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TOPIC: Cults, etc.

Cults, etc. 05 Aug 2018 11:08 #109475

That was a good one, Chris. Gotta love it when sexual abuse is touted as skillful means.

In the past year, I've met a few people who have either been in cults or in cult-ish, dysfunctional relationships with exploitative spiritual teachers and it's really opened my eyes to how common it is. Given the high rate of unhealthy family dynamics or outright child abuse, it's not really surprising that a lot of people could get sucked into that sort of thing because they've been raised to have poor boundaries and some level of abuse has been normalized. But even psychologically healthy people seem quite vulnerable at transitional periods in their lives. And it's very easy to be marginally involved with or on the outskirts of some cult-ish groups without even seeing the dysfunction. I practiced Ashtanga yoga for years with totally not cult-y teachers and only learned of the Mysore problems when the Pattabhi Jois sexual abuse scandal came out this past year.

A friend of a friend was in the Osho cult for the first few years while Rajneeshpuram was being built in Oregon. He later went on to ordain in a Buddhist tradition and become a spiritual teacher himself, but apparently still feels he got a lot out of his time as a Rajneeshee and the Wild Wild Country documentary is a bit of a sore subject. I may meet him sometime next year, and already I'm planning how to tactfully bring up the subject so as to gain a better understanding. "So, about that cult you were in back in the 80s..." :)

It all reminds me of the diaries of Etty Hillesum, who documented her religious awakening prior to being killed in Auschwitz in 1943. I almost stopped reading because she was a bit of a superficial twit in the beginning, with a rather sketchy and (to me) uncompelling spiritual teacher. Yet she grew up like a weed, despite the poor conditions of her garden.
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Cults, etc. 05 Aug 2018 13:47 #109480

I have a friend who is a devotee of Adi Da, formerly known as Bubba Free John and before that Franklin Jones. My friend is also a Zen priest and used to run a Zen center. He would encourage me to take up a kind of practice he called "devotional" but it never interested me. I just can't get behind the idea that another human being is the agent of awakening. It pissed me off enough to see another teacher of mine fall into the silly trap of dabbling in a variant of Actual Freedom and similarly ridiculous (well, ridiculous to me) practices, but at least those are based on personal experiences, however misguided or loopy.
Last Edit: 05 Aug 2018 13:50 by Chris Marti.
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Cults, etc. 05 Aug 2018 14:04 #109481

Chris Marti wrote:
Stuart Lachs, long-time Zen monk, practitioner and critic writes here how Zen brings with it the seeds of cultism and abuse:

buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2017/07/16...nd-cultish-behavior/

This article gets to the core of some of my trust issues with spiritual teachers. I recognize it as an aversion and suspect I might be missing opportunities for growth now or in the future. But I just listened to my newest dharma mancrush lecturing about the value of lineage and the relationship with a teacher and couldn't help thinking, "Didn't you break up at least one former student's marriage? F**k your lineage and its goofy hats and just give me some cool techniques to try, you brilliant mess of a human being!" :lol:
Last Edit: 05 Aug 2018 14:05 by Michael V.
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Cults, etc. 06 Aug 2018 07:44 #109490

I definitely have an aversion to putting myself in situations where people might try to abuse or exploit me. But I don't think that's a bad thing! It seems like common sense.

I wonder if the authoritarian model really works much better in countries where Buddhism is well established and teachers have more peers influencing them. That seems to be key. Some Christian theologian said that when you have a spiritual leader with a direct line to God and no feedback on their behavior, if it isn't a cult today it will be tomorrow. So many of the early teachers in the West have been mostly on their own.

And the whole dharma "transmission" thing. OK, so you mean it's like some sort of spiritual herpes virus that requires close contact to be passed on. I asked my lineage-ordained friend this question and she stopped using the word, so I guess not... ;) I think the idea that we are responsible for our own path and practice is so much more empowering than dependency on a guru-type figure, however much training they might have.
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Cults, etc. 06 Aug 2018 16:53 #109497

Transmission is real but it’s just magick , I think. Meaning unrelated to insight. Just because someone’s presence can help move people along the progress of insight doesn’t mean that those people couldn’t do it all on their own.
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Cults, etc. 06 Aug 2018 18:19 #109498

Noah wrote:
Transmission is real but it’s just magick , I think. Meaning unrelated to insight. Just because someone’s presence can help move people along the progress of insight doesn’t mean that those people couldn’t do it all on their own.

