This is a rather difficult subject as (from a relative point of view) there are so many cultural hangups, lack of true spiritual insights, lack of grounded realizations and mutual respect out there, and since I am involved in teaching Vajrayana by choice (meaning, appointed by no religious establishment), I will take this opportunity to express a few notions.
Some thoughts expressed below might be perceived as sacrilegious especially if you follow some orthodox religion or tradition.
I mean no disrespect and truth, sincerity and freedom is very important to me.
These words are not meant as a validation of any existing tradition or teacher. Needless to say, all of this is just my current subjective perception conditioned by what I call common sense (which, in my case, applies only to me).
Whom to follow and why?
Let us perform a thought experiment:
you have a spiritual teacher, who is widely recognized and was appointed as, the living incarnation of some famous teacher from the past. He gives you empowerments, instructions, and spiritual guidance.
Then, one day, just out of the blue, he hits you hard with his fist.
What do you do?
And after some time, he invites you to his private chambers and asks you to give him oral sex.
Do you decline or go down to your knees?
Whom do you follow, the great spiritual teacher or that little voice in your head that whispers to you that any of this is simply not OK?
Do you respect yourself enough to say NO?
Or, do you deny your freedom of choice and just bend over?
Reality of abuse
As strange as it might sound, similar scenarios do happen, and not just in the imagination of a thought experiment.
People really are physically and sexually abused, all in the name of spiritual advancement.
This article speaks openly about such abuses:
<longer pause for your reading of the article>
Have you read the article entirely?
How do you feel?
Possible causes for abusive behavior
It is my observation that in some theocratic traditions (theocracy: relating to or denoting a system of government in which priests rule in the name of divinity), there is no clarity regarding what an individual in power may and may not do, and anything is allowed.
An individual in power in this context translates to an appointed ‘spiritual master’ that may or may not possess the inner realizations, compassion, and wisdom to be a teacher in the first place.
So, where does this lack of clarity come from?
In my humble opinion and according to my observations as a layman, from a tradition and culture that doesn’t really honor and support individuality and freedom of choice.
For example, years ago, I was still a bit naive and I was really surprised to hear and see an unnamed highly respected spiritual teacher (not the one pointed at in the above article) openly stating that he had no choice but to “become” a spiritual master. He was taken from his parents at the age of five and trained against his will.
Surely a five-year-old child has no capacity to decide whether or not he wants to become a spiritual master. Heh, had such a drama happened here in the West, you would have been arrested for child abduction, and rightly so.
Moreover, the spiritual master under discussion also shares that for years while he was “trained” he had no real toys to play with, no compassionate support and de facto grew up in an environment that condones beating, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse of children.
And now this abused child, now all grown up, is sharing his wisdom and compassion and teaching others how to be free.
Am I the only one that perceives this as completely counter-intuitive, to say the least?
Such abuse in the early years of a child cannot but leave emotional and psychological scars, no matter what…
Maybe such practices in bringing up children and training them to become spiritual masters (by appointing them and without respecting and hearing their personal inclinations in the first place) might work in some underdeveloped feudal society where superstition and lack of basic human rights is normative, but in a world where I live in, such practices are, how shall I put this gently, well, downright destructive and very, very far from spiritual and compassionate life (in my opinion).
And what world do I live in?
I live in a world where freedom of choice is sacred. In this world, superstition has no place and intelligent and informed decisions are as common as sunshine.
I live in a world where education is readily available and sciences like cognitive neuroscience, neurobiology, humanistic, transpersonal and developmental psychology and powerful tools like NVC (nonviolent communiction) are employed to further develop the potential for human wellbeing and ultimate spiritual freedom.
In this world, there is no need to force the spiritual awakening and there is plenty of time to gradually and thoroughly experience every single stage of identity development. There is no need to suppress anything or idealize somethng or someone else.
In this world, spiritual does not overpower the personal, transcendence is not more important than profane, and embracing everyday notions with compassion is all-important. No need to deny my emotional and bodily needs or the needs of others.
I also live in a world where respect for a child’s feelings, emotional needs, and integrity is of paramount importance. Love, respect and warmth are what is at the center of my world, maybe not always shining, but very important nonetheless.
In this world, questioning spiritual or any other authorities is most welcome. There is no place for idiot compassion, blind faith and there is no need to suppress my own intellect and capacity for decision making. Quite the opposite: not bowing down to some authority and thinking with my own head is as natural as breathing and is in fact encouraged. Clearly, independence and freedom are very important in this world.
Individuality is respected and responsibility for my own life, personal growth, and spiritual awakening is quite pleasing in the world I live in. I embrace assuming responsibility fully as no one, not even my Spiritual Master, a Mahasiddha, can do anything instead of me. I am supported as I am, no need to beat me or abuse me in any way to make me more wise (which is impossible anyway – nothing from the outside can give us wisdom, for true insigths only come from within).
And in this world, there is no need to become someone better, more spiritual in the future. No, in my world, supported by my Spiritual Master, what I perceive now as my current state of awareness is quite welcome, for this (my current state of awareness) is where true transformation can take place from the inside, not from outside by assuming some superficial “spiritual” roles or learning sacred texts by heart.
Also, I do not need suffering to wake me up, I do not need others to abuse me or enemies to “contribute” to development of my compassion. In my world, normal relationships and everday life do that. Loving relationship with my lovely daugher does that. Suffering is pointless (to me) and yields no progress at all.
Hmm. At first glance, the world I am describing might seem quite trivial and not at all spiritual (from some theocratic point of view). Non-dual states of awareness, anatta and sunyata insights, entering samadhi and sambodhi at will, “visiting” Pure Lands, etc., however, are a completely normal state of daily affairs in this world.
Also, I live in a world where Spiritual Master (not someone abused in childhood and later on appointed as a teacher by some religious authority) has in the last 26 years uttered not even one single harsh word and has supported my freedom of choice completely.
I remember at the beginning of my relationship with Him I was insecure, powerless to live as I desired in my heart and very lonely. I needed to belong, to be a part of something bigger than my fu**ed up little life.
I was able to notice, however, how much He has given me already. And in a moment of genuine openness, I asked Him: “Master, what do you want me to do now? I will do anything you ask of me.”
And He said:
“Every breath you take,
every move you make,
I will be watching you…”
And He has kept His promise throughout the years. Mahavatar Babaji (see photo there on the left) is always here with me, supporting my free will, showering me with blessings and lovingly tolerating everything. That is a completely different approach from the abusive one, isn’t it. It is the so-called power-with, not power-over. For me, that is the only viable way of progress.
Abuse NOT welcome here
I admit, I do not know enough about the history or anthropology of aforementioned tradition and culture (where sexual abuse seems to be tolerated as a means of spiritual teaching, where children are taken from their parents at an age when love and warmth are most important and needed, where women have no rights, etc.) to make any kind of reasonable conclusion…
…what I do know, however, is that in the Lineage and spiritual tradition I belong to (which is Mahamudra in essence, streaming from the immortal Goraknath Mahasiddha, not from the gloomy Land of Snows), abuse of any kind is neither welcomed nor needed.
Personal development and spiritual awakening really happen when it is a choice and the road I travel on (and I try to make that abundantly clear to my students as well) is the one that is paved with freedom of choice and joyful effort.
What about you?
What road do you travel on?