Dammit Jim, I’m a Doctor not a Theologist!

In the comments thread of “Fairytale” our good Doctor posed some questions that I thought would be better addressed in a full post. I’ll quote his questions in italics, then respond to them below. Of course, I can’t “answer” them, but I’ll approach them as best I may.

The Doctor writes:

@TAOL (BTW – what do you prefer to be called?)

You can call me Boadicea. I like it. It has that pagan je ne sais quoi. I’d probably also respond to the Artful Dodger. 😀

it seems you are alluding to some innate tendency for human beings to deify other human beings and go as far as to worship them as gods.

Actually, what I was talking about was the innate human activity of worship itself, our seemingly timeless and universal practice of worship— this need we have as a species (and seemingly have had as far back into the cave of our ancestry as the dim match of our sciences makes us able to gaze) to find ourselves in relationship to divinity and the cycles of life, to respond to our conscious experience of life and foreknowledge of death and terrible awe of the cosmos with some form of worship. Some individuals might think they don’t worship anything; I tend to think along the lines of, “your God is your ultimate concern.” That which we love, devote ourselves to and cherish above all else is our god. Devotion is a natural state for the human soul; without a god, or God-Concept, or a context for worship of some form in our lives we fill the god-shaped hole however we can, with celebrity or wealth or a preoccupation with youth, sex, fame, power etc. Without something to be devoted to people experience a terrible alienation. [As an aside, I think our society has outgrown the religions of our past; our old mythological constructs no longer relate to the cosmos we find ourselves in (especially in the west)– yet we have no alternative paradigm, no structure for worship, no culture of faith or work we can give ourselves to fully without forsaking either our rational minds or our longings for greater purpose. This leaves us hungry and lost, torn between culturally confused virtues of individualism and obedience, faith and rationalism, discrimination and acceptance. These virtues can be balanced, but we lack guidance in this. Of course we fell for a guru with a good pitch and a twinkling eye. Of course we woke up next to a phony. Of course we’re vulnerable to con men and cults and constant chicanery. Our whole society is vulnerable in this way, leading to a reactionary fundamentalism on one side, a hazy but stalwart agnosticism on the other and in the middle a slothful and ignorant inertia. Nobody knows the answer to the question of life– or at least, nobody has yet experienced an answer they could express in words, so that others could hear and understand. ]

What I was trying to describe in my story and in my response to Anonymous’s more literal reading of it was how we make our gods out of ourselves, out of our very nature. We reach into ourselves and pull out our light and call it God, we pull out our darkness and call it Evil. We come to know ourselves in this way, just as we come to know ourselves in the maddening high of believing you’ve met your perfect love, and in the horrible agony of losing that illusion. Everyone needs to have their heart broken to know what it is to be whole; some people go to a guru for this, some go to the girl next door. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s perfect.

I believe projection is largely responsible for my relationship to SSRS as my guru; I believe I outgrew that relationship, just as I outgrew my first love affairs and my old size 5 jeans. A mature love cannot be based on mirror-gazing, mask-making and rib-removing– but that is what Ravi Shankar asks of us, and that is what we often long to do, and that is what I did willingly, even joyfully, for four and a half years. And that is what I cannot do now and hope I will never fall back into doing again.

What I really want to get to is simply, how does one tell a true guru from a fake one? In other words, how can we protect ourselves from being manipulated into believing a human being is God, whilst at the same time still being open to the possibility that there exist out there genuine souls who have attained God-realization or enlightenment? And what specifically separates those of us who fell victim to SSRS/AoL from those who could from the outset what it was really all about?

What’s the hurry? I understand the need to make sense of your experience, your rapid and total conversion and your resulting state of dizzy disbelief– but take your time. You’re in a place of infinite potential even within your doubt and natural desire for certainty. Don’t worry about finding a true guru, or even believing it’s possible. Concentrate on things you know you can name and feel and live and adore. Concentrate on your values, your sense of integrity and honor, your desire to protect the vulnerable and most importantly your ability to discern what is true for you. If we think of god-realization as something to be attained we have already misunderstood; if we believe we should strive for more peace, more relaxation, more love and more joy– we are lost to ourselves in the instant. Go into your solitude and love what you find there; true guru is what takes you back to that place. If you find that in a man woman or saint, or a view from a mountain or a strain of music that has a dying fall, simply enjoy it. Rest, rejoice and love this life, love the questions for their very imponderable unanswerability as you would love a partner for their infinity for how they can be new and beautiful and strange and other and yours and not yours. Is this not how we must love our very lives, if we are to live them fully and die happily knowing we have been a lover of god?

Along similar lines is the question: is there anything in the vedic scriptures which would help us to test a guru to see if they are genuine?

