Friday, January 05, 2007

Mass Belief Systems

Or in other words, religions and cults, are one of the most interesting organic entities that man has ever created. It amazes me to find people adhere, switch, juggle and denounce these MBSs with unabated conviction and zeal. I remember once mentioning this to a friend, "Anything which requires me to first believe in it before understanding it or realising it, is surely not the Truth."

I was exposed to Jiddu Krishnamurthy at the age of 18 (you decide whether that is young or not). An uncle of mine read some of my essays (unpublished) and thought I was inspired by JK. Unfortunately, I hadn't read JK till then and had only heard about him (spoken in hushed tones at home, because mom didn't quite like him though dad, who in a way resembles JK, used to attend his discussions). Fortunately, the first piece of JK's thought that I read was this: Truth is a Pathless Land. I clearly remember jumping out of my chair and exclaiming: "Jolly good, this man makes sense!" I have read him only sporadically after that, just to pass my time.

Why I recount this incident is to clarify what many people think: Eroteme is a follower/believer of JK (though you would believe in and not of). I am still to figure what I believe in. Even Taoism is something I realise and not believe in per se. Nevertheless, it would be safer to say that I am a non-believer or a pan-believer than anything else.

What amazes me (and I wrote a piece of fiction in Alvibest about this) is the cult movements that attract so many people from all over the world. Be it Osho, Sri Sri Ravishanker (SSRS) or Satya Sai Baba, they all seem to be doing or saying the same stuff which was told and done for centuries. For centuries, India has been the fertile bed of several schools of philosophy and religion. This is the land which also created the Samkhya Philosophy as well as the Bhakthi movement. But there never was a cult for Yajnavalkya, for instance. So why do re-hashes and packaging get so much attention?

Today, I read about SSRS on Atanu Dey's blog. I enjoy what he writes though, often, I take it with a pinch of salt (well, he is a passionate man) but his series on SSRS is very accurate and fair. It was quite hilarious reading, though the humour was more thanks to SSRS's devotees than any other reason. Coincidentally, I also read Steven Hayes' theory on happiness and a dear friend was clear in her observation: this is for crazy people who can't understand themselves. I will explain later why Steven and SSRS are mentioned in the same paragraph.

I think the cults are for the mentally and psychologically incomplete individuals. It is surely not for those who are serious about life and Truth. Had they been serious, they would have stuck to their search of Truth and not stuck to an individual. An individual can never be Truth. He might have an idea of Truth, but he will never be Truth. As the great Lao Tzu said, those who know, speak not (verse 56). Then what about JK or Buddha, you ask. I don't really care. Whatever they may have been, they were more interested in Truth and life and went into that question deeply without prescribing techniques and gimmicks. Hence, I respect them although I do not agree with them on many counts.
Only those who are dissatisfied seem to go in search of cults. have you heard about any person who was so happy with his job, family, friends, hobbies, financial situation, health but still went out in search for a cult to add to his happiness? Cults prey on those who aren't clear about themselves or life. Cults are like shots and provide nothing more than a feel-good dose. One more thing about these cults that makes me roll my eyes is this name changing business. Suddenly someone is SarvaSukhaAnanda (I don't know anyone like this and just made it up. Any resemblance to anyone dead or alive is pure coincidence). India has this obsession with Anand, Baba, and Shri (even atma and maharaj). Everyone great must have one of these in his or her name (maa, rani, devi etc. for women). Get real, guys! ISKCON takes the cake for the renaming game.

Cults grate on my nerves because they seem to move away from what they tout. At least Hubbard was honest enough to say: "the way to become a millionaire is to create a religion". And he did.
How can the multitude bring peace to an individual?
How can chanting whatever bring peace to all those who chant?
How can you charge something (money, favours, what you will) when you claim that this is Truth or God's word?

As Atanu correctly points out, people aren't really interested in the effort that goes into spiritual awakening. As I have always believed (and am certain of it), each person has to individually work towards his nirvana. There is no way someone else is going to take you there while you watch Sex and the City. Why should someone do that? What makes you deserve that? While reading or listening to people might help one in one's own journey (which need not be entirely intellectual or scientific), modifying the journey to now become centred around this particular gentleman is quite ... well, off the mark.

My question to cults has typically been this: If your wo/man (the person you worship) dies, then will the great spiritual bliss and blah all die out? If it will then you should realise that this is no longer the Truth. If it won't, then why do you want to stick to her/him and not the Truth? I don't hate/dislike the central person, but one should realise that s/he is not the Divine, not Truth. Why do numbers, marketing plans, stunts, shows and gimmicks rank higher than the Truth?

