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Nothing was true of all that she had believed, but the falsest thing of all was what she had mistaken for revealed truth.

—François Mauriac, Maltaverne

WHERE THEN DOES ALL OF THIS leave spirituality and enlightenment?

First, one of Yogi Bhajan’s former followers has rightly noted, of that guru’s restrictive community environment:

Certainly all those brainwashing hours of chanting and meditation hadn’t been a worse way to spend my time than watching TV (K. Khalsa, 1994).

Likewise, the fact that most ashrams provide only vegetarian food need not be brought up with any raised eyebrows. The present author, for one, has been vegetarian since age twenty. (See,,,, Lane [1993] and John Robbins’ [1987] Diet for a New America.) That has included several years of adhering to a strict vegan (no eggs or dairy) diet.

Famous vegetarian rockers, interestingly, include many of the most creative and virile stars in the music world: Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and his former lover Sinead “the Antipope” O’Connor, Kate “Wuthering Heights” Bush, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Don “American Pie” McLean, Natalie Merchant, Stevie Nicks and Sarah McLachlan. Also, Tom Scholz—the 4.8 GPA M.I.T. Engineering graduate, mastermind guitarist/songwriter behind the group Boston—“guitar god” Jeff Beck, Tom Petty, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, George Harrison ... Ringo ... and, ironically, Meat Loaf.

One may choose to focus on things like “hard-working disciples subsisting on [allegedly inadequate] vegetarian diets” or the absence of television as if they were part of the destructive “weirdness” of any “cult-like” situation. That, however, only dilutes the rest of one’s objections to the real problems with the world’s spiritual paths. (Full disclosure: By choice, I have no TV, either.)

The supposed differences between traditional and nontraditional religions are, further, again far less marked than one might like to believe:

[T]he community that is spontaneously forming around Andrew [Cohen] in the midst of this modern, materialistic society so closely resembles the followings of the great Masters of ancient times (said complimentarily in [Cohen, 1992]).

No doubt that assertion was true, in celebrating Cohen’s re-enacting of the countless, more notable guru-roles played before his own easily forgettable part in world history. But it is also valid in terms of reading backwards from the reported problems within and around Cohen to ascribe similar dysfunctionalities to earlier, archaic communities:

[M]uch of the literature on Christianity in its first century of existence depicts the early Christians in totalistic and authoritarian terms (Robbins and Anthony, 1982).

Amazingly, Anthony and Robbins use that as an argument in favor of allowing our world’s authoritarian “god-men” to operate unchecked. The Catholic Church has turned out so well, after all....

* * *

Given a dozen or more disciples and a guru-figure, the psychological dynamics inherent in the situation render it largely irrelevant whether the “one true/best guru” they are devotedly following is Jesus, Rajneesh or Da Savior, etc. Nor would the organizations created around those various gurus be particularly distinguishable after several centuries or millennia of cultural assimilation. Further, like it or not, what Adi Da’s disciples believe of him, or what Cohen’s followers accept of his claimed “perfection” and salvific potential, or what I once believed of Yogananda, is nowhere even one whit more ridiculous than what Christians believe of Jesus.

Or, compare L. Ron Hubbard’s stories of Xenu and Teegeeack against the biblical Garden of Eden and Fall of Man. Taking each side equally literally, there is truly nothing to choose between them, in terms of (im)plausibility. Likewise, consider the idea that God would tell a prophet or a group of people how they should prepare food in order for it to be acceptable to Him. Were that notion not presented in an “acceptable,” traditional context, it would be seen as a height of cultist absurdity. Indeed, it is far beyond any “weirdness” one could possibly ascribe to vegetarianism, for example. Yet, kosher foods get produced today all the same, with a special version of Coke® even being sold for Passover (Alter, 2004).

It is equally obvious that no such thing as “brainwashing” is inherently necessary in order to get people to ardently believe in ideas which, in the cold light of day, make no sense at all. Indeed, it should be clear to anyone not already committed to one side or the other that the taking of Jesus Christ as the sole Son of God is no more, and no less peculiar, than is the regard for a spiritual teacher and his wife as being the “parents” of humanity. Yet, beliefs like the latter have been claimed to be induced gradually and deceptively, via withheld information, love-bombing, sleep deprivation and other “mind control” techniques. The former “reasonable” delusion, on the other hand, occurs completely naturally and unforced, with its conversions even being actively welcomed by large segments of our everyday society.

The idea that “I used to be ‘brainwashed’ into thinking that some Guru was the Savior of humanity, but now I’ve recovered enough to be able to think clearly, and I realize that Jesus is the Savior,” may or may not strike the reader as being completely hilarious. It is also, however, an eye-opening window into how even the most ridiculous ideas can be taken as being completely “normal” and “safe,” if enough people believe in them.

Conversely, you may be safely and traditionally Jewish, for example, and believe, on the basis of holy scriptures written by the relevant ancient sages, that the Messiah is yet to come (cf. Rich, 2001). But then how do you know he won’t come from Korea, for example? How do you distinguish “false” messiahs from the “true” one that you’re expecting to come any day now? (And remember: Generally, if you fail to believe the “real” Messiah when he makes the same claims as the “false” ones do, your salvation is toast. Good reason to believe, then, to be on the safe side.) Is it by his manifesting of miraculous “signs and wonders” ... a la Sai Baba? By his claimed physical healing of others ... a la Yogananda? By his downplaying of the claims made on his behalf, i.e., “Only the true Messiah denies his divinity”? By his “divine love,” as vouched for by his earliest followers on down, all of whom would probably have felt (i.e., imagined/projected) the same love and peace flowing from Jim Jones or the messianic Elvis Presley? By the characteristics explicated in your holy scriptures—the authors of which were surely no more wise or reliable than are the contemporary likes of Cohen, Da and Wilber?

Would the “real” Messiah reportedly own a machine-gun factory? Presumably not; but yet, as every devotee of the sun and moon knows, “God works in mysterious ways”—who are we to question the Divine, even in His human forms? If the Messiah doesn’t conform to what the prophets of old said to expect, perhaps those ancient prophets got it wrong, right? Plus, Jesus himself overturned the tables of the money-lenders, even if not utilizing submachine guns in that, as a real “Rambo-dhisattva”—some things just require force.

If God spoke to Adam and to Abraham, why shouldn’t He speak equally clearly to Ramakrishna and Sai Baba? Conversely, though, if none of the top forty “sages” of today are what they claim to be, what makes you think that things were any different for the equally “authentic” prophets millennia ago? Realistically, given the absence of the scientific method and the corresponding greater degree of superstition, those aged figures could only have been even less reliable.

