Monday, December 27, 2010

Mature Surrender and Submission to the Guru's Instruction

The fun and games with Elias continues in his latest post. I think I have to make clear that the personal issues in this thread are really quite peripheral as far as I am concerned. As much as Elias feels obligated to disparage me, it doesn't produce any ill feelings on my part, and I think I understand that even Elias doesn't really mean much of what he says. It's just the defensive reaction in him speaking. I've understood for a very long time that Elias can dish out criticism with the best of them, but he really can't take it. Merely disagreeing with Elias is the quickest way to get on his bad side and be labeled as a spiritual miscreant or munchkin who clearly has no understanding of spirituality and is probably an enemy of freedom. It's a very FOX News approach to spiritual debate. But it also makes for some lively interactions as long as one doesn't take it personally. Which I don't.

I should also make it clear that though I describe Elias as something of a "spiritual narcissist", this doesn't make him an altogether bad or un-spiritual person. It's just an unfortunate personal trait that tends to undermine his ability to relate to others, and I think it also interferes with his understanding of spirituality altogether. But that doesn't mean Elias is some kind of monster. He's really a very kind and generous person who genuinely wishes the best for people, including me. He genuinely thinks I'm badly mistaken in my understanding of things, and that I really do have an authoritarian bias that interferes with my own ability to understand the spiritual process. And in that respect, he's at least partially right, in that I certainly was involved with Adi Da for over 25 years and made many compromises with his authoritarian point of view, before ultimately rejecting it for good. So I've got a fair amount of experience with both authoritarian Gurus like Adi Da, and anti-authoritarian teachers like J. Krishnamurti (my first introduction to spiritual life) and non-authoritarian Gurus like Ramana Maharshi, who was one of my earliest "esoteric" spiritual contacts, and whom I would now consider my primary spiritual "source", if not a formal teacher or Guru.

Spiritual narcissism is something we can all suffer from, and it takes many forms. Elias just seems to suffer from it a bit more than most, and it takes a form in him that is not that hard to see. But it's also relatively harmless, in that Elias doesn't do much more than pound his own soapbox and hold firmly to his own views, while criticizing those who disagree with him. No real harm there. He's not actually abusing anyone, he's not collecting money, charging for his "teachings", browbeating disciples, or even having any to begin with. So there's really nothing go on there which anyone should be warned about. At worst it just makes for some aggravating dialogs, in that he simply can't acknowledge any criticism or comprehend how anyone could disagree with him in good faith, unless they were severely deluded and unconsciously opposed to Spirit and God. Most people who have interacted with Elias online or who have followed his forums are aware of this. If they agree with Elias or praise him, he's their best friend, but if he starts to disagree or criticize, it's the back of the hand.

Knowing this, I think it's best to just pick from Elias' thoughts some of the more interesting opportunities to discuss spiritual matters that present themselves, and to ignore the personal criticism as superfluous. Still, it's a little hard to discuss the issue of spiritual authority, obediance, and submission with someone who rejects all these, and yet simultaneously resents his own spiritual authority being rejected and criticized by others. Kind of funny, really. We end up with lines like these:

The consequences of mistakenly dismissing an advanced yogi or avadhut can be disastrous, spiritually speaking. :P  
Smiley face aside, is Elias really presenting himself here as an advanced yogi or avadhut, and does he think this makes him a spiritual authority whose ideas should be revered rather than criticized? Are we to accept his "teachings" on the basis of his alleged authoritative status as a yogi? And if so, what does that say about his alleged rejection of authority? For my part, I don't go in for arguing from authority. I do go on for arguing from evidence and logic, however. I also reject the notion of arguing from merely personal experience, in that we cannot expect others to accept our own personal experience as conclusive, without much supporting evidence and reasonable argument. Which is one reason I don't like to use my own personal experience as an argument. My personal experience may have led to me to form various ideas about the spiritual process, but that only matters to other people if those ideas stand on their own, and are confirmed by others, or at least correspond to a fairly large tradition of experience apart from my own subjective opinion.

In any case, the issue of authority and personal experience is always an interesting one, because I think all of us are looking for the right balance there. No one but a spiritual narcissist would entirely rely on their own subjective experience, and yet no one but a cult follower would reject their own subjective experience either. Fortunately, these are not our only choices.

The problem with Elias' arguments in this response are that he sees only these two choices before us. We can either be childish cult-followers who blindly and simplistically do as they are told, or we can adolescently reject authority and strike out on our own. Real esotericism of course involves neither approach. It requires a mature individual who has grown past this sort of dichotomous inner conflict. Esotericism requires some pretty substantial human maturity as a prerequisite. It doesn't require any particular age, but an attitude that is neither childish nor adolescent. Obviously Ramana at age 16 was a highly mature individual in his basic sense for life, even if still quite inexperienced in the worldly sense of things.

