks.
Developmental Fallacy – Another fallacy Cultists use is to attack the ‘messenger’ by denouncing them as (operating from) an “adolescent” or “rebellious” developmental state. While that may or may not be true, it doesn’t necessarily negate their criticism, does it? Is it not possible for an adolescent or rebellious person to speak truth?
In many spiritual communities it is common practice to accuse critics of exactly this Developmental issue. The question you must ask yourself is: “who is psychologically projecting on whom?” [Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world]. Ironically, the essence of my critique of Cultism, as being linked to developmental flaws in a person, could be dismissed as the use of just such a fallacy. I observe that the reader has an interesting conundrum at hand in this matter.
I must leave it up to the individual reader to decide whether they feel it is me who is generating a psychological projection by ascribing cultism to developmental flaws, or whether I am simply challenging this fallacy by identifying it? Am I shedding light on this subject, and arguing for greater compassion and understanding for those I disagree with, or am I attempting to dehumanize, demonize, or even destroy those who I differ with? The final assessment in this consideration will remain in your hands.
Tautology – A tautology is an argument that utilizes circular logic. The ‘truth’ is ‘proven’ by using the conclusion as one of the premises. The object in question itself is presumed to be in a position to validate itself without any substantial evidence to support its claim. An old joke perhaps illustrates this gambit best: the ‘are you still beating your wife?’ line is an example of hiding a false premise inside the desired conclusion. As one blogger put it: “God is Good because the bible says that God is good, and the bible was written by God who would not lie, because he is good.” Or, how do you know that the guru is who he says he is? Answer – he told us so!
Non-Sequitur – In Latin this term translates to “doesn’t follow”. This refers to an argument in which the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists. In the case of sincere users it is a symptom of a naïve person or cloudy mind:
i.e. 1 -“There is so much beauty in nature. There must be a God.” When perhaps it is Nature which produces artifacts of great beauty. Or maybe the ‘Devil’ creates such stuff to entrap you in his snares!
i.e. 2 – Non-Sequiturs are huge in my own ex-culture. Members often say something like this in defense of their beliefs: “I don’t simply believe the grand claims the Teacher has made about himself, I have verified those claims through these experiences. They may then present their evidence: – I saw visions when sitting in a room with him on many occasions and felt ginormous amounts of Love. And since it is said that ‘God is Love’- therefore I can attest that He is God. The kind of love I felt is proof of his claims.” When actually, no, it doesn’t really prove what you may think it proves. It may prove that he is an extraordinary vehicle for wonderful and sublime experiences, he may have triggered or even caused your experience, but that is not the same as proving your most essential and fundamental claims about him. Such a proof is, in all likelihood, a culturally agreed-upon interpretation of such experiences. And an interpretation is essentially an expression of a belief, and a belief is something that YOU DO NOT KNOW (and maybe can’t know)! My money says neither you (nor I) am in a position to prove (or, for that matter, disprove!) such a claim. And conversely, how about the time when you had that great vision when sitting in the bus terminal with that bag-lady sitting close to your left elbow? Did that PROVE that that woman was a grand realizer or god or transmitter? Obviously not. Correlation is not Causation.
Of course none of this solid reasoning will completely unhinge a zealot because their attachment to the Object is based upon an ego-based survival-belief, and a belief of this depth is fundamentally constructed out of ‘love’, as I pointed out in my article on Beliefs; and this kind of love is stronger than objective truth. Until the Cultist no longer loves the object so overmuch, and loves and respects himself more, both psychologically and even spiritually, they are hooked, for better or worse. But still, a firm but respectful challenge might manage to skin a few layers of ‘certain knowledge’ from their obsession, which may make you feel better, and who knows, it might even have an effect on them, over time.
The value of citing logical fallacies is that if you merely parry by saying to a Cultist, “that’s just something you believe” then they will say, ‘yes because it is written in the bible, you would be wise to believe it too’. But if you cite the logical fallacy that they are engaged in, it is a lot more sobering for them to be confronted by a clear enunciation of the fallacy that they are involved in.
Inauthentic Speech – The Problem of Argumentation Using Beliefs:
Arguing from Beliefs – These include statements wherein someone quotes a great master or many masters regarding some facet of truth, as if such an understanding was his own, when in fact it usually is not. My own ex-teacher used to say: ‘what is true coming from a master (a realizer), is NOT true, coming from you.’ What such statements are then, are beliefs. It’s an idea that’s been passed down to him and which he dutifully delivers on to other people, either to convince them or himself that the path he chooses is the highest and the best and only genuine path. He is not the author or even an authenticator of those sentiments, so he is not in a position to confirm them with any real authority. What he renders to us is schoolbook knowledge. It is the equivalent of an ‘opinion,’ a hopeful aspiration masquerading as experience.
The issue with beliefs here is not that the Cultist is enamored with some aspect of Creation – everyone does that, the problem is that he pretends he has unassailable, bullet-proof and superior knowledge about life, when in fact, he doesn’t. He has a pocketful of beliefs. Specifically, he believes that the ‘ride’ he is on is going to enable him to escape from out of the amusement park called Maya, on to a land of grand freedoms, when in fact he hasn’t noticed that he is riding on a cushion of beliefs which are just another ride that goes nowhere special, but just circles back to the starting line, where it disgorges the now bemused frolickers, and then boards the next load of hyped-up cultists for their own hopeful trip around park, just taking in the sights.
The real problem with this habit is the embarrassing naivety involved in such a gambit, and the fact that, interpersonally, such statements comes close to dishonesty for those that these arguments are directed at, in the sense of a strongly spoken promotion for something which they, in actuality, don’t know that much about. Not dissimilar to the way we feel about a salesman who will hype a product without much regard to how much truth there is in his statements.
There is also a disturbing hollowness, a ‘zombie-like quality when a person makes grand statements about reality when those proclamations are merely based upon beliefs. Very unconvincing, to say the least!
The following observations are the result of at least three factors: my personal internal experience, the observation of the process of growth out of cultism among friends and acquaintances, and common sense logic and reasoning. The way one might go about addressing the issue of Cultism would be different depending upon whether you were an ordinary citizen trying to ‘get normal,’ or a spiritual person with the additional goal of further spiritual advancement. I make no claim that any of these strategies will work for you for any number of reasons but I offer them as possibilities that a person could contemplate and explore for themselves.
If significant Cultism is evidence of a stalled development into human and/or spiritual adulthood, then the goal should be obvious – maturation into a human adulthood, and/or spiritual awakening. For an ordinary citizen, the first move is to explore whether you have significant unhealed emotional wounds and distorting unconscious beliefs which have derailed you from your normal maturation process (differentiation). In that case you may find that your current cultic disposition is merely an unwitting and unconscious reflection of your historical family of origin’s style of relating, and their relationship to their selves, and to others. The bottom line is that you are addicted to patterns of feeing/thinking/behavior which are not reality-based, but the remnants of a historical survival strategy. Do the healing work, which, it should be obvious, involves a weaning off of the addictive patterns described above. Coinciding with that, you will gradually develop and have access to your natural but stalled personal power. With that movement you will probably find your cultic predilections evaporating away, gradually and naturally.