Get a life. Meditate and if you are meant to attain the Divine, then you will. And what is so great about being philosophical or spiritual or one with the Divine? It only seems to be another point to score on to most people. If it isn't, you wouldn't care about cults. Touche'

11 comments:

  1. Parvati10:24 PM

    Perfect post. Pure like crystal.

    # "...And what is so great about being philosophical or spiritual or one with the Divine?" - it is not a question of greatness; either one feels/has an inclination to things philosophical/spiritual, or one pretends to do so, or one doesnt have it and doesnt pretend to have it. And when one is genuinely spiritually inclined or philosophically inclined, they have a greater insight into many things of the world and off the world too; which can be termed as "being great" or neednt be termed so. But the insight exists, an equality may exist, a compassion may be evident - all seemingly simple but uncanny and effective and so on and so forth. So -


    # "...It only seems to be another point to score on to most people..." - that's a stupid and cynical statement. Majority of the people in this world suffer a lot for some reason or the other and are desperate to cling to someone/thing or the other as a succour or respite from the suffering that daily living itself could well be. Their resort to spiritual gurus could just be one of such solutions that they are comfortable with. And it is dense of you to make such an uncaring statement as though all are out to score points with friends/ associates and relatives through the labelling of "being highly spiritual/philosophical"

    # ----now, i can rest in peace. :-D

    ReplyDelete
  2. Surely there can be more than one way to reach a goal.

    Say if a physicist wants to make new inroads in physics he can sit and discover gravity, quantum mechanics, relativity and string theory by himself and then add on to it. A second choice is to learn about these theories from published works and then build upon them. Yes, research papers are sometimes flawed, there were a lot of wrong conclusions reached by earlier researchers and many works are simply rehashes of earlier work - I still think there may be merit in choosing to stand on the shoulders of giants - especially if the person in question is not Einstein.

    Similarly, while you may discover the Truth while meditating on your own, I may not be able to; a drug addict or an otherwise compulsive person may find it even more difficult than me. Each person for sure must experience his or her personal truth, but surely there are is the a lot of basic common ground - as you yourself note - many religions, cults and sects hold the same core values. And getting these core values passed on is like what one receives from parents - we all go far beyond where our parents thought we would, but we do build on the basics - from stealing-is-wrong to potty training.

    As far as motive is concerned, who can know, and who can judge? As you say, "those who know, speak not." But those who don't know, presume? To one person being in a cult may simply give a sense of peace, even while she watches Sex and the City; to someone it may give a true experience of enlightenment and yes maybe a person indeed engages in spiritual practice to score with other people. Isn't it contradictory to say on the one hand that each person should find his or her own truth and on the other imply that any particular motive, or life, that a person is engaged in is inferior, and suggest that person should "get a life"?

    ReplyDelete
  3. "An individual can never be Truth"

    :-) Then that defeats the purpose of existence.....

    Of course, we are the Truth. Ignorance is truth and so is Enlightenment.

    But we are not 'aware' of the truth. Existence and Awareness of it, are two different dimensions.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear P,
    You start like that and take me to the pillory! :-D
    Point 1. That is exactly what I wonder. Since it just something that someone is or isn't, why do people make such a big issue out of it?
    Point 2. Stupid and cynical, maybe. You seem to not have the experience of interacting with those who have been "converted". I had the great fortune of interacting with many such people who have found great "peace" at the feet of their gurujis. Thereafter, they only talk about the shallowness of the world and the stupidity of material pursuits. Really? Why so? Ever try asking them fundamental questions? They start getting fidgety and then start quoting their gurus and treating that as gospel!!
    Oh! Well, such people surely do score points in the circle in which they talk such things (and are left unquestioned because the jaws around them haven't levitated back into position). There are exceptions to such cases, but exceptions hardly interest me!! :-D
    Point 3. Not while I am alive... ;-)

    Dear M,
    Long time no see... :-) Firstly, I didn't expect you to fall in line with a gazillion others to compare apples and oranges. Science and tangibles are very different from insight. Science can have textbooks and hence achieve uniformity. If you thought that you could compare philosophy, Truth and spirituality to science, then you would have textbooks and there would be uniformity. There isn't. There never will be. Human experience, intangibles and insight can never be instructed.