Whether one is devoutly believing that a messianic Santa Claus lived two thousand years ago, or that Santa Claus is incarnate today, or that the real Santa Claus is yet to come on some long-anticipated Christmas Eve in the future, all are equally childish beliefs in something which blatantly doesn’t exist. To regard one of those fairy tales as being believable, and the others as ridiculous or “obviously cultish,” is more than I would personally be prepared to do.

If and when it turns out that the fat guy in the red suit at your local mall/ashram isn’t the “real” Santa Claus, then, you might wisely take the hint, rather than sincerely searching throughout other malls across the world, convinced that one of them may harbor the genuine article.

Further, if someone keeps sneaking down your chimney in the middle of the night and molesting your wife or daughters while claiming to be a “Perfect Santa Claus Master,” you’d want to know about it, right?

The real Santa Claus, though, would at least know where all the naughty girls live. Now there’s a list worth checking twice!

* * *

The degree to which one is impressed by any purported sage’s realization of a permanently enlightened, witnessing consciousness, will depend on what one takes the origin of self-awareness to be. That is, it will hinge on whether one believes that such witnessing self-awareness is an essential characteristic of Spirit and of one’s realization of That, or rather takes it as deriving from mere biochemical reactions in the brain. For, in the latter case, such “realization” would indeed not be anything to get excited about. Either way, though, such “I am” awareness exists with our without the presence of thoughts in one’s mental milieu.

Interestingly, then, Wilber himself claims (2000a) to be able to voluntarily enter a “brain-dead” state with no alpha, beta, or theta, yet “maximum delta” brainwaves, in nirvikalpa samadhi. Indeed, he has video of that EEG posted on YouTube. Presumably, none of that declaration has been exaggerated, i.e., one assumes that he has managed to hook the machine up correctly, and is not otherwise tampering with the results. If so, though, simply demonstrating the parapsychological component (if any) of that claim under properly controlled conditions could net him a cool million dollars at James Randi’s JREF, in his Million Dollar Challenge. (My own impression is that such abilities might well be comparable to past incidents of yogis being able to put their hearts into a fast flutter, and then claiming that they had “stopped” the heartbeat [cf. Koestler, 1960]. That is, even valid claims are likely to be simple, untapped capabilities of the physical body—akin to the suspended animation sometimes accompanying hypothermia in humans, and now induced in mice via low doses of hydrogen sulfide. I, at least, would by now be surprised if there was anything “mystical” or paranormal about that.)

The same million-dollar qualifying nature would of course apply to the purported healing abilities of Barbara Ann Brennan, for example. Those are indeed claimed to be demonstrated regularly at her healing school ( in Boca Raton, Florida.

Brennan has been regarded by the Da-admiring Elizabeth Kübler-Ross as being “one of the best spiritual ... healers in the Western hemisphere.” Back in my “believer” days, I paid through the figurative nose for healing sessions with two of her graduates. One of them, grossly guilty of “playing psychologist” in his appointed hour, has since acted as a dean at her school. The beneficial effect of their healings on me? None at all, of course.

The dozen most frequently given excuses for claimed paranormalists not “putting their money where their mouths are” have already been compiled by Randi (2002c). No sense reinventing that wheel, then.

For my own part, I am well past the point of accepting any parapsychological claims without them having been proved under appropriately controlled conditions.

* * *

No skeptic needs to “look through the microscope,” or attempt to develop paranormal abilities himself, in order to validly have an opinion about whether the claims of purported mystics and healers are valid. Rather, it is more than sufficient for skeptics to insist that such abilities be demonstrated in experiments designed to directly or indirectly test for their existence, e.g., to distinguish one set of microscope slides from another at a better than “guessing” level.

You say you can see different auras around different people? Fine: Take two people, hidden behind baffles, with only their supposed energy fields extending beyond, for those to be visible to you. Ensure that there is no possibility of “cheating” or cueing. If you can really see their auras, you will be able to tell who is behind which baffle, in a series of trials, at a better than chance level.

You believe you can do astral remote viewing? Great: There’s a five-digit number written down on a piece of paper, tacked to a wall in a specified location. It will be visible to you if, and only if, you can actually travel to that location in your astral body on an appointed day. If you can really do that viewing, then, you will have no difficulty at all in discerning the specific number in each of a series of trials.

Those are inexpensive, definitive, “yes-or-no” experiments—as opposed to, say, Marilyn Schlitz’s recent “remote viewings” of “tourist sites in Rome from her home in Detroit” (Gorski, 2001), or Ingo Swann’s purported subtle jaunts to Jupiter (the planet) in the late 1970s (Randi, 1982). Such elementary, not-subject-to-interpretation tests do not depend on any new theory, or on what the laws of physics may or may not allow. Rather, they simply ask that paranormalists demonstrate their claimed abilities to “use their microscopes” under properly controlled (e.g., double-blind) conditions, where they can’t be fooling themselves or mistaking imagination for reality.

Both of the above definitive experiments, and many others like them, have been performed numerous times. (See Lane [1997] and Blackmore [1983]; plus the simple and correspondingly devastating [though unfortunately not double-blind] tests of Therapeutic Touch done by elementary schoolgirl Emily Rosa, related in Seidman [2001] and Randi [2003e].) That, though, has only been to the unfortunate acute embarrassment, and subsequent denial and excuse-making, of the tested individuals. For, their claimed paranormal abilities have invariably turned out to be merely imagined.

Worse, with regard to even “genuine enlightenment”: As Richard Feynman could easily have noted, the mere feeling of being “one with all reality”—i.e., of having “no boundary” in consciousness—for example, does not mean that you really are thus undivided. After all, each one of us has all manner of internally produced feelings which have no objective correspondent. Until you can produce some verifiable artifact of knowledge through such purported superconscious states (whether astral, causal, witnessing, nondual, or whatever) which you could not have gotten any other way, it remains an utterly unsubstantiated claim, which anyone can make. Nor can you yourself know whether your own experiences in those states are ontologically real, or merely imagined.

Witnessing consciousness (i.e., self-awareness) can coexist with any physical, mental or parapsychological conditions, including indulgence in sex, alcohol, and drugs. Conversely, the latter may quite validly be used toward one’s own “spiritual awakening,” depending on one’s preferences and constitution. If transcendent, witnessing awareness is anything short of “Spirit looking through you,” however, that same awakening, whether temporary or long-term, will most likely have no more ontological reality than a tulku’s rainbow. If you’re having fun getting the rational mind out of the way via meditation, drugs, or trance, great; but as a life’s goal or center, beyond pure selfishness....