If you are an earnest spiritual person you may also need to do the recovery work, but additionally you will have ‘other’ places you may need to explore and account for. You will have to look and see if your spiritual life itself has become, to some extent, a manifestation of your own addiction to archaic forms of relating in your life, whether the dysfunctional variety described above, or even functional and ‘natural’ forms of relating. And finally your relationship to ‘higher power’ as described by Jung’s Individuation process. You’re motive power here to contemplate such a review is your love of truth, mixed with your displeasure with yourself for being addicted to falseness.
What Can Be Done
(DON’T ATTEMPT THESE MANEUVERS AT HOME UNLESS YOU ARE CONVINCED THAT YOU POSSESS FREE WILL!)
Perhaps it’s fair to say that there are two main avenues of spirituality –the Relational type- typified by the god or guru-disciple relationship (and all the attendant religions and spiritual paths), and the Soloist paths, typified by Taoism, high Buddhism, Monism and Advaita etc. Both avenues represent great advantages and great liabilities to the users. The Relational style gives you many important tools and advantages but minimizes your native spiritual sovereignty. The Monist path leaves you not only without community but without effective challenges to your ever-clever ego from a culture, because you are largely on your own. Practitioners of both paths may need to at some point to seriously embrace the opposite and foreign path in order to continue to grow.
The early phases of normal life (1st -3rd phase – think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) concerned with a focus upon food, shelter, sex, romance, work and rational thinking are usually funneled into religion for those wishing to transcend these functions – into a the relationship to a creator god by means of the agency of a priesthood. The 4th to 5th phases of life (using the basic notations of Adi Da) take the form of developing a direct personal connection to a god or godhead. But the 6th phase of life is about strictly relocating your general functional awareness to your own self (and retracting it from identification with its resident body-mind complex) – and experiencing the authority and also the limitations that such a disposition entails – the growing realization that the self (awareness itself) is actually a contracted manifestation of the Supreme Self (of all and of everything) is the business that culminates in what Adi Da referred to as the “7th stage of life”).
In the case of most spiritual people I have known, who have been ardently engaging 4th -5th stage practitioners, one antidote to spiritual cultism could be to break with the particular form that they have become so deeply imbedded into. In the case of those folk, who have been deeply steeped in 4th and 5th stage practices, the natural corrective would be a monist orientation, as the 1-5 stage practices, being enormously complex and having many more ‘moving parts,’ seem more prone to the gross kinds of cultism we all find objectionable. The monist paths being simplified by singularity, naturally carry less ‘things’ to attach to and make ‘holy’. But all paths are of course prone to the devious machinations of ego. But at least superficially, the emphasis upon the self as both divine and sovereign could help with the Individuation process with those seemingly engaged in 4th -5th stage practices.
It is my experience that a switch from one orientation to another might not only succeed in alleviating a large burden of orthodoxy and sleepy comfort, but it could possibly conceivably trigger a major developmental shift to a more expanded state of Consciousness in a person primed for such a move.
My old comrades had their preferred remedy for cultism – appeal to the Divine for help in transcending this problem. Which, in and of itself, is great.
But it is very interesting, that to my knowledge, they had little insight into the mechanics of the issue or sense of what that achieved liberation would look like, or even the details of how it could be represented conceptually. And worst yet, how a human might make practical steps to get there. So if the solution to Cultism is adulthood (both developmentally and spiritually) it needs to be asked: what is adulthood composed of, and moreover, what is required to achieve it?
I suggest that everyone suffering from cultism knows in their hearts what the solution to it is- it is further differentiation and individuation. For Relationalists that doesn’t mean (as it is commonly feared) dissociation from God or Guru, and it doesn’t mean embracing reckless adolescent rebelliousness. It doesn’t mean ‘going back to the world’. But it does require that we put away the game of thinking of ourselves as ‘children of God’, or being totally dependent on a ‘Shepard’ to guide us and save us from the wolves. To make such a transition requires, first and foremost- an elimination, a release, a dismissal of the childish belief in being powerless and dependent on a parental father-mother figure.
What Relational spiritual Cultists are often missing is solid grounding in that most subtle of human capacities, an expansion in their ordinary functional awareness to what has traditionally been known as ‘the Witness’ or the ‘Witnessing-self’ or Awareness itself. Curiously, in my former spiritual culture, such an accomplishment, while clearly recognized and articulated as an inevitable stage of human development, was always considered too august a state for anyone except a devoted few to stably become established in (to say nothing of the ultimate goal of that culture, which was ‘enlightenment’).
‘The Witness’ is also a station which Spiritual folk probably know something about through absorption of popular spiritual literature, and may subsequently try to emulate by force of mind or will. Such an effort will only produce the facsimile of the Witness position known in my ex-community as ‘self-watching’ (mind-based dissociation and self-reflection) (also see Narcissistic Idealism). The ‘self-watching’ simulation does nothing but confuse people even further, because the key ingredient necessary to stably access the Witness Phase is a crisis, not a practice. Instead of a crisis, it is very typical for those dabbling in Non-Dualistic practices to substitute pseudo-deaths: the death of ones identification with a set of thoughts or feelings which are presently disturbing the person, rather than a genuine and revolutionary existential crisis. Thereafter the ‘make-believe’ game may begin: that through such shallow exercises of self-enquiry and superficial transcendence, that something profound has occurred. These type of pseudo rituals occur quite routinely in both the New Age and New Advaita movements that are very popular these days. Honestly, I would doubt that any ‘practice’ could ever get you there! Spiritual practices are all mind or emotion based, and self-defeating for this kind of task.
The great power of these Non-Dual practices is that to the degree that one is able to access them, one can temporarily touch our own true self, albeit in a self-encased form, (and not very ‘enlightened!) to the exclusion of all else. The liability of this assumed disposition is that it is as corrupt as any other ego-station in life or consciousness. The Witness position both in its stable form and its replicant form is a great trap in which the ego will attempt to gain control over- and immediately! And it will succeed! No ifs, ands, or buts in that acquisition!
The preeminent liability with the monist and Non-Dualist paths lies in the trick that they allow a practitioner to perform (as any other Narcissistic Idealist does) which is to affirm to a particular set of great spiritual truths, (usually from a grand spiritual tradition), emotionally bond with them (in the usual cultic way), then go on to interpret and edit every one of their thoughts, feelings and actions as real and true representations of the ‘great spiritual truths’ that they are pledged to. And in doing so, deny and suppress anything about themselves which hints of their darkness, self-contraction, or unenlightened of ego.
Typically they will glue themselves to a core teaching such as the one that states that there is only Now, that you as the actor are already free if you will only acknowledge that reality. There is no story to be told, no evolution necessary or even possible. Or that we are all already THERE. Or that ask you dismissively “who is the One who is asking (such a silly) question?” All of which is true, if indeed –it is true of them, which it usually isn’t. Such a presumption is based upon ego splitting off aspects of its personality into it’s subconscious, using mental gymnastic as breathtaking as those seen in of the Summer Olympics.
The really neat trick is this though – the way they often cover their trail. Astonishingly, they will dismiss any notion of truth-telling and even truth realizing, and its converse – any notion of perceived limitation or even falsehood revealing, as absurd and ill conceived. They will inform you that ‘you are just getting involved in a ‘story’.
