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 Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers

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Posts : 1617
Join date : 2010-11-13
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PostSubject: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Tue Nov 30, 2010 11:03 pm

I decided to write in some detail about my time a fewyears after I departed because it directly relates to the experiences of manyof those that left Shasta AND to what is going on in the OBC organizationnow.

Spiritual organizations like Shasta live out the shadowof their founder – for decades, sometimes even centuries. The unresolved psychological issues of theguru become the dominant style of the group, affecting all aspects of how theorganization treats its members and relates to the outside world. And to the extent the organization is blindand in denial to the founder’s shadow, the continuous consequences become allthe more destructive and unconscious.

What many of us experienced with Kennett in the mid-70’sat Shasta appears to have continued with the OBC right through to the presentday. My first-hand knowledge ended in1977, but based on many accounts posted on this website, Kennett’s death didn’tsignificantly change her creation.

Same circus, different clowns.

This is true for many religious and culticorganizations. When the essential“story” is institutionalized and daily drummed into the hearts and minds of thefollowers, the players can come and go, but they are replaying the same dramaover and over again. We see this inJapanese Zen, the Catholic Church, and in many other religions. These religious dramas are enshrined inrituals, stained glass windows, holy books and the mythology takes the place ofreality.

As the great psychologist Carl Jung noted, “Unfortunatelythere can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagineshimself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodiedin the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If aninferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore,it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continuallysubjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated fromconsciousness, it never gets corrected.”

Jung’s final sentence is the key: When a shadow is denied, cut off fromconscious life and everyday awareness, it never gets corrected. It never gets integrated. It never gets acknowledged. It becomes more unconscious, more powerfuland is projected out into the world, on other people, into society.

Kennett was a clear example of this in action – made allthe worse by the mythology of the perfect zen master and then tragicallyreinforced by blind obedience from enabling followers. The combination made it impossible for her toeven begin to face her fears, anxieties, doubts and human nature – and insteadpersist in the pretense that she had no self/persona /shadow.

Now to sharing some of my relevant experience from thelate 1970s:

In 1979, when I returned to live in Berkeley (the city ofmy birth), I started a support group called SORTING IT OUT. It was active for about 3 years, butcontinues to have effects even now. Along with my buddy Susan Rothbaum (an old friend who had been a layresident at the Abbey for a while), SORTING IT OUT was created for leave-takers, those who had been involvedwith all kinds of spiritual organizations -- gurus, masters, communes, ashrams, monasteries – Buddhist,Hindu, New Age, Christian, occult, psychological, you name it….

Over the three year period, we met with well over 1,000people, heard their stories, and helped them digest their experiences. I also became a kind of media expert onauthoritarian organizations and would sometimes alert 60 Minutes, Newsweek orthe New York Times when I discovered an important story that neededtelling. I helped break exposes onRajneesh, “Zen Master” Rama, Muktananda, Da Free John, and other random culticorganizations and gurus.

I became a home grown expert on the shadow side of modernAmerican spirituality, of guru-based organizations, on how organizations becomeprogressively more cultic, on how spiritual leaders can lose their way andsuccumb to grandiosity, becoming delusional tyrants. What I was seeing was first-hand accounts ofspirituality gone awry.

I created SORTINT IT OUT first for my own sanity andsecondly, to help others who were going through similar experiences. The genesis of this support group came when Iwas living in Atlanta the year after I left Shasta. I was just beginning to make new friends,find my way back into normal daily life. At a party hosted by the local food co-op, I was chatting with a woman Ihad met at the Co-op, she asked about my background and I started to share mystory of leaving the monastery. For the first time, I talked more openly aboutsome of the intense internal issues, explaining that my Zen experience was acomplex mixture of positive and negative, light and dark. Yes, I had profoundly benefited from the Zenteachings and meditation, but at the same time, I told her how authoritarian,unkind and unhealthy the community and teacher had become. I was telling her how I was in the process ofwrestling with the contradictory experiences and trying to know for myself whatwas real and true and what was the irrelevant and harmful.

She listened for a few minutes and then burst into tears– a reaction I hadn’t expected. She saidthat she knew exactly what I was talking about. She told me that for 5 years, she had been in a large ashram led by afamous charismatic “perfect master” and had left only a few months ago. She related how life at the ashram had becomevery incredibly political with lots of in-fighting and factions. The master was worshipped as perfect, but shehad seen many examples of him screaming at devotees, demanding gifts andabsolute loyalty, slandering other teachers and often telling people that healone was the greatest living master in the last century.

When she left the community, she was ostracized by allthe followers she thought were her dear friends. No one was allowed to communicate withher. She was considered now a lost soulwith no hope at enlightenment. She saidshe felt “shell shocked” and told me how difficult it has been to figure outwhat had happened. She felt abused bythe organization, but still loved the meditation, yoga and much of the ancientphilosophy. She said that she couldn’tfind anyone to openly talk to about her experience until that moment. We commiserated for hours and what was clearwas how similar our experiences had been on the deeper levels, even though wehad been involved with different traditions and teachers.

During that year, I then met people from otherorganizations who also shared their stories. I made a reasonable guess that there probably thousands of leave-takersin the same boat – suffering various degrees of spiritual indigestion --sorting through their complex experience after leaving an organization likeShasta, or like my friend’s ashram. Andmost of them probably had no one to talk to about what they were going through.

As we know, during the late 60’s and early 70’s, therewas a small spiritual renaissance from the East in the U.S. and Europe. Gurus, Roshis, Swamis, Sadhus, Babas, Sufimasters, Rinpoches came to America and Europe. In addition, there were all kinds of new age organizations springing up,led by westerners who had been east or who had their own home-grown spiritualexperiences and decided to set up their own centers – many believed they werenow fully enlightened satgurus or sages.

