Family of the Heart Seminar - June 05, 2005

THE DARK SIDE OF SPIRTITULITY

By Dr. Khalid Sohail, Whitby, ON

 
Dr. Khalid Sohail
 

 

SELLING SPIRITUALITY

Over the years I have come to the awareness that while in every community there are genuine mystics who not only lead a saintly lifestyle themselves but also encourage and inspire others to follow their hearts and discover their truth, unfortunately there are others who sell spirituality. Their goal is to make money and gain financial power and social status. They focus on the naïve masses and package their products in such a way that gullible people cannot differentiate between gold and gold-plated. Some of them are eventually exposed as frauds and their followers feel disillusioned and betrayed, but by that time the damage is already done and people have already wasted their precious time, energy and money.

I have read about many so-called spiritual leaders and healers attached to holy shrines in the East where they take advantage of the sick and needy, mostly women who come to pray and offer sacrifices for problems like infertility, sick parents, family matters and financial difficulties. These pseudo-mystics take their money and offer them holy potions in the form of ganda and taweez and ask them to come again and again. For them it is a business while those innocent men and women continue to suffer. Rather than asking them to see a qualified doctor to have their infertility investigated or see a specialist for treatment of their illness, they perpetuate their sufferings.

            It is sad to see thousands of uneducated, innocent, naïve and gullible people fall into the traps of these pseudo-mystics. There are reports of many women being not only exploited financially but also abused and raped. In some cases it was done on the pretense of sexual healing for their infertility.

            In the West the business is more sophisticated and pseudo-mystics are more cunning and corrupt, employing all the marketing methods of that capitalist and consumer society. Aware that traditional religious organizations and institutions are disillusioning more and more people, they offer a wide range of lectures, seminars, conferences, books and audio and videotapes that promise instant and miraculous cures and enlightenment. Their main focus is to create altered states of consciousness either by meditation and yoga or by sex and drugs. They also use pseudo-scientific medical and psychological terminologies that common people find very impressive.

            Most pseudo-mystics whether from the East or the West have cultish personalities. They use their charm and charisma to hypnotize people and paralyze their independent thinking and critical judgment. Their victims become vulnerable to the irrational demands of these gurus and following them blindly. Such pseudo-mystics discourage rational, logical, objective and analytical thinking, instead using reference material that cannot be objectively tested by scientific methods.

Most people do not realize that before they delve into the exploration of what enlightenment is, they also need to know what it is not, so that pseudo-mystics cannot misguide them. John White, editor of book What is Enlightenment? writes,

“…enlightenment is not an altered state of consciousness, whether induced through meditation, drugs, sex or any other mind-altering psycho-technology…nor is it a vision that transports you to some celestial realm. It is not sitting immobile in trance while experiencing an inner world of fascinating colours and sounds. Enlightenment can include all that but it also infinitely transcends all that.”  (Ref 2 p 187)

            Most people do not realize that genuine mystics and saints spend a lifetime in their journey of self-purification. They spend years to un-learn family and cultural conditioning so that they can achieve enlightenment. The journey to enlightenment is not for the impatient as it demands the stamina of a marathon runner. Maitreya wrote, “The spiritual journey is not for the weak and the fickle minded, the one who demands quick results and is afflicted with impatience.” (Ref 1)

             Enlightenment of genuine mystics is not restricted to a few minutes of nirvana—it shows itself in significant changes in their personalities and lifestyles. Genuine saints reach a stage where they have no need to control others. People find them a genuine source of inspiration. They become symbols of inner peace and social harmony. Their search for truth transcends any business, commercial and capitalistic interests. They share they wisdom freely; they do not sell spirituality, as they know it cannot be sold. Each human being has to earn and learn and acquire personal enlightenment, for there are as many roads to enlightenment as there are human beings in the world. Some cynics even say “If you find Buddha on the road, kill him,” as he is hiding in your own heart.

PSEUDO-MYSTICS

When we review the biographies of pseudo-mystics, mostly men, we come across some of the following characteristics.

1. Charm and Charisma

These men are quite charming and display a magnetic personality that people find very impressive and attractive. These men are quite aware of their gift and being narcissistic, they believe they are “God’s gift” to people, especially to women.

2. Ambition

As these men become successful and popular in social groups they try to gain power, some through money and others through social status. Over time their influence increases and they become more and more powerful. People start coming to visit them from far and wide.

3. Need to Control

As these pseudo-mystics gain power they take control of people’s lives. Rather than encouraging their disciples to discover their own truth, they impose their own values, ideologies, rituals and lifestyles. They feel proud when others are converted to their ideology.