In other words they will use the enlightened talk and (presumed) superior demeanor of a truly enlightened person, but then surprise! disallow any discussion regarding those truths as being disingenuous and facile. Any questions regarding their own (limited) state can be rebuffed using this technique.
How does that work for them? What does this accomplish? Well, it shorts out any challenge that way very well come their way. Their egos become invulnerable to honest examination or consideration.
Any attempted discussion about Truth is dismissed out of hand as adoring the map rather than the territory. If someone admits to suffering or being as yet unenlightened, they will dismiss an honest and probing confession of experienced limitations as preposterous, because they tell you that there is no such thing as unenlightenment! Rather than becoming flaming enthusiasts for ‘god,’ like cultic evangelicals, they become suppressive spiritual nihilists, ensconced in their Ivory Tower of transcendentalist beliefs.
Of course, every truth they utter is indeed a representation of a GREAT Truth. But coming from such a cultist, it is little more than a whitewash. These Monists would probably be served better by embracing a relational form of spirituality for a time in order to gain some access to a culture where they can be rightly tested and seen for what they are really up to, rather than their preferred self-image and invulnerable belief system.
This liability is inherent in these traditional and New Age practices which attempt to prime the pump and facilitate the movement beyond the body-mind complex, because these tools only provide a fleeting taste of what is beyond. Without a fundamental personal crisis which shatters the current ego structure and worldview, the ‘Witness Position’ is just a lark. The Witness position cannot be created or attained, even though everyone is actually already using it, in every moment of consciousness, both awake and asleep, in the same way that we our brain and mind are always seeing the world through the mechanism of the eyes. The reason it is not noticed is because of choice, deep in consciousness, to identify and focus upon the mental, emotional and physical dimensions rather than on itself- which it is quite capable of without any assistance from anyone else. Technically, as expressed it in the original Lion Sutra, the ‘Witness’ is composed of a function of consciousness, better known as ‘awareness,’ rather than ‘attention,’ (which is the essential motive or engine of mind). And at the feeling level, of unattached free-form feeling.
What is rarely (never?) noticed about transcendental practices is that they are built upon an alternative form of self-division. They are constructed out of a fusion of intention and attention designed to temporarily short-circuit the same faculties of ‘intention and attention’. This focusing is accomplished by a new form of separation, now in the form of a turning away from the body-mind complex so that the person can thereby levitate into an enjoyment of the witnessing self. It is a ‘practice,’ and all practices are separative and therefore not fundamentally different from any self contracting style of ego-life. It is great to do these practices in order to open oneself to what is beyond the body-mind, but they are manufactured from the same stuff as ordinary ego-consciousness – self-enclosing separative ego.
These various traditional and New Age Paths do offer practices which can temporarily extract a person out of the lock of the mind-body orbit, and there is no reason not to experiment with these, but the lynch pin is not a ‘doing’ but an elimination of the habitual ego orientation– the most cherished beliefs, associations etc. which you are addicted to and distracted by. So it is not a small a kind of death that must be accomplished for a spiritual person to move stably into the Witness. It is not a delightful little epiphany. It is more like a train crash – a nightmare that shakes your world to the very core. It is a catastrophe that you probably wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Your world is suddenly ruined and you have to pick up the pieces from there, and try to make some sense out of everything. Yes there are great blessings which arise out of the ashes after awhile, but it is not a game and it’s no lark.
As to the prospects for success for any particular ego to willfully transcend cultic tendencies, sadly, I suspect that they are somewhat limited. In my opinion they are limited by the very nature and substance of that which we as humans are composed of. It is my considered opinion that, much to the shock and horror of both psychologically astute, and knowledgeable spiritual people, human nature is itself is composed of that same dubious stuff as is cultism itself, namely, ‘beliefs’ (or if you prefer a more romanticized image – ‘dreams’). To examine this question of beliefs in greater depth, I can recommend my article on that very subject which is titled “Secret Beliefs”.
If my premise as stated above is correct, that cultism is most fundamentally composed of (cherished) beliefs, and if personhood itself is similarly constructed, and bestowed by some Higher Self or Creator as a “belief in self,” then you can begin to see where the complications lie for any person in attempting to resolve the matter of their personal cultism. The age-old proposition that the ego can’t liberate itself from itself is true not only because the ego is designed to sustain itself at all cost, but that because it is composed of the ephemeral stuff of dreams or beliefs, it doesn’t possess enough substance to transform itself into that which is beyond the pale. In any case, the only possibility to be utterly free of Cultism may only exist for some sort of god, or at least some type of fully enlightened master, because only someone totally free of identification with their ego-machinery would likely be superior to the shared construction-material of ‘beliefs’, and therefore of cultism. More on that, later.
Since there appears to be so much mystery and even taboo surrounding ‘The Witness’ that I thought it might serve to say a little more about it. To my knowledge descriptions of it always seem to fit into one of 4 categories: ignoring it, ignorance about it, ridiculing it, or revering it – all of which are nonsense from my perspective. I would like to give a fair and balanced view of it, citing many of the liabilities and weaknesses inherent to it, as well as the advantages it possesses. I also want to make clear that I am not suggesting that it is a ‘more evolved’ phase of life than the other phases, simply because its perspective is senior to the body-mind complex, and as such an over-viewer of the others. For all I know it may be the opposite – that it is in some way a regression to some kind of embryonic state of primordial soul, and an unfortunate happenstance befalling the relative few who seem to have been deposited there. And fatefully, with such an overview, comes a distrust for mind and mental gyrations regarding evolution, and schemes of superiority. Therefore the most honest claim about it is – I don’t know what this thing is, and maybe never will! But this is my experience and I hope discussing it in this context may be of some small help to others who are in need or desiring some such confirmation of their own process.
The Witness is not something alien and unfamiliar, it is not spiritual, it is not an attainment, and it certainly is not a transcendence of ego- what it does represent is a partial disabling or piercing of ‘the veil’, as occultists call it, or the ‘filter’ of the physical brain, as my old teacher used to put it. That filter is designed to block attention and feeling from accessing a whole spectrum of higher dimensional realities – the Witness, being only one of them.
It doesn’t mean that one is entranced in a constant state of pure awareness- detached from the functions of the body-mind. But it does mean that the egoic personality now has immediate access to a space which finds the things of the body-mind to be relatively unattractive. You can do spiritual practices from this position if you like, or, you can make a life out of forgetting about greater spiritual truth and being beguiled by it.
Its dynamics are similar to your previous iteration of spiritual life, where you occasionally tune in to ‘spirit’ at various times during your day, and for the remainder of the day you have it influencing you in the background (hopefully), but not in the forefront of your consciousness. At first it may be a great struggle to keep from falling into the agendas of the body-mind, but with time you may find those agendas having less pull on you. It is not by the utter transcendence of the contents of a life that the Witness awakens, not a transcendence of ego, but that a certain disinterest towards one’s life itself occurs which is not based upon either resentments or a smug superiority.
If the former life was a materialistic lifestyle, then a disenchantment with the potentialities of life might be the trigger (which, surprisingly to us ‘spiritual’ folk, does happen!). If one’s former life was predominantly spiritual, then a radical disillusionment with spirituality may be the trigger if there is to be a breakthrough. One may yet love life, or in the case of spirituality, still love spirit, but a profound disdain for all the falseness involved in one’s own pursuit of either becomes absolutely overwhelming.