Ram Dass went to India and came back, published Be HereNow which painted a very rosey picture of eastern spirituality – perfect holysages, miracle workers, enlightened gurus who could read minds and seemed towalk through walls. Not a shadow to beseen. All kinds of new books on Zen werepublished with first-hand accounts of enlightenment experiences. Tibetan lamas were arriving promising theexotic wisdom of tantra – which sounded thrilling. TM exploded as more and more celebrities gottheir mantras. Kundalini yogis came withthe promise that with a single glance or touch, a true guru could impart divinebliss and even eternal life. This wasway better than going to synagogue or taking communion.

There were many “perfect masters” coming from Indiaincluding a young boy who gathered tens of thousands of followers as well aswomen saints who were said to be in the incarnation of the divine mother.

And every group promoted relatively similar stories. Ancient eastern wisdom was available, youcould become enlightened, and our guru / approach had the keys to thekingdom. Just follow us, surrender tothe teacher and his / her teaching completely, give up or even kill your egoand critical mind, and you will awaken quickly. Guaranteed. Our guru is the sameas Christ. Our guru is the Buddha inperson. Our teacher is the incarnation of the divine, of God. This way is perfect, ancient, proven, andnow it can be yours.

Sounded pretty good. And the stories were indeed wonderful, enchanting. Almost too good to be true.

By the end of the 70s, many Westerners had been involvedwith these teachers and groups for years. Some of these groups were still growing and some had already fallenapart. Some had gone through variouscrises or scandals. Many people who hadjoined in the early 70s were exiting by the end of the decade. For many followers, it wasn’t working out aspromised. Houston, we have a problem.

There were shadows in lotus land.

So when I moved back to Berkeley in 1979, I wondered ifthere was enough interest in starting a support group for us leave-takers. This was long before the internet, so Icreated some posters that asked the provocative question, “Are you sufferingfrom spiritual indigestion?” I putflyers up on various bulletin boards, placed a small display ad in the localpaper announcing a series of drop-in evenings and rented a meeting room at alocal church. Very low budgetoperation. I was not doing this to makemoney.

The first night maybe a dozen people came and by the endof the month, 40 people showed up. Theword was spreading fast. I tried to keepthe process simple. I started eachmeeting by telling a little of my own story and personal wrestling with my zenexperience. And then we went around thecircle and people could share whatever they wanted from their experience. People poured out their stories andexperiences, many for the first time. Many people cried and shook with rage.

And people came from a very wide variety of organizations- many Zen groups, Tibetan organizations, Hindu ashrams (SiddhaYoga, Rajneesh,Integral Yoga, Ananda, Da Free John, Sri. Chinmoy, Kripalu, Rama / Atmananda,TM, so many I can’t remember), all kinds of guru situations, new age cults andcommunes, psychological cults, Scientology, Moonies, EST and similar groups, the Farm, and evensurvivors and family member of those killed at Jonestown.

And the stories people told were moving, some were mindboggling, many distressing. In the nameof spirituality, what people do to each other!!! In the name of Zen, the Dharma, crazy wisdomor tantra, anything goes. We heard talesof all these perfect masters who could officially do no wrong, who were reveredas incarnations of the divine, behaving badly. Gurus gone wrong!!!

We heard the similar stories over and over again. What was going on in these cultic situationswas not an expression of “Buddha Nature” – rather a mundane expression of humannature – what happens when people who are not “perfect” (but who might thinkthey are) have ultimate power. Guesswhat happens? 100 per cent predictable. They abuse their power and position. They create their own little realm or dollhouse where everyone agrees with them, bows down, worships and flatters them,never disagrees, and submits. Loyaltybecomes the ultimate value for all devotees. Absolute loyalty. These teachers – and it does not matter what thetradition or lineage or philosophy – often become inflated, grandiose, and evendelusional. Human nature. Many of these gurus either start out evolveinto thinking they are the greatest teacher of the age, of the century, of themillennium, the avatar, the one true living Buddha and so on. We heard storiesof some gurus predicting world catastrophe if they weren’t obeyed.

Jim Jones and the mass suicide at the People’s Temple wasa supreme example of this mindset. Andwhen Jonestown happened, I understood it perfectly. When people were shocked and said, “How couldthat happen?” many leave-takers who cameto Sorting It Out understood what it means to follow blindly, to do whatever isasked, to believe the teacher cannot say or do anything wrong ever. Now, none of us committed suicide or killedanyone, but many of the people who came to Sorting It Out events said how wellthey understood how Jonestown could happen, because they have been incommunities where obedience and loyalty was the absolute value.

We heard hundreds, thousands of tales and accounts of howorganizations started out with good intentions, then slowly but surelydescended into blind obedience, group think, guru worship, cruel behavior,wishful and delusional thinking, isolation, and sometimes illegal or deeply immoralactivities. I exposed the Rajneesh cultwhen they moved to America, got 60 Minutes to do an expose, and even appearedon ABC’s Nightline talking about the organization. Years later, in an attempt to gain politicalclout, the organization tried to rig an election and even poisoned people inthe local town. Many followers went tojail. And it was all in the name of the divine, in the name of defending thegreatest guru in the history of the world – at least that’s what the followersthought.

It was so liberating for all these people to open up andshare what happened to them. Many ofthem were in groups like Shasta where you had to completely suppress yourpersonal feelings and insights – so when they opened up, they couldn’t stoptalking.

Finally, they gave themselves permission to fully feeland acknowledge their experiences, share their doubts and concerns. In these drop-in evenings, people were ableto say or share anything – no judgments, no [banned term], no censorship. People also shared their anger and rage. Many people felt abused or humiliated by theguru or the leadership of the group. Many women and some men had been sexually abused and taken advantage of. They had all given away their adulthood andcritical thinking and needed to take back their lives, literally.

