Sunday, October 23, 2011

Enlightenment Blues

Enlightenment Blues, My Years with an American Guru (Andre van der Braak)

Finished this book today - it was a gift from a thoughtful friend.

The grip of a spiritual mission or of a guru can be remarkably hard to shake off. The sense of mystical purpose that one derives from that association becomes as essential as oxygen. To give up one's guru or religion is easy for people who never really believed in that, but a devotee risks suicidal nihilism if he detaches from a occupation which demanded total surrender.

The seeker gives up everything for his quest. And therefore, a serious seeker giving up his quest itself due to disillusionment needs all the support that his family and friends can provide. There is a very real risk of profound isolation, clinical depression and suicide.

To have one's spiritual teacher fall from grace is to see one's mother, who one loved and admired, whoring around with drug addicts.

Throughout the seeking, if one is serious, one commits massive and radical surgeries on one's intuitive and emotional apparatus, and on one's capacity for intellectual discernment.

To then limp back into the real world is not easy.

I salute people like Andre, who found the courage and conviction to come out of such abusive and unbalanced spiritual groups. He did it pretty much on his own, helped perhaps by one desperate conversation with a psychotherapist. I hope he is doing well.

These words at the end of the book need to be etched in metal to be worn around the neck of every budding seeker:
But I can no longer believe in a perfection that is removed from human decency, from warm and loving personal attention, from kindness and encouragement, from vulnerability and self-deprecating ordinariness. The myth of perfection is too much like the myth of Narcissus. It is cold and heartless.
The world is a cruel place, and sensitive souls will always seek a kinder haven to live in. But for the sake of all that is alive within you, do not surrender yourself.

Spiritual teachers treat students as recalcitrant egos, ripe for chastisement. And seekers start seeing their own self as someone to overcome. To make a human being his own enemy is probably one of the worst things one can do to another.

Yes, you may have certain impulses which may not be healthy, but you are probably just fine. Being an introvert, you may be neurotically exaggerating your mild flaws.

Beware of a teacher who tells you to negate or deny a major and generalized sense of yourself. That major part can be called "ego", "self", "persona", "instincts", "mind", "soul", "intellect", "dark side", and so on and so forth. Such denunciation is an insidious form of control. Once you are no longer sure of what you feel and whether you can trust yourself, the game is over.

You must understand that any human attempt at getting gratification or pleasure or joy can be denounced as "selfish" and "egotistic". Are you willing to live a joyless, unhappy, painful life? Then start waging a war against your own ego.

Unwarranted pride or an excessive ego (normally called a superiority complex) is a neurotic condition, but usually just an amusing one. A healthy sense of oneself, and having an ego and indulging in human appetites, is perfectly fine. If anybody tells you otherwise, he is a misanthrope.

I hope the era of these gurus is over. Humanity didn't need to worry about another major organized religion in the 20th century. And I hope there won't be any "enlightened" being in the 21st century.

We can certainly thank Tim Berners Lee for that.

17 comments:

Ajar Vashisth said...

Very relevant article.

Any worthwhile enlightenment is momentary, rest of the time we are on our own!

Anonymous said...

“The grip of a spiritual mission or of a guru can be remarkably hard to shake off.”
I can certainly vouch for it. Even when I could see that a particular guru was bogus all I did was to substitute one guru for another. I spent over a decade in following Osho, Goenka, Krishnamurthi study groups, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Ramesh Balsekar, and Vedanta groups. Realizing the futility of this search I abandoned it only to land myself in the other extreme camp of fanatic atheists – only to realize that this group was as screwed as the earlier. So finally where am I? As a zen proverb puts it -“An ordinary person doing ordinary things in life”.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: Man, I feel for you. But I guess people like you, Andre or me have to go through such a pursuit to realize that we are better off without it.

Anonymous said...

"Seeking an external Guru" itself is a neurotic condition.
Observe those that associate themselves with Gurus and cults - Do they even look or behave like normal balanced folks?
Do the Gurus themselves look like balanced folks?
Birds of a feather flock together.

Living in balance with ones surroundings is enlightened living. The pivot or Guru is within oneself not outside in another.

Anonymous said...

Confusing typo alert:
"And seekers star seeing themselves as someone to overcome." ==> *start* seeing themselves.

zrini said...

maybe they should define this as some kind of disorder in the DSM if they already do not have, so as to be able to treat it well :).

would like to read the book one of these days. stumbled upon another gem on amazon search: "mother of god" written by his own mother;

a similar book i read long back: http://www.amazon.com/Bhagwan-That-Failed-Hugh-Milne/dp/0312001061/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2

Looks like there is a german movie now!

P.S:
while trying to read more about andrew cohen after reading your article, came across this, which is the other side:

http://www.andrewcohen.org/blog/pdf/declaration-of-integrity.pdf

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: Thanks for pointing out the typo. Fixed a couple others as well.

@zrini: Yes, Mother of God should be a good read. Contrast this mother with the mother of Ramana Maharishi who just joined her son in her ashram, whined and cajoled him to come back home, and ultimately died, leaving the Maharishi quite glad, according to his biographers.

I have read The God that Failed, as well. A few other books:

- The Guru Papers
- Stripping the Gurus (available for free online, though it is quite sarcastic and nasty)

Anonymous said...

"Stripping the Gurus" is not in the same league. The author is unable to distinguish between black and white and thus chooses to portray everyone with the same brush.