For myself my response to a visiting spiritual master to my next door neighbor led to my catastrophic fall. Within a few hours I realized that my entire spiritual life had been built around falseness. I suddenly knew that my entire spiritual adventure had been an absurd dance of personal madness. It is a critique that spiritual people associate with atheists of strident materialists, but is also the case for sympathetic people like me.
First and foremost, functioning from the Witness is radically different from doing simple witness-focusing practices. It is as if, previously, you had lived in a house with many rooms (will, concepts, emotions, lust, and physicality), but then suddenly you find that the ceilings on all those rooms has lifted up from 3 meter height to 6 meters. Further, you now can view each of those rooms from that ascended perspective, and as a whole, thereby minimizing any chance of mistaking the goings on in any individual room for something it is not.) You still are separate (apparently) from your surrounding neighborhood, and locked into your house (your ego structure), so you are still quite unenlightened, but you now feel that you have a significant advantage over your previous arrangements.
It should be noted that this Witnessing stage of life is not so grand a thing, in fact, it is a rather humble affair. You might say it is even rather powerless stage of life in some sense. The witness is just another ego-position and quite ‘unenlightened’, but it does at least exceed the limitations of the body-mind complex. I tried to describe a developing experience of it in great detail several years ago in a previous piece titled “Post-Spirituality”. It also must be said that the term ‘Witness’ is a great misnomer as it implies an objectifying, observing and knowing focus and disposition, when quite the opposite is true. One experiences it as a deep and slightly overwhelming sense of subjectivity, both luxurious and alone. It is a subjectivity which is dramatically unconcerned with outward appearances, either of itself or anyone else for that matter. It most certainly is not about knowing a lot of stuff about yourself or being infatuated with your personality!
It doesn’t mean that one is completely free of the tendencies of the body-mind complex, only that one has gained an addition perspective with which to negotiate those tendencies, and live one’s life from a more powerful perspective. And it also doesn’t mean that you live exclusively from that position, but rather that you fluctuate constantly, in and out, back and forth, much as you did before in your relationship to Source-God-Spirit.
As awareness settles at this level, a person gradually comes to recognize that there is no teaching, no bible, no dharma, and no personage that exceeds the truth-capacity of the self, itself. Even this humble witnessing self exceeds those grand and famous objective Things. This Witnessing self is NOT interested in the full development or exploitation of the self’s outward potentiality, or that of its host’s body-mind, but in the nucleus of self as self. It is a somewhat isolating stage of life where the person reassesses all his or her current and former relationships and puts many of those aside because they seem extraneous now. A person can experience a good deal of loneliness in this phase, as ordinary associations with groups or associates which seemed so important in years past, now, are often experienced as rather meaningless, and even quite jarring. A sense of emptiness may overwhelm the person.
Perhaps the worst aspect of being Post-Spiritual is the isolation. One begins to sense that there are no groups out there who one shares special values with. Whether that is because the current population of Post-Spiritualists is very small, or because Post-Spiritualists are by nature self-orientated and asocial, I’m not sure at this point, probably both. Everyone seems to be expressing values or organized around goals or principles that you no longer are in sympathy with (perhaps most especially – spiritual people!). else is either involved with career, or family, or spirituality, or academics, or art, money, or politics etc. Which all feel rather passé. At this juncture of your journey, embarrassing to admit, it’s all about you! (Groans of reader disapproval abound!)
The Witness is also not an intensified egoism, where the person falls in love with the qualities of their body-mind. It is a rather more modest experience than that. Perhaps the reason for that is that, characteristically, one loses their belief in individual Free Will, and with it, the sense of oneself being the effective author of one’s owns life. It is very hard to feel superior about much of anything if you no longer believe that you actually created it! Not much left to brag about! One becomes more involved with not-knowing than being a knower or a believer. In fact everything that one knew with such certainty before, such as, ‘the Truth’, the grand status of one’s Master, the particular cosmology one had subscribed to, and, as I’ve said, even knowing much about one’s own life, now seem like a collection of odd and very peculiar fantasies. They now feel like simple presumptions that were based upon a torrid fear of nothingness, a grasping-to-hold-on to some ideas that were reassuring, amid the chaos of existence. A quality of emptiness begins to overtake one’s life. Not very glamorous, is it?
But the positive benefits of Post-Spirituality are an enormous sense of freedom in having shed the cloak of dependence upon anyone, or any groups, or any ideology, or any lifestyles. It is somewhat similar to the type of decompression one feels when, after working hard all year long, one boards a plane to a Caribbean of South Pacific Isle, settles into his nice ocean view hotel room, and after a few days, slowly begins to feel relieved of the manic stress and bizarre constructs of modern life. One begins to feel human again.
Beyond that, there may be an easier access to states of consciousness that we cherished whilst we were spiritual people. Yet one is decidedly not ‘happy’ in this phase. One may thrill and delight in their new found freedom and laugh at all the accretions of spirituality that he has successfully throw overboard, but in one’s heart one knows that there is still something critical missing. That is the happiness that has been experienced on occasion in the past, but which is beyond the reach of the Witness.
One is still in tune with spirituality and developmental growth, and it certainly does continue, quite unabated, but the sense of those elements being directed or generated by one’s personal self, spiritual practices or dependent upon another being, or god, is quite absent now. It just seems to cascade along at its own pace now, out of the nowhere, unbidden, into the unknowable future.
Paradoxically one also may maintain a relationship to Deities or Masters of spirituality in this phase, the critical difference is that the relationship is no longer characterized by the disposition of worship or of substantial inferiority. But more of camaraderie – not unlike, I suppose you could say, the way one might relate to an older brother or sister. They may be ‘greater’ than you in every conceivable way except one – you’re self is the equal to their self, and there is a sense of equality now in spite of the obvious developmental differences. Missing yet is a consistent sense and capacity for ‘No-Self,’ but that doesn’t seem to matter that much while in this phase. They, the higher powers, may be called upon for assistance at difficult moments just as before, and it is my experience that they do respond generously.
So the fact is, that once one begins to live fairly comfortably in the witnessing self (which is a gradual process), one becomes increasingly immune to the trappings of cultism or cultic mind. In fact, one finds them all quite toxic, silly, and cringe-worthy. All those cultural-spiritual artifacts which had so much value in the past are now regarded as useful devices in their time, but devices nonetheless that you now have little use for, except as conceptual references in conversations with others, or as simply healthy things to do, like eating good food or getting proper exercise.
Preface: The fact is that I never, in my 30 years of association with my former spiritual culture, nor the five years since, have seen a critique of that Way which was based upon an examination of the core doctrines and beliefs which ran the culture, and done in a systematic and benign way. A discussion that would allow students to review the points made without undue defensiveness, and without the toxic load of sifting through the points made by someone who was shaming and blaming everyone in sight.
The average reader may wish to skip through to the next and final section if he is not terribly interested in such a detailed and technical discussion. You can easily do so by clicking here: Final Conclusion
It is not my intention or desire in discussing the Cultism found in my old spiritual community for those observations to stand as an implicit or explicit accusation that that community is a “Cult”, a lowly machine of exploitation and abuse. “Cult” is of course a deadly pejorative in our culture, used almost exclusively to destroy and demonize, and I don’t want that association to be made with my old friends and ex-community. My purpose in not identifying my ex-community in this piece is that it would add little to the discussion, and furthermore, I suspect that there is still an extreme sensitivity in this community to scrutiny from the outside world, after decades of many vicious and foul attacks.