The main goal of SORTING IT OUT was to help people fullyacknowledge their experience and what happened to them AND then digest it. For most people who came to these meetings, likemyself, their experience was not all one way or the other, not black or white,not all good or all bad. We were notthere to demonize these teachers and organizations, but to understand and seeclearly the value AND the harm, the light and the dark, the experiences thatwere helpful and to fully face the dimensions of the experience that wereclearly harmful, not beneficial, beside the point. People were now free to stop pretending orhoping or wishing and just be real.

It was not about quickly forgiving or forgetting. That was usually impossible in any case. First, you need to understand. Real forgiveness only comes after there isauthentic understanding and facing of what happened. I encouraged people to stop trying to be holyor good and just be honest.

It was very important not to deny the positive aspects,the value of meditation (when it was valuable), the truth of some of thephilosophy or teachings, but to also acknowledge when the teachings becameperverted, when abuse occurred, whens spiritual practice became an excuse to punishor deny or blind ourselves to what was going on. A teacher can be charismatic and power andsimultaneously mean and bigoted. Somegurus were incredibly brilliant and possibly had some brilliance and insightand they were abusive alcoholics and misogynists or sexual predators.

Also, I was there to help people start questioning again,to question every aspect of what they were told, what they believed, what waspromised. It was time to use theircritical thinking once again. We need to know the difference between food andpoison. There is a difference. And if you can’t tell the difference, you getinto trouble.

So as people shared their tales about being with this orthat Guru, I would question any of the assumptions that they carried with themout of the group. I would ask manytimes, “Could that be true?” “Does thatmake sense?” “How do you feel aboutthat now?” I encouraged them to find outwhat was true for them and examine everything. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

This questioning was especially important because in mostof these groups, leave-takers were told some version of they were going to hellif they questioned the divine guru/roshi/master, and if they left, they wouldsuffer for eternity, be reborn as a toad or a worm, their children wouldsuffer, terrible things would happen to them, they were losing their one greatchance at salvation, they would die in a violence accident, their karma woulddestroy their lives, they were breaking all their holy vows – so many examplesof this kind of fear and guilt. Peoplewere told they were defective, sinful, [banned term]. I heard hundreds of variations on this theme.

And since people heard these dire predictions / cursesover and over again for years when they were in the group, these beliefs werestuck in their minds and needed to be challenged. Yes, in some ways, they had beenbrainwashed. As leave takers, they weredamaged goods, defective (defectors), betrayers, and so on. So that was my job. To help them challenge these painful andfearful pieces of group think.
To help them remember that following their own heart wasthe ultimate Dharma action.

Also, I giggled a lot. It just happened that way. Sometimes people in the group would very seriously and heavily tell somestory about something their teacher had said – and I just laughed. And my giggle became a kind of liberation forpeople. It broke the rigidity. It made it OK for them to see that some ofwhat their teacher said was silly, wrong, foolish, even absurd. By giggling, I helped to antidote the effectsof the Kool-Aid.

Now I am going to stop here. I am going to share in a later post some ofthe insights gained from talking to so many people and facing the shadow sideof these teachers and organizations. Wisdom.
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Wed Dec 01, 2010 12:32 am

Thank you, Josh. I have always wanted to know more about Sorting it Out. I read about it a while back while doing some internet research.

I was "in-and-out" of the Abbey. I left when Eko dismissed me, but interestingly, I went back for several reasons, one of which was to take another look at them and see if it was all just a bunch of [banned term]. I had been studying Vipassana and doing teacher training through Noah Levine and Jack Kornfield. I'll keep this short- I learned more about meditation and REAL training in one retreat with Noah than I learned in 5 years being a "disciple." I found the teachings at the Abbey to be worthless when I returned and tended to question everything they did. It was during this time that I realized the extent of the spiritual damage that was done to me and was being done to others. I decided to take things a step further and become a psychologist. I knew I needed to put all of my spiritual work on hold until I could better understand and integrate my mind with my body and spirit and bring that out into the world and into my relationships. I had to re-build a healthy self and look deeply at what exaclty had happened to me.

Fast forward a little bit-- as I was nearing the finish of my master's degree I heard Amalia's story and contacted her. I started studying and researching cults and became involved in ICSA (international cultic studies association). Amailia started a private web forum for people who were ex-members and who were searching for support. It was our wish to start an online version of Sorting it Out, only to do this, it needed to be private to assure privacy and keep those who were working through their stuff from being harmed. It was really designed for ex-members- people who were really OUT. Unfortuantely, it just attracted the wrong people. I still feel that ex OBC members would benefit from some sort of exit group, but I'm not sure that will ever happen and I KNOW this forum it NOT the place for it because it is impossible to property exit or detach enough to "sort it out" and look at it with people arguing with you about your experience or to constantly be triggered by all the dogma, slogans, and "Abbey talk", or even regular Buddhist terms. People here do not realise just how harmful their so called words of wisdom or peace are to those who are still traumatized.

Last summer I attended my first ICSA workshop. I couldn't believe how powerful it was. It was probably very similar to Sorting it Out. There were people from all over and so many different groups!!! Some had horrendous stories. But they ALL followed the EXACT SAME FORMULA (the charismatic cult leader, the oppressive environmene, etc...). I have attempted to start a dialogue about the OBC being a cult because this is the formula, this is the way to get through it. There are specific things to work on if one has been in a cult. It is very complex. One of the first things you have to do is VOICE what happened and critically look at it. There can be no censorship in this process and to censor it actually re-traumatizes people. This is one reason I do not recommend this forum for those getting out. It doesn't help to have contact with current members, it only re-traumatizes and causes more harm. I see this this forum as being more helpful for those who might be considering joining or for those who are strong enough to engage.

Currently, I am supervised by an ICSA therapist and am training to help within the organization. You can't be an ICSA therapist unless you are an ex-member of a cult. Only ex-members are allowed at the workshops. This didn't really hit me until Amalia decided to leave this forum. I am an ex-member of the OBC, former lay disciple of Eko Little, and I believe the OBC is a cult. Period. I am OUT. I do not sit on the fence. I have been very lenient of some people on this forum. It is really best that I do not comment much. But I am grateful to have worked through some stuff here, so it is a bit confusing at times. I know enough to know now that it will take a very long time to work out my own stuff; it is a long process.

