Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Hypnotic Trance of Cults and Cultists

At Integral World I came across exerts from William Yenner's recent book “American Guru”, detailing the sordid history of Andrew Cohen's spiritual community. Yenner is apparently getting a lot of heat from current members of Cohen's group, as well as some former members who have branched out and become teachers in their own right. I've read some accounts of former member's of Cohen's group before, and nothing Yenner says about them surprises me in the least. I can certainly relate to a good deal of Yenner's disappointment that spiritual groups would have such a hard time dealing with basic issues of fact, considering my own experience in Adidam, which Cohen incidentally was a member of for a brief period shortly before becoming a Guru himself.

Yenner describes how the criticism he gets from these folks generally deflects questions of outright veracity of the basic facts of Cohen's abusiveness with the accusation that Yenner is not providing the proper spiritual "context" for what should be viewed as Cohen's “crazy wisdom” - again, a term and concept Cohen picked up from Adi Da, who of course used the same rationale for many years to justify his own oftentimes abusive teaching methods. I'm familiar with that defense as well in my dealings with Adidam devotees. In a recent online exchange following Adi Da's death with some current and former members of Adidam, I encountered a similar problem. When devotees disputed some factual accusation made against Adi Da, I usually asked them to simply describe what had actually gone on in Adidam, putting all the facts out on the table, and let us all decide for ourselves how to deal with those facts. This was universally rejected by devotees, who time and again explained that only those who “recognize” Adi Da could be given access to these facts, and even then only as their “maturity” warranted.

This kind of logic is of course very familiar to anyone who has examined the psychology of cults. Cults create an internal structure of self-protection which is, if examined dispassionately, precisely how the ego defends itself from the attacks it sees coming at it from all sides. In a certain sense cults simply operate as any ego does, constructing internal forms of logic and self-justification for whatever it needs to do to survive and prosper. The ego tries to be very thorough in creating its own internal world, and is immune to outside criticism from those who don't understand the “context” of the ego's rationalizations. The only difference is that in religious cults, the ego wraps itself in the holy shrouds of Divinity, and equates any criticism of its core beliefs with criticism of the universal God.

It's interesting in a strictly anthropological sense to see how this dynamic came into being in Cohen's world. In some respects, it's almost a duplication of the Adidam model, and that shouldn't be surprising given Cohen's own previous involvement in Adidam. I didn't know Cohen when he was involved. I at best saw his face a few times at gatherings. He only lasted a year and a half, and left dissatisfied, I was told, with the lack of recognition of his own spiritual maturity he received from others in Adidam, and his own desire to be like Da, a Guru in his own right. Certainly some of these impressions of Cohen from people who knew him in Adidam were motivated by Cohen's rejection of Adidam. But it also seemed accurate enough in its own way. Cohen clearly was someone who had a desire to be a Guru, and he never would have lasted in Adidam, given its proclivity for suppression and sublimation of those kinds of desires.

Cohen left Adidam to go to India to meet Poonja Swami, known as Papaji, who at the time was just becoming well-known to westerners. Eli Jaxon-Bear and Gangaji had just come back to Marin County from visiting Papaji in Luchnow, and Gangaji was declaring herself an enlightened Jnani, and beginning to teach in her own right. Cohenm who had been living in the Adidam Marin community, apparently met Gangaji, was both impressed and inspired, and quickly traveled to India to meet Papaji himself. He stayed for five weeks, during which time Papaji gave him all kinds of spontaneous spiritual experiences, and heaped all kinds of praise upon him, which he was doing with many other people at the time. As with Gangaji, he told Cohen to go back to the US and tell people about what was happening in Luchnow, to spread his Satsang, and make it available for others.

When Cohen returned to the US, however, he almost immediately began to proclaim himself an enlightened teacher of the highest degree, comparable to Ramana Maharshi and Papaji (who was a direct devotee of Ramana). In some sense this was not unexpected. Papaji had certainly been telling Cohen, and many others, that they were all fully enlightened. And some, like Cohen, actually believed it and ran with it. :Later, Papaji said of this period that it was all basically a test to see who would take these kinds of spiritual awakenings for the ego, and who would surrender them. A year later, Cohen came back to visit Papaji, presuming that he would be welcomed with praise for his good work. Instead, Papaji explained to Cohen that he was completely deluded, that he had misunderstood and misused everything Papaji had given him, that he was not a Guru and had no capacity to teach at all, and that he should give it all up.