    Something might strike a bell (and that could very well be the words of the man on the pedestal) but neither the words nor the person is Truth (yes, Shivani, I'll come to your point soon :-). What creates an insight, a deep vaccuum where Truth sounds its gong... that cannot be mechanically created and re-created. Unless you believe that spirituality and depth can be earned by playing a CD and listening to it. I don't.

    Unless one journeys into the depths and heights of this world and more, one cannot realise Truth. Where one starts, is inconsequential. The means are plenty, but the means are not the Truth (and that is my point). You could go to SSRS or Osho (may his soul rest in peace) and when Truth dawns on you, you will not, I repeat, you will not, treat either of them as God/Truth.

    Who is judging? I am sorry if I did, but I think I wasn't. Each one to their own ways, but you might be interested in studying people who join cults and realise where their need arises. Although the contradiction seems present, it really isn't. If you are in search of Truth and you stick to a guru or a cult or Sex and the City, then you aren't interested in Truth but in the security of that possession/belonging. I hope I am a little clear. Think about it.

    When a person is only interested in the superficialities of life while claiming to be interested in the depths of life, then they should get a life, first. Literally. Else they should be honest to themselves and go into the question of life and rest not till they find truth. Of course, a person can and will do what they please, but I am free to identify that as being... off the mark.

    My point is (amongst a billion others) can you receive the pointers and the inspiration and then leave? If you can't leave and wish/have to cling on to something which is not the Truth, thinking that it is the Truth, then you are... off the mark.

    How you do it is incosequential. What is vital is to be honest (at least it is vital to me). If I feel that I wish to understand this world and do not know where to start, I will listen/read a lot of things/people. But I will go on till my questions are answered. I might get most/all of them from one person, but I will go on and on till I reach that state of clarity whenceafter I do not need anyone/~thing to guide me, as I am one with the Divine. In that state of clarity, I do not belong to the cult but to the Divine (and not anyone's version of the Divine). Before I was in that state, I didn't belong to the cult as I was still looking and sipping nectar from wherever I got it. I never did belong to a cult, because once I do, then I adhere to the ways of the cult and follow what the guru or the board of gurus want without being interested in the Truth. Interest in Truth eliminates the possibility of being possessed by anything else. It is fire that can only burn you with the pleasure of being one with the Divine.

    Something that brings one peace and solace and happiness, need not be the Truth. It could Ecstacy or LSD too. It could be the words of a sage. It could be a trek up a beautiful mountain. But it need not be the Truth.

    Dear S,
    What is zee purpose of existence? :-D I don't believe that we have a purpose, but that's just me. Ignorance is and so is Enlightment, but how can each of them be Truth (which is different from fact)? Although I understand what you are trying to say, I hope that I am able to communicate what I wish to, without using words. Once a person knows Truth, he can only hint at it, point to it, allude to it, but never be it. Very very very subtle difference. I don't want to give analogies because they become a mockery once their purpose is served.

    *********************************

    A teacher/guru/seer can only guide and/or suggest. They can never lead you and identify Truth for you, because you have to see it. Breathing techniques, chanting, fasts, pilgrimages (all of which are part of my life too) are not the Truth that is. They can be minor stepping stones, and can be learnt as things that one wish to employ some day. Fine. But a cult is a very different thing. I am not against techniques (sure, use drugs, enjoy!) but I am against institutionalising of Truth. Simple. Cults are that and they can never be Truth. Everything else (S&tC included) is fine and to me they are gimmicks as much as insisting on meditating under Bodhi trees. So there is a necessity to separate the concerns here:

    1. Cults and institutions claiming that they can reveal Truth to you.
    2. Gimmicks and techniques.
    3. Private journeys albeit ones utilising the words/opinions/insights of others as stepping stones.
    4. Whether spirituality/Truth can be taught.

    here is my response.
    1. No
    2. Whatever
    3. ok
    4. No

    ReplyDelete
  5. Parvati4:24 PM

    Peace and rest are elusive yet
    :-)..

    # your main objection seems to be to a human being having a perennial dependence on another for all matters spiritual till the end of the former's life. I think this is possible even if the Guru is "unworthy", a sincerity and a faith and trust in the disciple ENABLES HIM TO LATCH ON TO THE DIVINE IN THE GURU, AND HENCE MAKES THE RELATIONSHIP EVER FLOURISHING, EVERGREEN - because what the disciple relates to is not the humanness of the guru, but the Divine in the Guru; of course this can be done if the disciple manages to tap the divinity within himself or contant or relate too to the divine everywhere; but whatever be the overt appearances, the inner contact with the Divine is what nurtures and helps the disciple on his path in spirituality. It may seem that all the million disciples are clones of each other. but rarely is it true. though it may seem so, the uniqueness and the absolute specialness that each human being has with the Divine is uncanny. we shouldnt be fooled by the picture of one guru and a billion disciples for him. there is a common affection maybe; but talking of pure spirituality, each has a unique relationship with teh Divine whether they claim that they are this persons or that persons disciple.
    The Divine is the key.