My own spiritual life is still on hold, but Vipassana and mindfullness are key in my life. I watch my mind and my breath, a lot!

Anyway, thanks again for sharing, Josh. I am very grateful for your contribution here.
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sat Dec 04, 2010 1:32 pm

"with the ideal, comes the actual."

I wanted to share more about what I learned from doing SORTING IT OUT. Seeing well over 1,000 former group members - from so many different kinds of spiritual organizations and traditions -- proved to be a very valuable process of collecting data -- real life experiences. Now of course, these accounts were from the leave-takers, the ones who walked out - like myself -- the critics.

But of course we already knew what the groups, teachers were saying about how great and wonderful they were -- in their publications, books, videos. In the late 1970s, there were essentially no books written from the point of view of those that departed.

Also, the few spiritually-oriented publications like New Age Journal only wanted to write "positive" articles and felt that sharing anything "negative" was not in the spirit of the new age or being optimistic. This became clearly unworkable when they published a glowing piece about the Rajneesh Ashram in India (this was before he came to American to try to take over Oregon). The only problem was -- at the time of article - it was relatively well-known that people in the Rajneesh encounter groups were having their bones broken and some women had been reportedly sexually abused as part of the process of "opening them up." Hmmmm.....

Okay, so on the one hand, thousands of people went into spiritual groups / ashrams / monasteries floating on the stories of perfect masters and sages, Utopian communities, relatively fast enlightenment / results, and so on.

On the other hand, what was the every day reality?

Let's set aside the philosophy, the wish-full thinking, the hopes and dreams, and see where the rubber met the road. I am firm believer in becoming dis-enchanted. Isn't that what Zen is supposed to be about? Waking up from your enchantments, your trances, your personal stories, and seeing things just as they are? Well, how are they?

By the way, I would often see many people who had left the same group - so accounts were most often verified by many leave-takers. A common occurrence - one person would come and then the next week he or she would bring a bunch of others who had recently left the same group. Also, some leave-takers would set up special sessions. IN one case, in LA, thirty people who had left the same organization came to see me to talk about the abuses in that organization.

Abuse of authority / Grandiosity -- We saw this over and over again. The guru / master / roshi would become increasingly inflated in how they viewed themselves - from being somewhat enlightened - to fully enlightened -- to one of the great sages of the age -- to sometimes the greatest saint in centuries. I consider full enlightenment extremely rare - so what we often heard reports of were charismatic teachers -- who did have some awakening experiences - probably authentic in some cases -- or manufactured and contrived in other cases -- who then believed they no longer had a "self". Spiritual experiences and altered state experiences can be overwhelming and even deluding at times, especially when you hold on to them.

So these teachers believed that every thought, feeling, reaction was therefore an expression of the divine, of God or the true self - or however they defined it. (sound familiar?) So, if they experienced let's say anger - it wasn't a normal human emotion, that would be impossible -- but what appeared to be anger was just the enlightened mind teaching. If the guru felt anything, by definition it was perfect, divine, beyond human understanding. He was beyond any conventional judgment or control. And his students, how dare they question the divine one!!!

Now, from the reports of hundreds of people, this mind-set was the cause of a huge amount of abuse and emotional suffering. Many gurus became petty tyrants, screaming and yelling, abusing their students -- of course all in the name of smashing their follower's ego, waking them up. Nobody woke up or got enlightened by being humiliated.

And of course, in all these groups -- JUST LIKE SHASTA - there was no speaking out against the guru. If you objected or raised any criticism, in all these groups, you were banished from the presence of the master - in one way or another. Just like Shasta. And since in these organizations, the overwhelming positive position to be in -- is in the presence of the teacher - banishment was severe punishment. People would do anything to stay in his presence, to keep in his/her good graces. Anything.

So with this "perfect master" as the center, the group that forms around this fantasy / mythology becomes an expression of the shadow of the teacher and these organizations all share very similar characteristics -- it does not matter the tradition or culture. Human beings create these cultures / cults -- and follow the same rules. Group think, suppression of individuality and personal feelings and insight, blind obedience, loyalty becomes the highest virtue, reversion to child-like reality, secrecy, political intrigue, back stabbing, denial of any information that contradicts the group mythology. Human nature. Freud actually wrote about this in one of his better essays.

Funny case in TM: according to that groups mythology, the Maharishi could not become ill - since he was an enlightened sage, sickness was impossible. Well, guess what. He did get sick, colds, flus -- but the group would pretend it wasn't happening, hide him away, pretend they didn't hear him coughing and sneezing. Reality be [banned term]. The myth, the story becomes much louder than reality.

Now a lot of these situations involved more than just emotional / verbal abuse and bullying. I also interviewed a few hundred people (mostly women) who had been sexually taken advantage of. Now, as far as I know this didn't happen at Shasta -- Shasta was all about sexual repression - which has its own deep shadow. But in many other Buddhist and Zen groups - as well as Hindu and New Age organizations, the teachers became active sexual predators -- this is not an exaggeration. Because they could. Because no one had the guts to stand up and say NO or STOP. Because in these groups, the guru has infinite power - and power does corrupt.

Also, in some groups, having sex with the guru was positioned to be the ultimate intimacy with the great being -- and getting his "seed" was considered precious. So it wasn't seen as just "sex" -- it was divine tantra, the guru was opening up your chakras, this was an expression of a connection in past life -- sex and the single guru.

Okay, some case histories. I am not going to use any real names here to keep it simple

Roshi A: established Japanese master from a major lineage, sexual predator for 40 years, seduced dozens or more of his female students, treated them as sexual dolls for his pleasure. The leadership in Japan was told about this situation many times and refused to act or do anything at all. Not important. Perhaps they thought that it was his special privilege??