Cohen of course refused to believe Papaji, and finally rejected him and declared that Papaji was mistaken, and that if there was any testing going on, it was to see if Cohen would reject his own enlightenment. Cohen chose to retain his “enlightenment”, and instead severed his ties to Papaji, who warned him that he would be creating severe consequences for himself and his students by doing so. Apparently many ugly words were exchanged between the two, and a great deal of bad blood ensured.

Of course, other Papaji devotees made similar choices, including Gangaji and her husband Eli Jaxon-Bear. They did not become hostile as Cohen did, but they did not accept Papaji's assessment that they too, like all the others who had believed in their own enlightenment, were essentially deluded and unqualified to teach others. In fact, many Papaji devotees came away from Luchnow convinced that they were enlightened and began making the rounds of the spiritual circuit. The entire enterprise became infamous, and spawned several generations of what has often been hilariously referred to as “Advaitic micro-gurus”.

Most of these “micro-gurus” had very little staying power, and tiny audiences. Only a few had the charisma to carry on for long, and to attract enough loyal followers to sustain themselves financially and create actual communities around them. Gangaji and Saxon-Bear were fairly successful in the lucrative Marin county spiritual circuit, enough to live in a nice home and have all the accountrements of successful Marin county businesspeople. That being a Guru was the business they were in was perhaps incidental to the lifestyle, but it was an odd way to make a living, considering that their legitimacy was derived from Papaji, who was famous for refusing all financial support, and refusing any ashrams or formal spiritual communities, but warning against them repeatedly. He repeatedly taught that any spiritual teacher who charges money for their Darshan and instruction was a fraud, with no exceptions. He learned this by example from Ramana Maharshi, who would never allow people to solicit money in his name.

Gangaji found a fairly sizable following of people who considered her the “real deal”. I lived in Marin at the time, and I knew of her, but I could never take her very seriously. No one I met who was impressed by her struck me as impressive themselves, even by Adidam standards. It seemed the sort of thing that required very naïve and needy people – again, even by Adidam standards. Of course, it's funny how people in cults can recognize people in other cults as nutty, but seldom do they see themselves and others in their own cult that way. Even so, one couldn't help but notice that the people attracted to both Gangaji and Cohen were not exactly of the highest caliber. Even so, Gangaji's students were at least seemingly decent people, and even Gangaji herself and Eli Jaxon-Bear seemed like fairly honorable people, if self-deluded. In recent years, the Gangaji organization was scandalized by the revelation that Eli had been having an affair with another women in their community, and this led to all kinds of questions being raised about his “enlightenment” and the ethics of their whole operation. It wasn't helped by the stonewalling of questions about what was going on, and then an expensive “retreat” in which people were charged lots of money to sit down and work through their reactions to this news.

A few months ago I caught an interview with Eli on NPR, in which he freely admitted to the affair, to handling the whole situation badly, to hurting a lot of people, and to learning many lessons from it all. However, he defended the notion of his own enlightenment, and said instead that it merely showed that even enlightened people make mistakes. His definition of “enlightenment” seemed a little vague and even malleable, but I gather it was designed in such a way as to always include his own self-image, regardless of whatever he managed to do along the way. For him, enlightenment is a question of knowledge, of knowing who you are, and since Eli feels that he knows that he's eternal Brahman, that makes him enlightened, even if he still has trouble with his weenie. The notion that enlightenment involves not only knowledge, but the relinquishment of desires and vasanas, the tendencies of mind, seems foreign to him, and very inconvenient, so he doesn't bother addressing such things. Which is how most of these types get by.

