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The Gentle Art of Not Creating A Cult

 

By George A. Boyd ©2001

If spiritual leaders and others who work with the human psyche are to avoid creating cults, they must watch what they ask their followers to do in their prayers and meditations. Certain ways of locking attention into altered states of consciousness aim to take control of people's lives, emotions, beliefs, and spirituality. A spiritual seeker is urged to look for the following manipulations of attention used in cultic groups:

Instillation of fear - the group leader and followers instruct the aspirants that their spirits will be damned, or their Souls will be cast into hell if they do not adhere to specified beliefs, follow prescribed rituals, or keep the attention continually focused on the spirit.

Continual exposure to spiritual discourse and "holy company" - aspirants are urged to remain with members of the group at all times ("holy company"), read doctrinal materials and listen to sermons and discourses daily, and relate to others from the spiritual perspective, e.g., to be an exemplar of the faith.

Labeling the ego and personality as evil - when the ego and personality are labeled as evil, sinful, being in "the mind", or being in "illusion" (Maya), aspirants believe that they must remain in an altered state of consciousness to transcend these negative states. Aspirants are taught only to dwell on what is good, e.g., the altered state of consciousness fostered in the group.

Maintenance of attentional absorption - by continually watching the breath, repeating a mantra with the attention (japa or simran), "praying without ceasing", "speaking in an unknown tongue" (glossolalia), singing spiritual songs or hymns, or chanting, the attention is abstracted from normal waking awareness into an altered state of consciousness. [What becomes a problem is not occasional use of these practices, but day-in, day-out, meditation and prayer during every waking moment.]

Language manipulation - by learning a secretive, symbolic language and translating all elements of experience into that frame of reference, aspirants are led to relate to the world from an alternative context. They view the world from the perspective of the philosophy or belief system they have embraced, and no longer relate from the standpoint of their own experience. They may come to look to this doctrine to inform them what judgments are "correct", and what choices to make in all areas of life.

Manipulation of beliefs and mystification - by instilling beliefs that engender shame, guilt, self-abasement, aspirants can be coaxed into a form of spiritual slavery. All actions, feelings and thoughts become subject to the scrutiny of the group leader, and sometimes, to the group members, through confession rituals. This is often coupled with mystification, where symbolic language such as myths and parables come to replace rational thinking; sacred rituals and global prescription for behavior supplant individual decision-making and setting individual goals; and demonic forces are blamed instead of people taking responsibility for their own lives and behavior.

Trapping the mind - through powerful hypnotic suggestions, or keeping the kundalini shakti aroused, aspirants' attention becomes fixed in an altered state of consciousness. Locked in deep inner absorption, they are unable to return to normal waking awareness. In this induced trance state, personality functions are effectively suspended. The aspirant has now become a zombie.

In the Mudrashram® system of Integral meditation, we specifically warn against and practice avoiding these types of manipulation. If you encounter in your spiritual search teachers who are manipulating you in these ways, asking you to remain in sustained altered states of consciousness, your spiritual red flag should immediately go up. You may be involved in religious cult.

If you suspect you have gotten involved in a religious cult, stop what you are doing, excuse yourself, and leave. Your life is a terrible thing to waste, lost in the abusive, dream-like world of a religious cult.

Preventing Religious Cults

To avoid these pitfalls, spiritual teachers and those who work intimately with the psyche of human beings, such as psychotherapists, hypnotherapists, ministers, healers, and metaphysical counselors, should:

Avoid frightening or intimidating a spiritual seeker. Base nothing on blind faith. Let aspirants test all claims and theories on the touchstone of truth and through their own experience.

Avoid group pressure to remain in altered states of consciousness. Give seekers permission to remain in their normal state of awareness without a demand for them to enter and remain in an altered state of awareness.

Don't demonize the personality and the ego. The personality is an aspect of the Soul, and deserves to be developed like the spiritual essence. The survival drives of the ego are hard-wired to ensure that the physical body remains safe—and that is a good thing. It tries to prevent you from being injured or dying. It is OK to be human, to be a person, to be limited, mortal, fallible and less than Divine.

Practice attentional absorption for brief periods only. Meditate to accomplish specific and delimited objectives for self-study, communion with the spirit, unfolding of spiritual potentials. After that objective is accomplished, aspirants should be led to return to normal waking awareness.

Be sensitive to the filters language imposes on perception. When giving spiritual teaching or guiding aspirants into alternate perspectives and higher identity states, lead them back to their grounded frame of orientation. Don't leave them in a state of "union with their Higher Self"; bring them back to the room. Make sure they are re-oriented to the environment, in the present time, fully embodied and responsive.

Treat people with courtesy and respect. Don't shame them. Don't make them feel guilty. Don't belittle or degrade them. If you are not a priest, a pastoral counselor, or a psychotherapist, don't ask people to confess their sins to you.

Don't mystify, communicate. If you are going to use symbols and metaphors, explain them so people can understand what you are trying to communicate.

Cut out the hocus pocus. You probably don't need elaborate rituals, special "spiritual" garments, sacred objects or talismans to teach people about their essential nature. People probably don't need a spiritual name to commune with the Divine, either.

Encourage personal responsibility. Stop blaming demons and devils for everything that goes wrong. Encourage people to live sane, healthy, normal lives and to take responsibility for their own behavior and lives.

Limit the use of hypnosis. Use hypnosis for specific behavioral or belief changes for therapeutic purposes only.

Bring them back to the grounded state. If you guide others to awaken their kundalini shakti, bring it back down to its ground state… please? Do not encourage aspirants to remain in trance states. Certainly do not lock aspirants' minds in a hypnotic trace or in an altered state of consciousness. We need fully functioning human beings, not tranced-out zombies in the world.

 

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