Our world’s “sages” in general, even when they are being honest, again consistently misinterpret utterly normal phenomena as being paranormal, and have mistaken innumerable hallucinations for meaningful visions. They have, that is, regularly proven themselves to be unable to distinguish between “real” mystical experiences, and merely imagined ones. Consequently, no one need feel obliged to take seriously their equally confident claims, filtered through the same addled mindset, as to even something so basic as the existence and nature of Spirit. Conversely, if one chooses to believe in the existence of That, it is in spite of the veracity of our world’s “meditation masters,” not because of their “personal authority.”

* * *

Half of the practical problem with the very idea of witnessing and/or nondual enlightenment is that such a realization, even if it is ontologically real rather than just a subjective shift, regards everything equally. It thus, even in the standard and wholly non-controversial accepted understandings, inherently does nothing whatsoever to make one a better person (via undoing one’s psychological kinks or otherwise), or to make the world a better place. One could, in all seriousness, be the greatest living Realizer, and still be a pedophile, rapist or murderer.

Conversely, no crime or misbehavior, no matter how heinous, perpetrated by such a great “sage,” could do anything to disprove his or her claimed realization. Thus, Ramakrishna’s pedophilia, for example, “only shows how difficult it is for people afflicted with that orientation to grow past it,” and says nothing about his realization: He was still “indubitably” a “great sage.” Indeed, his behaviors may even be used to validate one’s own comparable sadhana. (As to why Sai Baba’s alleged pedophilia would not be equally tolerable, given his fully comparable claims to divinity: it basically depends on whom you started out naïvely believing to be “authentic” in the sagely arena.) The likes of Da, too, even given all of his alleged abuses, could still be Self-realized, just “patterned by partying behaviors.”

Hell, you could be Jack the Ripper, attain to nondual awareness, and go right on ripping. You could be Adolf Hitler himself, not merely “mystically awakened” but nondually enlightened, and it wouldn’t affect your actions one damned bit.

That exalted nondual realization—so beloved of Ken Wilber and Drukpa Kunley—even if ontologically real, is then worth pursuing ... why, exactly?

Of course, when one has “pledged enlightenment” for so long, it must be worth something. Even if auras and subtle energies don’t exist, even if parapsychology was bogus from the beginning, even if every hoped-for superphysical phenomenon falls by the wayside, nondual enlightenment must be worth something.

Mustn’t it?

* * *

There is no question that the “mind control” techniques cited earlier exist, that they are used, and that they do a lot to make things get worse, faster—as the deindividuation, force-feeding, humiliation and sleep deprivation did in Zimbardo’s study. But even without them, in a “safe, traditional” religion, as soon as you have accepted the “divine guidance” and/or infallibility of those above you, you cannot disobey. And as soon as you have bought fully into the purported existence of hellfire and damnation or the like, you cannot leave that thought-environment without risking your eternal soul. That is, once deeply accepted, such “reasonable” and socially accepted beliefs again leave one no more able to freely choose to walk away from the traditional religion to face the possibility of eternal damnation, than one is free to walk away from a “destructive cult” and face a similar future.

Yet, that does not lessen the reality that people of sound mind and body, fully functional in the real world, will convert completely voluntarily, under no duress at all, to exactly such restrictive sets of tenets. In the face of such facts, the idea that “cult” members believe wacky things only because they were fed the belief system in incremental “bits and pieces,” in the midst of love-bombing or the like, rather than having the entire theology dispassionately explained to them up front, is not supportable. The worst negatives may well not be presented until one has publicly committed to the best of the salvific positives. But those negatives are still just the flip side of the positives; one readily accepts them, if it means being part of the “saved” group.

And we all want to be part of the “in” group, or to be “chosen” by God, right? And to have the social support of others who are equally “special”? Why else would we find people barely escaping from nontraditional salvific “cults” to then join “safe,” nontraditional religions? For the latter, in their early years of devotion and obedience to “the one true Savior” or to the relevant apocalyptic “prophets” preceding or following him, were indistinguishable from the former.

One should therefore not underestimate the human need to believe in Something—Anything—particularly if believing in that Big Something can be both a means of salvation and a route to social approval. Our species has never needed to be coerced into believing “six impossible things before breakfast.” Rather, we have always done that quite willingly, even in the most ordinary circumstances. Indeed, the acceptance of the most hellish, fear-inducing of those beliefs occurs, with full social sanction, as part of every one of our world’s “safe, traditional” religions.

(With equal willingness, newly freed people will vote for communist candidates if they think, from their own past and present experience, that their lives will improve in the short term for having that oppressive but comforting system reinstated [Hoo, 2005]. No “brainwashing” is required in any of that; it’s just the sad nature of the species.)

Nor is the degree of “mature obedience” given by devoted Christians to Jesus any different from that given by any other loyal followers to their guru-figure: If (the Son of) God asks you to do something, you do it, right? The only “difference” is that Christians have found the “one true/best, living Savior,” of whom every bizarre positive claim is necessarily “true”—as it was for Rajneesh, Jim Jones and David Koresh, etc., in the eyes of their devoted disciples in their own times.

Contrary to the frequently invoked comparison, the existence of fool’s gold (i.e., “false gurus”) does not mean that real gold (i.e., enlightenment and “true gurus”) exists. Rather, it simply means that there are a lot of fools out there, who naïvely believe their eyes when they should rather be applying every possible rational test to the claims being placed before them.

I should know: I used to be one of those very same fools.

As David Lane has often noted, we would not think of buying a used car—whether sold by Bhagavan Das, Werner Erhard or otherwise—without first “kicking the tires.” Yet, we do not think to equally properly question the assertions made by our world’s “god-men” before giving up our independence and willingly/blindly following them. Further, we again do that too often on the “good advice” of the “geniuses” and elders in transpersonal and integral psychology. For, we quite reasonably assume that they have done at least minimal research, and thus that they would be in a position to offer more intelligent and informed opinions than our own.

Big mistake.

* * *

Of course, one is still free, even after all that, to believe that Jesus raised others (e.g., Lazarus) from the dead—as, it is claimed, did Yogananda and Meher Baba. (And as has Scientology: “Hubbard claims they brought a dead child back to life by ordering the thetan back and telling him to take over the body again” [Cooper, 1971].) And, that Christ fed the multitudes with manifested foodstuffs—as has Sai Baba. And, that J. C. rose from the grave himself—as, it is claimed, did Yogananda’s guru, Sri Yukteswar.

