“I’m curious about the inner life of spiritual teachers themselves. Of course, this is impossible to know with any certainty, but if they put themselves in this position, how much self-awareness do they really have?
As someone said, “The clowns [in the Spiritual Circus] are innocent. They believe the skit that’s written on the programme. They have to believe it. Because if they saw [that] they’re not holding anything . . . and they stayed there, then they must be miserable sons of bitches, feeding off the attention of the confused.”
Meaning that these teachers, like so many others, really believe that enlightenment is a thing you can be and that they are it.
Even people who say, “I’m not offering anything” have websites, sell books and hold satsang-like meetings where fans and devotees can listen to them talk about how not dual they are for hours on end.
I guess what I’m asking is how these people who claim to be free of delusion can still, in many ways, seem so deluded. Do they just not see it? Once they have that bright flash of insight, does it become assimilated into that ideology, even if they believe they are beyond all ideologies?
Am I just being judgmental? Do you have any thoughts?”
There’s something you should understand which will permanently re-frame the way you look at authority figures altogether:
EVERYBODY is delusional.
The only difference is one of degrees. Some are less delusional than others. By how much? To what extent? In what aspects or areas of life or understanding? This varies from person to person.
So, while you may be suffering from your delusions, just know that the person towards whom you turn to seek advice is ALSO a delusional person. Your best hope is that he/she is less delusional than you are. Or at best, has some clarity in those areas of life in which you seem to lack it.
But to look at someone and expect them to be wholly sane and thus, reliable, is a mistake. You cannot rely on them because you don’t know the delusions they suffer from. They may be presenting in a wholesome and psychologically integrated manner but that outward presentation is most likely a cover-up for the inner tension and chaos they experience. You are better off trusting someone who presents an outwardly messy and muddled exterior because that way you know they aren’t investing their resources on curating a persona for your consumption.
The way seekers look at gurus is the way children look at their parents. When I was a child my parents seemed to have it all “figured out”. And even when shit hit the fan and their dysfunctions rose to the surface, my child’s psyche grappled to come to terms with the fact that they were imperfect people. It’s only when I became an adult did I come to see just how clueless they themselves were. They were just winging it like I was.
All these gurus and spiritual teachers are also just winging it like you are. They haven’t figured anything of real consequence out. At best, they’ve figured out how not to have a miserable time in life. How not to make a total mess of it.
You asked me what the inner life of these teachers is like. How much self-awareness do they really have?
While this is speculative, I’d be willing to bet my last penny that it’s not really all that different from yours or mine. No matter what experiences they’ve had, no matter how many earth-shattering revelations into the nature of reality and self, certain basic structures will continue to exist:
– There will still be a functioning sense of self and accompanying self-image
– This sense of self will still require protection, promotion and some amount of attention
– There will still be a fear of the unknown and a discomfort with uncertainty
– There will still be strategies to mitigate that uncertainty and explain the unknown
– There will still be several unconscious programs and patterns of behaviour
– There will still be several unconscious beliefs driving their self-image and perception of others
– There will still be a desire to achieve “pleasurable” experiences and avoid “painful” experiences (although how pleasure and pain are defined may vary dramatically from person to person)
– There will still be an unconscious desire to resolve the cognitive dissonance caused by conflicting self-interests
– Self-interest will still be a significant driving factor in one’s endeavors no matter how “selfless” one appears to be
– There will still be difficult emotions like anger, fear, jealousy, envy, anxiety and dread
– There will still be a distortion of self-image based on how other people react to it
– The self- image will still feel inflated when others react favorably and will still feel deflated when others react unfavorably
– There will still be a significant desire to control how others perceive them
– There will still be a tendency to objectify other people in order to utilize them in some way
– There will still be a tendency to control events and circumstances in order to influence desired outcomes
These are certain UNIVERSAL aspects of the inner life of a human being (that the enlightened ones claim to have transcended). It manifests in varying degrees in people. Very little of it can be short-circuited. No matter how much self-awareness one develops, one cannot sidestep this basic mechanism that has been hardcoded into our consciousness.
While these aspects of our inner lives are universal, there may be differences in how people REACT to this knowledge.
One may develop an acceptance that this is just HOW THINGS ARE. There isn’t a whole lot of choice in how these programs evolve and operate. And as a result of that acceptance, one may experience a sense of existential relaxation about the whole deal of “being this person” that one is. One may just choose not to struggle against it, but rather simply observe it all with greater curiosity and interest.
What this attitude of “existential relaxation” leads to is a LIGHTENING UP in one’s day to day experience. There is a lack of seriousness about oneself or the world. One is not devastated that things are broken nor is one celebrating things that are going well. One understands that all of this is just the nature of the beast we call “life”.
And this mind, being a manifestation of that same life, is similarly dysfunctional in certain aspects and functional in others. One is not overly invested in becoming “perfectly functional”; as if perfect functioning were the goal of life. Instead, one is more interested in observing and understanding the interplay between all the factors and facets that exist within us: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Being an imperfect or a dysfunctional human being who doesn’t have it “all figured out” is certainly nothing to be ashamed of because EVERYONE is like that. When one recognizes this deeply, achieving or claiming “enlightenment” or some other superior state of awareness (call it “awakened or whatever) becomes the absolute LEAST thing of value.