Roshi B - Women teacher -- reminded me very much of Shasta -- bully, abused her students, terrorized some of them, created a very unhealthy community, many left deeply troubled.

Roshi C: Highly respected teacher. Married, but had numerous secret affairs with his female students, alcoholic, ended up in rehab, didn't work, believed to have drowned in his bathtub because he was so drunk.

Roshi D: Rinzai master, considered one of the great koan teachers, and in the Sanzen room -- during Sanzen, he would physically grab women, put his hands under their clothes. One women I talked to slapped him and spit in this face and walked out of his monastery. When the western male monks were told about these incidents, they just laughed and said, "Oh, that's just roshi."

Roshi E: Very abusive with the way he treated his followers. Arrogant. Also reminded me of Kennett. He then had an affair with one of his students, etc.....

Roshi D: He was into men. After a male student was at his center for some months and had become dedicated, he made it clear that if they wanted to have any direct contact with him/the roshi, they had to have sex with him, secretly of course. No sex, no sanzen and no teachings. Many of these guys were not even gay - he didn't care.

OK -- there are probably half a dozen additional examples, but its the same basic story. Abuse of power, sometimes involving sex, sometimes not, always emotional bullying or manipulation is involved. And it was always, always in the name of Zen. Yes, this was putting lipstick on a pig.

And it almost always much more than just sex since the culture that was created involved constant deceit, secrecy, scheming - and usually went on for years and years, sometimes decades.

Rinpoche A: serial sexual predator, had sex with many of his women devotees - it was expected of them -- one finally sued him and the lama fled the country for a few years.

Rinpoche B: had sex with literally hundreds of his female students - even had a special secretary who kept these appointments, severe alcoholic, probably died of alcoholic poisoning, had some students physically beaten who resisted his teaching, had secret plans to take over a Canadian province -- i am not kidding.

Rinpoche C: very senior lama / lineage holder, became very abusive verbally and emotionally. started demanding more and money from his followers - became so bad that the Dalai Lama's office actually started writing letters telling people to seek spiritual guidance elsewhere.

Rinpoche D -- seemed like a wonderful lama, brilliant, playful -- then I discovered that he was beating his wife. and this created quite a painful situation in his community -- who mostly tried to pretend it wasn't happening.

Now, I want to stop here just with these Buddhist examples. First, the abuses and excesses were not just about sex -- i can hear some of the current OBC members and apologists say, "Well, that didn't happen at Shasta -- no sexual abuses." Right, that's probably true. The abuses at Shasta were all in the sphere of mental and verbal -- which frankly aren't really any better. A constant culture of humiliation and verbal abuse is very damaging and harmful.

But what all these groups demonstrate is HUMAN NATURE - not Buddha Nature. I will point out that all these Roshis were officially Zen masters. Some of these guys had multiple transmissions and recognitions from the top lineages in Japan, had experienced kenshos and/or passed all their koans. They were officially enlightened masters. AND guess what. How enlightened were they? What does this behavior tell you? What do we actually know first hand????

When you drop the official mythology / story, what do you have? Well, human beings - mostly guys -- this is how top dogs with power behave. Actually, probably they are more out of control then many corporate executives - because the gurus think there are beyond consequences, beyond karma. They believe this...... we know that.

So, the first thing is that you start to question what it means to have this title, Roshi or Zen Master. If you are a sexual predator and an alcoholic, how enlightened are you? What are you a master of? If you are abusing your students and your power, who are you?

I know its rude to ask these questions, but it is sort of inescapable, isn't it. This title, this piece of paper - the transmission document - is supposed to be like a seal. It is supposed to mean something. Potential students are supposed to trust the seal, aren't they? When I go to a doctor and see the diplomas on his wall and the license from the state, I trust that he is qualified.

So what does the title and transmission silks mean? What does it seal? How "enlightened" are these guys? And how would we know?

I wish there was some enlightenment-meter you could use - or a Michelin guide to masters and gurus. But in the end, we need to be our own enlightenment meter. And what the Buddha said was to scrutinize his behavior and the behavior of any senior monk. It is our job to make the decision. Who are we do to this? There is no one else to do this. And the Buddha specifically said that you don't need superpowers to do this - you do not need to be able to read minds. You just pay attention.

And just because someone has a title or has been approved by some grand Zen monastery, well, SO WHAT? See for yourself and if his / her behavior is abusive or at odds with what seems beneficial, step back or leave. YOU MUST BE THE JUDGE.

I was my inner judge that took me to Shasta and when things went south, when Kennett lost her way, I determined that it was no longer beneficial to follow her. I did my job, paid attention and responded by leaving. Good for me.

The fact that Kennett didn't like my decision, it made her sad or angry - well, frankly, I couldn't care less. It was NOT her business. And if she had been a more awakened teacher, she would have understood that. And please, it wasn't that she "cared too much" or "loved too much." Her response had nothing to do with caring or love. More lipstick on a pig.

So what do we know. We know that most gurus / teachers are not fully enlightened. Let's assume that unless proven otherwise. By the way, the Dalai Lama himself says he is not enlightened -- I've heard him say it many times. I am not saying that many of these teachers do not have some wisdom, some enlightenment - and I am not saying many of them are not worthy of being teachers -- within reason - and the reasoning stays with you.

Kennett clearly had some realization. That's why I become her student in the beginning. She had three to four years of wisdom to share, but actually not more than that. She had some true connection to Dharma, but it became overwhelmed by her personal demons and lack of self-awareness. She fell under the delusion that her bullying personality was skillful enlightened action -- when it was just run of the mill verbal abuse.