As Lalich (2004) noted, however—apparently with unintentional yet heavy irony—in the context of our world’s potentially harmful nontraditional groups:

Countless examples—from making preposterous claims of raising the dead to taking multiple wives to committing ... murder ... clearly illustrate that some [so-called] cult members make seemingly irrational, harmful, and sometimes fatal decisions. Yet these acts are committed in a context that makes perfect sense at the time to those who enact them and are, in fact, consistent with an ideology or belief system that they trust represents their highest aspirations....
Some [alleged] cults are totalistic when they are exclusive in their ideology (i.e., it is sacred, the only way).

Raising the dead: traditional Christianity.

Multiple wives: the Mormons, in their early days.

Committing murder in an ideological context where it makes “perfect sense” at the time: the witch hunts, the Crusades, etc.

“The only way”: insert your preferred traditional religion here, whether petrified of condoms and masturbation, swigging Kosher-Cola, or fixated on modesty-enforcing burkas.

Further, when considering the purported “divinity” of the founders of any of our world’s traditional religions, keep in mind that had any of the more recent “Christ-like” figures lived two thousand years ago, we would today know none of the reported “dirt” on them. That is, their “divinity” would remain intact, as Ramakrishna’s almost did. Conversely, were Jesus alive today, all of his “Last Temptation”-like human indiscretions would have been put into print by journalists and disgruntled former followers. So, it is really just an accident of history that “Christ-like” gurus such as Sai Baba or Ramakrishna have been exposed enough for one to reasonably question their divinity and recognize the reportedly dangerous nature of their closed communities of disciples, while others such as Jesus have not.

I had been trying to figure out the difference between a [so-called] cult and a religion—and had decided it was only two things: a matter of time and conformity (Sherrill, 2000).
All religions, except perhaps the very earliest and most primitive, begin as new religious movements. That is, they begin as movements based on spiritual innovation usually in a state of high oppositional tension with prevailing religious practices. Often, they are begun by charismatic religious entrepreneurs (Zablocki, 1998).


In its first thousand years, the [Catholic] Church grew from a tiny, underground [so-called] cult into a vast, multinational power (Aarons and Loftus, 1998).


Like many groups that were formerly enfantes terribles, Scientology, if it continues in its current clean-up campaign, may one day become one of the world’s most respected groups or Churches (Cooper, 1971).

Indeed, as Scientology’s John Travolta once put it (in Gould, 1998): “I’m sure Christianity had some problems too in its first fifty years.” (Tell that to Lisa McPherson. Oh, you can’t....)

Saturday Night Fever ... or Saturday Night Mass. You decide.

[O]ne asks oneself how much is really known about the founders and originators of the great classical religions of the past? How did they really begin? What were the true motives of their founders?.... Supposing that the world rolls on for a thousand years ... what then will the mythology of Scientology look like? And what stories will people be telling of Mr. Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, his teachings and his first disciples? (Evans, 1973).

In any case, if enough people believe that Jesus Christ (or Da Savior) is the sole Son of God, given to this world via Virgin/Dildo Birth and ascended into Glory, it ceases to be “weird,” and the belief begins to be “inherited” by the children of each parent follower of that “one true/best guru.” Comparably, as Strelley (1987) noted, even pathological events and beliefs within Rajneesh’s ashram “all seemed familiar and ‘normal’ because that was the world we had built and were living in every minute of our lives.” Indeed, as a general principle:

A community is a community. Just as it is bizarre to those not in it, so it is natural ... to those who live it from within (Goffman, 1961).

If enough people believed that Adi Da was “the greatest Realizer,” etc., the same homogenization and inheritance of belief would occur, and it would become weird to not believe that he was “the greatest.”

Thankfully, that is not likely to happen.

Conversely, broadcasting the original meaning of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible Belt today would produce every bit as much unrest as could be found in Rome two thousand years ago. It is not only contemporary so-called cults, after all, who encourage their members to “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21). Nor is that the only point of comparison:

Many [alleged] cults put great pressure on new members to leave their families, friends, and jobs to become immersed in the group’s major purpose. This isolation tactic is one of the ... most common mechanisms of control and enforced dependency (Singer, 2003).


He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:37-8).

With all that, accepting a guru-disciple relationship in any context clearly calls for an attitude of “meditator beware”:

Of one hundred persons who take up the spiritual life, eighty turn out to be charlatans, fifteen insane, and only five, maybe, get a glimpse of the real truth. Therefore beware (Vivekananda, in [Nikhilananda, 1996]).
[I]t is my belief that 90% of the so-called masters in the modern world are not enlightened at all (Harvey, 2000).

Of course, the “best” of the guru-figures we have covered herein—e.g., Ramakrishna, whom Harvey still quotes approvingly—would account for a good amount of the remaining 10%. (The fact that Harvey—“probably the preeminent mystic of our day” [Knight, 2003]—ridiculously considers the same 90% of “unenlightened masters” to be “occult magicians,” holding their disciples in sway via real, supernatural powers, need not concern us here. Comparably, for the born-again Tal Brooke, Sai Baba was viewed as being closer to a literal “Antichrist” than a simple opportunistic conjuror. Yet projection and transference, which factor overwhelmingly into the guru-disciple relationship, are neither “occult” nor “from the devil.” Or was the Beatles’ earth-scooping, bladder-control-losing effect on their fans, too, based in “occult magic”?)

Nor was the situation any better in the days before our modern world:

Buddha said that the chances of encountering a genuine teacher and getting enlightened were about on a par with the likelihood that a turtle coming to the surface in the middle of the ocean would put his head through a single ring tossed on the waves (Butterfield, 1994).

Even having ostensibly found that “ring,” Stan Trout, a former decade-long swami follower of Muktananda, rightly observed:

Those who willingly put aside their own autonomy, their own moral judgment, to obey even a Christ, a Buddha, or a Krishna, do so at risk of losing a great deal more than they can hope to gain [italics added].

One might take comfort, then, in the fact that Ramana Maharshi himself not only accepted no disciples, but had no human guru: “Guru is God or the Self.” (At other times, however, Maharshi actually regarded Mount Arunachala—and presumably “all of the siddhas in it”—as his guru.) Aurobindo too (1953) “never took any formal initiation from anyone.” The same is true of the Buddha.

Whatever spiritual evolution (real or imagined) might be realized under a guru, then, can obviously also be gotten without one. And given all of the problems we have noted with guru-figures, disciples, and their relationships, there is a lot to be said for erring on the side of caution in that regard.

