Monday, April 8, 2013
Trees fall down
Charismatic leaders obscure this issue; yet we live in a culture determined to (as Paul Simon said in his song, The Boy In The Bubble, from Graceland), throw another hero up the pop chart. Religious organizations are no exception to this law; they just think they are.
Because people in spiritual works routinely delude themselves into believing that they are engaged in loftier, more magical enterprises than others, they don't see their hierarchies as a pop chart, and they don't see their gurus as the objects of idolatry that they actually come to represent. Charismatic leaders arise in most organizations and works, and they distract people. The whole enterprise actually becomes a sinkhole deeply invested in ego which completely disguises itself as a non-egoistic, or ego-deplenishing, activity.
What is the problem with this? It can be stated quite simply.
When one becomes fascinated with seeing how another person is, one stops seeing how one is one's self.
My own teacher, Betty Brown, warned of this problem over and over again. Throughout her strictly nominal position as one of the leaders of my group, she consistently warned us about becoming starry-eyed over the organization itself. Her view was that people became so hypnotized by organizations and their activities that they forget to live; that they forget what real life, outside life, with all of the inevitable conditions it presents, is. One thinks one is "waking up;" but one has just become even more deeply hypnotized by a new and more powerful force. She once acerbically commented to me that in most groups she knew, if the leader told the group members to march over a cliff, they would do it.
The crippling effect such devotion ends up having on an organization once the charismatics die can be devastating. When one allows or even encourages such dependencies to develop, one is erecting a house of cards. Anyone who attracts so much attention that others begin to see them as a guru of some kind is already a danger to everyone around them, and to the organization itself.
In an inner sense, one should instinctively shun such environments. Instead, one ought to attentively direct one's energy towards the inner path of one's own heart, according to what measure of inner openness God may confer, remaining as deaf as possible to the allurements of outer agents.
In the end, if I don't remain true to myself, there is nothing going on — and this was Betty's message to us, year after year. "What would you do," she used to say as we sat in rapt attention, "if this building closed its doors forever tomorrow morning?"
Her point was that inner work is never about an organization or a charismatic leader; it is always about one's relationship with life and with God. Anything — absolutely anything — that allures or distracts from this principle is dangerous, and so are individuals who encourage or establish cults of personality.
I feel a desperate inner distress whenever I see individuals who sit in front of spiritual gatherings, pontifically delivering snotty proclamations. Often, they are putdowns disguised as spiritual truths; a situation any skeptic will see at once, but which the devoted followers invariably swallow whole without blinking. Too often, they emanate from a pretension that has nothing to do with the supposedly noble sentiments they espouse. Too often, what is said sounds very important, until one ponders a while and realizes that it is nothing more than pablum.
A real effort at critical thinking which evaluates statements that are made by supposedly enlightened individuals reveals that many statements are doggerel which one can pick up just about anywhere; things that sound meaningful, but fail to bear up under any intelligent examination. We love soundbites; and everyone is in love with the Zen stories about the master who cuts through reality with a single phrase, striking to the heart of truth like a warrior with a sword that slays 10,000 foes at one blow.
This kind of thinking is horse manure, the direct product of a society enculturated to believe you can get something quickly, and for very little. True insight is a very rare thing. Anyone who thinks they will gain it magically without years of consistent and serious effort, including a great deal of thought, should give up spiritual work and take up gardening.
When true insight comes, it's not going to come because of what the guru said. It comes from one's own inner effort and devotion to God.
Many things can go wrong in inner development; and individuals can reach a high level of development without developing the emotional parts that are in the greatest need of development. If these emotional parts are not properly developed, everything else goes horribly wrong, sometimes even while it looks as if it is going very right. The garden path here is a long one, and there are many tourists lured onto it. Everyone loves all the bright, colorful flowers; so no one notices the slugs.
For myself, I am certain that if inner work is not conducted with an outer attitude of gentleness— of love, compassion, and understanding— it is a damaged property, posing as something it has not really attained.
May your soul be filled with light.