The child and the adolescent are both struggling with the issue of authority and how to relate to it. The child is often comforted by the presence of authority and does whatever he can to please those in authority. His conflicts with authority are in the setting of limits by authority, which at times frustrates him, but as most people who have experience with children know, setting limits actually makes them feel more secure than having no limits at all. The adolescent, on the other hand, resents those limits, rejects them, and feels contempt for the child who follows them. On the other hand, the adolescent also wants to be an authority himself, and teenagers can actually be the most authoritarian leaders and followers of them all. What actually goes on in him is a cyclic wave function  cresting on authoritarian leadership and ebbing with the following of authoritarian leaders. This makes adolescents in some respects the most "cultic" of all types, worse even than the childish types, who are really just looking for comfort rather than power.

Neither of these paths lead to esoteric spirituality however. And to be fair to Elias, I don't think he's advocating a purely adolescent spiritual ideology himself. He does want to be an authority some of  them time, but at other times he wants to reject authority. He's looking for a more mature approach, and the compromise he's created is one that might be called "spiritual friendship". In this mode, one looks at traditional spiritual authority figures as simple friends, or as he has often called them "his buds". And in many respects this is certainly a better approach than being constantly intimidated by spiritual authority and feeling that one has to bow and scrape before them. There's even a lot of good traditional precedent for this approach. In the Tibetan tradition, for example, beginners are encouraged to approach the Guru and think of him merely as a "spiritual friend". One encounters similar attitudes in many Hindu teachers as well, including Nisargadatta, Ramana, Papaji, etc. Of course, even Da at one time advocated this approach, before abandoning it in favor of a kind of absolute authoritarianism.

The approach of "spiritual friendship" is a very good way for a beginner to enter into the spiritual process without activating the childish and adolescent patterns of human immaturity. It allows the beginning devotee to cultivate a relationship with the Guru that purifies those tendencies and lets them be outgrown, while also cultivating respect, trust, and mature devotion towards the Guru. However, if the relationship never matures beyond this stage, there is little in the way of genuine spiritual growth beyond the basics. Human growth, sure, and even spiritual understanding of the fundamentals certainly. But the genuine esoteric process requires something far more profound than mere spiritual friendship. It requires a profound recognition of the Guru, and a profound surrender to the Guru and his grace.

The beginnings of spiritual practice involve this growing friendship with the Guru, and the cultivation of trust, faith, respect and devotion. On the basis of these, one listens to and respond to the Guru's teaching, not as a childish slave or as an adolescent do-it-yourself rebel, but by learning the benefits through genuine application of his instructions and practice. At a certain point, this recognition and response to the Guru becomes profound and deep. The Guru is recognized as the Self, and one's response is surrender to the Self. The Guru is understood and literally seen as a transparent vehicle of the Self, and the Guru's role is understood as the Self's outer agent helping to point the devotee towards the inner Guru. It's not that only the inner Guru is the "esoteric" Guru. The outer Guru is also. The esoteric relationship depends on grasping that both are simply two sides of the same coin, and that what joins them together is the profound process of deep and abiding surrender to the Self.

Esotericism really kicks into gear when this lesson of surrender is learned, and the devotee actually practices it without holding back. Primarily, this means learning to surrender directly to the Self. But it also means having faith in the Guru as the guide to this surrender, and the pointer who keeps directing our attention back to the Self. This of course requires a Guru who has transcended ego and is himself surrendered to the Self, such that he doesn't direct the devotee's attention merely to himself, but always towards the Self, even if using his own body and mind as ways of instructing the devotee in this process. This is why the esoteric relationship to the Guru requires a high degree of maturity on both the part of Guru and devotee, and why if that is not present, the process gets disturbed and corrupted. This is why both Guru and devotee need to be tested to ensure that the process is genuine and not being subverted for egoic purposes.

Genuine surrender to the Guru does, indeed, require complete submission and obedience on the part of the devotee, but it also requires the same of the Guru. In some respects, however, it is the failings of the devotee that are more consequential, contrary to what most people think. A failed or incompletely surrendered Guru can indeed lead people astray, but if the devotee's devotional intent is true, he will mature even in the midst of a relationship to a corrupt Guru. As Papaji used to say, the real problem is always with false devotees rather than with false Gurus. Even someone as extreme as Da could only survive by exploiting the false needs and desires of his devotees, whereas their genuine needs and desires for spiritual growth could not be thwarted even when his instruction was faulty. I can testify to that personally, in both respects.