Nor will simply asking for an honest opinion from the current followers of any purported sage keep one safe in all that. For, in the vast majority of cases, the loyal disciples who defend the “noble cause” are simply those who have not yet been sufficiently harmed by the guru. Or, they have not yet gotten close enough to him/her and the inner circle for long enough to comprehend what is really going on. Or, they are so close to the guru, and in need of preserving that position, as to lose all perspective, having wholly set aside their ability to impartially evaluate his actions, as they must if they are to be “good disciples.”

As the head of Adi Da’s Hermitage Service Order expressed his view of Da and his “Teachings” (in Colin, et al., 1985):

He operates with the highest of integrity.... It is the most genuine thing I have ever encountered in my entire life.

Likewise, for another seclusive “avatar”:

Jim [Jones] is a man of absolutely unimpeachable character (in Layton, 1998).
Eugene Chaildn, a Californian attorney who became a member of the [People’s] Temple, [described Jim Jones] as the most loving, Christ-like human being he had ever met. Another law graduate [actually, the assistant district attorney in San Francisco], Tim Stoen, called Jones “the most compassionate, honest and courageous human being the world contains” (Storr, 1996).

Similarly for Heaven’s Gate:

One early follower [of Applewhite and Nettles] recalled, “I just felt drawn to them. You could feel the goodness” (Lalich, 2004).

One takes such positive evaluations seriously—with the above being indistinguishable from the gushing which any loyal disciple would do over his or her “genuine/best/greatest” guru-figure—only at one’s own grave risk.

So rather send a “deep, devotional bow” to Jim Jones than to the likes of Adi Da or Andrew Cohen, if you must at all. For at least Jones, like Applewhite, being long deceased, can do no further harm to persons so foolish as to trust him.

* * *

Rick Ross (2005c) gives ten characteristics to look for in a safe group and/or leader. Those range from the encouraging of critical thinking and individual autonomy in the followers, to the acceptance by the leader of constructive criticism, to a democratic environment, to willing financial disclosure on the part of the organization.

Good luck with finding any number of those characteristics in any “authentic, spiritually transformative” environment, though (or even in the typical business corporation, for that matter). For such a group begins, by definition, with a leader who is more “spiritually evolved”—i.e., who ostensibly sees truth more clearly—than the people around him. That is, he merits his position as leader not merely for having a greater, studied understanding of one or another set of holy scriptures, but rather for possessing a higher degree of enlightenment.

“Fortunately,” though, the eager aspirants around him can attain to that same height if they simply follow his teachings and instructions. Thence follows role-playing, respect-hungering, and the understandable desire to distance oneself from anything that might interfere with one’s most-valued spiritual progress (e.g., attachments, family, sex, etc.). And with the need to obediently endure anything which might accelerate the realization of one’s becoming “as great as” the leader himself is, as quickly as possible, it’s all downhill from there.

So it is, by now, in no way surprising that even the best of our world’s spiritual communities have been found to quickly degenerate into “problematic” nests, leaving their idealistic followers wondering, “Where did it all go wrong?”

The point, again, is not that brainwashing, mind control, deceptive recruiting and enforced isolation do not exist, for they surely do. But even without them, things are much worse than would be imagined by theorists who point to such issues as being distinguishing characteristics of so-called cults.

If you cannot bring yourself to accept that, you are free to continue believing that the Roman Catholic Church, the U.S. Marines, and the average prison, for example, are “safe” places to be. And good luck to you in that—you’re going to need it, should people you care about ever become trapped in those “non-cultic” environments.

* * *

The collection of “enlightened” individuals we have considered here are again in no way the worst of our world’s spiritual teachers, but are rather among the universally recognized best. The disregard for the guru-disciple relationship evinced herein thus has nothing to do with simply rejecting it, whether wisely or blindly, in favor of an alternative emphasis on individuality and independence, without regard for the benefits of learning from a teacher wiser than oneself. Rather, such disdain is the simple and unavoidable outcome of recognizing the high probability that, in any given case, the guru-disciple relationship is very likely to do much more harm than good.

Conversely, the relevant question is not why anyone should be “anti-guru,” but rather: How could anyone, in the face of all of the long-extant reported issues quoted herein, still be “pro-guru”? If the assertion is that the good mixed in with the bad (for any given spiritual teacher) offsets the latter, the appropriate response is that a mixture of nectar and poison is more dangerous than is one of poison alone. After all, animals die from drinking anti-freeze because it tastes good. Were it not for the good, they would not simultaneously swallow the bad.

As Dick Anthony (et al., 1987) quite unsuspectingly put it:

[A] number of group leaders who evolved into dangerous, authoritarian tyrants seemed truly to have ... loving kindness, generosity, selflessness. These leaders were extremely dangerous precisely because they did combine such an unlikely mix of extreme beneficence and extreme abusiveness within them. The beneficence was prominent first, attracted a large, devoted following, and then gradually gave way to a “dark side” that came increasingly into expression over ten or twenty years, imperceptibly turning heaven into hell for the followers.

The point which Anthony has completely missed, of course, is that the hitherto “peacenik” student guards in Zimbardo’s prison study likewise combined “extreme beneficence and extreme abusiveness” within themselves. Indeed, each one of those eventual “Nazis” again began the study congenially, only having his tyrannical authoritarianism brought out later by the closed, hierarchical environment.

* * *

If all of this seems too cynical, simply compare the reported behaviors we have seen herein with how any sensible and self-honest person would behave. Couldn’t you (outside of the eventual, perspective-losing effects of imperial role-playing) do better than every one of the respected spiritual figures evaluated here, in guiding other people’s evolution, regardless of whether the enlightenment claimed by each of these so-called sages is real or imagined? Even if your every hidden indiscretion was made public, wouldn’t you still come off looking like a better human being than any of these bozos?

Then, factor in the orders-of-magnitude difference between the disinfected, hagiographic versions of the lives of undisputed “sages” such as Ramakrishna and Krishnamurti, versus their real natures. And in doing that, never be so naïve as to imagine that the distortions, cover-ups, group-think, wishful thinking and outright fabrications applied to any claimed saint’s daily behavior by his vested-interest disciples would not be effected just as much with regard to his or her visionary experiences, other “miracles,” and overall “compassionate” nature.

I would personally still like for most of the fairy tales told in the name of spirituality to be true. The problem which I have by now in accepting any of them is not that I would a priori or “scientifically” find it difficult to believe that human volition can affect the behavior of matter. Indeed, I would still actively prefer for auras, chakras, subtle energies, astral travel, manifested “loaves and fishes” and their ilk to exist. The issue I have by now is simply that the sources of information in all of those “miraculous” and mystical regards are so unreliable as to be less than worthless. Further, the claimed phenomena fail uniformly, on every point on which they have been properly tested, to stand up to simple rational questioning and reproducibility.

