Mudrashram Institute of Spiritual Studies
in Religion: The Challenge
By George A. Boyd ©1990
Meditation is used in some form in each of the religious traditions of humankind. Meditation, when used with an understanding of its aims and purposes, can free you to contact your own spirituality. Meditation, when used as an tool to indoctrinate and control in the name of religion or cultic groups, can enslave. It is important to understand that there is a difference between spirituality and religion: spirituality is innate, and religion is cultural.
The Yoga of the Seven Mudras
[The Yoga of the Seven Mudras is another name for the Mudrasram® system of Integral meditation. This name comes from the seven light immersion sittings in the first class, the Mudrasram® Master Course in Medition.]
The Yoga of the Seven Mudras is based on the recognition of innate spirituality: how to contact it, how to develop it in a balanced way, how to integrate it into human life. These techniques can be adapted with minor adaptations to any religious context, because, in spite of the cultural overlay of religion, the gem of the Soul still shines brightly within. It is not a religion.
The Yoga of the Seven Mudras is not a religion because it respects you too much to frighten you or coerce you into following these teachings, or to dictate your lifestyle, your thinking, your morality or your behavior. For example, it does not tell you Whom or What to worship. It does not tell you what to pray. It does not specify how you should live or what you should believe (except for giving you ideas to help you develop a stronger meditation practice). It does not hold the teachings in this book are the inspired Word of the Almighty (scripture), nor does it inveigh upon you to read scripture or this book as the source of guidance in all of your affairs. It does not condemn you to fiery netherworlds or the terrors of transmigration if you fail to believe in the teachings of this book, adopt its specified belief systems or practices, or live up to the author's personal ethical standards. It does not set up a unitary Savior figure for you to worship and obey. [The Masters of the Mudrashram lineage recognize the validity of the work of the Divine through all lineages in Subtle, Planetary, Cosmic, Supracosmic, and Transcendental Spheres. Any association with the Mudrashram lineage, must be and always will be entirely voluntary.] Finally, and gratefully, it does not set up the author as your new Savior!
It was through an analysis of the shortcomings of indoctrination practices in religious and cultic groups that the Mudrashram system of teaching was developed. The Yoga of the Seven Mudras gives basic models to understand the potential development of consciousness. It aims for an experiential understanding of spirituality, an inner mapping of the vehicles of consciousness by those who study and practice its methods, without attempting to create rituals, doctrine, or a mythology. It is an initiatory system imparting the Grace-Bestowing Power of the Divine, but a student can still gain much value from reading and practicing these techniques from the book without the sittings. It is a ministry of the forces of the Spirit without ceremony and without fanfare, open to those who choose to come to partake of it.
Religion as a Conditioning Agency
For purposes of this essay, we shall define a religion as a belief system that posits a supernatural agency, power or idea behind the manifestation of human affairs and the universe. Religion dictates moral standards, correct doctrines of belief, and delimits acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It sets up living or dead individuals as ideal models for its adherents to emulate. It may require attendance of its followers at a regular set of meetings, ceremonies, or rituals. It admonishes its adherents to worship or respect representations or human representatives of the supernatural agency, power, or idea. It expounds human duty and purpose. Over time, it may come to influence laws and the policies of government, dress, social custom, language and education, indeed, the entire warp and woof of the fabric of society.
A cultic group is a gathering of adherents around a charismatic individual with a religious teaching or belief system. It varies from mainstream religion in that it may claim a special Divine revelation, or an exclusive access to imminent or present Divine Advent. In addition, it commonly insists its followers undergo secret rites, rituals, or initiation ceremonies. It prevalently uses elaborate procedures for information control. It can separate its followers from their families and normal social duties or roles, substituting the cultic group as family, or assigning responsible duties or roles within the cultic group. Its doctrine oftentimes creates feelings of exclusivity, superiority or 'specialness' for its adherents. The charismatic individual may largely guide the individual members' decision-making by directly, by instruction or commandment; or indirectly, through group pressure to rigidly adhere to doctrine. The austerity imposed on members can be more severe than traditional religion, and the indoctrination period more intensive. Often, a cultic group will insist on a rebirth or conversion experience, creating a sense of new identity for the convert and separation his or her former life and personality. A cultic group frequently teaches its members to remain in an altered state of consciousness as much as possible.
Because the cultic group is smaller and has less influence than a religion, it may be viewed by the dominant culture as a deviant or fanatical group. However, cultic groups do dominate entire societies, influencing every aspect of religious and political life. The results can be devastating: for example, the aftermath of the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini, or Adolph Hitler. [Scholars have documented Hitler's immersion in the occult].
Religion acts as a conditioning agency by influencing: 1) will, 2) social or cultural norms, 3) morality and values, 4) perception of the physical and spiritual worlds, 5) belief, 6) emotionality and spirituality, and 7) behavior.
Religion conditions will by creating a "forced choice" scenario, where a person must choose between accepting religion or some aversive and terrifying stimulus, such as "God's wrath", "suffering", "hell", or "transmigration". It also "stacks the deck" to make the religious option appear more palatable by using testimonies of people who have had "miraculous transformations" or "wonderful inner experiences" or having had some other experience desirable to the pre-convert, to make the choice for joining the religion appear even more positive.
Social and cultural norms are conditioned by religion when adherents of a particular religion go out into their careers and social roles, and use the religion's values in dictating policies, rules, or laws. For example, beliefs about acceptable language and sexuality mold rules for censorship in reading material, music and the media. Beliefs about acceptable food express as items excluded in a lunch menu for school children, such as eliminating pork, or traditionally serving fish on Fridays.