To the current members -I do not wish to harm or disrespect your relationships to your Way of Life or your Guru – that is your business entirely, and I know from personal experience that you are probably getting great benefit from your association with your Way.
Specifically I want you of this community to know that I harbor no resentment about my experience of having been a member and having had a teacher for all those years. I am grateful for the wonderful role our guru served for me for 30 years. To this day, among a couple of other persons, I often refer with warmth and gratitude to him as my “substitute father” because he taught me so much. Indeed, I am happy to accept his claim to being, as he put it, a ‘Godman’. He was superhuman enough to warrant such a title.
I am using our community because that is the community I know best, not because it deserves to be singled out and shamed for its limitations. But it is also the community whose cultic banter and presumptions I encounter most frequently- which frankly, is what finally moved me after many years of contemplating it, to finally write this essay about Cultism. And honestly, I can’t help but hope, however forlorn the possibility, for something a little better than the oblivion that I suspect the community is destined for, and just perhaps a greater responsibility for its hidden cultic assumptions might facilitate that to some small degree.
I have a desire to speak my truth to the community that I loved and lived with for most of my adult life. The reason is this, perhaps you can understand: the community and the culture spoke to me (as it should) for my entire adult life. As such I was always expected to listen and adapt to its POVs. But when the day comes when you find yourself outside of that culture, and in serious disagreement with many of its ideologies, then the feeling becomes more like this: ‘now I will have my say about the culture, if only for a moment!’
I don’t expect many (current) members will resonate with many of these observations and criticisms. At best, only a few who perhaps need to find a different perspective in order to re-evaluate their commitments to live an enlightened, or more enlightened life, will possibly appreciate this work.
By the way, I am fully aware of the types of criticisms that will be directed back at me for my presumption (after all, I directed those same criticisms at our critics over the years). I will probably be labeled as a heretic, a fool or a crank (and probably all three). A delusional ingrate, who threw away his best advantage in this life. I get it. I hear those arguments daily, both in terms of anticipating your rebuttals but also in the form of my own cultural programming – it’s hard wired into my soul at this point.
The distinction I make when I refer to the community as ‘yours,’ and at times ‘ours’, is based upon the varying levels of our present involvement – I still feel in some ways that it still is my community (a great deal of history and training makes that so, and I still having quite a few friends within). But in other ways I am clearly not a member.
I could spend a lot of time documenting our community member’s casual cultic statements and presentations, which is what triggered me into writing this piece in the first place, but that is just too easy (and too tedious for anyone to bear listening to). I will ask members to simply review the critiques given above in the Logical Fallacies and Inauthentic Speech sections to find universal templates for these kinds of utterances. Instead I propose that the kindest and most constructive act would be to set aside the cringable treasure trove of memes and tropes at our disposal, which pass for wisdom amongst those minds are clouded by cultic thinking, and concentrate on issues of greater weight and more potential benefit.
Since unsubstantiated beliefs and grandiose conceits are at the core of cultic thinking, I would ask members to review the issues I set out below in a sober way, in order to discern whether they apply to you personally, or to the culture at large.
In my earlier drafts of this essay I included a couple of examples of rare Cultism from my own life in our community, but eventually decided that it served little purpose and was simply a distraction (not to mention, rather embarrassing!).
I am aware that there are already many people in the culture who are well aware of the problem of Cultism, but I feel that what is lacking is a thorough understanding of the why, how, and ‘the what’ of the phenomenon. I hope you will find some of that in this article.
I would like to invite my old friends and comrades to demonstrate a genuine freedom from the natural but cultic strategy of automatically reacting to criticism with ad hominem attacks, casual derisiveness, or grand superiority, by considering these issues openly and honestly.
Our community always was, and, by all reports, still is seriously beset with cultic mind (the Founder was always clear about that!), and moreover, seems to me to be relatively clueless about how to understand and deal with the problem, other than at the level of spiritual practice. So far our success in using this approach over 40 years has been quite modest. The common strategy is to surrender this tendency directly to God, and/or to ‘JUST SAY NO’ to cultish behavior! You may argue, rightfully, that in spite of the cultism, the essence of the Way that you practice is directly interested in gaining freedom from distortions such as Cultism. Granted. But…
If you had a broken leg, or have a disease of some sort, or a case of obesity, no one would simply suggest that you merely and only ‘give it over to God’ or simply ‘pray’ for a cure like a Seventh Day Adventist trying to cure Level 5 cancer. No, you would be pointed in the direction of an examination of your diet, exercise, metabolism, or even an underlying medical reason, such as diabetes. You would also be expected to examine whether you suffered from some type of psychological disturbance which could be motivating you to overeat. So why not the same with the ‘disease’ of Cultism?
A culture whose response to cultism is to merely instruct the offender to ‘transcend themselves’ is falling short of its responsibilities, I suspect. My argument is that cultism is founded on an immature or flawed adaption, and is detailed above in the section titled ‘The Solution to Cultism’. Naturally I won’t repeat that section here, but I will go on to suggest a few areas where I feel the community would do well to review some of its assumptions.
Here are some issues which I would like to offer for your consideration. While typical Cultic speech is an irritation and quite common in your community, it is a symptom of a problem and not a major issue, as I say above, so I won’t bore everyone by citing it chapter and verse. I also won’t repeat here what I’ve said above in the chapters above describing the cause and human solutions to Cultism. Rather I will concentrate on a deeper level of cultic tendencies and beliefs, starting with relatively minor. They are significant and need review, but they are not ‘mission critical’, I would think. Below that I detail 3 major issues which I offer for examination. By the way it may not be obvious whether I am criticizing the Founder for doctrines he propounded or whether I am criticizing merely his students for their misuse of said doctrines. I think it is safe to say that there is ample evidence to suggest that the buck doesn’t stop with the mishandling of these notions by students. That he assiduously criticized students for their cultic and otherwise inappropriate use of these doctrines doesn’t absolve him, in my opinion, from the responsibility for creating and maintaining those beliefs and attitudes with his pronouncements.
I will concede that every one of the doctrines outlined below has, or had, some great or small utility. Everything does. And I will also concede that I am no more able to prove that these doctrines are the critical weakness of the culture, than those who uphold the efficacy of them can, at least to my satisfaction. What I am attempting to do is to assess the culture systemically, and these are simply the most questionable parts of a whole, which evidently, does not work very well. Although these cultural devices may have had their uses in creating the Culture, the continued unquestioning acceptance of them suggests, to me at least, a ‘cultic’ frame of mind. To be unable to seriously review these doctrines is evidence of a belief-based system – as if truth was not paradoxical, ambiguous, shifting and infinitely nuanced.
The Minors Issues:
- One of the primary tenets of our Way over the years was the assertion that “Dead Gurus don’t kick ass!” This was emphasized relentlessly and mercilessly to members and public alike. That is until the Founder died a few years ago. Now, what we hear from the community is that he is as involved and forceful as when he was alive – maybe more so! This playing fast and loose with the truth is what typifies a cultic response. A more honest relationship to this idea would be either to apologize in public for misleading thousands of spiritual people over the years if that supposition was not true, or if remains true, to admit that a catastrophic loss has occurred in your lives and that maybe you need to start looking for a replacement guru if you are going to continue to have a significant spiritual life! It is a sign of cultism to simply ignore an issue such as this, or make believe it never happened.