* * *
If people were really well-informed, they would be immune to bad gurus (Robert Thurman, in [Watanabe, 1998]).

Well, you are now “really well-informed.” And being thus wise, knowing of the Dalai Lama’s admiration for Drukpa Kunley, and being cognizant of Richard Baker’s reported behaviors at the SF Zen Center ... you would not be surprised to learn that Thurman is still a loyal admirer of the homophobic Lama, after having been a friend of SFZC during Baker’s apocalyptic tenure there. Nor would you be taken aback to find that Thurman, in spite of his own “immunity to bad gurus” and foolish pandits after a lifetime of spiritual study and practice ... is a founding member of Wilber’s Integral Institute. Nor would you nearly fall off your chair in learning that he has released a recording of dialogs on Buddhism and politics between himself ... and alternative medicine’s Deepak Chopra.

Interestingly, both Thurman and the Dalai Lama endorsed Chopra’s (2000) book, How to Know God ... as did Ken Wilber and Uri Geller. Thurman called it the “most important book about God for our times.” Not to be outdone, the Mikhail Gorbachev elevated Chopra to the position of being “undoubtedly one of the most lucid and inspired philosophers of our times.”

And all of that, while Thurman was simultaneously being named as one of Time magazine’s twenty-five most influential people in 1997, and viewed as “America’s number one Buddhist” by the New York Times. The point being that, with no particular disrespect intended toward Dr. Thurman, even the best and most-esteemed figures in Buddhism and elsewhere demonstrably cannot be relied upon to do other than lead us directly to spiritual teachers whom we would do much better to avoid, should we make the mistake of following their “really well-informed” advice.

Even someone like the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield has again failed to do even minimally adequate research regarding the alleged unpunished breaking of rules in the East, before offering a confident, watertight opinion. That is, he has presented a superficially convincing, but ultimately utterly false theory, as if it were inarguable, researched fact. Further, he was still maintaining that indefensible opinion nearly two decades after his own days teaching at Trungpa’s Naropa during its most “wild and crazy” period. Those, too, were its most overtly “cult-like” times, as is painfully obvious for anyone with eyes even halfway open to see such things.

Few “experts” in Eastern spirituality are better informed, or more trustworthy or level-headed, than are Thurman and Kornfield. Yet, it is merely one small step from them and their “informed” opinions to find yourself following the likes of Trungpa, Richard Baker, or the “Tibetan Catholic” Dalai Lama.

Or, consider the work of Rabbi Michael Lerner—briefly dubbed the “guru of the White House” during the Clinton administration. (During a period of unpopularity, the Clintons also sought advice from the Muktananda-admiring, firewalking Tony Robbins. That self-help icon has guested on Wilber’s Integral Naked forum, and has also been an interviewee of Andrew Cohen [1999a].) Lerner is a close friend of Ken Wilber, and another founding member of the Integral Institute. And, while his political Tikkun organization, groups and magazine may well be “safe and nourishing” ones, he also considers Wilber to be a “great mind,” whose “brilliance pours out on every page” of his journals.

And then this from the same man—Lerner—blurbing for kw’s (2001b) A Theory of Everything:

Ken Wilber is one of the most creative spiritual thinkers alive today, and A Theory of Everything is an accessible taste of his brilliance. Like a masterful conductor, he brings everyone in, finds room for science and spirit, and creates music for the soul.

Suppose, then, that you, as a young but dedicated spiritual seeker and/or political activist, and an admirer of Lerner, were to attend one or another of the Tikkun functions. And suppose that you discovered the work of Ken Wilber through that, devouring his “brilliant” books in the following months. Not knowing any better, you would undoubtedly be impressed by the great man’s “genius” and “compassion” on such a wide range of subjects—as I myself was for two months, many naïve years ago—particularly given Lerner’s endorsement of that “brilliance.”

How long would it be, then, before you followed kw’s “good advice” in those writings? How long before you (perhaps not unlike Mr. Kowalczyk) found yourself “surrendered completely” as a non-celebrity to a “great Realizer,” whose every alleged “Rude Boy” abuse was being indulged in only for your own benefit, as a wise “Teaching”?

Lerner himself has not only endorsed Andrew Cohen’s Living Enlightenment (2002), but also been interviewed by Cohen (2001a) in What Is Enlightenment? magazine. Dr. Lerner has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology; Cohen, perhaps unique among human beings, has no psychological shadow (or so he claims). He would thus surely have made a fascinating case study for Lerner, had the latter’s eyes been open to that rare, breakthrough opportunity.

Interestingly, other enthusiastic endorsers of Cohen’s Living Enlightenment have included Jack Crittenden, Deepak Chopra, Lee Lozowick, Mariana Caplan, and the late Swami Satchidananda himself.

Exalted company, indeed.

Yet, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And if one is using one’s good name in any field to give credibility to others, one has a grave responsibility to ensure that the latter are actually some semblance of what they claim to be. Yet, one struggles to find any comprehension of that fact among Wilber and the rest of these “experts.” For, if they had understood that principle at all, they would be very humbled to realize the irreparable damage they have done in indefensibly encouraging others to throw their lives away in “surrendering completely” to the likes of Da and Cohen.

* * *

For my own part, the actions alleged of our world’s “fire-breathing” gurus (e.g., at the WHAT enlightenment??! website) and their henchmen remind me of nothing so much as having transferred rural schools in grade seven.

The previous year, the “alpha male” in that new environment had, I was told, been forcing the boys in the grade below him to crawl through mud and endure other forms of mistreatment. Why? Just because he could exercise that power—no better reason or provocation, outside of his own insecure psychology.

Appropriately, the power-abusing boy got his comeuppance the following year, being beaten up by his peers in grade seven.

His brave response? To go crying to his pastoral parents about that, tearfully begging that they move to a different community, etc., but of course making no mention of how he had merited that retribution.

If only our world’s guru-figures and spiritual seekers in general had as much sense as a bunch of thirteen-year-olds. They might, in that case, consider holding their peers and heroes responsible for their reported abuses of power, i.e., “As ye beat the crap out of others, so shall the crap be beaten out of you.” With even that minimal application of intelligence and real compassion, there would be far fewer simpering “Rude Boys” in the world. Much less would those socially dysfunctional fools be celebrated for allegedly coercing others into enduring demeaning acts “for their own good.”