Again, I say go within to where you hear clearly, as clear and wild as a glacial spring that something is beautiful, that someone is kind, that life is worth living no matter what. The core of your truth is in that place; the more you dwell there, the less you will need any scriptural tests. You simply will know if this person is for you, or not. And that is really all you need to know or can know. A genuine guru, like all other things, is in the eye of the beholder.

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About theartofleaving

Former devotee and member of The Art of Living organization reflecting on the process of joining and leaving cults, abusive relationships, and sundry obsessions. Trying to draw the line by connecting the dots.
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One Response to Dammit Jim, I’m a Doctor not a Theologist!

  1. The Doctor says:

    Firstly, it’s very bad manners to keep a lady waiting, so I do apologize for taking so long to respond to you. I’ve been fairly tied up the last few days and am only just finding the time.

    Ok, there are two definite threads I want to comment about, so I’ll do these in separate comments. Here, I want to elaborate on exactly what I was trying to get at in my original comment which you’ve quoted in this post.

    I spent two years with Art of Living and it took me the discovery of a number of blogs before I realized that it was anything but what it said on the packaging. And this I did accidentally, at a time when I was considering giving up much of my life to serve this organization. I saw many warning signs along the way, but for whatever reason I completely ignored these until I found the same signs were described in the pages of the blogs. Had I not chanced upon these blogs, I would be a teacher now and the spell would be so deep and so powerful it would be a lot more difficult for me to wake up and see it for what it really is.

    Right now one of the main things I/we are trying to do on BAoL is to expose all the different issues with Art of Living, and to do our best to not leave a single stone unturned. It seems you yourself have done some research into cults, as have I, and I have also looked into psychological manipulation and brainwashing. There are many different ways of looking at this and trying to understand what happened, and through all these what I’d like to come up with is some way of showing to people that there are dangers inherent in being associated with Art of Living and with SSRS from all these different angles.

    In particular the book I mentioned in my previous post, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, highlights some very revealing things about the psychological manipulations which Art of Living uses to elicit certain responses in its followers, and I plan to publish my findings on these matters in a future post.

    Now, the one area I haven’t actively done any research in, but for which I have picked up small nuggets of useful information along the way, is what the scriptures have to say about how to recognize a true guru. SSRS claims he is following a particular tradition, and as such within that tradition there are clearly established rules which determine how a guru should behave. I am no expert on the Vedas, however I have come to learn that there are wyas to test a guru to see if they are genuine or not. Or more specifically, there are ways to reveal that they are not genuine. I have often heard the expression, “It takes a saint to recognize a saint”, in other words, unless any of us have attained a state of enlightenment, we won’t be able to know for sure that a guru is genuine. But we can be, and in fact most of us were, fooled easily.

    According to PW:

    SSRS does more than manipulate. He fakes. Whatever signs that are in scriptures can be copied and faked. Moreover, there is no dearth of fallen yogis in the world, and beginners can be fooled easily.

    I do agree, certain signs can be faked, but all of them? Surely there are things which SSRS does himself which go against what the scriptures say? We have already shown that he is a hypocrite and he lacks the integrity to follow his own teachings, but I really want to find or come up with at least some sort of list of warning signs to look out for when faced with someone who claims they are a guru. I’ll publish what I’ve collected so far as soon as I’ve put it together, I’d just like to get as much information into this as possible.

    And just to answer your other question, I’m not actually in any hurry to find another guru at the moment, and there’s a good chance I probably won’t be looking for a guru ever again. That isn’t my intention here, it’s more to find a way of seperating the wheat from the chaff. Maybe coming up with sort of “Seekers Guide to Recognizing a True Guru”.

    The other problem highlighted in PW’s comment is that “beginners can be fooled easily.” This is almost definitely the fundamental reason why we were all duped in the first place, because we were novices in this field and we had no idea that we were being conned. The shoe seemed to fit, our defenses were lowered, we were all vulnerable in some way or other, and as such we were sitting ducks.

    So I’ll throw another question into the ring:

    Is it better to warn someone upfront about the dangers of being associated with Art of Living/SSRS, or to let them go through the experience and find out for themselves?

    This question has been going through my head since leaving Art of Living, and to date I have not been able to answer it. I have put a great deal of time and energy into BAoL, but I have not actively publicized what I’ve been doing to those I know in Art of Living, especially the many people I was once very close to. I myself learnt a lot from my experiences both from being associated with and even more so subsequently leaving Art of Living. Do I now approach them with everything I’ve learnt so far, or do I let them go through whatever pain they need to as, ironically enough given the circumstances, it will actually help their growth albeit not in the ways Art of Living is claiming?

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