When Spirituality Goes Wrong
Spiritual exploitation, religious abuse, do we know what these really mean? With the #metoo movement it can be sexual, but even more subtle and damaging, is the abuse of power. For example, we saw the harm that was depicted in the film Wild Wild Country, and even more gravely and lesser discussed these days, is financial abuse. Often we have combined a “spiritual path” with offering a lot: time, money, energy, and unquestioning devotion, for self improvement or the promise of “enlightenment.” Anyone involved with any spiritual tradition, monetized self improvement group or with any charismatic leader, please see Wild Wild Country and please consider reading the book, Cults in Our Midst.
It’s sad to see so many people asking every day for giant amounts of money to go to these very long expensive spiritual training retreats. The length and cost of many current “paths” were often composed by western business consultants, not some high “spiritual authority.” For example one famous community, one has to go through a highly monetized, over 20 level series of trainings. When joining a church or “spiritual” community, some charge well over 100k, we could take a step back, as even intelligent people can be vulnerable. If your teacher, spiritual guide or community insists that you begin a giant costly path, or donate most of your money, with all due respect I simply ask that we always have ethical discrimination. People should be able to benefit from an authentic spiritual tradition and participate, even those with meager means. We can see in this film that all of us can be vulnerable to “blind faith” and stop questioning basic ethics, in some of these communities.
The Cost of ‘Gilded’ Institutions
The bigger we build up an institution, the more cost to maintain. Once these costly spiritual levels or expensive retreats have been completed, one just has to reflect, is that what the Buddhas, Christ, Guru Rinpoche or Enlightened beings taught, envisioned- are they ethical or even really helpful? What credential do we feel once completed? It’s clear that when we all create giant golden institutions, they cost a lot to keep up, but, we have to ask, were these mega churches what our original teachers wanted? Think of Brother Sun Sister Moon, the wandering renunciate monks vs. the church gilded aristocracy, we are right there again.
A Personal Story with My Humble Guru
I was a spiritual seeker all my life, and came to Naropa University at 19 after reading every world religious offerings, I chose Tibetan Buddhism. Over 29 years I ardently tried to receive the “highest yogic teachings” available, traveled to Nepal, India and Bhutan to the highest mountain tops and felt honored to receive teachings from the worlds greatest masters. My teacher, who passed in 1996, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, never put me on a monied track, *ever.* If fact, I recall asking for ‘mind nature’ secret blessing teachings one too many times, and he said “I already taught you that, now please go out and practice it,” and kind of sent me away, alone, simply.
I don’t claim to have any great realization, but I have found one precious thing… the whole meditation and yoga “path” can bring about deeper qualities of wisdom, compassion for us to be better helpers in this life, but it ultimately has no goal, not even “enlightenment” and it’s very simple. Each of these words of wisdom, volumes of texts, lama rock stars, practices and levels all meet at one, exceedingly simple point and instruction, and if we have that, that’s all we need.
It’s Within You
A lesser known Christian Saint once said ‘the Kingdom is within you’ and the church found that heretical, since they lost money and power, so that book was removed. I say the same, all that we are paying for with these levels with blind obeisance, we already have. I personally suggest we find a good, ethical, loving and listening, realized teacher like Anam Thuben or Thich Nhat Hanh that will work with you personally, and have them give you the basic instructions and if applicable, empowerment. From that, just practice quiet meditation every day as much as you have time for, two hours is best, 1 in the am and 1 in the pm. It can also be simple quiet time in nature. If you can, I have found it helpful to include mantra, gentle yoga and calm breathing.
Our Sacredness is Ours and it’s Free
In meditation, either formally or while walking in life, whenever we get emotionally upset in the “drama” of what’s happening… politics, thought, fear, loss, dreams of the future, just come back to the present moment, take deep breaths into your lower abdomen, and drop all drama into that moment of just being. All inner “winds” will settle right down, and we can feel calm, clear, openhearted and strong again. Reset, Refresh & Recharge. That is our “source” our nature, sacred in it’s zen like simplicity. Train in that. The simple sanity of the calm, open human heart is the most valued treasure, and we can’t pay anyone for it, to save or “heal” us. We are alone with ourselves and the decision moment to moment is ours. My friend who practiced meditation for two hours a day showed me this as he was passing recently, he was calm, warm, without fear, and as he was dying, he helped me to see what true preciousness, we all have. It costs nothing.
This is a personal, opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sakura Designs.