    # also it is all a matter of vibrations. consciousness is not just individual. as we progress spiritually we become aware of the Divine as a cosmic consciousness, as the transcendent vibration beyond all things and matters individual. and we see that vibrations spiritual or otherwise flow from here to there, from this guru to that nonguru, from this animal to that human. SHARING is a valid experience whether you like it or not.

    Hmmm. havent you heard the truth that the Divine is the Sadhaka, the Sadhana, as He is too the Goal of all Spiritual Endeavour? that being the case where is the criticism, where is the condemnation and where is the lesser or the greater way of treading a path?

    Uniqueness in an absolute in every person's relationship with the Divine. let us not be carried away by appearances of commonness.

    thats it I Hope!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Cults and godmen are another form hero worship..perhaps it stems from a deep-rooted hatred of our own selves, don't you think..that we try to idolise people who have covered some ground?I would also like to say, coming from India, rich in religion and spirituality, there is an innate yearning to be religious..a wild yearning, some kind of unseen pressure.. so when we find someone reasonably good, we worship them. its the same as going to a bookstore cos you belong to a group of book lovers, but you do not like to read. You believe that just staying within that group and going to the library every week would solve things. you will then think that Mills and boons are the greatest books ever written.simply becos you can relate/understand them easily. Guess then it would all depend on individual choice and your capacity to make intelligent choices at that.

    ReplyDelete
  7. the word 'firstly 'does not exist, does it?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi E,

    Science is not "uniform" in any sense. Take any reasonable advanced area or question in science such as - how much do genes really affect human traits and behaviors, whether black holes exist, whether quantum mechanics or string theory or relativity best explains sub-atomic phenomena, how many sub-atomic parts are there, is global warming really a threat... the list goes on and on. On any subject, reliable publications will give you completely opposite views. There is as much truth to discover as there is in sprituality. And science at its most basic level - that of DNA/human behavior interaction, quantum-mechanical behavior of atoms etc - is as intangible as spirituality. Only high-school science is uniform, tangible and fixed.

    Questions about judgment and what is truth can be argued ad infinitum. All I am saying is someone's truth - or perspective of the truth may be different from yours; and so with the path - I assume you've found your truth and thus the confidence that these other paths will not help. To me, a cup of tea is just a hot beverage I'd rather stay away from; to the Buddhists it is a symbol of mindfulness and enlightenment. Washing dishes may be a menial task to you; but it is the Zen student's primary learning tool.

    I agree that if you can't leave or let something go, its an addiction and probably not a path to truth. But not all who go to a cult are addicted, most learn and discover themselves. In any case, thats how the universe works - you can give a million people the same gyaan and they will take back a million other things from it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you all for this wonderful discussion.
    Since I have nothing new to do, let me answer Pingu's question:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/firstly

    I agree it isn't King's English and I, personally, wouldn't have preferred using it; I suppose I am falling behind on my language! :-( Nice catch.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous12:53 PM

    Hi! Eroteme!

    Am not too much into religion
    though brought up that way.

    Just believe in listening and reading everything pertaining to the "Truth" and then forming one's own view.

    just like a bee that takes the nectar from all types of flowers.

    God or the Force is not external, but it is inside us.

    The Godliness comes out when we perform a good deed.

    and Everything is a perception.
    Just a belief...

    Hope it's okay to say that ...though it's out of context.

    (*_*)

    Uma

    A very interesting subject btw :)
    More later...after reading it properly

    ReplyDelete
  11. Dear Anon-U,
    So, did you read it properly? :-) How can God, as a force, be internal alone, if there is so much outside of you? I suppose, most south Indians have been brought up the religious way and at times I think it is good. I studied the Japanese way of discipline and other martial codes of conduct. More often than not, a person who is more disciplined (by religious tenets or non-religious rules) is more likely to approach things in a smooth manner and not be rash in their conduct. I am not talking about fanatics, but the average Joe. With a discipline that grounds them, they can smoothly transition into what they wish to do without hurting and repelling others. Of course, there are counter-cases!! :-)

    ReplyDelete