Religion exhorts strict codes of morality for its adherents, and urges the practice of virtuous behaviors. This training in right and wrong is internalized as an individual's personal values, and may come to influence choices throughout his or her life. Since certain behaviors, attitudes, and motivations have been labeled as "evil", the individual faces internal discomfort or dissonance, the "pricks of conscience", whenever his or her natural inclinations to act, speak, feel, or think, in "forbidden" ways, arise when he or she is "tempted" choose "wicked" options.
We may note that until an individual gets in touch with his or her innate sense of truth, conscience is for the most part constructed from the admonitions of parents, peers, educators, employers, authorities, and by religious education. The inner sense of truth, or Dharma, in contrast, is developed by meditation. Inner truth promotes wisdom and understanding of the laws of nature and consciousness, congruent with the genuine needs of his or her person and organism.
Perception of the external environment by a nervous system that is not compromised by illness, fatigue or intoxication reveals a fairly consistent world. Belief about one's abilities and one's self (self image), and the cognitive labeling of objects as "safe" or "dangerous", or as "good for you" or "bad for you" come to build distinct attitudes about objects, people, places and situations. Through this cognitive map of the environment created by belief, people no longer see, hear, or feel what is actually "out there". What they see is a construct based on their fears that stem from past experience and "training", their current attitudinal biases, and their expectations (hopes) or anxieties about what will happen. Since religion so strongly dictates what to believe about the world and what is good and evil, religion has a powerful impact in molding the perceptions an individual has of his or her world revealed by the senses.
Even more powerfully, religion has a powerful impact on the perception of an individual's inner world by specifying what "correct" cosmology or world view to believe. Thus the individual's inner sky may be painted with "the Trinity, Heaven, and the hosts of angels", or "the Void, The Primal (Adi) Buddha, the five Meditation (Dhyani) Buddhas, and the realms (lokas) of the sentient beings. As we will discuss later, religion reifies this perception by having the individual use rituals, prayers, or meditations to interact with these symbols and archetypal forms, and the "beings", "spirits", "deities", "gods", or "powers" that inhabit its chosen cosmology. In the Yoga of the Seven Mudras we teach that an individual needs to discover what actually is in his or her inner worlds, and create his or her own map, rather than having it specified by an authority.
We have mentioned the influence that religion has on beliefs shaping social and cultural norms, morality, perception of self (self-image), environment, and cosmology. Religion shapes beliefs by associating stimuli with strong positive emotions (exultation, ecstasy, joy, blessedness, total serenity) or strong negative emotions (disgust, horror, terror, rage, shame, condemnation, revulsion), thus creating a wide duality between right and wrong, "our religion's true way" and "their way, which is sinful and in error". Note that the items which are held out as "evil" are associated with strong negative emotions and terrifying or disgusting images, and those that are "good" are associated with positive emotions, and images of goodness, virtue, and praiseworthiness.
Religion captures emotionality by bringing the listener into participatory relationship with the speaker. Religion does not talk in the "I" voice, it is always "you" or "they". "You" are addressed directly, and "you" are told about the error of "your" ways, and what supernatural catastrophes await "you" if "you" fail to follow the correct behavior and belief. Otherwise, the argument continues, "you" will wind up like "them", whose abject and miserable state is described to you in exquisite and excruciating detail. Tale after tale of woe and misery and suffering is described to "you" in a sorrowful voice, and after awhile you come to see yourself in these stories, and identify with the pain of your own suffering.
Religion then offers its beliefs, its practices, its powerful spiritual agencies, as your panacea, "your way out" from this suffering. Note that your attention has been focused on your suffering by this speech. You were not remembering your suffering before, but suddenly, midway into the speech, you are engaged: you are feeling your own depression and misery. You might have been in a good mood coming into the hall or meeting place, but now you have been sucked into an encounter with your own pain. Then suddenly, you are offered a miraculous "way out", and escape from pain. All "you" have to do is "choose" to do what "we" (the saved, the initiated, the twice born) request that "you" do. This ongoing request for new commitments and "choices" drags you deeper and deeper into involvement with religion. Eventually, you may be "led" to become a renunciant, a monk or nun, in which case a superior or "Master" will help dictate every decision of your life: what to think, how to believe, and what to do in every situation. Does this sound like mind control or brainwashing to you? It is.
Spiritually, conditioning takes place by selecting one of the twelve domains as the place to focus on your spiritual heart or spirit. Specific prayers, visualizations, and meditations are used to direct your attention to this level. Religion describes a "correct" cosmology in which the spirit dwells and "true" path for you to follow. There are guides and helpful agencies at every level in the continuum of consciousness, but religion specifies the only guides you "should" listen to and which spiritual agencies you "should" invoke or emulate.
The powerful influence that religion has on belief, cultural norms, morality, perception, and emotions, strongly affects behavior. This is seen both in "pious" or "holy" behavior while in the church or temple congregation or at proscribed ceremonies or rituals, in the prayer or meditation room or altar at home, and in interactions with other people in daily life.
Finding Your Own Truth
That religion conditions belief, value and behavior is not being labeled as wrong here. Indeed, the exhortation of virtuous behavior may have preserved humanity from an even more dire and anarchic existence, where there are no controls on violence, lust, cruelty and greed. What is being pointed out to you, the reader, is how religion conditions people, and how you may have been conditioned by it.
I would challenge to critically examine your beliefs, your values, and how you think and behave. I would urge you to make your own choices, not pressured by anyone, about what and who you want to become, and what seems genuinely true to you. This perception of truth is based upon your own experience, inquiry, insight, and intuition. It is not my truth, not "Muslim" truth, not "Christian" truth, not "Buddhist" truth, not "Hindu" truth, not "Jewish" truth, but your truth.