* * *

The recurring phenomenon of “bad gurus,” from which no one is immune so long as he holds on to the hope that one or another of them can lead him closer to enlightenment, is actually completely predictable. For, absolute power corrupts, not merely some of the time, but all (or at least 99.99%) of the time. (It was actually in response to the 1870 papal declaration of infallibility that Lord Acton coined the relevant phrase [Allen, 2004].) Against that psychological reality, whatever public face any “sage” may show in apparent tolerance for questioning by his celebrity followers or the like, is typically no more real than one’s temporary mask shown at a news conference might be.

And beyond even any sagely “best behavior,” human transference and projection can create a “god” even out of a pile of shit—as Nityananda knew well. One cannot afford to go into any such “spiritual” environment with a naïvely positive attitude, hoping for the best, seeing only the good in others while ignoring the red flags for the bad, and trusting the guru-figure and his guards/henchmen to guide you right. For, such Pollyanna-ish behavior is exactly, without exaggeration, how Jonestowns (and Rajneeshpurams, and “true sanghas” such as Trungpa’s and Muktananda’s and Yogananda’s) get started.

No small part of what is supposed to separate mystics from the truly insane is exactly the ability to distinguish reality from their own fantasies or externalized voices/visions. Yet, that ability to distinguish is exactly what is apparently lacking in “astral moon cannibal slaves,” subtle Allied Forces, irreconcilable reincarnations of Leonardo da Vinci, sprightly leprechauns and Paulsen’s bad-science-fiction UFOs. And in that case, the relevant “sages” could potentially have simply imagined/hallucinated/self-hypnotized every step of their own “enlightening” spiritual experiences.

The preceding point makes the fact that a person can be simultaneously at a very high level of spiritual development, and at a very low level of conscious evolution along moral lines, essentially irrelevant. For, if one cannot tell the difference between “real” spiritual experiences and imagined ones, it is not simply one’s lack of moral development or the like which invalidates the supposed wisdom in the teachings and behaviors which are based on those same experiences.

By comparison, a clinical schizophrenic with a high level of moral or empathic development would still make a very dangerous leader or guru-figure. That is true however clearly the imagined “voice of God” might be speaking to him or her and then enforced on the world “with integrity.” It is further true even if that voice is experienced as a nondual (e.g., One Taste) phenomenon by the mentally unstable individual. Conversely, if one is going to surrender one’s will to any guru-figure, one would hope to do better than an evaluation concluding, “Sure he’s psychotic, but he’s got a lot of integrity”!

One is then left with very little indeed to cling to in all of this. For, if even the widely recognized “best” Realizers apparently cannot distinguish between hallucination and their own ostensibly valid realizations, are lesser Realizers to be regarded as being more reliable?

Seen from that perspective, the most that any spiritual teacher can be is a decent, honest, unpretentious, even-tempered and caring human being, never “divinity in the flesh.” Yet, if even one-tenth of the allegations made against those figures are valid, the overwhelming majority of them would fail miserably at even that minimal, level-headed decency. Thus, the bulk of what they would wish to teach us by their own behaviors, no sensible person would want to learn.

So even let each of them be every bit as enlightened as they have claimed to be, then. (Again, if these top forty spiritual leaders are not so divine, who is?) It makes no difference; for, with the endemic reported character flaws which they bring to the table, who of them could ever do more good than harm in the world? What use, then, is their vaunted “enlightenment”? And, if anything like karma and reincarnation exist, who could suffer more for their alleged actions, in future lives, than such respected holy fools, from the “Christ-like” Ramakrishna on down?

The good news, though, is that none of these grandiose god-figures, playing unconvincingly at being holy, compassionate and wise, have any power whatsoever over anyone else other than what you, or I, would give to them. Without our obedient submission and credulous swallowing of their untenable claims and widespread exaggerations, they will dry up and blow away as if they had never existed.

Put another way: They need us much more than we need them.

Or, in the words of the formerly born-again Hustler magazine publisher, Larry Flynt (in Krassner, 1993):

I believe that Jesus was not a more important teacher than Buddha, and that neither Jesus nor Buddha is more important than any individual.

Please explicitly note one more thing: The apparently unstable and/or radically unreliable “best” sagely individuals considered herein are in large part exactly the same ones upon whose claims and authority the very existence of the realization called “enlightenment” is widely accepted. If they cannot be trusted in the testable details and paranormal claims, however, can they really be relied upon to accurately represent the higher realizations from which they have derived their greatest fame? If so very, very much of what even the most revered spiritual Realizers in the history of our globe have said or written was a probable hallucination, provable misrepresentation, or demonstrable exaggeration, can you really afford to take any of their claims “on faith”?

And if not, what are we to make of the ageless, high regard for the institution of gurus, and the belief that they can lead you to an enlightenment which they themselves most likely do not possess beyond mere self-delusion, via your unconditional obedience to them? Is such belief and surrender any more of a mature, rational approach to life than is the belief in receiving comparable secular gifts from Santa Claus, through following his instruction to be “nice” (i.e., obedient) rather than “naughty”?

I, personally, do not believe that it is.

Of course, for over a decade of my own life, I bought as fully as anyone into the “myth of the totally enlightened guru.” But in my own defense, I didn’t have access to the wide swath of information, as gathered herein, which would have convinced any rational, thinking person that the practitioners of the “guru game” are not in any way what they present themselves as being. Indeed, without the Internet and over five thousand hours of research, I still wouldn’t have it.

You, however, having gotten this far, do have easy access to that information. And you can save yourself, and those you care for, from undergoing a great deal of suffering, simply by using it wisely.

For, if we have learned one thing from Blaise Pascal, it is that “those who play at being angels, end up as animals.”

There may still be more to religion and spirituality than mere hallucination, dissociation, psychoses, transference, conformity, massive co-dependence, belongingness needs, and hierarchical outlets for power-tripping authoritarianism and “Rude Boy” sadism. But the sad fact is that the above principles would fully suffice to create exactly the situation which we see in the imprisoning guru/savior-influenced “spiritual world” around us. Indeed, they could not help but do so.

* * *

Christopher Reeve (2002) then summed up his noteworthy, common-sense conclusions regarding spirituality. (Reeve’s own genuine spiritual interests had previously led him to investigate both Muktananda and TM, in addition to Scientology.)

Gradually I have come to believe that spirituality is found in the way we live our daily lives. It means spending time thinking about others.