Eli's not a bad guy at all. He seems pretty likable, actually. He's not the ferocious egomaniacal Guru type. He's just deluded and entrepreneurial. I'm sure he feels that he helped people out and was justified in charging high rates for his help. Psychiatrists, after all, get paid quite well for therapy that is also often of dubious value. Being in a cult definitely has value to many people, and they are willing to pay for it. This is part of the human condition, like the sex trade, or even traditional marriage (by which I mean, wife as chattel). Calling it what it is shouldn't be a matter of controversy, except to the degree that the trade depends on not calling it what is is, but on pretending it's something other than what it is.

Even so, Eli and Gangaji are by nature softies, as were most of Papaji's devotees, delusional or not. It should be mentioned, of course, that most of Papaji's devotees were not delusional, and did not set themselves up as Gurus in their own right. Most of what Papaji taught seems to have been properly understood as a goad to awakening, rather than as a badge to be worn on one's breastplate.

Andrew Cohen turned out to be the most hardcore of the former Papaji devotees. He believed the most deeply in his own perfected realization, and was the most aggressive in promoting it and foisting it upon those around him. One can only speculate as to why this is so. I would gather that it was simply his own character coming through. Whether or not he had met Papaji, I suspect he was determined to become a Guru, and it would have come out one way or another soon enough. I know Papaji has received a lot of criticism for his involvement with Cohen, and some have even blamed him for creating the Cohen monster, but my own suspicion, based on nothing at all personal but merely on my own understanding of human nature, is that if anything, Papaji probably had some moderating effect on Cohen's inevitable Guruship. What Cohen might have become without the influence of someone like Papaji is perhaps not so pleasant to consider.

Even so, what Cohen became is in many respects more attributable to his experience in Adidam than with Papaji. Papaji, after all, openly rejected virtually all the teaching precepts which Cohen came to embrace, from “crazy wisdom” to the value of abusive behavior to financial demands on devotees, to a complex organizational structure and hierarchy centered upon the Guru, etc. All these things, on the other hand, can be found in Adidam in spades. Reading about Cohen's organization is very much like reading about life in Adidam, with its own peculiar twists. The general picture, however, is very much the same. Cults are relatively monotonously similar in their structure and methods, if the details always manage to vary. The names and beliefs change, but the structure and activity remain the same across the board.

I recently came across another board in Yahoo groups dedicated to ex-members of Ammachi's organization. I was surprised to see that similar cultic patterns are present in her community, especially since I had a generally favorable view of her. I'd seen her just once, right after leaving Adidam, got that hug, and generally felt a strong, positive spiritual influence from her. I could see the obvious signs of devotional cultism around her, but I guess compared to Adidam it actually seemed not so bad. At least the people around her were dedicated to making her available to the public, rather than hiding her behind a cocoon. And yet, reading through some of these accounts, it appears that there was and is much ugliness within her organization, and she seems indifferent to it and doesn't care to take responsibility for it. One gets the sense of some who has some great and powerful spiritual qualities and power, and yet who has fallen into the trap of identifying with an archetype, rather than surrendering all that in God.

There seems to be a basic misunderstanding that realizing God means that you become God. This is simply not true. Realizing God means eternally surrendering to God, and becoming nothing at all. God is not a thing one becomes, but a living consciousness one surrenders oneself to. That principle is utter unity, oneness, non-separateness, total equality. Thus, the realizer lives as the equal of all, not as someone above and beyond everyone else. This is how Ramana lived, how Papaji, Nisargadatta, Buddha, Jesus, and others like them lived.

However, there is a group of advanced spiritual types who fall short of complete and final realization, and one of the reasons they fall short is that they begin to identify with profound and universal spiritual archetypes. Adi Da identified with the “Avatar” archetype, as did Meher Baba. Ammachi identifies with Kali, and the universal Female Energy, and Cohen evidently identifies with "crazy wisdom". I'm sure they all have decent enough reasons to feel these are valid self-descriptions. I am sure they were accompanied by profound yogic experiences that led these archetypes to dominate their psyches. I'm merely suggesting that it's the sign of an incomplete realization, and a mistake that keeps such people back, not a sign of a more profound realization that we should either desire, emulate, or worship. To do so creates a co-dependent narcissistic relationship, in which we are encouraging and even profiting from their mental instability, just as the crowd at a rock concert feeds on the precarious narcissism of the self-destructive front-man.