- Then there is the issue of the Founder’s purported ‘Maha Samadhi’. This traditional doctrine states that a guru is so much the master of the life-force, or his relationship to life itself, that he predicts and chooses the time and method of his deliberately invoked and fully conscious death. In other words, his death is voluntary. This doctrine has always been honored in our culture. But when the Founder died without prediction, and by way of a sudden heart attack, devotees ignored the standard criteria for Maha Samadhi and proclaimed his death to be exactly that- against all logic and reasoning, it seems to many observers. This would demonstrate another classic cultic behavior – the stubborn willingness to ignore the truth and reality of a situation in order to maintain a comfortable mythology that the participants have become habituated to.
- Another sign of ‘cultural cultism’ is the perennial triumphalism demonstrated by proclaiming your culture and your master as the greatest and supreme and only complete teaching and teacher in human history. The One, True, Holy Path to God Doctrine You yourself no doubt cringe when you hear Christians making similar exclusivistic and superior claims about Jesus and Christianity (the one, true, holy path to god, and, only through Jesus can you be saved), yet you blithely dispense the same without blinking an eye. I remember being told the classic catechism line in grammar school that “the Catholic Church was the one, holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic church (“VATICAN CITY – (Catholic Online) – The Catholic Church is the one, holy, apostolic church of Christ, while other Christian Orthodox and Protestant denominations that “suffer from defects” …) If for no other reason than humility, I believe it would serve you well to drop that pose, wherever it came from, and rejoin the human race. It would also do wonders for your ecumenical efforts. And in the bargain, please also lose the associated snobbery that only the most serious spiritual people in the world can handle the great truth and the demands that your practice requires. That type of boast is so transparently ridiculous, that it is embarrassing. No spiritual person should countenance such a conceit.
- Only Thru Me to the Father – Along with the issue above is the related ‘neo-christian’ belief that only through your guru can anyone ‘get’ enlightened. The hubris of this one is generally regarded in spiritual circles as, well, somewhat monumental! As if the very Divine was so weak and witless that It had only one shot at manifesting itself in all or any of its worlds, and only through one particular agent. From a non-sectarian as well as a Non-Dualist perspective, many people find this kind of conceit to be patently absurd.
- The only 7th Stage Teaching in History – This is another dubious one that needs re-examining. As matter of fact … The only ‘7th Stage teaching of Truth that is valid and true is the one which proclaims: There is NO teaching of Truth that is valid and true. The only semblance of a ‘7th stage teaching would say to interested parties something like this: ‘that there is no way, there is no god or guru, there is no evolution and there are no ‘levels’ of practice. Everything is perfect as it is, and you, as the divine being, are living exactly what you want to live and experience’. Our Way tries to finesse this epistemological conflict by the use of instructions such as ‘to practice from a 7th Stage point of view’, and, ‘the guru is not pointing to himself but only to your own divine self’. But these are the mechanisms of a fairly typical and traditional 4th and 5th stage teaching. Simply inserting these qualifiers as if they changed everything is improper. All those devices are the stuff of seeking and dualistic doctrines. All of it – the relationship, the practices, the intention, the levels, the culture, are strictly dualistic devices. What they can and sometimes do accomplish is to advance one’s human maturity and higher developmental capacity, which has NOTHING whatsoever to do with a genuine Ultimate 7th stage Teaching.
Yes, the founder did indeed say that these the majority of these cultural devices were ‘secondary’ – that is true. But a teaching has to be assessed not for what it says about itself, but by the whole body of what it is, and does. Isn’t that the way you assess other faiths, such as Christianity? Our way is literally drenched in dualistic mechanisms and relationships, and very weak on affirming the ultimate truth of our prior condition, in affirming our spiritual sovereignty based upon our real status as divine.
A 7th Stage, Non-Dualist Way is not theistic and focused upon a God, yet the number of times of reference to “Me” as Divine Being, (the Founder referring to himself) appearing in the literature is beyond reckoning, and further undermines whatever sense of spiritual sovereignty students might be holding onto.
Conversely the number of times the word ‘Narcissus’ appears in our culture and literature is also staggering. The sheer amount of emphasis that was put on naming and labeling and identifying everyone as Narcissus was and is appalling, if you have any understanding and appreciation of how such labeling of people tends to accentuate that very characteristic.
The endless strident accusations that we were causing the Work to fail is perhaps the saddest testament to the erroneous notion of our Way as 7th Stage Non-Dualist. A truly Non-Dual point of view would dismiss such notions of ‘spiritualizing the world’ (in the future, no less) as utter nonsense.
To argue otherwise is to make senseless the term Non-Dualist. What our Way truly is, is a valid and functional 4th and 5th stage culture, which gives a nod to the ‘7th Stage’ reality. As such it deserves respect for what it represents and accomplishes, but the outrageous claims, I’m afraid, do not.
The ‘Major Issues’
We were all led to believe that the fault for the failure of the Teaching work was our own, which undoubtedly has merit to it and deserves to be carefully looked at very carefully by every participant. Yet I believe that it behooves everyone to examine the ALL of the causes of the ‘failure of the teaching’. To that I will offer my hypothesis: that the problem may lie in the structure of the practice, rather than the failure of the guru to offer a genuine experience and connection to the divine (which he did).
A full Samyama requires us to consider the possibly that, at the very least, the teaching model which he choose for us, ironically, might actually be a significant part of the problem. These sacrosanct doctrines of you Way deserve to be looked at again. But before we do that, let us first let us look at the ‘Infallibility Issue’.
The following issues are doubtful enough as to mandate a reexamination – to refuse to do so could itself being considered an act of cultic defensiveness.
In my humble opinion, to NOT look at this possibly would be to assume, like the Catholics, an ‘Infallibility of the Pope’ type of doctrine. That the Founder could not possibly have made a mistake on matters of ‘Faith and Morals’. Such a dogmatic assumption will hopefully be declined by those with an open mind and a strong heart. The liability in refusing to open this consideration is to accept an increasing element of Fundamentalism into your culture as appropriate and desirable.
Before we begin I would like to emphasize that my overall question to students is this: is it possible to imagine a life where you maintain your ‘heart connection’ to him, where you remain a diligent practitioner, but where you feel free to investigate whether or not all his teaching instructions were, or are still, appropriate for you, at this juncture in your spiritual journey?
For me, the Infallibility Doctrine is implausible (and incidentally, rather dangerous), because it replaces the principle of Truth with that of Knowledge. Knowledge has never been, to my understanding, regarded as the mark of Truth in our culture. Therefore to insist on the Infallibility of the Master is to degrade the Truth. If a great Master makes a mistake, then so what? That is not the essence of his or her realization, is it? Nothing great has been lost; just start again.
For the convenience of those who may never have considered this possibility, I will note below four incidents where I found his frailties showing, where the Founder was unmistakably in error, or openly suspected himself of the same. I expect you may very well be able to add more, but the incidents that I can recollect, are these:
- His ‘Mark My Words’ talk in 1984 where he informed us that by the year 2004, the world would become a workable place, not a paradise, but workable.