And as we see, this pattern is hardly unique to Kennett or Shasta. It is conventional cultic behavior and consequences. And based on the all the people I saw in SORTING IT OUT and the information about all the organizations, I can say that Shasta was actually a relatively extreme example of this cultic situation. Not moderate. Probably mostly because of Kennett's underlying personality -- her childhood neglect turned her into a bully - and it fully came out when she was under stress after 4 years or so at the helm - she couldn't handle it and devolved into a more pathological frame of mind. Some organizations that were sort of like Shasta were not so extreme, just because the personality of the leader was more moderate in some ways. But it was essentially the same circus.

One other thing to talk about: this delusion of being so incredibly special. This infects these kinds of organizations -- and actually most religions, doesn't it. Monotheism -- the worst idea ever conceived by human beings - is the supreme example. The chosen people, the one true god, the one true savior prophet, the one true holy scripture, the one true salvation.

In smaller groups / cults, this idea begins to grow and pretty soon you believe that you are living with the greatest or one of the greatest beings in the history of the world -- or in our time - the true Buddha or whatever - and that he/she is so much better than the other ones out there. He is so special, we are so special, etc. etc. So boring. So pathological. This need to be special is such an ego dance, isn't it?

Lastly for this posting, let's talk about "good intentions." Most people have "good intentions" - even people who do really awful things. They do it out "good intentions." All these gurus, masters have good intentions -- even when they are abusing their power - they are doing it to make their students less egoic, more enlightened. That's what they think from the inside. Kennett i am sure always believed that she was good person and was only acting from good intentions. That was her story. Frankly, if she didn't believe it, she would have had a total mental breakdown. So people believe this story to keep their ego structure intact.

Sarah Palin absolutely believes she is doing everything out of divine good intentions. In her case, probably she is certain that God is directing her actions and will make her president. She has a very strong inner story and she believes it. Wars have been fought with "good intentions." Bush / Cheney / Rumsfield all had good intentions -- that's what they felt from the inside.

You get the point. Good intentions don't mean much. Action, behavior means everything.

Now, one last thing. I did find many Buddhist groups that were much healthier and many teachers that were NOT abusing their students. What is the secret?

Well, first, the teacher is honest and genuine and does NOT pretend to be more enlightened than he / she is. He can hear criticism, have honest and open discussion, and treats members as adults, not children. He/she does not use manipulation, humiliation or abuse as teaching techniques. Many organizations have regular sessions to openly address issues -- where anything can be said. Some organizations use outside therapists or group facilitators to help keep things clean and honest. Teachers can be fired by their board of directors. There is transparency in financial dealings. There is a clear code of conduct. People can freely leave and are not demonized.

And when these groups have an issue or problem, they act quickly to air it out and find a solution. They respect each other - regardless of "rank."

All of these are fairly standard basic sane organizational dynamics. Every group has the tendency to go towards being cultic, so you must actively work against that process.

I am not saying these organizations are perfect, problems arise, but on the whole these groups are much saner, there is much less drama and internal scheming and politics, and the teachers can be wise without being artificial, false or inflated. There is no need for them to spend all their time maintaining their control and power.

Also, many of these teachers have outside friends, interests - who help keep them honest. They are in married situations which sometimes can be helpful - but less likely if the spouse is a "student."

I am going to post more on what I learned from SORTING IT OUT in later posts. No idea who will find this of interest. And will OBC and Shasta learn anything from this info -- we shall see.
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sat Dec 04, 2010 2:16 pm

Interesting thread.

I've often mulled over two related questions.

1) How to find a good teacher/sangha?
The general answers I've come up with over the years include the following:

Go slow. Finding a wise teacher may take years. If Buddhism is correct, you've been at this for eons anyhow. A few more years is a prudent investment to get it right.

Avoid charismatic teachers. You are looking (sometimes desperately) for someone to help you. You are quite vulnerable to exploitation because your own mind will attach itself to anyone who appears to offer kindness or access to power that can rescue you from your unhappiness.. Charisma is a very poor indicator of spiritual attainment or wisdom and it most certainly is NO substitute for it. The best teachers I've come across are far from charismatic. They are ordinary people whose behavior is consistently kind, wise, and honest. They aren't trying to persuade you of anything, and are indifferent about whether or not you join them as a student, let alone a disciple.

Look at the teacher's behavior and that of his disciples. And look at it a long time before committing. Forgetting about teaching and observing behavior will help keep you from being conned by words and the candy they dangle before your hopes. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself about what you see and observe, and what you know for yourself to be kind and ethical..

Be very aware that enlightenment is about you finding wisdom, and has nothing to do with affirming someone else's or having "faith" in their teaching.

2) How to help people who are jumping or about to jump into the abyss?

I'm pretty much at a loss on this one. People who are getting "sucked in" or are about to get "sucked in" are amazingly resistant to all efforts to keep them from jumping. In fact, the very effort to help them think carefully often becomes a strong impetus to take the plunge - now.

When I've talked with people, including depressives, who jumped to their own harm, they have almost always stated that while they seriously wished someone had helped them before they jumped, they would not have listened, that nothing could have been said that would have dissuaded them.

These are questions I don't have very good answers to. I'm interested in what others might think.
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sat Dec 04, 2010 4:34 pm

Man, are you cutting & pasting previous writings or do you really type a five hundred words a minute?

Hey Jack
How to find a good teacher/sangha? The classic question!

For me...
If both teacher & sangha ask the question, "What, how, when & where does the ego manifest?" then I have some hope.
If both maintain a primary intent of softening and dissolving the ego where ever it can be found, then you've found a good teacher/sangha. Everything else will fall into place.

If the actions of a teacher/sangha don't demonstrate the above then make some noice as to why you can't stay. Continue to do the practise yourself as you continue your search so as to be able to recognize a good teacher/sangha when they appear.

2) How to help people who are jumping or about to jump into the abyss?

This is an easy question to feel lost in, especially if we judge the success of our help by whether they have jumped or not. You know there are no absolutes and that everything changes so why would the abyss be any different.
Any truth that is not lived by example will eventually be seen as a support for the abyss. Any truth that you live, is a transmission of truth that breaths as a living alternative to the abyss. I think in the end, that's all you can represent. An alternative to where they are going or to where they have gone.

