Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cults and the Dangers of Spirituality

by Madeleine Kando

Let’s face it: we live in a world of opposites: night and day, warm and cold, life and death, joy and suffering. But many of us are searching for a way to combine the two into one ‘Whole’, thinking that this might make us more complete, happier, less prone to suffering. That is the goal of ‘Enlightenment’.

In ‘The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power’, Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer examine the age-old traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism and conclude that these 3,000-year-old religions have been a total failure. We are not less selfish and divisive today as we were when it was founded in northeastern India by Prince Siddharta in the 6th century B.C. India is the most internally divided culture in the world with its Caste system. The ‘Oneness’ framework, which says that ‘division’ and ‘difference’ is but an illusion, gives the haves a reason to justify the misery surrounding them and is used by the have-nots as a way to cope with an unbearable situation.

The usual reasons for this failure are placed at the foot of the ‘seeker’. Humanity has not done enough soul searching and is not ready for true bliss. But what if the reason for its failure is because this ‘Oneness’ framework is impossible to achieve?

Contrary to secular ideologies like Marxism, which also sacrifices ‘differences’ for the sake of the ‘whole’, the ‘Oneness’ ideology cannot be tested for its validity, since its payoff occurs after death. Marxism, which did not deliver on its promise to improve the quality of life, lost its power and crumbled.

Humanity, the authors argue, is in some respects incredibly sophisticated and creative. For example, in the realms of science, technology, and the arts, new facts replace old facts and we go from there. Einstein’s theories win over Newton’s, etc.

But in other respects we are still an "adolescent species”. In the realm of relationships, we follow guidelines that are thousands of years old. These cannot be disputed because they are authoritarian and unverifiable. Besides, how can you criticize selflessness, love, giving? These aspirations ARE too good to be true and living up to them is impossible. Trying to be completely selfless and lose your ego goes at the cost of healthy thinking and it makes you terribly self-absorbed. It’s all about you. It is a spiritual conundrum.

If you look at humanity through the maturing lens, science and human rights have rendered much of the so-called wisdom of our ancestors obsolete. “I don’t believe it’s possible for anyone to transcend self-centeredness in a permanent way. Altruism and egotism are embedded in each other, as are all of life’s other dualisms.” In other words, the ego has an inbuilt function, which will never go away. We eat, make love, bond, and form groups, take care of ourselves and protect. Separateness and interconnectedness are both real. Dialectic altruism is real but so is self-centeredness. It is necessary for survival.

If the goal of spirituality is to make the individual feel better, then Buddha was right in preaching detachment. It is beneath the enlightened person’s dignity to concern herself with such trivia as other people’s suffering or hunger. Buddha himself left his wife and children to go on his spiritual journey.

But if the goal of spirituality is to improve the world, mysticism and spirituality defeat this primary purpose. Cults and cult leaders (Gurus) go out of their way to create a separate realm whereby spirituality is removed from daily life by presenting themselves as the ultimate authority on how to become enlightened.

Byron Katie, one of the most famous ‘gurus’ of our time, claims that her method which she calls ‘the Work’, can eradicate ALL suffering. This claim is preposterous since it would not end someone’s suffering that is dying of starvation in Somalia.

In this video clip, you can see that her entire ‘system’ is based on dangerous thought distortions, ultimately blaming the victim. The audacity of her approach shows the power of thought manipulation, which is one of the tools cult leaders often use.



The idea of pureness is a dangerous idea, says Alstad. It separates the body from the mind, whites from blacks, the enlightened ones from the rest. A healthy spirituality should help us confront and find solutions for all the ‘impure’ problems of the world, such as overpopulation, lack of drinking water, environmental degradation, violent nationalism and racism. There are so many minds lost to the pursuit of this ‘purity’. People who could be part of intelligent solutions Even a spiritual path that emphasizes selflessness, forgiveness, and unconditional love can do harm by diverting us away from real-world problems.

So yes, Buddha and Jesus were reformers in their days. Meditation and religion represented a step forward for humanity, because it provided some deeper understanding of the cosmos that was beyond ordinary perception for that time.

But maybe it is time to abandon the concept of finding the ultimate truth— whatever that is. Confronting real-world problems that threaten our very survival should be the main focus of that which makes us truly human: our brainpower. leave comment here