It should not take “Superman” to point out what the revered avatars and theoreticians within the spiritual marketplace have so clearly failed to put into practice for so long, messing up others’ lives in the process while congratulating themselves about their own supposedly shadow-less, “perfect” and nondual enlightenments. Of course, we all know that consideration for others is supposed to be a prerequisite for the spiritual path. That preliminary, however, is typically forgotten somewhere along the way to enlightenment:

[A]s I began to spend time with people who’d devoted many years to meditation, people who had built their lives around spiritual practices aimed at transcending the ego, I saw that they had many of the same difficulties I did. Few of them behaved more compassionately, sensitively, or selflessly than the majority of people I knew who didn’t meditate at all (Schwartz, 1996).

Robert Thurman (2004) told of his own related experiences with an acquaintance of his, widely known for being calm and holy, who had been excluding him from participating in the dialog at a conference she was leading. When questioned by another friend as to why he was not taking a more active role in the conversation, Thurman replied:

“I’d love to, but So-and-so won’t allow me to talk. It seems she has a bug in her ear about me!” I inflected my delivery in a nasty way, knowing full well that the friend in question, standing nearby, was overhearing what I was saying.
It was a petty and rude way to speak, it showed how poor my own self-control was, and I am ashamed to tell the story. However, the reaction of the leader was an even greater shock. She rushed up to me, stuck her furious face inches from mine, and shrieked at the top of her lungs, “F——you, Bob. F——you! How dare you say such a thing about me!”

Further, any enlightenment which can be negated not only by the consumption of alcohol (cf. Wilber, 2000a) but even by a bad cold (or staph infection) is an interesting type of awakening: “I used to be enlightened, but I caught the flu.” Indeed, that “fall” fully disproves the idea that “Great Masters, having attained their own enlightenment, meditate only for the good of others.” That is, if the “permanent” realization of that highest evolution can be lost by something as seemingly irrelevant as temporary bodily illness, meditative practice is obviously being continued in order to maintain that state, regardless of any sage’s protests that it is being done only “for others.”

Even without those concerns, however, the quantity of woefully ignorant advice and self-serving misrepresentation dispensed by our world’s “enlightened” individuals makes it impossible to ascribe any actual inherent wisdom or intelligence-guided compassion to that state. The dismal lack of commitment to reality in situations where it does not flatter the “enlightened” figure should be another blatant red flag in that regard. It should further underline the danger of subverting/surrendering one’s own judgment to the alleged “greater insight” of such individuals. Indeed, that warning exists wholly independent of arguments as to whether one is “childishly/blindly/submissively following” or “maturely/consciously surrendering and obeying” the same figures. For, bad advice from others is best resisted regardless of what one’s own flaws or present stage of psychological development may be.

On top of all that, if there are a mere dozen “deeply enlightened” Zen masters on the Earth right now, for example, that figure surely pales in comparison to the thousands if not millions of people who have had their lives devastated by the same paths—or even by the very same stick-wielding “wise masters.” The fact that such followers may too often lack the independence and initiative to realize how much they have given up in thus being willingly mistreated does not in any way excuse the actions of the “superior beings” who sit in authority over them.

Following in the footsteps of such “sagely” individuals, then, could hardly be a confident step toward alleviating even one’s own suffering. Much less could it be a sensible means of enacting a bodhisattva vow to liberate all others, for that same vow would surely imply easing others’ suffering on the average, not increasing it.

Of what use is any future or enlightenment that does not restore a just and fully human world? (Marin, 1995).

By contrast, in cultivating our own independence, learning from our own errors rather than “making other people’s mistakes,” and attempting to understand how our own actions affect others, we may at least know that we’re heading in the right direction as human beings. That is so even if such a direction is, in practice, too often the exact opposite of where the “spiritually enlightened” guru-figures of this world, and their apologists, would have us obediently go.

Further, real life provides more than enough “learning experiences” for each one of us, should we choose to take advantage of those toward introspection and personal change. No one needs a guru-figure or a constricting, independence-robbing ashram to fabricate crises for that.

I described to my friends my own disillusionment with spiritual practice, and my discovery that craving and greed infect the spiritual life just as they do every other aspect of life. “What I thought I was leaving behind,” I said, “I found right here [at Kripalu]—the kleshas [afflictions], the erroneous beliefs, creating new spiritual knots” (Cope, 2000).

As Butterfield (1994) then reasonably concluded, after years of devotedly following Trungpa and his successor, Osel Tendzin:

I gave up trying to base personal relationships on dharma consciousness, or the bodhisattva ideal, neither of which led to my establishing an enduring bond with another human being. Instead I looked for what I could do at any given moment to respect and care about myself and others, communicate honestly, and live my needs and experiences as they actually arose, with no thought that I was on a spiritual journey or had to bring everything to an all-consuming path.

Or, as Carlos Castaneda’s potential successor—who later wisely repudiated that role—came to realize:

[M]y incursion in the world of Carlos Castaneda gave me many things. It showed me the reality of relying on yourself and not projecting your fantasies upon others. It showed me that the only true magic is “ordinary magic” and that the most important thing in life is the way we treat each other (Tony Karam, in [Wallace, 2003]).

Deborah Boehm (1996; italics added), following her own experiences with Zen Buddhism in Japan, likewise noted:

I realized now that any enlightenment I might ever attain would come from living, from making mistakes, from thinking things through, just as the most valuable lessons I had learned in Kyoto about how to be a less-flawed mortal mammal took place outside the meditation hall.

No new guru, no new religion, no new church or ostensibly channeled readings are needed for that, nor is their presence even beneficial toward real spiritual growth (whatever that might be). Rather, it is simply up to each one of us to use our own independence and intelligence to make the world a better place, and to make ourselves better people, with or without taking up meditation on top of that.

Monica Pignotti (1989) then opined, after spending half a decade in Scientology:

I know that no one is going to give me the answers to life. I now realize that I have a mind that is fully capable of guiding me through the decisions I make in life and I will never put anyone or anything above what I know and feel. I now know the techniques that are [allegedly] used to control people’s minds and that people exist in this world that have no compunction about using these techniques to manipulate people.... My life and my mind are now my own and I will never give them up again.

Those are very hard lessons to learn for any man or woman who, too trustingly, wants to believe in the “myth of the totally enlightened guru.” But anyone who simply keeps questioning what he or she has been told by the authorities on any spiritual path will eventually come to exactly the same conclusions and resolve. It is inevitable, for the long-extant reported information can lead to no other end.

So let each of us then go our own way, following our hearts, utilizing unbiased, multi-perspectival reason to the best of our abilities, and courageously speaking truth as best we can, regardless of whether or not that fits into “the world according to” any “enlightened” sage’s authoritarian view of reality.

That may not be a flawless way of proceeding but, after all that we have seen herein, it couldn’t get much worse.

So let’s do what we can to make it better.

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