There is no way to underestimate the central importance of surrender to the esoteric spiritual process. Surrender is, essentially, the whole of the esoteric process. Giving oneself up to God and Self is what esotericism is about. That is how the ego is transcended. One cannot transcend the ego otherwise. How one arrives at surrender is always going to be different in the details, but in the general disposition it is always the same. In relation to the genuine Guru, it is always going to involve surrender and obediance to his instruction. There is simply no way around this. One might, in the case of a very mature devotee like Ramana, have no human Guru and thus no human instruction to follow, but nevertheless the same surrender must be practiced, and made absolute. That is what Ramana did in his famous death experience. He totally surrendered to the death process that was spontaneously initiated by his Guru, Arunachula. And that total surrender to the Self became total realization of the Self in short order.

The same process occurs more slowly in the case of less mature people. Ramana's devotees, for example, understood how important it was to surrender to him and obey his instruction. It wasn't just childish and immature devotees who did this. Quite the opposite, it was the mature ones who did. In fact, immature devotees can't really do as the Guru says, because they often don't even understand what he is instructing them to do. They have to mature in the basics first to even get a grasp for it. And so a good deal of human maturity is required just to obey and surrender to the Guru.

Unfortunately, this esoteric principle is also easily exploited by less than genuine Gurus and their less than genuine devotees. Knowing of this famous principle of esoteric practice, unscrupulous Gurus will often demand strict and unyielding obediance from their devotees, and immature devotees will be attracted to authoritarian Gurus who will indulge them in parental fantasies of completely trustworthy authorities. The result is a parody of the esoteric process, made into a farce that generally discredits the whole of spirituality for some people who observe these abuses. And thus the real esoteric process remains a "secret" even when its principles are openly espoused.

Elias, unfortunately, is only able to see the parody and thus rejects the whole principle of submission, surrender, and obediance to the Guru. This is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But by rejecting this profound traditional understanding of the esoteric process, Elias is unwittingly rejecting genuine esotericism itself. Instead, he's perpetually stuck in the "spiritual friendship" stage of practice, but confusing that preliminary process with genuine esotericism itself.

As for Da himself, and the prospect of having an esoteric relationship to him, Elias has these objections to my views:

...he says that this desired relationship must be paid for, by embracing "the formal disciplines and practices." Third he says it's Da's "perogative to say how people could relate to him" -- I assume he means "esoterically" -- as if Da or any other being could build and maintain a separation on the esoteric planes of consciousness and being!
First off, it's Da who says anyone who wants an esoteric relationship with him must embrace "the formal disciplines and practices", not me. I'm not making my own assertion about this, I'm just pointing to Da's own endlessly repeated instruction about this. And yes, it is up to Da how he wants to relate to devotees, both humanly and spiritually. If he requires all those formal obligations to be fulfilled, that's his business. It's not for Elias or me to tell him what to do, not that he'd listen anyway. And yes indeed, Da certainly can, like anyone else, build and maintain separation on the subtle and deeper planes of existence, just as they do here. If there were no separation on these subtler planes, there wouldn't be any separation here either. The illusion of separate self begins on the most subtle level of all (often referred to as the "causal" plane), and that means that wherever the ego is found, there will be the illusion of separation. The purpose of the Guru is to help dissolve that illusion and illuminate the truth, but until that process is complete, there will be the illusion of separation even in the subtlest of realms. Which is why genuine esotericism requires that we surrender completely to the Guru and Self. There is no plane of manifest existence that is free from ego and separation, unless we surrender on that plane, and all planes. This is why the spiritual process requires everything from us, and total surrender. And that is why it also requires grace, because such total surrender is simply impossible through self-effort and individual insight. It requires the magnetic power of the Self's attractive grace, most often given through the agency of a Guru, to draw us beyond self into this surrendered disposition.