- His prophecy that he would become famous by his 60th birthday
- His claim for over 20 years that he never suffered from polio, his malformed leg was the result of the Kundalina process. Later, in the mid 90’s to my recollection, the story changed and it was admitted that he had had polio.
- I deeply admired his honest admission about 10 years ago that he couldn’t understand why his devotees were not surrendering to him. And he was honest enough to review his relationships to his own teachers to try to determine whether he had failed to surrender to them. Wonderful and honest as that admission was, it clearly demonstrates to anyone who needed it that he himself knew he was indeed fallible.
If you can accept that he was fallible then perhaps you can consider the following possibilities:
A serious miscalculation in your Way is that devotees are perpetually accused of being guilty of the ‘self-contraction’. Yes the self-contraction is ‘real’ and ubiquitous. I just checked myself, and I’ve still got one. Yet this indictment should be humbled in the face of the culture’s other fundamental truth- that YOU ARE the divine being itself, and therefore, only and always the author, authority, and sole actor in any ego-drama. After all, who else is available? Narcissus? He is only a play within God-Consciousness, created to entertain a peaceable divine being with a bit of spectacle. This elevated second principle of your way is quite similar to a more ancient one. Christians? Raise your hands if you can see it coming! That’s right – ‘Original Sin,’ and needing a Savior to descend from Heaven to liberate you from your primal sin. No savior, no liberation! And, by the way, a priesthood (the culture) is also needed to keep the ball rolling.
You may respond that the apparent ego-personality doesn’t have the necessary horsepower needed to unyoke itself from its ongoing delusional state. But it is accepted as doctrine that you didn’t actually choose the guru (god’s representative to you), but that he choose you. True? What that means is the divine had the power to sweep through your personality and force ‘you’ to ‘choose’ a spiritual path. Right? Then what makes this same divine so puny and blind and indifferent that it couldn’t sweep through you and force a change of another sort? Which puts the entire notion of ‘practices,’ free will, and even relationships in question, doesn’t it?
Structural Issue – “Way of the Heart is a 4th Stage practice”
While many would argue that the typical “4th and 5th stage” (to use terms familiar to you) practices common to your culture are inherently cultic (if you accept the full definition that I offer above), you may disagree. But I think you might be least agree that such a structure is at least conducive to cultism. It is also a form which has inherent limitations (as ALL forms do!), the implications of which I will detail below for your consideration. I am asking that you consider the specific possibly that the way he choose to relate to his students, and the way they were required to relate to him, while successful in developing students “4th and 5th stage of life” higher capacities of a genuinely loving, heart chakra- and psychic relationship to him as a means to directly commune with ‘the divine’ in a tangible spiritual sense, paradoxically, actually may now inhibit many members movement to the next station of their spiritual life. In my mind, that 4th and 5th stage capacity of life capacity has been strongly in place for decades now, and yet where is the mass of people who are known to be ‘in’ the subsequent phases of life, or at least ‘alive’ as the ‘Witnessing self’?
The issue concerning the structure of the practice is that, the Way is, by his own confession and demonstration, in his own language, a 4th to 5th stage practice. And below I will offer the evidence to support this claim from his statements and his instruction. This point is epitomized for me by one of my favorite quotes from our founder, and is one that I quoted to others with great delight for many decades, for the sheer brilliance of its complexity: I paraphrase –‘The Way of the Heart is a 4th Stage practice, engaged by people in the first three stages of life, from a seventh stage point of view!’
Also, if my memory is correct, a decade or so ago be revised the summary form of the practice from a combination of the ‘Conscious Process and Equanimity’, to simply, ‘put your attention on Me’. If you know or can understand anything about the core notion of non-dualism or monism, you will quickly see that in spite of his perennial urging us to do these practices from a “seventh stage disposition”, to utilize the medium of another person (himself) to negotiate your access to your own Nature is anything but a ‘7th Stage practice. The practice has arguably been increasingly about a relationship to ‘another’ (to him), even if that other is acknowledged to be your own true self. This is typical, as you may know, of the Dharshan Yogas of Hinduism which posits similar truths- that you are at your nature Divine, but by putting your attention on the guru you will be given access to your nature. Such is rightly regarded as a “4th and 5th stage” practice. But my point here isn’t about dismissing or denigrating that practice, but pointing the inherent limitations it suffers from.
My proposition to you is to consider the possibility that one probably can’t stably shift one’s normal Functional Awareness to beyond the typical “4th – 5th stage practices” to that which presumably would follow after it, notionally- the ‘Witness Position,’ which arguably is the next development in the practice for most devotees, because of the particular qualities that characterize it. As long as you are self-identifying as a client of a master, dependent upon ‘another’, even in a healthy, legitimate and functional “4th – 5th stage” way, then, I suggest to you that in your fealty and good-heartedness you are quite possibly limited by this assumption, and unwittingly blocking your movement forward. This is because such a relational structure unintentionally disrupts one from deeply reclaiming your own native spiritual sovereignty.
Certainly he recommended practicing the ‘Witness position’ in many ways and many times over the years, but the fact that this practice has been, to my knowledge, relatively ineffective to date, makes my point, I suspect. This is because the Witness disposition is, by and large, mutually exclusive with a pattern of relationships. The naked truth is that to incarnate it as your routine experience requires one to abandon all relationships for a while. And not just a little. That is the price of admission. Yes, your way beyond ‘the Witness’ is to ‘surrender it’ to the ‘All That Is’; but as we used to say- ‘you can’t transcend what you haven’t manifested’!
Yes, the hurtle of whether or not you are indeed ‘hearing’ sufficiently remains a real issue. But the correct understanding is not that you can’t enter a ‘higher’ phase of life until you ‘are hearing’- that is nonsense. Remember that hearing is said to be a relative and developing phenomenon –“The entire process of the Way of the Heart is a progressive development of the process of hearing – The Founder.” ‘Hearing’ will be unfulfilled until the day you yourself ‘achieve’ full enlightenment. It is perhaps wise not to attempt ‘higher’ levels of practice until you have done solid work on the lower levels, but it is utterly impossible to move upward if you wait until hearing is perfect, because the self-contraction originates not in the lower capacities of the body-mind, but in the ‘witness’, so until you are indeed enlightened, you will never ‘be hearing’. It’s a Catch 22 if you get this issue wrong!
The phase of life which we are calling the Witness Position (for lack of a better term) or Post-Spiritual, inverts all of what came before it. And it is of course properly understood as ‘less than’ (unenlightened) the infinite All that Is, as it is executed from, and stationed in, an ego-position of aloneness and solitude.
At least the beginnings of it are not very relational, but rather, quite solitary instead, yet it certainly has its advantages. From it you can still (as always) transcend yourself utterly by communing with the divine, but you can also transcend the body-mind perspective from a new place of egoity – the Witness Position. Nice to have that option, I think.
After all, ultimately, you probably do not actually wish in your soul to become identical or even close to another vehicle or personality of Truth, but more importantly, to resume your natural free relationship to your ‘own’ divine Self- ‘All That Is’. Yes you may forever love the one who guided you there, but that’s not the point for most people, I think.