4. Abuse of Power

As time passes and their need to control increases, they begin to exploit their disciples. They develop a hierarchy in which there are two classes: a privileged class and an exploited class, a rich class and a poor class, the haves and the have-nots. Gradually the leader acquires more rights and privileges, more money, more houses, more cars, more women and more luxuries of life while the disciples sacrifice and suffer,

            As time passes there is more and more distance between the pseudo-mystic and the disciples. It is difficult for ordinary men to spend time with them—they are less and less accessible.

5. Abuse of Religion, God and Spirituality

After gaining power, control, money and status, these pseudo-mystics rationalize their abuse of power by connecting it with the religious traditions of the community. They proclaim,

“God told me to do so.”

“I had a sacred dream.”

“I had a special revelation.”

These claims cannot be tested by the disciples from any objective perspective. Pseudo-mystics promote blind faith rather than rational thinking.

            Some of them perform “miracles” to amaze their followers and consolidate their power. They claim to be able to influence the weather, promise children to infertile women or say that they can magically intervene in disasters. Although the disciples are temporarily reassured, the problems remain as they require realistic solutions rather than illusions.  Rather than encouraging disciples to be independent, these pseudo-mystics create and foster emotional dependency. Rather than being good role models and source of inspiration their goal is to convert, control and exploit.

6. Losing Control

Finally a stage comes when pseudo-mystics and their institutions lose control and violence can erupt, either generated within the group or related to conflict with the law. Disciples realize that they have been part of a cult and have been badly misguided. Sometimes the process might take two generations as children have been brainwashed by their disciple parents. The cult makes every effort to censor and edit anything written against it. The dissenters are penalized, persecuted, and some cases, killed. It may finally become apparent to the disciples they have been dealing with spiritual psychopaths who had been using spirituality to control and exploit.

            Such disillusioned people may suffer a nervous breakdown and require psychiatric help to regain a sense of balance in their lives and reconnected with their families and communities in a healthy way. 

It is interesting to note that many pseudo-mystics started their spiritual career in a sincere and honest way—they made some valid academic contributions to literature and humanitarian contributions to the community. But gradually they developed a bad conscience and power corrupted them; in some cases absolute power absolutely corrupted them, turning them into spiritual and religious dictators. They started their journey to find genuine spiritual enlightenment but ended up creating a cult. Some declared they were prophets or avatars or even divine, and called themselves God or Bhagwan.

            The biggest tragedy is that there is an increasing number of simple, innocent, naïve and gullible people who follow these pseudo-mystics and after wasting a lot of time, money, energy and faith realize that they have been misguided and misled. They become disillusioned, and unfortunately spiritual disillusionment, which can be very painful, might need a long time to heal.

THE CULTISH PERSONALITY 

“It is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people and indoctrinate and brainwash them so that they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn, from ordinary thought, living and relationship with others.”

Mr. Justice Latey, rendering an assessment of Scientology in the High Court. (Ref 3 p.77)

Pseudo-mystics who have Cultish Personalities are not only very charismatic, they also lead non-traditional lives because of their unconventional philosophies and belief systems. They continually challenge taboos and confront traditions, which causes them to run afoul of legal, religious and social institutions. It is not uncommon to see them challenging spiritual, social and sexual norms. They are generally creative, and many of their activities are seen as unethical, abnormal and even criminal. Because of their charm and charisma they have a following. It is not difficult for them to attract very dedicated disciples. These disciples, generally young and vulnerable, are willing to make enormous sacrifices for their leader and call him their guru or prophet. Over time the following grows. Unfortunately when the guru is penalized and persecuted, the followers also suffer.

            When I think of people in the last century who I believe had Cultish Personalities, the first person that comes to my mind is Gregory Rasputin, the mad monk of Siberia. In the early part of the twentieth century, Rasputin became a mythological figure in Russian politics. He had a number of characteristics that made him extraordinary. He was loved and hated by millions of Russians. He started his career as a priest in Siberia but gradually he became famous throughout the country because of his hypnotic and healing powers. When Tsar Nicholas and Tsaritza Alexandra learned that their son suffered from Hemophilia and could not be cured by doctors, one of the maids suggested to the Tzaritza that she should consult Rasputin. When Rasputin was summoned, the young prince was so sick that the doctors were worried he would die because of the hemorrhaging. Rasputin asked all the physicians present to leave and spent half an hour with the child on his own. When the Tsar and Tsaritza came into the room, they were amazed to see their son smiling and playing. The Tsaritza was so impressed by the healing miracle that she became Rasputin’s disciple. Although Tsar Nicholas was suspicious of Rasputin’s intentions, the Tsaritza continued to invite him to the palace.