The problem with Da, in my view at least, is that he hadn't fully surrendered his ego, and thus he ended up perpetuating a subtle thread of separation and egotism that eventually pervaded and corrupted his own teachings and his relationship with his devotees. Rather than leading devotees to surrender to the Self, he led them to surrender to his own ego, thus created a corrupt cycle that eventually toxified the entire gathering. He used the traditional principles of  the Guru-devotee relationship to justify this egoic process, by equating his own egoic self with the Divine Self, until there was no way for his immature devotees to see the error of their ways. It's not that Da was entirely wrong, of course. He grasped a lot of the traditional and true aspects of the spiritual process. He just ended up turning them towards himself, rather than towards the inner Guru of the devotee, and thus made the whole process ineffective at the deeper levels. That didn't make it ineffective in some general sense. Indeed, many devotees benefited from some aspects of his teaching and spiritual influence. But that process was generally thwarted and turned inside out by his own subtle ego. It would not have been so bad if Da had been aware that he still had some ego to transcend and had applied himself to that process. Not all Gurus have to be completely enlightened to be of great help to devotees. But they do have to be aware of their own incompleteness to ensure that they don't undermine the spiritual process in others. Da couldn't do this, like I say, because of his own spiritual narcissism which wouldn't allow him to admit error or correct himself, and which led him to view all critics and "dissidents" as the enemy, possessed by evil forces or otherwise incapable of genuine esoteric practice.

Elias bears some resemblance to Da in that respect, in a far more minor way. But I'll say that at least Da understood something about how the genuine esoteric process works, even if he ended up perverting it. Elias saw that perversion, and rejected it, but didn't understand what it was a perversion of. He didn't grasp that there really is a genuine unperverted esoteric process that involves surrender, submission, and obediance to the Guru's instruction. In his view, all of that is poisonous and should be rejected. Here we disagree. I think it's a failure of discrimination on Elias' part, and he thinks it's because I'm still sympathetic to an authoritarian approach to spirituality. At a certain point, there's little sense in arguing the matter, we are clearly both going to see things as we will. So it's up to others to simply ponder these matters and come to their own conclusions, and act accordingly.

One thing Elias brings up is the fact that he did belong to Adidam for a few years, and did serve and obey to some degree back then. He wants this to be taken into account as a basis for having an esoteric relationship to Da. Well, not according to Da. As he said about a million times, he's the first person  who will know is someone is genuinely relating him esoterically, and he didn't find that anyone was doing so back in the early 1980s when Elias was around. Nor, even much later, except for a couple of his kanyas. Occasionally he would form an "esoteric order" of some kind, and let people practice in it for a while, but invariably he would declare them all to be frauds and bust them down to the "exoteric" levels of practice.

One thing that should be clear about Da's own teaching is that to enter into the esoteric orders of practice it requires not just complete obedience and surrender, but what he calls "hearing", which is a whole other matter for discussion. Suffice it to say that "hearing" to Da requires a profound understanding of the core issues of Da's own teaching, particularly the "recognition of narcissus" as the core principle of one' s own egoic life, and thus the active renunciation of that principle. Unless Elias has "heard" Da's teaching in this respect, he couldn't, by Da's own definition, be involved in the esoteric relationship to him. And of course, Da hardly acknowledged anyone as having genuinely and fundamentally "heard" his teaching. The sign of that "hearing", in Da's view, was precisely this kind of total submission, surrender, and obedience to his every instruction. That should be abundantly clear to anyone at all familiar with Da's actual teaching and what the spiritual relationship to him required. Whether that would be a worthwhile thing to submit to is another story. It's Da's story, and he stuck with it throughout his life, both outwardly and inwardly. The cultism of Adidam applies to all the "esoteric" planes as well, in other words. There's really no escaping it.

But that won't stop some diehard seekers from trying to escape it, by creating for themselves some version of Adidam, or some fantasy relationship to Adi Da, that allows them to relate to him in their own preferred manner and call it "esoteric".  They don't seem to grasp Da's profound commitment to cultism at every level of his life and relationship to devotees. Elias doesn't seem to grasp how pervasive Da's cultism was, and can't imagine that Da would be cultic even at the most esoterically "deep" levels of the psyche. But yes, he was and is. Astonishing, yes, but true. Of course, this shouldn't really be much of a surprise. Cultism isn't confined to the gross planes of existence, it exists everywhere the ego exists.

Oh, and one other thing Elias gets wrong about me: the accusation that I am a "constipated" thinker. I think almost anyone who's ever read my blog or forum postings knows that precisely the opposite is the case. I suffering from what can only be described as "diarhetic flatulence" of the mind. I mean honestly, look at how I let it rip without any seeming end to it. The walls are splattered with bowel matter. This is a case of nearly pathological flatulence. There seems to be no known cure. How Elias could describe me as constipated simply defies explanation.


thereal said...

Sounds like Elias consistently turns a blind eye to the facts of Da you provide so that he can live as the authority in his fantasy philosophy about what Da "really" was. Of course that makes he and Da very special and good. It is utterly impossible for the likes of them to be misguided you know. Not.

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Anonymous said...

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