Ramana used to say that many people reach a level of spiritual understanding that feels like enlightenment, and that very few ever go further than this. I'd gather that there are various kinds of false enlightenment, not just one type, and that one can see the examples of it in many of these characters. Andrew Cohen seems to have a pretty low level of this “enlightenment”, but clearly it was sufficient for him. Adi Da achieved a much higher level of spiritual greatness, as did Ammachi, but they still seem to have fallen short, and turned their spiritual achievement into something that in some respects can actually work against the their own enlightenment and that of others. One can still make use of such people, but one has to be very wary of their dark side, their ego, which is still alive and kicking, and unfortunately, completely unconscious in these types, but present only in their identification with Divine archetypes, which enable a much wider range of co-dependencies among devotees.

One thing that can be said in general about all positive spiritual pursuits is that they requires a direct inspection of the ego. In fact, the most positive of all spiritual pursuits is, paradoxically, just that: the direct inspection of the ego, such that one never takes one's eye off it. In any spiritual endeavor, the best recommendation is to be aware of one's own ego and its various tricks, for if one does so, one will never be entirely taken in by the egos of others. For one, you will simply recognize the smell and taste of the ego in what others do, and second, you will simply not be inclined to go down those paths. Unfortunately, most of us are not terribly self-aware, and we all tend to fall into paths that are blind to their own ego, and which blind us as well.

Cultic indoctrination has often been compared to “brainwashing”, as if it is something that is imposed upon us from without. But there is no such thing as “classic” brainwashing in that sense, at least without total physical control such as one might find in a POW camp. What is commonly referred to as cultic brainwashing is something much subtler and more sophisticated than that. It's more akin to hypnosis, which is also not what people tend to think. Practitioners of hypnosis and scientific investigators of the phenomena all agree: there is actually no such thing as “hypnosis”. In other words, the hypnotic trance is not really a trance at all. It's a state of voluntary submission to a charismatic leader, the hypnotist, so that the ego of the one in the “trance” can live out various fantasies without taking any responsibility for them. The ego merely tricks itself into thinking its in a trance, when in fact it is merely going along for the ride, participating in an exercise of play-acting, because it wants to.

This is the dirty secret of virtually all cults and con-men: people want to be tricked and taken advantage of. They like the game, and they like to play it, and they go along because it serves the ego's purpose. Now, the ego's purpose might not be good for us, and in fact it seldom is, but we can't pretend that we didn't follow our own ego's prerogative to join a cult and submit to its games, unwittingly or unwillingly.

We join cults for very good reasons, if we examine ourselves honestly. And this is why cults can be so successful and so long-lasting. It's also why it's hard to get around the defense most cults make that people joined willingly and not against their will – because it's true. That doesn't make it any less disgusting, but it does make it a morally complex situation, and not just a simplistic question of innocent people being hoodwinked by a conman. As any conman will tell you, people's desire to be fooled is the essential ingredient to any con. Without it, no one can be conned. And without people who want to join a cult, cults would not exist either. They are very much like the people who volunteer at a hypnotist's show. They want to be hypnotized. They want to fall into a daze and be led to do crazy things and enjoy themselves doing that, without having to take any conscious responsibility for it all.

The cult leader understands this, because he too wants to live in a trance. His trance is called “believing in one's own enlightenment”. He becomes the hypnotist who is his own first subject. The others fall in line with the hypnotist's message, and they become willing participants in the drama he creates. Not everyone, of course, has the same fantasies they want to live out. But fortunately there are a wide number of cults each with a slightly different fantasy, and there's enough of them to suit almost anyone. Andrew Cohen created a fantasy world for himself that was able to attract enough willing followers to survive and even thrive in small-pond style for quite some time. Adi Da was more successful, and Ammachi more successful still. Some of their devotees eventually fell out of the self-induced trance, but often conveniently forget that they themselves were responsible for their own trance state, and for what they did while under the trance. It was never really a real trance, after all. It was a self-induced state, created not by the hypnotist/cult leader, but by the cult follower themselves. This doesn't relieve the cult leader of their responsibility either, it merely makes it clear that they were never the one with the power at all, it was the cult follower all along whose own bizarre desires and fantasies led to this game being played out. Even the conflict and cognitive dissonance are those of the cultist, not the leader. They are not actually transferred or transmitted, they are merely duplicated because it fulfills a fantasy..