Regardless of the ontological truth of a special state called "enlightenment", there are some gurus who act out of a genuine conviction that they have something special to offer. On the other hand there are other gurus who are aware of the fact that they are simply cheating their disciples. For the first category of gurus, at the worst we can say that they have lost their grip on reality, but they are not cheats. "Stripping the Gurus" is not interested in such nuances. You get the inescapable impression that under the guise of exposing the gurus, the author has rather an axe to grind against Eastern religions.

- Vikram

Harmanjit Singh said...

@vikram:

You are right. I wrote about the various "categories" of gurus many many years back: http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2005/07/spiritual-teachers.html

Anonymous said...

There are types of Gurus:
1. Self made - Usually they declare themselves enlightened, grow a beard,talk funny, smile seductively,wear a long robe - no lineage...Highly suspect credentials and actions - Most present day gurus Sri sri,Nityananda etc fall in category.
Autocratic leaders answerable to no one except themselves. Leadership is a self made choice.

2. Disciple made - Folks declare him to be a Guru and they survive on this symbiotic Guru Disciple relationship Sri Ramakrishna - Vivekananda is an example. The Guru - disciple combination is the leader, each one promotes an image of the other which is mutually beneficial to each of them.

3.Belonging to a Guru lineage like the Shankaracharyas,Dalai lamas,Pope's etc..
These have to abide by rules of the lineage laid down to them, when they flout the rules of their lineage they bring disrespect to their entire lineage.Leadership is not a choice for them.

There are a few like Ramana Maharishi although declared a Guru by his disciple Ganapathi Shastri, did not claim that they could be leaders and show others the way.

It is this claim of being able to show others the way, the attempt of becoming leaders that is so dangerous in spirituality...not the quest itself......

zrini said...

you have nicely expressed their MO and how they are even worse than politicians :) in this statement:

Spiritual teachers treat students as recalcitrant egos, ripe for chastisement. And seekers start seeing their own self as someone to overcome. To make a human being his own enemy is probably one of the worst things one can do to another.

Anonymous said...

Somehow the tone of the article and comments on the article wholeheartedly dismiss all gurus, "enlightenement" as bogus claims.

Why do you try to bring in J.Krishnamurti who insisted on not to follow any gurus (including him) and his primary message was to be "be a light to yourself" - don't depend on anyone.

Looks like you don't really to anyone, including Krishanmurti, yet desperately looking (or tired from looking)for "enlightenment" through a guru. Bunch of whiners!

Anonymous said...

All that needed to be said in words about enlightenment or God has been said. So none of the "gurus" of today have anything new to say or do. If anyone is in quest of God or enlightenment they must know that they started the journey so their egos would not be their own enemy or anyone else's.
Enlightened living is being able to use the ego to live in balance with one's surroundings. No one not even a Guru lives an egoless life.

Is'nt it odd that a vast majority of Gurus accused of heinous crimes have gotten away with it unscathed....
People are still willing to follow them in spite of their crimes being exposed......
This has been true since time immemorial...

That is so because all human beings want to live in balance with themselves and the world. If some view a Guru or an external God as the pivot which keeps them in balance - they would not want to acknowledge that the pivot itself is unstable because that will mean more instability for themselves...

Thus the Gurus stay in business and probably always will.......Even a shy, humble man like Ramana Maharishi was pushed into a "guru" role by Ganapathi Shastri and though his teaching was mainly to train the mind to go beyond the thought - word which can be done only by the person himself and no outsider..he developed a following and an ashram...because people in the ashram needed that more than he ever did........so that they would not be an enemy to themselves or to the world.....

Anonymous said...

"Observe those that associate themselves with Gurus and cults - Do they even look or behave like normal balanced folks?
Do the Gurus themselves look like balanced folks?
Birds of a feather flock together."

Well said!

Anonymous said...

Harmanjit: "But I guess people like you, Andre or me have to go through such a pursuit to realize that we are better off without it."

I think that I will also have to go through all the loops to realize what you guys have realized.

Anonymous said...

Harmanjit: "Spiritual teachers treat students as recalcitrant egos, ripe for chastisement. And seekers start seeing their own self as someone to overcome. To make a human being his own enemy is probably one of the worst things one can do to another."

The reason as to why spiritual teachers treat students as recalcitrat egos could be this:

Anonymous: "Observe those that associate themselves with Gurus and cults - Do they even look or behave like normal balanced folks?
Do the Gurus themselves look like balanced folks?
Birds of a feather flock together."

Sridhar said...

With regards to Indians specifically, it is amazing that a people who are inherently skeptical of many things - Police ("can't trust them to keep us safe"), politicians ("they're all corrupt"), businesses ("be careful not to be scammed") and people in general (more often than not people assume that one is acting in bad faith, when compared to the west), are so trusting and gullible when it comes to "Gurus" and Godmen. I think it might be due to the fact that anything associated with religion and spirituality is placed on a pedestal, and immediately deemed as virtuous. This is obviously in line with basic premises of eastern religions, people who go about their everyday lives (working jobs, running businesses etc) are just poor souls living out their karma, but "Gurus", No, they have a ticket to enlightenment, and know better. I think this explains the skepticism deficit when it comes to Gurus and Godmen.

Of course, I'm no defender of Abrahamic religions either. They just substitute karma with stories about heaven and hell, filled with scary sub-plots around eternal fires and such. Essentially, it seems to me, all religions set out to fundamentally debase life as we know it - the life we live on earth when alive, with delusions around the afterlife, heaven / hell, salvation and what not.