Authentic Spirituality, or Not?
This week I saw one of those glittery videos of smiling happy people singing the praises of a handsome young spiritual teacher and asserting his transforming qualities and authentic transmission. The overall message seemed to be exclusivity and you'd be a fool not to be here. It's not difficult to edit up the message to emphasize this kind of thing – positivity, if you're not here you're a fool kind of idea. Everyone is so handsome and beautiful, the clothes they wear are so comfortable, flowing, and sensual, the palm trees wafting in the gentle warm breeze... well, you get the picture.
Funny thing was that back in the 1980s (violins here to denote those halcyon times he keeps going on about... in his old age), we did a video or two and one in particular comes to mind, stirred by this lush video I saw this week.
We brought a guy called Elmer in to shoot a workshop – some exchanges, pieces of individual work with me, some group process – to capture the ambience and the atmosphere of what at that time was just about still a novelty of sorts: the consciousness-raising therapy group. Somewhere around the middle of this four-hour presentation of uncut footage Elmer had had the urge to interview the participants. Intoxicated by new awareness and in touch with their bodyminds, emotions, and spiritual energies they parade before his camera to tell him how great it all is, how wonderful psycho-spiritual therapy is, and how incredible I am.
Now it would not be a hard task to edit this into the glowing video style of polished presentation I saw this week. Some of these participants I still know after nearly thirty years. We have grown and lived together, learned from each other, and transformed and changed according to our various tendencies.
In contrast perhaps, one of the participants interviewed in the video I saw last week has fallen out with her spiritual teacher and courageously written a BLOG revealing that she has moved on (although not why she has). I find this interesting. Glowing, transported with delight, and bathing in the teacher's light one minute and off along the spiritual highway the next. The truth is that it's not hard to be transported, impressed with dazzling smiles and energetic enthusiasm for a weekend, a week, or even a month of a special event, especially when it is a special spiritual happening. But when you get back to your "ordinary" life and you suffer the comedown, the depression that corresponds to the elation, that is the time we want to see the real video, isn't it? When the suffering begins again is when the reality of the teaching may be shown.
Authentic spiritual teaching is not materialistic, either in the sense of getting you the objects you want in your life, like cars, money, and relationships. But neither is it materialistic in the sense of making you merely temporarily happy or elated. Much of the psycho-spiritual journey is hard work, grueling, and it is, as I often point out, characterized by loss, loss, and more loss.
This isn't to say that there isn't happiness along the way. Joy and elation are very much a part of the unfolding journey... as is angst, desolation, and despair. But something in me feels averse to these portrayals of quasi-bliss. Isn't there something cheap and demeaning about these commercial characterizations of supposed spirituality, something deceptive and manipulative? Don't they presuppose a kind of gullibility in us, as if we are just looking for a fix, a bright, sensual, exotic location with mystical, ritualistic overtones? Aren't we being fooled into believing that the handsome teacher in the lush location with the fawning devotees is somehow the real deal?
Perhaps I am just a bit too long in the tooth now. I have seen this kind of thing come and go. Bhagwan, Andrew Cohen, Ramesh Balsekar, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, and a plethora of lesser gurus. Each of us could have and some of us have gone for the lush presentation, enticing seekers to us, seducing the spiritually needy into acquiescence. The seduction of enlightenment and the seeker's complete inability to reach, understand, interpret, or envision it, puts a great deal of power in the hands of the spiritual teacher.
Since how far back we don't know, but surely a very long way, the taking of power over the seeker has been practiced; it is certainly prevalent, perhaps commonplace. We notice too that, as time passes, trespasses are forgiven. For example, it appears to be alright now that Neem Karoli Baba (Ram Dass's guru Maharajji) slept with female disciples and/or assaulted them physically, that Osho acted in ways that have made others sex criminals, that Muktananda had impotent cursory sex with a long line of disciples, that Drukpa Kunley initiated female disciples through sexual intercourse, and Zen Master Ikkyu wrote poetry from his experiences of "sipping a beautiful woman's love juices."
We may doubt the veracity of some of these claims, but it is surely impossible to doubt them all. We might not be clear about the morality when the enlightened master asserts that his "transmission" comes through the introduction of his sexual organ into a young woman's vagina. We may make a distinction between say a disc jockey raping a teenage girl and being vilified and a Tibetan Lama doing the same thing and being lauded.
We are speaking here of the desire body. If the enlightened state requires some abstinence or abandonment of desire, then what do we make of these so-called enlightened beings who surreptitiously proceed to satiate their lust?
Romance, sex, and good looks abound in the implied or actual promises made about spirituality. After all sex and the spirit are either end of the human energy system from the root chakra to the crown chakra. This presentation that I saw reminded me of our gullibility, of our superficiality, and it made me sick at heart. Instead of scrubbed clean people gushing over their handsome guru, how about images of genuine tenderness of human connection and intimacy, compassion, unselfconscious beauty, and images which are not so very obviously intended to manipulate and seduce?
Inherent in this kind of presentation is disappointment. The vagaries, the ordeal, the tests and trials of the spiritual path are truly so very horrible, challenging, and momentous that showing this much frothiness is tantamount to misrepresentation. I abhor the hypocrisy of it and the appeal to the lowest aspects of human energy and aspiration.
© 2018 Richard Harvey