The kind of people who have developed an acceptance around their own innate imperfection are NOT the ones lining up for spiritual teaching jobs. It’s the ones who are desperate to believe such perfection exists, who are. Many of them have simply loitered around the satsang scene for so long that they feel it’s time for a promotion. Time to leave the infantry behind and become an officer. Others have developed such sophisticated psychological mechanisms of denial that they literally CAN’T SEE the glaring imperfections and flaws within them.
Your quote about the clowns in the spiritual circus is correct:
Either a teacher is completely ignorant about themselves just like the student is and they are blindly believing in this state of perfection called “enlightenment”, in which case it’s just a case of the blind leading the blind. Or he/she knows FULL WELL that it’s a sham but they’re doing it ANYWAYS because they get something out of it – which makes them quite a shitty person.
This latter attitude is quite rampant in the self-help industry.
Some billionaire sharing his tips for financial success is obviously going to leave out all the details about the bad investments, the shady deals and the people they’ve had to throw under the bus to get to where they are.
Similarly, many of these guru types are consummately concealing their own flaws, inhibitions, fears, doubts, confusions and ulterior motives. And what that communicates to the people following them is that THEY DON’T HAVE ANY.
Of course, this concealing of the darker aspects of our inner lives is not unusual. We all do it to a certain extent. But when one is in the public eye and is, literally, the object of emulation and admiration, the stakes to conceal that darker side go up exponentially. And when one puts oneself on a pedestal of “enlightenment” or awakened awareness, then one has no choice but to shut that dark side in an iron vault and throw away the key.
This is why spiritual teachers can often be so destructive to their students and their communities. Because when one uses that much energy to repress one’s own imperfect humanity, the backlash effect of all that repressed energy is EXPLOSIVE. When all that anger, anxiety, jealousy, doubt, envy, shame, fear and confusion is suppressed so violently in order to maintain an exterior of perfect peace and knowing, it turns RADIOACTIVE.
SPIRITUALITY AS A FORM OF OPPRESSION
Spirituality has become this tool with which to deny our humanity: as if our humanity is the problem. I look at all the things that are vilified by these spiritual paths: our emotions, our attachments, our desires, our personal worlds, our own selves. And I can’t help but wonder what kind of sick, twisted mind came up with such a “spirituality”.
Yes, our humanity is paradoxical; often muddled and chaotic, never easy, deeply painful at times. But it is also rich and diverse beyond belief.
To me, my emotions are like music. My attachments are intense and fulfilling. My desires are powerful and revelatory. My personal world is a wonderland. Being my self is a beautiful privilege and a unique opportunity for expression.
Sure, I could come up with a non-dual alternative reality in which to (non)exist and focus so much energy on denying every one of these aspects in my life that pretty soon I could become completely desensitized to it all, including my self. But why? And to what end? To realize the “absolute perfection” of all that exists?
It already IS perfect to me JUST the way it is.
I watched about ten minutes of a Ramana Maharishi documentary on youtube last night. And even though the documentary was heavily tinted with a blind reverence for the man, the thing that watching it evoked from me was not reverence. It was sadness and pity. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen actual film footage of Ramana and it was like watching a holocaust video.
The man’s body appeared devastated, his muscles completely atrophied. His legs were like two long stilts that he could hardly walk on, his knees didn’t bend. He used a stick to support himself when walking with his disciples and his hips looked like they were locked in place. His skin sagged loosely and his bones appeared frail and about to break at any moment.
And the thought that appeared in my mind was, “did you really hate your body THAT much that you allowed it to deteriorate in this way?”
What kind of ideology has to hijack an organism’s brain in order to subject itself to that degree of torture and deprivation in order to prove WHAT? That the “self” is an illusion? That one can transcend suffering?
This guy, who can barely hold himself up and whose body is literally collapsing under its own weight, is counselling other people on “suffering”?
That to me is not spirituality – it is OPPRESSION. To debase the organism in that manner, to defile one’s own body and neglect it so insensitively is a kind of madness.
So, while he may have had a lot of philosophical insight – Ramana, who most consider the greatest of all teachers, whom most contemporary teachers are scrambling to establish a lineage to, strikes me as a deeply flawed and misguided soul himself – even if he was capable of brilliant insight.
EVERYONE is delusional.
And when you get this, you will understand that you cannot make your own delusional mind someone else’s responsibility, because they have their hands full with their own delusions. And if they take on that responsibility of dealing with your delusions for you, you are inadvertently signing up for dealing with theirs.
Better a known devil than an unknown one.
The only thing a person can offer another by way of “guidance” is to share their own experience of life and living. And that requires them to be honest. To portray themselves as the works in progress that they really are. To lead by example.
And in response, witnessing such an open willingness to take responsibility for one’s own imperfect humanity, the listener may feel inspired to similarly open up to their own.
For spirituality, to me, is simply that:
Embracing the ESSENCE of what it means to be “human” – the good, the bad and the ugly.