So, I propose that the harder you identify and believe aggressively in a dualistic form of relating to another, however holy, through the mediumship of a relational client perspective, the more you may get stuck and eventually blocked from your movement onwards. I realize that I’m not making a suggestion which if assumed fully would produce some pleasant epiphany of ecstatic freedom, I’m talking about a revolution which will destroy your life and probably turn it into a bit of a nightmare for a while.
Frankly, I even have my doubts about whether it’s possible to choose or invoke such a revolution. My deeper intuition suggests it happens mysteriously, apparently even against one’s will. The only point about choosing is that in a monistic reality such as ours is alleged to be, the notion of individual free will presents as the ultimate oxymoron, as does the notion of a 7th stage ‘practice’. My experiences and observations over the past few years have shifted me into accepting just such an alien and non-Western worldview.
Currently, the ‘Doctrine of Infallibility’ rules the Culture, as far as I can see. As if full enlightenment was a regarded as tantamount to perfect knowledge, which makes little sense if you think about it.
Perhaps it is time for some devotees to be less doctrinally sure of themselves, and remember that the culture once referred to itself as “The Way of Divine Ignorance”. Remember the “Ignorance Consideration”? With questions such as: “do you know what a single thing Is?” and of course, the tater iterations of that approach. One wonders when folks will consider the appropriateness of asking those kinds of questions about some of the key or core truths of the culture.
It seems to me that a possible antidote to the problems faced in our community may be a good dose of the ‘Ignorance Consideration’. It directly undermines one of the primary conceits of cultism, which is a presumption of ‘a certainty of knowing the truth’ about anything. Yes it was devised as a means to surrender into the Divine Domain, but to be sure, it can also be used to loosen the fixation of attention on the body-mind circuitry and its cherished beliefs.
After all, was he a “master of Divine Knowledge” or a “master of Divine Ignorance”? If the latter then perhaps it’s time to apply a little ‘ignorance’ to the assumed certainties surrounding the practice and the Way.
I am quite sure that most of you enjoy your wonderful times of communion with your Master, as I always did (and still do on those rare occasions when I happen upon a video or passage by him); but I would like to suggest the possibility to you that spiritual life not only continues, but intensifies, not just in terms of peak moments, but in an everyday sense of well-being, if you dare to walk alone on a ‘path’ which is not dependent upon an intermediary to your own true self. You may also wish to consider that the ‘swoon’ of love or bliss you experience in your finest moments with the Founder are not the introduction of another’s state of being into yourself, but the activation of your own Innate Self. He may trigger or amplify your state back to you, but it is YOUR state of being you are fundamentally experiencing.
Do you fear having no agent or sanga at hand to facilitate the ‘revelation of Narcissus’? To that I can say only- trust me- not only the entire world is a genius at that business, but your essential self is quite adept at providing that service, ad nauseam!
Yes, your spiritual life would likely become extremely paradoxical if you were to go screaming into the wilderness searching again for that ‘Bridge to God’, but so what, what else is new?
And lastly, please forgive my presumption in addressing what is, at this point, your business. And yes, I have no right to address these matters of your Culture, no authority granted, or asked for. But if you spend an entire adult life entwined with a group of people, there are attachments which develop which don’t go away at the drop of a hat. I care about the people of my ex-community, and would love to see everyone prosper and succeed, especially in this most essential area of spiritual life.
Have I fairly handled the phenomenon of Cultism in this piece? Or did I fall into the trap of merely becoming antagonistic, an ‘anti-cultist’? Or perhaps cultic is some other way, in support of a favored point of view? I’ll let you be the judge, as of course you must. Indeed just the act of composing such a piece as this one on cultism, even if ecumenical and non-judgmental, requires sufficient application of evidence, rhetoric and reason to a ‘cause’, which is not dissimilar to the ‘act’ of cultism, insofar as it uses the medium of the language, concepts and words, and inasmuch as there is a hidden hope attached to it: namely- that these words may help the few folks who need to hear it!
Anyway, this consideration is for you, the reader. If you are going to challenge the notions found in this piece, better to concentrate on the ideas expressed, not on me. As you’ll see below, I am now ready to make my confession, and to be convicted and found guilty. As such I am far too easy a target to waste your time trying to manhandle.
There may well be Order in this Universe, and there may well be a Creator God manifesting all this we see and experience, but anyone presuming to convincingly understand this menagerie and its machinations is just an old fool. If you have any doubt about ‘certainty’, just consult the modern physicists like Planck and Heisenberg.
What the otherwise smart and non-cultic person who is hanging on to some beliefs (as we all do, whether we know it or not) hasn’t noticed yet is that the World is utterly unknowable, science and mysticism and philosophy be damned. The World is not knowable, but it is ‘believable,’ which is all you can really say about any presumed ‘knowledge’ we seem to possess. What we lose when we hold onto beliefs as if they were knowledge, is the absolute mystery, ambiguity, paradox, whimsy, and confounding enigma of existence. And that is a bit tragic, some would say.
But if you want to hold onto your beliefs, whether about the Big Bang or String theory, or Krishna or Jesus, or Reason or Logic, it’s nothing to me. I sincerely wish you a fine and good ride. What else can you really say about this kind of stuff anyway?
But if you meet me on the street, please go a little easy on me with your sermons and testimonials. I’m still a little prone to nightmares!
To me, everyone is a Cultist, because everyone shows all the signs – we all believe in something, whether it’s the Easter Bunny, Superman, Jesus, Moses, or some political, social or economic system or another. Especially those we might call the ‘common man,’ who are unconsciously programmed by mass culture into a hidden set of beliefs and behaviors, are themselves at least as guilty of cultism as your usual fundamentalist. The most clueless and unreal folks amongst us are those who are in denial, who can’t recognize their entrapment by their own particular cherished beliefs.
I, Cultist? Why did I title this piece as such? Because I am a Cultist, a true believer! Here is my true confession and unjust conviction: I, just like all the garden variety Cultists out there, am focused on a central controlling authority figure in irrational and uncomely ways. I maintain this personal edifice with my own half-truths and convenient lies. Tragically, I am a signatory member of the Church of the Latter Day Brian. I am its Pope and its only acolyte. I order my believers around ruthlessly. And, I do what I’m told.
Because – I, worship ‘I’.
I actually believe that I exist! I would even kill to save this one. Ultimately I have no loyalties, beyond my self. As such, I am a treacherous man, quite unworthy of your trust or love.
Indeed every human conversation is almost always a cultic event, for both parties inevitably ‘believe ‘ that they exist, and that their stories contains real truths, which we may find, is ultimately rather delusional. That’s really why humans have such difficulty relating to each other, I believe.
How about you? Have you noticed anything about yourself lately? Did you suspect yourself all along?
If not, then look again, you may have a wonderful surprise awaiting you.
As they say, we have met the enemy, and he is, of course, us.
“We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage: When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down, And ask of thee forgiveness:
so we’ll live, And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh At gilded butterflies,
and hear poor rogues Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too, Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out; —
And take upon the mystery of things, As if we were God’s spies.”
King Lear, William Shakespeare
P.S. Comments by me, Brian, will appear under the name “jedmckenna”. WordPress software forces the weblog administrator (me) to log-in and comment using the blogs title, which is, of course: “jedmckenna”. I usually sign my comments with “Brian” to help avoid any confusion though.