Last edited by Howard on Sat Dec 04, 2010 5:04 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : I damaged my typing finger.)
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sat Dec 04, 2010 7:35 pm

I am very interested. I find the work you've done and your writing about it to be helpful on a personal and professional level. Contrary to how it may appear on this site, I have not spent inordinate amounts of time regurgitating these issues over the years. However, as I write out my thoughts and hear the thoughts of others many things are becoming clearer. So cut and paste away--the years of experience you have are, to my mind, extremely pertinent to the goings on being discussed here.

Much of what you say makes a lot of sense. What is being transmitted in the moment? Was all the drama at Shasta over many many years just the result of immatrure students? I don't believe that to be the case. There are those who see the absurdities and those that refuse to see them or minimize them. There is always tension between these two groups, but it the latter group that has all the power. People don't like feeling powerless, so they tend to doubt themselves hoping to be in the enviable position of those who show unwavering certainty. This only increases the internal conflict until you get sick, develop severe emotional problems, or leave. I can't help but feel that it was unfortunate that I didn't listen to my own inner voice to leave earlier. No doubt the etiology of this goes back to a similar dynamic in my family of origin, so it took me longer to learn. It is in the nature of things that understanding takes as long as it takes. If I had had access to an ongoing discussion like this one, it might have been of enormous help.
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sat Dec 04, 2010 8:55 pm

glad to hear this discussion is valuable.

Actually, not cutting and pasting anything -- just writing up some thoughts right now. Certainly thought a lot about these issues over the years -- not that much recently, but since this board is here, i will let some reflections flow.

I am very sensitive to group dynamics, spiritual authority issues and their excesses and abuses.

When I was in the middle of running SORTING IT OUT, probably 1981, Robert Aitken Roshi came to visit me. It was unusual. The word had spread in the Zen community about my work and I heard back that one teacher was worried and thought I was somehow harming the Dharma. Very Japanese attitude - speaking out and voicing your feelings is dangerous. Also, later, I found out that that particular teacher was secretly sleeping with his students, so no surprise that he would want to keep things quiet.

So I wasn't sure why Aitken was coming to talk. I had never met him, had read his books and had respect for his work.

He arrived with the author and translator Stephen Mitchell (who is now a very good friend) and I discovered lived four blocks from me in Berkeley at the time.

Aitken started by asking me about SORTING IT OUT and what I was uncovering, what leave-takers from Zen groups were reporting. I gave him a general overview, told him some stories. He looked quite sad, actually.

He then said the reason he had come was to thank me for this work. Said it was very important to provide support for former Dharma students, especially those who had been sexually abused. (much later I learned that he had been actively trying to get the Japanese to remove Edo Shimano as Abbot of Diabosatsu in New York for his sexual abuses - without success). He also felt that a little criticism was a good thing.

But he said, it is important that I don't overdo it. He said that I should be careful to be clear and not become too aggressive. I thought about it and I agreed. I could definitely get too self-righteous. I told him to let his other fellow zen teachers know that they could talk to me if they had any concerns, but I was going to continue to provide support for former members.
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sat Dec 04, 2010 10:19 pm

Three great principles for a happy life:

1. Do not fool yourself
2. Do not fool yourself
3. Do not fool others
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sun Dec 05, 2010 12:55 am

So I told my supervisor, a very experienced therapist and ex-cult member, "hey, I just read that my master thought he was Jesus." She replied, "No. MY guru was Jesus!" This is so common amongst cults, so predictable at this point. It was good to have a laugh at it though.

I continue to appreciate all that is coming out here on the forum right now. Anybody wanna re-read my original thread "Is the OBC a cult?" I would say it still remains a good outline for all this stuff. Thanks again everyone for contributing. I wish I had more time to contribute right now, but I don't.


Last edited by Diana on Sun Dec 05, 2010 12:56 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : added a word)
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sun Dec 05, 2010 2:04 am

OK - so here are some more field notes from my Sorting It Out days:

In the late 70s, there was a very popular Indian guru - decided to keep it simple - not using names. Swami X we shall call him. He was attracting thousands and thousands of western devotees including movie and rock stars. He was a "satguru" - a perfect master of truth and a kundalini guru. His followers believed that with a glance, a touch, a smack of his peacock feathers, he could awaken your dormant kundalini energy at the base of your spine, send you into divine bliss, dissolve your past karma and take you to enlightenment. In this system, enlightenment was bestowed by the grace of the guru - he transmitted it -- and you could absolutely NOT achieve this without his active intervention. Was he the only one on the planet -- well not clear, but mostly his devotees believed he was the ONE.

I was just moving back to the bay area from Atlanta and decided to check this guy out. I continued to be very interested in all kinds of "spiritual" experiences and certainly this kundalini thing was a major part of eastern religious philosophy.

So I went to a weekend intensive with the Swami. Quite the scene, thousands of devotees, total guru worship. He would sit on this throne. Very charismatic. You could feel the "energy" filling the room. People were swooning, passing out, shaking and shivering, some were clearly going into various "altered states of consciousness." He was a brilliant speaker, could hold the room. And then when he imparted the energy - the "shakti" -- he would hit people on the head with his peacock feather wand or push on their heads or between their eyes or kick them in the base of their spine.

When he got to me, he grabbed me, kicked me in the spine, grabbed my head - i felt like i was being mugged. And i could feel all this intense "energy" moving around my body, descending into my pelvic area, my breath changed dramatically, went into some kind of altered state, saw bright light, etc. That lasted maybe ten minutes. Interesting.