Even the Jonestown massacre was not entirely Jim Jones' creation. Many of those who were attracted to him in the first place shared his macabre and death-loving character, which had those kinds of overtones all along. On the other hand, not everyone there was actually desirous of playing out the suicide game. Many were there to play out the murder game, and when that terrible day came to pass, those who opted out of the suicide trance were captured and killed by those in the murder trance. We should be reminded that those who committed those acts of murder were doing so not just out of their own free will, but out of their own murderous fantasies. They might try to blame Jones for their crimes, but like the Nazis who were “just following orders”, they were willing participants who enjoyed that horrifying game.

Andrew Cohen was a far cry from Jim Jones, of course. His submission games had a definite sado-masochistic side to them, as did some of the Adidam ones. But sado-masochism is not as rare as many of us would like to think. It's actually a fairly common fantasy, that some people seek out through one cult or another, or even just one bad relationship or another. It would be nice if we could blame cultism only on these insidious cult leaders, but they are not really the main problem. The problem with Nazism wasn't Hitler, it was the Nazis themselves, big and small, who were all too eager to play out a crazed and glorious fantasy.

As Freud said, the pattern of these kinds of social groupings is always the same, At the center is a charismatic narcissist who “gives permission” to the narcissism of others to come out of its hiding place. This is the pattern of many rock stars, who give the audience permission to exploit themselves once the star puts out the “word”. The party begins, and everyone's private narcissistic fantasy is given expression. A cult is very much like that, sometimes even with the music, sex, and drugs thrown in.

As Papaji used to say, there are no bad gurus, only bad devotees. The way to end cultism, in other words, is not about learning to recognize bad gurus, but by learning to recognize one's own narcissistic fantasies, and stop pretending when we live them out that we were not responsible for ourselves. This isn't a way of excusing cults, it's a way of ending them. If we come to terms with our own narcissism, our own desire to live it out surreptitiously through the “permission” of a narcissistic cult leader, we can't exploit the cult experience, or find ourselves “exploited” in the process. Cults will die out only when people face up to their own desire to fall into a “trance” that relieves them of responsibility for their own fantasies. It's not a question of guarding people from cult leaders, but of helping them to consciously face their own inner fantasy life consciously and go beyond it.

This in no way calls for a re-evaluation of cult leaders that excuses them for their criminality or manipulation of others. The narcissism they play upon in others is merely a reflection of themselves. Their own sense of victimization at the hands of their devotees, past and present, is merely the flip side of those devotees who feel victimized by the cult leader. Both are playing out the same sado-masochistic fantasy, and trying to profit from it. In the end, no one but the ego actually profits. The problem there, of course, is that the ego thrives on suffering, not on happiness, and so the outcomes reached in most such cases are rather miserable, depending on just how far one took the fantasy. One is left in the end only with a spiritualized ego, and that is not nearly as much fun as our fantasies would have us believe. This is true of the leaders as much as the followers.Cults are generally boring places of inner misery camouflaged by righteous ideals.

So there's no need to unduly “target” fellows like Andrew Cohen or Adi Da. That is just part of the fantasy relationship as well. It's best merely to see them as they are, and see ourselves as we are, and understand that we went along with their trance-state for reasons of our own, and if we leave it, we have to understand that the desire to live in a trance is a universal one. We don't leave that behind merely by leaving one particular cult. We have to leave our own ego's fantasy life behind to do that. Or at least not let it be unconscious in us, such that it takes us by surprise. If we want to live out our fantasies, we should do so consciously, and know what we are getting into. And maybe if we become more conscious of it, we won't want to indulge it anyway.Consciousness of our own fantasies tends to dissipate the unconscious power of the fantasy, loosening its hold on us. This is why consciously examining the ego undoes much of its grip. The principle of the ego is unconsciousness itself, which the hypnotic trance of the cult extends rather than undoes. Whereas the power of conscious awareness makes conscious what is unconscious in us, and thus frees us from its compulsive necessity.