I think what you're talking about is just a variant of emotional contagion.
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Cults, etc. 06 Aug 2018 19:48 #109499

Andromeda wrote:
Noah wrote:
Transmission is real but it’s just magick , I think. Meaning unrelated to insight. Just because someone’s presence can help move people along the progress of insight doesn’t mean that those people couldn’t do it all on their own.

I think what you're talking about is just a variant of emotional contagion.

That is an important part of it, no doubt. But then there are the extreme cases, such as Swami Muktananda. Although a corrupt guru, he could instantly put non-meditating skeptics into deep states of absorption & sought to become famous doing so. For instance, in the 70's my mom (not a Muktananda devotee) saw jazz singer Roberta Flack brought up to him at a satsang in NYC & he got her into a trance within seconds by touching her forehead & without verbal guidance or prolonged visual hypnosis cues of any sort. Pure shaktipat. If anyone is curious about this phenomenon, they can check this video out around minute 6 - The idea is not that he was a real saint, it's just extremely high indexing on a type of psychic power, just like there are individuals who excel in every other type of human endeavor.
Last Edit: 06 Aug 2018 19:52 by Noah.
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Cults, etc. 07 Aug 2018 07:59 #109503

Ok sure, but I still think you could consider that an extreme variant of emotional contagion and this is more descriptive. We can call it magick or psychic powers or whatever spiritual term, but then that alienates people who have an allergy to that kind of thing. Charismatic leaders of all stripes are very, very good at influencing the emotional states of others even when they don't identify as spiritual. You can look at old clips of Hitler at the Nuremberg Rallies and see the same basic dynamic at work. It's powerful stuff, whatever labels we put on it. We silly humans like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, but the truth is we are emotional animals and, as Hume put it, "Reason is a slave to the passions."
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Cults, etc. 07 Aug 2018 08:06 #109504

Yeah, I suspect the range of human capabilities is very, very wide. There are people who are "suckers" for hypnotism and it takes a hypnotist just seconds to put them in a hypnotic trance. Then there are people who are extremely resilient to hypnotism and can't be placed in a hypnotic state no matter what. My suspicion is that things like shaktipat may be on a similar spectrum, as might be the inclination to get sucked into a cult.
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Cults, etc. 07 Aug 2018 08:40 #109505

That sounds about right to me. And also, the susceptibility of an individual isn't static over time, but influenced by a variety of causes and conditions like sleep deprivation, fasting, chanting, the use of symbols to bypass cognition, dancing or other synchronized movement, music, etc. There are optimal conditions that potentially increase vulnerability.

Consider how retreats are set up. Or basic training in the military, for that matter.
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Cults, etc. 07 Aug 2018 11:04 #109506

Interesting points. In my experience, shakti & charisma feel quite different. The two people with the most shakti I have known are somewhat non famous teachers, because they are not charismatic in part. In fact they’re both kinda bland lol.

The people with charisma that I know, such as the admirable business leaders at my large company, have no shakti at all. No effect on jhanas , nanas, energetic winds. But they have a large effect on emotional states.

Perhaps this confusion might arise due to the impression that coarse psychoemotional changes are the same thing as subtle & very subtle energetic spiritual changes?
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Cults, etc. 07 Aug 2018 12:29 #109508

I'm not saying the two are the same thing because I don't know if they are or not. I'm just asserting that these kinds of things exist on a wide human spectrum of capabilities and receptiveness.
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Cults, etc. 07 Aug 2018 13:35 #109511

That's interesting, Noah. It does sound like a much more refined method for influencing the mental states of others. I'm certainly not going to put limits on what people can learn to do.
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