This is a rather difficult subject as (from a relative point of view) there are so many cultural hangups, fanaticism and blind faith in ancient tradition, 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, ever so gently.
Some thoughts expressed below might be perceived as sacrilegious especially if you are a true believer, following some orthodox religion or tradition.
I mean no disrespect; and truth, sincerity, and freedom are 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 none of this is simply 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?
More info on the subject of abuse in spiritual communities (new pages open up):
– Can a cult stop being a cult? >>
– The Belief at the Root of Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism >>
– Tibetan Buddhist Tulku Privilege – a Cultural Clash >>
– Who is it that’s Damaging Tibetan Buddhism? >>
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/monks 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 astonished to hear and see an unnamed highly respected spiritual teacher (not the one pointed at in the above article, by the way) 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 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…
It is not surprising that the same spiritual teacher claims:
“…once you have completely and soberly surrendered, you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power. If you want to be fully enlightened, you can’t worry about abuse.“
From where I stand, the above statement is complete nonsense and only shows how ungrounded and disconnected from real personal compassion such an approach actually is…
I truly hope you are not one of his students…
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 are 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 Buddhism advocates (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 communication) 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 something or someone else.
In this world, spirituality does not overpower the personal life, 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 at the center of this 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, deification 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 one’s 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 one’s own life, personal growth, and spiritual awakening is quite pleasing in the world I live in.
On a more personal note, 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, and there is no need to beat me or abuse me in any way to make me wiser (which is impossible anyway – nothing from the outside can give us wisdom, for true insights 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.
Unethical conduct, obvious ego-trip, and harsh abuse of power (documented in this video >>) have no place whatsoever in the world I live in, and it never ever will.
Also, I do not need suffering to wake me up; I do not need others to abuse me, nor enemies to “contribute” to the development of my compassion (!).
In my world, normal relationships and everyday life do that. A loving relationship with my lovely daughter does that. Suffering is pointless (to me) and yields no progress at all (as far as I can see). Progress is a choice, far removed from any “outside” influence.
Hmm. At first glance, the world I am describing might seem quite trivial and not at all spiritual (from some theocratic point of view maybe). Non-dual states of awareness, anatta, and sunyata insights, entering samadhi and sambodhi at will, “visiting” Pure Lands, completion stage, 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 since 1993 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 fucked up little personal 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 the photo) is always here with me, supporting my free will, showering me with blessings and lovingly embracing everything.
This is a completely different approach from the abusive one, isn’t it? It is the so-called power-with, not a power-over relationship. 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 the aforementioned tradition and culture 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 an immortal Mahasiddha), 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?