I'll probably write some more about this topic in the coming days, as well as discussing its opposite: the free life, and the emerging spiritual model of the un-cult.


\m said...

What years was Cohen in Adidam, do you know?

I used to see Eli Jaxon-Bear (note: spelling) on public access TV on cable several years ago, pre-scandal. He seemed relatively harmless, as you mention. But human nature, or the human condition, or whatever, seems often to get in the way of the enlightenment message being promulgated.

Hell, I see that kind of thing all the time even now in local hatha yoga classes I attend, where the yoga teacher has a little "something" sometimes, and some of the students kind of glom onto that "something" in an unconscious cultic fashion and I can tell the teacher actually likes that.

Being the authority on something important often covers up the opposite feeling, that of insecurity and unimportance, which instead of being inspected thoroughly and seen through, is used as a somewhat "effective" compensation in the eternal "one-up" game humans seem inexorably drawn to play out time and again with each other.

But you already know that!

Broken Yogi said...

Thanks for the spelling correction. Brain farts.

As for Cohen's time in Adidam, I don't know the exact dates, but early to mid-1980s is probably about right.

And yeah, everyone's after that magical "Something". If we already had it, we wouldn't be trying so hard to get it, so it's definitely an insecurity issue.

The funny thing is, the Self isn't that magical "something". We are chasing what we don't even need.

Losing M. Mind said...

It almost seems like what Papaji was doing was telling those people they were enlightened maybe not only as a test, but maybe that, but also because it brought out underlying ego in those people, so that he could undermine it. And I would imagine that even though Andrew Cohen went away and was like I'm enlightened, I'm a guru now, he benefited from Papaji's telling him he was enlightened and following invalidation. Whether ready to accept it or not. I assume Papaji could see into people, and what he did was what was best for them. Fortunately, I was thoroughly tired of "crazy wisdom", maybe my own and others by the time I was exposed to Ramana maharshi.

Losing M. Mind said...

I believe you that Andrew Cohen and Adidam are probably not realized teachers and are cult leaders. (though i don't know that for certain) And I also agree with you that if people didn't legitimize, believe in, or validate their cult-leader status there would be no cults. (same as with abusive relationships) It seems like both sides of htat are ego, and being invested in individuality of who I think I am, and different then my pure existence as the Self. So again, like all problems the solution for everybody is inquiry into their own Self, just really this time (laugh), not stopping with some definition of self and saying that's who I am, and it is enlightened. But going all the way to pure existence. That's how I know I'm not enlightened is that I leave deeper, higher experience where I'm genuinely blissful, and largely thoughtless to engage in all manner of worthless mental drama and emotion and narcissism. Atleast I to some degree recognize it. (laugh), and don't want to abide there. The cult leaders cheat themselves by not admitting to themselves their own immaturity and unrealized so that they can pursue a much more enduring happienss.

Losing M. Mind said...

It seems the key as always to recognizing a true guru, because in my own experience one is necessary, it's as Ramana said, the peace you feel, and the respect you have. If it's not a ture guru, and filling the person with all sorts of more narcissism and mental drama and manic ideas. Probably not a true guru. Because a true guru will take one by their instruction to the peace of Brahman, the Self. Will lessen self-importance in the devotee, and the peace and contentment will become more exerpience they feel, by undermining their illusions, not creating more. As Papaji said, if you find someone like that, you should stay with that person. If that is the case, though, I agree as Ravi pointed on David's blog, I know my guru by his guru-nature no matter whether he frequents the toddy shop, the facts no longer matter, to deny, or accept.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that we can fully recognize anyone as a genuine Jnani until we ourselves are Jnanis. Until then, we can only do our best to try to use our intuition and intelligence and innate buddhi to choose our teachers and associations wisely. Unfortunately, all of us are prone to error, as I can personally testify to. I of course was completely convinced of Adi Da's realization through my own direct experience of him - just as others might be of their own teachers.