Over the years Rasputin became a major political influence in the Tsar’s family and political life. Rasputin himself led a very dissolute life; he slept with married and single women indiscriminately, drank excessively and at times got violent and abusive. This behaviour made him many enemies who attempted to kill him by various means; ultimately he was poisoned, shot and drowned in a dramatic finale. Historians hold Rasputin partly responsible for the downfall of the Tsar. It has been said that if there had been no Rasputin, there would have been no Lenin. Gradually Rasputin became a mythological figure because of his Cultish Personality. He has become part of world folklore. Boney M, a popular music group of 1970s, in their song Rasputin sing, 

“Ra Ra Rasputin, Russia’s greatest love machine,

 Ra Ra Rasputin, lover of the Russian Queen…”

 

From my readings, I do not believe that Rasputin was ever sexually involved with the Empress, but it is one aspect of the Cultish Personality that in folklore, fact and fiction, fantasy and reality, all become intricately intertwined.

            In the second half of the twentieth century there were a number of men in America who became famous and notorious because of their Cultish Personalities. Some, like David Koresh, attracted only a few hundred disciples, while others like Sung Myung Moon, the prophet of the so-called “Moonies” and L. Ron Hubbard, guru of the Church of Scientology, have attracted millions as their disciples. Moon is well known for conducting wedding ceremonies in which thousands of men and women get married simultaneously because it has been arranged by their prophet. Sometimes the spouses do not even speak the same language. It is because “to join the Moonies is to abrogate almost all responsibility for personal decision-making”, even the choice of the partner. (Ref 3 p 75)

            David Berg who started his cult with the “life of ease, drugs and spirituality” by “combining religion and pop music” (Ref 3 p 114) and calling his disciples Children of God, gradually became a focus of resentment and ridicule when he took a mistress and started preaching free sex. As the cult deteriorated, the spirituality was transformed into sexuality.  

“Women members were, in effect, required to prostitute themselves in clubs, bars and other social meeting places for sake of recruitment, irrespective of whether they were married or single. ‘Sex for Jesus’ became the buzz- phrase until the late 1980’s, when the spread of AIDS made it unrealistic. The cult got into real trouble when members started having sexual relationships with the children as their prophet believed, ‘There is no law against incest in the loving Kingdom of God.’” (Ref 1 p 114).

           

David Koresh was a follower of a Bulgarian-born immigrant to America, Victor Houteff, who started his Branch Davidian sect as an offshoot of the mainstream Seventh Day Adventists in 1929. David Koresh took over the cult in 1986.

“He introduced ideas of polygamy, group upbringing of commune children, violent resistance to outside authorities and, most significantly, the idea that he was the bearer of the final message of God and the key to the Seventh Seal of the Book of Revelation by which the faithful would be marked and saved from doom.” (Ref 1 p. 60)

Koresh got into legal trouble because his disciples began collecting arms

in their commune and when they refused to surrender to the police, the cult compound was attacked by the FBI and all but two members perished in the ensuing fire on April 19th, 1993.

            One Cultish Personality who became well-known in North America was Guru Rajneesh, an Indian professor of philosophy. Because of his intelligence and mesmerizing personality he attracted  a large number of disciples. He started preaching meditation and free sex, and thousands of Westerners who were exploring alternate lifestyles joined his Ashram. Eventually local people grew critical of his philosophy and teachings and he was forced to leave India.    

“He had also managed to attract considerable antagonism on the sub-continent for his hostility and derogation of others, including Gandhi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. His self-styled title of Bhagwan [which means God and also Master of Vagina] and his overseeing of naked, sexually-charged romps on the seashore brought more local disfavor.” (Ref 3 p 110)

Rajneesh was forced to relocate to the United States where he established his own commune. For a while he was so successful that he had accumulated, among other trappings of wealth, a fleet of 99 Rolls Royces. However, he got into legal difficulties with the local community and was asked to leave the country. Unfortunately his motherland refused to take him, so for a few years he wandered around in different parts of the world until his death in 1990, “allegedly as a result of either poisoning or from full blown AIDS.” (Ref 3 p 65). In the years since his death, millions of people have visited his Ashram in India. Interestingly the leader of the movement is a Canadian by the name of Swami Mike, son of a British Columbia judge. According to one report, the average revenue generated in that Ashram in Poona, India, is nearly 50 million dollars a year.

            In the operations of many Cultish Personalites, creativity, sexuality and criminality become intimately intertwined. Truth merges into deception and eventually the story becomes so bizarre, so surrealistic, that it becomes difficult to separate fact of fiction, myth from reality. People need to be aware of the phenomenon of pseudo-mystics so that they are not misguided, manipulated, abused and exploited by these Cultish Personalities who represent the dark side of spirituality rather than the tradition of genuine enlightenment.

 

REFERENCES

1. Maitreya. Consciousness Yoga: Spirituality of Oneness. Toronto: Cosmic Way 

    Publications,1992

2. White, John. What is Enlightenment…Exploring the Goal of the Spiritual Path.  

     Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1985

3. Jordan, Michael. Cults. Britain, n.p., 1996

 

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