Why are Spirituality Masters so Disappointing?

Warren Kinston 3. August 2012 18:00

Those who blow the trumpets for spirituality seem to be a dangerous breed.  Perhaps because we are all suckers for charisma.

spiritual masters spirituality

I suppose it's like smoking.  Obviously unhealthy in my eyes from the day I was exposed to it as a child, it took decades till others recognized that.  Charisma is as easy to recognize as tobacco smoke.  So just see it for what it is.

Spirituality is a vital component of human functioning.  When spirituality works, it enables us to be fully human in a very ordinary, everyday sort of way: we know who we are, we are aware of what goes on around us, we contribute, we care about others, we take responsibility for ourselves, we say 'yes' to life, we realize that we are each part of something bigger and greater than ourselves, we see through flattery and shrink from corruption.  And so on and so on. 

When spirituality is cut off from the truth of life, then what sort of spirituality is it?  It's not entirely bogus.  But it's not healthy either.  It becomes a substitute for living: people talk and talk about being spiritual, being enlightened, being advanced.  They seek others who will mirror their mental preoccupations.  They go off on retreats.  Some never come out!  Living ends up being something that has to be fitted-in around spirituality—to support the habit.  This is exactly the opposite of how it should work.  

Such spirituality that is full of talk and dependent on books is an ideology.  A philosophical system.  An abstraction to give a feeling of control and order.  A substitute for living.  Of course, writing has a role, but a relatively minor role, and one suited mostly for intellectuals, a minority among us.  The cleverest intellectuals seem to use spirituality for private egotistic benefit, not for the well-being of all.  And people flock to them.  In a society where money and power mean so much, spirituality becomes just another method for coping by domination.  Some practitioners are just struggling to make a buck, some are narcissistic phonies, while others are self-deluded inadequates. If you want to explore behind the scenes, visit here

So how is it that people are being confused and attracted by these smooth talkers?  I think it mainly comes down to enjoying charismatic presence, but there is also the curious discovery by that imaginative psychologist Stanley Milgram.  He found that so many of us have a desire to obey, conform, and comply.

Of course obedience and conformity deny personal freedom, and give us an escape from the personal responsibility to think for ourselves.  That is nothing new.  The spiritual development of mankind that will be part of the 21st C Enlightenment should allow for more freedom and a greater awareness of how we avoid ourselves.  It may, just perhaps, reduce some of the prevailing nonsense. 

We finally escaped the tyrannical authority over knowledge wielded by church and state in the West until the 18th C: but only through the polemic efforts of the enlightenment philosophers.  Unfortunately, the tendencies that made such submission possible in the first place did not disappear.  The mass fear of freedom and societal urge to obey and conform turned around and recreated that same dogmatic authority in a disembodied easy ideology: political, economic, religious, scientific or (my focus in this blog) spiritual.  Remember: I'm not against ideology—I'm just against enslavement to it.

Spiritual ideologies (as a group) emerge in the Taxonomy as paradigms found in identity development (PH'4).  The specific paradigm here is called «transpersonal being».  If that is you, then the ideology feels so right.  Nothing wrong with that.  But are you tempted to suggest that other paradigms for personal existence (e.g. emotional being, relational being, social being &c) are less satisfactory?  Do you experience an urge to convert others to your truth?  If you have these tendencies, then you are being true to your ideological commitment.  Your fellow ideologues will applaud.  But you are being false to genuine spirituality that would see yourself as unique, and allow each of us to find our own way and be our own true selves.

I was looking back over some of the recent great flag wavers for spirituality.  Remember Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh?  (He later changed his name to OSHO as a PR exercise).  He was certainly into transpersonal being and talked the talk.  Lots of things that he said are found in the major spiritual traditions.  So what?  Let's focus on his reality: what was the spiritual need for 93 Rolls Royces?  What spiritual teaching was involved here?  Just look at the people he had around him.  Sheela, his closest confidante and assistant was involved in attempted murder, poisonings of officials and a bio-terror attack using Salmonella.  You can read more in Wikipedia.  

Probably fewer readers will know about Sri Aurobindo and «The Mother».  Half a century ago I visited their ashram near Pondicherry, just as Auroville, their «universal township» was coming into existence.  Sri Aurobindo was certainly a great person, a class above Bhagwan.  Originally a man of action, he soon entered politics but later dedicated himself to spiritual understanding and wrote extensively.  But look now at Auroville.  Its leadership rapidly disintegrated such that it was soon run as a department of the Indian Government.  After 50 years, instead of 50,000 people, there are barely 2000 people.  Unsavoury reports emanate, and relations with neighbouring communities are said to be poor.  My conclusion is that the whole project, whose ideals were so worthy, was out of touch with reality from the start.

The biggest problem that ideologues have is reality.  Under the pressures of reality, ideologies have justified war, murder, torture, lies, terror and ignorance.  Why should spiritual ideologies be any different?  Charismatic spiritual ideologues invariably have difficulties with reality—what do they do with their sexual urges?  (Don't look if you're of a sensitive disposition!)  How do they handle power?  (Just try disagreeing!)  What about the numerous difficulties that life poses?  They don't get mentioned.  And don't speak about money—unless you can employ forensic accountants.

My conclusion: spiritual teachings are dangerous when bound to a person.  No matter how benign and worthy the teaching is on the surface, it becomes poisoned on contact with a devotee structure.  Valuable spiritual teachings stand on their own.  Just take the benefit.  Having said that, I would perhaps advise against giving too much attention to anything written with every second word capitalized.  The point is: there is no need to see or join the person involved.  You are the person involved: be with yourself.  

By the way, I am not against teacher-learner relationships—when genuine they are invaluable.  As a bonus, you can be fairly confident that when you are ready, a teacher will appear.  You are also safe because spiritual-celebrity-gurus won't have time for you.

If you are part of a group and the spiritual teachings become blatantly ideological, i.e. someone starts telling you what to think and what to believe as a precondition to being part of that spiritual community, then warning signs should be flashing red.  If common sense is flouted with justifications from scriptures, visions or revelations, then you are right and they are wrong—not necessarily wrong in an absolute sense: allow them to be right for themselves.  Of course, if there is obvious harming of people—via drugs and alcohol, or social pressure and intimidation, or demands to disconnect from friends and family, or projection of badness on all outsiders, then get away fast.

To end on a positive note, I sense from the Internet that spirituality is being increasingly supported in a good way.  So it doesn't have to be a bummer.  Just use your common sense, don't over-complicate it, and never abdicate responsibility for yourself.

You'll be fine.



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Warren Kinston is the creator of the THEE-Online website as an open forum for the further discovery and development of THEE. He writes this blog as an escape valve for the excitement and frustrations of the work. More info here.

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