At some level, we all simply have to go with what we feel to be true, even if we turn out to have been wrong. We will eventually learn one way or another. The key is not to put an overly powerful emphasis on the authority of the teacher, but on our own self-examination. The only way we can ever recognize the teacher, even Ramana, is to fulfill their teaching, and achieve full Self-Realization. Short of that, we are always subject to the delusions of the ego, even in relation to true jnanis. The ego is capable of relating even to a true jnani in a false manner and can create many illusions about him.

This is why Papaji recommended that we not have strong ideas about what enlightenment is or who is enlightened. The mind that creates strong ideas for itself will then creates experiences which conform to those ideas, seeming to confirm their own illusions. This is how he explains the existence of people who feel that they are enlightened when it is in reality merely their own mind creating experience that confirms their delusions. Adi Da and Cohen both appear to fall into that category, as do many others far and wide in many traditions and places. Differentiating such people from true jnanis is not always easy, because they are not merely frauds, they have convinced themselves as well, and are very adept at convincing others to buy into their ideas and the experiences which flow from them.

Glenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
...oneLove said...

The emerging spiritual model of the un-cult? Interesting...I'm wondering if it is possible for such a "model" to exist? I chuckle when I realize I might be cultishly attracted to such a model!

Losing M. Mind said...

Anonymous, I don't think you give us enough credit. I would agree, that if I read about people, or see videos on youtube and make judgements based on what I think about jnanis or how they might live or behave (which a jnani being beyond the phenomenal, being the Self is going to transcend), that would be useless. But it's pretty obvious I think when someone's presence is beneficial to inquiry, peace is intensified, and the sense of individuality or personal importance is decreased. Honestly, I don't think someone can fake that. If that is the experience around someone I trust the peace over facts about the person. And even if that person wasn't a jnani, but just someone who is beneficial at that moment. I still think Ramana's guidelines that the peace you feel and the sense of respect are unfailing. I guess I'm saying is that we are not powerless to knowing whether someone we associate with is beneficial even if we have the illusion of ego. Ego is simple it is not complicated. It's self-importance based on individuality and suffering because of things that are "experienced". (the only thing complicated is the addiction to it) If someone's presence lessens those things it's beneficial, if it increases those things it is deletorious. Then I don't have to worry about gossip, or who did what. Now speculation, I woudl guess, that anyone who puts you in full on samadhi just by looking at you, is necessarily a jnani. I don't think an ajnani could do that. that is what told ajnanis around Ramana that they were in the presence of a sage. A neo-advaitin can talk the talk, but I don't believe that if they are not Realized they can by tehir very glance put you in samadhi.

Losing M. Mind said...

If someone is a "cult leader" the question is are they beneficial in freeing me of the self-importance and anxiety of ego. If they are, I stick around. If not, I go away. It's so sweet and simple.

Duart Maclean said...

I have studied the life and teachings of Sri Ramana and his close disciples for about 16 years. Thank God I have not fallen into the trap of making claims about myself. I'm a student who follows Ramana's principle exhortation to practice Self-enquiry every day, which I do. I feel I'm making progress. It helps that I do not have the slightest doubt about Ramana's integrity, humility, simplicity and total disinterest in having power, recognition or a following. The clarity, subtlety and consistency of His intellect is matchless. He never sought a following. All he ever did was respond to the questions and needs of those seekers who came to him. He asked nothing of them. He had no ego whatsoever -- it died in a little room in Madurai when he was 17 years old. Duart Maclean

Anonymous said...

Hi Conrad,
I posted the following on
Thanks for your help.

I want to thank Adi Da for being the great genius of my life.
In so many ways, he shaped developed and transformed me.

Such a shame other parts of his personality were so devastating to all of us.
Ken Wilbur said that Adi Da was the spiritual genius of our age.
He was that to me.

I want to thank Broken Yogi (Conradg) for his thankless, brilliant, and heroic efforts to document his thoughts, experience and understanding of cultism for those of us also struggling to make sense of our years devoted to Adi Da.