During the last hours of the intensive, people stood up and gave their reports of what happened to them. These were "experience" junkies. People reported very intense experiences -- some people saw past lives, some saw dancing Hindu deities, intense radiance or blue light, had all kinds of experience of energies, some people smelled lilacs. One person speaking stood out - he had the most "experiences" and at the same time it was clear that this guy was some kind of hyper-egomaniac. Very self-important. Arrogant. Special. And I thought, OK, this kundalini is very powerful, very interesting, but clearly it does NOT seem to be enlightening anyone. Lots of phenomena, yes, but wisdom, compassion, insight, awakening -- NOT SO MUCH. So what is this????? An entire religious tradition is based on this energy, these experiences, and what is it??? When you drop the story.

Fast forward two years. I am now in the middle of doing the SORTING IT OUT groups and one day, a bunch of leave-takers from the Swami show up -- i think maybe a dozen all together. They start telling me their stories. It turns out that this perfect master is very abusive, filled with rage. He speaks often about the virtues of celibacy, but has had dozens of affairs with his female devotees, including seducing under-age girls. One of the girls the previous week leaped off a roof and killed herself. And the people who left are now being followed and threatened by the guru's body guards who were former Green Berets. Those that left were told they would be reborn as cockroaches for betraying the guru. One person was told her child would die in a horrible accident. These people were actually afraid for their lives. They were being followed and strange events were happening that felt threatening.

When they told me some of the specifics of how they were being followed, etc -- i was seriously concerned. These people's lives were really in danger. This guru was filled with divine vengeance. Since this guru was so well known and was attracting movie and rock stars, I called the Los Angeles Times and got them interested in doing a story. And I then figured out a way to send the Swami a message -- I put him on notice -- the threats and following his ex-devotees had to stop immediately -- or (and this was a bit of bluff) there would be an article in the New York Times on Sunday exposing him. The threats stopped the next day. My bluff worked. And there was an expose in the Los Angeles Times some months later.

Now, the point of this story. Here was a guru that was highly charismatic, had some kind of realization, had some kind of power to put people in altered states and transmit a powerful experience / energy -- AND who molested young girls and was filled with rage and vengeance. So what do we learn from this? Whatever this charismatic power was, it was not what we would call enlightenment, where was the wisdom? Where was the compassion? Where was the insight?

Charisma and unusual energies and "experiences" can be totally seductive. You can easily get lost in the whole excitement of these induced states. Wow, they are so exotic, exciting -- so many devotees when they first begin to experience this stuff -- think, THIS IS IT. THIS IS REAL. THIS IS GOD. It's like a some kind of exotic Disneyland. And then the devotees become addicted to unusual, special experiences -- which they then seek, try to hold on to. It all becomes more grist for the self, more stuff to identify with.

Now, these kinds of experiences are "authentic" in the sense that they do arise out of the subtle energy systems of the body and are not manufactured by the ego/self -- but the ego/self grabs a hold of them, so they become more poison. And by themselves, they do not lead to wisdom / emptiness / awakening. No experience could do that.

From my experience, the Tibetan tradition knows how to work with these energies quite effectively, but always in the content of advanced meditation and insight - and in that context - these energies are used to amplify open present awareness and insight and no-self - where the experiences dissolve into original wakefulness.

Kennett's lotus experiences, from my point of view, were much more artificially manufactured by her ego and not "authentic" -in the sense of spontaneous arising - they were more imagination and fantasy -- and she used this guided fantasy to glorify her position, her power, her self-image, her story. She can call her experiences anything she wants, but clearly she emerged from them even more self-important, more abusive. So what was the use? And I feel that is entirely appropriate for me to comment on them because she demanded that we all participate in her drama. So it became my business - while i was there.
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sun Dec 05, 2010 4:50 am

Josh sounds familiar this guy
I heard about him once,he actually came from Texas,when off duty he wore a large Texan hat and smoked even larger Cuban cigars he went under ther name of Mr Robert Soul known throughout the world as R Soul
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PostSubject: Re: Sorting It Out - My Experiences Helping other Leave-Takers   Sun Dec 05, 2010 4:39 pm

Howard wrote:

For me...
If both teacher & sangha ask the question, "What, how, when & where does the ego manifest?" then I have some hope.
If both maintain a primary intent of softening and dissolving the ego where ever it can be found, then you've found a good teacher/sangha. Everything else will fall into place.

That's good advice. The difficulty many have in a destructive relationship is that they are asked to give up their useful, protective ego shell that would normally make them resist the harm of another, so that they become even more vulnerable to those who would manipulate them. If they had the forbearance to insist on behavioral proof that the teacher's ego had been dropped, many would be OK.

The ego doesn't need to be wounded; in fact the reality is that it's a fiction. It is important to see the fiction. It only reinforces the fiction if one sets about "exorcising" it. You can't destroy something imaginary, but you can take a dream and turn it into a hellish nightmare.

But I agree with you. You should look for ego in whoever you think your benefactor is. If you can even see a hint of it as manifested by arrogance, peevishness, anger, etc. you should know that you are at risk -- despite the words, charisma, and apparent power.

Howard wrote:

2) How to help people who are jumping or about to jump into the abyss?

This is an easy question to feel lost in, especially if we judge the success of our help by whether they have jumped or not. You know there are no absolutes and that everything changes so why would the abyss be any different.

Well I've usually looked at it that way. At some point, I just usually try to leave them with a touchstone, if at some point, they, like a Prodigal Son, want to return to a father's table of their choosing.

On a periodic basis, I watch a friend of mine sink into depression, knowing that he'll experience great pain, lash out at others to attempt to make his pain go away, and then finally, after he's blown up all the relationships within reach, return to relative sanity for a bit. He asks greedily for help, even while he's slipping, but snarls, bites, and kicks away any offered.

What I've seen most often in religious excursions into a cult have been friends who are either greedy or desperate for some experience that will solve personal pain or provide some high that will wipe them out. Their desire is intense, their pace fiercely urgent, and their willingness to grasp someone who seems to have something more than them a self-made pit.
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