Adi Da is a contradiction. I was a student in the late 80s and he transformed me. The positive results were dramatic. I was so grateful.

But then there was the other side.
Eventually, thru the help of devotees smarter than me, you realize:
1. Adi Da doesn't give a damn about me. I better cover my ass (i.e. money), or I will be hung out to dry. So you give up tithing and start saving money hopefully sooner rather than later.
2. You realize that the mission isn't a failure because you are the scum of the earth, but because Adi Da had sex with every woman in the ashram and that was his undoing. Whether right or wrong, it certainly was amazingly naive.
3. Eventually, if you are lucky, you realize that somewhere along the way you became a cultist. I remember seeing a bumper sticker on an old Cadillac that read "God Said It, I Believe It, And That Settles It". I was like that bumper sticker. I thought Adi Da was the only truth and savior in the world.
4. Once you have a cultic mind, then you can treat everyone like shit and never even know what an asshole you are. The movie that gives the lesson best is "The Big Kahuna" with Danny Devito and Kevin Spacey, When Danny Devito says to the cultic Born Again Christian (Search youtube "Big Kahuna Character Dialogue"):
"It doesn't matter whether you are selling Jesus or Buddha or Civil Rights or How To Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down. that doesn't make you a human being, it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly as a human being, ask him about his kids, find out what his dreams are, just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a coversation, to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore, it's a pitch. And your not a human being, your a marketing rep."

I had developed a cultic mind, and so did everyone else around me. What a fucking mess.

What Broken Yogi's oberservations show us, is that human beings have an incredible ability to look at shit and call it shinola. Broken Yogi's website was a very helpful discussion on cults and cognitive dissonance. Understanding that it is the people in the cult, as much as the leader, that fuel the insanity is another helpful insight.

So please do not think that it is not useful to study Adi Da. It is very useful. But also understand that there are many parts to any human being, and just because one part is genius, other parts may be shit.

So thank you Adi Da for your endless brilliant insights that saved my life. And thank you Broken Yogi for being brave enough to persist in open dialogue long enough to help the rest of us continue to walk out of the mess that became Adidam.

But don't for a minute throw the baby out with the bath water.
Adi Da's insights are worth studying.

Conrad pointed out that you do not find God from another, but within yourself. This was also very helpful.

Unknown said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I dont think so.

I think it is really time to notice sth.Most people over the last 60 years accusing gurus to be "cult leaders" were misguided souls with no success in life that were just envying others. It is time by now to take the fingers of the fingerpointers and turn them onto themselves again. Get your own house clean, and you maybe will not feel the need anymore to attack others, right?
Cohen is cool(not one scandal, only speculations, f.Ex nearly nothing in americanguru is proved, and most of the students involved in the stories portrayed as "victims" dont even see themselves as victims, its the fingerpointers who want them to be victims)

Peace and Love


Unknown said...

Well, first of all, people who write a book about their spiritual journey and awakening experiences or nonduality perceptions and then are invited to interviews and later on give talks are not necesarily trying to make them selves to be as a Guru. Their message is what matters. I never have been interested how deep is anyone's else realization or awakening (people wakes up all the time around the world)but many people do got much insights from these peoples talks and books (for anexample from Gangaji's books)and can relate deep down to That, what they are talking about.
Ofcourse if someone is succesful and becomes popular, many people are jealous to that person as well. Anyway, message is what matters, all kinds of hierarghy should ofcourse to be avoided.

Steve Vinay Gunther said...

Hi. I am printing out this blog post for my students (spiritual psychology masters). I want to reference you - but, whats your name? Can you email me at: thanks


Amitabh said...

This one is brilliant analysis of cults and demi-Gurus (not awakened about their own ego, lust, anger etc.), who are able to exploit our weakness.

I want to highlight a point that the Gurus in the traditional Indian system (like Raman Maharshi or Papaji etc.) do not Market or Trade spiritual knowledge, it is given to the seeker free. While in west (US & Europe), the system is different (sometimes a lucrative business).